By Frank Gruber
Two thousand eight was the year when despair passed
the baton to hope. Only time after January 20 will tell if hope
passes it to achievement, but it's an exciting moment we're living
in: the economy hits the skids as it hasn't in 80 years, our foreign
policy is as confused and conflicted as it hasn't been since whenever,
but we elect to be our leader the candidate who four years ago was
the most unlikely.
One thing -- I'm happy that Barack Obama is taking
some time off in Hawaii because all the people declaring whether
his presidency is a success before it's even started are starting
to annoy me.
Don't they realize that Obama and his sidekicks,
David Plouffe and David Axelrod, are ten steps ahead of them?
Remember in September when the financial crisis
took its big turn for the worst? And everyone was saying that this
would limit what Obama could do in the way of his ambitious plans
if he became president? (There was even an extended series of questions
about this during one of the debates.)
But then at some moment President-elect Obama turned
the crisis into an inevitable blank check -- the return of Keynesian
Locally, in Santa Monica, where no incumbents who
ran for anything lost, I'm predicting that this will be the year
that turns the old French adage on its head; instead of "the
more things change, the more they remain the same," I suspect
in future years we'll look back on this election and say, "the
more things stayed the same, the more they changed."
That's because the election, particularly the defeat
of the no-growth party behind Measure T, exposes rifts (sorry) in
the coalition of old-style progressive realists, who recognize that
we live in a capitalist society, and anti-growth idealists, who
would prefer to ignore that fact, that has always comprised Santa
Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR).
Although SMRR leaders managed to impose enough
discipline on the four council members who were elected with SMRR
support to have them all vote to elect Ken Genser mayor and Pam
O'Connor mayor-pro-tem for two year terms, expect to see Council
Member Kevin McKeown finding common ground with Council Member Bobby
Shriver over the next year and a half more often than he does with
some of the other SMRR council members.
I predict that this will culminate in some kind
of battle for the soul of SMRR, if not its endorsements, at the
organization's convention in August 2010.
Meanwhile, expect to see more crossover politics, as the political
issues in Santa Monica turn from classic Santa Monica issues like
land use, traffic, and homelessness, toward fiscal issues, as the
state budget crisis, the decline in the economy
(and sales tax revenues), and Calpers' bad investments
in sprawl real estate (requiring more local contributions to the
pension plan), cause considerable upset in the City's and the School
That could be where local and national politics
intersect, as the Obama administration should realize that the quickest
means to inject money into local economies to keep people working
is to help state governments deal with their deficits before they
cut services or raise taxes.
For instance, voters in school districts throughout
Southern California have taxed themselves tens of billions of dollars
to build schools in the past two decades; what they need now is
not more money for construction, but operating funds to keep teachers
and staff employed and children learning.
Hope for a return to "revenue sharing."
Another phrase to look for a return to is "money
in the bank," as in where we all wish we had had our savings.
Since I run a business, my law practice, I keep more money in a
regular checking account than my wife and I would otherwise need
to have so accessible, and I always have resented how little interest
I get -- nickels and dimes a month.
When I was growing up there was a system -- banks
paid four percent on deposits and collected six percent on mortgages
-- and on that two percent they made a living. Could someone remind
me what the problem was?
I also have a little money that accumulates in
a brokerage account, earning hardly any interest, and since I know
I'm the world's worst investor, it stays there because I avoid making
any decisions about investing.
But now, what do you know, but the money I have
in the bank and in the brokerage account turns out to have been
my best investment. Unfortunately, those accounts aren't too big.
Everything else my wife and I have -- from the value of stocks and
California tax-free bonds to the value of our house -- is down from
20 to 50 percent.
But the money in the bank is just that -- money
in the bank.
Oh well. We do live in one of the better places
on earth. Actually I think this ongoing economic calamity with its
attendant scandals was designed to make me feel thankful for what
After all, I'm not poor enough to worry about becoming
homeless, and I'm not rich enough to have been bilked by Bernard
And on that note of thankfulness, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.