Tuesday, December 12, 2017

It Looks Like There Will Be No Library Ballot Initiative

You either love the postcard or you don't. Though there is the "I couldn't care less" option as well, I suppose. But the most likely reaction of all is the card will arrive in the mail, the recipient will look at it for a brief few seconds and, having absolutely no idea of what in the world they're looking at, toss it into the recycling bin with all of the other mysterious and unasked for paper that shows up in their mailbox. That is, if they actually do recycle their stuff.

Not everyone does that, you know. Don't tell me you don't know this. Certainly you must know it's true.

But at least you now have a chance to get yourself a book marker. Which is what the object just to the left is. Somebody snapped a picture of one with their cell phone yesterday and sent it my way. Apparently you can get one at the Library and other popular downtown locations should you feel the burning need to own such a piece of Sierra Madre memorabilia.

What is odd about this book marker, however, is there is no notice of where it came from, or who made it. Was it printed by the city? Produced by the "Friends of the Library?" It is a well done and rather glossy item I've been told. I know I didn't do it. Did you? It is an anonymous book marker, I guess. A helpful reminder from your best unknown friend, who cares.

Yesterday someone left a comment on this blog about the possibility of the deeply nuanced Library Survey Postcard being supplemented by the more decisive option of a ballot question next April. I thought it was a good observation and forwarded it to Sierra Madre's communicative City Manager. Here is how that all went.

The Tattler: Gabe: What do you think?

Gabe Engeland: The City Council discussed the benefits of putting the Library question on the ballot or releasing a survey at an October Council Meeting.  The determination was made that a ballot question, which can only be answered “yes/no” and is limited to 75 words, would not provide as much information as a survey which goes to every household. The survey results will inform Council’s next steps. There are many possible outcomes to this and the question still could end up on a future ballot.

The Tattler: Is there a date set for when the Friends of the Library $100k study (is that the word?) will be made available to the public?

Gabe Engeland: The $100,000 from the Friends was for items associated with a potential move. To date we are only working with one contractor who is doing a space analysis of the Community Center to show what a joint operation with the City (Library and Community Services) and YMCA would look like. The total contract is $9,600. We anticipate getting the results back early next year and will include them in an upcoming Library forum.

The Tattler: What is the deadline for getting a question on April's ballot?

Gabe Engeland: I’m not sure what the deadline is actually. Laura, do you know?

Laura Aguilar: Good afternoon, Mr. Crawford. The deadline to add a ballot measure to the April 10, 2018 General Municipal Election is 5:30 pm on January 12, 2018.

Gabe Engeland: One more item. I do not believe there is any chance for this to be on the upcoming election. I could see scenarios down the road, but not for 2018.

The Tattler: Wouldn't anything later than April be after the fact?

Gabe Engeland: It would depend on the results of the survey. Imagine if the results are 50% move, 50% stay (I know that is oversimplified), but in that scenario Council may seek additional information. I don't think a ballot measure in the future is likely, I just don't want to definitively rule out options, even if they are remote, until the survey is returned. It's hard to speculate on the possible scenarios in the future. 3 months ago I would have said a survey of every household in Sierra Madre was unlikely. Sorry for the confusion.

The Tattler: I think one problem some have with the ballot option is the results aren't open to interpretation.

Gabe Engeland: I don't think that's true. The Council had a good discussion on this topic in October and they were correct, in my opinion, that a ballot measure would not do a good job of answering a question when there are multiple options/preferences if you can only answer yes/no. What option do you answer if you want to sell the back lot to finance repairs at the current location? Or what if you want to sell the library, but not to move it to the community center, but rather because your opinion is services should be reduced? The survey will provide greater data, that is more in-depth, and help Council to understand the direction the community would like to go.

OK. One thing leads to another, as they say.

So here are the two revelatory take aways from this exchange as I see them.

1) Putting the Library move question on the ballot isn't really a possibility at this point. If anything, the survey postcard option was selected to avoid having to do that.

2) You are not going to know what the costs associated with moving the Library are going to be before you answer your survey postcard. Which makes the tax increase remark included in a survey question there associated with keeping the Library where it is even more problematic.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Sierra Madre Library: Yet Another Election Where That Damsel In Distress Is Tied To The Railroad Tracks

Who will save the Library this time?
Mod: When was the last time an election was held here where the Sierra Madre Library wasn't made a hostage to something? You may recall from 2016 that unless Measure UUT had been passed the Library was all but doomed, and only the voters could save it from so terrible a fate. People turned out in droves to vote for Measure UUT, and it passed with over 70% of the vote. Meaning the Library had now been saved for all times, and nothing could ever take that away from the generous taxpayers of Sierra Madre, folks who voted themselves the highest utility tax rate in all of California.

Well, OK. Maybe not. The very same individuals who said that Measure UUT was essential to saving the Library are now claiming that unless the property it stands upon is sold to a developer for millions, the building itself razed to make way for a condo project, and all of those books and historical horseshoe nails stashed away over in the YAC, bibliophiles the city over are just going to have to somehow make do without.

Funny how things work out here sometimes. Nothing is ever quite as advertised.

