Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Can the Library Board of Trustees Really Be This Cynical?

Mod: There is a rather misguided article in the Pasadena Star News today that claims to know what the questions being asked on the NRC Library Survey postcard are going to be. Titled "What that survey Sierra Madre residents are about to receive is all about" (link), the PSN could be correct since practically the only person they bothered to interview for this rather lazy piece happens to be one of the rather partisan people given the privilege of writing them. Here is a portion of that article for your review.

Rich Procter and the Library Board of Trustees have previously come out in full-throated support of moving the Library and selling the property to an as yet unidentified developer, so topics as unfounded as the tax threats identified in this PSN article should be no surprise to anyone over the age of eleven.

This has been a point of contention for a while now, of course. Tasking persons as partisan on the Library question as Rich Procter with writing non-partisan survey questions is a rather like hiring coyotes to guard kittens. But claiming that by moving the Library the city and its residents will be avoiding a tax hike?

We're in novel territory here

So have new depths in the cynicism of the pro-development community in Sierra Madre now been reached? This is pretty shameless, even for them. That one of the people in charge of writing what is supposed to be a nonpartisan resident survey is out politicking like this, and claiming that his special agenda will somehow prevent a tax increase, is a bit beyond the pale.

Where has it ever been conclusively shown that spending $1.3 million to repair the current Library will involve a parcel tax or tax increase? Or conversely, that moving the Library to the YAC, which is rumored will cost anywhere between $3 and $4.5 million when all of the associated construction is done, will not? Especially since the sale of the property the current Library sits on will only raise somewhere in the $2 million dollar range?

There has been no city document or study issued yet showing that repairing the Library will involve a tax hike. Or that by moving the Library into the YAC the city will avoid one. So why will that allusion be on this survey postcard? Procter's claims are just pure political propaganda, yet City Hall is about to spend $16,000 of your tax money on a survey postcard pumping that persuasion?

One more point. This is now the third Pasadena Star News article on the topic of moving the Sierra Madre Library and selling the current property to developers that interviews Rich Procter. Can it be he is one of the few people in Sierra Madre that Claudia Palma is capable of finding willing to discuss this topic?

So you know, the Pasadena Star News exists within a building owned by Singpoli entrepreneur Kin Hui, one of the more annoying stack and pack developers around this portion of the planet. Kin has proven in the past to be quite energetic in promoting pro-development media campaigns, even to the point of hiring former Pasadena Star News editor Frank Girardot to run his publicity operation.

Evidence that the fix really is in just keeps piling up.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Exclusive: The City Increases the NRC Library Survey Postcard Mailing from 1,500 to 5,000

Mod: Sometimes it pays to be a noodge. Not only do you find things out, but once in a while you can also make something happen. Which came first here is not made totally clear in the following conversation, but if people hadn't complained about the NRC's possibly curated Library postcard survey mailing to only a select list of Sierra Madreanos, I am not certain we would have gotten the following result. Here is how the revelatory conversation I had with City Manager Gabe Engeland went on 11/17.

Tattler: So the survey cards will be non-partisan and neutral on those 3 questions. But this NRC confab determines who will get the postcards, right? If my understanding is correct, companies like that do demographic profiling. They determine who will get the survey cards, and this is based on curated data. That is why those cards won't be going out to everyone. Some are being left out to help determine the result.

Gabe Engeland: No, they don't curate data.  NRC loads the zip code  data set and the addresses are assigned at random.  This is the only way to ensure statistically significant data. There isn't a conspiracy theory here.  The survey is going to 5,000 addresses, which is likely every residential, non-P.O. Box in town.  You couldn't curate that data, even if you wanted to. It is too large a percentage of the total.


Gabe Engeland: This looks like a screen grab from the staff report that went to Council last month.

TattlerYes. It identifies the amount of household receiving the card as 1,500, not the 5,000 you stated this morning.

Gabe EngelandThat was the staff recommendation as this is the number needed to get statistical significance.  After the council discussion the direction was to increase the number receiving the survey.  The final decision is to send the survey to 5,000 households.

Tattler: Where was that stated? I've been following this pretty closely and I don't recall that.

Gabe EngelandAt the end of the discussion council talked in general about the desire to increase the number of households and a discussion on what that increase may cost. I took the conversation as direction and increased the amount from 1,500 to 5,000 recipients.

TattlerHow was it budgeted? Who approved that additional spend? As I recall the City Council rolled with the 1,500, and even talked about it not going out to everyone. I can isolate some video if you like. This isn't making much sense, Gabe. Don't go getting Elaine on us.

Gabe EngelandI approved the budget for this item, the amount is well within my authority. The decision to have the survey or ballot measure was up to Council. How to implement the survey, once that is the option they selected, is up to me. I authorized the increase from 1500 to 5000 and I approved the increase in budget. I think we may be having a disconnect.  The increase in the total number of people being surveyed is generally viewed as a good thing.

TattlerYes. I would agree. Can you send me some documents showing this is happening. Trust but verify as someone who was way into deficit spending once said.

Gabe EngelandHaha. Yes, a healthy mistrust of government is good. I will get a copy of the contract to you.

