Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mole Speaks

Mod: There is this great blog from down in the Lo-Cal region of our state called Encinitas Guerilla (link). They can be funny, and sometimes even profound. Yes, it happens. The Guerilla recently posted the following insightful piece. Originally this was about Encinitas, but I changed four words to give it a bit more of a local flavor. The fit is not perfect, but still good.

Mole Speaks“I’ve been a mole hidden in Sierra Madre city government for many years. On the rare occasions I’ve spoken out, I’ve done so anonymously as a public service.

“As many activists have emphasized, to understand the City Council’s behavior you must follow the money — look at the city’s revenue sources. They explain what the council supports and what it doesn’t.

Property and utility taxes are the city’s two main revenue sources. Therefore, the council favors whatever maintains or, better yet, increases those revenues. Commercial and residential development boosts revenue from both sources, so there are few instances where the council doesn't favor either type of development.

“No council member wants to get on the wrong side of city employees, whether they’re directly employed or retained by contractors. Crossed employees ostracize any council member who treads on them, rendering the member ineffective and virtually assuring defeat at the polls.

Council members and candidates give the appearance of supporting the best interests of the residents, but in practice they support the city’s revenue sources. Revenue is largely consumed by employee salaries, benefits and pensions. Compared with the private sector, the city is overly generous with its employee compensation.

“Of course, city employees pursue their self-interest, not the residents’ interests. That’s especially maddening when city employees use the residents’ tax money against them. The employees have the residents and council enablers over a barrel.

Council members can’t master the many complex issues, so they depend on the employees for information, analysis and guidance. That tilts the playing field toward the employees’ agenda. Whether or not employees who abuse that advantage last long in their jobs depends on the council members’ and the city manager’s inclinations.

“No City Council wants to preside over bankruptcy or even a decline in revenue and surplus, so the solvency ball keeps rolling. The council has to walk a fine line between keeping city employees happy and not arousing too much resident anger.”

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Sierra Madre City Clerk Coup: So Why Was It Done?

View last night's City Council meeting here.

Probably the saddest City Council meeting since the glory days of Nancy Walsh. Embarrassing at times, mean-spirited at one point, and just flat out wrong. On so many different levels.

That the City Council can blithely spend $16,000 on a so-called non-partisan survey postcard that labels preserving the current Library a potential tax risk while, and with no proven evidence whatsoever, also proclaims that moving the Library into the YAC will be completely tax neutral, is bad enough.

As an aside, you do know how Sierra Madre's many low information survey card recipients are going to take all of that, right? They are going to believe that moving the Library will protect them from a tax hike. Which I suspect might have been the intention of this postcard all along.

But to then gratuitously, and very publicly, humiliate an elected City Clerk over a few hundred bucks a month? Despite the immense work load she carries? And after a years long tradition of rewarding the Sierra Madre City Clerk for the many extracurricular efforts demanded of her? Which was Melinda Carillo's understanding when she took that job?

Ok, so maybe that isn't bad enough for you.

Then try looking at it this way. For perhaps the first time in Sierra Madre history a city election will be run not by an official duly elected by the people, but by a salaried city employee. Do you even comprehend what that means? Or understand who it is that actually supervises the vote count?

Assistant City Manager Laura Aguilar made nearly $90,000 last year (link). Benefits included. She is a very nice person, and certainly is entitled to the money she gets. But why should someone as generously compensated as Laura be given the now confiscated responsibilities of an elected official to save the city what in comparison is peanuts?

All to save less than half the cost of a postcard whose actual purpose is to help create a popular consensus to sell off some valuable city real estate to developers.

I'm sorry. But this was about as ugly a meeting as I have seen in quite some time. And I'm not even sure why they did it. At least not yet.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Three Big Items On Tonight's Sierra Madre City Council Meeting Agenda

This isn't everything on the hit parade, but in my opinion these are the ones that count the most. Hopefully the City Council will actually take their time this evening and give these items the some of the attention they deserve. Their tendency for very brief discussions followed by automatic unanimous votes is giving these meetings a rubber stamp kind of ambience as of late. Whatever is the rush?

Number 1: The Library Survey Postcard.

The card as written now leaves the dubious impression that if the Library remains where it is, and the necessary repairs are made to bring it up to standards acceptable to various governmental agencies big and small, there is the distinct possibility increased property taxes will need to be instituted. On the other hand, should the Library property be sold and all of the Library's stuff be moved across town into a reconfigured and enlarged facility over by the community pool, no new taxes will ever be needed.

Which to me makes this survey card more of a push poll than a non-partisan survey of community sentiment. As was asked here on this blog November 22 (link): How do we know that no additional tax money will be needed to make the Library Board of Trustee's champaign dreams come true? Will the money raised by the sale of the current Library property really match what it is going to take to make it all happen at the Youth Activity Center?

The answer is no, we don't. No studies have been completed yet. As it stands now the wording of this card is at best an assumption, and at worst an attempt to convince people to do something that might not be in their best interests. It needs to be rewritten.

Number 2: City Hall just spent $16,000 on a postcard. So why are they trying to beat the City Clerk out of a measly few hundred dollars a month?

This mutt has been wandering around town for a couple of years. The City Clerk position is a difficult job that involves hours of mind numbing work doing things like transcribing the frothy bromides of the City Council into meeting minutes so that their words can be treasured for all times. So why are they contemplating the following?

This is rather insulting if you think about it. Is someone actually trying to make it difficult to find people who are willing to do this thankless job? Make this work a more expensive City Staff function? Remember, the City Clerk is an elective position. As such those who hold that job are beholden to the people, and not just whoever happens to be pulling the strings at City Hall at the time.

