Friday, September 11, 2009

Rep. Kevin McCarthy: Obama's speech more of the same; time to rein in the the "czars"

 The latest update from Washington from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. Let him know how you feel by posting to the "comments" section below.
 Health care reform was at center stage this week as the President addressed Congress Wednesday night.  I was able to talk with the President some before his speech as I was on his Congressional Escort Committee.  In his speech, I appreciated the President’s call to work together, even though this should have happened a while ago.  In May, I joined my GOP colleagues in sending a letter to the President requesting a health care meeting.  Unfortunately, the response from the White House did not grant that request, and we could not engage in a dialogue where both sides exchanged policy solutions – like my view that we need medical malpractice reform, which is projected to be a cost-saver of $100 billion/year.  If you would like to see these letters, they are posted on my website ( under the Health Care Solutions section.
During August, I held two town halls--one in Bakersfield and one in San Luis Obispo County--and three tele-town hall meetings.  These meetings were very helpful, as I was able to listen to solutions and ideas from local residents.  Unfortunately, the President’s speech on Wednesday night was more of the same government takeover proposals outlined in his 28 other health care speeches, which many of our local residents and many Americans strongly disagree with. I had hoped the President would have heeded the call of the American people, abandoned H.R. 3200, and sought to start over with common-sense solutions.  Many of these solutions were supported by local residents at the Bakersfield town hall meeting.  Below are some more of the top solutions that people were in favor of. I plan to release the full results in an e-newsletter.  To sign up for my e-newsletters, visit my website -
· Allow small business to band together to pool & reduce risk when purchasing health insurance:
· Allow individuals and companies to purchase health insurance across state lines:
Also the continuing appointment of “Czars,” which do not go through a Congressional approval process and are also unaccountable to Congress is a growing concern for me.  To address this I cosponsored H.R. 3226, the Czar Accountability and Reform (CZAR) Act of 2009.  Our government continually needs to strive for accountability and transparency, and this bill is a common sense solution to ensure this happens.
As we go into the weekend, we should all take time out to reflect on the anniversary of September 11th.   We should remember our local soldiers like Evan Morgan who was seriously injured during his second tour in Iraq or Ricardo Ruiz who just returned from abroad--both are reminders to us all of the bravery and courage of the men and women that defend our nation. Now eight years later, our memories should strengthen our nation’s resolve to support our present day servicemembers and their families, continue to care for our veterans, and continue the fight against extremism that threatens our way of life. 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Short takes around town: Local cotton company inks big contract with mainland China while a Canadian decides to give it up for U.S. citizenship

  Some short takes around our community as we head into the weekend.

 * ... JESS SMITH AND SONS INKS CHINA CONTRACT: Picked up some good news for Jess Smith and Sons Cotton Co., the 67-year-old cotton merchandising company based in Bakersfield. Apparently the company inked a five-year contract with Luthai Textile Co. LTD, one of the world's best known and largest manufacturer of high grade yarn, dyed fabrics and top brand shirts. Not sure what the value of the contract is but it's certainly good news for CEO Ernie Schroeder Jr. and his team over at Jess Smith. Schroeder got the word while in Scottsdale this week for a U.S.-China Economic and Trade Forum. Apparently Luthai chairman Liu Shizhen presented Ernie with a gift from the 2000 year old Qin Dynasty as well as the honorary U.S.-China flag pin. Thanks to Steve Houston of Houston Jewelers and Tracy Walker-Kiser of Herb Walker's Clothing Co. for bringing this to my attention.

* ... GAUTHIER THE PRODUCER: Looks like one of our local products has found his way into the movie business. Jadon Gauthier, a junior at Biola University down in Los Angeles, is the producer of a short film shot on location in Tokyo. Called "Jitensha (Bicycle)," the film was just selected as an entry to the Venice Film Festival. Congrats to proud dad Jay Gauthier, a former Californian sales rep and now manager for the Guardian Warranty Corp. If you want to check out the movie, click on the link here.

* ... BLUES FEST NEXT WEEK: It's not too late to pick up some tickets to the B-Town Blues Fest, set for next Saturday over at the CSUB amphitheater. Tickets range from $30 to $40 for adults and of course tables are available for groups. It will run from 3:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Call 661-831-3100 for tickets or pick them up over at World Records on 18th Street downtown. Part of the proceeds will benefit the Bone Marrow Registry.

