Thursday’s column (Fruit-flavored Nicorette)

If you smoke, you probably already know the price of a pack of cigarettes went up pretty dramatically over the past couple of days.

Smokers, who were paying anywhere from $4 to $4.50 a pack, suddenly find themselves paying anywhere from $5 to $6 for 20 “coffin nails.”

I stopped at a liquor store near home last night and asked the kid behind the counter, “What gives?”

“Something about new taxes,” he said. “(The tobacco companies) raised their prices to get a few more bucks before the tax kicks in.”

At a liquor store down the street from the office, the guy that usually helps me with a smile was simply mad Wednesday.

“I don’t get why they keep adding taxes to everything,” he said. “Pretty soon none of my customers can afford to smoke.”

If you are as mad as my liquor store guy, you can write your letter of thanks to the federal government. As of April 1, the federal excise on a pack of smokes increases from 39 cents to $1. That’s about a 150 percent jump.

Chewers and cigar aficionados are going to have to chip in too.

I follow the news for a living, but I don’t remember cigarette smokers being praised for saving the federal government – again.

Truthfully, this time it’s for the children.

The increased tax revenue reportedly will be spent providing health care to 3.5 million uninsured children at the cost of $32.8 billion, according to published reports.

Who knows how much of that will be used to hire new high-salaried bureaucrats to administer the program? Want to bet a good chunk of the money will never find its way to a sick child because its lining the pocket of some Washington fat cats?

Charles D. Conner, American Lung Association president and CEO, issued platitudes about sick smokers, but in the end flatly admitted the tax is an effort to help a dismal economy.

“Considering half of all smokers will die prematurely from their addiction, increasing the federal cigarette tax will go a long (way) to save young lives and is also good for our economy,” Conner said in a statement he wrote on Feb 5.

Here’s the kicker: There’s a good chance the state will tack another $1.50 on top of the increased federal tax. On Tuesday, a group of Democrats in the state Senate, led by Alex Padilla, introduced SB 600, which proposes to do just that.

Padilla has latched on to something he thinks will resonate with his cronies because smoking is so unpopular.

I’ll admit I enjoy my nicotine fixes. No doubt my family, friends and co-workers recognize the difference in my personality when I’m deprived.

On the other hand, I don’t want to give the government another dime of my hard-earned money. Guess what I found out? There’s no excise taxes on nicotine gum.

I’m sold.

Google search of the week: “French Military Victories”

I typed it in and pressed the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button.

Google’s response?

“Did you mean French military defeats?”

Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email

Tuesday’s column (head on a stick)

In the face of a rising tide of constituent outrage, State Assemblyman Anthony Adams on Monday defended his vote for a state budget that will force Californians to pay more taxes.

Adams argues he had to support the scheme. There was no combination of $42 billion in necessary cuts that would balance California’s bloated and out-of-control budget.

Instead, the deepest cuts will be in our wallets – $12.2 billion in tax increases.

“It wasn’t a vote I wanted to make,” Adams said Monday. “It was a necessary vote. Specifically the state was facing insolvency and there was no literal good that could come from letting the state run out of money. There were no foreseeable solutions.”

The idea that we will all bleed the death of a 1,000 cuts to our income has fueled a taxpayer revolt unseen in California since the Jarvis and Gann Prop. 13 of the 1970s.

Some might argue that the new revolt is being led by KFI’s John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou. The pair gathered thousands of their listeners in a Fullerton parking lot Saturday to let Adams and his Sacramento cronies know enough is enough.

Their campaign is called “Head on a Stick.” It supports the recall of Adams, R-Claremont; state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria; and state Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona.

Adams doesn’t really care for the campaign.

“It makes me embarrassed that we live in a society that thinks someone’s head on a stick is a joke.” Adams said. “We should be able live in a society that is not violent when it comes to disagreements.”

Kobylt replied Monday.

“That’s how people react when a lying thief steals $50 billion of their tax money,” Kobylt said.

In recent days both Kobylt and Chiampou have accused Adams of admitting to a backroom deal among Republicans in Sacramento, who wanted a budget deal and realized three of their own would have to be sacrificial lambs.

Adams said the talk show hosts misrepresent what he said in an interview on public radio several weeks ago.

“That’s just nonsense,” Adams said. “They read into the comment … I was explaining why the deal was a good deal. I was explaining as a leadership we don’t want to have more than three vote for the budget. It’s all that was necessary. They’ve taken it to mean it was some kind of backroom deal.”

When the budget vote came up: “Every member voted their own conscience,” Adams said. “I voted mine.”

At one time, the district that Adams represents may have been the most conservative in the state. I remember when Dick Mountjoy used to boast that he voted no on every budget that came down the pike.