I'm sorry, but this smells awfully bad. The people behind it need to look ashamed.

Number 3: The ballot initiative to do away with Utility Taxes altogether.

I wrote a fine article about this one called "The Ballot Measure Repealing Sierra Madre's Utility User Tax Emerges from Limbo" (link), and posted it here last Friday. So I don't see the point in rewriting all of that again. But here is my favorite part of it:

The problem as I see it is taking away Sierra Madre's UUT in its entirety probably would put the Foothill Village into receivership. So heavy is Sierra Madre's debt load due to its tragically conceived CalPERS and water bond debacles (even with refinancing), the place would likely go belly up should all utility taxes be taken away.

The town could even end up in the hands of vampiric Los Angeles County, and good luck preserving anything then. To use John Capoccia's argument. Proving once again that even a broken clock is right a couple of times a day.

High utility taxes in Sierra Madre are a consequence of past bad financial management, and you the taxpayer are now being forced to clean up the city's mess. Unfortunately, the consequences of not doing so would likely be worse. Not a very pretty situation by anybody's accounting.

As it stands right now I couldn't get behind TeaPAC's "No UUT" ballot measure. It is disruptive and destructive, and obviously we are seeing enough of that sort of thing in our country lately. This is Trumpism, and it must be stopped wherever possible.

This ballot measure was originally supposed to run in April of 2016, but was pushed back two years by the City Council. I am sure they would have bumped it even farther into the future if the law allowed for it. As such it is something of an artifact from another time.

Several of these attempts to do away with utility taxes ran in other cities, and all were shellacked at the polls. It doesn't stand a chance here, either.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Mighty Milestone: The Tattler Cracks 100,000 Hit Mark

A few months back certain soured souls, disappointed in the direction this blog was taking at that time (and still is, actually), floated the idea that The Tattler was in some sort of a readership death spiral, had tragically lost its way, and that many of those who had loyally gleaned their local news here over the years were fleeing for other venues.

Which is kind of a ridiculous claim if you think about it. If you want local news there is no other venue. The Sierra Madre Weekly is gone, the Mountain Views News succumbed to dementia long ago, the Pasadena Star News now has a staff of impoverished reporters only nominally larger than what we have here, and one time local blog mainstay Bill Coburn has sadly devolved into a Facebook chatterbox.

In other words, The Tattler wins by default.

So yes, they were wrong. They almost always are. Because now, for the first time ever in its storied nine year existence, The Tattler has actually received more than 100,000 hits in one single month. A lot for a small city blog that covers the sorts of stuff we do.

Of course, I would like to be able to tell you that this is because of a sudden mad surge of interest in all things involving Sierra Madre, but I cannot make that claim. Mostly because it wouldn't be true.

Instead, it is those articles on the miserable state of our badly compromised national government that is packing them in. Actually, it was one in particular that just sort of took off all on its own. Went "viral" as they say in the Internet game. Here is how that moment went with those reader numbers.

I had no idea I could do something like that. Apparently somebody reposted a Tattler article on a Facebook page of some political note, others shared it with similar like-minded venues, and it just sort of took off from there. It even caught on overseas, with considerable interest coming from both Russia and France. Of all places. Vive la liberté de l'internet!

It was an interesting couple of days here at Tattler World HQ. Now if I could do this on a regular basis I might actually be on to something. I'd even be able to finally raise my advertising rates. Which, as you know, are already so high I have yet to find a single taker.

Some folks do remain unhappy with me over the national coverage. But look at it this way, it does bring in a lot more people than the local stuff does. About three times as much in most cases. More in this case.

However, the good news is that, as far as I can tell at least, a decent amount of them are now coming back for stories on things like Sierra Madre's Library, or some of the community preservation issues that get covered here. Which is a good thing I believe. Hopefully you feel the same.

And if you don't? Well, you know what they say. There is no greater waste of time than worrying about what people think.

Did Sierra Madre's City Manager Get Himself Into Trouble?

I hope it's not true. We like Gabe. He is communicative, transparent in the good sense, and is open to considering all sorts of our nonsense. But you know what is really remarkable about the guy? He has a genuine sense of humor. The guy is flat out funny when he wants to be.

When is the last time someone working at City Hall had one of those? Like, never? It has always been such a mirthless place. You'd think humor would be a requirement there. You know, at least as a kind of survival strategy.

So it is with some trepidation that I read the following grimness in one of the agendas for tomorrow evening's City Council fun fest (link).

Now, and as you must be aware, those closed session things are very hush hush. It is where the City Attorney does her work, and you know how Barstow gets. But there is a clue as to what might be going down there, and it is contained within that "Government Code Section" number. Apparently "54957" can be an unhappy one.

I Googled this up and discovered the following (link). Click on the result to enlarge.

All of that could be interpreted in many different ways, of course. And while I have some theories, they're not so good that I would want to put them into writing here. You also know that we'll probably never find out what this is all about.

But it certainly doesn't appear to be a good thing.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Insider: Look for Robert Mueller to pull off surprise arrests of two Donald Trump family members

Mod: More exciting times are on the way.

Insider: look for Robert Mueller to pull off surprise arrests of two Donald Trump family members (Palmer Report link):

Special Counsel Robert Mueller now has the cooperation of Michael Flynn, whose attorneys last night took definitive steps which reveal that Flynn is negotiating a plea deal.

