Monthly Archives: May 2008

Propositions 98 & 99

Recently I posted about some of the candidates for the 52nd Congressional District.  I had hoped to post on all of them, but wasn’t able to connect with the others.  So, since I can’t give all of them equal time, I am not going to give any thumbs up or down on any of them.  But, I have no problem giving my opinion about two competing ballot propositions.

Propositions 98 & 99 both deal with “eminent domain” – the ability of the government to take private property for public uses.  Recently there have been stories in the news about possibly questionable uses of eminent domain to transfer private property to large developers who have plans to redevelop a “blighted” area.  Now, I have no argument with the idea of protecting the rights of property owners, but I am planning to vote “No” on both propositions.

Proposition 98 is in some ways the “better” of the two – it provides concrete and specific limits on government use of eminent domain.  But, and this is a big “but,” it also will create problems for what many people consider “good” uses of eminent domain.  For example, it specifically prohibits new rent control measures or even the renewal of current measures.  This is a windfall for apartment and mobile home complex owners who may want to price current low-income renters out.  Prop 98 also would make it more difficult for government to protect land for environmental reasons.  I would like to see some measure of protection for property owners, but not at the expense of low-income renters and the environment.

Proposition 99 is a whole different matter.  This one is written so very broadly and with such vague “exceptions” that it really won’t do much good at all.  It prohibits the State from acquiring private property and conveying it to another private entity, but then it provides an exception for “private uses incidental to, or necessary for, [a] public work or improvement.”  And who will decide if the acquisition is necessary?  Why, the State, of course.

In effect, what we have here are competing proposals that each benefit a small group rather than the public in general.  Perhaps if 98 had been written without the clauses that affect low-income renters and the environment I could support it.  But since it wasn’t, I’m voting “No” on both.  You make your own choice, but at least take time to read carefully.

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52nd District Candidate – Bob Watkins

Bob Watkins, Republican Candidate for 52nd Congressional District

Welcome to my third interview posting on the 52nd Congressional District.

On Monday, May 12, I sat down at the Santee Trolley Center Starbucks with Mr. Bob Watkins, Republican candidate for the 52nd District and currently President of the San Diego County Board of Education.  Mr. Watkins was born in Great Britain and moved to the U.S. at the age of 10.  His family eventually settled in the San Diego area and he grew up there and in La Mesa.  He credits the community for giving him a strong foundation, and for teaching him that “if one took personal responsibility for their lives, you can achieve great things.”  Mr. Watkins has looked for ways to be involved in giving back to the community, and was one of the five people who founded and built the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.  He was appointed to the Board of Education, and then won election for a full term in 2004.  He decided to run for Congress in part because of what he sees as a “lack of decisiveness” in government in terms of making hard decisions.  He pointed out that this indecisiveness stretches out the time it takes to get things done, which then makes the process cost more.  He wanted to do something “bolder” than his position on the Board of Education, and so decided to run for Congress.

Mr. Watkins’ background has been primarily in business, including manufacturing and business management.  He has started five companies, including his own company, R.J. Watkins and Co., and has experience in international business.  He believes that this background will help him in Congress if he is elected.

Since he is on the County Board of Education, we started with that topic.  Mr. Watkins would like to see the federal government almost out of education except from a major policy point of view.  In his view, Congress should declare education to be the “second highest priority” and then provide funding at a modest level to help states deliver the highest quality education possible.  On the subject of oversight, such as “No Child Left Behind,” Mr. Watkins pointed out that NCLB was actually based on legislation from the Clinton era and the earlier Freedom of Education Act.  It is a policy of the U.S. that education is important, but the changes in policy and focus on accountability over the years have brought about a belief by the public that teachers are “teaching to the test” rather than for comprehension.  Mr. Watkins feels that this is a misunderstanding of the intent of the law, and that it is really about accountability at all levels of education, including students, and the ability to produce a highly-educated workforce that can compete in globally.  In short, NCLB is a framework for states and local communities to take a national policy and “drive it through into the classroom” to provide quality education – the federal government provides standards and funding, but it is the job of states to decide how to get the job done.