Gabe EngelandThis is where we are currently at, but we are still working to finalize all of the details. Exhibit A lists the number of households which will be surveyed as well as costs.  It also describes how NRC receives the addresses (purchased directly from USPS) and how they are allowed to weigh the statistical analysis (as closely to the most recent Census data as possible for all adults).

Mod: What follows is a portion of the as yet incomplete and unsigned contract from the NRC. The original is 7 action packed pages long. I'm only posting the last portion of that (Exhibit A), but if you want the whole thing drop me an email and I will gladly send you all of it. The move from 1,500 Library survey postcards to 5,000 is not yet a done deal, at least not yet. It is a work in progress. But it does look like we're getting there. Hopefully I'll be able to post a finished and signed document before too much longer.

Mod: I don't know if you noticed, but besides the mailed postcard residents of Sierra Madre will now be able to complete the survey on-line as well. That also looks to be new. Pretty cool, actually. So even if you don't get a survey postcard in the mail, you'll still be allowed to participate. Weighted data and all. Of course.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

TPM: Ultra-Rich Win Big Under GOP Tax Bill; Taxes Rise For Everyone Else

Mod: Donald Trump might claim that everyone is getting a tax cut, but when does he ever speak the truth? Like almost never? This time it could get very expensive for almost everyone.

Ultra-Rich Win Big Under GOP Tax Bill; Taxes Rise For Everyone Else (Talking Points Memo link): The ultra-wealthy, especially those with dynastic businesses — like President Donald Trump and his family — do very well under a major Republican tax bill moving in the Senate, as they do under legislation passed this week by the House.

Want to toast the anticipated tax win with champagne or a beer — or maybe you’re feeling Shakespearean and prefer to quaff mead from a pewter mug? That would cheer producers of beer, wine, liquor — and mead, the ancient beverage fermented from honey. Tax rates on their sales would be reduced under the Senate bill.

On the other hand, people living in high-tax states, who deduct their local property, income and sales taxes from what they owe Uncle Sam, could lose out from the complete or partial repeal of the deductions. And an estimated 13 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage over 10 years under the Senate bill.

Some winners and losers:


Wealthy individuals and their heirs win big. The hottest class-warfare debate around the tax overhaul legislation involves the inheritance tax on multimillion-dollar estates. Democrats wave the legislation’s targeting of the tax as a red flag in the face of Republicans, as proof that they’re out to benefit wealthy donors. The House bill initially doubles the limits — to $11 million for individuals and $22 million for couples — on how much money in the estate can be exempted from the inheritance tax, then repeals it entirely after 2023. The Senate version also doubles the limits but doesn’t repeal the tax.

Then there’s the alternative minimum tax, a levy aimed at ensuring that higher-earning people pay at least some tax. It disappears in both bills.

And the House measure cuts tax rates for many of the millions of “pass-through” businesses big and small — including partnerships and specially organized corporations — whose profits are taxed at the owners’ personal income rate. That’s potential cha-ching for Trump’s far-flung property empire and the holdings of his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner. The Senate bill lets pass-through owners deduct some of the earnings and then pay at their personal income rate on the remainder.

Corporations win all around, with a tax rate slashed from 35 percent to 20 percent in both bills, though they’d have to wait a year for it under the Senate measure. Trump and the administration view it as an untouchable centerpiece of the legislation.

U.S. oil companies with foreign operations would pay reduced taxes under the Senate bill on their income from sales of oil and natural gas abroad.

Beer, wine and liquor producers would reap tax reductions under the Senate measure.

Companies that provide management services like maintenance for aircraft get an updated win. The Senate bill clarifies that under current law, the management companies would be exempt from paying taxes on payments they receive from owners of private jets as well as from commercial airlines. That was a request from Ohio Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, whose state is home to NetJets, a big aircraft management company.

Portman voted for the overall bill. Brown opposed it.


An estimated 13 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage under the Senate bill, which would repeal the “Obamacare” requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance. The projection comes from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Eliminating the fines is expected to mean fewer people would obtain federally subsidized health policies.

People living in high-tax states would be hit by repeal of federal deductions for state and local taxes under the Senate bill, and partial repeal under the House measure. That result of a compromise allows the deduction for up to $10,000 in property taxes.

Many families making less than $30,000 a year would face tax increases starting in 2021 under the Senate bill, according to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. By 2027, families earning less than $75,000 would see their tax bills rise while those making more would enjoy reductions, the analysts find. The individual income-tax reductions in the Senate bill would end in 2026.

Mod: Those First Responders the GOP likes to talk about a lot have just responded. 

The Fraternal Order Of Police Just Spoke Out Against The Tax Bill Republicans Passed Today (VerifiedPolitics.com link): Desperate for a legislative win, Trump is attempting to ramrod an atrocious tax bill through Congress, with no consideration for the far-reaching destructive consequences of giving massive tax cuts to the hyper-wealthy at the cost of the middle class. The deficit will skyrocket, and most Americans will be hit hard.