Tomorrow evening the City Council will once again be tying that long suffering damsel in distress to the railroad tracks. It truly is deja vu all over again. Here is how so fell a deed is described in a finely crafted City Staff report that you can access in its entirety by clicking here.

"Saving the Library" has become a biennial election custom in Sierra Madre. The proverbial bloody shirt that gets waved around in the air every time City Hall needs more money or, in this particular case, doesn't want you to take any money away.

Of course, the city could mix it up a little. Just to keep things interesting. Instead of that now tiresome song and dance routine about killing off the Library, how about this year the city threatens to stop paying CalPERS instead? Right? That would at least be interesting.

Unfortunately, City Hall doesn't do interesting much.

I personally would not be in favor of doing away with Sierra Madre's utility user taxes, at least not in their entirety. Sierra Madre is carrying tens of millions of dollars in bond and CalPERS debt, and if utility taxes were taken away entirely the city would likely fall into receivership. With the entire mess likely being placed into the merciless hands of Los Angeles County

Good luck preserving anything from greedy developers then. 

But leveling with the citizens about this would require the City Council to admit that Sierra Madre really does have some serious debt issues. Something that would be tantamount to confessing it actually was City Hall all along that gave everything away to its employee unions, along with those bond holding banks in New York.

So instead of risking that kind of embarrassment, the city would prefer to tell you the same old tired fairy tale about the Library. Which apparently they are going to do again this year.

They really do think you're kind of clueless, you know.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mounting evidence that Trump has Alzheimer's Disease

Video - click here.
Mod: Perhaps a lot of what Donald Trump does seems nuts because he actually is nuts? The following article from Raw Story lays out the case.

WATCH: The video that suggests Trump is suffering from Alzheimer’s (Raw Story link): The most egregious parts of Donald Trump’s personality—his racism, his misogyny and his lack of scruples or ethics—have been on display for more than four decades. All of those traits have long been part of Trump’s unapologetic public persona. But in recent years, Trump has become an even more extreme version of himself. The behaviors that accompany that shift could be closely correlated with dementia and a general cognitive decline.

The blogger behind the Neurocritic laid out what he sees as proof of Trump’s mental deterioration. He notes that President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 83, though he began to manifest symptoms far earlier. Researchers have combed through records of off-the-cuff speeches Reagan delivered and found significant declines in his mastery of language. By his second term, Reagan’s speech showed a deep drop-off in the use of unique words; a marked increase in the use of non-specific nouns (thing, something, anything); an uptick in filler words (well, so, basically, actually, literally, um, ah); and a greater use of low-imageability, high frequency verbs (get, give, go, have, do).

Trump seems to have parallels in all these areas. He has become notorious for his word salads, incomprehensible soliloquies delivered at the speaking level of a fourth-grader. He frequently falls back on words like “tremendous” and often drags on without using specifics. Trump often speaks at length while saying nothing.

Alex Leo of the Daily Beast transcribed one sentence Trump delivered at a campaign stop in South Carolina, a series of dead ends, unfinished thoughts and ramblings:

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my, like, credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger, fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us. 

At 70 years old, Trump is the oldest person to be elected president. His father Fred was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease six years before his death. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “age, family history and heredity” are the most important risk factors in developing the disease. Most sufferers start to show signs of the illness at age 65.

Remember when Trump forgot which country he’d just bombed? When it just slipped his mind to sign a pair of executive orders during an event created for that explicit purpose? When he couldn’t locate Rudy Giuliani, who was sitting directly across from him at a media briefing? Those things don’t seem like innocuous senior moments.

Trump also seems to exhibit other signs of Alzheimer’s listed by health organizations. Moodiness, paranoia, belligerence and erratic behavior are all key indicators of the onset of dementia. Trump’s inappropriate tweets, his belief that his phones are tapped and his quickness to anger, as described by his staff, all fit the bill.

“I’m not saying that Donald Trump has dementia,” Joe Scarborough said during a recent segment on Trump’s mental state, “but my mother has dementia. She lives in the moment. She forgets what she said a day ago, a week ago. We can’t have presidents that do that. And I’m not saying that he has dementia. I will leave that to his physician to figure that out.”

Donald Trump's Approval Rating Hits New Record Low, Making Him the Most Unpopular President In Poll History (Newsweek link): Donald Trump's approval rating has reached the lowest point of his 11-month-long presidency, dropping to 32 percent this week as his embattled White House administration has shrugged off allegations of sexual assault, collusion with Russia and ineffective leadership. The president's disapproval rating was 63 percent in the Pew Research Center survey released Thursday, a new high for the survey.

The results mark Trump's lowest approval rating in any poll since he was sworn into office in January in front of a smaller than expected crowd. The Pew poll said Trump's approval rating had decreased from February, when he was at 39 percent. In October, the president saw a 34 percent approval rating. Meanwhile, just 59 percent said they disapproved of the former reality-TV star in Pew’s October survey, the previous high mark for that measurement.

"Since Trump became president, his job approval ratings have been more polarized than past presidents during their first year in office. That remains the case today, but his job ratings are lower today among Republicans than they were in February," Pew said in its report.

