Monday, January 5, 2009

My Congressman Is A Spy

Leon Panetta, from the BBC website
Talk about stunned. I thought Leon Panetta had resigned from politics for good and now I read that he is to be the next CIA Chief. His family is from the Central Coast of California a place where Italian immigrants made lives for themselves fishing sardines on Monterey Bay or growing vegetables in the Salinas and Pajaro Valleys and along the coast towards San Francisco. He served in the Nixon administration when he was a Republican but his politics changed with the times and he became a Democrat and represented the Monterey/Santa Cruz District for years, unbeatable and a powerful voice for the region. I adored Leon Panetta in a way that was most unbecoming for a reporter and I was devastated when he was selected by Bill Clinton in his second term to straighten up the White House. Which he did, getting through the Monica Lewinsky affair without a stain on his character as it were, or his decency.


He never had a future in statewide California politics, he wasn't radical enough or loud enough, he was too smart and too willing to see both sides of a story. He retained his Republican roots enough that he wanted a balanced federal budget but he was pragmatic enough that he talked the first President Bush into a tax increase that subsequently scuttled his chances of a second term in 1992. California, a state of 25 million (then) was too large to see a potential Governor or even a Senator in the Central Coast Congressman always labelled a leftist, somewhat unfairly I thought. Hell, I was further to the left of Leon.


I was not happy that President-elect Obama chose the Governor of Iowa to head the department of Agriculture, but I acknowledged it was a sop to the vast millions that Obama received from ethanol producers so we are stuck with that...But Leon Panetta as head of the CIA sets a whole new tone for the country's foreign policy and standing in the world. Panetta is a pragmatist but he is honest and decent and smart, He opposed, loudly, the Contra War in Nicaragua, and he has spoken out repeatedly against torture. He is a canny and able politicians so he will change the mindset of people who think torturing people is ever justified. He will be effective and he will stay out of the limelight. I will eat my hat if he isn't judged the best CIA chief the Agency has seen.


Panetta also has to his credit a remarkable sense of humor. When he was appointed White House Chief of Staff I asked him how the process went, that of getting a job at the White House. I mean haven't you ever wondered who goes over your W4 with you? And do they explain the paperwork properly? Did they make an offer? ( Kind of, not the kind you refuse, he chuffed with his inimitable held-in laugh). He paused when I asked if there was a pay raise. (A little more than his congressional salary but not enough to make a difference to a millionaire). He giggled, I guess I'll find out. Interestingly enough when he was a Congressman Panetta made a point every year of returning to the Treasury any portion of his Congressional expense account he hadn't spent. Every year. Washington could use more people like Leon. I wish him well.

Duval Bikes

What you see here is a your basic Beach cruiser bicycle, one hundred and fifty dollars of the world's most efficient urban transportation:No gears, no fenders, one coaster brake and in this case no lights, no luggage rack, no frills. Key West is one of the few cities in North America where bicycles replace the car, as the basic way to get around.It was during the endless, repetitive multiple hurricane evacuations of 2004 and 2005 that city officials figured about one third of the city's 25,000 permanent residents had no cars and a plan was developed to evacuate them with an endless round robin of buses hauling people up to evacuation centers in Miami. Bicycles are one of the reasons residents are quoted as loving to live in Key West. It's a four mile by two mile island, no more than 14 feet above sea level at it's highest point, where a bicycle is all you need. Along with a few accessories of course, because bicycles in this city are serious transport, not hobbies or toys:Baskets and water bottles, even of the cheaper home made variety are useful but lets not forget that many people in Key West also like living here because beer is almost as good as currency and for others, more temperate, a Cuban cafe con leche should be part of the riding experience. Hence the cup holder:
It would be a mistake to think that because bicycles are widespread, expensive bicycles are also important to their riders. Status is conferred in other ways in Key West and showing up on a four thousand dollar bicycle would most likely mark the rider as a visitor, a snow bird or as someone with more money than sense. A "conch cruiser" is all one needs to meet and make friends in town:Tourists are also obvious and clearly labelled by the rental company signs littering their machines:Tourists ride with grins on their faces and gawp as they float by Key West's architecture, giving themselves away as creatures of low status. Status in Key West is conferred by longevity, not wealth. Bicycle helmets are not part of the cycling scene in Key West either, helmets are expensive and dorky and the rest of the country, in a desperate search for security in an uncertain world, embraces passive safety above all else, so naturally the Southernmost City spits, en masse, on bourgeois fear: Indeed, far from wearing safety gear many riders take to the unsafe roads with not even a top on:But thanks to the flat streets and protection from headwinds, (wind does make riding in the Keys tough) not even the unfit need fear using a bicycle:The white plaque on the front denotes a rental so I assume (what else can I do?) the rider, when at home, wouldn't be seen dead on a low status bicycle. In Key West, anything goes...even helmetless. For some people in Key West, bicycles are literally a way of life:With so many bicycles around town there would have to be bike racks everywhere you might think. True, but apparently there aren't enough of those even: I should point out it is not legal to lock a bicycle to a city structure like a street sign or lamp post and Public Works have been known to sweep downtown and impound bicycles that block sidewalks and create nuisances....Also if you ride at night without lights, or ride anytime the wrong way on a one way street, you can and will be stopped by a police officer. I enter millions of B N L (bike no light) traffic stops every night into the dispatch computer. A cycling ticket is a moving violation and is a fine excuse for your insurance to raise your rates because where you live you drive a car... It is legal to ride on sidewalks but cyclists must yield to pedestrians and have an audible means of approach ("Excuse me!").

