The American Renaissance Begins

2008 isn’t over, but it’s already one for the books, one of those historic years in which America was changed in profound ways, a benchmark.

On November 4, 2008, America elected its first African American president, and gave him more votes than it had ever given a presidential candidate. The moment he was declared the president-elect was electrifying, stunning, overwhelming, and millions of Americans smiled, wept, and laughed.

In 2008, the worst president in this nation’s history wound down his disastrous eight-year effort to reduce America to something he could carry around in his pocket and threaten people with.

But, according to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Congress “doesn’t have time” to impeach Bush, though he has committed more high crimes and misdemeanors than there are.

And, in 2008, an unprecedented financial crisis knocked America asunder.

Not only did we finally fulfill America’s promise this year by electing Barack Obama, a young African American man, president, but America itself shook off the foul debris that had accumulated during the 40 toxic years that began with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and will end next month with the departure of Bush,

As presidential candidate Obama moved around the country last fall, speaking eloquently of the efficacy of hope and the need for change, he
attracted larger and larger and more enthusiastic crowds. More people watched his speech at the Democratic convention than watched the opening of the Olympics. Voter registration soared. Millions of people made small donations to his campaign via the internet. The energy and spirit that had long been dormant filled the air.

It was as if, in choosing a young, enormously talented African American to be their president, the American people had, in one stroke, liberated themselves from all the mindless old habits, biases, superstitions and rules that had long inhibited America’s progress, and theirs.

Obama was the real thing, made in, of, by and for America. His mother was a white American, his father a black Kenyan. He grew up in Hawaii with his white grandparents, went to Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years, transferred to Columbia in New York , worked as a community organizer in Chicago, and then went to Harvard law school.

The young lawyer settled in Chicago and married another Harvard Law graduate, They have two daughters. He became a state legislator, a Senator and… President.

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama will become the 45th president of, in his words, “not the blue states or the red states, but the United States of America.”

Journalists and pundits are now summing 2008 up on TV and the internet and in newspapers. Their summations are concise, and tidy – until they get to the “financial crisis,” which, thus far, no one has been able to explain.

In fact, its seeds were sown in 1982, when President Ronald Reagan said what American business men and women had been waiting to hear for 200 years: “We’re the party that wants to see an America in which people can still get rich.”

In his 1987 film, “Wall Street,” Oliver Stone, whom Garry Wills has accurately described as “America’s Dostoevsky,” and his co-writer Stanley Weiser reduced Reagan’s line to its essence: ”Greed is good.”

And it was — for a small number of people, who got richer and richer and ultimately owned almost all of everything

The number of American millionaires hit a record high of 9.5 million in 2006, but last year growth of the millionaire class slowed. Surely, that was a portent of the current crisis, but all the so-called experts missed it.

To no one’s surprise, when the financial meltdown occurred, hundreds of billions of dollars were rushed to Wall Street, with a two-page deal memo, but in order for the automobile industry to get a $15 billion “bridge loan,” auto workers had to agree to take a major pay cut.

Clearly, millionaires are a protected species in the Reagan/Bush version of America. Auto workers are not.

Wall Street millionaires played five or six too many tricks with money, and, in the best trick of all, stuck American workers with the bill, courtesy of the Bush gang.

In a few weeks, the gang will depart, and President Obama will undertake the resurrection of the dream that died 40 years ago with Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. and the repair of the damage done by his predecessors, as well as making the major changes he called for and millions of us voted for.

The renaissance of America is underway

Whither 2009

By Ava Tramer

Mostly sunny
Highs: 58-68; Lows: 41-49

Warm and sunny
Highs: 57-73; Lows: 33-43

Clear and sunny
Highs: 56-72; Lows: 39-49

And Santa Monica…
Santa Claus has been nice this year, piling any cold, wet weather on his sleigh and riding off with it into the night, leaving us with only sun and warmth. Temperatures will warm up over the weekend, leaving us in the high sixties to welcome in the new year. As you make your resolutions for 2009, please include a vow to not complain about the weather. Really, you’ve got nothing to whine about. With sunshine and temperatures in the sixties, you’ve got things really really good!

Santa Monica as Fantasyland

We are well and truly lodged in fantasyland now, courtesy of the SMRR/City Hall/Chamber/ developer axis, which brought us the recent election, in which up was down, in was out, good was bad and truth was very hard to find.

Though the election is over, the fantasy rolls on. Last eek,ΩurfSantaMonica reported that a “New Guard” now heads the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.

The “new guard” turned out to be Ralph Mechur and Barry Snell, the new president and vice president of the board.

Unfortunately, the only thing that’s “new” about Mechur is that, as far as we know, he’s the only school board president who has never won a general election, or received even one popular vote.

When board member Emily Bloomfield resigned, as she was leaving the district, the board appointed Mechur to replace her. As a rule, appointed officials run in the election that follows their appointment to complete the term. All of the official election literature listed Mechur as a candidate for the two remaining years of Bloomfield’s term. But the word “unopposed” appeared after his name. No one seemed to know what it meant, why it was there or whether it was an invitation or a prohibition. It turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. As nobody opposed Mechur, his name did not appear on the ballot, and, after the election, the board simply reappointed him.

According to the story, board members are very enthusiastic about this “new guard” and the changes that it will make, but gave few details.

So it is that a man who has never run for office now holds one of the most importantå offices in the region.

