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Afternoon T

| Opinion | May 20, 2017

by T-Katz

Q: I’m finding it hard to make everybody happy. I don’t know how and I’m fried.

A: Fried?! Do you cook? Then imagine owning a small, wonderfully equipped restaurant, with no menu. People just order whatever sounds good to them. You’re left scrambling (frying, poaching, steaming) like mad, knowing there’s no way to whip (beat, whisk, froth) up everything to make everybody happy. Your Yelp reviews are a mess and so are you. Now what? For starters (appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, aperitifs), shutter the doors of this boutique bistro in your brain. That ain’t no way to run a business. It’s certainly no way to run your life.

I want you to read this aloud: “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” Just reading it is exhausting. Trying to serve up the last bit of that mouthful is even worse.

Attempting to please everyone with a menu of 1001 choices usually means fast, fluffy and not terribly satisfying or healthy. Darling, from here on out, you think of yourself as a fine Michelin-rated restaurant with a specialized menu.

Now, to properly plan any menu you must write it all out and then add or subtract items to make it the best it can be. So, sit down and start writing (single words and sentences) what you feel describes who you are down to your core

(pit, seeds and all). Not who you think you should be or what you think other people think you should be. Oh, and please be honest with yourself about who you truly are. [A bacon bit might dream of being a succulent holiday ham, but it’s not. You wouldn’t serve that on a platter for company.] This page of words doesn’t have to be neat or in order. You throw those ingredients all over the page! After all, that’s often how things float around in our brain. Once you see what’s in your mental pantry, it becomes easier to seriously get cookin’.

Next, circle words of the highest quality (e.g. honorable, kind, compassionate) and cross out the not-so-tasty traits (e.g. anxious, fearful, inflexible). You wouldn’t make a delicious bouillabaisse with bad seafood, so focus on the best of what you see in you.

Lastly, make peace with the fact that some folks prefer neither bouillabaisse nor cioppino, and that’s okay. The bottom line is to take the finest ingredients of your character to ultimately make for a more delicious you. Then, you can be of better service to those who fully appreciate you.

The Michelin guide gives stars to rate fine dining establishments. One star signifies “a very good restaurant.” Two stars is “worth a detour” and three stars is “…vaut le voyage!” Trust me, when you work and confidently present your finest, it’s worth the journey. Yours and those you serve.
xo – t.

The City Council Awakens

| Opinion | May 19, 2017

by Alan Ferdman 

If you intend to stay up on decisions that will shape the future of Santa Clarita, you need to visit, or at least watch, our City Council meetings. Also, if you have been reading my columns, you’re aware of my strong belief that “government is at its finest when the people’s business is accomplished in public.” Too many times, important issues are placed on the City Council “Consent Calendar,” meaning they will be passed by one council vote and not even mentioned, unless an item is pulled for a separate discussion. Too many times, members of the public ask questions or comment on an issue, without an answer being subsequently provided by city staff or our council members.

Yet, at the May 9, 2017 City Council meeting, during review of Agenda item 13 (proposed changes to the manufactured home park rent adjustment procedures), we witnessed government and public interaction accomplished in a way our country’s founders wanted it to take place. It was not because some monumental decision was made. It was a review of a city staff proposal, commented on by the public and thoroughly discussed by each council member. In the end, staff was directed to study the issue further and take into consideration comments provided by the public and our council members.

Coming up with an acceptable change proposal will not be a simple task. If you have not been following this issue, allow me to tell you “the short story” and therefore bring you up to date. In 1991, the Santa Clarita City Council passed Santa Clarita Municipal Code 6.02. The purpose was to “protect manufactured home park residents from excessive space rent increases, while at the same time allowing park owners to receive a fair rate of return on their investment.” One key element of this ordinance was allowing space rent to increase per the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or a minimum of 3 percent.

Fast forward to 2014 and park residents were feeling the 3 percent minimum increase was unfair. The economy had tanked and the CPI had stayed below 3 percent for a fair amount of time. Two manufactured park residents, Mr. Doug Fraser and Mr. Ray Henry, became the residents’ spokespersons and brought the issue to the City Council, meeting after meeting, until the council acted.

So, in June of 2015 a revision to the Manufactured Home Rent Panel Adjustment Procedure was brought before the City Council and approved. This ordinance revision still allowed space rent to increase per the CPI, but the minimum increase was reduced to 0 percent. In addition, there were two other major changes, which did not receive the same amount of attention. Provisions were deleted requiring park owners to reduce rents when park services were eliminated, and a requirement for park management to obtain resident consensus when the cost of capital improvement projects were to be added to residents’ space rent.

These changes caused park owners to rethink how to manage park finances. Some parks had not been raising rents by 3 percent, even though it was allowed. Some said they used the 3 percent increases to fund capital improvements rather than identifying them separately. But, it was all about to change.

As you might imagine, 2016 rent increases using the new rules brought a surge of rent protests. Park owners used creative ordinance interpretations and sent lawyers to the panel hearings to further confuse the issues. City staff did not fulfill their responsibilities, per the ordinance, to determine if a rent appeal should be heard. Plus, at one hearing, which I attended, the park owner’s lawyer turned a public hearing into a kangaroo court. After those meetings, city management was asked to take notice and action. Ordinance changes were promised, but were not brought forth in time for the 2017 rent increases and subsequent panel hearings. This time it was the park residents who brought up “letter of the law” issues. Everyone seemed to agree, the rent adjustment process was not working well.

On April 3-4, city staff presented a proposed ordinance change to the public. Key elements included changes to the definition of residents, which would make it even harder (if not impossible) for residents to raise an appeal, as well as a procedural change from having rent appeals heard by an elected panel to now having appeals heard by a hearing officer, who is selected by city staff. There were a lot of community comments, some in favor, but many opposed.

On April 25, an identical proposal was presented to the City Council Development Committee. Comments and suggestions made at the community presentations had been overlooked. Here again, the community commented and offered suggestions. The meeting ended, without one word from either council member present.

At the May 9 City Council meeting, staff presented essentially the same proposal in a different form, thereby disregarding public comments one more time. Yet again, the community rose and provided comments, suggestions and information relating to the safeguards eliminated in 2015.

But this time, the council members listened and offered their opinions. Some feedback included Councilmember Miranda, who told of his passion to be the voice of those who have not been listened to. Councilmember McLean offered her concern about the lack of a requirement, in the current ordinance, for residents to be compensated for reductions in park services. Mayor Pro-Tem Weste related areas she thought residents were being overcharged and told our city attorney that if state law is a problem we should contact our state legislators. Councilmember Kellar indicated, “We are not there yet”; “we have got to do a better job”; and Mayor Smyth expressed his belief it is possible to “take your (residents’) ideas and put them in an ordinance that will work for you (the residents).”

Changing the Manufactured Home Rent Adjustment Procedure Ordinance will not be simple or easy. It needs to address a methodology which is fair to both residents and park owners. Obviously, if rents are too high, residents will not be able to remain living there or even have the ability to sell their homes. But if rents are not realistic, manufactured home parks will become dilapidated and eventually close. The ball is now in our City Council’s court. Let’s hope the City Council has truly “awakened” and will continue to address this, and many other issues, in a public forum.

If you wish to watch this discussion firsthand, go to the city website, under City Council Agendas, then City Council Meeting May 9, 2017, where the video is available, and scroll to Agenda Item 13. Even though this was the first of a series of discussions on the topic, I’m sure you will agree it was a city council meeting which will make you proud you live in Santa Clarita.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

Sicilian Mafia has Nothing on the Dems!

| Opinion | May 19, 2017

by Joe Messina

The days, and soon to be weeks, after FBI Director James Comey’s firing have really turned up the heat on the Democrats. Some of you have that confused dog look on your face right about now. I say that because up until November 8, 2016 the Dems were the American Psychiatric Association’s poster child for the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome.

The so-called “tampering” in the recent presidential election showed emails released by the “Russian” WikiLeaks (according to Mrs. Clinton) disclosing in unfiltered detail how Democrats really felt about their rank and file constituents, those average working Americans. They made fun of Mexicans, blacks, and Jews. We saw firsthand in those emails that, from day one, they had no intention of allowing Bernie Sanders to ever win. They made sure he didn’t get the nomination. Yes, the DNC!

We saw firsthand, after being told that questions were never given to candidates in advance of a debate, that, in fact, they had been passed off by the DNC to Mrs. Clinton to give her a leg up. And when Donna Brazile, the Interim Chair for the DNC, was asked if that had happened, she emphatically stated that it did not. For added emphasis she said, “As a black Christian woman…” Yup. Every one of the labels that we are never, ever allowed to question. She pulled the race, religion, and woman card all in one breath! But, to my Christian sister, the Bible says the lie will tell on you! And it did. She later had to apologize and recant those words, admitting she gave the questions to Mrs. Clinton in time to prepare for the debate.

Are you following? Lying, cheating, cover up, speaking ill of races, ethnicities, and females. Working against one of their own while insisting that it wasn’t happening. All these issues and who on the Left was outraged? No one. The one in the DNC caught coordinating it all, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, was actually promoted to an organization that could use her skills, Hillary Clinton’s campaign! And, she’s still a sitting congresswoman.

Yet, with all this evidence and proof we are told there is nothing to see here. Move along! No one’s feet were held to the fire and simply put, if there was no action taken against these people, then the Democrat Party, the Clintons, the Obamas, Senator Chuck Schumer, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrat leadership are all complicit in those vile acts.

This same group called many, many, many times for the ouster of FBI Director Comey, stating he was untrustworthy, incompetent, and that he compromised the department and our national security. Many of those same Democrats called for his immediate removal. Congresswoman Maxine Watters stated this week that if Hillary were president then the firing would have been OK. But since it was Trump, it had to be a cover up because, as we all know, the Clintons are stellar Americans with an impeccable record of service, TO THEMSELVES!

Dems are just sure that Comey was getting closer to getting some dirt on Trump, as was evidenced by him asking for more money for the investigation. WRONG! According to Acting Director McCabe, they needed no more resources. They have over 160 agents working the case! He was then asked if the firing would hamper the investigation, stop it, or slow it down. His answer again was, “NO!” Do the Dems really believe that the only guy who could handle this was Comey? With all of those capable agents, the only one who could keep it together was Comey? Do they really believe that we need an “incompetent” leader at the helm of the FBI? Their words, not mine. That’s one of the words they used to describe him. Why would we trust Democrats with our security when they are so willing to allow someone they don’t trust at the helm? Someone who had to come back time after time to correct his testimony. How much dope are they smoking in D.C.?