  * ... FROM CANDIAN TO AMERICAN: Had a chance to hear Bakersfield Condors coach Marty Raymond speak to my downtown Rotary Club today. The Condors have not been immune from the economic downturn and it's showing up in weaker attendance, but it was good to hear about the team's deep commitment to being involved in the community. Marty was born in a small town outside of Montreal and grew up speaking French as his first language, but he made it clear he had taken to Bakersfield and the United States. His kids were born here and he revealed he's well on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Crossing the Finish Line:" the promise and the failure of our public universities, and why it matters

 Came across an interesting book review in today's New York Times (read it here) along with an accompanying story on the state of our public universities and the important role they play. (you can read that piece by David Leonhardt here). The book is called "Crossing the Finish Line" and it paints a distressing picture of how few of our kids who enter college actually graduate. One of the issues is what the authors call "under matching," meaning large numbers of students don't attend the most selective schools but rather one that is closer, costs less or is simply more convenient. Leonhardt begins:

 "At its top levels, the American system of higher education may be the best in the world. Yet in terms of its core mission — turning teenagers into educated college graduates — much of the system is simply failing.
Only 33 percent of the freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts, Boston, graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico. The economist Mark Schneider refers to colleges with such dropout rates as “failure factories,” and they are the norm.
"The United States does a good job enrolling teenagers in college, but only half of students who enroll end up with a bachelor’s degree. Among rich countries, only Italy is worse. That’s a big reason inequality has soared, and productivity growth has slowed. Economic growth in this decade was on pace to be slower than in any decade since World War II — even before the financial crisis started. 

 "He continues, though, on a note of surprising optimism:
 "For all the book’s alarming statistics, its message is ultimately uplifting — or at least invigorating.
Yes, inadequate precollege education is a problem. But high schools still produce many students who have the skills to complete college and yet fail to do so. Turning them into college graduates should be a lot less difficult than fixing all of American education."

 This is an important book and one can't help but wonder where Kern County fits into the scheme of things. We suffer from a high school dropout rate approaching 25 percent, and last I heard only 11-13 percent of Kern County adults had graduated from college. An even smaller percentage of our kids go away to four year schools, but there seems little doubt that we too suffer from "under matching," meaning that of the high achievers we produce, most will settle for far less selective schools simply because of their family's inability to pay today's skyrocketing tuition rates at top tier public schools. It's worth our time, and our consideration, to find ways to get all our achieving kids into college, and into the best school they deserve.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bako Bits: Confusing a Husky with a Cougar, a valentine to the historic Noriega Hotel and budget woes at CSUB

  Wrapping up some nuggets from around our community and trying to outrun some angry University of Washington alumni who are after my hide ...

 * ... MAKE MINE A PICON PUNCH: Always nice to see Bakersfield's rich culture recognized by the national media, and the September edition of the Altantic magazine turned its attention to the historic Noriega Hotel, one of our renowned Basque dining establishments and home of the famous Picon Punch. (read the entire story here) The writer Wayne Curtis gives the Noriega its due, even if he did focus primarily on the punch and not the terrific food. From the story:

  "But what lured me here was the Picon Punch. The early history of the drink remains murky, but it appears to be a Basque-American concoction, without antecedent in the old country. The punch has some variants within its broad range. But it’s usually made with grenadine, club soda, a float of brandy, and Amer Picon, a bitter French aperitif made with herbs and burnt orange peel. I’m told in some Nevada bars it’s served in a mug, rather than the standard old-fashioned glass."

  * ... WITH APOLOGIES TO THE HUSKIES: I erred in a recent item noting that former Bakersfield High Driller Will Mahan was punting for the University of Washington Huskies. I actually called the school the "Washington State Huskies," which given college rivalries these days is enough to get me tarred and feathered by the Husky faithful. It's like confusing UCLA and USC or the Georgia Bulldogs with the Florida Gators. KERO-TV anchor Jackie Parks, herself a University of Washington alum, told me she just about "choked on my coffee" when she read her beloved Huskies were mentioned in the same sentence as that "cow town" college across the state, the Washington State Cougars. So with apologies to Jackie and the Husky faithful ... mea culpa.