Mountjoy saw it as his duty to limit tax hikes and protect his constituents. And no matter what anybody thought of him, he did just that.

While Adams proclaimed his hatred of taxes on Monday, he admitted he was not Mountjoy’s heir.

“I’m Anthony Adams,” he said. “I am my own man.”

Unfortunately, he’s not the taxpayers’ man.

Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email

Tuesday’s column (living on $13 a week)

I spent a good part of Sunday trying to figure out what to do with an extra $13 a week.

That’s what we’ll all get for six months beginning in June as part of President Obama’s ecomomic stimulus package. Thirteen bucks.

When I was a teenager, my dad used to scold me because (in his words): “Money burns a hole in your pocket.”

Heck, I don’t even have my first paycheck with a stimulus bump and already its spent. It didn’t even get a chance to burn a hole in my pocket.

Maybe I should have been a politician, they definitely know how to burn money.

Take that 13 bucks.

In truth none of us will ever get to see it, because our state government is going to get their hands on the money faster than an Indian casino can get rich opening it doors to bus loads of foreign students.

They will get it in increased sales taxes, vehicle license fees, and smaller income tax credits for children and married couples. We are going to get nailed.

I pushed that out of my mind, so that there was nothing to stop me from dreaming about economic stimulus, rather than worry about any economic ruin the state is attempting to hasten.

At first I thought about taking my $13 and spending it on iTunes. Certainly that will stimulate the economy. After all rock and rap artists need our money so that they can buy drugs, guns, and outrageous clothing.

Take pop singer Chris Brown. He’s certainly going to need a cash infusion to pay his lawyers.

Since that sickens me almost as much as paying for Octomom’s brood of 14, I decided to think about turning the money to a more productive use.

Where better than a 99-Cents Only store? I hit one on Hacienda Boulevard somewhere between West Covina and La Puente.

The place was so crowded, I almost left.

But after walking in, I gravitated toward the food. Who knew there are so many staples available for just 99 cents?

A loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly – three bucks total – added up to lunch for a week.

A head of lettuce, some salad dressing and a six-pack of tomatoes? Salad with dinner for five or six nights.

And I still had $7 to spend, I went for three tins of spaghetti sauce, a package of noodles, two ham steaks and a box of off-brand cornflakes. Mmm mmm good – NOT.

Which is why I put everything back and decided to invest my $13 instead.

A package of tomato seeds, a package of onion seeds, some jalapeno seeds and carrot seeds cost less than $2. I took the rest of the money and spend it on compact fluorescent light bulbs.

We’ll be having salsa and carrots all summer. And saving money on the Edison bill to boot.

After all we’re going to need it. Someone’s going to have to pay for all this stimulus and bailout stuff that’s burning big holes in our economy’s pockets.

The sad part is, it’s going to be you and me.

Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email

Thursday’s column (the Her-Ex conspiracy)

The lobby of a newspaper can be a powerful attractant to people who believe their story should be told.

Over the years I’ve heard tales of lost gold mines, crooked probate courts, scheming landlords, high-level CIA/FBI conspiracies and heart-wrenching stories detailing the cost of drug abuse, rape and murder.

It’s the stuff that used to make talk radio appealing.

That was back in the time before hosts stopped taking calls and simply turned to using their three hours of radio time to rant and spew ala Limbaugh, Hannity, Kobylt and Chiampou.

That said, very few of the tales I have heard ever made their way into print.

I could probably list a dozen reasons for that: lack of space; lack of time; lack of verifiable sourcing. But it doesn’t stop the tide of storytellers who believe that newspapers are their last resort.

In recent weeks, I’ve been visited several times by a woman who thinks she has one of those stories. She brought me a ream of paperwork that includes bank statements, court records and handwritten notes. She asked that I hold onto them because she feared possessing the documents would cause her harm.

I’m not sure why she feels that way, the documents that aren’t public record are indecipherable.

The woman, who identified herself as Marilyn Ross, has been back two or three times, and little-by-little more of her story has emerged.

In the mid-1990s Ross turned her son in for murder. She said the act brought her scorn and ridicule in the community. Nonetheless she said she appeared on the “Rolonda Show” and discussed the case.

“He was a Crip, and I did the right thing,” Ross recalled.

Since then, she’s bounced from home to home, primarily in Los Angeles, but now she’s living on the streets of West Covina.

I asked where.

“There’s a church with grove behind it, so I stay there,” she said. “Or I go to the Starbucks at Eastland.”

That’s probably the whole story. I’ll never know. And doubtless there are many men and women living through similar tough times on streets throughout the San Gabriel Valley.

Sometimes they just need someone to listen.

The first time I encountered this was when I worked at The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the late 1980s.