Now, the National Fraternal Order of Police — the largest police organization in the country with over 325,000 members — has come out in opposition to part of the bill. The FOP endorsed Trump during his campaign, but are clearly displeased with his latest initiative.

The members of the Fraternal Order are concerned that the bill will cause a sharp hike in their taxes and force them to pay even more to the federal government, making it difficult for them to support their families. They estimate that their effective rise in taxes could amount to as much as $6,300.

Is Hope Hicks Donald Trump's "girlfriend?' (Yahoo link): Highlights from Yahoo article - a few months old but now more topical as Hope Hicks is in the spotlight.

They hire young, beautiful girls who zero experience and then are baffled when people think they're probably at least trying to sleep with them. In July, Claude Taylor, who worked in the White House when Bill Clinton was president, tweeted that he heard Trump was having an affair. Here is some of the evidence:

1. Trump gave her cute pet names.

2. She has zero political experience.

3. She talks about Trump like a teen in love.

4. Trump created a position for her that just so happens to also have the highest salary in the White House.

5. She's with him virtually all the time.

6. Again, she was a model.

7. Trump paid for her apartment during the campaign.

8. She flies super under the radar.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Life Eternal? Italian doctor says world's first human head transplant 'imminent'

video link here
Mod: Perhaps you know someone who would benefit from this procedure? Will their insurance cover it? Would a president's head transplanted onto another person's body still be legally elected? I have some questions here.

Italian doctor says world's first human head transplant 'imminent' (USA Today link): An Italian doctor announced Friday that he will soon perform the world’s first human head transplant in China because medical communities in the United States and Europe would not permit the controversial procedure. "The Americans did not understand," Sergio Canavero told a news conference in Vienna.

Canavero said the Chinese government and Xiaoping Ren, a Chinese doctor partnering with him on the procedure, would confirm the surgery's date "within days" to signal its goal of becoming a world leader in all fields, including medicine.

"Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to restore China to greatness. He wants to make it the sole superpower in the world. I believe he is doing it," Canavero said.

In a phone interview with USA TODAY, Canavero decried the unwillingness of the U.S. or Europe to host the surgery. "No American medical institute or center would pursue this, and there is no will by the U.S. government to support it," he said.

Canavero would not divulge the identity of the Chinese donor or recipient. The donor will be the healthy body of a brain-dead patient matched for build with a recipient's disease-free head.

Canavero estimates the procedure will cost up to $100 million and involve several dozen surgeons and other specialists.

Mod: Here are a few more questions. Will this newly configured person take the name of the head or the body? Or perhaps use a hyphenated name? And what if the patient was a male and requested a female body? Or vice versa? Would that be legal in, say, Indiana? How about Pasadena, a city where many would benefit from such a procedure? Are there limits to how many times a patient can do this? Do the head and the body need to be around the same age? What if the head and its new body were to get pregnant? Which would be the parent? What if the head is male? Would a 60 year old head attached to a teenager's body be legally required to attend high school? Would a head attached to a body on SSI still be eligible for that government benefit? So much to think about. The rest of this article is available at the link provided above.


Friday, November 17, 2017

City Manager: Sierra Madre Library Survey Postcards Go Out On December 1st

I received an email from a concerned reader early yesterday morning. It came with the screenshot that I have reproduced on the left side of this page. Apparently there was a meeting of the Sierra Madre Library Board of Trustees Wednesday evening, and the survey postcard that could determine the fate of the endangered Library was the topic. Big stuff for anyone who cares about this important local issue, and a whole lot is at stake.

The person who e-mailed me that screenshot wondered if I'd heard about this meeting. I had not. The reader then expressed some regrets at having missed this get-together, and wondered why so important a meeting received so little prior notice. As is my usual habit these days when something like this comes up, I e-mailed Sierra Madre's refreshingly frank City Manager and basically asked, "What's up with this?" I didn't have to wait long for an answer. Here is the reply I received two hours later:

I'm traveling, so I don't have a copy of the agenda, but I can have City Hall forward one to you if you would like. I was in attendance last night and facilitated the discussion.  The Library Board agreed on the number of questions and the areas they wanted feedback on in the survey.  Today they will go off to the NRC to finalize the wording and then they will be sent out, hopefully by Dec. 1.

There will be 3 questions in total, the first discussing the options for library repair/location, the second question focuses on Library services, and third on resident demographics.

This item was on the agenda along with canceling the regular meeting as it was the day before ThanksgivingThanks, Gabe

A lot of intriguing news in that brief e-mail from the City Manager. The postcard goes out in the mail around December 1st, so be ready. Apparently the questions that will be found on that fateful card were discussed at this public meeting that nobody I know went to, or even knew about. And there will be three such questions.

Interesting topics, too. Here are my very rough guesses as to how these questions will be asked. More or less. Needless to say you do not have to agree with what I've speculated about here.

1) Do you want the Library to be repaired and stay where it is now, or moved into a spacious new ADA compliant facility across town?

2) Library services. What do you want the Library to do for you? I am assuming this question will be focusing on the lifestyle options a modern Library can bring to a community. Computers, public meeting spaces, community center, the kinds of stuff that people who have no real use for books might like.

