Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sorry, I couldn't help myself! Why wading in the mudpit with Chad and Mark can be so fun.

I could spend all day following the sophomoric bickering among some of our town's more prominent voices: Chad Vegas, the pastor and member of the Kern High School District, former city councilman Mark Salvaggio and the self-important Mark Martinez (pictured)out at Cal State Bakersfield. This is a field day for political theater (see previous post) so I couldn't resist posting Mark's response to Chad's response to a Salvaggio post. So confusing but so fun to follow. For those who don't know, Mark and Chad represent the far extremes of the political spectrum: Chad a thoughtful voice on the religious right and Mark an articulate far lefty who is fond of wrapping himself in the activist skin of "la raza." The background of this catfight is less important than the wonderfully tactless language they use. Here's Mark:

"If, after reading his heartfelt and insightful comments, quoting Proverbs 26:4 to Mark is all you can come up with you have issues. Still, I agree that Proverbs has much to say to all of us. This one in particular seems appropriate, Proverbs 26:7 'Like the legs of the lame that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Before you respond, you might want to think of this one, Proverbs 26: 11, "As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly." I can do this all day. In fact, if you want to join me, you can come on my radio program this afternoon. I have someone scheduled for the 3 pm time slot, so you'll have to call in during the first hour. I'm bringing my Bible."

Ouch! Can this get any better?

Salvaggio and Vegas: is mud wrestling next?

Some of the best political theater in town these days involves pastor-high school district board member Chad Vegas (pictured) versus Mark Salvaggio, the longtime city councilman who retired a few years back. It started when they went after each other, via long strings of email, over state Sen. Roy Ashburn's decision to vote with the Democrats to break the logjam and pass the state budget. (for the record Salvaggio found Ashburn's vote courageous while Vegas labeled him something akin to a modern-day Judas. The vitriol was searing, and one email triggered a response and on and on. So now they're at it again, this time with Salvaggio posting a long email (with me copied in) calling out Vegas for not voting to extend Cobra health benefits to four high school teachers. That got the attention of Californian columnist Lois Henry (read her column here. ) Here's an excerpt from Salvaggio's latest salvo:

"I read Lois Henry's recent column. She called you petty, harsh, snake-belly mean, and unable to look upon a personnel matter before the Board on a human level. Henry was right. I would add this: you are a Christian, a Christian pastor at that. Where is the love of Christ in your heart? Saying "That's neither here or there to me" shows a huge lack of compassion, compassion our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ demonstrated and imparted to us as believers. You said, " I'm not going to contribute to over-inflating the size of government." Does that mean you are going to vote against the federal stimulus money the Kern High School District may receive in the near future, or any other federal funding augmentation?"

Stay tuned. You know there's more to come.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rep. Kevin McCarthy: "my view from The Hill"

Our own Rep. Kevin McCarthy is in the midst of the battle over the future of our country in Washington. So thought it would be a good idea to let Kevin give us a periodic update - weekly, I hope - of what's on his mind. His report in his own words:

"Thanks for the opportunity to send updates about what is happening on Capitol Hill and in our community. This week, the number one agenda item is revitalizing our economy. That is why two issues are a major focus of debate - (1) federal budget and (2) card check.

(1) Federal Budget - unfortunately, the budget will take over three trillion dollars of taxes, new spending, and borrowing that will have to be paid for by our children's generation. We need to focus on productivity and job creation. How do we produce more and create jobs when Washington just takes more and borrows more?

(2) Card check - as our country works to address our economic challenges, the Congressional Democratic Leadership is proposing to take away a workers right to a secret ballot. This policy could result in more job losses. I support a workers right to a secret ballot.

Three other issues we must address are:

(1) Helping America ’s small businesses and the economy - small business create 70 percent of the jobs in our country. They can drive our economic recovery. Higher taxes and additional obstacles are not the way to fix our current economic problems.
Also, this week the Financial Services Committee I serve on held a hearing to explore common sense reform to help restore credit to middle class Americans and small businesses. Mark to market refers to accounting rules that affect how assets that have been the center of our economic downturn are valued. Mark to market accounting reform can help create solvency by transparently valuing "toxic assets" for financial institutions, which we all know from our economy has an affect in our communities.

(2) Energy independence - An issue that should not be lost sight of is energy independence. Coming from our district, we have shown that we have an effective energy corridor from the coast to the high desert that can produce significant energy through wind, solar, geothermal, and oil. By producing more at home, we can create good jobs here at home, instead of shipping billions to hostile countries.