One gloomy Saturday morning in June a security guard at the back door called up to the city room. He asked Chuck Hubbs, the editor, if someone could come downstairs to speak to a guy with a story idea.

As the copy boy, I was low man on the totem pole.

I made my way down, and standing in the alleyway was a 6-foot, 7-inch bald monster of a man clutching a ream of ledger paper stuffed into a binder with a bunch of other stuff piled on top.

His gripe was the government conspiracy out to ruin his life.

The CIA had planted a bug in his brain back in the 1960s. Every move was monitored.

After about 20 minutes, I excused myself and called upstairs.

“Chuck, what should I do?”

“Is he wearing a foil hat?” Chuck responded.

“Nope.”

“Tell him we’re part of the same conspiracy and get back to work.”

I’ve never seen a big man move so fast.

Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email

Tuesday’s Column — “The Amazing Octomom”

Octomom.

You have to love the New York Post-style name that’s come to represent Whittier resident and mother of 14 Nayda Suleman.

It sums up the grotesqueness and the truly bizarre nature of something none of us can understand on so many levels.

It also sounds like the handle of a lame comic book villian. The kind writers come up with when the Joker or Magneto have challenged Batman or the X-Men one too many times.

“The Amazing Octomom!”

“Watch as she and her innocent brood take over the state welfare system.”

“Is Batman powerless to stop her?”

“Octomom” might make a great movie title too.

As others have pointed out there is a striking similarity between Suleman and actress Angelina Jolie. You can see Hollywood types jumping all over this one, praying for the opportunity to cast Jolie as the overwhelmed mother of 14 (count `em 14!) very active babies.

There’s other possible titles.

Comedy? “Cheaper by the Dozen, plus 2″

Tragedy? “Oceans 14″

The tragedy of course being that the franchise didn’t end at “Oceans 12.”

That said, Suleman denies she’s made any conscious effort to look like Jolie.

Jolie, on the other hand, reportedly said she’s “totally creeped out” by Suleman and the whole, sad tale.

I guess reality television might find a way to profit off this. But on the other hand, who wants to watch eight screaming babies for an hour? Or witnessthe endless diaper changes?

As the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons might say: “Worst villian ever.”

Back in the real world, the true villian may not be Suleman.

But, the thing is, there is villany here.

I think we all have to wonder what role Beverly Hills fertility specialist Dr. Michael Kamrava plays in this story.

Is he the mad scientist, whose experiments have gone horribly wrong?

Or is he an opportunist seeking his 15 minutes in the hopes of bolstering his questionable practice?

Fortunately Kamrava is under investigation by at least two state boards for what appear to be questionable ethics.

He has so far declined to comment on the whole sordid mess.

There are estimates that Octomom’s hospital stay and providing the necessary care for her children will cost California taxpayers upward of $1 million.

Who knows how much health care for the children will cost after they arrive home in Whittier?

Food stamps?

Social workers?

Foster care?

Numerous state investigations and hearings?

And we, each and every one of us taxpayers, are on the hook for each and every dime.

That said, the real tragedy is that these 14 innocent children are pawns in some larger game that has yet to make itself apparent.

There’s nothing that we can do but sit back and watch the story unfold and hope the children are somehow saved from the craziness.

Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email

I’m back

For the first time since starting this blog back in 2007, I stepped away from the yellow tape for a few days – Nine to be exact.

Took a nice trip to Santa Barbara. Hung out on State Street. Played 21 at the Chumash Casino and tried to stay away from the news — even though for a junkie like me that’s nearly impossible.

Seems like there was plenty of action here on our streets.

Certainly the off-and-on rain has also caused its share of havoc too. 

Nine days wasn’t enough apparently to get a state budget deal done though! Guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I probably won’t have to much to post today, while I get caught up. You can expect the updates to start flowing again tomorrow.

Thanks for all your nice letters, comments etc.

Ciao,

Frank  

Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email

Thursday’s column (take a lesson from the Jesuits)

I’ve come up with a solution to the state budget crisis.

It’s simple really and it’s a practice that’s been in place for centuries.

Make the state Legislature do what the Jesuits do, take three vows in addition to the oath of office.

Here they are:

A vow of chastity.

A vow of poverty.

A vow of obedience.

Three simple rules. Of course that would take courage, and, quite honestly, that’s been gone from Sacramento for some time.

As of Sunday, our state ran out of money, out of credit and out of options. Our income tax refunds will be nothing more than dishonorable IOUs. Some state workers will be forced to go without pay for two days a month as a way of helping California save dinero.

Meanwhile our legislators will fly back and forth to Sacramento on your dime and drive around in taxpayer-funded automobiles. Some will cheat on their wives and husbands, while others will strap on the feed bag and feast on the finest foods lobbyists and fundraisers can put together.