Yes, these same Democrats without one shred of evidence want you to believe that Mr. Trump and his team is in the pocket of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to somehow give Russia the upper hand in American politics. That somehow all this Russian activity started when Trump decided to run for office. They are outraged that Mr. Trump mentioned while he was campaigning that if the Russians hacked Hillary’s email server they should release every document they got. How dare he ask them to get involved!

Yet many of you didn’t know, or forgot, that Mr. Ted Kennedy asked the Russians to get involved in his run for President. And he was to supply them with intel on his opponent, they would release it, and then he would reward them later for a job well done! Dems were good with that.

We are all fixated on Comey and the Healthcare bill and whether or not Trump really got two scoops of ice cream to everyone else’s one (yes, that’s a real story CNN covered). But the real story is how dangerous the Democrat leadership has become. How anti-American they have become. Even old-time rank-and-file voters are concerned with how far Left the Party is going and has already gone. Democrats keep the rank-and-file fooled as a good sleight of hand magician keeps his audience fooled.

The most dangerous pilot you can fly with is one who believes he never makes mistakes and believes he knows more than pretty much anyone else. I have had my helicopter pilot’s license for nearly 30 years. And I have seen too many pilots gone too early because of how “smart” they were. Democrat leadership believes they know more than anyone else. They believe they know more than their rank-and-file. Even when polls, their own polls, show the people don’t want it, they vote for it anyway.

Dems have become dangerous because so many blindly follow a leadership that wants more and more power at any cost. They want to be in total control, at any cost. It’s not equality they want, it’s control!

Democrat leadership are the real bullies who tell their fellow electeds, “Do what we say or you’ll end up with all the ‘crappy’ committees and assignments!” or “Vote this way or you won’t get any help in the next election!” Does it happen on both sides? Yes. But the level of thuggery by which the Democrat leadership does it can only be topped by the Sicilian Mafia itself!

Democrats have used the same mantras for years. … Republicans hate women, children, clean air, clean water, immigrants, sick people, old people, the Earth, pot smokers, poor people, and anyone in the LGBTQ community. WOW! We are a busy lot of haters, aren’t we? And they are just a bunch of fear-mongering bullies who think they can scare you into voting for them. They are the Big Tent Party? Not so much! Only if you are on the inside. Only if you fall in line with their way of thinking. Like a big gumbo, only they got all the ingredients wrong.

Since Trump has been elected, no blacks have been put back in chains (Joe Biden’s claim), women have not had their right to vote or to have abortions taken away, minorities still have the right to vote, schools are still teaching all children, and Al Sharpton and the other MSNBC hosts are still out of jail, even though they owe millions of dollars in back taxes.

This is both scary and depressing. … Democrats believe Republicans are ALWAYS wrong and Dems are ALWAYS right. And that makes them very, very dangerous!

Long Live Nancy Pelosi!

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

 

The Democrats Who Cried Wolf

| Opinion | May 18, 2017

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” – Rahm Emanuel

This infamous quote from Rahm Emanuel after Obama’s first winning election was originally stated at a Wall Street Journal panel discussing the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the opportunities it presented for the administration to take on an agenda they would not have been able to previously, without the crisis.

It has been misquoted multiple times and taken out of context, but that isn’t what has me worried. What has me worried is that it seems the entire Democratic party has taken this as their mantra, and what originally was an opportunity to do some good has become the veritable “Democrat who cried wolf” with the Trump administration.

It seems every day I’ve seen or heard a politician (from both sides of the aisle) on a major media outlet whining, crying and pointing like a petulant child that bad man Trump is doing something that hurts their feelings or is not politically correct. As an active investor, I’ve rather enjoyed the clueless politicians talking about how his policies would wreck the economy followed by the market growing exponentially!

But the latest one that really struck a nerve and hit close to home as being just too far of a stretch to let pass, which may seem rather innocuous to most (compared to some of the other far-fetched claims we’ve seen) is regarding Jared Kushner’s sister addressing a ballroom of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing.

To start with, the idea that this “story” involves a White House Senior Advisor’s sister should be the first red flag that this is more childish high school drama than actual story worth any oxygen, but hey, that’s the world we’re in now.

The reason this hits so close to home is that I, having a Taiwanese-born ex-wife who has a successful entrepreneur father, know that the policy in question has been around for a long time. The Kushner family is far from the first to make this kind of pitch to wealthy Chinese, Saudi, Indian or Russian families who want their kids to grow up in the United States.

The EB-5 visa was created in 1990 to stimulate the economy by job creation and as a tool to bring wealthy investors to our shores. The program was further developed in 1992 with Congress’ Immigrant Investor Program, which sets aside 10,000 of these visas every year for wealthy immigrants who put money in particular types of approved investments.

The main pushback from this program is that it “unfairly” gives access to the wealthy investors who want to get to our nation, while pushing the normal Joe to the back of the line. But if you haven’t figured out that’s how the world works yet, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

The State of California (with large input from Silicon Valley) tried to pass their own modest version of this several years ago in an attempt to ensure we approve more visas for highly educated foreigners, mostly educated here in the U.S., to go work for some of the powerhouses in the tech sectors that America doesn’t have enough programmers, coders and computer science engineers to fill.

And, of course, California shot it down. God forbid we push an uneducated person who will live on entitlements behind an MIT-educated Ph.D. who can add value (and tax revenue) to our economy.

I’ve personally seen this EB-5 visa pitched to a wealthy Chinese businessman who has three daughters and was frantically looking for any way to get his kids out of China. I’ve seen it pushed to a Taiwanese pop star and his wife who fell in love with America and were looking for any way to stay beyond their visa. And I’ve seen it pushed to an Indian entrepreneur who wanted his kids to grow up with the American way of life.

But even though the EB-5 has been around for over two decades, and even though it’s been pushed to people for the most marginal of benefits to our economy (the reason for which it was created), because a distant relation to the Trump administration is pushing it, the Democrats want to point and yell and jump up and down while crying wolf.

Where it gets truly awe-inspiring is the unstated assumptions to be taken from this false-outrage that we’re seeing from the Left: that it is perfectly OK for Bill and Hillary Clinton to profit upwards of $240 million purely from public service, but anyone tied to a conservative president isn’t allowed to run a business that profits by means other than Clinton corruption.

This just goes to show how polarized our views of this great land are: to a Conservative, America is the land of opportunity, but to a Democrat it’s the land of entitlements … as long as someone else is paying for it.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

 

Of Drinks and Teen Butts

| Opinion | May 12, 2017

by Joshua Heath

It all took place a couple weeks ago, late at night, as I was finishing an essay for school. While taking a study break, I came across a Facebook post that irritated me to no end. On the Santa Clarita Community page Chelsea Jackmond-Ellis, a local resident, authored these immortal words:

“If your kid was at Aldi tonight [a local supermarket], scrawny little guy in a black shirt about 13 with two friends he needs a serious butt kicking! Yelled out ‘f*ck’ really loud for no reason. Then decided to yell out ‘why are there no drinks in this store to shove up my a**’”

Immediately, folks chimed in supporting Jackmond-Ellis. One said the boy should be taken to the local prison to commiserate with some felons. Another argued he was on the path to becoming a low-life. All in all, the comment section turned into an orgy of pointless moralizing directed at a teen who committed the grave sin of telling a joke.

For my money, if I saw the fella wonder about which drink to shove up his butt, I would have first laughed uproariously and then handed him a Pepsi in protest of that awful Kendall Jenner commercial.

But in all seriousness, this episode was another example of a real problem in society: this country has it all wrong when it comes to young people. We judge and shame them, when what they really need is kindness, constructive criticism, and an empathetic ear.

For the record, I am not pro-shoving drinks up your butt. Neither do I believe that it is something to joke about (there are far better butt jokes one can make use of at 13, like just straight-up farting).

But I also don’t believe in responding to a kid’s crude joke with such stern, nasty rhetoric. For in the final analysis — and this is important — kids have the right to be wrong. They have the right to be stupid. That’s what growing up is all about.

The right thing for Jackmond-Ellis to do would have been to take the kid aside and say something like, “Hi, sweetie. I know you’re with your friends having a good time, but could you please not speak that way in the store? It is offensive.”

Instead, she puts him on blast over Facebook. No bueno.

Now, I should probably reveal my personal stake in this. I am just a few years past my own teenage years, and back then I would have been just like that kid. That’s why Jackmond-Ellis’ post irked me so much.

I wouldn’t have joked about shoving a drink up my glutes, but I delighted in crude humor. Those years were tough. I was bullied a lot, and being a wiseass was a release.

One of my greatest hits from that period included:

“Ms. Banks, I need to go the bathroom. I’m feeling a WMD about to burst out of me.”

Another time, after I got into a fight with a peer, the principal had us try and find common ground and make up: “Well, Kyle, I like the Dodgers; you like the Dodgers. We’re both into video games, and we’re both white, eh? White power?!”

Then, a few years later, my English teacher made me do stand-up in front of the class: “Okay, pick up and turn to page 52 of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ Now tell me, what was the theme of this section, as Anne stands her first night in the concentration camp? Anyone? Anyone? No one read the book? Did you bastards SparkNote the holocaust?”

And on the last day of school, he made me do more, but this time I was to give compliments to my fellow classmates:

“Oh, Britney, you’ve done well pitching for the high school team. You are a master with soft balls.”
It was crude and immature, but it was harmless, innocent fun — emotional medicine for getting through the day. And I didn’t end up a low-life either. I finish this column from the UCLA library as a senior here, currently with high honors.

So my message to the 13-year-old comic who started all the controversy is simple. Kid, joking about shoving a drink up your rear is a little weird, let’s be honest. Tone it down a bit. You want to make people laugh, that’s true, but you also want to get dates.

At the same time, I will say, as a fellow wiseass, joking about butts is a good subject; just don’t get into what you want to shove up there. I, personally, like to joke about my lack of one.

Life’s a learning process, and at 13, you still have a lot more growing to do. Take pride in that fact, keep making people laugh, and drown out those who will shame you for being a flower in bloom.

That doesn’t mean don’t accept criticism, but only listen to the folks who speak to you with compassion, wisdom, and true empathy. You and every other child on God’s green earth deserve nothing less.

