Friday, October 30, 2009

McCarthy: Pelosi's 1,900-page health care bill raises taxes, cuts Medicare and threatens businesses

 Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) shares  with us his week. In his words:

 "I had an exciting week as Congressman Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip, and I launched the new “WhipCast” application. The WhipCast is a new BlackBerry application that is available for everyone to keep up with what is going on in Congress through text, audio and video updates without clogging your email box. If you would like to download it, visit:
 On Thursday, Speaker Pelosi and Congressional Democratic leaders rolled out a 1,990 page health care bill (H.R. 3962), which I am reading over. Overall, this bill is worse than its predecessor (H.R. 3200). This version 2.0 of H.R. 3200 not only leads to a massive new $1.1 trillion spending program (much higher than the $984 billion reported earlier), but still leads to a risky government takeover of health care that could put a bureaucrat or politician between you and your doctor. While we all agree we need to fix America’s health care by bringing down the high costs that are hurting our economy, families, and businesses, most in our communities agree with the view that this is neither the answer nor the way forward. Also according to the Congressional Budget Office, the public option will not be a cheaper alternative, as it would charge higher premiums than private plans offer, which is no help to struggling middle class American families.
 "Here are some of my other concerns about Speaker Pelosi’s bill: it will raise taxes on middle class families, make significant cuts to Medicare, and increase taxes on job-creating small businesses. Also troubling is that states will be left paying for a significant portion of the bill. As Californians, we know our State is already tens of billions of dollars in deficit, doesn’t need a new federal mandate that will increase state spending and taxes. Finally, Speaker Pelosi’s bill does not consider some common sense solutions that would lower costs, like those that my colleagues and I have put forward, such as lawsuit abuse reform and allowing Americans to purchase health insurance across states lines, which the nearly 5,000 individuals who attended my town hall meetings this summer agreed with.

 "Like the Pelosi Health Care bill, recall earlier this year that the $1 trillion Democrat "stimulus" bill was also crafted behind closed doors. We all have seen over the last few months as our state has reached a record high unemployment rate that the stimulus has not created the jobs our economy needs. We must do better, and refocus on helping job creating small businesses.
 "A quick mention - In the Financial Services Committee this week, we had our 3rd straight week of reviewing bills in preparation for votes on the House floor. We considered several bills this week, and I had three separate amendments passed to increase transparency and accountability.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More warning signs on the economy , lamenting Halloween and a celebration at Chain, Cohn and Stiles law firm

 * ... A NEW  CHILL IN HOME SALES: In this dour market we're all looking for signs of hope that the economy is on the rebound, but it can be misleading (and reckless) to latch onto a headline and jump to conclusions. Take some recent housing statistics, for example, which showed improving sales and stabilizing prices, leading some to decry the rebound under way. The real truth always rests in the details, and as the New York Times noted recently, we may be looking at a new chill in home sales, not a rebound. Why? Here's a salient passage from the Times): (you can read the entire piece here):

 "Artificially low interest rates and a government tax credit are luring buyers, but both those inducements are scheduled to end. Defaults and distress sales are rising in the middle and upper price ranges. And millions of people have lost so much equity that they are locked into their homes for years, a modern variation of the Victorian debtor’s prison that is freezing a large swath of the market.
 "... The only hot sector of the real estate market has been foreclosures. Investors and first-time buyers have been competing for these, often creating bidding wars. But with the economy still weak, many analysts expect more foreclosures."

 Locally some 70 percent of our home sales come in the "distressed" category, so while that's a good thing in terms  of moving inventory, the larger threat (as the Times notes) is coming in the mid-to higher-end homes where folks with excellent credit are now getting into trouble because of job losses or simply being upside down in their mortgages. As the story noted, in California defaults are "beginning to migrate from the subprime inland areas to the more exclusive coastal region" in cities like Santa Barbara (defaults up 25 percent) and San Luis Obispo (defaults rose 46  percent). The truth is always in the details and we need to pay attention to it.

 * ... CHAINLAW CELEBRATES 75 YEARS: I stopped by the recent celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the law firm of Chain, Cohn and Stiles, the plaintiff's "slip and fall" law firm formerly known as Chain-Younger. Dave Cohn, a principal in the firm and a personal friend, held the event in the outdoor, shaded annex  next to the downtown Bank of America building where the firm is headquartered. The event was catered by Lisa Borda of Bord A Petite and among those attending were Carla Musser of Chevron, former Cal State Bakersfield development officer Mike Chertok, Colleen McGauley and Teresa Fahsbender of CASA and Jim and Beverly Camp of the Camp farming families. Conspicuously absent from the soiree was Milt Younger, Cohn's uncle who was one of the founders and driving forces behind Chain-Younger for decades, who left the firm and has continued law practice with his old partner Tim Lemucchi.