So what comes next? Flynn will have to give up everything he knows on everyone in order to get his deal to stick. One legal insider, who has worked with and against Mueller in the past, is offering some startling insight into what’s about to happen. Last night Norm Eisen, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, posted this tweet just as the Michael Flynn news was breaking.

“I negotiated a cooperation deal for a target with Mueller’s office when he was US Atty and lemme tell ya, he’s not gonna give one to Flynn unless he implicates someone up the ladder. That means Kushner, Don Jr., or Big Daddy. They are all having indigestion tonight.” This morning he added more insight, based on when he was later working with Mueller.

Eisen added “One more thing I learned about Mueller. When I was at State & he was at FBI we worked together on an investigation, & he loves surprises. Kushner, Donnie Jr. and the rest of the Trump crime family better keep their overnight bags handy. Pack shoes with no laces guys.”

In other words, the minute Robert Mueller gets the evidence and testimony he needs from Michael Flynn, he’s likely to make a point of pulling off surprise high-profile arrests in order to push things into motion.

It’s worth pointing out that when Robert Mueller concluded over the summer that he needed to quickly arrest Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, he didn’t even wait for an indictment or warrant. He simply had his people catch Papadopoulos by surprise at the airport, arresting him based on probable cause. Then he sorted out the legal details in court.

So it’s entirely feasible that Mueller could arrest the likes of Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. without waiting for a grand jury first.

Mod: Just in case you're wondering where Trump is getting his information ...

Trump recommends reading this insane website - MagaPill gets the POTUS seal of approval (Think Progress link): In a Saturday night tweet, Trump attacked CNN, saying the network’s international division “represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly.” A few minutes later, Trump tweeted an alternative:

The name MagaPill is a riff on “red pill,” a term popular with white nationalists and others on the far right. A metaphor based on a plot line from The Matrix, it refers to the process of normalizing extreme views. MagaPill is also active on Gab, a social network favored by white nationalist and banned from the Google app store violating its hate speech policy.

But while Trump presents MagaPill as the antidote to “fake news,” the site regularly traffics in unhinged conspiracy theories. Just a few hours before being endorsed by Trump, MagaPill posted a video from Liz Cronkin, a fringe figure best known for pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy. In the video, Cronkin claims there is a sex tape of Hillary Clinton with an underage girl on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Another recent MagaPill post features an “interesting flow chart” which combines nearly every conspiracy theory imaginable: “false flag terrorism,” “organ harvesting,” “child/human sacrifice,” “weaponize forced vaccination,” “earthquake machines.”

Another post refers to Lady Gaga as a “spirit cooker,” a conspiracy theory associated with Pizzagate that alleges Gaga participates in satanic rituals.

The MagaPill account also has embraced conspiracy theories related to the October mass shooting in Las Vegas, posting links to InfoWars and suggesting there is a cover up.

Shortly after Trump tweeted a link to the MagaPill website, it went offline. On Twitter, the MagaPill site immediately alleged there was a conspiracy to suppress information about Trump’s accomplishments.

During the presidential campaign and as president, Trump has repeatedly retweeted accounts linked to white nationalism and conspiracy theories.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Rubber Room Republican: Is Congress Making a Move to Force Donald Trump to Take a Mental Health Exam?

 He has moods.
Mod: OK, so let's say they discover that Trump really is out of his mind. Then what happens? No President has ever been removed from office through the 25th Amendment. Do we know exactly how Trump would be taken away? Have any officially designated and professional procedures been established for so momentous an event yet? Would the House and Senate send an ambulance to the White House and have specially trained mental health experts forcibly dose the old nut, and then quickly drag him out the back in a straitjacket? With a grieving Trump family in tow? Certainly that is going to make for interesting cable news commentary. Perhaps school children could be given the day off so they could stay home and watch as history is being made?

Congress Makes Move to Force Donald Trump to Take Mental Health Exam (Blue Dot link): As if all of America doesn’t already know what the problem with Donald Trump is, – i.e. pathological narcissism – members of congress are now trying their hand at legislation that would force him to undergo a mental health examination.

Trump’s mental health is back in the news after his back and forth with Senator Bob Corker (R. Tn) has many wondering if Corker is building a case to invoke the 25th Amendment in order to impeach Trump due to unfitness for office:

The legislation states:

“Quickly secure the services of medical and psychiatric professionals to examine the president to assist in their deliberations under the 25th Amendment to determine whether the president suffers from a mental disorder or other injury that impairs his abilities and prevents him from discharging his Constitutional duties.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s office released in a statement:

“Does the President suffer from early stage dementia? Has the stress of office aggravated a mental illness crippling impulse control? Has emotional disorder so impaired the President that he is unable to discharge his duties? Is the President mentally and emotionally stable?”

Several in Congress are also in the process setting up an expert panel to review and advise on Trump’s mental capacity, which is unheard of for any president.

Per Scientific American:

“On Friday, Lee and four other psychiatrists sent a letter to all members of the U.S. Senate and House arguing that Trump exhibits “severe emotional impediments that … present a grave threat to international security,” and asked Congress to “take immediate steps to establish a commission to determine his fitness for office.”

The other signers argue that Trump’s “alarming patterns of impulsive, reckless, and narcissistic behavior — regardless of diagnosis … put the world at risk,” posing an “imminent danger” that psychiatrists are ethically obligated to warn about.”

It’s not a stretch for an American President, especially one who is 70 years old, to undergo an exam by mental health professionals. In fact, with Trump, it’s long overdue.