3) Resident demographics. I assume this is about who uses the Library, and what they it for while they are there.

Here is how the Agenda Report for this "specialLibrary Board meeting read.

As anyone who has been following this story knows, the Library Board of Trustees recently voted unanimously to sell the property the current Library sits upon to a private party, then move all the books into the Youth Activity Center over by Heasley Field.

That they should also be writing the questions for this "Community Survey Postcard," one that the City Council claims will help them make up their minds on these contentious Library issues, is problematic for some. Especially those who don't see any reason the raze the current Library and sell off the property to a developer.

So who is this NRC?

City Hall
is hoping that everyone will accept this NRC (National Research Council, Inc.) outfit as being an impartial third party that will make certain the questions being asked on this postcard will be fair to all sides of the Library question. And you know what? I'm certain that will be the case. The questions will appear to be impartial, and most folks will be quite comfortable with what they are being asked.

But that is not where the fix is. The real problem for those concerned about saving the current Library is who will actually be getting survey postcards. The NRC is not mailing them to everyone. And yes, they are also handling that part of the operation.

A significant portion of Sierra Madre's population will not be mailed the card, and therefore will be excluded from the survey. According to an October 3rd staff report on the topic (link), only 1,500 households out of more than 5,000 are going to receive one. There is probably a reason for that.

Companies like NRC specialize in Demographic Profiling, and are skilled at curating the data used for projects such as this. They are a very sophisticated operation that can provide such services to towns having an agenda and the ability to pay. And yes, the NRC determines who will and will not get sent survey postcards.

In other words, to get the results you need, only ask those who will give you the answers you want. It will be very interesting to see who gets sent a card.

I found this following article about NRC on a site called Governing. It peddles some familiar ugly stereotypes about politically involved small city residents, and how the NRC can restrict their influence on behalf of local government clients. Perhaps someone like you.

Here is the link to the original.

Apparently if you are interested in the workings of local government you are likely an extremist. Here is the part that alludes to NRC's ability to profile residents, which could play a role who will be receiving these Library survey postcards.

It certainly does make you wonder who exactly is going to receive these Library Survey postcards, or how the NRC actually knows who is naughty or nice. Maybe the city gives them that data? Remember, not everyone is going to get a postcard. And it won't be about saving money. Despite what you've heard.

You can see where we could be going with this project, right? Our pay to play pals at the NRC are likely attempting to dig up what Richard Nixon used to lovingly refer to as the "silent majority."

You know, the people who don't go to meetings, don't pass petitions, wouldn't speak at public comment even at gunpoint, or in any way disturb the wooly heads of the sleeping classes. In other words, people who won't know very much and can be easily manipulated.

If these are to be the sorts of criteria that are going to be used to determine who gets to participate in the survey, then yes, the fix really is in.

After all, the more you know, the less nice you must be. No postcard for you!


Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Planning Commission Tackles Sacramento's New So-Called Affordable Housing Legislation

A view from Liliano Drive.

Mod: There has been an atrociously huge amount of deceptive so-called "Affordable Housing Legislation" out of Sacramento over this last year, and it now falls upon the Planning Commission to interpret all of it from the Sierra Madre perspective. This is just their second go-around on the topic, and I doubt they will get finished tonight.

Below is a portion of the Staff Report for this item. You can link to it in its entirety by clicking here. This will make sober reading for those who have long hoped to maintain the small town character of the Foothill Village. And yes, this is a big deal.

Here is a little myth busting for you. Affordable Housing is actually based on the median income of a city. In Sierra Madre the median income is slightly above $90K, so the earnings of those who would benefit from this new state imposed housing are actually rather high. I doubt very many have been dumpster diving lately.

So despite all of the sanctimony from Sacramento claiming it is all about housing for the poor and the homeless, what this will become in practice is out of character high density housing built in part with public money and sold for handsome profits to people who are prosperous by real world standards.

You can thank the developers and their very active lobbyists in our state capital for coming up with this self-serving little scheme.

A commenter begs to differFYI, income levels for state-defined "affordable housing" are based on area median income (AMI). The area in question is the county, not city. So we use LA County numbers, not Sierra Madre specifics. AMI for LA County is currently $64,300. Under state law there are various levels of affordability. Very low income is 50% of AMI, low income is 80% and moderate is 120%. The qualifying income also increases with family size. See https://la.curbed.com/2017/5/3/15539770/los-angeles-affordable-housing-income-requirements

Mod: That's why they put erasers on pencils.

Affordable housing defined (Sacramento Press link): Everyone wants "affordable" housing. But few people know what that is. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has defined affordable housing as no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. That means you shouldn’t be paying more than 30 percent of your income for housing — whether mortgage payments or rent — plus utilities each month.

Levels of affordability are also based on an area’s median incomes. The median incomes for Sacramento County, based on 2009 figures, are $50,950 for a single person, $58,250 for a two-person household and $72,800 for a family of four.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

57% of Americans Believe Trump is Unfit to be President

Mod: The daily drumbeat of news about this fool is becoming a little overwhelming. I doubt you need much more evidence, but here it is anyway.

