Archive for February, 2010

Going To Haiti For Bragging Rights

An interesting piece by Marc Lacey and Ian Urbina in the New York Times questions the motivation of some missionaries involved in the Haitian relief effort.  The Times reports on a line between some of the new arrivals and those who have been there for a while.

“Dale Winslette, 51, a volunteer with Give Me Shelter Ministries in Shalimar, Fla., which has been providing food and medical and dental care in Haiti for the past four years, said there were many missionaries who were mostly interested in returning to their churches with grand stories of good works.

“These people are so zealous to get out there and say, ‘Look what I did; look at these kids I saved,’ ” he said.” -NY Times

Bye, Bye, Bayh

Sen. Evan Bayh

Noteworthy this morning is the news that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, has decided not to seek re-election.  Oh sure, another “top” Taliban commander has been captured, Secretary of State Clinton is having nasty words with the Iranians and Kim Jong Il is throwing himself a “king- size birthday party,” but the story about Evan Bayh of Indiana,  is the one that grabbed my attention.Evan Bayh is a popular Democrat.  A guy with a future,  just the kind of politico the Dems need to keep around.   He’s leaving, he says,  because he’s fed up with the inability of the Senate to get beyond political bickering and do what’s best for the country.  Not that the country’s in any trouble or anything.

For me the story about Evan Bayh is a red flag.  Obama came in with a promise of hope.  Evan Bayh’s voluntary departure is a sign that hope is rapidly running out.

Let’s take stock:  First came the proclamation from Ralph Nader that “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.”   More recently, it was economist Paul Krugman who wrote that we’re “doomed.”  And now Evan Bayh is turning in his parking pass to the millionaire’s club and going back to Indiana.

Here in California, we’re looking at a budget deficit of nearly $21 billion and our politically deadlocked state legislators can’t agree on whether it should be tuna or chicken salad for lunch.  The City of Los Angeles, is facing a budget shortfall of  $212 million with joblessness running at 15%.  The unemployment rate in Michigan is near 15%.   If you live in Tennessee, forget about sending the kids out looking for work.   The unemployment rate for teens in the volunteer state is running around 29%.

When the unemployment insurance runs out people will start doing whatever is necessary to feed their families.  What will the tipping point be?  Are some already there?

A new USA Today/Gallup Poll indicates Americans are fed up with Washington.  By a margin of 3 to 1 we feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.  And still, according to the poll, we remain optimistic about the future.

“Even so, confidence that there will be better times ahead — and that the classic American dream endures — hasn’t been extinguished. It’s not even at its low ebb.” -USA Today

The government appears to be broken beyond repair but better times are just around the corner.

This is what happens when an entire country starts taking anti-depressants and stops reading newspapers.  Just sprinkle a little fairy dust in the air and Tinker Bell will dance in to save us all.

Rearranging Chairs On A Ship That’s Going Down

 USS Pendleton Sinks

Our standards are sinking.  This simple fact struck me years ago as a reporter covering the crime beat in arraignment court here in Los Angeles.  The judge called a case.  A young man got up wearing tennis shoes, jeans and a t-shirt with writing on the back that read “Speedway Kicks Ass!”   “This idiot’s going to jail” I thought to myself, astonished at his naivete.

Things have only gotten worse.

Our acceptable national uniform is now a baggy t-shirt (often with someone’s advertising on it), shorts that end just above the knee (often cut off and raggedy) and tennis shoes or sandals.  The shorts, by the way, apparently originated with former inmates from the LA County jail, who kept their jail-issued pants when released and wanted their homies to know they had been in the joint, so they cut them off and wore them as shorts.   The”style” was later adopted by the NBA and much of young America.  So the entire country is now emulating gang bangers.  Beyond that, if you rank among the coolest of the cool and the hippest of the hip,  you wear your pants down around your crotch enabling butt crack visibility from the rear.  What a magnificent sartorial legacy we bear.   What an outstanding picture we paint for the rest of the world to see as we rush onward in search of our lowest common denominator.

And there’s more.