Trump watches up to eight hours of TV per day (The Hill link): President Trump spends at least four hours a day watching television, according to a new report. People close to Trump told The New York Times that Trump spends at least that much time in front of a TV each day, and sometimes spends as many as eight hours watching television.

The Times reports that Trump begins each day around 5:30 a.m. by turning on CNN before quickly flipping to Fox News's "Fox & Friends." He occasionally watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because it works him up, Trump’s friends told the Times. Trump’s favorite programs include "Fox & Friends" as well as Fox News primetime shows from Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro. Trump sometimes “hate-watches” CNN host Don Lemon, according to the report.

The Times also reports that the only people allowed to touch the remote control for the White House television are Trump and White House technical support staffers. During his trip to Asia last month, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he doesn’t watch much television at the White House because he’s busy “reading documents.”

“Believe it or not, even when I’m in Washington or New York, I do not watch much television,” Trump said. "People that don’t know me, they like to say I watch television — people with fake sources. You know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television. Primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents. A lot. I actually read much more — I read you people much more than I watch television.”

The Times reports that Trump told reporters about his TV-watching habits after the newspaper presented the White House with a long list of fact-checking questions, including one about how often he watches television.

Trump has previously insisted he has “very little time for watching TV,” though he often tweets about Fox News and CNN segments just after they air live. Trump also had a 60-inch flat screen TV installed in his private White House dining room, according to Time magazine.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Pasadena Star News: D.A. declines to file charges against Altadena man whose leg was broken by Pasadena police during arrest

Chief Junta Hat strikes again?
Mod: Yesterday I cussed out the Pasadena Star News for not having filed anything yet on this story. I guess I should have waited a little bit longer, because they've come up with some pretty big news. The City of Pasadena is now looking at yet another big civil rights lawsuit, and potential national notoriety. 

D.A. declines to file charges against Altadena man whose leg was broken by Pasadena police during arrest (Pasadena Star News link): The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office declined to file charges Thursday against the Altadena man whose leg was broken as Pasadena police officers attempted to arrest him last month.

Spokesman Greg Risling said in an email Friday the D.A. declined to file a charge of assault on a police officer against Christopher Ballew, 21, “due to lack of evidence.” Ballew was arrested in November following a traffic stop that turned into a confrontation with two Pasadena police officers.

Mod: You can read the rest of this important Star News piece by clicking on the link provided above. The on-line news titan Pasadena Now has filed a similar story as well. Here is what they're sharing with the concerned citizenry of The Rotten Rose.

L.A. District Attorney’s Office Will Not Pursue Charges Against Altadena Man Whose Leg Was Broken in Arrest by Pasadena Police (Pasadena Now link): The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has decided not to pursue felony or misdemeanor charges against Christopher Ballew, 21, of Altadena, who suffered a broken leg during his arrest by two Pasadena police officers on November 9.

L.A. District Attorney spokesperson Greg Risling said the case was declined Thursday “for insufficient evidence.”

Ballew was arrested by two Pasadena police officers during a traffic stop at a Mobil gas station on Woodbury Road and Fair Oaks Avenue. A short video of the arrest emerged on social media which has sparked controversy over the police officers’ use of force.

In the cellphone video, Ballew is seen wrestling with the two as yet unnamed officers for control of a police baton, and then being forced to the ground, punched in the face and struck with the baton, while simultaneously screaming at the officers to stop as they overpower him and begin to handcuff him on the ground.

According to Ballew, his leg was broken by one or both of the baton strikes to his right leg.

City officials have not yet clarified if Ballew was transported to a local hospital for treatment of the broken leg by Pasadena Fire Department paramedics, or by the officers in their patrol car. Ballew will not say, responding that he has hired a lawyer and won’t discuss that issue.

Ballew refused to provide the name of his lawyer.

Mod: Unlike with the PPD Lt. Gourdikian gun smuggling case, a lawsuit will make it much harder for Pasadena City Hall to hide this episode from public and media scrutiny. Though, of course, any internal disciplinary investigations against these PD Sultans of Swat conducted by Chief Junta Hat or any of the other usual annoying city functionaries will be strictly hush-a-hush. That said, there were a number of interesting comments made here on this story yesterday, none more so than these two.

Mod: There was more in that vein, most of it stating that the Pasadena Police Officers' body cameras would tell a richer, more nuanced and comprehensive story. Well, it appears that the District Attorney's office has carefully reviewed all of the available materials, and despite what some have claimed here, the D.A. will not be pressing any charges against Mr. Ballew. Certainly an interesting outcome. Perhaps Mr. Ballew will be heading over to the Rusnak Auto Group soon to select a new luxury automobile for himself. Courtesy of the long suffering taxpayers of Pasadena.

More Rot from The Rotten Rose

Mod: This next story was brought to my attention by a reader. I am always grateful when people do that. Judge Alex Kozinski, a Ronald Reagan appointee dutifully serving in the Pasadena office of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for 35 years, has now been slammed with several sexual misconduct claims.

