Saturday, April 9, 2011

Does Obama Want to Make Himself Irrelevant? Sadly So It Seems.

Today, Saturday, April 9, 2011, I caught part of a video clip of President Obama who, I think, was on the National Mall speaking to visitors to D.C.

I thought I heard the President say: "Because Congress was able to settle their differences," the museums and monuments are open.  I know he said what I've put in quotes.  I think the rest was the essence of his statement.

BECAUSE OF CONGRESS SETTLING ITS DIFFERENCES????  That's how Obama sees this recent dispute over the budget, or wants to portray it?  Sheesh.

And where the heck was the White House in all this?  Sitting on the sidelines?  Obviously not.  Obama, Biden and others at the White House were obviously key players in this drama.  But, sadly, Obama's comment reflects the way he wants to be seen, the way he wants to portray himself -- above the fray, almost a non-partisan.

No doubt Obama is trying to move to the center for 2012 and not appear opposed to major trimming of America's deficit and debt.  And that may be good policy and make political sense for him.  But only so far.

As I recall, after Gingrich and the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in the 1990's, some called President Bill Clinton irrelevant.  Clinton would have nothing of that and knew how to assert himself and remain relevant, winning a second term in the process.

Obama is not irrelevant.  The Republicans handily won the House in 2010 but neither control the Senate nor the White House.  And while many Americans worry about the deficit and national debt and the Tea Party has shown some ability to whip up concern over those issues, there is much to be said about not panicking on either of these two issues, nor rushing to radically reduce the budget when the economy has yet to find its way out of the Great Recession.  Obama may have made the right decision during the lame duck session of Congress last year in caving on opposition to a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy but he will weaken himself, even if he wins re-election, if he flip flops all across the spectrum, which is what he appears to be doing.

Yes, Obama needs the House of Representatives to pass legislation, including a budget, so compromise is necessary.  But Obama should nonetheless use the bully pulpit to continue to try to educate the American people on the role of and need for a strong federal governmental presence.  We are no longer an agrarian society; we are a highly urbanized society with an economy that is not only fully integrated across this nation but with much of the world as well.  We need a central government that can regulate economic swings, protect Americans against the excesses of private entrepreneurs and enterprises, stimulate economic growth and trade, assure minimum standards of healthcare and education, and perform many other tasks, in addition to defense.

Obama should also not throw in the towel on increased taxes to balance the budget and assure certain "entitlements", particularly now that the Republicans are finally showing their fangs when it comes to attacking Medicare, with Social Security likely to be next.  Reform of these programs?  Yes.  The kind of radical restructuring and privatization that Republicans seem to favor?  Absolutely not.

Obama is not irrelevant but sometimes it appears he wants to make himself so.  During the 2008 campaign Obama spoke of presidential styles and he definitely seemed to favor Reagan's, which Obama himself described as essentially above the fray, letting others fight over the details only to emerge near the end.  This has been Obama's style, with respect to fights over the stimulus package, healthcare reform, and now the 2011 budget.  He and his aides have been involved in all of these battles but he himself has let others take central stage.  In my judgment this was and continues to be a big mistake for him.

Obama has been an eloquent speaker and communicator when in campaign mode, whether during the campaign or as president.  But in his daily talks and press conferences he has come across as dry, distant and without affect.  He came across that way during some of the debates during the 2008 campaign as well.  He needs to go into what I'll call campaign mode more often.  He needs to show passion and not get caught speaking in a dry, distant tone, carefully selecting his words as if he were lecturing somewhere.  He needs to show he cares and that, while open to necessary compromise, he still has his own set of values and will pursue and fight for them.  It's okay to compromise and even stand aside on some campaign promises that simply aren't achievable.  But if he bends on almost everything and comes across as dry and drab in a move toward the center, he will not only not be a good president, but he will, in my judgment, undermine his chances of re-election.  And even were he not to win re-election, he will have been true to himself and to all those who voted for him.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Letter to Long Beach Councilman Gary DeLong on 2nd + PCH Project (Major Shopping Center in Eastern LB)

Dear Gary,

I read with interest the coverage of the 2nd + PCH project in the Belmont Shore – Naples Patch of April 5, 2011.  I want you to know that I am opposed to the project and I found points made in the article as well as comments from Mike Ruehle disturbing.