Why Are Special Operators Dying in Africa?

| Opinion | May 11, 2017

I fielded this question a lot after my first book was published (“Love Me When I’m Gone”), but the death of a Navy SEAL in Somalia on May 4 has brought that question back into the conversation. Most Americans don’t realize that all major wars have led to Africa, and the Global War on Terror (GWOT) hasn’t been any different (although the reasons for it are).

While many Leftists and Progressives today automatically think of America when they hear the word slavery, many forgot that the major European nations (Britain, France, Belgium, Holland and Portugal) had been involved in slavery for quite a long time, taking turns colonizing Africa and fighting over the control of her people and resources. Many of these African colonies were not well defended (as it was never their intention to be combat positions) and, thus, became excellent targets of opportunity for the warring nations in World War I. The European influence was so strong on the continent, in fact, that the Army taught me French before going to Africa, as many parts of the continent still speak the language.

The Axis-owned colonies were a bit more robust during WWII, and their choice of the African continent as a battlefield led to many textbook-inspiring battles between German commander Erwin Rommel (known as “The Desert Fox”) and the inspiration for what I consider the greatest movie of all time, “Casablanca.” Of all the gin joints in all the world…

So, if Western nations aren’t openly colonizing Africa anymore (but those of us with open eyes, and we who have spent time in Africa know that slavery is very much still alive in many parts of the continent), why are there American troops engaged in combat operations within her borders?

In fact, there has been a 1,600 percent increase in U.S. troops with boots on the ground in Africa between 2005 and 2016. I’ve been there on orders as a Green Beret, have lost several military friends there and a Navy SEAL died in Somalia this month. And it all boils down to three things in my mind: open territory, religious zealots and poverty.

Many Americans have a hard time understanding just how different the world is outside of our borders; did you know that if you make over $32,400 as of 2016 you’re in the top 1 percent of income earners globally? If those smelly ANTIFA idiots had to chant that after drinking their pre-protest iced mocha Frappuccinos (paid for by their parents’ credit cards, of course) they may not have so many followers.

Aside from our creature comforts, most of America and Americans are “on the grid.” This means that if you run errands throughout the day, you’ve most likely been caught on camera numerous times by Big Brother. You’ve probably used your credit or debit card. And there’s a high chance you’ve had to show someone your driver’s license or ID (yet, it’s racist when needed to vote?).

This means that if Big Brother needed to find you, they could. If you were to commit a major crime or were suspected of plotting something they could most likely find you and emplace surveillance to see what you were up to and who you were commiserating with.

But not in Africa.

The grid may exist in some of the more advanced areas on the continent, say Johannesburg, Morocco and possibly a few others; but 99.99 percent of that continent is completely off the grid. And not only is it off the grid, but as one of the most corrupt regions on the planet (I wouldn’t put Washington, D.C. too far behind) any local police or security that needs to be asked to “look the other way” will often do so for a very low price.

This means that if you were someone who needed to hide out, say a terrorist leader or arms dealer, you could probably find a good place to do it there. And what if you needed to set up a terrorist training camp to teach people how to shoot, make explosives and become deadly in the fight against the infidels? There’s quite a bit of prime-time, off the grid desert property in which you could do that.

Its ease of access to the Middle East makes it a prime location for terrorists, and with the large amounts of money the Saudis give to setup Wahhabbi mosques (the most violent and terrorist-grooming sect of Islam), it’s a breeding ground for extremism. Add in the two final ingredients, heat and poverty, and you have a recipe for terrorism.

Sure, Boko Haram stealing schoolgirls made Oprah upset & Joseph Kony and his child soldiers are enough of a reason to send my former unit on a hunting mission in the jungles of the Central African Republic, but not enough to warrant a 1,600 percent increase in U.S. military presence.

If you ever find yourself questioning why the U.S., State Department and DoD make some of the very strange-seeming decisions that they do to fund nations that call us evil and send troops to the middle of nowhere, it all boils down to one word: stability.

Stable, rich and prosperous nations don’t allow terrorists to come into their countries. They don’t allow the populace to live “off the grid” so that anyone can hide their evil deeds there. And they don’t bring Green Berets with our guns & beards to hunt evil within their borders.

When Things Go Wrong and Nothing Happens

| Opinion | May 11, 2017

by Alan Ferdman

I love Santa Clarita. I can say that, and at the same time, I can be continually distressed when opening my morning paper and reading about another instance of an embezzlement of public funds. No matter if it is the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Santa Clarita, or a high school sports program, I always wonder, “Who is watching the store and what will our community leaders do to implement corrective action? How will they attempt to prevent a similar situation from occurring again?”

But, most of the time, in place of taking immediate action, we read about the authority’s propaganda minister, er … uh … public relations officer, coming out to explain the situation away. Whatever happened to real leaders who step out “front and center” to accept responsibility, assure us they will fix the hole in their organization’s process, and then later tell us what they did?

In a Signal article last week we were reminded about the Valencia High School Baseball Booster Club issue that ended with Jared Snyder pleading guilty to grand theft. I knew Jared well. We both played in the city’s adult men’s softball program and he also umpired many of my games. During that time, he was a local softball star and a very nice guy. I feel sad that he made such poor choices, but at the same time, I fault the Hart District for not implementing policies, practices and procedures which would have brought this situation to light much earlier and perhaps avoided this unfortunate outcome.

In 2014, Gail Pinsker told The Signal, “The District was working on ‘best practices’ … including checks and balances and oversight.” Yet today, when another apparent allegation has been put forth about Valencia High School’s softball program, Dave Caldwell dances around the prospect of another complaint and told The Signal, “The schools oversee the conduct of the booster clubs and their ASBs.” So, after three years, where are those “best practices,” other than in the imagination of the Hart District’s spokesperson? Doesn’t the District set policies and procedures for the schools?

Another example is the $533,000 David Rubira embezzled from the City of Santa Clarita. How did that happen? Well, to find out, the City of Santa Clarita hired auditing firm KPMG to perform a forensic audit. As it turns out, Mr. Ruberia “fraudulently routed cash in lieu of bond refunds to fictitious companies that he created” (SCV News (11/28/16). Though Mr. Striplin was quoted, “He (Mr. Ruberia) is believed to be the only individual (involved in the theft” (KHTS 05/31/16), he did not act alone. Please understand, I am not intimating anyone else profited by his actions, but Mr. Ruberia did cause many of his fellow employees to be unknowingly involved. When the auditing firm provided its report, it included approximately 200 pages of artifacts which showed supervisory approvals of the monetary refunds, as well as numerous requests for Mr. Ruberia, or one of his subordinates, to personally pick up the checks, as opposed to mailing them to the company location. I find it disappointing his management did not verify or question these requests in greater depth.

KPMG completed their audit and published a 372-page report on July 25, 2016. Their conclusions can be summarized as finding a lack of written integrated procedures and controls. To me, this should have been a wakeup call. Our city is no longer a small town; perhaps it is time to review and update our methods of operation for all city processes. But later, when the 2015-16 Annual Budget Report and Audit came out in December 2016, process problems with Time Card and Pay Rate approval, as well as vendor creation, were noted. Thereby indicating, city staff had not taken the opportunity, created by the embezzlement issue, to review and update the way our City does business.
But something I found to be of even more concern was, city staff did not detect the embezzlement problem. The issue came to light because of an anonymous tip, provided to the Sheriff Department. The tipster was never revealed, but the fact he or she chose to inform the Sheriff’s Department and not the City itself should raise an eyebrow and cause city management to look inward.

I see a pattern developing in regard to how our city’s governmental agencies handle issues. First comes the big press release, then the promise of action, and then it gets quiet, until another similar incident occurs. “We deserve better. We should demand better.”

Understand also, this type of wrongdoing does not only take place in governmental agencies. I worked for a large aerospace company for 40 years and remember when two individuals were caught in a similar situation. It turns out the first individual would order parts from a non-existent company the two of them created. The second member of the scene would confirm receipt of the nonexistent parts, causing finance to send a payment check to the fictitious company. Later in my career, I was a member of a team who brought an “Enterprise Resource Planning” software package online. In part, this product managed product manufacturing from design to delivery. Since the product integrated process data, it would not permit an individual order parts not specified on the parts list. Even if you could, when a part was received which did not subsequently show up in stores, an “exception” would be generated alerting management of the discrepancy.

Having firsthand experience with integrated business systems has given me an appreciation of how integrating organization operations not only makes it harder to be mischievous, but more importantly, improves the organization’s efficiency. Reducing waste and labor required to maintain daily operations, should be one of City Management’s top concerns.

When I requested a Committee Report at a City Council Meeting on the corrective action put in place as a result of the $500,000 embezzlement, the answer from Councilmember Keller and then Councilmember Acosta was, no matter what we do, smart people will always find a way to steal. I might remind them of the adage, “Locks Keep Honest People Honest.”

While I’m sure we can all agree, anyone who truly wants to break into our homes can easily do so, yet we still lock our doors when we leave. We should expect the same philosophy to be practiced at City Hall.

Trump’s Wall: Thomas Jefferson XI

| Opinion | May 5, 2017

by Dennis Dyczewski

My son, Thomas Jefferson XI, has a brilliant idea, which needs to be shared with America. President Trump said he is going to build a wall … and Mexico is going to pay for it! He has been very adamant about it. As red-blood Americans who want to protect our country we need to get this idea to him. And where better to get the message to him than through Doug’s Rant. (You know he reads it every week.) Here is the plan in one simple sentence:

Offer full citizenship to the first 100,000 illegal Mexicans willing to build the wall.

Got it? Good! Now here’s the small print:
These 100,000 illegal Mexicans are very skilled construction workers who are living and working in the United States right now (who do you think built the home you are living in?), who are in fear of being deported along with or without their family. They are hard workers and know their craft well.

These 100,000 illegal Mexicans will pay for the wall themselves. Why would they be willing to pay for it, you ask? Because then for the rest of their lives they will be U.S. citizens, never to have to worry about being deported, them and their family. (Their wife and kids will receive full citizenship as well.) How will they get the money, you ask? I’m glad you asked. According to my exhaustive research (I Googled it, and you know if it is on the internet, it must be true), the average illegal pays a “coyote” $4,000-$5,000 to get across the border. Of course, they may not choose to use the services of a coyote, but then they are taking a big risk. When in doubt, one should always rely on professional help. So, this means that while they were still living in poverty in Mexico, they somehow came up with thousands of dollars. They can do it again! Or they can use the money they are not paying in taxes. Or, they can use their EIC, Earned Income Credit, $5,572 for two children, $6,269 for three or more children. And if they don’t have any children, well, do you really think the IRS checks for that $6,269. So, they can and will pay for it.