"Would you like to see some dirty pictures?"
Prominent 9th Circuit judge accused of sexual misconduct (ABC News link): Six women who served as clerks or externs at the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allege to The Washington Post that Judge Alex Kozinski subjected them to inappropriate sexual comments or conduct, including asking them to watch pornography in his chambers, the newspaper reported Friday.

Heidi Bond, who clerked for the Pasadena, California-based judge from 2006 to 2007, told the newspaper she recalled three instances in which he asked her to look at images of naked people. She said one set of images was of college-age students where some were "inexplicably naked while everyone else was clothed." Another set was a type of digital flip book that allowed users to mix and match heads, torsos and legs to create an image of a naked woman.

Bond said the judge asked if she thought the pornography was photo-shopped or if it aroused her sexually.

"I was in a state of emotional shock, and what I really wanted to do was be as small as possible and make as few movements as possible and to say as little as possible to get out," said Bond, now 41.

Kozinski, who is 67 and still serving as a judge on the court, said in a statement to the newspaper that he has had more than 500 employees in his chambers over a 35-year career as judge. "I would never intentionally do anything to offend anyone and it is regrettable that a handful have been offended by something I may have said or done," he said.

Mod: There is more at the link. 


Friday, December 8, 2017

Pasadena Independent: Cell Phone Video Allegedly Shows Pasadena Police Officers Beating Suspect

Mod: Accusations of police brutality have haunted the Pasadena Police Department for years. The following is a disturbing report from the Pasadena Independent, a paper now distributed in Sierra Madre after the demise of the Sierra Madre Weekly. Both the language and visuals in this video are extremely graphic. The following cell phone video is all over social media locally, and this looks to be the next big Pasadena PD scandal. The Pasadena Star News and The Hub have yet to carry the story.

Link to the video here.

Cell Phone Video Allegedly Shows Pasadena Police Officers Beating Suspect (Pasadena Independent link): A social media post of a cell phone video of two Pasadena police officers beating a suspect who was attempting to flee following a traffic stop has gone viral in the local Facebook and Instagram community.

December 3 at 11:19am · Instagram ·.. Pasadena PD… This is what “Assault on a Police Officer with a Non-Firearm” looks like I guess.. All I can say is Glory be to God. I just posted early this morning for anyone to have a video and lo’ and behold I wake up to find this. God is just too good to me honestly, Im not worthy- Please REPOST. I don't have anybody on my side but you all… @worldstar @cnn @abcnetwork @pasadenastarnews #fakejustice #brokenballew #policebrutality #policeassualt #pasadena. #pasadenapolice

Pasadena Independent has yet to verify the authenticity of the cell phone video posted and is conducting an independent review of the alleged beating of Chris BallewThe Independent has requested city officials provide specific details about the incident which took place about a month ago.

This, according to a James Farr, posted on Facebook:

“I spoke with vice mayor John Kennedy this morning about the recent video that has surface involving Pasadena Police and an unarmed motorist.

“… I do not have all of the facts on the matter involving Chris Ballew and the Pasadena Police Department. Additionally, I do not know when the City will release Body Worn Camera video of the incident, assuming that it exist.

The Public Safety Committee meeting is scheduled for today, Monday, December 4, 2017, at 4:15 p.m., Council Chambers. The public is welcome to attend the meeting and speak for up to 2, possibly 3, minutes on matters not on the agenda.” - Vice Mayor John J. Kennedy

Pasadena Independent has attempted to contact councilmembers, the Mayor and Chief of Police regarding this incident but have yet to get any reply.

Two independent news sources also reported on this disturbing video: Pasadena Now and Pasadena Weekly posted the video on their respective websites.

William Boyer, Pasadena Public Information Officer, said the city will be issuing a statement soon. As soon as we get their side of the story we’ll bring it to you.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Foreclosures On Seniors Increased Before Steve Mnuchin Joined Trump Administration

Mod: This is our second in a series of articles that detail how certain especially embarrassing examples of humanity within the GOP are conducting what I call a "War on Seniors." The Tattler posted an article about a year ago that discussed the one-time regional financial golem Steve Mnuchin titled "Trump's Secretary of the Treasury Nominee has an Unfortunate Pasadena Connection." You can link to it here. It details how Mnuchin made a considerable fortune foreclosing on the homes of many thousands of people during the Bush financial crisis. According to the website Reveal, it has now been discovered that he also went after seniors living in homes with reverse mortgages, evicting them by the thousands as well. Often for obscure reasons. 

Foreclosures on seniors increased before Mnuchin joined administration (Reveal.com link): Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s bank dramatically ramped up its foreclosures of homes owned by senior citizens in the months before he joined President Donald Trump’s administration, according to government data newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The revelations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development come as the agency’s auditors released a new report showing the insurance fund for taxpayer-backed mortgages has been hemorrhaging thanks to foreclosures on reverse mortgages to the elderly. The losses, the report found, were about $14.2 billion.

“It’s absolutely outrageous and completely wrong,” said Julia Weick, an 87-year-old retired secretary who took out an adjustable rate, reverse mortgage on her Maui home. The government-backed loans allow Americans 62 and older to take equity out of their homes.

