Archive for January, 2009

Who’s watching the store?

I see where Governor Ahnold has ordered all state employees to take two unpaid days off every month.  I’ll not weigh you down with the usual assortment of how hard state employees work  jokes.   This is no joke.

California is mired in a budget shortfall of something between two dollars and two trillion dollars.  The actual amount depends on who you ask and where their political flag is planted.  Our part-time legislature (yes, I know they get paid for a full time job) has been stymied by the misbegotten two-thirds requirement for passing a budget.  If it had been up to the majority of simple Democrats…oops, sorry about the misplaced modifier, we would have had a budget and raised taxes on Ahnold’s Hollywood and Silicon Valley friends to balance it…with a few teachers thrown on the political bonfire just to balance things a bit.

But Republicans, ever the guardians of taxpayer dollars (except for Iraq, Wall Street bailouts and protection of an auto industry that deserves to be sent to the scrap heap) insist on no new taxes.  Their balancing act focuses on the elimination of all expenditures other than police, prisons, and just enough lethal drugs to do away with anyone convicted of an offense greater than overtime parking.

We taxpayers seem to be numbed by the experience.  We think  “this is so awful that someone is bound to fix it before we all sink into ocean off  Zuma Beach.  Surely they will.”   There have been few marches to Sacramento.  No mass mailings to the guardians under the Golden Dome.  No bringing the phone company to its knees by an avalanche of calls to our elected representatives.  A lot of “woe is me” but not much action.  Quick, name the two people in Sacramento that represent your district.  See what I mean?

Ahnold’s directive of two days off for 238,000 state employees will save a bit over a billion dollars through June, or the amount of money spent on morning coffee in both houses of the legislature.  Now I don’t have a serious objection to the two days off each month.  What I do question is the method of implementation.  Obviously, delaying the passage of the budget for three months beyond the constitutional due date wasn’t enough time to figure this out.

Employees will be furloughed on the first and third Fridays of the month.  That means that the lights will be out at the DMV,  Caltrans will take more than the usual decade to complete a project, and unemployment case workers will be talking to themselves.  You’ll still be getting a speeding ticket from the CHP since they have a “no furlough” contract…and a gun.

Fortunately, prison guards, who also have guns and the world’s best union, will be able to stagger their furlough schedule.  At least someone was bright enough to figure that the inmates would take advantage of no one being at the office on Fridays.

I wonder why the same staggered schedule couldn’t have been applied to all state employees.  Maybe it’s because they don’t have guns.  Maybe because it isn’t really going to happen.  Maybe the whole thing is just Ahnold’s attempt to get our attention.  Or, maybe it’s his way of saying “if you don’t fix it, I’ll be back.”


The nerve!

No wonder Merrill Lynch was in trouble.  John Thain was its plotter-in-chief.

While Thain can be faulted for not giving a damn about public morality, he was without a doubt a brilliant strategist.  I can hear him speaking to his lieutenants in September…

…Guys, we’ve had a year of mind boggling losses and the company is headed into the shitter.  We’re all to blame because of our recklessness and stupidity.  But, shit happens.  So here’s what we’ll do.

…First we tell everyone that if Merrill Lynch goes down, it’ll take the rest of Wall Street along for the ride.  We’ve already crucified Lehman Brothers.  The street’s got no stomach for another one.

…Next, we run over to the Bank of America for lunch (their treat) and offer them a deal they can’t refuse.  I think $50 billion for us is a nice round number.  So what if we’ve lost $17 billion in the last four quarters; they’ll never notice it.  They’ve got lots of money.

…I’ll tell Kenny to put out some kind of foolish PR announcement like…

“Acquiring one of the premier wealth management, capital markets, and advisory companies is a great opportunity for our shareholders,” Bank of America Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ken Lewis said. “Together, our companies are more valuable because of the synergies in our businesses.”

…After all, AOL did it when they acquired Time-Warner.  Nobody asked them what synergies either.

…They’ll agree to buy us for sure.

…Just to be sure the shareholders buy into this fiasco, we’ll run over to the Feds and tell them that  B of A needs a few bucks, maybe $25 billion, to cover our losses.  That’ll jack up Kenny’s share price.

…After we get the $25 billion, and because I’ve been so clever, I’ll propose a $10 million bonus for myself.  Don’t worry guys, I won’t forget you.  You’re my partners.  Forget about those 4,000 worker-bees we just laid off.  They’ve got Unemployment Compensation to tide them over.

…And just to make sure nobody finds out what our 4th quarter looks like, we’ll distribute the bonuses before December 31…instead of after January 1 like we always did.

…Oh, and have maintenance hurry up and finish the million dollar renovation of my office.  Can’t wait to throw my butts into that new $1,400 waste basket.


– 12/05/08 – Merrill and Bank of America shareholders vote to approve the takeover.

– 12/08/08 – Merrill’s compensation committee disapproves Thain’s bonus, but approves staff payouts of $3-4 billion.

– Days later: Bank of America learns that Merrill’s fourth-quarter losses were greater than expected.  B of A begins lobbying the federal government for more TARP money to ease the takeover.