These 100,000 illegal Mexicans can have the wall built in a week, two tops. Alright, maybe I exaggerate slightly. Let’s do the math. Two thousand miles of wall divided by 100,000 workers. That comes out to about 100 feet per man – four weeks tops and it’s done!

President Trump estimates the wall will cost from $8-12 billion. But when you deduct the cost of labor (yes, that’s right, they will not be paid for their labor — full citizenship is their pay) you just watch and see how fast it gets built. And plans and permits? We don’t need no stinkin’ permits. Then the only cost is materials. I would think for $600,000,000 Home Depot will give them a big discount.

Why should we allow 100,000 illegals (500,000 counting their families) to become full, legal citizens, you ask? Eleven million undocumented workers. Need I say more? Of course, that is just the number that gets thrown around. You and I know there are probably 11 million illegals in Santa Clarita alone. President Reagan’s Amnesty Act of 1986 (Remember him? I sure do miss him) allowed 3 million illegals to remain here. But no wall was built. How many are here now? So, let’s build a wall and have 100,000 willing, hard-working, well-trained, illegal Mexican volunteer construction workers build and pay for it.

Mr. President, as you have read this, I am sure you have taken most of it in jest, but don’t dismiss it too hastily. You said it will be a big, beautiful wall with big, beautiful doors to welcome legal immigrants. Well, these 100,000 will be the first you welcome into America. And they, along with their families, will be very, very grateful.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

 

Drug Abuse Conversation Continued

| Opinion | May 5, 2017

Last week in The Signal newspaper, in response to the multiple heroin overdoses in our valley, Cary Quashen of Action Family Counseling wrote an article directed, in part, to parents. While he brought up excellent parenting tips, such as put down the electronic devices and spend time with your kids, they cannot be construed as bulletproof. Kids from good families fall into addiction — kids who spent their early years going to church, excelled in school, even those with very involved parents, can become addicts. There is not a parental code that ensures your son or daughter will not succumb to drugs or addiction.

We have three sons who are all adults now and all grew up in the same home, with the same parents. Electronic devices were not a huge part of my boys’ lives — they were involved with sports and choir. I can’t say we were perfect, but according to Mr. Quashen, we did everything right. The same can be said for friends of ours who ended up with challenging results similar to ours.

We have a son who became an addict, yet our other two didn’t head in the same direction. One is a business manager and the other son is a pastor. So, I’m not sure — what actions could I have taken to avoid the addiction?

I can tell you one thing for certain. With anything in parenting, especially teens, go with your gut. If you think it might be occurring, it probably is. On this point I agree with Mr. Quashen.

Our son tasted oxycontin when he had his wisdom teeth out, and again after a few surgeries for football injuries. Each time, I kept the medication and left him only the day’s dosage. I can’t tell you why I didn’t trust a 16-year-old with those pills, but I didn’t. This was over 10 years ago, and hopefully, in this more enlightened time oxy is not prescribed for teens. Fast forward to young adulthood and, as we all know, the pills become harder to obtain and heroin is cheaper. Whatever drove him to try again, to feel however oxy had made him feel, I can’t say. But there was the drive to feel that way again.

Action and Mr. Quashen do an amazing work here and are an incredible resource. I simply want parents to know, the best of parenting cannot prevent addiction. Quite honestly, it is likely NOT your fault, or even preventable. I could say that if my son was never introduced to oxy he would never have found heroin, but I don’t know.  Some personalities are more prone to addiction — not everyone who loves food is obese; not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic.

Love your kids, spend time with them, and watch for subtle changes in behavior and friends. Above all, don’t assume that because you do everything right your son or daughter will never try drugs or become addicted. It happens in the best of families.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

Time for a New Vision

| Opinion | May 4, 2017

by Joshua Heath 

In the 19th century, the prominent historian Thomas Carlyle conceived “the great-man theory” of history. This doctrine argues that the arc of human events is decided by extraordinary individuals who come to power and shape the world in profound ways. Sometimes these figures use their talents for good (think Abraham Lincoln), and others use them for evil (a la Hitler).

In our present moment, this theory has had a tremendous influence on political activism against President Trump. Progressives see in him a threat to American life. He is the “great-man” that must be defeated, before he restructures the country permanently in his image. Ever since his election, the Left has taken to the streets in protest in order to achieve this goal.

The problem with this approach is simple. Consider a hypothetical: Say the Left succeeds in their mission, and Trump is either defeated when he runs for re-election or impeached. Even in those scenarios, the social conditions that enabled Trump’s rise in the first place — widespread unemployment, economic inequality, broken communities — will still persist.

In such a world, it would only be a matter of time before another demagogue arises, exploits the anxiety caused by these problems, and reaches the presidency, again.

That is why the thinking of progressives must change. We must recognize that the real problem isn’t Donald Trump, but the fact our country is broken. One in three Americans are either in poverty or just getting by. For the first time in our nation’s history, young people are set to be poorer than their parents. Loneliness, opioid addiction and distrust of institutions are all at record-highs.

In every direction, society is falling apart. The most important national goal for Liberals, then, must be to put it back together. Achieving that will require more than defeating Donald Trump, it will require a new politics — one that is bold in its idealism, but humble in strategy.

First, we must articulate a clear, vigorous vision for America’s problems. Broad campaign slogans like “Yes We Can!” and “Stronger Together!” may make for cute yard signs, but they won’t be enough to change the future. A politics built solely on anger won’t do, either. Wall Street and the one percent are responsible for many of the country’s problems, but simply railing against those groups won’t inspire the public.

Instead, the Left should present a vision for a New America, one founded on peace and coexistence. In this country, both the rich and the middle class will prosper. The poor, the elderly and the indigent will be provided for. Our achievements in the arts will be celebrated, but so will our businessmen — from the entrepreneurs who change the world to the tireless executives who ensure our day-to-day lives run smoothly.

We will achieve this new nation by making targeted investments in the people, by facilitating their education and skill development. The safety net must also be reformed, so it provides our most vulnerable with security, while pointing them towards opportunity. Government will not be small or large, but the size needed to achieve these critical goals.

Ideologically, this America will cherish the equality and dignity of all citizens. Every individual, whether black, white, male or female, will be protected under the law. But in addition, we will also understand that in a pluralistic society, some will dissent from this dominant view.

They will struggle to understand, for instance, the importance of gay marriage or transgender equality. For these individuals, having a constructive dialogue, not bullying or harassing them, will be the proper course.

The organizing idea behind this vision will be simple — national peace. For so long, America’s political class has emphasized the need to achieve stability around the globe, while neglecting the cause of peace at home. As a result, we are left with our present situation — one in which Republicans and Democrats see each other as enemies, not fellow citizens.

This way of thinking cannot stand. We must not let it stand. Americans have become so used to partisanship, to strife and anger toward one another, they have forgotten that there is another way of being. American idealism — that big, poetic force that put a man on the moon and defeated Hitler — has been reduced to a quiet whisper in our public debate.

It is time to resurrect it, in service of a bold political and policy vision that restores opportunity, rebuilds communities, and acknowledges the dignity of all. That is the only way to not just defeat Donald Trump, but obliterate the conditions that allowed him to emerge.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

A High Schooler’s POV

| Opinion | May 4, 2017

by Analyn May 

It pleases me to start this article off by saying we’ve come a long way regarding romance in media. More people are fighting the typical “boy meets girl” stereotype (though it’s still prevalent), girls are allowed more of a role in films than just “the love interest,” and romantic relationships in movies are getting slightly less Hollywood and slightly more realistic. However, there’s still a big problem looming over the romantic content being produced: the sheer volume of it.

First the disclaimer: I have nothing against a good romantic subplot, or even a well-written plot, for that matter. However, I’m bothered by the fact that it’s hard to pull off a good profit without throwing some romantic action into any given TV show or film. There are some exceptions, such as Disney’s “Moana” (a film I enjoyed immensely AND which sold plenty of tickets), but that’s exactly my point. Good films with no romantic subplots shouldn’t be exceptions; they should be just as common as their Eros-loving counterparts. And it’s not just my love of storytelling that drives me to this conclusion.

I’ve talked before about the pressures society is putting on teenagers, and this particular pressure is one of my biggest personal concerns. Movies and television shows are already associated as a “teen” thing, and since kids of this age group are just starting to form their morals, desires, and hopes for the future, it makes sense that the media has a large impact on their decisions. The media wants to appeal to its audience (to make the largest profit, of course), so it looks at a group of hormonal, emotional teenagers and decides that romance will be appealing to them. It IS, of course, so the teens come back for more. The movie profits, and so more similar movies, continue to be made. While the cycle goes on, side-effects include teens deciding to try romance in real life, many times when they really aren’t ready. This leads to young dating … which leads to heartache … which leads to breakup … which leads to drama … and occasionally, somewhere in the cycle, an unfortunate teenage pregnancy pops up. Yet people are always surprised when this happens.

Am I saying romantic movies cause all bad teenage decisions concerning romance? Definitely not. However, these movies do perpetuate the stereotype that “true love” (sometimes now just shortened to “love” at all) is the ultimate source of happiness, and the biggest goal to shoot for in life. Meanwhile, the much more common, and dare I say, more important relationships, such as family and friends, get pushed aside. Friendship in movies and media is rarely portrayed as something to be earned; rather, it’s usually just there, backing up the romance. Family relations and found families (those formed by choice, rather than birth) are hardly developed, if present at all.

If I could wish for one thing to be changed in the movie industry, it would be that films would start displaying how awesome and emotional non-romantic relationships can be. I’m all good with the idea of “true love,” but why make it romantic? Forgive me if I’m over-alluding to Disney, but I was thrilled at the plot twist in “Frozen,” when it turned out the “act of true love” turned out to be an act of sisterly love and had nothing to do with romance. Give me more media about twins growing up together and learning to embrace change together. Give me more media about groups of friends who find a family in one another, no romantic subplots needed. Give me more media about the bonding between parents and their children. Give this media to me, and I’ll be very happy. Give this media to everyone, and we just might be able to shift the priorities of the next generations.

Of course, that’s just my POV. Until next time, this is Analyn May, signing off.