On the related topics of Social Security and Medicare, Mr. Watkins says that “when you make a promise, then you need to deliver.”  The government made a promise to working people that by putting money aside, there would be a retirement program – a supplemental program – for them.  He sees the possibility that the government could be forced to print more money in order to cover its obligation, something he does not support, but “if the government promised it to you, then they should deliver it to you.”  Mr. Watkins would like to eventually see some alternatives to Social Security where people could opt in or out, so they could have personal accounts of their own and government could give tax credits.  This would be a strict retirement account that people could not borrow from, such as with a 401(k) program.  His big concern is that currently there are 20 people contributing to Social Security for every one receiving benefits, but in 20 years or less there could be only 3 contributing for each one receiving.  There will have to be some decisions made in Congress on how to deal with this.

Medicare is a similar situation, in that the government has made promises to people that they would have some sort of healthcare.  Mr. Watkins would like to see some type of “market-based” healthcare system, which would be based on value to the consumer and the consumer taking more responsibility for their own insurance coverage.  There would be tax credits for purchasing coverage, which would be portable between employers, and for health care savings.  Interestingly, Mr. Watkins has found that while 5% of the unpaid medical costs are for illegal immigrants, the majority are people in the 18 to 34 age range “who think they are immortal, and so they don’t buy insurance.” He has personally seen instances where having insurance has made the difference between recovery and disaster.  He is also strongly against a single-payer program, which he feels “smacks of socialism.”  Having lived in the United Kingdom, which did have a single-payer program for years, Mr. Watkins sees the possibility of such a system becoming an “entitlement” program that takes the incentive away from people to help themselves.

Speaking on immigration, Mr. Watkins said that even though, or perhaps because, he is an immigrant, he is possibly tougher on the subject than many native-born Americans.  He feels that “the sovereignty of the United States is at risk with illegal immigration,” and that we need to immediately strengthen our border security.  Once this is done, we could then look at other factors that affect immigration, including imposing employer sanctions to remove the draw of jobs.  Mr. Watkins feels we need to look at immigration from a larger perspective: why we need an immigration policy, what that policy should look like, how many people should we allow in, and for what reasons.  Currently we allow in about 1 million people “through the front door,” and about 60% of those are for “family reunification” reasons.  Mr. Watkins would like to see a return to more “needs-based” immigration, meaning allowing people to immigrate based on skills needed here first, and”compassionate” reasons second.  The country was built on immigration, and reasonable immigration is still important, but immigration primarily to help the country to grow.  His concern about the 1986 amnesty bill was that it gave amnesty to 4-6 million people who then were eligible to bring family members into the country.  Mr. Watkins would like to work on a committee specifically for the purpose of considering immigration.  He also believes that illegal immigrants should not be eligible for taxpayer-covered benefits, such as health care and free education, nor should children of illegal immigrants born in the United States be automatically made citizens.

On the Mortgage situation, Mr. Watkins believes the problem is based on “greed” and on the opportunity that people had to get into mortgages, whether or not they were good for them.  He would first start by looking at the “lack of transparency” in Wall Street’s dealings, and on the actions of banks and other funding organizations, then at the actions of buyers who may not have looked carefully at what they were getting into.  He does agree with Washington’s decisions to step and shore up financial organizations without collapsing the financial system.  Mr. Watkins feels that the market will adjust itself in time, and that the government should not step in and subsidize mortgages.  On a side note, he also feels that the government should have not given out the tax rebates, but rather should have used the money to help pay down the national debt.

