Thursday’s column (Hot dog warnings)

Lunchtime Wednesday.

Cars crowd the parking lot of 7-Eleven at the corner of Pacific and Puente avenues in Baldwin Park. Outside it’s hot. Probably 95 and getting hotter.

Inside, El Monte resident Tony Garcia buys a hot dog and smothers it with relish, mustard and onions.

About 21 other Oscar Meyer meat products rotate slowly on the grill, beckoning the hungry.

Far away in New Jersey, The Cancer Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit vegan group has been making news with its class action lawsuit demanding hot dogs come with warning labels:

“Warning: Consuming Hot Dogs and Other Processed Meats Increases the Risk of Cancer.”

The lawyers want $2,700 for each of their clients to cover damages and attorney fees. That’s some serious lunch money.

“We believe that the consumers should be informed. The plaintiffs feel burned,” notes Jeanne Stuart McVey, a spokeswoman for the group. “They thought hot dogs were safe. They learned they were wrong.”

The defendants in the suit include wieners, dogs and two types of frankfurters.

Brats, kielbasa, andouille, Italian sweets, Slim Jims and foot-long Dodger dogs are apparently unnamed co-conspirators and don’t figure in the case.

Neither does liverwurst, pastrami, bologna or bacon.

Good thing they didn’t find a way to include chicken Top Ramen either, because in my house that list would cover the four basic food groups.

McVey said the case rests on science. Specifically she said the suit cites from 58 studies that link processed meats, like hot dogs, to cancer.

But those studies probably didn’t take into account anyone who bought hot dogs during the past four weeks at the Baldwin Park 7-Eleven.

Just ask Mohan Kamthasamy, who has sold 2,020 “Big Bites” since June 24. Those sales far outweigh the 1,096 purchases of nacho chips, chicken and steak taquitos, pizzas and cheeseburger rolls during the same time frame.

And there’s a good reason for it, that goes well beyond the “A” rating bestowed on Kamthasamy’s store by the county Health Department.

“Everybody wants fast food,” Kamthasamy said. “We’ve never had a problem with people getting sick.

“And, everyone likes hot dogs. School kids, professional people, gardeners, they want to get something to take. And, it’s cheap too. You cannot beat the price.”

Kamthasamy sells a Big Bite, a bag of chips and a pop for $2.99.

Garcia estimates he buys three hot dogs a week from 7-Eleven. And, that estimate doesn’t include the number of times he takes a young relative to the convenience store for a dog after school.

“He loves it,” Garcia said.

Having eaten my share of Oscar Meyer hot dogs from 7-Elevens around the country, often washed down with a beer and a cigarette, I can say with confidence that warning labels are a waste of time.

Cheers.

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Tuesday’s column (Barack Worthington)

Given the fact that the U.S. government just got a 60 percent in General Motors, my guess is that it’s only a matter of time until we see this commercial on late night television:

Announcer:Here’s Barack Worthington and his dog Spot!

Background singers:

If you need a bailout go see Barack.

When you want some easy money go see Barack.

When your corporate bonds are junk,

Cause your owners’ spend like drunks

Go see Barack, go see Barack, go see Barack.

Cut to Barack.

He’s wearing an oversized Cowboy hat, a big, sterling silver belt buckle and smiling way too much. Standing next to Barack is a leashed-and-drooling, buck-toothed, braying donkey.

Barack: Our goal is to help GM get back on its feet … and get out quickly.

Some said a quick bankruptcy was impossible … they were wrong.

Some unnamed critics predicted car sales would fall off a cliff and they were wrong.

Spot breaks from his leash and proceeds to jump up and down on the hood of a 2009 Pontiac GTO.

Barack (laughs) : Hey now Spot, don’t go trashing all this fine surplus merchandise.

(He jerks Spot’s leash. Now speaking through clenched teeth and in a serious, whispered tone): We gotta move these heaps quick. I just put another $30 billion in this junk pile and…

(Smile comes back, Barack turns to camera, begins to speak fast):

Let me tell you good folks about the deals we have this week at Barack Worthington’s Government Motors:

Here’s a 2009 Chivy Suburban. Looks nice, runs great, gets 14 miles per gallon on them city streets and 19 on our government-owned highways.

You better hurry. We’ll be going green next year and you might never get another full-sized utility vehicle like this ever again.

