Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Case for a Congressional Pay Cut

While the rhetoric in Washington is making the transition from subdued to spit-in-your-face, the bare-knuckled saloon brawl that passes for our country's legislative process is in full swing again.

And once again it promises to disgust people of every political stripe who dare to watch.

Welcome to another season of take-no-prisoners ideological combat.

You would think the White House and Congress, faced with approval ratings that rank only slightly above cancer and terrorism, would make some sort of magnanimous gesture to assure the American people that they share the pain caused by our faltering economy. And that this is the time for deeds, not words.

But we get none of that.

So I propose a plan that could prod our elected officials into doing something meaningful: When they speak of downsizing government, slashing spending and bold action to reduce the deficit, they can begin by looking into the mirror.

The plan I have in mind would end the disconnect between our representatives and their unemployed, foreclosed on, barely-making-ends-meet constituents by cutting congressional pay and benefits.

Such a proposal would probably fall short of eliminating gridlock in Washington but it just might spur Congress to action if members share in the consequences of the prolonged economic downturn that they apparently are incapable of resolving.

The jobless rate rises? The national debt grows? The issue is treated as
nothing more than a political football? Hit them in the pocketbook. And keep hitting them until the problem is resolved.

A few brave congressional souls agree.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, for example, introduced the Shared Retirement Sacrifice Act of 2011, which would require lawmakers to wait until the age of 66 to collect their pensions. Currently, lawmakers can retire as early as 50 with a full pension depending on how long they served.

"The reason I introduced my bill ... on this shared sacrifice in terms of retirement age is I hear lots of members of Congress ... say we should raise the retirement age for Social Security," Brown told CNN.

Brown points to the fact that a member of Congress who gets elected at 35 and retires at 55 can draw a pretty good pension then while other Americans can't draw Social Security benefits until they reach 66.

"So, my thought there was that members of Congress should not be able to get their pension, no matter how many years of service they had; they should get no pension until any earlier than a Social Security beneficiary should get theirs," he said.

Brown pointed out that it's important that lawmakers "sort of align as much as possible their lives with the people who we represent, so we understand things better and, you know, we still make more money than most people, of course."

Others are fighting this good fight with mixed results.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., has found it difficult to drum up interest in her bill to cut the pay of members, the president and the vice president by 10 percent. The measure has just one co-sponsor.

"It's more uphill than I expected," she was quoted as saying. "To me it seemed like a no-brainer idea."

Reps. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Mike Coffman, R-Colo., also have measures that would cut lawmakers' pay by 10 percent beginning in 2013. And Coffman's bill would implement a massive furlough program, requiring most executive-branch workers to take two weeks of mandatory unpaid leave in 2012.

Then there are the bills that would tie lawmakers' pay to whether they do their job. According to the Washington Post, Rep. Randy Hultgren's, R-Ill., legislation would mandate that if Congress has not completed all of its appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, then members' paychecks would be held in escrow until they finish their work.

While this may make it appear that the fresh breeze of common sense is wafting through the halls of Congress, similar legislation has been introduced 25 times since 1973 by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but only once has such a proposal made it out of committee, according to published reports. That bill, introduced by Sen. Don Nickles, R-Ok., never got a floor vote.

Apparently, sharing in sacrifice is an alien concept in Washington.

Putting a cap on congressional pay and perks is not a new idea. Ben Franklin suggested at the Constitutional Convention that members serve without pay. The idea was rejected by the Founder Fathers and although congressional service was part-time in the nation's first 100 years, it has been a full-time job since.

Not everybody, however, believes cutting congressional perks is a good idea.

Wrote author Robert J. Spitzer: "Every member of Congress has a hand on the tiller of our ship of state. It is as important a job as one can envision, and their pay should not be the whipping boy for our frustrations with the inherent difficulty of their jobs and the intractability of our problems ... we must admit that at least some of the contempt citizens hold for Congress is in truth a reflection of ourselves."

Noble words but it ignores the fact that most major corporations and businesses of every size in this country reward employees on the quantity and quality of work performed.

