Sunday, December 25, 2011

Otherwise Occupied

Responding to a plan by the Occupy movement to demonstrate at the
Rose Parade on Jan. 2, the local Tea Party folks decided to join in
the fun, setting up a riveting contest to determine which fringe
group could be the most obnoxious.

It looks, however, that we’ll be spared this ideological pillow fight
on Colorado Boulevard. The Tea Party has opted out.

Maybe they realized that when the other guy looks stupid, there’s
nothing to be gained in looking stupid as well.

Look, I’m in sympathy with some of the aims of the Occupy crowd.
For whatever else they have done, they have made income inequality,
the widening gap between the haves and have-nots and the corrupting
influence of money on politics a part of the national dialogue.

They have made it clear that this nation’s inability to create jobs,
to prevent the wholesale evictions of economic victims from their
homes, to protect citizens from predatory corporate practices is

And they are willing to risk a face full of pepper spray and arrest
to protest it.

Unfortunately, they have failed to move their arguments beyond the
street. And many of their good intentions have been hijacked by
anarchists, aged hippies, druggies, off-the-beaten-path religious
zealots and other assorted chest beaters. The result is a message so
muddled that it has become unclear.

They are at risk of becoming irrelevant. The absolute wrong way to
regroup, however, is to attempt to politicize a hundred thousand
people who show up once a year to smell the roses, listen to the
bands, root for their football teams and enjoy a slice of Americana.

It would be like teaching the catechism to the Taliban.

The plan as of now is to have the Occupy protestors march behind the
rest of the parade as it winds its way through Pasadena. That will
put them smack dab behind a phalanx of police and a line of
mechanized street sweepers whose job it is to clear the streets of

The Occupy forces, if history repeats itself, will be joined by a
gaggle of Jesus freaks, Hare Krishnas, animal rights activists,
anti-war protestors and other rebels with a cause who have
traditionally followed the parade, much to the interest of
practically no one.

Oh, sure, the Occupy people will be waving signs along the parade
route. But their main thrust is to carry a “Octupy Octopus,” a puppet
crafted from recycled plastic bags and bamboo that takes 40 people to
operate. According to organizers, it represents Wall Street’s
stranglehold on American politics.

I saw a picture of it on their web site. It looks like a third-grade
art project.

Is this any way to win hearts and minds? It isn’t.

I suspect they are hoping for some TV exposure but I doubt they will
get much unless some militant faction decides to storm the parade
route. And that’s not the kind of exposure this movement needs.

The Occupy movement must define who they are, join with labor unions
and other sympathizers throughout the country to raise money and
support candidates that believe in their values.

It’s called working within the system and it often works. The Tea
Party did it. So can they.

But that can’t do it from a tent on some street corner. And they
can’t do it by embracing disruption as a political tool.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On Turning 70

"When I was One I had just begun.

When I was Two I was nearly new.

When I was Three I was hardly me.

When I was Four I was not much more.

When I was Five I was just alive.

But now I am Six I'm as clever as clever,

So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever."

- A.A. Milne, "Now We Are Six"

WHEN I was a child, my bedtime literature of choice was anything by A.A. Milne. I enjoyed the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin but for reasons lost in the mists of memory, his "Now We Are Six" was my favorite.

I suspect I was impatient to reach that magical age, when you left babyhood behind and began to venture out into the world on voyages of discovery and adventure.

And being 6 was wonderful. It would be another five years before television made an appearance in our house so we spent our waking hours playing outdoors and building elaborate dream worlds. Without TV to render us physically and intellectually immobile, we traveled as far and wide as our imaginations would carry us.

Sure, there were skinned knees and hurt feelings from time to time but we were sheltered by our innocence from the harsh realities of life.

I mention all this because in one more week, I reach another milestone. I will be 70. I am frankly astounded. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was 6 and playing cowboys with the boy down the street. The important things in my life were bikes, baseball gloves and comic books.

I don't feel 70. Friends say I don't look 70. If they did, of course, they would no longer be my friends.

Come to think of it, however, I seem to have a lot more doctor appointments than I used to. I have lost a good 10 yards off my tee shot, gained a few inches around my waist and seemed to forget where I put my keys. So it must be true.

There are no books called "Now We Are 70" that romanticize the path that lies ahead, and no one to read them to you at bedtime. No one wants to remain 70 for ever and ever.

At this age, you try to live each day to its fullest and look back on the journey, trying to make some sense of it all.

On reflection, it's been a wonderful trip.

I was born 18 days after Pearl Harbor. I often wonder how my parents must have felt about bringing a child into a word engaged in a massive war. Were they worried? Were they scared? I never heard them speak of it. But they were made of stern stuff. My mother was abandoned in an orphanage at age 2. My dad never knew his real father. They were married just as the Depression hit.

