Happy New Year

Check out my year end review in the current, last issue of the year edition of CityBeat print. And with that we close the books on 2007. Happy New Year to all. Next week: 2008 sneek preview!

Mr. Potter is Winning

(My Dear CityBeat Readers: I first laid fingers to keyboard on this piece four years ago when I was typing out columns for HispanicVista. It’s become, for me, my own perennial holiday repeat which I’ve vowed to post every year until the thesis no longer applies. Which, given the events of my lifetime, may be the balance of my lifetime. But optimism lives on, especially during this season of faith and hope. A Merry Christmas and wishes for a happy Holiday season to you and yours. — CJL)

I watched the perennial holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the other day. There was George Bailey, as he is every year, struggling to keep the old Savings and Loan afloat. There was the malicious Mr. Potter, a truly covetous old sinner, trying to put Bailey out of business. There was Clarence the angel showing, once again, that our world is a better place for the George Bailey’s amongst us. It’s too bad that in today’s world the Potters are beating the Baileys, hands down.

Old man Potter dismissed the Bailey Savings and Loan as a kind of privatized social welfare program for dumb poor workers who couldn’t cut it on their own. “And what does that get us,” he asked? “A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry eyed dreamers stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas? Don’t the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys say the same thing today?

Labor laws, social welfare, retirement benefits, guaranteed healthcare, workplace safety laws, consumer protection–all are dismissed by our modern Potters as so much misplaced sympathy offered to the undeserving by the foolishly starry eyed, thinking that is at best naïve and at worst dangerous. Any mention of social welfare on AM radio is now associated with Bolshevik Socialism – want to give workers a guaranteed living wage or put any limits at all on the worst excesses of the market and you’re labeled as an advocate of Gulags and death camps.

George, of course, argued back: “Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?” Today he could add: is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die with decent healthcare, affordable housing, quality education for their kids and the sure knowledge that, when old age comes, there will be some comforts to look forward to?

We don’t have that many George Bailey’s today. Few stand up to our Potters when they tell us workers can’t expect job security, no one is entitled to healthcare and decent pay is whatever the most desperate amongst us is willing to work for. Even the Democrats, the party of dreams of the working stiffs, have fallen in line with the rhetoric of balanced budgets and smaller government (except, of course, if deficits are required to provide tax cuts to the richest Americans) even if the cost are reduced programs to help the disadvantaged.

Can’t anyone makes the simple point George made that helping the least amongst us is not simple altruism, it is Capitalist self interest at it’s best? “Your all business men here,” he reminded the S&L board members thinking of supporting Potter, “don’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?” Heck, wasn’t it that old socialist Henry Ford’s idea to raise worker pay, not because it was the moral thing to do but because it made them better participants in the Capitalist market place? Like Old Man Potter, much of American corporate business has become warped and frustrated by ruthless competition and now sees its workers only as cattle to be milked for as long as possible before being sent to the layoff slaughterhouse.

Frank Capra understood that the Potters amongst us seldom lose, though the more public-minded like old George could, on occasion, battle them to a draw. Notice that, while George Bailey ultimately survived his battle with Potter, the old man survived unscathed too, his own crime of theft of the Bailey’s deposits unpunished. There have always been the Potters amongst us, those who pursue personal gain at any cost, be they a grasping banker like fictitious Potter or the greedy executives of a massive corporations like Enron or WorldCom. What’s regrettable is that there are fewer and fewer George Bailey’s speaking up for the little guy.

In the real world the Bailey S&L would have been bought out in the 1980s by PotterCorp, a huge transnational Financial Services leviathan. A PotterCorp holding company would have bought out Bedford Fall’s chief industry, the plastic’s factory old Hee-Haw Sam Wainwright had built at George’s urging and shipped the jobs to Third World sweatshops. Downtown Bedford Falls would now be a ghost town with shops shuttered by a massive PotterMart out by the interstate selling cheap slave-labor produced products to the town’s poorly paid service employees. Yes, least be there any doubt, in the world of today Mister Potter would have won.

And, least there be any doubt, Mr. Potter voted Republican

Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (made in China, of course…)

Santa is here with a sled full of toys, bring happy presents for little girls and boys. Bright colored toys all painted in lead, toys with tiny little pieces that–if swallowed–may leave baby dead. Breakaway sharp parts that can put out an eye and other great features that can make children die. Even contaminated food for your sweet little pet, but all so cheap mom and dad won’t be in debt. Welcome Christmas, Christmas time, as we sacrifice our health to save a dime.

And blame it all on the Chinese.