Call us collect. You already bought and paid for this fine vehicle when you sent your taxes in this April. So why not pay for it again?

It’s the American thing to do.

Barack winds up his pitch, The music returns.

Barack just grins and holds tightly to Spot’s leash.

Fine print appears at the bottom of the screen:

Bailout of GM not subject to public discussion. Taxpayers will be lucky if the government ever gets paid back. Don’t expect any relief on California Vehicle License Fees either. Any similarities between Obama Administration fiscal strategies and Soviet-style economic policy are merely a figment of your imagination.

If we can’t feed the poor, fix the highways, mend the prisons, solve the immigration problem, lower the trade deficit, tighten up the banks, improve the real estate market, end the medical care crisis, or make affordable public transportation available, don’t hold your breath for the U.S. Government or its assignees to honor your warranty either.

Your mileage may vary.

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Tuesday’s column (Memorial Day)

Memorial Day got me to thinking about my grandfather Roy Hebert.

He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and earned a living as a journeyman glassblower in Ontario, Canada. Perhaps seeking adventure, as a 17-year-old he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army.

A few months later he was on the front lines in Belgium, fighting in Passchendaele, where the Allies ultimately took 300,000 casualties.

My grandpa was among the wounded. He spent more than a year in a British hospital.

While there, he wrote this six-page letter to my grandmother on stationery emblazoned with the Canadian flag. To me it’s a reminder of why it’s so important to honor our troops for the sacrifices they make:

April 3/18

Dear Friend,

Well Myrtle you asked me if I could tell you about my experience so I’ll try to tell you a little of it. You know if I were to tell all, I’d be writing for a month or so.

I’ll tell you about the Passchendaele scrap in Nov. 1917. Just before we went up to Ypres which was our horse lines we had a few week preparation in a place called bastric. We got to our horse lines about four p.m. and at 7 p.m. half of our boys had to go up to the front line (two) of them being (brothers) and they just got a few hundred yards when (one) got both of his legs blown off and and the other wounds about the body which I witnessed on the morrow when I went up top to bring them their rations. On the third day we, the other half, went up to the front line and took our positions on the left side of the village at the back of it as we had not captured the village as yet.

At 6 a.m. the next morning the barrage was to start so we fixed a few shell holes in a hurry. We pulled a few dead Fritzies in the holes to keep dry. Then got the machine guns ready. At 6:30 a.m on Nov. 6, the day of the battle, he put up a barrage on us and I’ll bet in a half hour of time there wasn’t a square yard of ground that wasn’t freshly turned over by shells.

At 6 a.m. we put up our barrage and the infantry went over the top and captured the village. After they captured it they were relieved but we had to stay and hold the line for nine days after which is the worst part of the battle. We were shelled continuously besides aeroplanes firing at us with machine guns and dropping bombs on us. But the good Man was with us for there was five duds, 9.6s, which came in our emplacement one right after the other. All I got in all that time was a slight wound on the right hip and a scratch on the back of the left hand when a big piece of shrapnel to the protector glanced off my wrist watch, beside being buried by a shell one night.

Then for a rest we came out of the line on the 10th day and pulled ourselves along in the mud from Passchendaele to Ypres, which is about six miles. We had a few hours sleep then the next morning we started on a five day march from Ypres to Mericourt.

Just before we started, while we were waiting ,Jerry dropped a bomb out of a plane into a shell hole with about five dead mules in it and half full of green water which was about 20 feet from where I was standing. It buried and covered me in rotten mule flesh and water also mud. But the mules were all that saved me and many others …

As tea is on the way, I’ll close hoping to hear from you soon and often. I am as ever. Yours truly,

Roy.

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Thursday’s column (Calling Gov. Arnold’s bluff)

In your face Governor Musclehead.

You tried to hold the state hostage by putting a gun to our heads and threatening us with dire consequences if your budget plan didn’t pass.

It didn’t. Now it’s up to you and your dysfunctional cronies in Sacramento to fix California. The sad thing is that none of you have the political skill to pull the state out of the mess it’s in.

Here are some suggestions from me, an average voter, living an average life in an average California suburb.

Don’t threaten to release the dregs of the state’s prison population into our streets. Instead renegotiate contracts with the prison guards. If they don’t want to work, fire them. There’s plenty of out-of-work Californians who would would relish any sort of job that would permit them to take care of their families.

No doubt many are qualified to work as prison guards.

