Friday, July 31, 2009

Rep. Kevin McCarthy: Obama's health care reform bad news for consumers and bad news for local businesses

Rep. Kevin McCarthy reports form the Hill this week. If you want to weigh in, post comments for our congressman. In his own words:

"Health care reform continued to dominate discussions in the halls of Congress this week, and Speaker Pelosi ended up postponing any vote on a final version of her proposal until after the August district work period. While it was not what Speaker Pelosi would have wanted, I think it is good for all Americans to have more time to understand how this proposed health care reform could affect the personal health care that we and our families currently receive, and the treatments we get from our physicians.

"On Wednesday, a bill I introduced that focuses on increased accountability on Wall Street to protect “Main Street” was passed by the House. Under current law, those who commit misconduct while working for an entity regulated by the SEC, like a stock exchange, could resign and avoid being held accountable for their wrongdoing. My bill, H.R. 2623, would close these loopholes in securities laws, and also helps the overseers at the SEC better monitor actions to protect families and retirees from harmful actors in the industry.

"Later that afternoon, I was a guest on Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox Business to discuss the ongoing health care debate. If you missed the clip, you can see it on YouTube We discussed a Senate idea of government sponsored health care Co-Ops. As details on this proposal are scarce, the old notion rings true that the devil is in the details -- but I don’t see many angels in Congress. I am concerned that this Co-Op idea would in reality be Congress creating a Trojan horse for a government takeover of healthcare. Just look at what Senate Majority Harry Reid said: “We’re going to have some type of public option, call it ‘co-op’, call it what you want…”

"Thursday night, I was a guest on MSNBC’s “the Ed Show.” We had a spirited debate on the future of our country, and of course health care was a major topic. Ed was not too familiar with the details of the Democratic proposal so I had to fill him in -- you can check out the whole clip on my YouTube page. Paying for future health care reform is a significant concern for many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. For example, both the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation have said that the current Democrat proposal includes tax hikes for American families and small businesses. What are the effects of these proposals? Earlier in the week a small business owner of a pizza shop visited Congress and told me that the small businesses tax hikes wouldn’t result in layoffs, but would result in his business being completely shutdown. I do not think this is the time to increase taxes for job creating small businesses (American small businesses create over 70 percent of jobs in America) – especially in our communities when California continues to struggle with double digit unemployment and reports on Friday show that our national economy has shrunk twice as much as predicted. American families need jobs, and I will continue to work grow small businesses. It’s commonsense -- more vibrant small businesses = more American jobs.

"The week finished up with the House passing the final appropriations bill: the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which will provide our men and women with a 3.4% pay increase, and 14% increase in medical care for service members. No funding to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center was included, and the bill continues the ban on releasing detainees within the U.S.

"Congress will not be in session this next month and I will be returning to California for the August District Work Period for a full schedule that will focus on small businesses and the ongoing health care reform debate that will gear back up in the fall. Thanks for reading.


Short takes around town: a hard throwing local kid heads to the big leagues, dangerous mortgage default rates and a touch of the arts

Looking forward to a brief respite from the heat wave this weekend, when the highs are expected to stay a tad below 100. You know you're from Bakersfield when you welcome 99 degree days ... Lots happening around town. Let's get to it:

* ... JARRET HEADS TO THE BIGS: It's always great to see local kids excel, be it in athletics or academics or both. So here's to Jarret Martin, former Centennial High standout now at Bakersfield College who just inked a nice contract with the Baltimore Orioles. Jarret's mom is Dana Martin, a local writer and regular contributor to BakersfieldLife magazine and one of our community's great cheerleaders. Dana tells me her boy got what he wanted in terms of money, and on top of that he gets his college education paid for by the Orioles. So the kid can't lose either way. Here's to Jarret and all the other local kids moving up and out.