I must confess to having had my own big, holiday “ho ho ho’s” this Christmas season as I’ve listened to all the breast-beating and hand-wringing over how those nefarious, inscrutable, insidious Chinese have diabolically conspired to flood America with poisoned products. Oh, those dastardly people. The press and presidential debates are full of proud posturing demanding Justice for American consumers and protection from this new Asian threat. Read the rest of this entry »


The 2008 Republican Presidential race might just possibly turn into a replay of 1996–with some tweaking. In 1996 Pat Buchanan upset GOP frontrunner Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary. Buchanan received so much of a bandwagon effect from all the media hype over his unexpected win that, for a short time, Dole went back to Kansas to nurse his wounds and consider dropping out of the race. Then Buchanan was defeated by Stevo “Flat Tax” Forbes in Arizona, where conservative retirees liked Forbes’ fiscal policies more than Buchanan’s xenophobia. That allowed Dole to jump back into the race and trounce Buchanan and Forbes in the South Carolina primary and then march on to the nomination unimpeded. A Huckabee win in Iowa may do the same thing to Republicans in 2008, with the possibility of the GOP nominating a candidate perceived to be too far to the right wing of the party to win nationally may precipitate the party rallying behind a more moderate candidate. Like John McCain.

Yes, THAT McCain. Read the rest of this entry »

Zero to Hero

I’m working on a “2007: San Diego’s Politicial Year In Review” style piece for the last CityBeat of this Años. If you, loyal readers, have any suggestions for what you think the most important political events of ’07 were, send in a comment. Otherwise your stuck with my wizened wisdom.

Meanwhile, in researching the piece (what happened in January, ’07, anyway? Did Dick Murphy resign? It all blurs together over time…) I was reminded of a pivotal moment of leadership this year that had almost slipped my feeble mind. Hour magazine (described as Montreal’s English language urban weekly–kind of a Canuck CityBeat) has issued its twelth annual list of “Zeroes to Heroes”: those who have either distinguished or disgraced themselves on matters GL&T. Listed as one of the heroes was our own Gentleman Jerry:

Hero: Republican San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders, who – with his beaming lesbian daughter, Lisa Sanders, by his side – abruptly and very publicly changed his position on gay marriage at a Sept. 19 press conference, then signed a city council resolution urging the California Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.

It was probably Jerry’s finest mayoral moment. The irony is, of course, that, like Mitt Romney in his “I am a Christian, too!” speech, Sanders will now have to kiss up to the very same narrow minded people who were offended by his embracing his daughter to help win the June primary. Better, perhaps, would be for him to have another shining moment and say to such people: “I don’t need your vote. I don’t want your vote, I’d be ashamed to receive your vote. And I will win without your vote.”

But, outside of Frank Capra movies, such shining moments are few and far between. You can’t really knock Jerry if he doesn’t have another. At least he’s had one. Which is one more than most in politics.

For the Record

Much to my surprise and delight (okay, my delight threshold is somewhat low but at least it keeps me smiling more than frowning…) UT uber-blogger Chris Read did read my post last week in which I complained about how he quoted me in his blog. He posted part (small, teency-weency) of my emailed response to him in which I took him to task for quoting me out of context. Bottom line: after a spirited (and civil, I am also delighted to add—egad that low delight threshold) e-debate, we continue to agree to disagree.

For example, the conclusion of Mr. Reed’s most recent blog on the topic states: Read the rest of this entry »

Grade School

Watching CIA director Michael Hayden attempt to explain away the destruction of CIA interrogation videos and John Boehner this morning on CNN Wolf Blitzer show trying to explain away record federal debt under Republican management, I was reminded of my youth.

Back when I was a wee little one in third grade, as war raged in Vietnam and anti-war protests raged at home, I can remember explaining to my teacher why I thought the US could not pull out of Vietnam. (And, yes. My pathology of political junkiness dates back to my earliest year: I started checking books out from the library on athe Ciivil War and WWII when I was five. Egad.) In way of explaining why there was no viable exit strategy from Vietnam I asked my teacher, “Do you know what a mortar could do to a landing craft?” I was envisioning, with my grand military experience, exiting Vietnam to be kind of a Normandy invasion in reverse, with the Vietcong firing mortar rounds at the departing US troops in their open boats at sea. What did I know: I was only nine. Read the rest of this entry »

He Don’t Know Jack

I didn’t know John Kennedy. John Kennedy was not a friend of mine. (Give me a break—I was three when he was bumped off. I’m sure, though, if I’d been older we’d have become buds and bummed around Hyannisport.) That being said, my only conclusion after watching Mitt Romney’s speech on religion and politics yesterday morning is that Mitt Romney is no Jack Kennedy.