Poll: 57 percent of voters believe Trump is unfit to be president, a new low (Politico.com link): Only four in 10 registered voters believe President Donald Trump is fit for office, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. The 40 percent mark is a new low for respondents to the Quinnipiac survey, which asked the same question in September and October. Fifty-seven percent of respondents now say that Trump is not fit for the office he holds.

Trump’s approval rating has slightly fallen to 35 percent, nearing the lowest point of his presidency — 33 percent in August. Nearly six in 10 respondents said they disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job as president.

A majority of registered voters said Trump is not honest (58 percent), does not have good leadership skills (59 percent) or care about average Americans (59 percent), is not level headed (65 percent), strong person (58 person) or intelligent (55 percent) and does not share their values (62 percent).

Mod: So would you believe that Rex Tillerson gave the security contract on the US Embassy in Moscow to a Vlad Putin company?

U.S. Hires Company With K.G.B. Link to Guard Moscow Embassy (New York Times link): When President Vladimir V. Putin in July ordered American diplomatic missions in Russia to slash their staff by 755 employees, the State Department said it would need time to assess the “impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it.”

Part of that response has now become clear: To make up for the loss of security guards axed in the Russian-mandated staff cuts, Washington has hired a private Russian company that grew out of a security business co-founded by Mr. Putin’s former K.G.B. boss, an 82-year-old veteran spy who spent 25 years planting agents in Western security services and hunting down their operatives.

Under a $2.8 million no-bid contract awarded by the Office of Acquisitions in Washington, security guards at the American Embassy in Moscow and at consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok will be provided by Elite Security Holdings, a company closely linked to the former top K.G.B. figure, Viktor G. Budanov, a retired general who rose through the ranks to become head of Soviet counterintelligence.

A State Department official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with the department’s rules, said that Elite Security and individuals associated with it had been “vetted” with “relevant national and local agencies” and would not increase the threat risk.

Trump Confuses Mass Shootings Tweeting Condolences to Texas Hours After Tragedy in California (People link): President Donald Trump expressed his condolences for the wrong mass shooting after four people were fatally shot and at least ten injured in Northern California Tuesday. “May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived,” Trump, 71, tweeted close to midnight Wednesday.

The commander-in-chief failed to recognize the latest massacre in Rancho Tehama Reserve, California, on Tuesday morning when a lone gunman occurred went on a random shooting spree in around the tiny community and targeted the local elementary school. Rancho Tehama is about 190 miles north of San Francisco.

Sutherland Springs, Texas, was the location of the Nov. 5 church shooting where 25 people and an unborn child were killed.

Twitter users quickly slammed Trump with many calling out his inability to remember each mass shooting that has taken place this year.

Trump's nuclear authority divides senators alarmed by his volatile behavior (Washington Post link): Senators trying to prevent President Trump from launching an unprovoked nuclear attack were stymied Tuesday, after a panel of experts warned them against rewriting laws to restrain a commander in chief many worry is impulsive and unpredictable enough to start a devastating international crisis.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has said Trump’s threats to global rivals could put the country “on the path to World War III,” began Tuesday’s session warning of the inherent danger in a system where the president has “sole authority” to give launch orders there are “no way to revoke.” By the time Corker emerged from the hearing — the first to address the president’s nuclear authority in over four decades — he was at a loss for what to do next.

“I do not see a legislative solution today,” Corker told reporters. “That doesn’t mean, over the course of the next several months, one might not develop, but I don’t see it today.”

Trump 'turns to mush' around strongmen (The Hill link): The editorial board of The New York Times blasted President Trump amid his trip abroad, saying he "turns to mush" in the presence of "strongmen."

In a column published Monday, the editorial board wrote that authoritarian leaders have a "strange and powerful attraction" for Trump. "As his trip to Asia reminds us, a man who loves to bully people turns to mush — fawning smiles, effusive rhetoric — in the company of strongmen like Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines," the board wrote.

"Perhaps he sees in them a reflection of the person he would like to be." The board said Trump's "obsessive investment in personal relations" might work for a real estate dealmaker.

"But the degree to which he has chosen to curry favor with some of the world’s most unsavory leaders, while lavishing far less attention on America’s democratic allies, hurts America’s credibility and, in the long run, may have dangerous repercussions," the board wrote.

How GOP Tax Plan Would Ruin Retirees, Underinsured (Forbes: Unless you're a multinational corporation or someone with a yacht, there's a lot not to like in the GOP's tax "reform" plan, which the party wants to ram through Congress by the end of the year -- even more to despise if you're retired, going to retire or underinsured.

To pay for this runaway train of tax goodies for global corporations and the ultra-wealthy, the GOP is raising taxes on the Middle Class and refuses to address the long-term funding shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare. Neither the House nor Senate plan addresses this issue.

That fiscal failure will likely lead to massive cuts to these popular programs. According to the Senior Citizens League analyst Mary Johnson.

Worse yet, the House GOP plan caps mortgage interest, property tax write-offs and cuts personal exemptions while raising tax rates for middle-income earners.