Weick is suing Financial Freedom Senior Funding over a foreclosure that started with a dispute over which hurricane insurance Weick needed to buy – and an unpaid bill for it. The dispute began in 2015, when Mnuchin headed Financial Freedom’s parent company. The foreclosure followed last May, when he had stepped down but was still a board member and major shareholder. Weick continues to fight the bank in court.

The data was requested by two nonprofit groups, the California Reinvestment Coalition and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. It showed Financial Freedom Senior Funding foreclosed on 6,990 homes between April and December 2016, an average of 777 per month. That compared to an average of 193 foreclosures per month over the previous seven years.

Financial Freedom was a division of the Mnuchin-run OneWest Bank, which merged with the CIT Group in 2015. Mnuchin stayed on, serving on the company’s board of directors until Trump appointed him to head the U.S. Department of the Treasury last December.

In May, the company paid $89 million to settle claims brought by the Department of Justice that it had bilked taxpayers out of mortgage insurance through fraudulent foreclosures.

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting attempted to contact Mnuchin through the Treasury Department’s press office but received no response by publication time.

Asked to comment on its escalating number of foreclosures and the weakened state of the government insurance fund, CIT spokeswoman Gina Proia provided this statement via email: “We service reverse mortgage loans in accordance with HUD guidelines and when there are changes to those guidelines, we adapt our process to align with the requirements.”

After being sworn in as treasury secretary, Mnuchin sold his stock in the company, taking in at least $38 million – and perhaps as much as $162 million – according to documents on file with the Office of Government Ethics. He also received $11 million in severance.

HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said the auditor’s report showed the number of reverse-mortgage foreclosures was putting financial pressure on the Federal Housing Administration’s insurance fund. That trend was in turn leading to higher insurance fees on all FHA mortgages, including the agency’s flagship program that helps working-class, first-time homebuyers.

“This smaller reverse-mortgage program is putting an economic drain on the entire fund,” he said. Mortgages for the elderly, Sullivan said, are essentially “being subsidized by younger borrowers just starting out in homeownership. There are fairness questions and risk questions.”

Nevertheless, Sullivan said he doubted that there had actually been a spike in foreclosures last year and accused the community groups who obtained the data of “mixing apples and oranges” in their analysis. CIT, however, did not dispute the figures.

The groups compared data they received through FOIA last year, which showed 16,220 foreclosures by Financial Freedom between April 2009 and April 2016, with newly released data that covered April 2009 to December 2016. It showed 23,210 foreclosures. The difference between the two was 6,990 in nine months, or an average of 777 a month.

“It doesn’t seem like they know what is behind the huge increase in foreclosures,” Kevin Stein, deputy director of the California Reinvestment Coalition said of HUD. “This is concerning as they are the regulator.”

Sullivan also argued that there were few cases like Weick’s – where a foreclosure occurred because of a dispute over insurance or property tax. In nearly all cases, he said, reverse-mortgage foreclosures took place because the borrower died.

But Stein, of the California Reinvestment Coalition, doesn’t buy that explanation.

“This flies in the face of attorneys and advocates who see people being foreclosed on,” he said, “and it runs counter to HUD’s own data showing 90,000 borrowers were behind on taxes or insurance this year.”

And, Stein added, HUD’s pushback failed to consider cases where a surviving spouse or family member sought to purchase the home after the borrower died, a right that is protected by the law that governs reverse mortgages.

Meanwhile, the investment firm that bought Financial Freedom as part of its merger with Mnuchin’s OneWest Bank is moving on from the reverse-mortgage business.

In October, CIT announced it was selling Financial Freedom for an undisclosed sum to an undisclosed buyer.  Contacted for this story, Proia, the CIT spokeswoman, declined to elaborate. According to a company press release, the deal is likely to be completed in the second quarter of 2018.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

AARP: 5.2 million seniors could see taxes increased by GOP bill

Mod: Potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare, with a tax increase to go along with it? Can we start calling it the war on seniors yet?

AARP: 5.2 million seniors could see taxes increased by GOP bill (The Hill link): Millions of senior citizens could see tax increases under the Senate version of the GOP's tax-reform plan, according to an analysis from the AARP. In an article published Wednesday on the group's website, the AARP's vice president and policy director argue that 1 in 5 seniors, about 6.3 million taxpayers, will see either no change or a tax increase in 2019 under the plan passed by the Senate Budget Committee. Of those individuals, 1.2 million people would get a tax hike.

The authors argue that number will jump "more than four times" by 2027 to 5.2 million seniors "as a result of sunsetting the middle-class tax cuts."

Another issue of concern for older Americans, the AARP says, is the automatic cuts to Medicare and other services under the GOP plan.

"The bottom line is that even today’s 65+ as well as those who turn 65 by 2027 who benefit initially may end up paying higher and ever increasing taxes soon thereafter," the authors write. "Further, as the result of growing deficits, they may receive reduced value from Medicare or other programs that are central to older Americans’ wellbeing."

The Senate Finance Committee approved the chamber's tax bill earlier this month, and on Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee advanced the bill on a party-line vote. It will now head to the full Senate floor for a vote.

Protesters repeatedly interrupted Tuesday's Budget Committee meeting, chanting phrases such as "stop the tax scam" and "kill the bill." Thirty-six demonstrators were arrested by Capitol Police.