Why not hold our elected representatives to the same standard? Can't you just see the headlines now? "Congressional pay slashed because of legislative ineptitude."

We can dream, can't we?

Read more:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Deep Fried

Years ago, when I was a fresh-faced editor at a large downtown
metropolitan newspaper, I asked a grizzled veteran reporter to do a
story on the L.A. County Fair.

It wasn’t the greatest story idea I ever pulled out of my back
pocket. Indeed, newspapers large and small in Southern California
seem somehow obligated to do county fair stories each and every year.

Seeking some originality, I told Grizzled Reporter to do a story on
the logistics of the thing, how many people does it take to stage a
giant fair, who are they, how much of the rural flavor remains. That
kind of thing.

He glared at me over the rims of his glasses and said, “It’s all
about food.” He proceeded to gruffly explain, maybe lecture is a
better word, that people go to county fairs to eat. Everything else
is secondary.

And he proceeded to do a story about fair food, my suggestions

It was then it became clear to me why the fair gets more attention
from the media than a presidential news conference.

Reporters love a free meal. It’s a tradition that dates back to when
they got paid next to nothing. Now they make slightly more than that.

Most of them would cover a press conference introducing a new brand
of mouthwash if there was a buffet involved. I once had a framed
poster in my office showing a reporter in a fedora hat saying, “I’m
with the press. Where’s the food?”

The County Fair, of course, is the greatest spread going. And
reporters cover it like mustard on a corn dog. After all, you can’t
write about fair food without sampling it. The media generously
underwrites this effort.

The hot topic these days is the proliferation of vendors devoted to
totally irresponsible eating.

In an era when even the cereal box is made of whole grains and three
ounces of yogurt in considered lunch, the fair has become a place to
get in touch with your inner Neanderthal.

Just look at the chest-pain inducing, artery clogging , stomach
rumbling entrees available at the L.A. County Fair this year.

A company called The Ranch is offering a bacon cheeseburger for your
dining pleasure. But not just any bacon cheeseburger. This one is
deep fried.

For dessert, wander over to Fair Fix for a deep fried banana split.

If you get the feeling that deep fried cuisine is a hot item, you
would be correct.

Among the other offerings are deep fried candy bars, deep fried
cheesecake, deep fried mocha cake, deep fried Pop Tarts, deep fried
pickle dogs and deep fried Kool –Aid.

Not to your liking? How about macaroni and cheese on a stick,
chocolate covered bacon, pork chop on a stick or something called a
Mile Long Chili Dog.

L.A. County is not alone in offering the latest in cardiac cuisine.
Consider these offerings from various state fairs:

In Texas, they line up for Chicken Fried Bacon and wash it down with
deep fried Coca-Cola. Minnesotans like their spaghetti and meatballs
on a stick while in Iowa they chow down on something called a hot
beef sundae.

Indiana features Pizza Cones and a pork parfait while in
Kansas you can wrap your hands around a Krispy Kreme burger, an
all-beef patty, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo in between two
glazed doughnuts.

The ultimate in fair food? Try the deep fried butter next time you’re
in Texas.

I wonder if they display warning signs, like “please consume
responsibly.” I’ll bet they don’t.

Aside from good old down-home gluttony, why on earth do we eat this

Leave it to the high-minded New York Times to offer an explanation.
It’s all about “decision fatigue.”

According to a Times article, no matter how rational and high-minded
you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying
a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue —
you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on
mental energy.

The more choices you make throughout the day, the article says, the
harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for
shortcuts. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively
instead of expending the energy to first think through the

OK, that works for me. Now pass me that deep fried Pepto-Bismol on a

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Voices of 9/11

The voices of 9/11. May we never become deaf to them.

“Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent... we are all over the
place. ... I see water. I see buildings. We are flying low. We are
flying very, very low. We are flying way too low. ... Oh my God, we
are way too low... Oh my God, we're “ -Flight attendant Madeline Amy
Sweeney, at the end of her phone call to a supervisor describing the
hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11.