– 12/29/08 – Merrill pays bonuses at least a month ahead of the usual schedule.

– 1/16/09 Treasury says it will give Bank of America another $20 billion in TARP money, to help it absorb the larger-than-expected Merrill losses.

– 1/16/09: Merrill reports a $15.3 billion fourth quarter loss.

-1/22/09  Ken Lewis has a 15 minute meeting with John Thain.  Thain resigns.

Wonder if he took his wastebasket with him.


So far so good…

Sweetie and I hosted our photo show at City Hall last night.  In spite of some rain, good friends showed up and more strangers than I expected.   The highlight of the show was Sweetie’s cookies.  But I admit that I enjoyed hearing comments about the photos.  Ego never rests.

Many of our guests talked about the inauguration.  It was a continuation of the banter at Karen and Jim’s the night of the inaugural ball.  Most folks there were just happy to see change…and the helicopter disappear over the horizon.  But some showcased their overwhelming anger toward the newly departed.  So much so that even I blanched and had to look down at my shoes.

It’s been four days and Obama hasn’t turned around the economy.  The Brits, in their classy fashion, say they’re in recession.  Job losses continue to climb.  Even Microsoft has fallen on hard times.  The market acts like a jack-in-the-box.  And banks want more hand-outs.   So why am I smiling?

Obama says “Close Guantanamo.”  It’s all about people.

Obama says “Close CIA secret prisons.”.  It’s all about people.

Obama says “No more torture to obtain information.”  It’s all about people.

Obama says “Federal agencies are to err on the side of transparency.”  It’s all about people.

Obama says “Past presidents can no longer hide potentially embarrassing records.”  It’s all about people.

Obama says “If you leave my administration, you can’t lobby me until I leave office.”  It’s all about people.

So, why am I smiling?  Can’t wait to see what’s next.


Time to go to work

I’ve been sitting around in a sort of malaise.

The election seems eons ago.  The economy takes one step forward and two steps back.  The market is afraid of its own shadow.  People are critical of the bailouts.  And my brother is freezing his ass back in Chicago.  It’s two days until we no longer have to say “President-elect.”

The Israelis and Hamas are still performing in the world’s longest running tragedy.  What a waste.  Why doesn’t someone do something about it?  It’s two days until we no longer have to say “President-elect.”

Uncle Bernie Madoff sits in his high-rise apartment,  sends jewelry to relatives and writes millions in checks to his favorite people…while charitable organizations that trusted him with money destined for the unfortunate go broke.  The free market will handle it they said.  It’s two days until we no longer have to say “President-elect.”

Watched snippets of Bush’s Goodbye Mr. Chips speeches.  Like the protagonist in the movie The Reader, I didn’t know whether to blame him or feel sorry for the poor bastard.  Some of both, I guess.  It’s two days until we no longer have to say “President-elect.”

I get e-mails from Obama telling me to join his crusade for a better world.  Do something in my community.  Sign up for something, anything.  Get my ass in gear.  It’s two days until we no longer have to say “President-elect.”

Watched John Boehner, leader of the Republican House minority, moaning for the cameras about the gazillion dollar Obama bailout plan.  Too big.  Too something.  Too not ours.  Bet he’s got his fingers crossed behind his back.  It’s two days until we no longer have to say “President-elect.”

Saw Meet the Press this morning.  The round-table included historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I love Doris; she’s so sincere, bright and non-threatening.  Tavis Smiley was there too; sometimes I think he’s going to hit me.  Doris compared Obama and Lincoln.  Her advice to Obama was to do what Lincoln did…without the beard.  It’s two days until we no longer have to say “President-elect.”

And then there’s the breathlessly anticipated inaugural speech.  Sheeesh.  What do we expect from the guy?  That the world will stop spinning after a twenty minute oration?  Maybe so.

—ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country

—the only thing we have to fear is fear itself

—with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Time to go to work.


I’ve been hung

Now that I’ve got your attention.

On Wednesday Sweetie and I saw the inside of city government.  Well, the building anyway.  We spent most of the day at Ojai City Hall, a venerable property that was donated to the city many years ago and is the seat of power in our fine city.

We were there hanging my photos.  With Roger’s expert guidance and help, we spotted twenty-five pieces throughout the building.   They’ll be there until March 12 for all the world to see.   I’m grateful to the Ojai City Arts Commission for their gracious invitation to display my work.

The photos are focused…pun intended…on Lake Casitas and on the oil wells near us.  Sweetie and I have been doing a project at Lake Casitas for several months.  I thought that the old lake should get more respect.  Seems like she’s only thought of as a place where out-of-towners drag their RVs and beer to.  Or her water that sometimes yields big bass to fisherman…at least that’s what they tell us. 


 The oil wells are the result of months of work trying to make them look alive and vibrant rather than the rusty. ratty old things that they are.  We tried to get some other venues interested in an exhibit devoted to them.  Most said “Oil wells, who’d be interested in those?”  Or they didn’t respond at all.  Must have been the shock.  The director of the Santa Paula Oil Museum looked at me, her eyes glazed over and she said something like “Why would the oil museum want to show pictures of oil wells.”  I couldn’t think of a good response.