A similar bill passed the House earlier this month by a margin of 227-205, with no Democratic support. More than a dozen Republicans broke ranks to oppose it.

Here’s how bad the Santa Ana winds and fire risk are going to get this week (Pasadena Star News link): Dry and windy conditions will continue through the week, with the most extreme Santa Ana wind conditions peaking for Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties on Thursday, Dec. 7.  Northeast winds of 20-35 mph can be expected with gusts exceeding 60 mph over the higher terrain and in the more wind prone areas. Winds will diminish in the afternoon. Humidity will be in the 5-15% range.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag alert, warning of wildfire dangers across Southern California through at least Friday. By Saturday, the region will see temperatures in the high-70s to mid-80s.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What is Trump so desperate to cover up?

Mod: The following opinion piece, written by the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, asks all the right questions. Including this one:

What is Trump so desperate to cover up? (Washington Post link): We know that President Trump and his campaign either colluded with the Russian effort to undermine U.S. democracy or tried mightily to do so. We know that Trump has apparently obstructed justice to try to halt investigation into what happened. What we don’t know is whether Congress, in the end, will do its sworn duty to protect the Constitution.

We also don’t know what else special counsel Robert S. Mueller III might have discovered, especially about the Trump family’s international financial dealings. Or what Mueller might be learning from Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with investigators. Or how far Trump, who is increasingly frantic, might yet go to squash the Mueller probe.

It is true that there is no federal statute against “collusion.” But a specific law is not necessary for citizens and their representatives in Congress to make a judgment: Is it acceptable for a presidential candidate and officials of his campaign to encourage an adversarial foreign power’s efforts to meddle in the U.S. election process — and then seek to reward that foreign power by easing sanctions? Yes or no?

I’m no fan of conspiracy theories, which usually fall apart under scrutiny; and I’m not interested in carrying water for the Democratic Party, which should have been able to beat Trump, who was manifestly unqualified and unfit, no matter what the Russians did. But what we have learned thus far is truly shocking.

In July 2016, Trump issued a public plea: “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” He was referring to deleted material from the private email server Hillary Clinton used when she was secretary of state. Previously, according to U.S. intelligence officials, state-sponsored Russian hackers had obtained thousands of private emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and the material was being released in a manner clearly intended to damage the Clinton campaign.

We now know that in June 2016, three of the most important figures in the Trump campaign — Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — had eagerly met with a Kremlin-tied lawyer who promised to share damaging information the Russian government had on Clinton. We also know that in April, another go-between had promised Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos “thousands of emails” containing “dirt” on Clinton.

Did anyone report these shady approaches to the FBI? No.

We know that in the last days of the campaign, Russian cyberwarriors targeted the social media accounts of potential Trump voters in key states. We don’t yet know how they aimed their propaganda so accurately.

We have learned, however, that after the election, the Trump transition team actively undermined sanctions that President Barack Obama had imposed on Russia for its election interference. Flynn discussed relaxing the sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak — then lied about it to the FBI. Transition adviser K.T. McFarland wrote in an email that the sanctions would make it harder for Trump to improve relations with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him.” The White House says McFarland meant only that Democrats would claim Russia had thrown the election to Trump.

And we know that members of the Trump campaign’s inner circle consistently failed to disclose their meetings with Russian officials and emissaries. There is a pattern of behavior here. It may or may not be illegal, but it is certainly shocking and unacceptable.

As for obstruction of justice, Trump tweeted Saturday that “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.” This indicates the president knew Flynn had committed a crime before meeting with FBI director James B. Comey and, according to Comey, instructing him to drop the Flynn investigation. Trump later fired Comey, telling NBC’s Lester Holt that the reason was the Russia probe. Trump has reportedly hectored other administration officials and members of Congress to stop investigating the Russia connection.

One of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, said that he, not Trump, authored that incriminating tweet. He later argued to Axios’s Mike Allen that the president “cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer” under the Constitution.

With Flynn now cooperating, Mueller’s investigation enters a new phase. But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Ask yourself a common-sense question: If nothing wrong happened with Russia during the campaign, why is Trump so desperate to cover it up?

Trump's personal banking information handed over to Robert Mueller (The Guardian link): Donald Trump’s personal banking information has formally been turned over to Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating whether the president’s campaign conspired with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.

Bloomberg reported early on Tuesday that Deutsche Bank, the German bank that serves as Trump’s biggest lender, had been forced to submit documents about its client relationship with the president after Mueller issued the bank with a subpoena for information.

The new revelation makes it clear that Mueller and his team are investigating the president’s financial transactions. It is not clear whether Mueller is interested in the bank accounts because they are connected to the Russia probe or if he is investigating another matter.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Shady Madre: A Misleading Library Board of Trustees Flyer Publicizing The Upcoming Library Postcard Survey

The following flyer was forwarded to me by someone who claimed they were being handed out to residents at Sierra Madre's downtown Winterfest on Nov. 25. That is where they had received their copy.

