Friday, May 15, 2009

Rep. McCarthy's view from the Hill: warnings about Social Security, art and the magic of Dewar's

A weekly look at priorities in Congress from Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). In his own words:

"I am home in Bakersfield, concluding a busy week where I had a very interesting discussion with thirty world business leaders, including Tony Blair, about the future of our financial system. We discussed the idea of a systemic risk regulator, which might be taken up in Congress later this year.

Art Competition: "On Saturday, come join me as I present awards to the winners of the 2009 Congressional Art Competition. The ceremony will take place at the Metro Galleries (1604 19th Street), from 11:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m. This year I received 78 entries from 19 schools in our District.
"I am always impressed with the talents of the young artists in our district. It’s amazing to see the creativity and quality of artwork our local students produce and I look forward to honoring their achievements. The overall winner will receive an invitation to attend the exhibit opening of “An Artistic Discovery” in Washington, D.C. in June and the artwork will be displayed in the corridor leading to the U.S. Capitol for one year. I am also presenting awards to those students who place first, second, third and Honorable Mentions in the following three categories: photography, computer-generated art, and all other mediums. All winners have the option of displaying their artwork in my D.C. office for a year.

MVP: "This week I also reintroduced the “Military Voting Protection” (MVP) Act to help ensure our troops’ absentee ballots are delivered back home in time to be counted, and do not get lost on the way. Thousands of military votes in past elections have not been counted (no fault of troops) simply because the votes did not arrive to the local election office in time. Our troops are sacrificing overseas fighting to protect our freedoms, and shouldn’t face another round of electoral obstacles greater than any other eligible voters. We know overseas military votes go uncounted, and we know how to help fix the problem. Joining me from across the aisle is Democratic Congressman Dan Boren from Oklahoma to offer this bipartisan common-sense solution to protect the votes of our troops and ensure they are counted. Joining me on the Senate side offering companion bipartisan legislation is U.S. Senator John Cornyn from Texas and Democratic U.S. Senators Mark Begich and Ron Wyden.

Social Security: "The announcement this week that the government has moved up the date that Social Security trust funds will run out is of great concern. I believe that Americans should be made aware of the Social Security Trust Fund’s effect on their projected monthly benefits in their annual Social Security Statement to better plan for retirement. That is why I introduced the “More Transparent and Honest Communications with American Workers Reform Act”. This legislation will paint a clearer picture of Social Security benefits for American workers by requiring the annual Social Security statement to not only include the estimated monthly benefit under current law, but also the estimated monthly benefit after the Trust Fund is exhausted. Keeping these statements honest and transparent will allow Americans to know what their future benefits are actually going to be, and help them plan accordingly for retirement. This bill does not alter benefits, it merely communicates what benefits will be distributed under current law.

Dewar’s 100th Anniversary: "Concluding the week I honored a leading small business in our community, Dewar's Family Candy and Ice Cream Parlor, with recognition in the Congressional Record. Dewar’s is celebrating 100 years of operation this weekend. Started in 1909 with a belief in quality ingredients no matter the cost, Dewar’s is original from the bottom up; they still grind their own nuts, and make their own ice cream, and peanut butter. I have been going to Dewar’s my whole life, and particularly enjoyed a quick trip to Dewar’s after school when I attended Bakersfield High School down the street. I always order a George’s Special – that combination of homemade vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and banana in a milkshake that cannot be beat. Dewar’s chews are popular snacks in my office, and a wonderful way to share a little piece of Bakersfield in Washington, D.C. Dewar’s is a keystone of our small business community that measures success in its loyalty from generations of local customers. I will be stopping by on Saturday to congratulate and wish them the very best in the next 100 years.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bakersfield's oil patch and Chevron's huge footprint producing black gold

Spent part of the morning scanning a new report that came my way entitled "Energizing California: Mapping Chevron's Impacts on the Golden State." Conducted for Chevron by the Milken Institute, it's a complete rundown of Chevron's extensive California operations, most of which are headquartered in Bakersfield. That Bakersfield is an oil town comes as no surprise to anyone who calls it home, but the size and scope of big oil's footprint here is impressive beyond words.
In 2007, the report says, the oil companies employed 65,000 people in California and indirectly (via contractors I suppose) supported the employment of another 240,000 people. Chevron alone employed some 10,000 workers.

In Bakersfield, the report said Chevron:
* ... employed 1,140 workers in the Bakersfield area.
* ... overall, Chevron accounts for about a fourth of the region's economic activity industry wide.
* ... In 2006 Kern County was responsible for 76 percent of California's total oil production.
* ... the Kern River oil field (pictured above and operated by Chevron) is the third largest oil field in the state, producing more than 30.8 million barrels or roughly 14 percent of the state's oil production.
* ... in addition Chevron also operates more than 35 percent of the Midway-Sunset field, which currently is the largest oil-producing field in the state.
* ... given our less diversified industry mix, the report argues that Chevron's operations in Bakersfield "may have more critical implications in this local economy than in the rest of the state. In a region of relatively low per capita income, the presence of Chevron generates higher-paying jobs with earnings that are, in turn, recycled back into the local economy...."