Yesterday, I was waiting in line at a local bookstore.  There were four clerks behind the counter.  One, a big kid who appeared to be in his late teens or early twenties, was wearing a jersey.  The front of the jersey was emblazoned with the letters “AIG.”  You know, AIG?   The company that helped wreck the nation’s economy?  The company we all had to bail out with our tax dollars because it was “too big to fail?”  That company.

“Anybody but that guy” I thought to myself as I waited in line, so naturally, he was the clerk I ended up with.  Murphy’s law strikes again.  Damn you, Murphy.

So there I was, face to face and about to do business with a “sales representative” wearing a jersey bearing not the name of his company, but the name of what is arguably one of the most disliked companies in America.   Do you really think I could keep my mouth shut?

“Does that stand for “AIG,” the company that helped wreck our economy? I asked.   “Ya, they sponsored this soccer team” he said, as he turned and showed me the emblem of Manchester United on his back.  I nodded in acknowledgement.  My blood pressure had already gone up and I decided the situation was worth nothing more at that point.   I did though, wish him “good luck with the jersey,” as I paid for my book and left the counter.  I figured if the kid was that naive, somebody had better say something.

Or maybe it’s me.  Maybe it’s okay to just throw on any old thing that happens to have come out of the dryer?

We used to say that first appearances are all important and that “clothes make the man.”   The “make the man” thing would now be considered sexist, so it would have to be updated to “clothes make the person.”  Unless the person can’t afford better clothing, in which case you shouldn’t consider what he or she is wearing at all, because that will indicate your bias and shortsightedness at not being able to see someone’s worth beyond the clothing they can afford and have decided to wear, which may have nothing at all to do with their intellect and ability.  Consider the frumpy clothing Einstein wore.

Things can become somewhat twisted around, can’t they?

And so dear friends, I leave you with this thought:  Speedway Kicks Ass!

A Valentine’s Day Story Worth Reading

 valentine

The usual Valentine’s Day fare in newspapers and on television includes stories about the sharp and sudden rise in the cost of roses, where to buy the best candy, naughty nighties, singing greeting cards, a special dinner out for that special someone and so forth.  It’s Valentine’s Day ad nauseam.  Deja vu all over again as the American sheeple fall victim to one of the mightiest marketing scams ever devised.

Well, finally, a reporter has written a story worthy of reading on Valentine’s Day.  Kathy Kristof at the Los Angeles Times has kicked one right between the uprights with “Love is all you need?  Get real.”  Subtitile:  “Love me, love my credit score.”

Kristof writes:

 ”No one is saying that money is everything. Romance, common interests, shared values and friends are important for the survival of a marriage too.

But couples must understand that money carries far more meaning than the simple things it can buy. How you handle money can telegraph how you feel about power, personal responsibility, charity and family.  And these are the issues that can pull a marriage apart.” -LA Times

This should be required reading for anyone considering marriage.

Just how serious the business of marriage really is can be pointed out by the presence of a google ad for prenuptial attorneys at the bottom of the page carrying Kristof’s story on the Time’s website.   “Low Flat Fees for Prenuptial Agreement Drafting and Review” the ad says.

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Oh, and happy Valentine’s DayDon’t forget to pick up the flowers and candy.

(Not that it matters, but Valentine’s Day was established by Pope Gelasius in AD 496 to honor several martyred saints who apparently held the name Valentinus, and had nothing to do with romantic love.  The whole thing got twisted around and connected to romantic love and gift giving somewhere in the high middle ages.  The mass marketing of paper valentines started in the early 1800’s in England.)

Keith Olbermann And The Cheyenne River Sioux

Keith Olbermann

It was looking bad for the Cheyenne River Sioux.  Their reservation,  which stretches over two counties in north central South Dakota, had been hit by an ice storm followed by a blizzard.    More than 1,500 homes were without power, some 14,000 people had no water and the Tribe’s emergency fund had been drained.  All this, in an already poverty-stricken area where unemployment is running around 80%.

Then Keith Olbermann got involved and things started turning around.   Keith told his viewers what was going on (did a bit of a rant about what was happening right here on our own ground in the U.S.) and said they could send donations to the South Dakota Community Foundation.

“The effect was immediate, Community Foundation president Bob Sutton said Thursday.