Speaking on the environment, Mr. Watkins believes we need to balance environmental programs with economic programs.  He feels the environmental movement and environmental programs have pushed things so far that there is little room for compromise when dealing with economic programs.  This causes increased costs that are then passed along to consumers.  Mr. Watkins feels the environmental movement has done what has been needed, but that we now need more balance with the economic concerns.  On the subject of energy needs, he pointed out that we are an “oil dependent” nation, and will remain so for the future, but that we still need to be looking at alternative energy sources.  He applauds the direction the governor has taken in this area, but would like the nation to start moving more in this direction as well.  He would not like to see places like Yosemite ruined by poor environmental decisions, but that we can put the right standards in place to protect the environment and still acquire the resources we need, while at the same time putting more emphasis on developing alternative fuels.  He pointed out that many organizations, such as the airport authority, are using alternative fuels, and that more needs to be done.  Speaking on the costs of oil, he pointed out that part of the cost is based on the actual cost of drilling and pumping, but part of it is based on speculation in the oil market.  Mr. Watkins would like to see the government step in and make the speculation side more transparent, to prevent another situation like Enron’s manipulation of the market.  Other influences on cost are global demand, which has been increasing, and subsidization by governments such as Venezuela and China – an open and equal market system would help to balance these forces.  Mr. Watkins also feels that an equal market would help to increase the value of other types of fuel sources, making them more cost-effective to use. 

On the topic of the recent fires, Mr. Watkins repeats that there needs to be a sensible balance between the needs of the environment and the needs of the public – for example, clearing brush on government land versus protection of the environment.  The inability of the government to clear brush resulted in an abundance of fuel when fires broke out.

In closing, Mr. Watkins spoke about his passion for serving this country and his desire to help the government to make more decisions.  He pointed out that part of the problem with oil production is that there have been no decisions made on building oil refineries since the 1970s.  Part of the problem is the economic issue, but part also is the government’s subsidising of the oil industry.  Mr. Watkins would like to see the end of subsidies for the oil industry and farming, replaced with tax credits for things like oil exploration and the growing of certain crops.  Let the market manage costs – market demand will manage the economy better than government intervention.  Government, in Mr. Watkins mind, should do three things: provide for national defense and a strong military, provide for the administration of law and order and public safety, and finally it should provide infrastructure for the country in terms of policies that bring federal monies back to the states for the people.  All else the government should stay out of.

After our interview, Mr. Watkins asked that I make certain to mention that he is a strong supporter of a free and open economy and that an open market will go far to providing this.

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WARNING – Car Burglaries

I just saw a news report about a series of smash-and-grab car burglaries that have happened recently in the East County.  So far they have only hit in the Lakeside area, but that isn’t too far away.  The suspect is driving a white extended cab pickup – I wasn’t able to tell what type from the video that was shown on NBC7/39.  The suspect is targeting cars at schools and daycare centers, looking for cars that have valuables left inside.  I will put up a link to the video when the station puts it on their website.

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52nd District Candidate – Michael Benoit

Michael Benoit, Libertarian Candidate for 52nd Congressional District

This is the second in my series of interviews with candidates for the 52nd Congressional District.

On Friday afternoon, May 2, I sat down at the Santee Town Center Starbuck’s with Michael Benoit (pronounced ben-WAH), who is the Libertarian candidate for the 52nd District.  Mr. Benoit is in a slightly different situation than most of the other candidates, in that he is running unopposed in the primary and so will go directly to the general election in November.  He is a Boston native, but moved with his family to Pacific Beach in the 1960s and then to the East County in the early 1970s.  His first career was in the insurance industry for 15 years, then started a home inspection business in 1988 and a flyer delivery service in the mid-90s, both of which he continues to run.  Mr. Benoit said that he decided to run for Congress because since he started following politics closely in the 90s, he has seen politicians who have lost the perception of what made this country great – and that was individual liberty and a limited government.”

Our first topic of discussion was education and the role of the federal government.  Mr. Benoit, who calls himself a “perennial student of the Constitution,” points out that Thomas Jefferson explains that the federal government is a “foreign” government to the states.  This means that the role of the federal government is to deal with foreign countries and issues between the states.  It had virtually no power to deal with domestic issues, such as education.  Therefore, it has no business getting involved in education, and in fact makes things worse, explaining, “The further away the control of a child’s education gets from the parent and the teacher, the worse it gets.”  He believes government should have no role or influence in education, and that decisions need to be made at the local level.