In his famous speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, Kennedy not only stated that he wouldn’t let his religion rule him:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

he went on to fully reinforce the separation of church and state, arguing that no-one’s religion—or religion in general—should rule government, nor even overtly try and influence it:

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

Governor Romney started his speech Kennedyeque enough, saying:

“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

Then he began to veer off Kennedy’s message, saying:

“We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It’s as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong.”

First off, if secularism is a religion, the so is Fantasy Baseball. Or any system of ideas. Second off, for thirty years now a false dichotomy has been drawn—mostly by religious conservatives—between secularism and religion, arguing that one precludes the other. I would argue it is perfectly complementary to be secular in relationship in some areas—such as the realm of scientific explanation (a doctor needs not be of any religious faith to diagnose strep throat and religious doctrine does not come into play when categorizing a star as a white dwarf)—while embracing religious doctrine and philosophy in one’s moral life, both personal and social. So can be the case with politics, where decisions of the public good may be made without grounding each and every one in the dictates of any particular religious tradition.

Too often our political debate has been skewed by those who claim their ideals are right not because we as a people have agreed to them, not because our constitution defends them, not because democracy has endorsed them, but because Their God has ordained them and any argument to the contrary is not only wrong but is blasphemous and, therefore, wholly without merit. Under such conditions not only is there no possibility for compromise—the corner stone of our social contract—but even civil discourse is precluded. Which, if you’ve noticed, has increasingly become the case over the last three decades of rising religiosity in American political debate.

The consequences of this is as trite as the annual silliness—from both ultra secularists that think secularism in one area of human experience means secularism in all and ultra religious conservatives who, face facts, would not be at all uncomfortable with outright theocracy—over “Merry Christmas.” It is also as serious as people voting for candidates based on being told by their religious leaders that not to do so is to vote against God. Or President’s making policy decisions based on divination.

While I understand the oratorical eloquence of Romney saying:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

from a historical point of view I can only say, t’were that it were. Across the vast stretch of history (say from the rise of agriculture eight thousand years ago) human beings managed to find and practice religions quite easily without having to bother with the messy business of freedom. Indeed—without meaning this as a knock against religion as a concept itself—religion and authoritarian states, from the Pharaohs to the Sultans to the Czars, seemed to get along quite well.

The Governor said “Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government.” While freedom may well be a gift from God—and no blasphemy is intended here—God certainly took quite awhile to give it to mankind. Freedom, as we understand it in America, only really emerged in human cultures over the last three hundred years or so. Until quite recently the vast majority of mankind was not politically free. Even today, billions of people do not enjoy the blessings of liberty.

The bottom line is that God gave mankind free will. What we have done with it is our rap, not His. If human societies have endured millennia of dictatorship, it is because we have structured our societies in such a way to allow such oppression to flourish and not because of Divine plan. For us to fully embrace and appreciate the liberty we Americans enjoy today—and effectively share this liberty with others around the world—it is important to fully embrace and appreciate the historical circumstances that produce liberty and not, however eloquently, reduce the occurrence of liberty to a simple act of Divine Grace. God provided for the possibility of human liberty. It is up to us, not Him, to realize that possibility.

I found it odd that Governor Romney went out of his way to link Europe (who American religious conservatives like to point to as the epitome of the abomination of secularism ) to violent Islamic Fundamentalism, even though he tried to qualify the direct comparison:

“I’m not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I’ve visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired, so grand and so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too ‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer. [Gee, someone should mention that to the throngs of faithful I have always seen on hand at Paris’ Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame.]

Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent jihad, murder as martyrdom, killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.”

Okay, he used the qualifier “infinitely worse.” But if he really felt that radical religious zealots were so “infinitely worse” than European secularists, doesn’t that empty the connection he obviously wanted to make between them? What he really wanted to say to his target audience–Christian conservative voters who so narrowly define their concept of what is True religion that they might not vote for a Mormon—was that he was one of them. He, too, agrees that secularism, while maybe not as big a threat as radical fundamentalism, registers on the same threat meter.

Governor Romney’s speech demonstrates that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a politician to successfully walk the fine line between adhering to the doctrine of the separation of church and state and pleasing the very religious conservatives who want to tear down that wall. What Governor Romney really was trying to say was, “While I give lip service to the doctrine of the separation of Church and State, what I really want is for all you religious conservatives who voted for George W. Bush because you hoped he would enforce your religious views on the rest of the country to think I’m Christian—enough for you to vote for me, too. Then I’ll enforce your religious views on the country.”