Whither Winter

By Ava Tramer

Partly cloudy with possible showers
Highs: 56-63; Lows: 41-48

Sunny with showers
Highs: 56-65; Lows: 35-42

Mostly sunny
Highs: 55-66; Lows: 41-48

And Santa Monica…
Ho ho ho! Dreidel dreidel dreidel! The holidays are here! But there’s no white Christmas or Chanukah for us. Cry and complain all you want, but it’s not going to happen. Wait another decade or so and maybe global warming, not Santa, will bring us a white Christmas… However, all is not lost: there is a slight chance of rain on Christmas day and on the first night of Chanukah. If you take off your glasses and cover your ears to avoid hearing the pitter-patter of the rain on your roof, you might maybe possibly be able to imagine that it’s snow falling outside your window, and not rain. Or you can tear up toilet paper or buy white confetti or use styrofoam popcorn (or real popcorn for that matter) and fill up your house with “snow” (keep the non-meltable snow inside your house and out of your yard, please, for that would bring on global warming too soon, even though I know you’re impatient for an abnormal, white Christmas). Happy holidays, and stay warm! Well, you’ll probably be warm enough. It’s southern California, after all. Happy holidays, and stay dry! There, that’s better! If it even rains.

Watch Out!

When winning is the only thing, anything goes.

Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) has dominated what passes for politics in Santa Monica for three decades, It now virtually owns a majority of seats on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education, the Rent Control Board and the City Council.

It was founded by residents to protect and serve the 70 percent of residents who were tenants and, for a while, it did, but today its primary interest is preserving its own power.

Several years ago, I asked one of the founders, who had severed his SMRR ties years before, what had happened to it.

He said, “They have become Stalinists.”

The SMRR puppet masters’ relationship with City Hall is downright incestuous, and the Chamber of Commerce has finally realized what many of us have known for years — that SMRR was its chief ally, not its adversary.

For some years, SMRR has held the patent on winning campaigns – take credit for all the good stuff, blame the bad stuff on your opponents, run a lot of pretty pictures in your mailers, and portray yourself as the underdog.

But a curious thing happened on the way to the fall election. Residents got angry. The City’s relentless promotion and aggressive economic development policies. chronic traffic congestion, a daily transient population estimated at 300,000, the City’s reduction of public review of proposed projects and its increasing use of development agreements, the tree wars and other municipal insults led to the residents’ roil.

All of that discontent was made manifest in the Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT), which was written by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), which surfaced a couple of years ago.

Founded by a small group of residents, some of whom were members of SMRR, SMCLC got SMRR leaders’ attention right away. Its founding members were smart, savvy and organized, and they were the first progressives to ever challenge SMRR’s hegemony.

RIFT would cap commercial development at 75,000 square feet for 15 years. Over 10,000 residents signed the petitions to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The SMRR/City Hall/Chamber axis opposed RIFT on sight, as it not only limited commercial growth, it limited their power.

SMRR pulled every trick in the big book of hardball politics to defeat EIFT and win all the other contests. .

For the first time in its history, it did not run a full slate of candidates for the four open seats, in order to give its incumbents – Richard Bloom and Ken Genser a clear shot at re-election. It front-loaded the School Board election. It packed the Santa Monica Democratic Club in order to override the recommendations of its steering committee that it endorse Genser and incumbent Bobby Shriver, and reject Bloom on the basis of his pro-development record. Swamped by SMRR votes, the club endorsed Genser and Bloom, but not Shriver. Following the vote, club president Julie Lopez Dad, a longtime SMRR member, described it as “ludicrous.”

A new group, “Save Our City” (SOC), that was created to defeat RIFT, claimed to be “the broadest coalition” ever assembled in Santa Monica, but in fact, it was the same old crowd – special interests and the self-anointed “elite,” following SMRR’s lead.

Armed with $800,000 from developers, led by SMRR stalwarts Judy Abdo and Bruce Cameron, along with Terry O’Day, it twisted arms, made threats, and bombarded voters with mailers that were meant to scare them into line. According to SMRR’s SOC, Prop T was “fiscally irresponsible..,would hurt our schools…will hurt renters …is too risky…risks our children’s future…” and so on. There was no basis in fact for any of those and other charges, of course. It was an $800.000 dirty trick played on Santa Monica residents by the people who had sworn to serve them. And it worked. Prop T was
defeated. And all of SMRR’s candidates won – except one Rent Control Board candidate, who got scant support from SMRR.

All the Council incumbents – Bloom, Genser, Herb Katz and Shriver — won re-election, with Shriver running well ahead of the field, as he had four years ago.

The only remaining question was who would succeed Katz as mayor.

Some people thought it should be Shriver, as he had won the popular vote by an impressive margin. But what “should be” seldom figures in Council proceedings.

Besides, in addition to besting his colleagues at the polls — twice, Shriver had supported Prop T, opposed the City’s own Prop SM, and endorsed Council candidate Ted Winterer, an SMCLC member – all of which were clearly approved by voters, but, as clearly, seen as heresy by his Council colleagues.

If not Shriver, people said, then Kevin McKeown. After all, he was
a SMRR member and the only Council member, besides Shriver, who has not had a turn in the mayor’s chair. But he, too, supported RIFT, and SMRR Council member Pam O’Connor has been quoted as saying that she would never vote for McKeown.

Who then?

Ken Gemser, of course.

When winning is the only thing, send in your star player.

Genser has been on the Council for 20 years. He’s been mayor twice before. He has a prodigious, if highly selective memory, and, once crossed, he never forgets and never forgives. His trademark hesitant manner notwithstanding, he’s tough, and he believes, with absolute certainty, that he knows what’s best for Santa Monica.

Countless residents may disagree, but they’re waiting in line for their two minutes at the podium, and Mr. Genser’s got the gavel.