Mod: A 71 year old narcissist. An emotionally at odds man with his finger on the nuclear trigger. What could possibly go wrong?

Trump: I turned down Time's 'Person of the Year' ( link): President Trump said Friday that he turned down being named Time's "Person of the Year" after the magazine only told him he "probably" would be selected.

The magazine did not respond to The Hill's request for comment, but it did tweet a short statement saying it "does not comment on our choice until publication."

Trump was previously named Time's 2016 "Person of the Year" last December.

"It's a great honor. It means a lot," Trump said at the time. "To be on the cover of Time magazine as the person of the year is a tremendous honor."

In last year's edition, Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs explained that regardless of how they feel about Trump, everyone had an opinion on the then-president-elect.

"For those who believe this is all for the better, Trump's victory represents a long-overdue rebuke to an entrenched and arrogant governing class," she said.

"For those who see it for the worse, the destruction extends to cherished norms of civility and discourse, a politics poisoned by vile streams of racism, sexism, nativism." Trump has kept close tabs on the magazine's coverage of him in the past. "I think I was on the cover of Time magazine twice in my life and like six times in the last number of months," he said in July 2016.

"So you tell me which is more important, real estate or politics, OK? I have six for politics and I have two for real estate or whatever they put me on for."

Mod: Well, alrighty then.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Ballot Measure Repealing Sierra Madre's Utility User Tax Emerges from Limbo

Now here's a little excitement for the kids. Well, actually there could be a lot of reasons for excitement at next Tuesday's action packed City Council meeting. The above came from a Staff Report in part curated for this particular topic. The link is here. There is some interesting reading to be found if you like. Or not, it's up to you.

A little back story for those catching up with today's subject. About two short years ago Brother Earl Richey and the merry men and merry women of the California Tax Limitation Committee (AKA TeaPAC) got enough signatures together to put a total repeal of all utility taxes in Sierra Madre on the ballot. Some were not overjoyed by this event.

As an example, there was a not completely accurate Pasadena Star News article that emerged on the topic in March of 2016. It was titled "Who is behind an initiative to repeal utility taxes throughout the San Gabriel Valley?" Here is a portion (link).

This ballot initiative to entirely do away with utility taxes in Sierra Madre was designed to go before the voters in April of 2016, not 2018. The then City Council happily realized they had the option of deciding exactly when this would go on the ballot, and pushed it back as far as they legally could. Which is why it is now a part of Sierra Madre's next city election tilt in 2018.

Similar utility tax repeal efforts have already been voted on in other cities (Arcadia and South Pasadena come to mind), and were summarily crushed at the polls. The results weren't even close. Politically this has been a disaster for TeaPAC, and I am wondering how they're going to handle Sierra Madre's orphaned version next April.

The problem as I see it is taking away Sierra Madre's UUT in its entirety probably would put the Foothill Village into receivership. So heavy is Sierra Madre's debt load due to its tragically conceived CalPERS and water bond debacles (even with refinancing), the place would likely go belly up should all utility taxes be taken away.

The town could even end up in the hands of vampiric Los Angeles County, and good luck preserving anything then. To use John Capoccia's argument. Proving once again that even a broken clock is right a couple of times a day.

High utility taxes in Sierra Madre are a consequence of past bad financial management, and you the taxpayer are now being forced to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, the consequences of not doing so would likely be worse. Not a very pretty situation by any accounting.

As it stands right now I couldn't get behind TeaPAC's "No UUT" ballot measure. It is disruptive and destructive, and obviously we are seeing enough of that sort of thing in our country lately. This is Trumpism, and it must be stopped wherever possible.

However, there is a caveat to all of this joy. In the April of 2016 election there were several rather dishonest arguments put forward by some of this city's finest citizens in defense of Measure UUT. Egged on by an ambitious and extraordinarily cynical Republican Pasadena political consultant, this effort to raise utility taxes to their current lofty levels was sold as necessary to do things like (believe it or not), hang on to Sierra Madre's Library.

An irony today since many of those exact same people are now telling folks that the property the Library currently sits upon must be sold in order to save it. I don't recall any of those numerous Yes On UUT postcards saying the Library must be torn down to preserve it. Do you?

Besides, just how many times must this damsel in distress be rescued before she actually is saved?

So here is my take. If the leading lights of this city would just admit that 2016's Measure UUT wasn't about saving Baby Rhyme Time, or the Huck Finn Fishing Derby, or even the Wistaria Vine, but was actually about all of that CalPERS and bond debt they feared having to own up to, then I'm good.

And hopefully you will be as well. Otherwise, there is the option of a protest vote.

Time to come clean, City Council.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

New Historical Evidence Suggests Most Pilgrims Sailed Back Home To Celebrate First Thanksgiving

New Historical Evidence Suggests Most Pilgrims Sailed Back Home To Celebrate First Thanksgiving (The Onion link): BOSTONIn what seems to suggest acute homesickness among the colonists, historians at Boston University said on Wednesday that newly uncovered documents indicate that most pilgrims sailed back to Europe in the fall of 1623 to celebrate the first Thanksgiving at home. 

“What we see from personal diaries and ships’ logs is that the majority of these settlers, rather than stay put and observe the holiday in Plymouth, decided to brave the three-month journey back across the Atlantic to be with family and friends,” said professor Willa Sinclair, adding that the few pilgrims who remained in the New World either couldn’t afford the trip or refused to go if their father was bringing his new girlfriend. 