My life wasn't nearly as tough. My world was living the lyrics of a Beach Boy's song. We surfed, hung out at Bob's Big Boy and took our girlfriends to proms. We were true to our school.

The worst thing that happened to me in high school was flunking out of geometry. Since it was mid-term, I had to find a course to finish out the year. I chose journalism. The rest is history.

Going to college was a slap in the face. I came to realize I had lived my life in a place that kept the rest of the world at arm's length. It wasn't until college that I made friends who were African American or Jewish or Hispanic.

I learned about injustice. I was exposed to cynicism, much of it directed at the middle class from which I came.

It made for a quick transition. Two years after I had been surfing in Newport Beach, I was arrested in a civil rights demonstration on Market Street in San Francisco.

Indeed, to be 70 is to be a part of a generation that fought to bring about the end to racial segregation in this country. It's difficult to imagine now but it wasn't long ago that many American citizens were relegated to second class status, and worse, by law and social attitudes.

Putting those impediments to equality to rest was an epic moment in this country's history. Those of us who took part did so because, simply, it was the right thing to do.

My generation was the first to embrace rock `n' roll. Whatever else you might think about it, rock was exciting and liberating, the pulsating background music to an era of change in this country. Nobody was going to march for justice to the sounds of Bing Crosby.

We weren't the greatest generation, not by a long shot. But we can look back and see that we made a difference.

So here we stand poised on the banks of the River Jordan or the River Styx, depending on how things work out. The sun is still above the horizon but not by much.

But I'm not ready to say goodbye quite yet. Like a 6 year old, I'm still searching for worlds to explore and adventures to be had.

After all, as George Bernard Shaw said, "We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Primary Problem

I’m not sure what the Republican National Committee is up to these

But I’m betting that if they don’t get their game face on fairly
soon, they will be on the outside looking in on Election Day, 2012.

So far, the Republican presidential primary looks like it was
scripted by Mel Brooks. Take this week for example.

Newt Gingrich, suddenly breathing the rarefied air of a contender,
does what any serious presidential candidate would do: He travels to
New York to kiss the ring of Donald Trump and seek his blessings.

Are you kidding me? Donald Trump, a political kingmaker? The snarling
billionaire with the bad comb over who stars in really awful reality
shows? Yeah, that’s the guy.

It would be funny except for the scary fact that he may somehow
influence the choice of the next leader of the free world, should
that person be a Republican.

Newt’s not the first candidate to make the pilgrimage to Trump Tower.

Michele Bachmann made an appearance, so did Mitt Romney (although he
refused to be photographed). Herman Cain dropped by as did Rick
Perry. Remember them?

But the wily Donald is withholding his endorsement for the time
being. In fact, he says if he doesn’t see a winner in this bunch he
will run for the presidency himself as an independent.

This is so much hot air, of course. It’s important to remember that
when Trump starts making noises about being president, he usually has
a TV program debuting or a new book out. In this case, his tome,
“Time to Get Tough,” is hitting the stores. Self-promotion is his thing.

Ultimately, this is all about money. Trump has it, the others want
it. Besides, Trump is going to orchestrate a candidate debate at the
end of the month. It would be wise to stay on the good side of a guy
who enjoys yelling, “You’re fired!”

Newt, in the meantime, is having a bad endorsement week. Trump came
down with lockjaw. Cain who has literally and figuratively kissed his
chances goodbye, was going to throw his support to Gingrich but
pulled back at the last moment. Gingrich has had to settle for the
support of Dan Quayle, the former vice president best known as the
man who couldn’t speak straight.

All of this raises some disturbing questions:

Why would Newt want the backing of Cain, an alleged serial womanizer?
Gingrich doesn’t need voters to remember that, in an act of unbridled
hypocrisy, he once carried on an admitted extra-marital affair with a
young staffer while decrying Bill Clinton’s moral shortcomings.

Why would Newt allow Bob Livingston, who resigned as Speaker of the
House when his marital infidelities were exposed, to throw a
fund-raiser for him in Washington, D.C. this week?

What kind of message is the Gingrich-Cain-Livingston team sending to
the country? How about “lock up your wives and daughters.”

Why would Newt want the backing of Trump? As a candidate in the
spring, the Donald experienced one of the quickest falls in recent
political history when he dropped from leading the Republican field
with 26% to 8% in the space of four weeks.

If that’s not enough, a new poll from NBC and Marist College shows
more voters in Iowa and New Hampshire would be turned off by a Trump
endorsement than positively influenced by one.

A story in the Washington Post explains a lot. “Gingrich is
struggling to get out from under a mountain of debt from luxury jets
and other pricey expenses racked up in the early weeks of his
campaign. Creditors say Gingrich has begun paying back nearly $1.2
million in bills he owed at the end of September, and his spokesman
says most will be taken care of by the end of the year...”