 * ... SWINE FLU UPDATE: I noted here recently that the folks over at Preferred Family Physicians on Truxtun Extension had seen a spike in swine flu cases, up to as many as 20 a day. (previous post here) Dr. Raj Patel, who owns the place along with Dr. John Heidrick, told me Thursday the numbers had now declined significantly. "We don't know why but it's quite a relief," he said. "This week we've had two or three cases a day, much better than last week." Patel said it was puzzling why he had seen such a dramatic change but warned "we shouldn't celebrate" or let our guard down. Like other medical providers across town, Preferred Family has yet to receive more shipments of the swine flu vaccine.

 * ... A SCROOGE'S TAKE ON HALLOWEEN: Accepting my own Scrooge-like tendencies, I have to wonder if I am alone in dreading Halloween and the carnival-like atmosphere it creates in Bakersfield. In many neighborhoods Halloween is marked by hundreds - seems  like thousands - of strangers showing up at your door, some pushing strollers with infants and holding a sack hoping for a large Snickers. It's a never-ending stream of total strangers who leave a trail of candy wrappers up and down the street until the supply runs out. When the Californian posted a question about Halloween and out of neighborhood kids on Facebook Thursday (the question was: Should parents be driving their kids to different neighborhoods to trick or treat?), a couple of responses that caught my eye. (go to the Facebook link here) Enough said.

 "NO. Leave the van and baby in strollers (who obviously can't eat candy) and accept the neighborhood you live in."

 "The bus loads of kids is why I don't give out candy anymore. I want to see my neighborhood kids, interact with them and their parents. When I see a bus or van unload of 10 plus kids I turn off my lights."

 "Children don't get to decide which family or neighborhood they are born or live. If the neighborhood is unsafe, then by all means, visit a SAFE neighborhood. All children deserve a fun and safe night of trick-or-treating."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bako bits: The explosion of homeless in Bako and all the hoopla over a new Target opening


* ... THE STREETS OF BAKERSFIELD: I have no statistics to prove it but sure seems like the number of homeless has skyrocketed on our local streets. If you don't work downtown you may not notice it, but a casual mid morning run over to Starbucks on 24th Street or the Rite Aid on H Street can be an eye opening experience. Of course downtown has both the Greyhound bus station and the GET bus depot, as well as the huge Goodwill store on Chester, but it's hard to deny the sharp increase of street people lugging their possessions around the downtown area and meandering on virtually every street corner. The homeless shelters are filled to the brim and if you factor in adults not looking for work or those who have given up on the job search, Kern County's unemployment rate spikes north of 20 percent. All of this adds to more people on the streets, more folks in needs of help and fewer dollars available to provide it.

 * ... A TARGET OPENS AND THE CROWD GOES WILD: What is it about our community that every time a new retailer or restaurant opens we react like we've just won the lottery? Witness the crowds at the new Target over at RiverWalk on Stockdale Highway, which opened earlier this month. It's a nice place no doubt, but you'd think they were giving away Krugerrands the way our community has responded. And it's not like we don't already have three other Targets in town. Of course the same is true for every new restaurant that opens locally: hour-long waits the first three months and a year later they're closed or begging for business. Meanwhile developer Castle and Cooke says it has a signed contract for Panera Bread to move into the building in front of the Target. Panera is a class act but the folks over at locally owned Sequoia Sandwich Shop are not sitting still. Co-owner Jeff Simpson has been testing a new line of panini sandwiches that he may add to his already well diversified and popular menu. Stay tuned.

 * ... ORANGE BLOSSOM FESTIVAL? Gilroy has the Garlic Festival and Pamplona has the Running of the Bulls, so why shouldn't Bakersfield have its own signature event? How about an Orange Blossom Festival? That's the vision of Ben Taft over at the California Fruit Depot who is leading an effort to create something truly unique for Bakersfield. Ben has the energy and drive to do it, but it will all depend on how many sponsors and supporters sign up for the event, which he wants to launch the weekend of March 20, 2010. In his words:

 "Music, concerts, artisans, children's activities, demonstrations, citrus cooking contests, runs, fun walks, bialthlon, half marathon and a 40-mile challenge bike race, BMX events and much more and possibly a lttle less. This will be a comprehensive family/adult friendly event which will be something we can be proud of as a community." 