“They were willing to endure the crowded, often horribly delayed ships for a taste of their mother’s home cooking complete with all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings.” Sinclair went on to say that from the second Thanksgiving onwards, however, many Pilgrims decided to just go out for dinner and be done with it.

Mod: I'm glad we finally got that one straightened out. Here's another mystery.

Where do turkeys come from? Central America ( link): Turkeys evolved from earlier birds. The ancestors of the turkey evolved about 100 million years ago, from the dinosaurs that were alive at that time.

By about 11 million years ago, turkeys had evolved to be different from pheasants. Turkeys are related to chickens, but wild chickens lived mainly in East Asia, while wild turkeys lived in North America and Central America. Like chickens, turkeys are mainly running birds that can only fly a little bit. Turkeys started out small, like pheasants, but at some point they migrated south to Central America, where there were no animals that hunted turkeys. It was so safe and peaceful that turkeys could grow bigger and bigger.

Around 800 BC, Olmec farmers in what is now southern Mexico domesticated turkeys, which they called “huexolotl”. Soon Olmec people were eating a lot of turkey meat and turkey eggs. Olmec people also used turkey feathers to make beautiful feather capes and feather necklaces. Soon the Olmecs’ neighbors, like the Maya, also began to breed turkeys and eat them.

Then maybe around 200 BC, Pueblo farmers in what is now Arizona and New Mexico independently domesticated a slightly different kind of turkey. Again, the Pueblo people used turkeys mainly to make capes and blankets from their feathers. They also used turkey bones as musical instruments and tools. Further east, the Mississippians also ate turkeys, but they hunted wild turkeys with bows and arrows instead of raising turkeys on farms. (Some archaeologists think they might have raised turkeys too.)

By 1100 AD, the Pueblo people began to also use turkeys as an important source of meat and eggs, like their Aztec neighbors to the south in Mexico.

Around 1500 AD, the first Spanish invaders came to the Aztec empire in Mexico and found turkeys there. They brought some turkeys back to Spain, and from Spain some turkeys came to other parts of Europe, where people thought of turkeys as an expensive luxury food for rich people. That’s why we eat turkeys on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas (even though turkeys aren’t really expensive anymore).

When English invaders first came to eastern North America in the 1500s AD and saw turkeys, they thought turkeys were the same as a related bird that did come from the country Turkey, so they called these birds turkeys. Even when the English settlers finally realized that American turkeys were a different type of bird, the name stuck.

Mod: Have a great Thanksgiving, no matter what the origins of your dinner.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Library Survey Post Card Now Exists, And Here It Is!

Would you believe I have a problem with it? Or at least I do with this version which, perhaps, may change. It is up for discussion at next Tuesday's City Council meeting and you just never know. Maybe the toothless old lion will actually disagree with something that is placed before it, and meow for a change or two. Lottery odds I know, but you have to be in it to win it. Or at least that is what they say. You can link to the associated Staff Report in its original lair by clicking here. You may be able to find additional information there.

In its current proposed form, here are what the more interesting portions of this card look like. If you click on each of these two images they will enlarge.  For reading ease I made this as large as I could here without running into the "Top 10" images on the right. A brief discussion will follow.

Here is a note from the City Manager that will accompany the above.

The one rather glaring flaw that I see here is with Question 1A, which reads:

How do we know that no additional tax money will be needed to make the Library Board of Trustee's dreams come true? Will the money raised by the sale of the current Library property match what it is going to take to make it all happen at the Youth Activity Center? The only City Hall guidance I have been able to find so far is found in a July 11th Staff Report, which you can link to here.

So it would appear that the "no tax" vibe found in that question I am concerned about is based on an "initial estimate of $3 million." But we won't know anything for certain until the Friends of the Library funded study comes back. Which it hasn't yet. 

That should make for another document that will be an interesting read. Funny how the associated parties that want to sell off the Library property the most are also the ones gathering all of the important information. Maybe that is why they're paying for it? 

With purchase comes privilege.

So anyway, aren't the financial assurances of Question 1A a little premature? You would hope they'd be based on something a little more substantial than just an "initial estimate." 

Perhaps you disagree. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Can the Library Board of Trustees Really Be This Cynical?

Mod: There is a rather misguided article in the Pasadena Star News today that claims to know what the questions being asked on the NRC Library Survey postcard are going to be. Titled "What that survey Sierra Madre residents are about to receive is all about" (link), the PSN could be correct since practically the only person they bothered to interview for this rather lazy piece happens to be one of the rather partisan people given the privilege of writing them. Here is a portion of that article for your review.

Rich Procter and the Library Board of Trustees have previously come out in full-throated support of moving the Library and selling the property to an as yet unidentified developer, so topics as unfounded as the tax threats identified in this PSN article should be no surprise to anyone over the age of eleven.

This has been a point of contention for a while now, of course. Tasking persons as partisan on the Library question as Rich Procter with writing non-partisan survey questions is a rather like hiring coyotes to guard kittens. But claiming that by moving the Library the city and its residents will be avoiding a tax hike?

We're in novel territory here

So have new depths in the cynicism of the pro-development community in Sierra Madre now been reached? This is pretty shameless, even for them. That one of the people in charge of writing what is supposed to be a nonpartisan resident survey is out politicking like this, and claiming that his special agenda will somehow prevent a tax increase, is a bit beyond the pale.

Where has it ever been conclusively shown that spending $1.3 million to repair the current Library will involve a parcel tax or tax increase? Or conversely, that moving the Library to the YAC, which is rumored will cost anywhere between $3 and $4.5 million when all of the associated construction is done, will not? Especially since the sale of the property the current Library sits on will only raise somewhere in the $2 million dollar range?