On healthcare, Mr. Benoit feels that this is another area where the federal government has no business getting involved.  The Constitution made no provision for the federal government to take a role in healthcare.  He argues that senior citizens pay more out of pocket for their healthcare now than they did before the advent of Medicare.  Mr. Benoit explained that at one point (in the 1960s or before) the government had restricted the number of students who could go to medical school on the argument by the doctors’ lobby that it would increase the quality of doctors.  The actual result, he said, was less competition and higher rates that doctors could charge.  He sees the government’s increase in regulations as a stepping stone toward national healthcare, which he opposes.

Mr. Benoit’s thoughts about government involvement in the mortgage situation echoed his opinions on its invovlement in other areas of life.  He first quoted past Libertarian Presidential Candidate Harry Brown, who said “the government cripples you, hands you a crutch, and then says, ‘see, you wouldn’t be able to walk if it wasn’t for us.'”  Mr. Benoit talked about how the Congress had abdicated it’s duty to manages the money supply by creating the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913.  He then explained the role of the Federal Reserve in creating the Roaring 20s and the Depression by inflating and then deflating the money supply, and how the situation has repeated itself in the buildup of the 90s and early 00s and the current decline.  Low interest rates and easy money created the booms of the 20s and 90s, but it also allowed un-creditworthy individuals to get into homes.  This caused a bubble in the real estate market that is now settling.  The answer has been to create more easy money to bail out banks and individuals, at the expense of the responsible buyers.  His solution is a sound monetary policy that does not allow a central bank to inflate and deflate the money supply.

On the subject of Social Security, Mr. Benoit sees it as another example of government overstepping its Constitutional role while making promises it didn’t keep.  “People gave up the liberty of their paychecks” in ecxhange for government’s promise of security and a guarantee that the money would be held in a trust fund.  Mr. Benoit said that this trust fund actually does not exist and never has – that the money has simply been spent right away, along with other taxes.  However, he does believe that the government has made a commitment to those who are currently on Social Security, and that it must make good on that commitment.  On the other hand, he does not believe that future generations should be forced to remain in the program.  He says the government is considering possibly raising Social Security taxes, lowering benefits, and printing more money to deal with the situation.

When asked for this thoughts on protecting/using the environment, Mr. Benoit stated that “government is the worst steward of the environment.”  As with education, he believes that the closer the government is to the people, the better it will handle its obligations – including protecting the environment.  He is in favor of turning National Parks into State Parks, and having a wider degree of private property ownership – which he argues would give people more recourse against polluters if the people owned the land.  Mr. Benoit feels this would help bring us back to a more responsible attitude toward the environment.

On the topic of preparing for future fires, such as in 2003 and 2007, Mr. Benoit believes that if it is federal land bordering communities, then the federal government should take care of any fire protection on it.  As far as the lack of coordination among organizations, he thinks part of the problem is that government has handicapped people and they are afraid of getting in trouble for acting without authorization.  He also feels that more homes could have been saved if more people had been allowed to stay at their home instead of being forced to evacuate.

Talking of immigration, Mr. Benoit said that if the federal government just paid attention to what it is supposed to, it would do a better job of it.  He talked about how the country used to allow a much larger flow of immigrants, and that this flow helped give power to the American economy.  Immigration started becoming more of a problem “when we became more of a socialist state.  A welfare state.”  This holds for both legal and illegal immigration.  In fact Mr. Benoit feels that there would be less concern about illegal immigration “if it wasn’t for the huge cost to our society in free education, free healthcare, and free ‘anchor baby’ status.”  The ending of the “bracero” program, which provided temporary Mexican labor for agriculture during harvest time, increased illegal immigration by ending a source of temporary legal immigrants.  Another factor is the increase in border control – it has become more difficult for illegal immigrants to go home because of the danger and expense of returning to the U.S.  So instead, they stay here and send for their family members, thus enriching the “coyotes” who smuggle people across the border.  Mr. Benoit feels the only way to deal with the illegal immigration problem is to deny all social benefits – such as health care and education – and make it easier for them to go home.  Then give them a 6-month work visa after they have been home for at least 3 months.  If there is a flow of legal labor, then employers will be self-regulating and less eager to hire illegal workers, and these people will then go home if they have no work.  Mr. Benoit also believes the employers and immigrants should not be punished, rather the politicians who have created the situation.

