Activist at its finest

NOT many people give a rats patootie about making sure local water districts dont rip off ratepayers. Barbara Mee did.

When I covered water, landfills, air quality and other environmental issues during the far-more polluted 1980s and 1990s, the Glendora environmental activist was often spotted in the meeting halls of these obscure local agencies, ferreting out waste and corruption. She was quite tall, classy, and she always greeted you with a smile and a wad of documents.

We call these people gadflies. But that doesnt do them justice. They are the shoe leather of democracy, helping wear an enlightened path to the darkened cubby holes of government. Mee was one of the best at working the Public Records Act, open meeting laws and the media. Shell be missed.

Mee passed away Christmas Eve after losing a battle with cancer. She and others tree-huggers of her day gave us, our children and grandchildren a cleaner and greener San Gabriel Valley, even if government waste is still with us.

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Can governments work together?
Just getting city governments and school district governments to acknowledge each others existence is a feat. Its usually town vs. gown. The battle for funding.

Seems like every 12 years when the pendulum swings, we hear more about Democrats and Republicans working together. The president advocated it during his State of the Union address. Gov. Schwarzenegger began this year the same way, laying out an array of more moderate programs both Dems and the GOP can support.

But before we settle into a group hug, Americans in the middle must exercise their voices. With apologies to Paul Revere: The moderates are coming! The moderates are coming! At least, thats what Gary A. Butts, the founder of, says.

I like their recruitment pitch: If youre tired of the Far Right and the Far Left, join us. I hear ye. We moderates, and I consider myself one, are in the majority. We should act like one.

On Thursday the site offered a host of commentaries and blogs that dont scream fringe positions but analyze issues and come down closer to the center. For instance, one column looked at winners and losers under President Bushs health care plan. I give moderate kudos to NPR commentator Robert Reich who gave it one cheer because it attempts to separate health insurance from employment, a needed step. However, the blog said it doesnt do anything for the 47 million Americans without insurance now. And the Bush plan may hurt those covered by generous employer-driven plans.

Another commentary reported that Bushs much ballyhooed troop surge into Iraq may have brought out some militia groups waving the white flag. An article from The New York Times (thats right!) quoted Rahim al-Daraji, the elected mayor of the Sadr City district, as negotiating peace with a British general in Iraq.

I can guarantee you this wont make the screaming left-vs.-right TV political talk shows.

…Does government learn from its mistakes?
Charles Krauthammer wrote that he counted 24 references to foreign oil independence from the last 34 State of the Union addresses. Yet were still here, kissing OPECs feet. And GM killed the electric car.And what about learning from natural disasters?

Kim Bishop, geology associate professor at Cal State Los Angeles, will give a talk: Shake, Rattle, and Roll Some Lessons from the 1971 San Fernando and 1994 Northridge Earthquakes, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 8 p.m., in the Physical Sciences Building, room 158.
What a concept. Learning from the past. I like it.

…Learning, the hard way.Thats what a lot of us do this time of year when confronting credit card and department store bills from holiday overspending.

Thats why the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) advise consumers set up a holiday savings account now, for Christmas 2007.These accounts can be added to throughout the year but withdrawals are restricted until October.

I wish I was as organized as these banker types. They sent out this press release Dec. 12, 2006. Heres wishing you a debt-free 2007 Christmas holiday. And a longer memory.

Fun flying a thing of the past

WHILE standing in the security line at Kona Airport, the seemingly endless exercise in flying safety went on for at least an hour when I heard a male passenger behind me utter to no one in particular: Remember when flying used to be fun?

It was a throw away line let fly amid the pushing and shoving and short-tempered passengers, their crying babies and the bumper-car strollers. All under the chaotic auspices of the Transportation Security Administration.His utterance intended to cut the tension was so very apropos.At the risk of sounding a bit whiney, have you noticed the 43,000 TSA airport screeners have become less helpful after they were made federal employees? Now, they may be on their way to being allowed to unionize, according to a new bill passed in Congress this week.

My experience makes me re-think my support of the federalization of security screeners at airports. I remember my libertarian friends warning that once they become federal employees, service will decline. I refused to take the bait. But if anecdotal evidence gathered on a recent vacation is any indication, my libertarian friends were right.

These are the signs at TSA airport security checkpoints: The TSA is not responsible for managing the line. This meant, theyll X-ray your carry-on bag, juggle your liquid cosmetics and pat you down if they have to, but they wont help manage the process. Every family, grandma and teenaged-acne-faced terrorist for themselves.

Oh what I would give for a Disneyland manager that hot, humid day in Konas all-outdoor airport. Those Magic Kingdom-trained personnel know how to snake a line and make it seem shorter.You should all move this way, toward the curb, said a young female TSA worker. Her corrective instructions added to the chaos, as people begun to cut in line. She walked away, mumbling this is not her job.

The other sign at the checked bags station reads: TSA is not responsible for lifting your bags. In other words, theyll watch for explosives or that ever-dangerous Swiss Army Knife or bobby pin, but they wont hoist anything anywhere, no how. Im still trying to get these TSA people to create one-stop service (how about one line for screening?)

It was the for-profit airlines people who were most helpful. Even United Airlines, which is in and out of bankruptcy protection, produced friendly workers who showed us what line to stand in and where to take our bags for X-raying and bomb detection.

At LAX, the best deal in the house are the independent curbside baggage checkers. For $2 a bag, they ticketed, checked, hoisted, loaded and even cleared my bags and those of my family through the dreaded TSA line in one full swoop. The competent young man asked me for my ID and came back with my boarding tickets, too. Credit the entrepreneurial spirit for this fine service. The only sign on their station is thus: Gratuities not included in price.

If only the government employees had to work for tips …On a park-n-ride bus at LAX, a woman on board asked if it stopped at the international terminal. When myself and another passenger told her she was on the wrong bus, this one only goes to the 96th Street parking lot, she asked the driver to let her off.He refused.It was against the rules.

So, we sat in traffic, often at a complete standstill, missing obvious opportunities to open the side door and let her out so she could catch her flight.Cant do it maam. Unless you want to pay the $500 fine, he deadpanned.

Seems like security had her so secure, she couldnt get to her flight. It was a military flight to a relative stationed in Korea. Not even her sobbing would change the drivers mind. Nor the rational pleading from passengers.As the shuttle entered the ancillary parking lot, a young African American woman agreed to drive her back to the airport.

Still, Americans came together to help someone in need, even if it was to make a joke while caught in a long security line or help a passenger wrapped so tight in the security cocoon she was crying desperately to get out.

Now Congress wants to extend this security to boats at port. We better get in line now.

Of course, I’m nost saying all TSA folks are awful. The lady wearing the Hawaiian shirt at the Kona Airport was friendly. I’m just saying that they should help travelers get through lines quicker and do a better job managing the crowds.

I had an experience on the same trip with the TSA security folks at LAX. We were walking through the bowels of the United Airlines terminal when someone apparently ran through the x-ray checkpoint without stopping. We heard a whoop and a yell and then, the men in gray slacks with walkie-talkies shouted: “Everyone stop.”
We literally were all frozen in time for 10 minutes.
Two business travelers walking in the opposite direction as me and my family, argued they needed to get through to catch a flight. That was a tense moment but the TSA security guys handled it well.
One man came over to us, as we became the front of the queue, and joked with my 15-year-old son: “I was told to stand here to watch you.” He smiled and his bantering eased the tension, until his colleague radioed the all clear.