Governor Romney should have paid more attention to Kennedy’s prophetic words:

“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim- -but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril…

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”

Governor Romney fails to fully appreciate that the very (ironic) hurdle he faces in getting religious Christian conservatives to vote for him because he is a Mormon flows directly from the very intolerance Kennedy believed flowed inevitably from allowing religion to breech the wall of separation between Church and State. Were he alive today Kennedy would not be at all surprised, I think, that, forty-five years later, given the rising power of organized religion in American politics, a Mormon like Mitt Romney should face challenges similar to his own. He would also, I think, be very disappointed.

Fair & Balanced

I just forwarded a comment to Chris Reed’s post to yesterday’s (that would be for “America’s Finest Blog,” which is hosted by my old hommies at SignOnSanDiego.)

In the comment I take exception to Mr. Reed’s quoting me out of context and without attribution. The last time I responded to similar treatment by Mr. Reed in one of his blogs (I’d give you a link to it but that was back in the days I wrote for the UT and, since I’ve left, they have graciously deleted all my blogs from their website.) At that time I was taken to task by a reader for flaming a fellow blogger, one of the unwritten taboos of blogging, apparently. With all due respect to said tradition, a lie left unanswered for twenty four hours becomes the truth, so I feel compelled to go on the record with my objections. I will, however, allow Mr. Reed the polite consideration of having the time to read and publish my comment in his own blog. Should he choose not to do so (odds, anyone?), I will share my, as always, insightful, witty and just plain fun to read comments with you faithful readers and the world at large.


What’s with the San Diego City Council lately? First Council President Scott Peters shows leadership in saying San Diegans may have to pony up more revenues if they’d prefer not to have their houses burn up in the next fire. Then the Council votes to flush Jerry Sander’s veto of the water reclamation proposal down the political toilet?

I don’t know what they’ve started putting in the water at 202 C Street (maybe some of that reclamated stuff—and I know “reclamated” isn’t really a word but doesn’t sound like it should be? ) but keep spiking their aqua with it, by all means.

Apparently Sanders skipped his waterboarding by the Council by “going to the movies” according to his spokesman. I do hope he was watching a retrospective of Lawrence of Arabia or Dune. Maybe that would have helped remind him that San Diego is an arid, semi-desert environment in which water isn’t all that copious a commodity.

The Mayor says there are other, more cost effective ways to satisfy San Diego’s thirst. Like what–shipping water here from Fiji in little bottles made of oil from Saudi Arabia so we can biologically transship said water into the sewer system and flush it back out to sea? Where it will eventually evaporate into the atmosphere, come down as rain in Fiji, refill the aquifers there to be rebottled and reshipped in our circle of life? Or depending upon waters from Nor Cal and Colorado when more and more people are sticking bigger and bigger straws into it?

It’s time to start thinking outside of the imported water bottle, your Honorness, and face facts. New technologies such as reclamation need be tried and embraced before water bills in San Diego, already soaring to record highs, start to surpass the gasoline and electric prices San Diegans are already being gouged by. It’s time for you to now faithfully follow the Council’s mandate and not bureaucratically bury this initiative out of misplaced obstinance.

And for all you who “dis” reclamation with the pejorative “Toilet to Tap” label, as I wrote back in September, shaddup already. You obviously don’t have a clue where that “fresh” water from your tap has already been before it ever reached your gullet.

I said after the great fires that Sanders came through it all smelling like a political rose. In retrospect, me thinks me was too hasty. Given the Feinstein roadshow’s scathing critique of San Diego’s failure to fully prepare for the next big fire last week, the post-backslapping on a job well done by Jerry and his boyz now seems premature. Kind of Jerry’s “Doin’ a heck of a job, Brownie” moment.”

The bottom line: Jerry has not delivered on pretty much any of his big campaign pledges. He didn’t raise taxes but he certainly raised water rates. He hasn’t outsourced nor downsized any of municipal government of note – perhaps because most of it, by nature of what it does, cannot be profitably outsourced nor meaningfully downsized. Not, at least, if you want to deliver first world, finest city sorts of services to city’s residents. The San Diego’s fiscal house is still not in order and the bonds markets continue to turn their financial noses up and preclude the city from reentering the bonds markets. Sanders’ much hyped dream team as decamped for greener pastures. Meanwhile the state-wide budget crisis, precipitated by the housing bubble bursting and the resulting credit crunch and about to be made worse by possible recession (Gee, haven’t the Bush years been a gas?!!!) don’t foretell an easy ride for the next four years. That Jerry, who couldn’t make things work in two years of relatively good times, can do the job in the coming years of fiscal famine, is far from certain.

So, Jerry. That reelection thing next year? Just a heads up. I don’t think it’s in Santa’s bag for you just yet, afterall.