Where would these cuts come from to pay for this horrendous legislation? Since they are not coming from defense or paring corporate tax breaks, the biggest target on the table are social insurance programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Preserve Sierra Madre: Current Planning Projects List

Mod: The following email went out from Preserve Sierra Madre yesterday. As always there is lots of important information.

Dear Supporters: The "Current Planning Projects List"  attachment to this email was included as a link from the "Village View Newsletter" which comes from the City of Sierra Madre and is an email blast that anyone can sign up for to keep up with current events in Sierra Madre including pending development projects in Sierra Madre.

We will be forwarding this to our supporters each month when it is updated by the city. We appreciate the city compiling this list and making it easily available to the public.

You will note the many large homes planned for the Stonegate development which is currently on hold because of the water meter moratorium. You will also notice a couple of demolitions of existing single-family homes located at 193 Oak Meadow and 91 E. Orange Grove. A couple of second units will be added to homes at 150 S. Baldwin and 190 E. Mira Monte. The concern with second units is usually about parking. Other than that, the rest are just routine projects that appear to be of no concern.

Our City Council and Planning Commission have enacted very good rules and regulations in both the updated General Plan as well as the Municipal Code. All we can ask is that the existing rules and regulations be followed and enforced.

If you have any questions about a particular project, please let us know.

Thank you for your continued support.

Steering Committee
Preserve Sierra Madre


Monday, November 13, 2017

The City Council Tackles Empty Houses

Mod: Here is an interesting topic that is up for a little sober discussion at tomorrow evening's City Council meeting. Apparently there is some concern about properties in the city that are being left vacant.

Though it is not mentioned in the staff report for this item, the reason for this is often people who purchase these properties as investments do not care to take on the unhappy hassle of actually putting people in them. As rentals, airbnbs, or whatever you might care to imagine. Party pads perhaps. Or homes for exotic pets who require the privacy of suburban living and a pool. Help me out here.

These properties are being left vacant because the remote owners, more often than not people who cannot be seen as being members of the community because they aren't, obtained these wickiups solely as an investment and not a place for anyone to actually live. A practice that first attracted some local attention because of its prevalence in Arcadia, where elephantine McMansions are often built and then left to sit empty.

Arcadia has become a city noted for its unoccupied investment properties owned by people from other locales. Pacoima perhaps. Or Indio-Palm Springs. The fear being it could happen here as well. And perhaps that already has.

Here is a portion of the staff report. You can link to the entire thing here.

By my reading the purpose of this ordinance will be to make the owners of these empty investment cribs show some responsibility for taking care of them. I mean, a little paint every once in a while, plus the attentions of a gardener, couldn't hurt. Right? 

That plus make these absentee owners pay some fees for leaving their houses empty. I guess as a reminder to them, or something. Neighborhoods hollowed out by such investors do damage the interests of those who are actually living in town, so there are victims with needs that really should be protected. 

Plus it hardly makes for a sense of community. Absentee owners are never seen reading periodicals at the Library, or attending Kiwanis meetings.

Of course, the property rights fanatics won't be happy. In their minds you could turn those places into waste treatment facilities and even that would be nobody's business. Upwind or down. How little they seem to care about the rights of those property owners who have have actually lived in town for a while.

What I find interesting is that the authors of this Staff Report didn't dare risk discussing the reasons why so many of these wayward homes are being bought, only to be left empty and neglected. Maybe it was deemed politically incorrect or something. Or they don't want to be viewed as being social critics. At least not in print.

I am sure this will pass unanimously. When was the last time you saw something on a City Council meeting agenda that didn't?


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Republicans Say They’ve Got to Act on Tax Reform—or Donors Might Get Mad

Mod: If you aren't pulling down millions of dollars every year, well, then maybe you really don't deserve a tax cut. Or so the GOP is apparently telling you. But there is a good reason for that, right? Is it to defend America from its enemies? Help old people pay their medical bills? Bring down America's debt? Nah, none of that. Let's get realistic here. The real reason is they've been bribed to do it by the very people who will actually see tax cuts. And if they don't cut their taxes? Well, then the gravy train will end and the GOP won't be able to collect campaign donations any more. Check it out.

Republicans Say They’ve Got to Act on Tax Reform—or Donors Might Get Mad (Mother Jones link): Everyone knows politicians pay excessive attention to the demands of their campaign donors. But if you’re a politician, you’re not supposed to actually say that publicly.

Yet so far this week, two Republican politicians have done exactly that.

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,'” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told The Hill on Tuesday when asked about the GOP’s tax reform package.

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) followed with his own unusually frank comment:

GOP donors have made clear for months that they are unhappy with congressional Republicans.

As far back as June, Doug Deason, a well-known conservative donor from Texas, announced that “the Dallas piggy bank” for Republican politicians was closed until GOP lawmakers started delivering. He had already refused two congressional Republicans who had asked him to hold fundraisers. “Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed,” Deason said. “You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”

By the time the Obamacare repeal flopped in late September, lawmakers were privately warning each other about the fundraising ramifications. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, cautioned his colleagues in a closed-door meeting that they were treading on dangerous ground by failing to deliver for their donors.

