Friday, October 9, 2009

McCarthy: time for Obama administration to reprioritize and refocus on the economy

 Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) gives his weekly take on what's important. In his words:

 "I was on a panel of Members of Congress on a new live CNBC “Squawk Box” feature to discuss issues, and inevitably, most of our discussion centered on job creation in this country.  The September unemployment report indicated that 263,000 American jobs were lost this past month, and the unemployment rate has risen to 9.8%.  In addition to these numbers, the White House updated its February 2009 Stimulus job projection estimate and no state was on track to meet the Administration’s goals.  According to these projections, our country is an alarming 6 million jobs short of the Stimulus projections.  In response to these disconcerting reports, my colleagues and I reached out to the White House once again to try to get something done. This time, we sent a letter to the President expressing our desire to re-prioritize and re-focus efforts on our economy and job creation. In the letter, we communicated our country’s need for bipartisan cooperation to form new policies that enable our small businesses and entrepreneurs to create jobs and put Americans back to work.
 "The Financial Services Committee is completing a series of hearings on legislative proposals to significantly alter the regulation of our country’s financial system.  We are expecting an intense few weeks coming up, with as many as 8 or 9 bills to be reviewed and amended by the committee during October.  In one hearing this week, we discussed structural issues at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  As you have heard me say before, the SEC has a stove piped organizational structure that showed its weakness in failing to uncover the Madoff scandal.  I continue to advocate for a structure that would provide for better communication among the SEC’s policymakers and those conducting the inspections and examinations.

 "It’s always good to see people from home in D.C. and this week I was able to have lunch with my good friend Mel Owens who was visiting and touring our nation’s capital. As a reminder, if you are visiting Washington, D.C. and would like to schedule a tour of the Capitol or other sites, please contact my office.

In the Senate, the health care reform bill was scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) with a projected cost of almost one trillion dollars. First, spending another trillion dollars is not what American taxpayers need right now. Equally disappointing was that after the Senate bill was voted out of committee, Republican committee members came to find out that more than 70 changes were added to the bill behind closed doors. Once again, another example that shows the need for transparency and that a common sense fix is needed to allow the public to review legislation for at least 72 hours before a vote.  Currently, I along with 180 of my colleagues have signed a discharge petition supporting this common sense 72-hour review.  We can do better. I hope the Democratic leadership in the House allows an up or down vote on this needed reform.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The outrage (or lack thereof) over 'Smartmeters' and a new book looks at the life of Cesar Chavez

* ... WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE? Is there a bigger mess than the new 'Smartmeters" and the arrogance Pacific Gas and Electric is showing in dealing with the public? It seems that each day brings a new story of someone's utility bill doubling or even tripling and all we hear from the utility's "customer engagement"  managers is the same old drivel: it's not our fault, it's the rates. It's like they are just tolerating us and waiting for everyone to simply fade away. Everyone has a story. We have friends in Westchester whose monthly bill just topped $1,000, a huge increase. There are people in 700 square foot apartments with bills of $500. (If you didn't read Lois Henry's take on this, check it out here.) Kudos to state Sen. Dean Florez for at least taking the lead in questioning this mess, but I am surprised by the lack of organized outrage. Here's my take: if this is really due to new rates, then roll them back or change the tier structure to stop this "legal rape" of the customer. It's outrageous that in this economy, when so many people are suffering, that the rate payer is expected to absorb these new costs. 

* ... CESAR CHAVEZ: THE REAL STORY?: A colleague from Los Angeles tipped me to a new book on Cesar Chavez and the now famous (or infamous) formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Titled "The Union of Their Dreams" and written by former LA Times editor Miriam Pawel, I'm told the book is both a sympathetic and scathing profile of the UFW and shines a new light on the internal power struggles that ultimately almost destroyed the movement. Apparently - according to my correspondent - some UFW supporters are so upset they plan to boycott Pawel's appearances to promote the book. Given Kern County's central role in the grape boycott and Chavez's life, Bakersfield is a natural book tour stop. Pawel is planning on at least one appearance here, at Russo's Books at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 24. Check out the book at its website here. One reviewer said the book "recounts for the first time how a cult of personality around Cesar Chavez (influenced by the practices of the sinister Synanon organization) ultimately betrayed the courage of the workers in the fields and the trust of a veteran organizing staff." The "Union of Their Dreams" is definitely on my reading list.

 * ... STEADY AS SHE GOES: I see from the latest "Crabtree Report" that the local housing market seems to have stabilized. The report says we've entered the off-peak "winter market" when prices typically decline by three to five percent. In September, local prices declined 2.3 percent which Gary Crabtree describes as "no great surprise." I suppose this is good new and it's certainly better than what we have seen in the past. Crabtree went on to say that the "supply versus demand continues to indicate stable market conditions with unsold inventory of two months."