A full life as viewed through a newspaper obituary: Michael Keniston

I posted an earlier note on the passing of Michael Keniston (see earlier post here) the popular music teacher who won over students and friends with the strength of his personality. (he's the second from right in the picture) Now I see his obituary in The Californian, which reveals a life well lived and reflects the energy and enthusiasm for which he was known. Funny how much we can learn of folks after they are gone, and it's no wonder that the obituary page consistently comes up as one of the most well-read pages in any newspaper in the nation. Keniston worked for the Bakersfield City School District and, according to the obit, taught most recently at Voorhies, Wayside and McKinley Elementary schools. He graduated from Cal State Fullerton and seemed drawn to drama and risks. He was a skydiver and apparently a bungee jumper as well, not to mention an accomplished dancer and actor at the Melodrama. His death is a loss not only for his family and friends, but for our community as well. A memorial service will be held at First Presbyterian Church on 17th Street this Saturday at 10 a.m. A reception will follow at Westminster Hall. Graveside services will be held Monday at 10 a.m. at Hillcrest Memorial Park.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

School Supt. Larry Reider announces his retirement; a very public life comes to an end

Was sad to hear that Larry Reider, longtime Kern County Superintendent of Schools, has finally decided to call it quits and head into retirement. I say sad because Larry is one of the "good guys," a public official who threw his heart and soul into his work and showed up at his office every day determined to make this a better place to live. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say Larry is one of the most popular public officials in town. He has been involved and served on the boards of about every non-profit and he has always provided the resources of his offices to those in need. And, of course, it never hurts that Larry has a dynamic personality, a rapier like wit and a genuinely upbeat personality. Seeing Larry and wife Sandra at fund raisers across town has always been a highlight, and he promises to stick around and not be a stranger. Here are a few of Larry's accomplishments over the years (Larry is pictured below with museum director Bernie Herman at a recent museum opening):

* He had a 44-year career in education, the last 10 as county superintendent.
* He was one of the founders of the Community Reading Project along with The Californian and our publisher Ginger Moorhouse. That program sees hundreds of volunteers go into 30 schools to personally tutor second graders.
* He was a key player in the Ready to Start program that targets kids heading into kindergarten.
* He co-chaired a teacher retention and recruitment task force that developed approaches to recruit and retain more Kern County-based teachers.
* I could go on but you get the picture. And suffice it to say that Larry was involved in any number of local organizations, from downtown Rotary to Bakersfield Vision 2020 to the Chamber of Commerce to the Bakersfield Museum of Art. And that just scratches the surface.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beloved Bakersfield city school district music teacher Michael Keniston, 56, dies

Learned today that Michael Keniston, a popular music teacher with the Bakersfield City School District, has died at the age of 56. I didn't know Michael but those that did describe him as highly motivated, engaging and full of energy. Good teachers are hard to come by and good music teachers - because there are so few of them - also equally in scarce supply. Not sure what was the cause of death. Check back here for details. Keniston was one of the music teachers slated to conduct at Monday's city honor orchestra at Rabobank Arena. He's the second from the right in the photo, where he is shown with other city music teachers touring the schools and performing trying to get kids interested in music.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ford: steady hand and good products give its dealerships something to crow about

Nobody over at Jim Burke Ford is claiming the recession is about to end, but there is an undeniable sense of optimism about the direction Ford Motor Co. is heading under new CEO Alan Mulally. Ford is turning out some terrific cars (read my earlier post on the Fusion hybrid here) and its decision to reject federal bailout funds has turned into a huge public relations windfall. (Before I go on, an anonymous "commenter" on this blog earlier accused me of hyping the Fusion because I likely owned a Ford. For the record, I drive nothing but Toyota products and have for years, but I'm an unapologetic cheerleader for local companies like Jim Burke Ford and am thrilled that Ford Motor Co. is making a comeback.)

So when I got an email today from Burke marketing czar Kyle Northway about a story in Fortune magazine about Mulally and his efforts at Ford, I was eager to open the file. You just have to love the common sense that Mulally has brought to Ford, as seen in this excerpt from the story (full story available here):

"I arrive here, and the first day I say, 'Let's go look at the product lineup.' And they lay it out, and I said, 'Where's the Taurus?' They said, 'Well, we killed it.' I said, 'What do you mean, you killed it?' 'Well, we made a couple that looked like a football. They didn't sell very well, so we stopped it.' 'You stopped the Taurus?' I said. 'How many billions of dollars does it cost to build brand loyalty around a name?' 'Well, we thought it was so damaged that we named it the Five Hundred.' I said, 'Well, you've got until tomorrow to find a vehicle to put the Taurus name on because that's why I'm here. Then you have two years to make the coolest vehicle that you can possibly make.'?" The 2010 Taurus is arriving on the market this spring, and while it is not as startling as the original 1986 Taurus, it is still pretty cool."

Photo of Alan Mulally courtesy of Fortune magazine.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Water in the Kern River: what a difference a thimble full of water does for a community's mood

The picture above pretty much tells the story. Only in Bakersfield do you have a river where ... well ... there is no water. And in a community known to the outside world for its 115-degree summers, not to mention dust storms so strong and ugly that you think you're in Egypt's great Western Desert, God knows we can use a little water. Which is why weekends like this one, where for one reason or another a thimble full of water showed up in the river, are so joyous. The Californian reported that we'll have water for two to three weeks because two water districts are doing so as part of a joint water banking program. It's amazing how a little water can improve the mood. Everyone comments on it, folks go down to the riverbank to wade in it, and I even spotted one woman taking pictures of it. Imagine that! Water in a riverbed has become so rare we take pictures of it. I'm not smart enough to know why we don't have water in the river year round. You'll have to ask Lois Henry or someone with a higher pay grade. But it has always astounded me that there isn't more political pressure to make it happen. How many more homes would we sell and what kind of riverside development would we have if we had a water flowing year round, like the picture of the upstream Kern River below? We've all just seemed to have given up. So in the meantime, as the T-shirts say:

"Bakersfield: a riverbed runs through it."