“Donors are furious…We haven’t kept our promise,” Gardner reportedly said. But the disconnect between what GOP lawmakers apparently felt obligated to get done (an Obamacare repeal) versus what opinion polls suggested voters wanted (no Obamacare repeal) was getting more uncomfortable.

Republicans campaigned on this so often that we have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said when asked why so many Republican senators were supporting an Obamacare repeal when there was a notable lack of popular support. “That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”

Last month, Politico reported that donor anger at Republicans was threatening to bubble over.

“When you’re in a business and you tell your stakeholders you’re going to build a building or something, you have to follow through,” a Texas Republican donor named Dan Eberhart told Politico. “I can’t borrow money to build a building and then not follow through, which is what these guys are doing.”

With donors going on the record describing the relationship as nakedly transactional, Collins and Graham’s frankness starts to make more sense.

Lindsey Graham Latest Republican to Admit GOP Tax Plan Is All About Keeping 'Financial Contributions' of Donors Flowing (Common Dreams link): Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday became the latest Republican to admit the GOP is trying to ram through massive tax cuts for the rich to satisfy its wealthy donors, telling a journalist that if the party's tax push fails, "the financial contributions will stop."

David Sirota, reporter with the International Business Times, responded by noting that it is both "laudably honest for Graham to admit this" and "a repulsive glimpse of how politicans see so many public policies as private financial transactions between them and their donors."

Graham's remarks came as Senate Republicans prepared to unveil their tax legislation which, like the House version, would deliver massive tax cuts to wealthy individuals and large corporations.

As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) has made a similar comment recently, complaining that his donors are pressuring him to pass tax cuts or "don't ever call me again."

Critics had the same response to Graham as they did to Collins: "Dude, you're not supposed to actually admit that out loud!"


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Perverted Politics: Alabama Republicans Invoke Biblical Justifications for Child Molestation

Mod: Just when you might have thought politics couldn't possibly get any weirder, along comes an Alabama candidate for the United States Senate, a Judge Roy Moore, and allegations that he had at one time "dated" women as young as a 14 year-old girl. As bad as that might sound, some of the bizarre justifications of his supporters are quite possibly even worse. The following excerpt appeared yesterday in the Washington Post.

As Roy Moore declines to step aside, a tale of two Republican parties emerges (Washington Post link): The reactions to the allegation that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney have highlighted deep divisions within the Republican Party and underscored the growing tribalism that has infected the nation’s politics.

The most remarkable pushback came from Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who dismissed the allegations by saying that there was also an age gap between the biblical Joseph and Mary. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” he told The Washington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Zeigler said the allegations, even if true, are “much ado about nothing.” As part of his defense, he argued that Moore “fell in love with one of the younger women” and noted that the woman he wound up marrying later on is 14 years younger than him. “There is nothing to see here,” Zeigler said, predicting that voters would be angrier at The Washington Post for writing the story than at Moore for his behavior. He made another biblical reference: “Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” he said.

The Republican National Committeeman from Alabama, Paul Reynolds, said that he trusts Vladimir Putin more than Moore’s accusers. “My gosh, it's The Washington Post. If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time,” he told The Hill. “This is going to make Roy Moore supporters step up to the plate and give more, work more and pray more.”

Mod: I'm not sure Jim Ziegler has his story straight on the parentage of Jesus Christ. I was always taught to believe that the true father of Jesus is God, and that Joseph was there to keep an eye on things. But I am no theologian. Here is an account from someone who knows more.

‘Blasphemous’: Prominent evangelist blasts ‘really creepy’ use of the Bible to justify sexual abuse (Raw Story link): Prominent Christian missiologist Ed Stetzer wrote in Christianity Today to slam supporters of Republican senate nominee Roy Moore for the “sheer foolishness” of attempting to use the Bible to rationalize sexual assault.

“Simply put, it is important to make clear that Christians don’t believe the message that is coming from some of Moore’s supporters,” Stetzer fact checked. “Actually, most of us find it really creepy.”

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and is a contributing editor for Christianity Today.

Stetzer counseled that, “in the midst of an avalanche of accusations against liberal Hollywood that we accept immediately as truth, let’s not brush aside an accusation against a religious right leader. We need to take allegations seriously on all sides of the political aisle.”

Thursday, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler said that, “Even if you accept The Washington Post’s report as being completely true, it’s much ado about very little.”

“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Zeigler told The Washington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Additionally, Roy Moore’s brother claimed the Republican senate nominee was being “persecuted” like Jesus Christ.

Stetzer was appalled that some Roy Moore supporters used the Bible to justify sexual abuse of a 14-year-old. “If this is evangelicalism, I’m on the wrong team,” Stetzer charged. “But it is not. Christians don’t use Joseph and Mary to explain child molesting accusations.”

“His statement is so far beyond truth that it would be comical, if it wasn’t so offensive and, let me say, nearly blasphemous,” Stetzer noted. “I want to be clear: this is neither an evangelical view, nor should the Bible be used in this way.”