I have lived in Belmont Shore since 1979 upon my return from attending law school at UC Davis.  I had previously lived in Seal Beach while teaching.  Back then there was no Marina Pacifica let alone the twin shopping centers.  The Hyatt Edgewater Hotel wasn’t the eye sore it became but its glory years had passed it by.  Traffic was not a major problem.  I welcomed the construction of the shopping centers despite the dismal failure the first time around at what subsequently became known as the Wow (Tower Records, et al.)  And I would not have minded had the Hyatt Edgewater been replaced but despite rumors from year to year that did not happen.

But the 2nd + PCH is going far beyond what is truly suitable for that location.  Nor does Long Beach need the high end stores contemplated in the project.  Yes, I shop at South Coast and to a lesser extent at Cerritos and Westminster Mall (which has truly disappeared as a rival to the other two).  And I enjoy the high end stores, particularly at South Coast.  But that location has enormous parking and access from a number of separate approaches.  And it is not very far from Belmont Shore.

I wouldn't mind 2nd + PCH were it not destined to fundamentally transform this part of Long Beach forever.  Trust that I'm not given to nostalgia but I think it will serve business interests far more than it will serve the public interest.  It will transform eastern Long Beach from a beach/marina oriented area with some convenient shopping and movie venues to a built up commercial area filled with shoppers and automobiles.  And, I know it will turn out to be an enormous traffic problem, regardless of whatever "mitigation" the builder and/or City will make.  I say I know not because I am a traffic engineer but because I have lived here for decades and also am familiar with what happens when major projects are built in areas not truly containing the infrastructure needed to sustain them.  Even if lanes are expanded at the 2nd and PCH intersection, I can only imagine that congestion will be enormous and those of us living in the area will be heavily impacted.  As you well know, access to Belmont Shore and Naples is limited.  For those of us living here, that's a good thing but the 2nd + PCH project will make it a bad thing.

I was in law school when CEQA was adopted by the California Legislature and participated in Environmental Moot Court.  I am quite familiar with its processes and standards.  While it contains mechanisms intended to truly mitigate negative environment impact, it also does not ultimately stand as an obstacle to a legislative body intent on building a project regardless of its environmental consequences.  If the process is followed the legislative body may do almost what it pleases.  I'm concerned that this is exactly what is happening this time through and that you are facilitating that turn of events rather than opposing it.  If true, Ruehle's allegations that your election chairman has become the developer are troubling in this regard.  What exactly is your position on this project?   You may have commented on it in your emails and I assume you support it strongly, albeit with appropriate mitigation which will ultimately mean little.

I am not a wide-eyed environmentalist.  While I am concerned about the environment, my frustration above all is traffic.  In fact, I write also to share my frustration at the recent changes in street design and consequent traffic flows elsewhere in Long Beach, beginning right here on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore and focusing as well on downtown Long Beach where I currently work.  Bicycles and bicycling are good things and should be encouraged.  But the recent conversion of the second lane in both directions on 2nd Street through Belmont Shore and Naples is wrong, creates needless safety risks and should be reversed.  Whose idea was it and what role, if any, did you play in this?

Even more problematic has been the changes made in street design in downtown Long Beach, on Broadway, 3rd Street, and Marina Drive.  On Marina Drive near the Aquarium an entire lane of traffic heading from the end of the Long Beach Freeway to Ocean has been eliminated, presumably to allow more parking on Marina Drive for the restaurants at The Pike.  What a disaster.  Cars pour onto Marina Drive from the return commute home from Los Angeles and create enormous congestion given the removal of a lane.  I work in that downtown Long Beach area and both see and experience the congestion daily.  As for Broadway and 3rd Street, the elimination of a lane for a bicycle lane is another miscue.  Bicycle traffic is minimal from my daytime observations but automobile traffic is now worse than ever.  A commitment to "green" is meritorious but not for its own sake and not when the negative consequences outweigh any real positive contribution.  In my opinion that is the case with these street design changes of late.

I previously wrote to you a number of years ago about parking in Belmont Shore that leads residents to forego trips away from home out of fear that they will not be able to park near their homes upon their return.  You indicated that individual streets could vote in favor of some kind of permitting but I may have noted in response (or simply noted to myself) that such an approach merely sets one street against another as shoppers on 2nd Street or visitors to the beach will simply park on a neighboring street.  I renew my complaint here and once again call upon you as our Councilman to consider a systemic approach that would require permitting throughout Belmont Shore as a way of making parking tolerable for residents.  Many cities and parts of cities have such plans and it is time that Long Beach adopted such a plan for Belmont Shore.  In fact, such a plan should have been adopted long ago.

Thanks for considering my opinions.