Based on what I heard while watching the City Council meeting on Nov. 28, the mailing of the Library survey postcard has been pushed back until January some time, something the authors of this flyer wouldn't have known about yet. This mailing date change is due to a fear that the card could be lost in the Christmas rush, along with the need to make a few City Council directed changes to its overall presentation. Obviously those changes would not be reflected in this flyer.

Here is what the flyer looks like. I'll tell you what is especially misleading about this flyer after you've checked it out. It is an interesting piece of disinformation.

So what is the problem you're asking? It is located behind door No. 1, which unfortunately states:

"This option would be funded by selling the current Library building and the back lot with no tax increase to residents."

This is, of course, nonsensical. While the back lot would certainly be sold off, so will the lot that the Library currently sits on as well. This flyer does share that with us. Rather it claims the Library building will be sold, and says nothing about the property. Which would be quite a trick if you think about it.

The Library building is not going to be sold, rather it will be reduced to rubble to make way for whatever the developer who purchases that property wishes to build in its place. It's not like the Library is going to be turned into an art museum, or a health clinic, or whatever else one might do with such a place. Giving the impression that it might somehow be preserved is unfortunate.

This raises another question. Since this postcard is supposedly a non-partisan one designed to give the City Council insight into the wishes of a constituency they apparently feel out of touch with, why is the Li-BOT's fab five out campaigning for their obvious choice, which is No. 1? And why the weaselly and misleading information?

The marquee problem with this supposedly non-partisan Library survey is that it associates keeping the current Library with a property tax hike, while presenting the move to the YAC as a no-tax increase solution. There have been no studies that have established the move option as potential tax relief, nor have any costs of things such as the significant new construction required there been officially established. Which could be considerable.

Unfortunately, this is all starting to look like business as usual in Sierra Madre.

That being ... shady.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Hill: Trump's motorcade greeted with chants of 'lock him up' and 'traitor' in NYC

Video link here.
Mod: Maybe there is some kind of karma at work here. Michael Flynn, the former Trump official who was perp-walked into Court on Friday to face charges of lying to the FBI, used to happily chant "Lock her up!" just a few months ago. Could another "Lock her up!" emoter, the one known in Washington legal and press circles by the mob sounding moniker of "Big Daddy," be soon to follow? 

Trump's motorcade greeted with chants of 'lock him up' in NYC (The Hill link): President Trump’s motorcade was greeted in New York City on Saturday by a large group of protestors chanting “lock him up” and “traitor.” Video posted to Twitter shows the crowd of protestors as Trump’s motorcade passes by in Manhattan. The protestors also chanted “hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go” and booed Trump’s motorcade as it drove past.

Trump is in New York City for a series of fundraising events. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway are also with Trump, according to pool reports.

Trump’s trip to New York comes one day after his former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. As part of his plea deal, Flynn has agreed to fully cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

Flynn becomes the first person to hold a formal position in the Trump administration to be charged in Mueller’s investigation.

An amusing video you may enjoy watching

Click here.

Mueller’s swift moves signal mounting legal peril for the White House (Washington Post link): After six months of work, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has indicted two advisers to President Trump and accepted guilty pleas from two others in exchange for their cooperation with his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — a sign of mounting legal peril for the White House.

With the guilty plea Friday by former national security adviser Michael Flynn — one of Trump’s closest and most valued aides — the investigation has swept up an array of figures with intimate knowledge of the campaign, the transition and the White House.

It appears to have swiftly expanded beyond Russia’s interference in the campaign to encompass a range of activities, including contacts with Russian officials during the transition and alleged money laundering that took place long before Trump ran for office. And Flynn’s agreement to fully cooperate with investigators suggests that Mueller is not done yet.

Both Flynn and George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, acknowledged lying to the FBI about their contacts with the Russians. Now, both are cooperating with Mueller, according to prosecutors, potentially providing evidence against other Trump aides.

Mueller has proceeded with professionalism, deliberation and without delay to build a case with a wall of substance,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, who was a lead member of the Watergate special prosecution team. “This plea today is another brick in that wall.”

Mueller has moved so swiftly that it has left Trump’s team grasping for answers about how far the probe might ultimately reach.

Flynn's Cooperation In Russia Investigation Falsely Blamed On Jews And The Media By Far-Right Conspiracists (Newsweek link): Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn has reportedly offered his cooperation in the special counsel’s Russia investigation. If ABC News is to be believed, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser is specifically prepared to testify that the president directed him to reach out to the Russians, “initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria.”

Well, this news is unsettling for some of Trump’s fans on the far-right end of the political spectrum. Some of them are currently storming through the Internet, looking for a scapegoat—any scapegoat at all, really—upon whom they can heap blame for this particular turn of events. 

Jewish people, who are among the primary targets of alt-right abuse on social media, have taken quite a bit of the heat so far, and Democrats, the media and Barack Obama have also been targeted with wrath. One of these abusers is Jared Wyand, a Trump mega-fan who accumulated a huge following on Twitter during the election—only to be banned for calling Star Wars: Rogue One part of a Jewish conspiracy in December of last year (yes, really)—who posts into the void on Gab, a social media website that hosts large numbers of neo-fascist, Nazi, and white supremacist users.