 **The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

 

The Enemy of My Enemy’s Enemy Is …

| Opinion | May 4, 2017

Last week I wrote briefly about the society-changing vote in Turkey which gave Erdogan, the president, the power to fire the Prime Minister and, essentially, wield power that hasn’t been seen since the days of the Sultans. We also discussed North Korea, and guess what — today we have the same stuff, but different day, with the crazy fat kid. He’s launching more failed attempts at missiles almost directly into the ocean, and Trump seems to be getting all of the big kids on the block together to teach this bully a lesson.

Some of you may have seen a story this week regarding U.S. troops patrolling the border between Syria and Turkey, and the reason and the timing given strike me as a little odd. So, let’s step into the “wayback” machine for a moment to understand the recent history between the U.S., Turkey and another ally in the region that hits pretty home to me, being an alumnus from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

As discussed in last week’s article, Turkey is essentially the gateway between Europe and the Middle East, and to wage war in the Middle East it is a very useful ally to have in order to transport massive amounts of things like tanks, weapons and food via the ground rather than putting everything on expensive and logistically limiting planes.

If you’ve read deeply into the Iraq War and Special Operations role in it, you’ve most likely heard of the method of infiltration for many of the initial ground troops and equipment: on the ground through Turkey and into Northern Iraq. Turkey quite famously denied our movement through their country for the initial invasion, so Green Berets from 10th SFG(A) loaded up 18-wheelers with everything needed to wage war and drove through Turkey surreptitiously.

One thing that isn’t widely known is that some of them were caught, and actually held as prisoners of war in Turkey for about a week with the Turkish government ransoming the people and equipment to the US government. But that’s a story for another time.

The important part here is the importance of a few groups located in Turkey and Northern Iraq: The YPG (People’s Protective Units) and the Kurds. These groups are solely responsible for the U.S. Special Forces ability to secure airfields in Northern Iraq prior to the invasion, which are the only way we got conventional troops into the country. To say they did us a favor would be a massive understatement.

Despite the Kurds risking their lives to help American soldiers on many occasions, our government essentially sold them out on several occasions to the Turkish and Iraqi governments, which labels them terrorists when they want money or oil (Kurdistan is in Northern Iraq but considers itself its own governed entity, and is oil rich). But as we say in Special Forces, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

But now that the Kurds are useful again in the battle against ISIS, we’re playing nice and telling the Turkish government, which bombed and killed an estimated 25 of their fighters, to stay away from our friends.

So much so that we’ve moved troops to the border to de-escalate the situation, sort of like a friend at a party standing between the drunk bully and his target of the night. But, not being one to believe in coincidence, I find it extremely odd at the proximity of timing to the recent vote making Erdogan a dictator.

The US government has a habit of turning allies into disposable heroes, whether it be the Filipinos of the Spanish-American war, Montagnards of Vietnam, Kurds in Northern Iraq or PPK. As always, this change of status to bring the Kurds back in as friends & close allies, to the point of telling Turkey to back off (which we never did for the PPK, who also helped us in the Iraq invasion) gives reason to at least pause and ponder. Are we making friends with rebel groups in the regions again perhaps to prepare for an eventual showdown with Erdogan?

Whatever the reason, I’m moving some money back into defense stocks. Stay alert out there.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

With Three New Taxes in a Row, Learn Where Your Money is About to Go!

| Opinion | May 4, 2017

by Alan Ferdman

Thirty years ago, the citizens of Santa Clarita voted to form our city. At the time, there was a good deal of concern about establishing greater local control and keeping tax monies collected in Santa Clarita for use on local projects. Well, no matter if Santa Clarita is a city, the county has found ways to take tax dollars from us and our city officials have done little, or nothing, to stop them.

Recently, two county-sponsored initiatives appeared on the November 2016 Ballot, causing Santa Clarita to, unknowingly, become a donor municipality. The first initiative established a countywide parks district, funded by use of a parcel tax, collecting 1.5 cents per developed square foot per year. A parcel tax is one of those items that shows up on your yearly property tax bill, so next year you will find a new charge.

In this instance, Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation reached out to the unincorporated residents, spending $3.5 million to provide workshops to find out where there was a lack of park space and where the residents wanted the money spent. They requested the cities to participate as well. City of Santa Clarita staff, however, made the decision not to hold a community workshop or participate in the survey effort. Instead, Santa Clarita submitted their outdated Parks Master Plan to show how well we are doing.

When I found out the county was not going to hold any informational meetings in Santa Clarita, I was outraged. I showed up at the Agua Dulce Park District workshop and was asked where I lived and why I was there. I expressed my displeasure as an L.A. County constituent, not being included as a part of the process. For the next nine months, I made phone calls, wrote emails, had direct contact with the supervisor’s office and spoke at council meetings, trying to get the county to hold an informational meeting in Santa Clarita. Finally, in October 2016, Jane Beesley, administrator of the L.A. County Parks and Open Space District, gave a presentation to the Canyon Country Advisory Committee. By this time, the Los Angeles County “Needs Assessments” had been completed. Santa Clarita was shown as an area not requiring assistance. With that perception, guess how much of the parcel tax money is coming back to Santa Clarita?

Also on the November Ballot was Measure M. This proposal was being championed by Metro and called for a permanent one percent sales tax to alleviate traffic congestion. I attended a Metro informational meeting in Stevenson Ranch, where I testified that our valley’s most pressing traffic congestion problem is the SR14/I-5 interchange and asked if Metro intended to propose a fix. To my surprise, the answer came back — no. Santa Clarita was going to get additional lanes on the I-5 from Lake Hughes Road to the SR-14 interchange. Not only were these new lanes promised by previous Metro proposals, I am guessing Metro just wants us to get to the interchange bottleneck faster. The majority of road improvements to be funded are south of Santa Clarita plus the Hwy 138 corridor improvements to the northeast.

The paper reported that proposed funding to be returned to Santa Clarita is $3,029,300 for street improvements and $2,651,800 for public transit. Not a great deal, since Santa Clarita will be contributing 31,395,210 sales tax dollars per year. You have to wonder why our city’s elected officials supported this forever tax. Without including a fix for the SR14/I-5 interchange bottleneck, this project will only provide limited traffic congestion relief for our valley. But if you live to the south, the benefit will be much higher, as long as Mayor Garcetti does not implement his current plan and spend the majority of his municipality’s money on fixing sidewalks and building bicycle trails.

Then came Measure H. This measure was designed to pull on your heartstrings. It was billed as the way to end homelessness in Los Angeles County. In fact, the supporters thought so much of this measure they created a Consolidated Municipal and Special Election, which was held on Tuesday, March 7, with only one initiative on ballot. Measure H adds ¼ percent sales tax for the next 10 years in Los Angeles County. It required a 2/3 majority and passed with 67 percent. Measure H will collect $355,000,000 per year for a total of $3,550,000,000 over the 10-year planned lifespan.

The major issue with Measure H is that it was proposed without a plan of how to spend the monies collected. Oh, sure, they told us how the money could be used, but never discussed how the money would be spent or who would be responsible to manage and spend it. So, after Measure H passed, the county put together a 50-member committee to decide on a recommended spend plan, which would be submitted to the L.A. Board of Supervisors by May 10. Does Santa Clarita, which will be contributing 7,846,000 sales tax dollars a year, have representation on the committee? Does it surprise you the answer is NO? On April 17, the LA Times reported, relative to the Measure H county committee, “So far, they can’t agree,” but instead they voted to “toss the quandary back to county executives for more guidance.” Homeless Initiative Chairman Phil Ansell’s solution to getting the group to come up with a recommendation was to incorporate the promise of a free lunch to win the panel’s consent for an all-day session on May 4. Boy, are we in trouble!

How does the City of Santa Clarita react to this situation? On April 14, The Signal reported on the first City of Santa Clarita “Ad Hoc” Homelessness Committee meeting with council members Smyth and McLean. Representatives from seven community groups were invited to attend. Remember, ad-hoc committees do not abide by the Brown Act, do not provide public meeting notices, and do not generate any minutes. But they did invite The Signal, who published the following quotes, which we all need to remember at election time.

Councilmember Marsha McLean said, “You voted for it, you’re paying for it, the money is coming back to the community.” And Katie Hill was quoted as saying, “We are committed to making sure you’re getting that money. If you want it, I promise you you’ll be able to get it.”

We will just have to wait and see just how much of the new, approximately $40,000,000 per year in sales and parcel tax money, which we put in the pot, comes back to Santa Clarita. It is time our elected council members come to realize we are now playing in “the big leagues.” The days of sitting on the sidelines and expecting the world to take care of us — because we are Santa Clarita, we are special and we are awesometown — are over.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

 

What the Federal Budget Should Look Like

| Opinion | April 29, 2017

by Joshua Heath 

President Trump released his first ever budget proposal recently, and boy is it dumb. In order to pay for $54 billion in new defense spending, Trump is asking for massive cuts to the EPA, the state department, and programs that help the poor, the elderly, and children.

It does not reduce spending or address the national debt. It does not cut the size of government. It simply transfers resources now being spent on diplomacy and social programs into the defense budget. Taxpayers, instead of contributing to efforts to reduce poverty and combat pollution, will be paying for more tanks and airplanes we don’t need.

This budget is not conservative, it is not liberal, it is not centrist — it’s just nuts.

Having said that, it is important to ask — what would an ideal federal budget look like? In my judgment, a perfect budget would take ideas from both Republicans and Democrats. It would acknowledge the wisdom in both sides and not be overtly partisan.

First, such a document would seek to improve government efficiency, for the old conservative critique is right — government wastes a lot of money. The IRS estimates that every year, due to a lack of staff, they fail to collect $406 billion in taxes that citizens owe. Their funding must be increased so they can recover that money.

Doing so would enable Congress to make two very important investments in society — making college tuition-free and passing universal child care. Accomplishing these two priorities would transform our country by expanding opportunity for women and young people. Furthermore, the government would still have roughly $200 billion left over.

Second, an ideal budget would also be balanced. Currently, the federal deficit is $441 billion. Most economists agree, that is a dangerous thing. According to the Brookings Institution, “Persistent deficits of this magnitude are likely to lower standards of living, make us dangerously dependent on the rest of the world, and pass on large fiscal burdens to future generations.” By contrast, the organization says, balancing the budget will raise incomes, create jobs, and increase economic growth.

In order to achieve this goal, the government should use the $200 billion in leftover savings from reforming the IRS to cut the deficit. That would reduce it to approximately $240 billion. To bring that number down to zero, Congress must enact three major changes.