* ... MIXED NEWS ON HOUSING: I try to keep a pulse on the local housing market here and yesterday posted a short (and optimistic) note about home sales after talking to Ray Karpe, president of Karpe Real Estate Center. (read that post here) Then today I read in the Los Angeles Times that California's default rate has soared to 9.5 percent. That means that 1 in every 10 home loans in California is now in default. Ouch! So I touched based with local appraiser Gary Crabtree, who arguably has a better handle on local housing than anyone else in town. Let's hear it from Gary in his own words:

"We are in recovery mode now with increasing prices, but my real concern is the second wave of upcoming foreclosures, the unemployment and the ever increasing number of "short sale" listings (future foreclosures) on the market. I just ran some numbers today and found that out of 1,345 total listings, there are only 280 REO listings on the market (21%) and 389 short sale listings (29%). On the sales side out of 506 sales so far in July, 317 (62%) are REO and 53 (10%) are short sales. "This doesn't bode well for the short sales that will most likely turn into foreclosures. In spite of the record number of foreclosures, my sources are telling me that the lenders are actually showing some responsibility by only releasing a few each month for sale and holding on to the rest either in the form of rentals or leaving former owners/tenants in them. I hope this is true. If so, it will go a long way to curb the next "bloodbath". "

So let's all keep our fingers crossed. We need a steady recovery in housing to lead us out of this recession. There is certainly pent-up demand, so let's get to it.

* ... DANTE'S DIVINE COMEDY: If you're in the mood for an evening of art and education, mark next Thursday (Aug. 6) on your calendar. The Bakersfield Museum of Art will host a lecture by Dr. Robert Crewdsen on The Divine Comedy. It runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and is free to members and just $3 for non members. The museum always does a good job with these lectures, so make sure to check it out. For more details check it out here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Economist: Kevin McCarthy, two others lead GOP's "Young Guns" to resurrect party

Other than the declining popularity of President Obama, there's not a lot of celebrate these days if you are a die-hard Republican. The party leadership is in disarray, Sarah Palin is back on the loose and no one can seem to agree on a cohesive opposition party strategy. So it was nice to see The Economist recognize Bakersfield's Kevin McCarthy as one of three House conservatives who are leading the push to help reform the party and give it one cohesive voice. Though a product of Great Britain, The Economist wield enormous influence and is known for its smart and thoughtful commentary. Getting a mere mention in the magazine can make careers, so it was nice to see McCarthy get some ink. Read the full story here but here's an excerpt:

"So conservatives seeking saviours are increasingly alighting upon the House of Representatives, and especially the youthful duo of Eric Cantor, the Republican whip, and Paul Ryan (pictured below), the party’s senior member on the budget committee. Both represent swing states: Mr Cantor, 46, is from Virginia, Mr Ryan, 39, from Wisconsin. Both leapfrogged older stalwarts to get their current posts (Mr Cantor is the most senior House Republican after the minority leader, John Boehner, who is 59). Along with Kevin McCarthy, a representative from California, they run the Young Guns, a team of House Republicans devoted to helping favoured candidates get elected."

The story continued: "But whatever the division of labour, it is not hard to see the two men’s usefulness to their party. Their determination to produce alternatives rather than mere opposition to Democratic policies should help to prevent the Republicans from being typecast as the party of “no”. And they are generally more mindful of the tone they strike than older, grouchier Republicans. Mr Ryan’s political hero is the late Jack Kemp, the soul of sunny conservatism.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bako bits: With fingers crossed, is the real estate market finally turning? Some believe it is ...

* ... IS THE RECOVERY IN SIGHT? So here's some good news: it appears there is finally - belatedly - some firm signs that the local residential real estate market is beginning to turn. Really. First there was the release of Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Index yesterday that showed home prices in most major cities gaining for the first time in three years. (Of course some markets, like Las Vegas and Phoenix in particular remain depressed.) That was good enough news to make the front page today of The Wall Street Journal, which has pointed out repeatedly that there can be no recovery without residential real estate leading the way. So I picked up the phone and called old friend Ray Karpe, president of Karpe Real Estate Center, to take his pulse. It was the first time I had talked to Ray in months that he seemed genuinely upbeat. In his words:

"Houses are going quickly and we're looking at inventory down to a couple months supply," he said. "And it's not just foreclosures but good homes, more expensive homes that are moving too. Look, we're not out of the foreclosure mess; we're going to have more of those. But the good news is you can sell houses now. The interest rates are good and prices have even ticked up a bit." Meanwhile, I heard on CNBC that tomorrow new statistics will be released by RealtyTrac, and that should help confirm if things are getting better. But they warned: there are indications that rising unemployment is leading to a new round of foreclosures that are unrelated to the earlier bad loan foreclosures. So, we'll have to wait and see.