He was attending a function in Sioux Falls on Tuesday evening, he said. His Blackberry was set up to buzz him with an e-mail every time someone made an online donation to the Cheyenne River effort.

“Within the first 20 minutes, I had hundreds of e-mails on my Blackberry,” he said. “It was unbelievable. I had to go out in the lobby and check it; I thought something was wrong because it just kept buzzing.”

At the start of the day Thursday, the fund had grown to $220,000. By Thursday night, it was more than $250,000. In the 15 minutes he spent talking to a reporter, Sutton said 16 contributions came in, ranging from $10 to $500, from all over the country.” -Argus Leader

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If you feel inclined to help, you can-

MAIL CHECK DONATIONS TO:

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe/2010 Disaster Account

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman’s Office

Attn: Ice Storm Emergency Fund

PO Box 590

2001 Main Street (Tribal Offices)

Eagle Butte, SD 57625

SHIP SUPPLIES TO:

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman’s Office

Attn: Ice Storm Emergency Supplies  PO Box 590

2001 Main Street (Tribal Offices)

Eagle Butte, SD 57625

Los Angeles: Preserving A Sense Of Place

 The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Century Plaza Hotel won’t be falling to the wrecker’s ball.  Martha Groves writes that the hotel’s owner and preservationists have cut a deal to save the historic hotel-

“As of now, plans call for “sensitive rehabilitation” of the hotel to preserve 400 hotel rooms while converting those on the top floors to 45 condos. Meeting space would be reduced, and a slightly smaller ballroom would replace the existing one. The developer plans to propose other buildings on the site to the rear and/or sides of the hotel and a low-scale structure with some retail shops or restaurants to enliven the front of the hotel.”  -LA Times

It’s a hopeful sign that another piece of older Los Angeles is being saved.   It’s wonderful for a place to have a sense of history and tradition.  Fact is, the city has a lot going for it even with the apparent ongoing push by developers to tear things down.  We still have Olvera Street, Hollywood and its famous sign, Broadway and the old downtown area, LA City Hall, Pantages and the other vaudeville/movie palaces, Musso and Frank Grill, the Original Pantry, Philippe’s, Pink’s, the old Herald Examiner building, Chinatown, the old downtown post office, Union Station and now the Century Plaza.  Too bad the original Schwab’s,  Chasen’s and Bob Cobb’s  old Brown Derby are all gone.

Original Schwab's Drugstore

               photo: ron olsen/workingreporter.com

Schwab’s Pharmacy, was located at 8024 Sunset Boulevard.   In a case of art imitating reality, the pharmacy was used as a location for the classic film “Sunset Boulevard.”  In reality, its lunch counter was a popular hangout for young actors.  It is also the legendary spot where “sweater girl”  Lana Turner is said to have been discovered.   That may or may not be true.   Another version has Turner being discovered by the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter at the Top Hat Cafe on the southeast corner of Sunset and McCadden Place.  The publisher referred her to Zeppo Marx, and from there….well, she was off to the races.  Or so the story goes.

As is sometimes the case in Hollywood, the truth slips through the cracks as the image becomes reality.   Consequently, I’m not sure where Lana Turner was discovered.  I do know it was a popular pharmacy for the movie set, many of whom lived in the hills nearby.  They liked Schwab’s because the pharmacy had a delivery service which eliminated the need for the rich and famous to show up in person or send someone in to pick up their prescriptions.    That’s the straight scoop from the people who worked there.  I know, because I was there on October 22, 1983,  the day Schwab’s closed its doors for the last time.   I was doing the story for KABC-TV.   I snapped the photo above just before they locked the doors and went home.  Five years later, Schwab’s was demolished.

Chasen’s (Beverly Hills) was opened in 1936 by vaudevillian Dave Chasen on the advice of his friend Frank Capra and was called “Chasen’s Southern Pit.”  “New Yorker” Editor Harold Ross helped finance the operation.  “It was nothing more than a shack, but quickly became well known for its chili and was soon a favorite among Hollywood actors at the time. At first, Capra had to loan Chasen his silverware for the restaurant’s operation.[1] Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Cary Grant, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, W.C. Fields, James Cagney, Clark Gable, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were customers.” -Wikipedia

I’ve read that Alfred Hitchcock had his own booth.