"We're young men, we're not ready to die." – Kevin Cosgrove on the
105th floor of the South Tower moments before it collapsed.

"The floor is completely engulfed. We're on the floor, and we can't
breathe, and it's very, very, very hot… I'm going to die, I know it.
Please, God, no. It's so hot, I'm burning up." - Melissa Doi, 83rd
floor, South Tower

"Please do not give up, Melissa. Oh, my God. Melissa. Melissa.
Melissa." - 911 operator

“'Kris, there's been an explosion. We're trapped in a room. There's
smoke coming in. I don't know what's going to happen. I want you to
know my life has been so much better and richer because you were in
it.’ He said, ‘I love you’ and he said goodbye. I think he had been
crying, but he stayed strong for me.” - Kris McFarren, on a phone
call from her fiancée Bradley Vadas who died in the South Tower.

"Hi, this is the captain. I would like you all to remain seated.
There is a bomb on board and are going back to the airport, and to
have our demands [INAUDIBLE]. Please remain quiet." - Hijacker aboard
United Flight 93 which crashed near Shanksville, Pa.

“Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” - Passenger Todd Beamer on Flight
93 as passengers stormed the cockpit to battle the hijackers.

“After his appearance with the workers at the site, President Bush
met privately with some of the victims' families. That was the most
gut-wrenching of all.... Not one person the president talked to
thought their missing relatives were dead. Not one.” - Ari Fleisher,
White House press secretary.

“I question, why not me, and leave my son? I mean, I would have
switched. ... I asked God in the beginning, ‘If you could give me
this one, I would appreciate it.’ But He had nothing to do with
this...He was fighting evil that day, like He does every day. -
Bernie Heeran, New York city firefighter who lost a son in the World
Trade Center.

“They say the planes hit the building somewhere in the 92nd to the
101st floor. It's terrible to think that 2,000 gallons of petrol
burned through the building, totally scorching my daughter to death.
Our son-in-law, Nurul, worked on the 93rd floor. We were hoping that
he might have just barely survived. I pray to Allah that if they
survive, let them both survive. If they have to die, let them both go
to Allah together. What was Allah's wish? My daughter and her husband
both went to Allah together.” - Sharif Choudhury, insurance agent.

“When I looked out that window, towards the Statue of Liberty, and I
saw that plane coming towards me, I was numb. This monstrous plane
looking at me, like, ‘I'm taking you.’ Part of the 82nd floor
collapsed. All of the walls were knocked flat. I was screaming!
Crying! And praying out loud, ‘Lord! Help me! Please! Send
somebody!’... I felt like this strange force came over me. This power
that I've never felt before. And I looked at this wall and I started
to hit and punch and kick. And I busted a little hole. And Brian
said, "I see your hand!" - Stanley Praimnath, loan officer.

“And I heard this, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
...Help! Help!’ And I was able to grab onto something, whether it was
his collar or we locked arms, I'm not sure, and then I lifted him
out. And we fell on a heap on the floor, and we introduced ourselves.
And he said, ‘Oh! Hallelujah! I'm Stanley!’ And I said, ‘My name is
Brian. We might be friends for life!’ And then I said, ‘Come on,
let's go. Let's get out of here.’ - Brian Clark, banker.

“I think God could have just ended this all. That's why I feel
strongly that I'm losing respect for Him. ..So I look at Him now as a
barbarian… and it's a sad situation. I think I am a good Christian,
but I have a different view and image of Him now and I can't replace
it with the old image.” - Tim Lynston, security guard

“I don't know how people could get through this without faith." -
Rosaleen Tallon who lost her brother in the Twin Towers attacks.

“Today, we gather to be reassured that God hears the lamenting and
bitter weeping of Mother America because so many of her children are
no more...Let us also pray for divine wisdom as our leaders consider
the necessary actions for national security...that as we act, we not
become the evil we deplore.” - Rev. Nathan Baxter, dean of Washington
National Cathedral.

"We will find those who did it. We will smoke them out of their
holes. We'll get them running, and we'll bring them to justice."
–President George Bush.