He let his followers know that he thought the Jews were not only responsible for this Star Wars-related plot, but also for the bad news about Flynn.

“Not that any of this is anywhere near criminal but here is Zionism at the center again,” Wyand mused on the alt-right’s favorite social media site. “I wonder (((who))) was pestering Trump admin for this information.” (Far-right social media users put triple parenthesis around words—“who,” in this case—to connote Jewishness.)

Mod: Trump sure does attract a colorful following.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Why Is The Sierra Madre Volunteer Fire Fighters' Association Still Soliciting For Donations?

Per all of the accounts I have seen the City of Sierra Madre no longer has a volunteer fire department. It is quite officially now a thing of the past. The Fire Department was having some serious difficulty attracting folks who were willing to do the gig for free, so much so that it was becoming a potential safety hazard for the residents here. The sad fact was nobody wanted to do that job anymore. Here is how this was described on the City of Sierra Madre website during the run-up to the SMVFD's demise (link).

The City Council will have to carefully consider the future of Sierra Madre’s fire service. The current structure of the City’s Fire Department requires review to ensure that it is safe and sustainable. Sierra Madre has a long and proud tradition of relying on volunteer firefighters and paramedics to augment the City’s fire service.  Over time, we have shifted to a hybrid force, with some full- and part-time paid personnel and some volunteers.  Changes in State regulations governing the certification of fire fighters means that volunteers must receive the same training as full time staff.  Once trained, these volunteers quickly find paid employment in other communities, and we cannot offer them similar opportunities.  This means that we can no longer attract and sustain enough volunteer participation to ensure that our Fire Department is always fully staffed and ready to respond to emergencies.

Obviously when that bit of woe was written earlier this year the end was near. Then, in an October 4, 2017 article titled "After nearly 100 years, Sierra Madre gets all-full-time fire department," the Pasadena Star News (link) described the final passing of the last volunteer fire department in Los Angeles County this way.

Which leads us to the this. Earlier in the week a resident had forwarded me the following solicitation for money from an organization called the Sierra Madre Volunteer Fire Fighters' Association. Not necessarily averse to charitable giving during the Christmas holiday season, the resident still wondered why a volunteer fire department that no longer existed might still be asking for money.

Here is what I was forwarded:

It is always important that any organization soliciting donations for charity operate in the most ethical and upright of ways. And doing so in the name of a volunteer public service organization that no longer exists doesn't quite rise to that standard.

Hopefully someone can explain this and set our minds at ease.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Let's Gather Beneath the Community Holiday Tree and Sing Songs About Holidays

A tree with an identity problem.
Here is an important question for you. Exactly which holiday is being commemorated by the Community Holiday Tree currently on display at Kersting Court? Is it Arbor Day? I am sure that would be the tree's personal choice. Columbus Day? Well, then don't expect Councilmember Haribedian's support. Indigenous Peoples Day, perhaps. But no, nothing about 1492 and sailing the ocean blue. Not if you want to get your dubious building permit appeals approved.

What about the always popular Halloween? That could be too scary, and recent. Groundhog Day? No, they'll eat the shrubbery. Pharmacist Day? They do work very hard to bring us the medicines we need. Guy Fawkes Day? That could be kind of interesting. Boxing Day? No, far too British. National Hat Day? Zane Grey Day? Maybe Beer Can Appreciation Day?

Beer cans dangling from the Community Holiday Tree would get some attention, but I'm not sure that is what people are really looking for this season. Far too downbeat.

It is all so very confusing.

Here is something else that is confusing about the Community Holiday Tree. You're supposed to decorate it. Not just decorate it, but do so by spending a lot of money to buy only specially authorized ornaments. And from a liquor store no less. Even if you don't exactly know which holiday the Community Holiday Tree is actually representing.

So what is the deal here? Well, there is this:

Needless to say, I have some questions. You should have some as well. I mean, if you are going to spend your hard earned cash buying an unspecified though official holiday ornament for the Community Holiday Tree, and do so to "help raise funds for civic improvements" no less, shouldn't you be at least a little curious about what those civic improvements might be?

Right? There have been a lot of things passed off here as "civic improvements" over the years, many of which turned out to be anything but.

So I did what any good citizen would do. I went to the Googler and looked up the Sierra Madre Community Foundation. And here is what I found.

Bountiful goodness in a goat pen, it's none other than Rob Stockley himself. The interest only payments Water Bonds guy. A reigning supreme Mac Daddy of the One Carter development and environmental disaster, plus the quite remarkably deleterious Downtown Specific Plan. A town warping stack and pack development scheme so universally detested by residents at the time that they put together a ballot measure and voted it into oblivion.

Not exactly someone you'd automatically associate with the term "civic improvement."

So which civic improvements might Rob Stockley be raising funds for in 2017? Well, here's an educated guess. Perhaps it is to obtain some funding to help move the Sierra Madre Library, while also selling off some very valuable city owned real estate?

Rob does want to do that, you know. In a large, leadership role sort of a way. And who knows, it could very well have been his idea. Despite what you might have heard. It certainly does fit a pattern.

Just in case you want to know where your Community Holiday Tree ornament money might be going this year.


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.