 * ... DIVISION ONE REPORT FROM CSUB: Karen Langston, one of the marketing folks over at Cal State Bakersfield, turned me onto the Athletic Department's  "Roadrunner Report" blog which is rich in information on the university. (you can read it here) In it, Athletic Director Rudy Carvajal gives an update on the school's move to Division I and how the recession and budget crisis is affecting the program. Tough times all around. In Rudy's words:
 "The bad news is that the budget crisis, particularly as it impacts CSUB’s Athletics Program, has been significant. Not only has it reduced staffing and state support, it has also increased our scholarship fees this year by 30%, which amounts to more than $250,000 in additional and unexpected expenses. Cumulatively, it also marks the third consecutive year of state budget reductions. Our ability to turn this around will depend upon our ability to encourage community volunteers to help us and to make significant progress in growing our donor base. Without considerable growth and support in both of these areas, it will have a profound effect on our future.
One can easily see that we need growth and not reductions in support to be able to sustain the 19 Division I sports we currently offer. While the average donation has grown over the last few years, the number of donors has fallen. We really need your help, and there are many ways that you can assist us. For example, if each of our current donors recruited just one new donor, we could double our donor base. It is that simple, and you could make that happen." (photo of Rudy courtesy of CSUB)


* ... REMEMBER THE GARCES, CSUB BARBECUES: Don't forget two important fund raisers coming up that need our support. The first is the annual Garces Memorial High fall barbeque, featuring the famous "Icardo special" New York steak or Teriyaki chicken dinner. Cost is $25 a person and doors open at 5 p.m. This comes up Thursday, October 1. My elder daughter graduated from Garces and I know the folks work hard and do a good job, and even when money is tight, this is a fund raiser to support. The next week, on Thursday October 8, you can dine again at the 31st annual Cal State Bakersfield athletics barbeque. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.. Tickets are being presold for $25 each and are $30 at the door. Call 661-654-3473.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lost jobs, lack of insurance and a struggling real estate market: taking the economic pulse of our community:

I don't pretend to be an economist, but I do listen when I'm out and what I'm hearing these days indicates an economic stagnation of a depth unseen in our generation. Some snippets of where we are:

* ... THE ECONOMIC CRISIS ON TRUXTUN EXTENSION: Had a chance last week to visit with Dr. Raj Patel of Preferred Family Care Physicians over off Truxtun. Patel has been our family doctor for years and I'm an unapologetic fan of his practice, which teams him with Dr. John Heidrick and office manager Teri Reyes. I was there getting my semi-annual allergy shot, and Patel shared with me that his practice is off 10-plus percent because of this economy. Why? First, many folks have simply lost their jobs and with that their health insurance. So they're gone. Second, many companies have pushed their employees to high deductible plans where the employee pays the first $2,000 or $2,500 in health care out of their own pocket. With money as tight as it is, folks simply aren't showing up at the doctor's office for every ailment. And lastly - and this was a tad surprising - Raj said even some folks with insurance are delaying visits because they are so strapped for cash. The result: fewer people in the waiting room and no doubt some folks who should be there are not. (Patel is third from right in this group photo taken when Preferred Family was honored by the Red Cross as one of our community heroes last year)

* ... VIEW FROM A CUSTOM BUILDER: Got a nice email from Dave Turner, owner of Turner Custom Homes, giving me his take on the real estate market. Dave is one of the high-end builders who has been sucker-punched by this downturn. I had cited Dave in an earlier post (read it here) and he wanted to clarify a few points. In his words:
a)The upturn in new home construction is mild, and mostly in the entry level due to the stimulus.
b) The market locally seems in balance between buyers and sellers, which should stabilize prices somewhat. The foreclosures may keep values down for quite a while, but banks seem to be metering out their REO’s (Real Estate Owned, i.e. foreclosures) so they don’t flood the market and push prices lower;
c)The study I cited from San Diego was from a builder publication noting that the head of the Dept. of Real Estate at a San Diego university (don’t recall which) predicted that values in the San Diego market would not return to 2005 levels until 2016. Real estate is local, and what is true elsewhere may or may not be true in Bakersfield. I cited it only as an indicator of what we might expect “value-wise.” I don’t expect our activity level will ever get back to where we were during the giddy days.
d)Regarding the higher-end, I don’t think I mentioned a National Assn. of Home Builders publication that predicted the higher-end market won’t return until 2012. Again, that is a national prediction, and may or may not be true here – just another indicator.

* ... LOCAL BOY PUNTING FOR THE HUSKIES: It was good to see Will Mahan, a product of Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield College, on the field and doing well as a punter for the University of Washington Huskies this weekend. Thanks to retired endodontist Dr. Bob Smith, himself a Driller dad, for pointing this out to me.