Anyway, you’re all invited to our exhibit.  If you want some free food, come join us on Thursday, January 22 from 5pm to 6:30pm at City Hall.  Sweetie’s cookies will be the highlight of the show, I’m sure.  Sorry, no booze unless it’s in a paper bag out by the trash bin.  It’s a public building, so they only allow alcohol in the Mayor’s office…I think.


Drove the Help of Ojai bus yesterday.  Not very busy.  Oak Tree House was still shuttered for the holidays so my passenger list was short.  I usually take a book anticipating a block of spare time but hardly ever crack it open.   Generally find something else to do like nudgey Jan, eat a few bites of sandwich and visit Java and Joe for a big cup of dark roast coffee.

I like Java and Joe.  I avoid the Ojai Coffee Roasting Company.  The same faces are always behind the counter at Java and Joe.  Even though they aren’t the most engaging folks they know what they’re doing and do it efficiently.  When we first moved to Ojai my friend Steve asked me if I had been to the Star Wars Cafe.  I scratched my head and said I hadn’t heard of it.  Steve laughed “It’s the Ojai Coffee Roasting Company.”  You can probably figure out the connection.

On occasion I do stumble into the Roasting Company.  The faces behind the counter seem to change with the seasons.  The service is usually the same.  Takes awhile for them to recognize your existence.  Once you are blessed with their attention, what generally follows are a few quizzical looks and a half-hearted attempt to meet my needs.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a regular.  But I digress.

I  had about twenty minutes of spare time mid-morning.  Needed some stamps for a bunch of postcards that Sweetie and I prepared for our upcoming photo show at City Hall.   We don’t stock up on twenty-seven cent stamps so I figured I’d dash into the post office and get a bunch.   Parked the bus about half a block from the post office and hustled over.  There are two sets of doors at our post office.  The first set opens to the street.  The second set of doors, the ones the postal clerks hide behind, gives way to the inner sanctum where you generally queue up with half a dozen other people.

Not today.  The line inside the doors was backed up and flattened against them.  No more room at the inn.  It’s sort of a self-limiting queue.  After all, you’re not going to open the second set of doors and expose everyone to winter’s icy blasts.  The last woman in line behind the protective glass turned to me and shrugged her shoulders.  I left.  Strike one.

My bus shift ended after I dropped off the lunch bunch.  A really nice bunch.  Bob waits for the bus on a chair in his driveway.  Then hustles his walker down to the lift.  Oma has a cane and usually pinches my cheek.  Dottie has a walker and always says how wonderful we drivers are.  And Ellen at 90 has a cane, sort of hops up the bus steps and proceeds to brighten my day.  Bless ’em all.

My usual routine at shift’s end is to call Sweetie and ask if she needs anything before I take the fifteen minute trip up the hill.  “I could probably use some color-safe bleach.  No need to go out of your way.  It can wait.”  Sure.

Starr Market is only a block away from Little House.  I figured ten minutes tops including browsing.  Let’s see…as long I’m here, why not get some bananas.  They were all bright green.  Just two, they’ll be OK tomorrow or the next day.  No bananas with cereal today but we can handle it.  And why not some mushrooms.  $3.99 for an itty bitty container.  Oh well, nothing’s too good for us.  On to the bleach.  Let’s see.  Plain bleach, lemon scented bleach, lime fresh bleach…no color-safe bleach.  OK, too bad Starr.  Keep your green bananas and your high-roller mushrooms.  On to Vons.

Can’t fool me twice in one day.  First, look for the bleach.  If they pass that test, move to Phase 2.  Plain bleach, lemon scented bleach, lime fresh bleach, even high-intensity-turn-everything-bright-white bleach.   Aha, in the corner away from prying eyes…color-safe bleach…organic of course (what makes bleach inorganic?)   And three times the price of  the other bleach.   Nothing’s too good for us.  On to the bananas.  Almost over-ripe.  Two’s enough.  Mushrooms reasonably priced.  That’ll teach you, Starr.

On to the check-out stand.  Let’s see, only four items.  Express Checkout for me.  But wait, there’s a woman in front of me with a small child.  She’s got her stuff laid out on the conveyor belt.  But what’s this.  She forgot one item.  “Would it be OK if I run real quick and get it?”  Sure.  I scan the other check-out stands.  There’s one that looks promising.  I’ll wheel the cart over there.  But wait, there’s a woman with enough cereal boxes to end the famine in Ethiopia…and about fifty cans of cat food to boot.  No good.  Back to Express Check-out.

A Vons supervisor blocks my path like she was Dick Butkus.  “Get thee to check-out stand six…no waiting.”  I turn and sheepishly begin the trek to six.  There are three people ahead of me, each loaded down with duplicate Ethiopian famine ending carts.  Don’t listen to her, Fred.  Get back to Express Checkout.  Too late, the Express line stretches to Ethiopia…no waiting for them.

My turn at Stand Six finally comes.  “And how are you today, Mr. Rothenberg?”




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