On my last topic, transportation, Mr. Benoit said it was a “twisted interpretation of the Commerce Clause” that allows the federal government to be involved in building highways – only “post roads” were authorized by the Constitution, and those only for communication purposes.  He said the Commerce Clause simply authorizes the federal government to make sure that nothing interferes with interstate commerce, not to regulate all aspects of it.  Mr. Benoit also believes that most of the state highways would be completed by now if the state government had not been raiding transportation funds for general expenses.  Federal protections of endangered and threatened species has also been a hindrance to completing projects.

Mr. Benoit has great concerns about the direction the federal government is going in a number of areas.  He feels that the “astronomical” debt will lead to either default or the printing of more money – which will devalue the money more.  Another area of concern is personal rights and responsibility.  “Every time government takes away a right or a liberty,” he said, “they take away individual responsiblity with it.”  The role of the federal government should be as guardian of our individual liberties.  The Constitution and Bill of Rights outline the duties of the federal government and prohibitions on its actions as well.  Mr. Benoit feels that many politicians take an oath to protect the Consititution, but either don’t truly understand the Constitution “or they don’t care.”  He gave an example the change from a gold and silver coin system, as mandated by the Constitution, to a federal reserve note system, which has lead to inflation and devaluation.

Mr. Benoit closed our talk by returning to the Declaration of Independence  and the Constition.  The Declaration of Independence states that people are endowed with “inalienable” rights, governments are instituted to secure these rights, and people have the right to change the government when it ceases to do that.  He quoted Benjamin Franklin’s statement that “if you give up liberty for security, you’ll end up with neither.”  Government “disables” us in some way, prevents us from doing something for ourselves, then argues that it must take away some liberty in order to protect us.  And by doing this, the government prevents people from taking personal responsibility.

I hope to have the complete podcast of this interview up soon.

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52nd District Candidate – Rick Powell

Rick Powell, Republican Candidate for 52nd Congressional District

Welcome to the first in my series of posts about the candidates for the 52nd Congressional District.

On Friday, May 2, I sat down with Rick Powell, Republican Candidate for Congress, at the Starbucks in El Cajon (Main and Magnolia).  Mr. Powell is a retired federal agent and a retired U.S. Army colonel, having worked in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and U.S. Customs Service, and served in the Special Forces (Green Berets) during Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Noble Eagle.  Today he occasionally builds homes and enjoys his retirement.

Mr. Powell decided to join the race for Congress for several reasons.  His main reason was his frustration with Congress, which he feels is out of touch with the people – or purposely ignores their will – and with what he sees as a move away from the ideals of individual rights and states rights and toward more socialistic ideals.  He is especially concerned with the national debt and its effect on the people through taxes.  Mr. Powell told me, “When I decided to run, it was out of the sole desire to do my duty; to do what is right as a…Congressman.”

I tossed several topics at Mr. Powell for his thoughts.  On the subject of fire protection, something very important to those of us in the East County, he had some actual experience as a 5th Army liason between FEMA and the military in Southern California.  What he sees is a need for more streamlining and prior planning for these disasters, which includes better coordination among various groups involved.  This would also include dealing with a variety of egos, which requires real leadership to overcome.

On the subject of the environment, Mr. Powell feels we can both protect the environment and manage resources.  He suggests that the federal government gets too involved, and that more of the decision-making process should be at the state and local levels.  “Who better,” he stated, “to judge their environment than the ones who live there?”  Mr. Powell believes that the needs of national security have to be considered as well, and that the need for alternate energy sources must be addressed.

We spoke briefly on the issue of transportation, for example the completion of SR-52, and what the federal government’s role would be.  He pointed out that infrastructure is one area that is specificaly a role of the federal government, and that if the federal government cuts the deficit and expenditures it can then spend more on what it needs to and relieve states of some of the burden they have now.  That in turn would allow the states to spend more on their own needs.

Our next topic was immigration, both legal and illegal.  Mr. Powell said he believes in immigration and its importance to the U.S., but that there needs to be a distinction made between those who come to be a part of America and contribute, and those who come “with their hands out.”  He feels that there are many people who have come to this country, but have no allegiance to it.  They can keep their heritage, but they need to have their allegiance for the U.S. alone.