There has been no city document or study issued yet showing that repairing the Library will involve a tax hike. Or that by moving the Library into the YAC the city will avoid one. So why will that allusion be on this survey postcard? Procter's claims are just pure political propaganda, yet City Hall is about to spend $16,000 of your tax money on a survey postcard pumping that persuasion?

One more point. This is now the third Pasadena Star News article on the topic of moving the Sierra Madre Library and selling the current property to developers that interviews Rich Procter. Can it be he is one of the few people in Sierra Madre that Claudia Palma is capable of finding willing to discuss this topic?

So you know, the Pasadena Star News exists within a building owned by Singpoli entrepreneur Kin Hui, one of the more annoying stack and pack developers around this portion of the planet. Kin has proven in the past to be quite energetic in promoting pro-development media campaigns, even to the point of hiring former Pasadena Star News editor Frank Girardot to run his publicity operation.

Evidence that the fix really is in just keeps piling up.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Exclusive: The City Increases the NRC Library Survey Postcard Mailing from 1,500 to 5,000

Mod: Sometimes it pays to be a noodge. Not only do you find things out, but once in a while you can also make something happen. Which came first here is not made totally clear in the following conversation, but if people hadn't complained about the NRC's possibly curated Library postcard survey mailing to only a select list of Sierra Madreanos, I am not certain we would have gotten the following result. Here is how the revelatory conversation I had with City Manager Gabe Engeland went on 11/17.

Tattler: So the survey cards will be non-partisan and neutral on those 3 questions. But this NRC confab determines who will get the postcards, right? If my understanding is correct, companies like that do demographic profiling. They determine who will get the survey cards, and this is based on curated data. That is why those cards won't be going out to everyone. Some are being left out to help determine the result.

Gabe Engeland: No, they don't curate data.  NRC loads the zip code  data set and the addresses are assigned at random.  This is the only way to ensure statistically significant data. There isn't a conspiracy theory here.  The survey is going to 5,000 addresses, which is likely every residential, non-P.O. Box in town.  You couldn't curate that data, even if you wanted to. It is too large a percentage of the total.


Gabe Engeland: This looks like a screen grab from the staff report that went to Council last month.

TattlerYes. It identifies the amount of household receiving the card as 1,500, not the 5,000 you stated this morning.

Gabe EngelandThat was the staff recommendation as this is the number needed to get statistical significance.  After the council discussion the direction was to increase the number receiving the survey.  The final decision is to send the survey to 5,000 households.

Tattler: Where was that stated? I've been following this pretty closely and I don't recall that.

Gabe EngelandAt the end of the discussion council talked in general about the desire to increase the number of households and a discussion on what that increase may cost. I took the conversation as direction and increased the amount from 1,500 to 5,000 recipients.

TattlerHow was it budgeted? Who approved that additional spend? As I recall the City Council rolled with the 1,500, and even talked about it not going out to everyone. I can isolate some video if you like. This isn't making much sense, Gabe. Don't go getting Elaine on us.

Gabe EngelandI approved the budget for this item, the amount is well within my authority. The decision to have the survey or ballot measure was up to Council. How to implement the survey, once that is the option they selected, is up to me. I authorized the increase from 1500 to 5000 and I approved the increase in budget. I think we may be having a disconnect.  The increase in the total number of people being surveyed is generally viewed as a good thing.

TattlerYes. I would agree. Can you send me some documents showing this is happening. Trust but verify as someone who was way into deficit spending once said.

Gabe EngelandHaha. Yes, a healthy mistrust of government is good. I will get a copy of the contract to you.

Gabe EngelandThis is where we are currently at, but we are still working to finalize all of the details. Exhibit A lists the number of households which will be surveyed as well as costs.  It also describes how NRC receives the addresses (purchased directly from USPS) and how they are allowed to weigh the statistical analysis (as closely to the most recent Census data as possible for all adults).

Mod: What follows is a portion of the as yet incomplete and unsigned contract from the NRC. The original is 7 action packed pages long. I'm only posting the last portion of that (Exhibit A), but if you want the whole thing drop me an email and I will gladly send you all of it. The move from 1,500 Library survey postcards to 5,000 is not yet a done deal, at least not yet. It is a work in progress. But it does look like we're getting there. Hopefully I'll be able to post a finished and signed document before too much longer.

Mod: I don't know if you noticed, but besides the mailed postcard residents of Sierra Madre will now be able to complete the survey on-line as well. That also looks to be new. Pretty cool, actually. So even if you don't get a survey postcard in the mail, you'll still be allowed to participate. Weighted data and all. Of course.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

TPM: Ultra-Rich Win Big Under GOP Tax Bill; Taxes Rise For Everyone Else

Mod: Donald Trump might claim that everyone is getting a tax cut, but when does he ever speak the truth? Like almost never? This time it could get very expensive for almost everyone.

Ultra-Rich Win Big Under GOP Tax Bill; Taxes Rise For Everyone Else (Talking Points Memo link): The ultra-wealthy, especially those with dynastic businesses — like President Donald Trump and his family — do very well under a major Republican tax bill moving in the Senate, as they do under legislation passed this week by the House.

Want to toast the anticipated tax win with champagne or a beer — or maybe you’re feeling Shakespearean and prefer to quaff mead from a pewter mug? That would cheer producers of beer, wine, liquor — and mead, the ancient beverage fermented from honey. Tax rates on their sales would be reduced under the Senate bill.