As for the Derby, legend has it that Bob Cobb, a first cousin to baseball great Ty Cobb, invented the “Cobb Salad” for his diet conscious superstar clientele.    LA has a lot to offer, you just have to dig a little.  While the digging continues, it might be nice if our City leaders could think a little more about renovation as opposed to annihilation.  Just a thought.

Original Brown Derby Restaurant

                          photo: chalmers butterfield

(Trivia note:  Brown Derby founder Bob Cobb, should not be confused with the maestro by the same name of “Seinfeld” fame.  Also, I realize there are other noteworthy spots in the city and surrounding area.  Feel free to add to the list by clicking on “leave a comment.”)

Van Nuys Bumped As Busiest Airport

Apparently Van Nuys no longer has the busiest general aviation airport in the nation.  According to a piece in the Arizona Republic, the title now belongs to the Phoenix - Deer Valley Airport.

“We are ranked Number 1 for the busiest general aviation airport in the country,” said Gary Mascaro, Deer Valley Airport manager, who attributed the increase in business in part to flight schools.

The Valley’s general airport outperformed its longtime competitor, San Fernando Valley-based Van Nuys Airport, which had comparable landings and takeoffs.

That airport in California averaged more than 400,000 landings and takeoffs in 2005, when it clinched the world’s busiest general aviation airport.” -AZ Republic

An earlier story in the Los Angeles Times, points to an over-all drop in passenger traffic at Los Angeles Area Airports in 2009.  The decline is believed to have been caused by high fuel prices and the recession.

 

Doomed?

Paul Krugman thinks we’re “doomed.”  Here’s a bit from his column.   Click on the link at the bottom to read the rest.

“I’m with Simon Johnson here: how is it possible, at this late date, for Obama to be this clueless?

The lead story on Bloomberg right now contains excerpts from an interview with Business Week which tells us:

President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.” -Paul Krugman in the New York Times

Blue Cross Opens Door On Regulation?

Washington, DC — “Blue Cross has opened an opportunity for lawmakers and regulators with its premium hikes of up to 39% in California, said Consumer Watchdog. In the face of questions from the White House and an investigation by California’s insurance commissioner, federal and state lawmakers should act to regulate health insurance premiums and force insurers to defend every increase.

In recent letters to policyholders announcing yearly premium hikes of up to 39% and perhaps higher, Anthem Blue Cross of California says it is “necessary to adjust our rates to cover the escalating cost of health care.” Consumer Watchdog, noting that a 39% increase is 1,500% above the rate of consumer inflation, said the insurer was simply gouging policyholders to raise profits in the face of a sinking customer base.”  -Consumer Watchdog

Reuters Photographer Released

The U.S. Military has released a Reuters photographer after taking him from his home in Iraq and throwing him in prison for more than a year without charges being filed.

“U.S. and Iraqi forces smashed in the doors to Jassam’s house in Mahmudiya town, south of Baghdad, in September 2008 and whisked him away.

He spent time in a desert prison on the Iraq-Kuwait border, called Camp Bucca, and the smaller Camp Cropper detention center near Baghdad airport.

Jassam was one of several Iraqi journalists working for foreign news organizations who have been detained by the U.S. military, often for months at a time, since the 2003 U.S. invasion. None has ever been charged, triggering criticism from international journalism rights groups.” -Reuters

Psychiatry Marches On

 ”Mental Retardation” becomes an “intellectual disability,” and  “Asperger’s syndrome” becomes a mild version of autism.   Those are a couple of the changes in diagnostic language being proposed by the American Psychiatric Association.

“The manual suggests some new diagnoses. Gambling so far is the lone identified behavioral addiction, but in the new category of learning disabilities are problems with both reading and math. Also new is binge eating, distinct from bulimia because the binge eaters don’t purge.” -AP

Toyota Pulls Ads From ABC

The Guardian is reporting that more than 170 Toyota dealers have pulled their ads from ABC-TV, to protest news coverage of so-called “runaway Toyotas.”