 If you are interested in participating, either as a sponsor or just to help, call Ben Taft at 661-978-9044 or email him at

  * ... IN MEMORY OF RON FONTAINE: If you're looking for a good cause to support this weekend you might consider the 9th Annual Ron Fontaine Memorial Run being held out at the California Living Museum (CALM) Saturday morning. Ron was a South High teacher and administrator over at the Kern Superintendent of Schools who died in June of 2001. He was an avid runner and longtime member of South Rotary. Pete Elieff, former South Rotary president, says Ron originally conceived of the idea of a run to raise money for local scholarships and more than $100,000 has been generated so far for  local kids. This is a terrific event held out by the Kern River and Lake Ming during a beautiful time of year in our community. If you are interested in registering call Pete at 661-805-8500 or John Lindsay at 661-636-4625. Last year, Pete said $13,800 in scholarship money was awarded to students from South, Ridgeview and Stockdale high schools.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Short takes around town: The generosity of Marv Steinert and a rescue dog finds a home in Bako

* ... THE GENEROSITY OF MARV: How would you react if  you awoke virtually blind? One day you are healthy and productive and the next you're facing total darkness. If you're like me, you'd likely spend far too much time wallowing in self pity and asking "why me?" Which is why the story of Marvin Steinert is so amazing. Marv is the local businessman who is suffering from an illness known as "temporal arteritis," a rare condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels to the head, and it has left him blind. (read the previous post here) But instead of withdrawing, Marv is spending his time keeping in touch with the community and having family members read him the newspaper and other publications. Marv is a longtime active member of the downtown Rotary Club, and when his son read him a club bulletin about Memorial Hospital's drive to build a 60-bed children's hospital, he responded by writing a check for $50,000 to support the effort. (read the full Memorial story here) Marv apparently wants the money to go to the new PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) which is all part of the big drive by Memorial CEO Jon Van Boening to give our community a children's hospital so our ill kids don't have to be sent north to Fresno or south to Los Angeles. Folks who know  Marv are not surprised by his generosity, but given his own health challenges, this gesture is simply awe inspiring.

 * ... BART HILL'S GRACIOUS EXIT: At last week's downtown Rotary meeting Bart Hill, former CEO of San Joaquin Bank, took the floor microphone and made a gracious speech thanking the community for the support all these years. Bart was accompanied by his wife, North Carolina-born interior designer Napier, and pulled no punches in talking about the demise of San Joaquin and the last-ditch efforts by board members to save it. He had only nice things to say about Citizens Business Bank, which took over San Joaquin in a state and FDIC operation on Friday, October 16. Bart said he plans to stay in the community and will likely look for work after taking some personal time off. Bart has served on a number of nonprofit boards around town, including the Tree Foundation of Kern and the downtown Rotary, and he will continue to serve as a director on my board at The Californian. He received a standing ovation.

 * ... GOING FROM BAD TO WORSE: The latest report from the Great Valley Center held no surprises, but it's a depressing read nonetheless. According to a story in the Visalia Times-Delta newspaper (read the story here), the Valley Center says indicators like poverty, foreclosures and joblessness are up, and they aren't likely to get better anytime soon. "We think the timetable for economic recovery in the Central Valley is going to be slower than the rest of the state," said Amy Moffat, the center's director of research. "Overall, poverty and unemployment are high. There is a deficit of good jobs while the general population and those seeking jobs continue to grow." Kern County's grim statistics speak for themselves: a dreadfully low percentage of college educated adults, a staggeringly high adult illiteracy rate (nearing 25 percent for the entire county) and one of the highest high school dropout rates in the state. So dig in, it's going to be a long slow crawl back to what we once viewed as normal.

 *  ... RESCUE DOG FINDS HOME: The problem with abandoned and abused pets in our community has been well documented and is tragic beyond words. How many times have you cringed watching the stray dog meandering lost through traffic on Ming Avenue or Chester on your way home? So I was happy to read on Facebook that Jim Pappe, a software specialist at Lightspeed Systems downtown, rescued an abandoned dog while on his way home Friday. Jim is a bicycle commuter and found the dog tied to a fence off the bike path. In his words:

 "He is very gentle, attentive, well-kept. No collar nor tags, just a leash. When I first saw him, he was tied up as if someone was coming back for him after their run. When I came back 4 hours later, it was dark and apparent something was amiss. I posted on Craigslist to see if someone just forgot to pick him up. I'm hoping not..."

 When Jim went back to check on the dog at 9 p.m. Friday, he found him huddled and afraid. He finally had to coax him out and spent some time just sitting with him before untying him and taking him home. Early Sunday Jim told me the dog had warmed to his wife Debbie and their children, spent a quiet and restful night and took a nice walk around the  park near his Southwest Bakersfield home. Now that's a happy ending.