I got a request for an essay on bicycles in Key West and I had so much fun wandering Eaton to Southard and back on Duval I got about 50 usable pictures before I knew it, so as I try to figure out when to taste street food and then find a cooperative a photogenic manatee somewhere, don't be surprised if more cycling photos appear...In the meantime this parting shot which made me think of Key West, the Asian view:Imagine that, an American city where you too could earn a modest winter living pedaling a rickshaw...and not a snow flake in sight.

Good News

There's a change, but it didn't come as a complete surprise considering how packed the Keys have been with cars and gasoline around $1.80 a gallon. The Citizen reports early indications of an excellent economic week between Christmas and New Year's. They talked with the owner of Louie's Backyard, a restaurant so expensive it will make your eyes water, and they said tons of Europeans and Asians showed up to spend their way into 2009. There is a downside to this of course, namely Highway One, which has become a giant parking lot, occasionally crawling towards the horizon at 30 miles per hour so my teeth are mere nubs from all the gnashing.
The Aqueduct has shut down one million dollars worth of jobs, by "attrition" that is by not filling empty spots rather than laying off. Managers know that laying people off is the kiss of death and no one wants to kick their neighbors out of the Keys. The bad news is that locals looking for secure jobs are now less likely to find them, in the traditionally secure government/public utility sectors which paid less than pouring booze but give benefits and year round work. And the hospital recently laid off 20 people as well.
There are noises starting in the paper to prepare us for the possibility that our hospital might fold in 2009. The paper says "rural" facilities just like Lower Keys Medical Center are having enormous difficulty getting the uninsured to pay their bills and, on perusing the public record the Citizen found a million dollars worth of home liens from delinquent bills. Naturally bridge loans and credit extensions aren't available as banks hoard their (taxpayer) cash to face roulette uncertainties created by derivatives that are as persistent as Guy Noir's unanswered problems.
I've heard rumors that the City may make some radical alterations to our traditional pension plans for new hires, like offering no more plan and giving people 401(k) fake pensions. Nevertheless a colleague of mine, 30 years old who prides herself on her intelligence and her four year degree, knows better, and is looking for more expensive digs, a commute distance outside the city, as she is tried of her current unsatisfactory rental. She said last night "I could swing $1300 a month with a few overtime shifts..." and I said (Mr Negative) what if, as I expect, overtime will dry up next fiscal year? Her answer stunned me " I don't pay attention to what's going on until it affects me personally." She is looking to rent a house of her own twelve miles from work. Her summer a/c bill to cool her cat, and her 25 mile a day gas habit and Florida's fiscal crisis are all out there, loud and clear but I bet dollars to doughnuts when her paycheck gets squeezed she will act totally surprised by the "sudden" turn of events. Sigh. I am working overtime like crazy, not to feed the meter but to set aside as much cash as I can while the going is good. I hope she is blithely right and I am confounded by fundamentals. If I am wrong I am going to blow my savings on a holy cow vacation when 2009 turns into a boom year.