On the other hand, people living in high-tax states, who deduct their local property, income and sales taxes from what they owe Uncle Sam, could lose out from the complete or partial repeal of the deductions. And an estimated 13 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage over 10 years under the Senate bill.

Some winners and losers:


Wealthy individuals and their heirs win big. The hottest class-warfare debate around the tax overhaul legislation involves the inheritance tax on multimillion-dollar estates. Democrats wave the legislation’s targeting of the tax as a red flag in the face of Republicans, as proof that they’re out to benefit wealthy donors. The House bill initially doubles the limits — to $11 million for individuals and $22 million for couples — on how much money in the estate can be exempted from the inheritance tax, then repeals it entirely after 2023. The Senate version also doubles the limits but doesn’t repeal the tax.

Then there’s the alternative minimum tax, a levy aimed at ensuring that higher-earning people pay at least some tax. It disappears in both bills.

And the House measure cuts tax rates for many of the millions of “pass-through” businesses big and small — including partnerships and specially organized corporations — whose profits are taxed at the owners’ personal income rate. That’s potential cha-ching for Trump’s far-flung property empire and the holdings of his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner. The Senate bill lets pass-through owners deduct some of the earnings and then pay at their personal income rate on the remainder.

Corporations win all around, with a tax rate slashed from 35 percent to 20 percent in both bills, though they’d have to wait a year for it under the Senate measure. Trump and the administration view it as an untouchable centerpiece of the legislation.

U.S. oil companies with foreign operations would pay reduced taxes under the Senate bill on their income from sales of oil and natural gas abroad.

Beer, wine and liquor producers would reap tax reductions under the Senate measure.

Companies that provide management services like maintenance for aircraft get an updated win. The Senate bill clarifies that under current law, the management companies would be exempt from paying taxes on payments they receive from owners of private jets as well as from commercial airlines. That was a request from Ohio Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, whose state is home to NetJets, a big aircraft management company.

Portman voted for the overall bill. Brown opposed it.


An estimated 13 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage under the Senate bill, which would repeal the “Obamacare” requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance. The projection comes from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Eliminating the fines is expected to mean fewer people would obtain federally subsidized health policies.

People living in high-tax states would be hit by repeal of federal deductions for state and local taxes under the Senate bill, and partial repeal under the House measure. That result of a compromise allows the deduction for up to $10,000 in property taxes.

Many families making less than $30,000 a year would face tax increases starting in 2021 under the Senate bill, according to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. By 2027, families earning less than $75,000 would see their tax bills rise while those making more would enjoy reductions, the analysts find. The individual income-tax reductions in the Senate bill would end in 2026.

Mod: Those First Responders the GOP likes to talk about a lot have just responded. 

The Fraternal Order Of Police Just Spoke Out Against The Tax Bill Republicans Passed Today ( link): Desperate for a legislative win, Trump is attempting to ramrod an atrocious tax bill through Congress, with no consideration for the far-reaching destructive consequences of giving massive tax cuts to the hyper-wealthy at the cost of the middle class. The deficit will skyrocket, and most Americans will be hit hard.

Now, the National Fraternal Order of Police — the largest police organization in the country with over 325,000 members — has come out in opposition to part of the bill. The FOP endorsed Trump during his campaign, but are clearly displeased with his latest initiative.

The members of the Fraternal Order are concerned that the bill will cause a sharp hike in their taxes and force them to pay even more to the federal government, making it difficult for them to support their families. They estimate that their effective rise in taxes could amount to as much as $6,300.

Is Hope Hicks Donald Trump's "girlfriend?' (Yahoo link): Highlights from Yahoo article - a few months old but now more topical as Hope Hicks is in the spotlight.

They hire young, beautiful girls who zero experience and then are baffled when people think they're probably at least trying to sleep with them. In July, Claude Taylor, who worked in the White House when Bill Clinton was president, tweeted that he heard Trump was having an affair. Here is some of the evidence:

1. Trump gave her cute pet names.

2. She has zero political experience.

3. She talks about Trump like a teen in love.

4. Trump created a position for her that just so happens to also have the highest salary in the White House.

5. She's with him virtually all the time.

6. Again, she was a model.

7. Trump paid for her apartment during the campaign.

8. She flies super under the radar.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Life Eternal? Italian doctor says world's first human head transplant 'imminent'

video link here
Mod: Perhaps you know someone who would benefit from this procedure? Will their insurance cover it? Would a president's head transplanted onto another person's body still be legally elected? I have some questions here.

Italian doctor says world's first human head transplant 'imminent' (USA Today link): An Italian doctor announced Friday that he will soon perform the world’s first human head transplant in China because medical communities in the United States and Europe would not permit the controversial procedure. "The Americans did not understand," Sergio Canavero told a news conference in Vienna.

Canavero said the Chinese government and Xiaoping Ren, a Chinese doctor partnering with him on the procedure, would confirm the surgery's date "within days" to signal its goal of becoming a world leader in all fields, including medicine.

"Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to restore China to greatness. He wants to make it the sole superpower in the world. I believe he is doing it," Canavero said.

In a phone interview with USA TODAY, Canavero decried the unwillingness of the U.S. or Europe to host the surgery. "No American medical institute or center would pursue this, and there is no will by the U.S. government to support it," he said.

Canavero would not divulge the identity of the Chinese donor or recipient. The donor will be the healthy body of a brain-dead patient matched for build with a recipient's disease-free head.

Canavero estimates the procedure will cost up to $100 million and involve several dozen surgeons and other specialists.

