Thursday, October 30, 2014

Former state Sen. Dean Florez takes on meaningful education reform as CEO of a foundation, and talk show host Conan O'Brien takes a potshot at Bakersfield's conservative mentality

* … DEAN: There is a heated debate going on regarding how California's public universities and community colleges can better prepare students by providing more creative, inexpensive and efficient degree offerings. And right in the middle of the debate former state Senator Dean Florez, who serves as president and CEO of the Michelson Twenty Million Minds Foundation, which is devoted to transforming education in a major way. I ran into Dean the other day at a lunch with Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian and he brought me up to date on what he is doing. Among other things, he has been appointed to a statewide committee that will be handing out $50 million in funding to programs that emphasize online learning and new ways to prepare students for the real world. "It's an opportunity for the systems to look outside their borders," he said. Florez raised some interesting points, including the fact that colleges need to do a better job at offering post secondary certificates (instead of traditional degrees) that better prepare students for the workforce. Some faculty and administrators at the more traditional brick and mortar campuses view this as a threat and are generally opposed to the idea. Stay tuned.

* … BREAK-INS: Now that the weather is cooling folks are opening their windows and enjoying the change of seasons. But with that comes opportunity for thieves. A house up by Bakersfield College was burglarized just the other day, so make sure all the windows and doors remain locked and turn on that alarm.

* … SCAM: Today's telephone scam alerts comes courtesy of reader Marilou Burlingame: "Good morning: Just received a call that went to my answering machine, since I didn’t recognize the number on the screen. Supposedly call was from the IRS, asking that we immediately call the number (415) 506-2394 to avoid further action from the IRS. Name left is Julie Smith. I Googled number, it is out of Novato, Ca., from a communications company. This number has called my home numerous times. What can I do, do I call the number and give them HADES?"

 * … SPOTTED: Late night talk show host Conan O'Brien posted this on his Twitter account: "Massachusetts was just named the most liberal state. Researchers almost picked California but then they stopped for gas in Bakersfield." Is this an insult or a compliment?

* … GOOD FORM: Here's a bit of good form you don't hear very often. From Lauren Dimberg: "Recently a man and a big black dog came to my front door. He said, 'my dog just pooped on your lawn' and asked for a plastic bag  I gladly gave him a bag and thanked him for being a responsible dog owner.  How often does this happen?

 * … PRESERVE: Linda Isle regularly rides her bike on the bike trail near Manor Drive where work has been ongoing to improve the Panorama Vista Preserve in the riverbed. Her thoughts: "As you know from riding on the bike path the park there now has met with mixed results. The homeless  folks have appropriated the drip system into their  personal water service and many of the plants and trees  are dead with no replacements. Who is to be  responsible for the upkeep of the vast irrigation system in the preserve  once in operation? It will be a big job just to keep the drip system  operating  efficiently.    The comment about the justification of the water use was that the  unused water will just percolate back into the water table.  With that attitude the we should not worry about watering our own landscape.  Why weren’t plants that needed  little or no water used?"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

California gas prices dip to near $3 a gallon, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy warns Republicans that they need to prove they can govern

 * … GAS: The price of gasoline is close to dipping below $3 a gallon, certainly good news for motorists, but it also carries a potential downside. Some economists are worrying that lower gas prices
could prove to be a drag on the nation's energy boom, and that could lead to fewer jobs in energy rich areas like Kern County. In the midst of a shale-gas boom, the national average for regular gasoline hit a four-year low of $3.05 a gallon, and I have spotted it that low at a few stations around town. At the other end, lower gas prices are good for the airline industry, farmers and manufacturing companies.

 * … CLEAN AIR: There's good news and bad regarding the quality of our air. First the good, as reported in The Californian: "Overall, air quality in the Central Valley -- for both ozone levels (summer) and particulate matter (winter) -- is the cleanest and healthiest it's been since anyone has been paying serious attention." That's terrific, but don't think that means government is not watching you and your fireplace. Once again this winter, you can only use your fireplace at the risk of running afoul of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, who frankly would rather you not have a fire at all. That means don't even think about that cozy fire before checking to make sure it is not a "no burn" day.

* … KEVIN: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had some tough talk for his fellow Republicans recently, warning them that a "failure to govern" after winning the Senate could torpedo any GOP chances of winning the White House in 2016. His warning was being widely interpreted as a sign that the Republicans need to focus on governance and sound policies instead of acting as an obstructionist party. Said McCarthy: “If we don’t capture the House stronger, and the Senate, and prove we could govern, there won’t be a Republican president in 2016.”

* … HAPPY MONDAY: Think your week started poorly? Consider this note I spotted on a friend's Facebook timeline: "Started my day dodging (feces) whilst fishing my daughter's cell phone out of the toilet. Happy Monday everyone!"

* … DISEASE: Did you know that the percentage of adults in Bakersfield who are overweight or obese is approaching 70 percent, and that Kern County ranks 57th out of 50 counties for deaths due to diabetes? That is just one of the more alarming statistics shared with me by Tim Terrio, CEO of Terrio Physical Therapy. To draw attention to diabetes and other chronic illnesses Terrio is offering a free seminar this Saturday to help folks understand the chronic disease epidemic. The seminar will be held at the DoubleTree and will run from 9 a.m. to noon. Seating is limited to the first 100 people.