(3) Education - I am back in the district and will travel tomorrow to the Central Coast to meet with school superintendents to listen to their concerns and ideas regarding strengthening our children’s schools. In particular, I am very interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in our schools to keep our nation competitive worldwide. Our children will not compete with kids from other states, they will compete with citizens of foreign countries, like India and China.

Feedback for Kevin. Post it here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Remembering Betty Ann Ong, and a warship built in her memory

We're approaching the eighth anniversary of 9-11 but time has not healed the scars and the sadness that terrible day left on our nation. Time marches on, politicians bicker and it seems some even forget, but for most of us the day the Twin Towers fell is seared in our memory. So it was interesting to get an email from Ed Herrera, brother-in-law of Betty Ann Ong, one of the American Airlines flight attendants who died when AA Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles was hijacked and diverted into the North World Trade Center Tower. Ed's wife (and Betty's sister) is Cathie Ong-Herrera, a Bakersfield resident who has since established a foundation in her sister's memory. Ed passed along a note about the USS New York, an impressive new warship built with 24 tons of scrap steel from the World Trade Center. Said Ed:

"This is a touching story of how deeply we were impacted by 9-11-01. My wife, Cathie Ong-Herrera, lost her sister on that day and unlike other losses 9-11-2001 will be relived every year as well as it should be, but it's a continuing grief which many don't understand. They say get over it and move on... I say just be understanding."

According to the Betty Ann Ong Foundation website, Betty Ann (shown here from a picture taken from the Foundation website) was the first person to notify American reservation agents of the hijacking, and she stayed on the phone for a full 23 minutes, calm and professional. Her final words prior to the crash were: "Pray for us."

How one local non-profit negotiates a tough economy, and succeeds in spite of it

The Women and Girl's Fund is a relatively young local charity devoted to providing a helping hand to needy young women in our community. It was the brain child of Judi McCarthy, and she has single-handedly taken it from nowhere to a fund with assets of more than $300,000. To understand Judi you have to understand she is the daughter of a Marine and has the drive and discipline to show for it. So how is the fund faring during this tumultuous time? Judi tells me the fund reached a high of $385,000 briefly and then - like everything else - took a huge hit in the market collapse. She explained the year it has been:

"We approached our founders (donors of $1,000 or more) with the prospect of reduced grant making in 2009, and they donated enough to the grant making pot to keep our grant impact even ($20,000).... In addition they added to the endowment."

Judi laid the success of the fund at the feet of her "great supporters," but no doubt it is also a testament to her own drive. Judi has moved on to become chairman of the Board at the Kern Community Foundation (where the WGF funds reside) and Mary Bynum is now running the WGF. New grants will be annnounced at an April 29 luncheon and in the meantime, the group will honor three artists at a March 19 event at Ice House Framing and Gallery.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Yahoo! and Las Vegas: struggling in the desert

Spent a few days in Las Vegas enjoying a wonderful suite at Mandalay Bay for roughly the price of a room at the Red Lion in Bakersfield. The place was a ghost town and what tourists I did see had distinctly Slavic accents. How can Serbs afford to travel in this recession? Also had a chance to hear Carol Bartz, the new Yahoo CEO speak before a group of newspaper executives. (800 newspapers have partnered with Yahoo to sell behavioral targeting ads) Bartz is impressive, tough as nails, and she needs to be to pull Yahoo out of the also-ran doldrums. There's some cool stuff on the horizon, including new social networking applications and opening up the Yahoo platform to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, as well as Flickr which Yahoo owns. Yahoo believes the cell phone is the single most powerful application of the future, and already there are more than four times as many cell phones as any other single device. Watch also for Yahoo to continue to partner with newspapers to go deep into local content (think high school sports) with applications for the cell phone (think posting pictures of your kid's prep baseball game via your phone).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Kern County, 34 other counties triggered massive mortgage crisis that spread across our nation

This may not be news for those of us who call Bakersfield home, but Kern was among 35 counties last year that were responsible for fully half of all foreclosures. At least that is what USA Today reports this weekend in a detailed analysis that shows the worst hit areas comprise only 1 percent of the total counties but account for a lion's share of the foreclosures. USA Today says Kern and the others were "the epicenter in a wave of foreclosures that left banks teetering amid the nation's economic problems." Check out the newspaper's terrific interactive county-by-county map here. Most of the hardest hit areas are in California, Florida, Las Vegas and Phoenix. The report says the counties leading the foreclosure boom account for 20 percent of U.S. households yet half of all foreclosures. Of course that's just one of the reasons why our unemployment rate has soared to 13.8 percent and why the average price of housing here continues to plummet.