‘”A marketing agency representing 173 Toyota dealers with showrooms in south-eastern states including Florida, Georgia and South Carolina told ABC it wants to shift spending to rival stations because of “excessive stories on the Toyota issues”.’ -The Guardian

Editor Sentenced To Five Years

Every now and then I have to remind myself that what is now referred to as China,  used to be commonly called “Communist China.”   The fact that it remains solidly Communist is pointed out by a story on a Chinese editor being sentenced to five years in prison for for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party.

The New York Times reports that Tan Zuoren, was given the sentence for writing about and against the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

Beyond that, it appears Mr. Tan was working on a piece exposing linkage between the Chinese business community and government officials that led to shoddy construction in the country’s schools.

The Times reports, “…he was assembling an independent report on the thousands of children killed when schools collapsed across Sichuan and nearby provinces during a devastating earthquake in May 2008.” -NY Times

On Haiti And Health Care

As the news continues to arrive from Haiti, I can’t stop thinking about our instinctive need to do all we can to eliminate human suffering.    The response is automatic.   In the final analysis we must depend upon one another for our security, health care and general well being.   Consequently, when visited by terrible suffering, civilized people respond without thinking about the cost.

One of the first responders from the U.S. was the search and rescue team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.     It made me proud to be an Angelino, when I saw our guys gathering up their gear at the airport to fly out to Port-au-Prince.   They were going because people were dying and it was the right thing to do.   Other cities, counties and states responded in like-fashion as did our President, who sent troops, our Secretary of State and a hospital ship.   As a nation, we are responding as we should.  It’s the way civilized people respond to tragedy because in the final analysis, all we have is one another.

The parallels with the near non-response to assist our own people following the Katrina tragedy in New Orleans will surely be made. People will be talking about the irony of former President George W. Bush pledging his support and congratulating President Obama for his rapid response to the disaster in Haiti.   Mr. Bush, has a legacy to try and build and after-the-fact is probably better than almost no positive legacy at all.    He’s been out of office for only one year and already our 43rd President has become a historically sad public figure.  At least he’s backing the Haitian relief effort.  That’s something.  Perhaps it should be taken a step further.

During the blitz on London, with death constantly on their doorstep and their city lying in ruins, the British people took a look around and realized that health care was a right and not a privilege.  To this day, they continue to care for one another regardless of someone’s ability to pay as does the rest of the industrialized world, with one exception.  That exception of course, is the United States.

A recent study from the Harvard Medical School, points to nearly 45,000 Americans dying annually because of a lack of health insurance and their inability to get good health care.    That’s Forty-five thousand a year.  That amounts to the Haiti death toll happening every four years or so, right here in the United States.

As we continue to do all we can to help the people of Haiti, as we should, I can’t help but feel concern for our own people.  Americans who have been forced to stay at home and suffer because they don’t have health insurance and can’t afford a visit to a doctor or dentist.   People who have lost their homes to foreclosure because of the high cost of health care while we pony up billions to bail out the banking industry.

We aren’t demanding proof of health insurance from the people of Haiti before going to their aid.   The British, the Canadians and the rest of the industrialized world have recognized that health care is a right and not a privilege.   And yet our own Congress can’t seem to deal with the necessity of providing for the health care of our own people with a genuine public health option and not some smoke-and-mirrors plan designed to protect the financial interests of the insurance industry rather than providing the kind of health care that should be considered an entitlement in any truly civilized society.

We can help in Haiti, but we can’t seem to help ourselves.  Something we should perhaps be thinking about as Mr. Obama continues his mission, playing a David-like hero for what’s left of the American middle class to the Goliath of the health insurance industry and their bought and paid for water carriers in the United State Senate.

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Late Add:  Emergency assistance needed here at home:   Not that things aren’t just ducky here in the U.S., but now comes word that an ice storm has hit the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in So. Dakota.  The people there (our Native Americans) are in need of food, medicine for kids and even shoes.  Right here in the U.S.A.  Think about it people.  Here’s a link to a Huffington Post story with info on where you can send your dollars.

Letterman, Leno And Oprah - The Promo

If you missed the Letterman show promo that aired during the Superbowl and featured Jay Leno, Oprah and David Letterman,  here it is.  And here’s a link to a piece in the LA Times  by Matea Gold and Maria Elena Fernandez, explaining how it came to be.

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