Their bloated and ineffectual staffs will continue to draw a paycheck, while their constituents and the businesses they “represent” continue to lose jobs and hemorrhage dollars.

That’s where the vows come in to play.

We need a legislature that is obedient to the people of this state. We need a legislature that is chaste when it comes to dealing with the lobbyists and special interests that run Sacramento.

We need a legislature that understands poverty and how tax-and-fee-and-spend scams only hurt the poor and those of us still fortunate enough to have a job.

Unfortunately we have none of that. Instead we have a crisis. Our state is paralyzed by a Sacramento lifestyle that has imposed too many regulations, too many taxes, and too many false promises.

Fortunately there seems to be more and more anger with Sacramento among the voters. At the newspaper we’re seeing it in e-mails from readers who’ve recently lost their jobs.

One of those readers, Mike Serrano, who lives in state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino’s district, wrote about losing his job, getting no help from the state’s Employment Development Department and nothing but attitude from the staff working for his elected representatives.

“I wanted some information about training benefits. After trying to reach someone for nearly two weeks, I contacted the offices of my two elected state officials, Anthony Portantino and (state Sen.) Carol Liu,” Serrano wrote.

“To say their response was disappointing would be an understatement … these people simply don’t understand, they work for us and their job performance is lousy.”

Portantino’s spokesman Eduardo Martinez was unfamiliar with Serrano’s case, but said staff in the office is trained to deal with constituent problems.

I didn’t get a response from Liu’s office, and checking the senator’s Web site it becomes pretty clear her staff is not too interested in hearing from any of us.

I say don’t re-elect any of them until they vow to start approaching their vocation like Jesuits.

Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email

Tuesday’s column

The audacity of my hope knows no bounds.

In this new era of responsibility, I’m hoping that somehow our state and our nation get through the crisis before us.

Seems like they are going to do it by focusing on sports.

I both fear and loathe the tactic. It’s as if our elected leaders see us as nothing more than dumb animals easily distracted by shiny objects.

Both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, seem to have deployed the tactic in recent days.

If you watched Pomona’s own “Sugar” Shane Mosley dominate and ultimately destroy Antonio Margarito on Saturday evening, you probably saw our governor there. He was siting ringside with his celebrity friends, just behind Mosely’s corner.

Obviously he can’t be working to fix the state budget crisis on a Saturday night. Even so, if you ever needed any indication of how out of touch Arnold Schwarzenegger really is with the common man, there’s the touchstone.

Can he be expected to feel our pain when taxes go up?

He can’t.

Especially when he can afford upwards of $20,000 for the privilege of watching the fight first hand.

Can he be expected to know how difficult it is to make a house payment? A car payment? A utility bill?

No.

Not when he’s hanging out with Sylvester Stallone, Christina Aguilera, and Marky Mark at the Staples Center.

Then there’s Congressman Miller. He’s chosen to take on the Bowl Championship Series, college football’s flawed attempt to crown a national champion.

On Jan. 16, Miller introduced a bill that would cut off federal funds to universities who refuse to eliminate the BCS and participate in a playoff.

Since when do we send folks to Washington to worry about college football?

I know President Obama has spoken of his dislike of the BCS. I doubt that with the thousands of layoffs occurring daily, the standoff in Gaza, the presence of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan he’s proposing to tackle the problem in the first 100 days of his administration.

Miller’s flak Jessica Baker said Monday that her boss put out the bill to address the unfairness of the system.

I asked, “Since when does a Republican proponent of free markets support the use of federal power to address a problem in the public sector?”

Her answer: “Congress has a role to make sure there’s fairness and equality.”

I’ve got another plan I’m guessing would work just as well.

Rep. Miller, if you want fairness and equality in sports, just propose legislation that mandates all college football games will end in ties.

It’s simple really. I do it with my boys when we play football in the backyard. If Thomas, who is 11, racks up too many touchdowns, I, as all-time quarterback, change the rules midgame so Matthew, 7, has a chance.

That’s fair, equitable and removes the shiny object distraction so that you guys can get back to work fixing this country’s real problems.

Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email

True crime on the ‘net

The e-justice blog has compiled a list of the top 50 true crime blogs internationally. It’s a fun read for sure. Here’s the top three, the rest of the list is here:

 

    1. Cerberus at the gate. Newly retired, this detective shares his life experiences and offers plenty of valuable information to anyone stopping by for a read.
    2. View from the cop. This retired policeman blogs about community watch issues, the criminals, and the police who catch them.
    3. LAPD Blog. While not just focusing on detectives, this blog does read like a script from Law & Order with detailed descriptions of crimes occurring in LA.
Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Linkedin Email