Stetzer confessed that “anger” might be too light of a word for his feelings. “So, let’s be clear. No. Normal. Evangelical. Believes. This. About. The. Bible.” Stetzer repeated. “And to all you reporters out there, THIS IS NOT WHAT EVANGELICALS BELIEVE.”

Mod: This last cite comes from a Republican author named Max Boot. He is a military historian and foreign-policy analyst who has been called one of the “world’s leading authorities on armed conflict” by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Roy Moore response shows GOP deserves to die: Max Boot (USA Today link): You may have thought that Republicans had sunk as low as they could possibly go last year when they nominated for the presidency a man who was singularly unfit, morally and mentally, for that post.

But, no, once you start racing to the bottom you never quite stop. There is always another level of degeneracy to be plumbed. Enter Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. He believes that “homosexual conduct should be illegal” and that Muslims should not be permitted to serve in Congress. Now the Washington Post reports that this fearless crusader for “traditional values” had a habit of propositioning underage girls.

In one case in 1979, when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney, the Post reports, Moore allegedly offered to watch a “little girl” outside a courthouse for her mother. He subsequently took advantage of this entree to kiss and fondle this 14-year-old after undressing both of them down to their underwear. The statute of limitations has expired on this sordid episode, but under Alabama law it would constitute sexual abuse in the second degree and be punishable by up to a year in prison.

Under common morality, of the kind that Moore claims to champion, his conduct is simply vile. You don’t have to be the parent of teenage girls — which I am — to be deeply disgusted. Yet he is utterly unrepentant. Moore simply waves off the allegations, claiming, “This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation.”

On his Twitter feed he has the gall to write, “Our children and grandchildren’s futures are on the line. So rest assured — I will NEVER GIVE UP the fight!” He even has the audacity to send a fundraising appeal to his supporters claiming that the Post article is evidence that “the forces of evil are on the march in our country,” and asking for a donation to fight the “Clinton-Obama machine.”

So far, much to their eternal discredit, Moore’s Republican backers in Alabama appear to be sticking by him. Paul Reynolds, the Republican national committee man from Alabama, told The Hill that he doesn’t trust The Washington Post: “If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time.”

State auditor Jim Ziegler is willing to admit the charges are true, but he doesn’t care. He cited the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph — “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus”— and concluded, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”


Friday, November 10, 2017

Is Pasadena Police Lieutenant Vasken Gourdikian Now Enjoying His Ninth Month Of Paid Administrative Leave?

The Vaskenator yakking at some citizens
Mod: This was a story that attracted a lot of attention around 9 months ago. And, like so many stories that involve police officers who get themselves into dutch, the news has just kind of petered out. As you may be aware, Pasadena PD Lt. Vasken "Lotta Guns" Gourdikian was inconvenienced by the Feds for selling beaucoup high powered weaponry out of his garage in Sierra Madre. So far none of these "off register" guns have shown up in any of those mass killing incidents we've heard so much about lately, but who knows? Anything can happen and probably will. There has been no new information on the matter for quite some time now, so I thought I'd bring it back up. In case you are wondering what I am talking about, here is an article that ran last April of this year when everything was so fresh and exciting.

Why did a Pasadena top cop have all those pricey firearms? Feds raid home (MyNewsLA.com link): Federal agents seized about five dozen firearms worth tens of thousands of dollars from a high-ranking Pasadena police officer during a raid this year, a newspaper reported Wednesday, citing newly released government records.

The Feb. 16 search of the officer's Sierra Madre home by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was widely publicized, but authorities did not identify the officer or detail what was recovered, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The cache of weapons was an enormous haul that took two trucks to cart away.

A  federal registry of potential forfeited assets listed 57 firearms that were seized from the home of Lt. Vasken Gourdikian, who most recently served as the Pasadena Police Department’s spokesman and an adjutant to Chief Phillip L. Sanchez, The Times reported.

After the ATF raid, Gourdikian was placed on paid administrative leave, the Pasadena Police Department launched an internal investigation and his biography was removed from the city’s website.

At Gourdikian's four-bedroom home in the San Gabriel Valley, agents reported hauling off more than 30 pistols, three shotguns and 20 rifles, among other weapons. The arsenal included small handguns as well as such tactical weapons as a $1,700 Bushmaster combat rifle, the records show. The estimated value of each seized gun ranged from $100 to $3,800, The Times reported.

Gourdikian, who has worked for the Pasadena Police Department since 1994, has not been charged with a crime, and city officials said the ATF search was unrelated to his work with the department. He remains on leave, city spokesman William Boyer said this week.

An ATF spokeswoman quoted by The Times said there was an ongoing federal investigation into the officer. The federal search warrant for Gourdikian's home remains under seal.

The spokeswoman said her agency has found law enforcement officers who were acting as firearms dealers, apparently buying and reselling weapons without a federal firearms license, a violation of federal law. 

Mod: According to Transparent California (link), Gourdikian pulled down just under a quarter of a million dollars in 2016. So if you figure he has been on paid administrative leave now for nine months, that's around $187,500.00 for just sitting around on his tookus and doing very little. Good work if you can get it, I suppose.