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Let’s Go Over the “Fiscal Cliff”

I know that this title may seem on the surface like fiscal insanity but there is much that is hidden from us by our government and/or obfuscated to the point that understanding by us lay people is nearly impossible.  Here are some of my thoughts below for your consideration.

I believe that a major point of confusion, albeit the confusion is becoming less and less as the public becomes more aware, is the difference between the national deficit and the national debt.  The deficit number is a result of spending more in a year than we take in.  Each year’s deficit adds to the national debt. If we had a budget surplus, we could reduce the national debt.  The President’s current fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget has a projected deficit of $0.9 trillion.  The big buzzwords are that this deficit is not as large as the FY 2012 deficit, that we are reducing the deficit.  So, said in other words, we are adding less to our debt this year than we did last year.  Please note, however, that we are still adding to our debt!

Now let’s look at the debt.  For some enlightenment, please check out www.usdebtclock.org.  Our current national debt is over $16 trillion and counting.  That means that we owe folks, like China, who are financing our debt, $16 trillion.  Plus, we pay them interest for their loan.  Interest payments on our debt for FY 2012 amounted to around $0.36 trillion.  Interest payments on our debt are part of each year’s budget.  An analogy here, as an example, is that you have an interest only loan for your car or house.  You make interest payments every month but you never pay down the principal or the money originally borrowed.  Our government is making interest payments on the debt but cannot pay down the principal so long as we are running budget deficits.  In fact, the budget deficits add to our debt principal and increase the interest payments which increase the budget deficits so long as we can’t balance the budget.  It becomes a vicious downward spiral into bankruptcy.

I think all of us at one time or another has had to quit a bad habit.  The bad habit was something that we enjoyed but we knew that it was not good for us in the long term.  Our government’s spending habits are bad for us long term.  Please refer to some of the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) documents on this issue.  http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/FiscalRestraint_0.pdf is a good one.  The basic conclusion is that we need to do something drastic to keep this country alive and well for the years to come.  We are currently the proud possessors of a dysfunctional congress on whom we are currently relying to get us out of this mess.  If history is any indicator, our chances of congress helping us out of this mess through new legislation by the first of 2013, which is a requirement of the “Fiscal Cliff” legislation in order for us not to go over the “Fiscal Cliff”, are slim and none.

So, I have a proposal for congress.  Please do that which you do so well and that is NOTHING.  Going over the Fiscal Cliff is strong medicine but it will set us on a better course for future budget considerations.  Even if we go over the “Fiscal Cliff”, the anticipated budget deficit for 2013 is reduced from $0.9 trillion to $0.56 trillion.  There will still be a budget deficit adding to our debt—even with this strong medicine!!  CBO data shows, at least to this novice reader, that even going over the “Fiscal Cliff” will require decades of prudent budget management to get our national debt under control.  Not going over the “Fiscal Cliff” appears to me to be an even scarier ride.

Angelo Spandrio

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My Bully: Robert

Angelo SpandrioI think of you now and then, Robert, especially with all of this bullying stuff making headlines in the news.  I did not celebrate when you died; in fact, after all that we had been through, I missed you and mourned for you.  If only you had changed paths just a little and gone with our urging, you could have been saved.

I was on top of the world in 1957, going to La Cumbre Junior High School in Santa Barbara, California.  My family had lived in Santa Barbara for 5 years now and my life was really coming together.  Dad had a good paying job and Mother was at home all of the time washing and cooking and profanely screaming at us when we got out of line.  We were mostly good kids though.  Had all kinds of friends and the neighborhood on the “La Mesa” was wonderful, right by the beach with all kinds of things to do.  I had just gotten a job at Harry Chanson’s (we used to call him Chintzy Chanson) Marina dumping garbage, pumping bilges on the boats he had for sale and, the most terrifying of tasks for me, painting the tops of all of the pilings in the Marina with silver paint.  Using the row boat to paint some them was not my thing.  $0.50 per hour went a long way then.  I even bought, with the help of my grandfather, a brand new 1957 Cushman motor scooter which I wrecked on my first trip around the block.  Dad fixed it up though, after profanely describing his dissatisfaction with my carelessness.

Ninth grade at La Cumber was great: straight A’s; many friends (including a girl friend, Junie Yoder); going to dances, singing in the glee club and participating in all kinds of athletics.  I was flying so high that I even bought a pair of blue suede shoes!  Ah, those dances! What fun to actually touch a girl!!  Next year would mean Santa Barbara High School and 10th grade.  We were all very excited about that.