In the meantime, Romney has raised $32.6 million while Gingrich has
accumulated $4 milllion. Donald can you spare a dime?

And what about this debate that Trump is staging in Iowa? So far,
four candidates, Romney, Ron Paul, Perry and Jon Huntsman, have sent
their regrets, probably figuring that this particular forum will end
up being A Salute to Donald Trump’s Ego.

So far the participants consist of Newt and Rick Santorum.

Even Republican strategist Karl Rove is appalled. “We've got a guy
who is not only saying 'I'm going to make a decision about who I'm
gonna endorse shortly after this debate and I'm already leaning
someway -- and I may run myself,' and we expect him to be the
impartial moderator of the debate?" he said on Fox News.

All of this has a good chance of being the biggest bust since Geraldo
Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault.

The RNC had better bring order to this chaos if they want their
candidate to have a fighting chance.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Thorn in the Side of the Rose Bowl

Peace has returned to the Arroyo Seco. Songbirds are singing, their
voices carried on breezes wafting through the giant oaks, the sun
beams down on happy upturned faces while serenity abounds.

Yes, folks, football season is almost over and the Rose Bowl is
returning to its somnambulant state.

It’s been a great season for the nearby residents of the bowl. The
UCLA Bruins, principal occupants of the stadium, have been so bad
that attendance is dropping by the tens of thousands.

This is just fine with the homeowners who rarely emerge during
football season for fear of being struck by falling property values.

Football games draw crowds and crowds make them unhappy. Many would
be pleased if football was prohibited and the Rose Bowl was turned
into a museum.

Oh sure, they tolerate the Rose Bowl game on New Years. It’s all pomp
and pageantry and princesses, the kind of thing that makes you proud
to be a Pasadenan.

Beyond that? Couldn’t they just go and play somewhere else?

I guess these good people didn’t notice the 100,000-seat stadium when
they moved into the neighborhood.

But all is not happy in Arroyoland. The Rose Bowl, as it has for
years, needs money. They need it for maintenance of a nearly
90-year-old facility, they need it to modernize and stay competitive,
they need it because the stadium actually operates at a loss.

They need money because the stadium by ordinance is limited to 12
events a year that would attract more than 20,000 attendees. And that
impacts the stadium’s revenue stream.

Now, the National Football League is being wooed by Los Angeles city
officials and if the NFL decides to locate a team here, it would need
a place to play while a new stadium is being built to house the pro

Rose Bowl officials would like to see their stadium as that temporary
home. The money such an arrangement would generate could help pay off
a $16 million revenue shortfall in a $150 million renovation project
currently underway.

The neighbors are, predictably, upset despite the fact that the NFL
in L.A. is a long way from reality. This paper reported that the
Linda Vista/Annandale Association's 18-member board "voted
unanimously to oppose any occupancy of the Rose Bowl stadium by the
NFL," citing crowds and the negative impact on the Arroyo’s
recreational activities.

The city sees it a bit differently. “There obviously will be
potential impacts associated with the neighborhood; there will also
be significant economic impacts to the businesses in the community,
to the city's General Fund and to the stadium," City Manager Michael
Beck told this paper. "We have to take into consideration all of

This particular flap highlights the hurdles the Rose Bowl faces to
remain viable.

I did some freelance work for the Rose Bowl several years ago,
writing press releases and consulting as stadium officials launched a
fundraising drive for their renovation project.

That experience left me with two impressions:

(1) Rose Bowl officials bend over backwards to be good neighbors.
Despite the bluster from local homeowners associations, complaints
from residents are taken very seriously and steps are taken to
resolve them to the satisfaction of all concerned. When the
renovation project was launched, Rose Bowl officials reached out to
residents to make them part of the planning process.
(2) Money is always an issue. People think the stadium is rolling in money. It
isn’t. Rose Bowl officials rely on revenue from the Brookside golf
courses to help pay the bills.

Is this any way to treat an icon? If any institution in Pasadena
deserves some love, the Rose Bowl is it.

The stadium’s importance to Pasadena can’t be overstated. The New
Years game itself contributes $58.6 million to the city’s economy,
according to a study by the USC Marshall School of Business.

The Rose Bowl is one of the most recognizable sports facilities in
the world. It’s very existence has elevated Pasadena from just
another Los Angeles suburb to the special status it enjoys now.

Homeowners have every right to protect their property. But there’s a
thin line between self-interest and obstructionism.

If local homeowners fear the NFL, they should help in the
fund-raising efforts to complete the renovation project. Supporting
the Rose Bowl will pay enormous dividends to the city they call home.
And peace will reign in the Arroyo.