First, it is time for a carbon tax. This policy would make companies and households pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit. Widely endorsed by economists, it would generate needed revenue, help fight climate change, and save lives by reducing pollution.

Second, Congress must pass Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-Ill.) Fairness in Taxation Act. This legislation reforms the tax code by raising rates on the very wealthy. Under it, an individual making $1 million would face a 45 percent rate, those making $10 million would pay 46 percent, and individuals making over a $1 billion would face a 49 percent rate.

These increases would be fair and just. Individuals in those income brackets have reaped most of the benefits from recent economic trends. It is only right they pay more in tax. Some may say these tax increases on the rich will harm economic growth. However, history contradicts that analysis. From 1983 to 1987, the wealthy paid even more and the economy still grew tremendously under President Reagan.

Third, Congress must enact a tax on Wall Street transactions. For decades, such a tax was already on the books, until it was corruptly repealed in the 1960s. Our major allies, like Britain, continue to maintain one, and still have booming financial sectors. At a time when more and more power is concentrated on Wall Street and away from the middle class, this policy would be especially important. If these three pieces of legislation were passed, along with my other recommendations, Congress would finally be able to balance the budget.

What I hope my column has shown is that there is a sane way for the U.S. to meet its major challenges. By adopting a few common-sense measures, we can strengthen our safety net and our finances; improve opportunity for our people and ensure long-term prosperity. The priorities of Democrats, as well as Republicans, can be achieved.

All the in-fighting, anger, and hate that pollutes our politics today is simply not needed.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

The European Apocalypse

| Opinion | April 28, 2017

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past year wondering just how Europe was able to achieve such a low rate of terrorism lately, given the widespread influx of refugees they’ve obtained from war-torn, ISIS-controlled and violent countries. We’ve all seen the reports that Sweden is now the rape capital of the world and a new video of Paris on fire from ungrateful and non-assimilating refugees surfaces every few weeks. But those things should have been expected by leaders who opened the floodgates, as well as the supporters who welcomed them with open arms.

What I’m talking about is full-scale terrorism, complete with extremists blowing themselves up in busy population centers like grocery stores or train stations. Part of me thought I was just a doom-and-gloom type, focusing only on the worst parts of society and expecting catastrophe, when the reality was all sunshine and rainbows.

But last week I spoke with a friend who recently spent some time in Germany and said that is exactly what’s been happening, the world news just isn’t reporting it.

This friend and her family had been looking into taking their children to study abroad in Germany in order to widen their horizons and give them the benefit of getting to know cultures outside of America, especially their German heritage. But after a few months in Europe they were so terrified of the daily bombings and terrorist acts, they packed up the kids and came back to the safety of the United States.

Even scarier than the terrorism itself is the fact that it’s being kept out of our media. There are still major factions in this country pushing the agenda to get refugees into our country and shaming those of us who call it a terrible idea. They are purposely keeping events that I was told were occurring daily off our radar, pushing the agenda, regardless of the proof, that it’s a dangerous game to play. It makes you realize they do not care about the consequences. Or us.

We’ve seen a wave of anti-globalism and what is being called racist & populist anger around the world in response to actions like this, yet for some reason the status quo and our “leaders” continue to push what the people of the world are very loudly saying we do not want.

The Trump election, Brexit vote, and now the French elections have shown that while some people, even in extreme left-leaning European countries, may philosophically support those policies, when the rubber hits the road they see how disastrous it truly is. There’s a reason Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other prosperous Middle Eastern countries are not allowing these people in.

I can’t tell you why there are politicians and people in this country pushing the refugee agenda despite its disastrous effects where it has been implemented, but I can tell you the proof has been shown that it’s a dangerous game. We know from the Left’s actions, which are far different than their words, that they don’t have an issue with policies that will harm our country, as long as it pushes their agenda. But, it’s when their policies harm Americans directly and potentially endanger my children that I get upset.

My friend’s description of daily terrorist attacks, even in small European towns outside of the major cities, shows a much larger issue. We’ve heard of the bigger attacks in areas that it would be nearly impossible to keep off the global radar, but the fact that even conservative outlets aren’t covering the increasing level of attacks is alarming, and just goes to show that neither side is really on our side.

Thankfully, in this country we have the right to arm and defend ourselves, which is a luxury the Europeans do not have. Until they take that right away from us, stay alert and stay armed.

Robert Patrick Lewis is a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A) and is an award-winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war.” Follow him @RobertPLewis on Twitter or on his RobertPatrickLewisAuthor Facebook page.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

Always Advocating Alan: Motorcycle Road Trip

| Opinion | April 27, 2017

by Alan Ferdman

April was vacation time, and I decided to pursue one of my favorite activities — a motorcycle road trip. Together with a couple of friends, we were ready to get started at 6 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. In the spirit of diversity, we thought about how to symbolically “smoke-‘em peace pipe” so that one Indian plus two Harleys could leave Santa Clarita in harmony for a ride to Arizona Bike Week in Scottsdale.

We had decided to take the shorter, 420-mile route and ride straight through. Leaving early put us through Los Angeles before traffic hit a rush hour peak and by the time we passed Palm Springs it was clear sailing, er … uh … riding. We stopped about 150 miles into our journey for gas and breakfast. Then we continued on the I-10 to Chiriaco Summit. We had been on this route several times before, and normally it would have been getting pretty hot by now. But we were in luck and even though the weather was mild and perfect for riding, we stopped anyway for a leg stretch and an ice cream.

If you have never visited Chiriaco Summit, I recommend you take the time to stop off and visit the General Patton Memorial Museum. There are a lot of heavy metal military vehicles outside and an impressive amount of memorabilia inside the building. Oddly, it’s free to go into the museum building, but you need to pay to go into the Tank Yard.

Then, it was on to Scottsdale. We checked into the hotel and decided to go to Gilligan’s for wings and a margarita. I have to admit, when we got back to the hotel after eight hours on the road plus dinner, we were pretty whipped and crashed early that evening.

Thursday we were up early for breakfast and a charity ride. Then it was off to Westworld of Scottsdale for the main Bike Week event. As you might expect, there were the normal vendors, bands and beer. But then, an amazing aspect was revealed. I entered a large, almost empty building, with what seemed like a 40-foot ceiling, and in the middle of the building a motorcycle launch ramp and landing ramp were set up. Four daredevils on dirt bikes rode up the launch ramp and were catapulted high enough to touch the ceiling before landing on the second ramp. One of them went so far as to do back flips on his bike while in the air. It was all good, but I still chose to keep my Harley’s wheels on the ground for the rest of the trip.

Friday we took a ride to Cave Creek, where four blocks on the outskirts of the town had been reduced to one lane in each direction, allowing motorcycle parking on both sides of the street. There were vendors, music, saloons and friendly riders everywhere. We met some locals, ran into some friends from Agoura Hills and spent the day. Do you think in the future we could do something like this in Santa Clarita? I sure hope so.

Saturday it was off to the Phoenix Bikefest, sponsored by the Law Tigers. We heard they had a drive-through bar and didn’t think that was legal in Arizona. As it turned out, they didn’t have a “drive-through bar,” but did have “a bar you could drive through.” Believe it or not, the bar was set up with a motorcycle lane right through the middle of the bar, with bikes continually riding through. There were vendors, bands, friendly people and no admission fee. As you might also expect, the event was packed.

Next, we decided to do a little exploring. Using our smart phones, we tried to find the nearest Moose or Elks Lodge. In this case, there turned out to be a Lodge in Wickenburg. It is a great place, with a really cool, old, dark wood western bar. But, something across the street was what got me thinking about Santa Clarita. There on display was a restored, and well cared for steam locomotive, kind of like the one we have at Heritage Junction in Newhall.

Other aspects of the trip made me think of home as well. Scottsdale and the surrounding areas have been growing by leaps and bounds for several years. Traffic has grown to a point where the streets are full of cars all times of the day, on both weekdays and weekends. It seemed like everywhere we went we were running into traffic circles, seemingly placed just to make life more difficult. Traffic lights were synchronized, so every time you got a green light, you could watch the next light turn red. Travel at the speed limit and you could be sure to stop at every light. To keep the lights in front of you green, you would have to drive 10 to 15 MPH below the speed limit, and nobody did that. Next, going through residential areas I observed house after house with a rock front yard. I began to wonder if this would be the future for us in Santa Clarita. Something to think about.

Anyway, all good things must come to an end, and on Sunday we decided to take the desert route home in two stages. First, it was Scottsdale to Laughlin. Going up the state on Highway 60 is a beautiful ride. Mostly one lane in each direction after you leave Surprise, Arizona provides you a good view of the area. The desert was in full bloom with wildflowers everywhere. I am not going to mention how we were greeted by the yellow butterflies, but we did bring many home with us.

We headed for the Pioneer Hotel in Laughlin, where I was introduced to the Prime Rib Room at the Riverside Hotel. If you like prime rib and pass through the area, I recommend you try it. After that, it was off to the bar at the Colorado Bell, where a really great Motown band named “Touch of Silk” was playing.

Monday morning we started the ride home, and by early afternoon I was back in Santa Clarita. We had traveled about 1,400 miles, kept the painted side up and had a great time. Like I said, motorcycle road trips are one of my favorite ways to travel. I am looking forward to climbing on my Harley again soon and starting off on my next two-wheel adventure.

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

Afternoon T

| Opinion | April 21, 2017

by T Katz

Q: I am so frustrated. Our family reunion is at my grandma’s and I have dietary restrictions. I just know she won’t cook food I can eat.

A: Honey child, I only have two words for you: Be prepared. That’s it. That’s all I got: Be prepared. No better advice than that. What?! You want more than a simple “Be prepared”? Okay. Here’s the basic recipe…

Be prepared.

First and foremost, know that it’s very likely Grandma isn’t going to just consider you when she cooks. If it’s a family reunion, there will probably be a passel of people for her to meet and greet. Don’t be upset with her if she doesn’t cook food you can eat. She might be overwhelmed, exhausted, preoccupied and maybe even forgot (or didn’t get) the memo about your food issues. Be prepared for that, emotionally.

Be prepared.

If it’s a family reunion with a lot of people, maybe the concept of a potluck should be discussed. BYOBatch-of-food. Or, when you get to Grandma’s house – get in the kitchen. Perhaps you could be helpful and show her how to make the food you like or need to eat. Be prepared to roll your sleeves up and work.

Be prepared.