Mod: Here are a few more questions. Will this newly configured person take the name of the head or the body? Or perhaps use a hyphenated name? And what if the patient was a male and requested a female body? Or vice versa? Would that be legal in, say, Indiana? How about Pasadena, a city where many would benefit from such a procedure? Are there limits to how many times a patient can do this? Do the head and the body need to be around the same age? What if the head and its new body were to get pregnant? Which would be the parent? What if the head is male? Would a 60 year old head attached to a teenager's body be legally required to attend high school? Would a head attached to a body on SSI still be eligible for that government benefit? So much to think about. The rest of this article is available at the link provided above.

Friday, November 17, 2017

City Manager: Sierra Madre Library Survey Postcards Go Out On December 1st

I received an email from a concerned reader early yesterday morning. It came with the screenshot that I have reproduced on the left side of this page. Apparently there was a meeting of the Sierra Madre Library Board of Trustees Wednesday evening, and the survey postcard that could determine the fate of the endangered Library was the topic. Big stuff for anyone who cares about this important local issue, and a whole lot is at stake.

The person who e-mailed me that screenshot wondered if I'd heard about this meeting. I had not. The reader then expressed some regrets at having missed this get-together, and wondered why so important a meeting received so little prior notice. As is my usual habit these days when something like this comes up, I e-mailed Sierra Madre's refreshingly frank City Manager and basically asked, "What's up with this?" I didn't have to wait long for an answer. Here is the reply I received two hours later:

I'm traveling, so I don't have a copy of the agenda, but I can have City Hall forward one to you if you would like. I was in attendance last night and facilitated the discussion.  The Library Board agreed on the number of questions and the areas they wanted feedback on in the survey.  Today they will go off to the NRC to finalize the wording and then they will be sent out, hopefully by Dec. 1.

There will be 3 questions in total, the first discussing the options for library repair/location, the second question focuses on Library services, and third on resident demographics.

This item was on the agenda along with canceling the regular meeting as it was the day before ThanksgivingThanks, Gabe

A lot of intriguing news in that brief e-mail from the City Manager. The postcard goes out in the mail around December 1st, so be ready. Apparently the questions that will be found on that fateful card were discussed at this public meeting that nobody I know went to, or even knew about. And there will be three such questions.

Interesting topics, too. Here are my very rough guesses as to how these questions will be asked. More or less. Needless to say you do not have to agree with what I've speculated about here.

1) Do you want the Library to be repaired and stay where it is now, or moved into a spacious new ADA compliant facility across town?

2) Library services. What do you want the Library to do for you? I am assuming this question will be focusing on the lifestyle options a modern Library can bring to a community. Computers, public meeting spaces, community center, the kinds of stuff that people who have no real use for books might like.

3) Resident demographics. I assume this is about who uses the Library, and what they it for while they are there.

Here is how the Agenda Report for this "specialLibrary Board meeting read.

As anyone who has been following this story knows, the Library Board of Trustees recently voted unanimously to sell the property the current Library sits upon to a private party, then move all the books into the Youth Activity Center over by Heasley Field.

That they should also be writing the questions for this "Community Survey Postcard," one that the City Council claims will help them make up their minds on these contentious Library issues, is problematic for some. Especially those who don't see any reason the raze the current Library and sell off the property to a developer.

So who is this NRC?

City Hall
is hoping that everyone will accept this NRC (National Research Council, Inc.) outfit as being an impartial third party that will make certain the questions being asked on this postcard will be fair to all sides of the Library question. And you know what? I'm certain that will be the case. The questions will appear to be impartial, and most folks will be quite comfortable with what they are being asked.

But that is not where the fix is. The real problem for those concerned about saving the current Library is who will actually be getting survey postcards. The NRC is not mailing them to everyone. And yes, they are also handling that part of the operation.

A significant portion of Sierra Madre's population will not be mailed the card, and therefore will be excluded from the survey. According to an October 3rd staff report on the topic (link), only 1,500 households out of more than 5,000 are going to receive one. There is probably a reason for that.

Companies like NRC specialize in Demographic Profiling, and are skilled at curating the data used for projects such as this. They are a very sophisticated operation that can provide such services to towns having an agenda and the ability to pay. And yes, the NRC determines who will and will not get sent survey postcards.

In other words, to get the results you need, only ask those who will give you the answers you want. It will be very interesting to see who gets sent a card.

I found this following article about NRC on a site called Governing. It peddles some familiar ugly stereotypes about politically involved small city residents, and how the NRC can restrict their influence on behalf of local government clients. Perhaps someone like you.

Here is the link to the original.

Apparently if you are interested in the workings of local government you are likely an extremist. Here is the part that alludes to NRC's ability to profile residents, which could play a role who will be receiving these Library survey postcards.

It certainly does make you wonder who exactly is going to receive these Library Survey postcards, or how the NRC actually knows who is naughty or nice. Maybe the city gives them that data? Remember, not everyone is going to get a postcard. And it won't be about saving money. Despite what you've heard.

You can see where we could be going with this project, right? Our pay to play pals at the NRC are likely attempting to dig up what Richard Nixon used to lovingly refer to as the "silent majority."

You know, the people who don't go to meetings, don't pass petitions, wouldn't speak at public comment even at gunpoint, or in any way disturb the wooly heads of the sleeping classes. In other words, people who won't know very much and can be easily manipulated.

If these are to be the sorts of criteria that are going to be used to determine who gets to participate in the survey, then yes, the fix really is in.

After all, the more you know, the less nice you must be. No postcard for you!