* … TRASH: Retired oil executive Lynn Blystone just returned from a 3,640 mile drive down the Alaska Highway, down Interstate 5 to Bakersfield and saw no roadside trash "until I got to Bakersfield whose Highway 99 on/off ramps and roadsides made up for all that was absent before. I know Mayor Hall has efforts to address this embarrassing situation. I think it will take more of us cleaning up as I don't believe those who toss trash will diminish. Obtaining clean air is a geographical obstacle, but trash is voluntary."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Three men posing as Drug Enforcement Agency officers show up at a homeowner's door downtown, and a family who planted winter rye worry they will be targeted by neighbors as water hogs

 * … SCAM: From the scam file comes this from Rivera Westchester: three men show up at a house claiming to be from the Drug Enforcement Agency and demanding to come inside (without a
warrant) to "look around" in case there are drugs inside. They had badges but no guns. The homeowner allowed them inside, but asked them to leave after he became suspicious. Only later did the homeowner call the DEA who told him they would never conduct a search without a warrant and identification. Were they casing the house to return later?

 * … ANOTHER: And then there was this scam that Lamar Kerley encountered. "I just received a message from 'Officer Juliana William' telling me there's an investigation of my phone number and that it  is 'under federal investigation.' The caller had a heavy accent and was very difficult to understand, but I believe that's the name he gave. It's disconcerting when they have your full name (the caller used mine), but it was immediately clear that this was all fake. I went ahead and Googled the phone number and found that others are having the same thing happen to them."

 * … OVERHEARD: In the checkout line at Vons at The Marketplace a woman is telling a friend: "Our winter rye is starting to come in and it looks great. But I am paranoid the neighbors will think we're water hogs."

 * … SERVICE: I don't have much of a sweet tooth so it had been a while since I had shopped at Sweet Surrender Bakery, but it doesn't take long to realize why this locally owned boutique is so wildly popular. The service is excellent, the sweets are off the charts and the women's boutique is fun and impressive.

 * … FOODIE: And speaking of a great locally owned company, I stopped by Tony's Pizza this weekend and left wondering if there is a better pie in town.

* … SPCA: Here's a chance to help the good folks over at the SPCA who do so much to help those pets who are alone and abandoned. The SPCA's Pawtiques & Treasure sake will be held at 3000 Gibson Street on November 1-2 (this Saturday and Sunday). The Saturday hours are 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to noon.

 * … BAKERSFIELDISM: A good one from Ronal Reynier: You may be a Bakersfield old-timer if you remember when "junior colleges were 'free;' and local classes were held in 'Warren Hall' on the BHS campus. The campuses were free to all high school students with a 'C' average. Many instructors let their classes adjourn to Elm Grove or the coffee shop to take non important test. We would leave our books and papers on the outside window ledges (sometimes) and the next day they would still be there. Times have indeed changed. My son and daughter-in-law now teach math in that fine old building. Each time I pass it I not only wonder at its longevity but its history of the thousands of students that
have passed through it's doors. It truly stands as the local icon of education."

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: Government incompetency is not only hurting us, but also threatening our safety. The blunders are failures by the president and his administration

House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy gives us his weekly view from Capitol Hill. In his words:

"Restoring government competency

 "President Ronald Reagan once said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.' If you have opened a paper lately, been to an online news site, or tuned into the evening news, it is likely you have seen how true these words are today. The American people are now second-guessing whether a growing and unaccountable government has the ability to perform its most basic functions.

 "This growing distrust didn’t happen all at once, and it’s more than just bad headlines. Government incompetency is actually hurting individuals across the nation, and threatening our safety too. The Veterans Administration for years did not treat patients in a timely manner and covered up the backlogs; the IRS did not adequately preserve basic records; the Administration spent more than $2.1 billion on a broken and unsecure website to facilitate a law that Americans don't like; the Secret Service failed to protect the White House; and on foreign policy, nobody thinks America is safer or stronger than we were six years ago. The list goes on and on.

 "The recent blunders and scandals are not just the product of failed policy, but represent serious management failures by the President and his Administration. Restoring competency in government requires both shrinking government to its appropriate scope and mission and reforming how government operates in its core sphere. We must work to end this cycle of failings and make government functional again.

 "Under my leadership the House of Representatives will continue to focus on reforming and streamlining federal agencies so government works as it should. We have already made progress to this end by passing legislation that streamlines the permitting process for mining and energy development, and have begun looking at reforms to the agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

"Performing these functions are important for our community as we continue to work towards treatments and vaccines for Valley Fever and create certainty that will allow our energy producers and farmers to continue to produce the fuel and food that powers our nation.

 "In our daily lives we experience efficiency in the way we bank, shop, and pay our bills. Why should we hold government to a lower standard? Government must be smaller, more effective, and more efficient. That is what we expect and what we demand. That means we must ensure that our goals are feasible, that government changes with the changing times, and we never accept problems, inefficiency, and incompetency just because it’s government. Real, modernizing reform is possible and the House of Representatives is committed to achieving it.