With dietary restrictions, the world is going to be full of places you can’t or won’t be able to eat. You can’t be upset. It’s wasted energy (and why burn calories for THAT?). Sometimes, people and places aren’t equipped to meet your needs, or they might not be well-versed about your situation. Sometimes they just don’t care. This means you’ll either have to make your own food and take it with you or eat beforehand and politely decline or pretend (with a small portion, if you must). Be prepared to take care of yourself.

Before you get upset with me, I want you to know that I know a thing or two about the fancy dancing of the food fandango. 1) I grew up in a household where diets were dictated by fashion and fitness. No carbs! No whites (flour/sugar/salt)! 2) My son’s autism meant I had to alter his diet when he was a toddler, in the hopes of “curing” him. 3) My adult daughter has celiac disease and has landed in the hospital on more than one occasion after being “glutened.” 4) Many relatives and friends have strict diet regulations for religious reasons. 5) Myself? I am a cheating vegan (Set it in front of me, I’ll eat it, and in social situations I go with the flow and don’t make waves). Making my own choices, I prefer plant-based meals.

Listen, pal-y. The world may not cater to your dietary restrictions, but it is changing as awareness is happening and people are talking. Maybe give Grandma a call (she’d probably like to hear from you) and have a conversation about your diet. With a little communication, when you visit she just might surprise you.  Be prepared.

 

Building a Bridge to the East, While Burning One to the West

| Opinion | April 20, 2017

There are two major geopolitical events going on at the moment that deserve attention: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a vote Sunday to eliminate the role of prime minister and give himself powers not seen since the Sultans of the Ottoman empire, and North Korea is back to acting like, well, North Korea.

So, why does Turkey matter and why isn’t North Korea a radioactive parking lot yet? It’s complicated.

Turkey is seen by many as a “bridge to the West” for Islamic countries around the world, and while many westerners couldn’t point Turkey out on a map if given several dozen tries, it is significant for both geopolitical and strategic reasons. Strategically, Turkish air bases are currently being used to launch airstrikes against ISIS and in Syria. My grandfather, having been a spy hunter with the Army Security Service, was stationed in Turkey for a few years, and our nations work together on key strategic issues, such as fighting ISIS.

To get supplies to our troops in Iraq via ground it is required to either pass through Turkey or Russia, as it is literally the bridge from Europe to the Middle East (now can you point it out?).

Politically, the populace of Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim, but the current government follows a secular structure not often seen in Muslim countries. Turkey is a member of the UN, with a military that has staged coups any time the rulers have tried moving away from their secular values (in 1960, 1971 and 1980) as the military are “guardians of the nation’s republican values” set in Turkey’s founding constitution.

But that may all change very soon. This vote has established new powers for Erdogan that, while not going into action for a few years, would essentially give him the power to do whatever he wants. They will eliminate term limits, give him complete control of the military (so it cannot stage another coup if he gets out of line), gives him complete power to appoint judges, and he’s reinstating the death penalty. I’m all for the death penalty, but the EU isn’t, and as their petition for EU membership has been ongoing since 2005, this may kill those efforts.

And as the bridge between Islam and the West, both geographically and politically, their stepping away from western culture, politics and alliances could lead to what we call in Special Forces a “catastrophic loss of rapport.”

So now, onto the crazy, fat kid and his hermit kingdom. For decades North Korea has been playing a game with the U.S. and western nations and it’s worked for him. Some may take offense to my calling it a game, but it is quite literally deterrence theory, which is a branch of game theory developed by Thomas Schelling and John von Neumann (von Neumann is the person after whom Stanley Kubrick developed the “Dr. Strangelove” character in his movie of the same name, for which he consulted Schelling).

Schelling won the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (shared with Robert Aumann) for “having enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis” and it has been used, many believe, to avert more than a few events which could have led to full-scale nuclear war.

North Korea has used it to their advantage, following this basic principle of game theory: Without ever actually launching a nuclear weapon, they can hold much of the world hostage by letting it be known they have nukes and making us believe that they are just crazy enough to actually launch them.

This is crazy, because it would result in what we call “mutually assured destruction,” a concept upon which the movie Dr. Strangelove is based. But it’s not so crazy, because it’s worked out pretty well so far. When they need sanctions relaxed, loans from the West or humanitarian aid, they rattle their sabers and perform a “missile test.” And every time, so far, the West responds by giving this petulant child exactly what it demands.

Fortunately, President Trump has taken an approach many would never have imagined in solving this problem. Rather than launching an all-out attack against North Korea for their antics, he’s tapped an unlikely ally to tell them he’s not playing games anymore: China.

China prefers money to military power (although many believe it is their strategy to win both in the long run), and so war between the US and North Korea is not in their best interest (it would likely send millions of North Korean refugees into China). Chinese President Xi Jinping has been acting as an intermediary, telling Trump to hold off any offensive actions and telling North Korea to “chillax.”

So, all in all, this is shaping up to be an interesting week. We have an ally in Turkey which may be moving away from our alliance and a long-time frenemy in China that seems to be getting closer. Hopefully, we have an entirely new set of problems for me to write about next week, rather than one of these blowing over to start WWIII!
Robert Patrick Lewis is a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A) and is an award-winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war.” Follow him @RobertPLewis on Twitter or on his RobertPatrickLewisAuthor Facebook page.

 

**The Views and Opinions expressed in these columns are those of the writer, not necessarily those of Valley Publications/Santa Clarita Gazette.**

A High Schooler’s POV

| Opinion | April 14, 2017

by Analyn May

I’ve always liked categorizing things. Putting my Pokémon cards in order by type, sorting my dolls into kids and adults, as long as I was categorizing things I was happy. However, when I reached a certain age, I found my interests leaning towards categorizing people.

Now, some people may think they know where this is going: that stereotypes are bad, that we shouldn’t judge people right away, and all that good stuff. But, there’s a difference between typing people and stereotyping people. Stereotyping is assuming major facts about people before you really know them: for instance, that all football players date cheerleaders and aren’t very bright. Typing people, on the other hand, is learning what people are like and learning how to communicate with them. For example, this group of people may enjoy hugs and cuddling, but that group of people feels uncomfortable with physical contact.

I’ve found that learning how to properly type people can be a big help in both day-to-day conversations, and in improving communication when having serious discussions. There are lots of different methods used to categorize people — the most common probably being “introversion vs. extroversion”— but my favorites are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) and the 5 Love Languages. The former is a very specific description of how people perceive the world, but it takes some time to learn, and it’s hard to understand any given category of people until you actually meet someone in that category. The second, however, is a very simple concept developed by Gary Chapman in his book, “The 5 Love Languages.” It explains that people have different ways of showing and receiving affection, which is why two people could be trying their best to show love to each other and yet still both be feeling empty inside. The book also includes a test in the back to figure out what your love language is, as well as suggestions for how to show love to people in their own love language. The book was originally aimed towards married couples, but the ideas work in any kind of relationship, and there are now other books for those relationships as well.

The reason I am talking about this is that a lot of the problems in the world are caused by miscommunication and misunderstanding. Watch any sitcom and my point will be apparent: When people don’t take the time to understand how other people are feeling, it almost always results in catastrophe. This is especially relevant for kids like me, who belong to a very uncommon category of people. Not only are we often misunderstood — and therefore treated unkindly — but we actually have trouble being kind to others, because we don’t know how to express kindness to people who think and feel so differently from us.

What I’m suggesting is for everyone to look into one of the categorizing methods mentioned above, or to find their own method that works for them. The world needs a lot of things right now, but if it had more understanding, perhaps some of the other things it needs would emerge as a result. Of course, that’s just my POV. Until next time, this is Analyn May, signing off.

Digging Deeper: The Syrian Gas Attack and Cruise Missile Party

| Opinion, Uncategorized | April 14, 2017

by Robert Patrick Lewis

It’s been quite awhile since most of you have heard from me and there may be some new readers who aren’t familiar with my work, so let me start with a disclaimer: I am a Special Forces combat veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but I’m not one of those “vets against the war.” I believe, probably more strongly than most, that at a certain point war is the end-all be-all when politicians and diplomacy have failed.

I sit on both sides of the potential outcomes for last week’s events in which a town in Syria was gassed, killing dozens of civilians, and our response with Tomahawk cruise missiles. If we go into all-out war with Russia copies of my book, “The Pact,” will surely fly off the shelves, as Russia is a main aggressor in that series of books (and with number two in the works, it would be a great PR opportunity as well).

On the other hand, as a former Green Beret, with many friends still in service, as well as a father to children who I would do anything in the world to save from growing up in a warzone, I believe war should only be the option when there are no others left. But, it’s always an option.

That is why I’m paying such close attention to the events of last week, and am imploring you to dig a little deeper. From my vantage point and experience, I see some glaring contradictions in the stories going around, and that terrifies me.

Let’s take a moment to run down the possible scenarios which led to the events, and why some of them may not be the whole truth:

1. Assad did it. While this is possible, it doesn’t seem plausible, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Syrian military was on the offensive (as they have been for a number of years) and had the rebels surrounded. Any general or advisor would see the use of chemical weapons at that point counterproductive, at best. With UN watchdogs in Syria, this would be known to tip the international community’s hand to action. Some will argue that Obama set a precedent, which led them to believe this wasn’t a likely scenario, but I don’t give that too much credibility now that he’s gone. And let’s not forget that Obama, Clinton & Kerry assured us that Syria had no chemical weapons left at all.

2. Russia did it. The same reasons above make this highly unlikely, coupled with the fact that Putin isn’t beating the war drums or retaliating to the US strike. Furthermore, Russia had air defense systems employed in the area, and with the 90-minute advance warning we gave to Russia, they would have likely employed them if this were setting the stage for war. We decimated approximately 20 percent of the Syrian Air Force with the strike, not something he would want to see happen to his comrades if his plans were war with the U.S.

3. Rebels did it to draw us in to fight. While this may be labeled as conspiracy talk, it follows many war doctrines, especially if you follow the ancient Eastern teachings of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or “The Thirty-Six Stratagems.”

4. American or Western intelligence did it as a false-flag to draw us into war. Another conspiracy theory, but if you pay attention to certain defense stocks immediately following this event you would have seen a significant bump in share prices.

5. It was meant to send a message to North Korea and the world. Much like 9/11 was used as part of the reason to take us into Iraq, this story has the feel of being attached, although not directly connected. The idea that this was used to send a signal to Pyongyang instead of the carrier strike group we currently have heading for the West Pacific Ocean has some merit, but the timing and connection give reason for pause.