Ray did go on to say that, contrary to single-family residential, everything from "apartments to heavy industrial" property is "in the tank. It's just awful." He said the same is true for folks in the development business or anyone who is holding debt on land. He continued:

"It's the single family stuff that is moving. Look, if you're going to buy a house, do it now. Don't wait. We've hit the bottom and you're going to see prices start rising again."

* ... BC RECYCLING PROGRAM: Got a note from Amber Chiang, marketing csar over at Bakersfield College, about a free e-waste recycling collection set for Aug. 15. You'll be able to take your old computer monitors, laptops, fax machines, toner cartridges, old cell phones and even car batteries and drop them off at the college's southeast stadium parking lot at the corner of Mt. Vernon and University. It will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m..

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bakersfield makes top ten in number of solar roofs in California; San Diego tops list

Nice to see that the solar movement is finally taking hold in Bakersfield, at least according to a report compiled by Environment California, an LA-based nonprofit advocacy group. According to a story in the Fresno Bee, the group ranked the top ten cities for both the number of solar roofs installed, as well as for total "solar capacity." Bakersfield ranked sixth in terms of total number of solar roofs and seventh in terms of total solar capacity. The top ten list for the sheer number of solar roofs:

1) San Diego
2) San Francisco
3) Los Angeles
4) San Jose
5) Fresno
6) Bakersfield
7) Clovis
8) Santa Rosa
9) Sacramento
10) Berkeley

Not sure about you, but this list doesn't surprise me. I've had two neighbors install solar panels in the past year and lots of folks are studying the economics and pay back. The city of Fresno seems to have be much more aggressive in its solar programs. Said the Bee:

"Fresno's No. 5 ranking for the number of solar installations includes everything from rooftop systems on houses to large commercial and government projects. When the Fresno and Clovis numbers are combined, the area has 1,764 installations, more than San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Jose.
"Joseph Oldham, the city of Fresno's sustainability manager, said leadership by the current and previous mayor and the City Council has helped spur acceptance of solar power here.
"The city allowed 9.5 acres of solar panels to be built at Fresno Yosemite International Airport by a private company and buys the power it produces. The city also has a 668-kilowatt system on a rooftop at the Municipal Service Center, where city buses and other vehicles are serviced."

To read the complete Bee story, click on the link here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oildale as art and a window on the past through the Kern County Historical Society

Starting the week bracing for more temperatures in the 100s but getting some joy out of new life in the stock market. Let's take a look at some of the things going on in our world:

* ... DOGS AND MORE DOGS: I always look forward to the quarterly "bulletin" from the Kern County Historical Society. It's always rich with content about our past and carries some fascinating historic images. The latest issue did not disappoint, and focuses on an issue that is familiar to us all: the licensing of dogs in our community. The bulletin carries a notice that appeared in the Californian on Feb. 23, 1898, telling folks that all dogs had to be registered and if not, they'd end up in a new city pound. Some interesting tidbits:
* In 1898 there were 125 dogs registered, in 1900 that jumped to 174 and the following year 129.
* The most prevalent name in the books for a dog was Prince and "was bestowed on spaniels, setters, pugs, a poodle and a bulldog. Another popular name was Jip.
* The Pacific Coast Field Trial Club hosted field trials at several Bakersfield locations, including the old Stockdale Ranch in 1902, owned by William S. Tevis.
If you'd like to view a complete listing of the registrations, go to the Collections and Research section of the Kern County Museum website located here.

* ... OILDALE ART IN LA: Spotted this brochure for the Oildale art exhibit on the Facebook page of Claudia True, one of our popular local artists who recently picked up and moved out of town. Claudia is good at staying in touch and promoting our local artists, and I'm happy to pass this along. If you are in Los Angeles, make sure you check out the art exhibit.

* ... CARBON CAPTURE: Got word that the CSUB Department of Geology will be hosting a public workshop on "Carbon Capture and Sequestration" on Friday, Sept. 25, at the CSUB Student Union. Apparently a bunch of experts from across the country will be on campus to discuss various aspects to this technology. It's open to the public and free but you have to register. Go to the link here to do so.