“Tonight I can report to the American people and the world that the
United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin
Laden...Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we
will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by
when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of
our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the
values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can
say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror:
Justice has been done.” – President Barack Obama.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Football Feast

“Behold the tailgate party. The pinnacle of human achievement. Since
the dawn of parking lots, man has sought to stuff his guts with food
and alcohol in anticipation of watching others exercise.” ---Homer

If there’s a better place on earth to tailgate on a fall football
Saturday than the Rose Bowl, I have yet to find it.

No trash strewn, heat radiating asphalt parking lots for this fan.
Give me a spot on the Brookside golf course, under a sprawling oak
tree, with good food and good companionship. It’s enough to make
watching a mediocre UCLA football team seem almost pleasant.

In fact, at the Rose Bowl, and at many college games, tailgating is
THE event, football be damned.

That’s why people camp out in the Arroyo and never enter the stadium.
They’ll eat, drink and commune with nature while listening to the
game on radio or watching it on TV.

That’s why some people arrive eight hours before game time. Many
bring elaborate cooking gear and what appears to be the entire
contents of their living rooms to stage elaborate feasts.

Talk about all the comforts of home: I’ve seen guys with satellite
dishes running off portable generators to enhance the TV viewing
experience. I once saw a guy with his own porta-potty towed on a
trailer behind his car. I’ve seen RVs that look like the presidential
suite at a Four Seasons hotel on wheels.

I’ve seen brats and beer, I’ve seen linen and silver.

I’ve seen gracious visiting fans (Alabama) and obnoxious ones

But after being engaged in the Rose Bowl tailgating ritual for 28
years, I can truthfully say I haven’t experienced a single incident
where my enjoyment was ruined by unruly fans. Not one.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t trouble occasionally. People drink.
Sometimes they get rowdy. It’s a football game, not a fashion show.

Pasadena police say they average nine arrests at each game, six for
being drunk in public, three for ticket scalping. So that’s six
belligerent boozers out of a crowd of between 60,000-80,000 people.

Statistically, you’re not going to see a lot of bad behavior.

Now, however, because of one ugly incident that occurred last year
before a UCLA-USC game in which two people were stabbed, Rose Bowl
officials are acting like they’re dealing with a Hell’s Angels beer

Starting this season, alcohol consumption is now banned in all
tailgating sections after kickoff, and the parking lots will open to
the public six hours before kickoff instead of eight.

Loud music, music with inappropriate language and drinking out of
glass containers are also prohibited (which means if I want to enjoy
a glass of nice pinot noir, I’ll have to consume it skid row style
out of a paper bag or, worse, a plastic cup).

Playing of games that involve the consumption of alcohol or use of
alcohol-related paraphernalia are prohibited. (Paraphernalia? I
assume that means my corkscrew in addition to my wine glass. The
season hasn’t even started and I’m in danger of becoming a
three-strike violator).

The parking lots will be patrolled by Pasadena police and by
green-clad "tailgating ambassadors" on bikes who will “provide
information and assistance and to ensure that tailgaters comply with
established guidelines.”

Ambassadors? Please. These are rent-a-cops who are there to make sure
you toe the line.

This was inevitable, I suppose, given recent acts of fan violence at
Candlestick Park in San Francisco and Dodger Stadium where tailgating
bans didn’t save Bryan Stow from a savage beating.

But the restrictions here are an overreaction. Bruin tailgaters are
so laid back they would probably get out-partied by BYU.

Call me a homer but I really resent Rose Bowl football fans being
lumped in with a bunch of sociopathic NFL jerks or the goons who have
taken up residence at Dodger games.

Yeah, we had a problem at the Rose Bowl and the guy responsible is
doing 15 years in state prison.

Unfortunately, one of the victims has filed a lawsuit, asking the
taxpayers of Pasadena to cough up $25 million to alleviate his pain
and suffering.

More than the act of violence itself, that’s what has led to these

Let’s hope for continued good behavior at the Rose Bowl. If there is,
“restrictions” and “ambassadors” will be unnecessary.