This article isn’t meant to paint a narrative or send you to any one conclusion, but rather to open your eyes to forces at play and numerous possibilities besides the ones we’re hearing in conjecture from talking heads with no military experience. A few glaring errors have served as red flags in my mind, namely that many publications, even the New York Times, have misquoted that President Trump authorized a 59 missile salvo, when in fact 60 were authorized, one misfired and one fell into the ocean leading to 59 hitting the target.

Also, the “proof” of a Russian frigate heading to a regular port (but reported as heading directly to the U.S. ships which launched the attack) and a U.S. strike group heading to North Korea (again, regular procedure for them) seem to indicate a narrative is being built to sell media rather than report the truth.

Robert Patrick Lewis is a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A) and is an award-winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war.” Follow him @RobertPLewis on Twitter or on his RobertPatrickLewisAuthor Facebook page.

Lean to the Left – Calling Bombs ‘Humanitarian’

| Opinion | April 14, 2017

by Angel Cruz

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but now we don’t even question it. On April 6, 2017, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles rained down upon a Syrian military installation in retaliation for a gas attack on April 4. The gas attack in question was not even fully investigated before action was taken. That doesn’t matter in this era, when the media’s only criticism is that this didn’t happen sooner. There is a war to sell, and just like last time, it is for “humanitarian reasons.”

The war hawks are grinning, knowing they have finally pushed the president on the subject that was one of the positive aspects of his platform: not starting another quagmire in the Middle East. The liberal media ghouls are happy to applaud such actions since it is in total alignment with the past administrations that mobilized the military on all fronts and all causes. There is no question of putting up diplomatic actions before the use of force. That thought goes out the window when the military’s pull has always been to shoot and reconstruct later. There is no talk of congressional approval or paying attention to international law. It is one thing to be totally appalled by the losses of life in the gas attack and another one to not even put up the façade that we are not the world’s police force.

We are being sold another war by the same people who led us into Iraq. Hindsight has never been more underutilized. We have the signs and trajectories of what interventionism looks like with the United States within the Middle East. This time we have Russia in the mix in this civil war, coup, and now proxy war, if relations cool even further. One has to ask what the next step in this strategy is. Escalation? Pull other nations in? Boots on the ground? These reservations cannot be shown in the wider media, because it is one of the arms of the corporate world who, of course, has a stake in the war. We are trapped in a feedback loop of knocking over governments, which leads to destabilization of the country and the surrounding area, and then a rise of a reactionary government or force which we must take out. We are running towards the road of endless war again without a second thought.

Trump is not the agent who will stop the continued deaths of Syrians by Assad; that must be said clearly and decisively. How can we even have a shred of hope from a man who proclaims sympathy while continually barring them from asylum? Please do keep in mind the people who have lost their lives in the gas attack, but also keep in mind the civilians who will suffer if we intervene without a clear strategy. No one dares speak of a diplomatic solution for Syria. It is totally foreign to our lexicon when bombs are humanitarian now.

‘Hi, My Name’s Josh. How Are You?’

| Opinion | April 14, 2017

The great poet Charles Bukowski once said, “You begin saving the world by saving one person at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in those words. Bukowski, in sum, is pointing out the futility of large-scale dreams. He is scoffing at the liberals who set out to create a world with no hunger, no poverty, no illness — no suffering at all. An impossible task, he argues.

But beneath the cynicism is also a very idealistic, beautiful notion. For while mocking grand plans, he doesn’t claim saving the world is impossible. Quite the opposite. He believes a better future is attainable, but in order to bring it about, we must care for the people around us. We must be good neighbors, siblings, spouses, and sons. It is through the totality of these acts that humanity will find salvation.

Bukowski is thinking very deeply here. While I don’t share his cynicism toward grand goals, he is correct in arguing for the importance of action at the local level. Far too often our political debates center solely on wonky policy issues. (Should college be tuition-free or debt-free? How much should European countries contribute to NATO?)
We drown ourselves in these discussions and ignore an equally critical problem: America’s communities are broken. Our country today faces an epidemic of loneliness unprecedented in history. According to research from Duke University, over half of American adults report not having a single friend they can trust with their troubles and fears.

In place of precious human contact, we spend our time watching television, scrolling through social media, and using our smartphones. Instead of deepening our perspectives by interacting with the outside world, we turn to media outlets that cater to our prejudices. This dynamic is directly responsible for the vicious tribalism in our country today that has paralyzed the government.

Therefore, in order for America to truly be great again, we need more than just debates on taxes, healthcare, and the environment. We need a resurgence of human-to-human connection. We need to reform how we live our day-to-day lives, step outside of our digital bubbles, and reach out to the wonderful folks around us.

That means Trump supporters befriending the Bernie Sanders crowd, whites dining with blacks, evangelicals with the LGBT community. Through these interactions, we will rediscover our common humanity — the essential goodness that is in each of us.

We will expand our moral imagination and understand the unique problems facing those from different political parties, races, and cultures. And we will take this new awareness into the ballot box and elect enlightened politicians. A better tomorrow will be at hand.

So, let us continue to protest in the streets and fight for the big changes we want. Those efforts are important and worthy of applause. But, let us also engage in another form of activism that is just as profound: embracing our fellow human beings.

Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.”

How true; it starts within the depths of our hearts. Isolated and alone, Americans today no longer have the human connection with their fellow citizens that awakens their empathy and serves as the lighter fluid for political progress. Rekindling this solidarity, this collective love for each other, would change the world. And the first step in doing so is a very simple one:

“Hi, my name’s Josh. How are you?”

Water Merger

| Opinion | April 13, 2017

By Stacy Fortner

Some people claim that the water merger will result in rate increases because that’s exactly what happened when Castaic Lake Water Agency took over its last two water districts. Or, they claim that Newhall Ranch and thousands of units in other proposed Lennar housing developments not now in a ground water service area will immediately have access to the valley’s ground water with passage of this bill. Some respond to these statements with, “that’s just ‘fake news.’”

But these are clearly substantiated facts and reflect current water law. It seems that the agencies’ expensive PR consultants are hard at work on the public dime to convince this valley and those in Sacramento that what has happened in the past will not be the case this time, and existing water law doesn’t really mean what it says.

Lack of transparency has been a big issue in this takeover of a public water district. You will all remember that it was not until Lynne Plambeck filed a Brown Act complaint in January of last year that the agencies began to hold “public information meetings”; everything up until then was done in secret ad hoc committees not disclosed to the public on any agenda other than as a stipend payment. When this idea finally did see the light of day, it was already a done deal, with the agencies just telling the people how they were going to do it. No vote and no debates were allowed.
I think it is important to understand the extent of this lobby effort, since we are all paying for it in our water rates. So, I started doing public records act requests and taking a look at the financials. Costs for the local lobbying and informational meetings totaled (in) the hundreds of thousands, and that’s not counting the fees paid to the agencies’ attorneys or the mounting costs of monthly stipends paid to board members to promote this idea in various public venues. (Usually four board members attend, with stipends totally $1,000 a month for NCWD members and $2,000 a month for CLWA members, not to mention staff; so that is $6,000 a month from our water rates.)

Does all this qualify as a water-related expense? Was it included in our last Prop. 218 rate increase notice? I don’t think so.

Then I heard the name Chris Townsend mentioned as the Sacramento lobbyist for Newhall Water Agency. That name rang a bell, because he had contributed the maximum possible to Newhall Water Board member Maria Gutzeit’s run for Congress last year. Well, that is certainly a revolving door. She gets money for her campaign and he is hired at the taxpayer’s expense to lobby for the Water District.

No, I did NOT SAY “quid pro quo.” But it certainly looks bad. I began looking for the payments to Townsend on the NCWD’s check register to include in my cost tally. There were none.

That’s odd. Lobbyists don’t work for free, that much I know for sure. What is going on here? I filed a public records act request.

The records I received were shocking. Townsend’s lobbying costs are billed and paid through the NCWD attorney firm, Lagerlof, Senecal. The payments have not been listed on the check registrar for at least the three years I requested.

Why does the cost of a water district’s lobbyist need to be hidden from the public? Is it to hide who is being paid to lobby at public expense or what he is lobbying for, or because he gave a large donation to Gutzeit’s campaign?

Whatever the reason, it is just one more failure of transparency to add to the long list of questionable actions surrounding the water agencies’ takeover proposal. If this proposed water monopoly will be so beneficial to the public, why can’t it stand up to the light of day, a public debate and a vote for the residents of Newhall Water who have had the privilege of voting for their district for the last 60 years?

Grey Days: Skin Deep

| Opinion | April 9, 2017

 

by Derra Grey 

My mother-in-law showed me a photo she got in the mail from a friend of hers. It was a picture of her friend’s daughter and her family. It showed a smiling mom and dad and three young children — one girl and two boys. I remember she commented on one of the boys, who looked about 12 years old. “He sure doesn’t look like the rest of them,” she chuckled. “He’s just so ugly.”

It is obvious to say that we live in a superficial society where we are judged, initially at least, by the way we look. We are put into categories, as our society has created a standard of what is considered attractive and unattractive, acceptable and not acceptable. For any of us who do not fall within the acceptable range of attractiveness, we are made to feel inadequate, which often affects how we internalize our own value.

We would all like to think of ourselves as fair and rational people, but research has shown that we’re hard-wired to judge people by their appearances. And most individuals generally agree on the superficial qualities that define who is attractive and who isn’t.

Alexander Todorov, psychology professor at Princeton University, summed up how we judge people by the way they look, saying, “We form these immediate impressions of people — we just can’t help it.”

If you consider that our physical characteristics, whether we are tall or short; have a square, oval or round face; big or small facial features; the color of our eyes and skin; along with diverse body types, etc. are not something we can choose, but are, in fact, determined by our genes.

Helpful Points to Consider Before Judging Someone’s Appearance:

Monitor your thoughts. If you are thinking critically about how someone looks, keep it to yourself. What you put out there matters, especially to the individual you are targeting.

 Look for the positive. You’d be surprised how easy it is to find something  positive about someone’s appearance.

 Avoid stereotyping. Lumping people together because of how they look can really create a lot of negativity in the world.

 Remember how it feels. Consider the effect it had on you when someone judged you, put you down, or was critical of your looks.

Although it is fairly unrealistic to expect that people’s perception of others will completely change, we can contribute to creating a more conscious, caring society. It is time we embrace the idea of seeing beyond superficiality and begin to look upon one another with more depth and kindness.

 

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