On medical care, Mr. Powell feels the government has been moving toward more of a socialist agenda.  There has been a move away from individuals controlling their medical care to HMOs, and now there is a move toward national healthcare.  He advocates tax deductions for medical care expenses, including for invalid parents, and tax breaks for health savings accounts.  Mr. Powell also believes that there should be incentives for people to have insurance, as it would help cut down on overall costs associated with uninsured patients.  He suggested a return to a system of “county hospitals” that would serve the poor, with money budgeted for their needs.

Social Security is another area where the major changes will be needed.  Mr. Powell pointed out that Social Security was never meant to be a sole source for retirement, and that we have failed to educate people that they need to prepare for their own retirement.  He recommends more education in high school to help young people understand the importance of preparing for retirement, and more incentives for people to save.

On the mortgage situation, Mr. Powell feels putting more money into FHA and FannieMae is a good idea, but feels some pressure needs to be put on banks to provide more money for refinancing loans.  Banks have received this money at low rates, but has raised standards for lending, which makes it more difficult for people to refinance.  He does feel that the government is right to not buy people out, instead making money available to banks to use for refinancing problem loans.

The last topic I asked about was education.  Mr. Powell believes that funding of education is critical, since the country’s future relies on an educated population.  All children, particularly in K-12, should have the best possible resources for learning.  On the other hand, he feels that absolute equality in all areas is not possible “without mediocrity.”  He does feel we need more focus on the sciences in order to meet our future needs.  On oversight of education, Mr. Powell does believe we need to have high standards, but that there has been too much focus on meeting particular standards to the exclusion of overall education.  He feels that the states are better judges of standards, but also understands that there needs to be some national minimums.

After my questions, Mr. Powell wanted to discuss the situation in Iraq and what he believes we need to do.  He is opposed to simply pulling out, feeling that the cost in lives would be too great if we did that.  He said he can’t speak to the original reasons and information that Congress and the President used to decide to authorize the invasion, but he does feel there needs to be an end date.  Part of the problem with getting the situation under control is the amount of repair that needs to be done on infrastructure.  During the original invasion, the U.S. engaged in target bombing to destroy infrastructure that would “aid the enemy,” but once there found that much of the infrastructure had been ignored and allowed to collapse.  Because of this, the U.S. has had to spend more money than expected to get infrastructure back.  He would like to see “exponential growth” in the Iraqi government’s ability to run things, and to see more effort by the Shia to reach out to the Sunni and Kurds.

Finally, Mr. Powell spoke about the impression the U.S. has made on some in the Middle East that we are an imperial power bent on taking over.  He would like to see a greater emphasis on telling the world that our objectives are to stabalize Iraq, in this case, and then to leave when the government asked us to.  He thinks that being clear on our objectives will help to undercut some of the hostility, and that we did a somewhat better job in Afghanistan.

That does it for my first interview.  If you would like to hear the complete interview, it will be posted in two parts (you will hear that we were interrupted by another interviewer partway through).  I will put up a link once it is ready.

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CYT Presents “Narnia” in Ramona

CYT – Christian Youth Theater – will be presenting “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” at the Ramona Mainstage Theater the two weekends after Memorial Day.  I’m aware that Ramona is not Santee, but I wanted to put up a quick blurb about the production because there will be three young Santee residents in major supporting roles.  Stephen Moore will be playing the faun Tumnus, and Josh Moore and Shannon Prendergast will be sharing the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.  For more information, check out CYTs’ Narnia.

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GECCA

On Thursday evening GECCA (Greater East County Chambers of Commerce Association) held its May Day Spring Fling Networking Trade Show at the Alpine Community Center.  Several Santee businesses particpated, along with the Santee Chamber of Commerce.  One of the highlights was Rob McNelis’s side business “Bouncing Bodies” – a green screen setup that puts a person’s head on a dancing body.  I really don’t have much more to say, so I’ll just leave you with some pictures from the evening.


 

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