* ... IRVINE LEADERSHIP AWARDS: Heard from Judi McCarthy, chair of the Kern Community Foundation, that she's encouraging folks to nominate some local deserving soul for the James Irvine Foundation’s Leadership Awards.  Nominations are due October 13, so the pressure is on, but each prize is $125,000:  $100,000 for that person’s organization and $25,000 for that awardee.  From Irvine’s website, the awards “support the work of individuals who are advancing innovative and effective solutions to significant state issues. We anticipate making four to six awards in 2010, the program’s fifth year. Nominees may be working in any field — such as education, health, housing, economic development or the environment — in the public, private or nonprofit sector.”  The link is

     Judi also says  the Women's and Girls' Fund of Kern County is accepting letters of inten to apply for grants in the area of "Physical, Sexual and Domestic Safety." Founders of the fund selected this focus based on research showing domestic violence as a key issue in Kern County. The letters of intent are due November 20. For more information about the process go to or you can call 661-325-5346.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bruce Maclin out at San Joaquin Bank, jobless figures higher than expected

* ... SHAKEUP AT SAN JOAQUIN: Big news over at San Joaquin Bank where longtime chairman Bruce Maclin is out in questionable circumstances. It's being positioned as a retirement but Maclin is out, replaced as chairman by board member Rogers Brandon, co-owner of American General Media and a member of the board since 2000. This is a significant development that no doubt will be viewed favorably by potential investors, who are being asked to pony up significant money to keep the bank afloat and to get federal regulators off the bank's back. Maclin's role was seen by many as redundant since bank President Bart Hill is the real public face of the bank and has been in charge of the daily operations. His departure will not only save the bank significant money (his salary, canceled retirement package etc)  but also put a fresh face and new urgency behind the bank's quest to recapitalize. Brandon, Hill,  and newly appointed chief operating officer Steve Annis have been busy raising capital to satisfy federal and state demands that the bank raise at least $27 million by mid October.. Maclin's departure and his decision to surrender  his lucrative retirement package - the packages for Hill and Annis were surrendered earlier - together adds $6.5 million in additional capital. For the full story according to the bank's press released, read it here. Stay tuned for more.

 * ... MORE BAD NEWS ON THE JOB FRONT: Frightening to read in the Sunday New York Times that the jobless picture is actually worse than previously thought. Turns out new figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that during the 12 months that ended last March, our economy lost 5.6 million jobs. That's  fully 824,000 more than the 4.8 million they previously reported. (read the full story here) And get this: they said it's not cleaer if the economy has even hit bottom yet in terms of employment, even though technically the recession may be over. Here's a sobering excerpt:

 "The government’s data since 1939 shows only one time when there was a larger percentage decline in civilian jobs. That fall, of 10.1 percent, came at the end of World War II when defense contractors laid off workers no longer needed for the war effort — a total of 4.3 million lost jobs. In no downturn since World War II did that many jobs vanish, until the current recession."

 * ... ANOTHER HONOR FOR WENDY:  Was nice to see another honor for Wendy Wayne, the community activist and all around good egg who has been battling non-Hodgins lymphoma. She was honored as "Humanitarian of the Year" by The Plank Foundation. Wendy received the award on Monday following the foundation's annual golf tournament at Bakersfield Country Club.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bako Bits: the drama at Garces Memorial High, the indecision of Rep. Jean Fuller and Urner's celebrates 90 candles


 * ... THE DRAMA AT GARCES: Whatever is going on over at Garces Memorial High School isn't pretty. A lot of alumni and supporters are up in arms over the resignation of football coach David Fanucchi (some claim it was forced) and the demotion of his older brother, Vince Fanucchi. The Fanucchis (third brother John is school president) are virtual institutions at the private Catholic school and it's hard to envision a school year without the Fanucchis in charge in some way. Add to that the sudden resignation of swimming coach Bill Potter and it just adds to the intrigue. So what is it? A purge? Or simply a changing of the guard? The buzz around this community institution is hot, emails are flying and some longtime supporters are threatening to withhold their support, which is considerable. Honestly, I'm not sure I really want to know the inside dirt. Rather, I hope this  storm passes and the school returns to its roots of providing a quality private school education for our local kids. I did hear the school's annual barbeque last week was a huge hit, and that's a good sign. My take: let's hope cooler heads prevail and some form of explanation comes from the diocese to calm the alumni. Garces is a community institution that is too important to put at risk. 

 *  ... JEAN FULLER'S DECISION: State Rep. Jean Fuller addressed the downtown Rotary club last week but didn't reveal much about  her political future. Fuller, who represents the 32nd Assembly District, will either run for a third and final Assembly turn or make a run for the state Senate seat that Roy Ashburn is vacating. One thing was certain: Fuller seems to have grown in the job and impressed the group with her grasp of the issues, particularly regarding the water crisis that is of so much concern to valley farmers. She was accompanied by aide Dana Culhane, daughter of Holly Culhane, owner of PAS Associates.

 * ... 90 CANDLES FOR URNER'S: Urner's Applicance Center is one of those Bakersfield institutions along the lines of Dewar's Candy Shop, Woolgrower's and Luigi's. Is there anyone in town who hasn't purchased a refrigerator, TV or washer and dryer from these guys? So it's worth noting that Urner's, still family owned after all these years, is celebrating its 90th birthday. And they are doing it in with style. On Friday, Oct. 9, principals from Urner's will gather at the Bakersfield Rescue Mission to replace all the mattresses in the men's and women's dormitories with new Tempur-Pedic mattresses. In addition, they'll donate two 60-inch home theater televisions. This is why supporting family owned businesses like Urner's is so important. These are our neighbors, not  some faceless corporate bureaucrat from Arkansas. The company president is David H. Urner, son of the founder, and Steve Illingworth (grandson of David E.  Turner) serves as vice president.

  Urner's opened its doors on September 1, 1919, as Home Appliance Co. during a time when "modern appliances" were sold mainly in hardware stores. Urner's now also specializes in big screen televisions, sofas and mattresses. Over the years the family has been generous to such groups as the CSUB Foundation, the Bakersfield Symphony, Memorial Hospital House of Hope and Teen Challenge. (photo by The Californian)