Move on from there by throwing the special interest lobbies out of the Capitol – get the money changers out of the temple now.

Then, give back the cash you’ve stolen from local governments and let the people decide how best to spend their own money in their own neighborhoods.

Also, privatize useless bureaucracies like the state lottery. Contract out to the lowest bidder all maintenance, engineering and testing work done by Caltrans.

Force school districts to cut back on bloated administrations that include $100,000-salaried assistant superintendents. Get rid of mandates that force teachers to teach to the test instead of teaching to the natural abilities of their students.

Eliminate stupid multi-million dollar scams like the California Air Resources Board’s plan to force gas station owners to check tire pressures using a state-approved gauge.

Don’t believe there’s such a thing?

Check out what the Redding Searchlight wrote back on March 28:

“The air board passed new rules governing tire inflation. They require oil-change shops, smog stations and auto mechanics to check and properly inflate the tires of each vehicle they service, using state-authorized gauges and up-to-date manuals, and to keep records available for inspection by the tire-inflation police.”

UNREAL!

And you, Governor Musclehead, had the nerve to blame California voters for the mess we are in ???

Clearly your campaign was the equivalent of cutting out individual letters from newspaper and magazine articles and pasting them on a yellowed piece of lined paper.

“PAy uP NOW or YOUr staTe DiEs!”

If we don’t negotiate with terrorists in this country, why the hell would we give in to your demands?

Nice try. Use the remaining 18 months of your term to fix this state. If you can’t do that, then get back to Hollywood now, perhaps you can pair up with Danny DeVito for Twins II.

After all, as your character Julius Benedict said in the original, “If you choose to bluff, you must be prepared to have the bluff called.”

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Tuesdays Column (Memories of El Monte)

Serious questions need to be asked of the El Monte Police Department’s brass.

Last Wednesday the department came under scrutiny after one of its officers kicked a prone suspect in the head. That the kick came at the end of a high-speed pursuit offers little — if any — justification.

Richard Rodriguez, 22, of El Monte, a tattooed member of the El Monte Flores street gang took the full force kick to the head in stunning hi-def on live television.
Rodriguez was subsequently booked for parole violations, evading police and several other crimes. He is being held in Men’s Central — probably waiting for a bus back to state prison, where he belongs.

The officer who delivered the kick, identified as George Fierro, returned to work the next day. Fierro, come to find out, owns a clothing company that caters to gang members and glorifies the Mexican Mafia.

His “brand” so sickens good cops that at least one tried to warn California gang investigators about a potential rogue in their midst.

“Has anyone seen or know about this gang clothing that a police officer is selling to gangsters,” LAPD Detective David Espinoza wrote. “I understand the gangs really love this cop. I understand the clothing has hiding places for contraband, guns and dope. Things that can hurt our real cops on the street.”

It’s hard to believe, El Monte police Chief Tom Armstrong had no knowledge of Fierro’s extracurricular activities.

There are many other questions Armstrong needs to answer.

At a press conference the day following Rodriguez’s beat down, Armstrong sent Lt. Ken Alva to face the music. He read from a prepared statement, took a limited number of queries, then retreated to the safety of the police station.

On Friday, Armstrong and Alva took the day off. That came despite the fact that both men are very highly paid public servants and their department is facing a crisis.

Armstrong refused Monday to release a tape of the pursuit, which is a public record.

Why?

Did Fierro have a reason other than the catch-all “parole violation” for pulling over Rodriguez? Certainly a tape would show that.

What about the department procedures regarding so-called “distraction blows?”
The policy seems pretty vague compared to professional standards required by the LAPD and county Sheriff’s Department.

The City Council also needs to be questioned. For too long those who have taken campaign cash from police department sources have done nothing to improve its image.

Those who don’t get the money have been whining for years about public safety.

If there was ever a chance to clean house in El Monte, now’s the time.

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Thursday’s column (The kindergarten cop)

In case you missed it, Governor Musclehead offered all Californians an Austrian blessing Monday.

I’ll paraphrase it:

May your children be uneducated.

And fires ravage your homes.

May your tax dollars be stolen

and prisoners free to roam.

That sums up the sort of fear-mongering demagogic rhetoric Arnold offered as he pleaded with Californians to vote in favor of more taxes at the polls Tuesday.

Speaking in Culver City earlier this week, the Taxinator also threatened cuts in health care and public safety spending if his tax plan is not passed.

He’s blaming all of us for the state’s misfortune – instead of looking in the mirror and pointing fingers at Republican and Democrat hacks whoring out tax dollars to special interests.

“The people are angry at Sacramento, the people are angry at the politicians,” Schwarzenegger said. “But they should not let that anger out on killing those initiatives, because what they will do is they will hurt their local communities.”

See, it’s your fault.

Arnold has reverted to his role as Det. John Kimble in Kindergarten Cop.

At one point in the pic he yells at the kids, “Stop whining! You kids are soft. You lack discipline.”

He will teach and we will learn. It’s only a matter of time before he utters the German phrase he spoke later on, “Das macht mich stocksauer. Jetzt bin ich sauer.”

(Translation: “This makes me mad. Now I am angry.”)

Next Gov. Musclehead just might start stamping his feet and flexing his muscles to show he means business.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, here’s how Schwarzenegger plans to pay us back when his plan backfires and dies at the ballot box:

“Some of the possibilities he has mentioned in recent days if the measures fail include laying off more than 50,000 teachers, closing dozens of fire stations, releasing 40,000 nonviolent prisoners early and borrowing $2 billion from local governments around the state,” Mercury News reporter Mike Zapler wrote from Sacramento.

Are you scared?

The governor’s failure stems from a total lack of leadership. Instead of standing for something, he stands for compromise.

In Sacramento that doesn’t work. Just ask state Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Claremont, who is facing a recall for his willingness to work with Democrats on the budget plan that put us where we are today.

It’s hard to believe the only solutions to the mess we face involves closing schools and releasing felons or stealing more money from hard-working people.

How about paying prison guards less? How about cutting staff in the capitol? How about a spending cap that isn’t tied to increased taxes. Just stop spending.

These are tough times. The governor needs to get some discipline, stop being soft and knock off the whining.

I’ll offer him an Irish blessing from my ancestors in return:

“If God sends you down a stony path,

may he give you strong shoes.”

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Thursday’s column ( #journalism )

Moe the Chimp and Octomom have something in common.

No. The pair is not headlining with the Amazing Bearded Lady and the Human Pin Cushion outside the pig races at a county fair somewhere.

They are part of what’s driving a huge change in local reporting around the country.

On the Internet, tales of Moe’s escape from a San Bernardino animal sanctuary last summer drove eyeballs to our Web site in amazing numbers. As a result we continued to cover the saga until it became clear Moe was no more.

As for Nadya Suleman, the La Habra woman who gave birth to the world’s longest-surviving set of octuplets, not only is she a one-woman baby machine, she is also is a force of nature on the Internet.

Our blog, Octorazzi, dedicated to Octomom’s every move, has seen so much Web traffic, it even drew attention from CNN’s Nancy Grace over the weekend.

We editors sit in our ivory tower, stroking our beards and discussing what we believe you want in the newspaper: The economy, swine flu, and city council skullduggery.

Sometimes it’s the sort of steady community-oriented coverage that afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted. Sometimes its nothing more than a story about the local Lions Club doing something nice for a blind senior.

Online you tell us you want Octomom, Moe, crime, crime and more crime.

In fact, most of this is journalism in the same way McDonald’s is food. It’s empty, tasteless and devoid of nutritional value.

The U.S. Senate took up a discussion of the future of newspaper journalism Wednesday. During a lengthy hearing before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee, Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, called us “challenged.”

We are in fact challenged.

Unfortunately, those challenges extend well beyond Octomom and Moe. Twitter, Facebook and Google News are all perceived as threats to traditional newspapers.

“You are whistling past the graveyard if you don’t believe that’s the wave of the future,” said one participant in the hearing.

Others taking part in Wednesday’s hearing included David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun cops reporter, who created “The Wire” for HBO and Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post.

Simon rightly pointed out that “citizen journalists” (read bloggers) will never be able to do the sort of investigative journalism that remains the hallmark of newspapers. Huffington, on the other hand, defended her blog and the citizen journalists who contribute as the absolute future of reporting.

“The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning board hearing is the day I believe we will have reached equilibrium.”

C-SPAN, which streamed the hearing live on the Internet, subtitled their video “Hearing to Examine the Future of Journalism.”

I guess there’s hope. Neither Moe nor Octomom were called upon to give an opinion.

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