My Dad’s parents lived in Port Hueneme, CA where I was born.  We had moved to Santa Barbara from Port Hueneme because Dad got a great job with the Weber’s baking company there.  About once a month we would make the 45 minute drive to Port Hueneme to visit my grandparents.  They owned a six unit apartment complex behind their house and my folks would do whatever they could to help out during our visit.  The drive to Port Hueneme was unpleasant.  My Dad smoked the whole way while constantly spitting out the driver’s side window.  The drive was along the coast and you could see the tranquil waters off of Santa Barbara change to the rough waters of the Coast of Ventura County.  The color of the ocean even changed from a beautiful blue color to a stormy gray color, or so I thought.  We had to stop along the way both going and coming to pick up used soda bottles for their redemption value and hub caps that had fallen off of cars along Highway 101.  I never understood the redemption value of the used hub caps.  Dad was always hoping to get a set of four matching ones but of course we never came close.  We played license plate games, looked for out of state plates and tried to identify the make of every car we saw.  Dinner was always great at my grandparent’s house, usually polenta and sausage, really good sausage, Molinari from San Francisco.  My grandmother, whom we called Mom, always blubbered over us kids.  My grandparents came from Italy when my Dad was about a year old, settling in Ventura County to farm.  They seemed very old at the time.

The drive back to Santa Barbara felt wonderful.  I didn’t like Port Hueneme or the Oxnard/Ventura area so getting back home was great.  We had a beautiful three bedroom home with a yard that Dad had really fixed up.  He kept the outside looking immaculate.  On his days off we would all go fishing at Stearn’s wharf where one day I caught a 16 pound halibut.  The newspaper even published a picture of me with my catch.  I was so proud!!  During deer season we would go hunting in the mountains behind Santa Barbara.  Dad and I both got bucks one year.  Sometimes we would make the harrowing drive to Gibraltar Lake in the Santa Ynez River Valley to go trout fishing.  I remember these things as if they happened last week.  Life was so good then.

A bombshell is dropped: My parents must have discussed this with my grandparents during our visits but we kids never had a hint of what was going on.  The bombshell was dropped on us one day and it is very strange that I don’t remember this instance that changed my life forever.  It was around Christmas time in 1957, in the middle of my 9th grade school year.  We were told that we were moving immediately to Port Hueneme to take care of my grandparents and to manage the apartment complex.  I was devastated.  We were not consulted or made a part of the decision making process.  Just like my Mother, we were expected to obey my Dad’s command unquestioningly.  My Dad had no job prospects there and the five of us had to live “temporarily” in one of the tiny one bedroom apartments behind my grandparents’ house until my grandparents’ new house was completed next door.  These living conditions were a living hell so far as I was concerned.  On top of that, I was to go to Oxnard High School which is a four year high school.  I went from being a top dog 9th grader at La Cumbre to a lowly freshman at Oxnard High. Oxnard High had a rough reputation — well deserved, by the way.  There were gangs, fights on campus, even stabbings, we heard.  I was terrified.  Caspar Milquetoast I was not.  I was big and confident so I was not, I thought, a typical target for teasing or bullying.  How wrong I was.

The bullying begins: Port Hueneme is some distance from Oxnard High School so I was forced to take the school bus from Port Hueneme to school.  On the bus is where I first met Robert Splawn.  We didn’t have a formal introduction; our introduction consisted of his middle finger flicking the back of my ear as he sat behind me on the bus.  I couldn’t believe it so I turned around to do something about it.  Robert was a tiny kid, probably 5 feet tall and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet.  What made Robert so formidable were his friends like Terry Broderson and others.  Now they were big guys and all of them sat close to Robert.  You might wish to classify the whole group as hoods.  So, the writing was on the wall; I would somehow have to endure whatever Robert dished out on the bus or take them all on.  Why was I a target?  My clothes were in style, my haircut was OK, I had no obvious physical deformities that could be singled out, but I was a new kid.  Guess that was it.  My life had hit rock bottom.  I had no friends, I was behind in all of my classes since we moved mid term, my home sucked and I had a frightful bus ride ahead of me every morning.  Things did not look good.

Thanks to my Dad for inadvertently rescuing me. I say inadvertent because he did nothing out of what was ordinarily how he would behave to rescue me.  My parents were from the “tough love” school for their child rearing philosophy.  Maybe that philosophy also helped my ability to persevere through these times. My Dad could have been considered a “hood” while he was growing up; but he turned out OK.  He used to carouse around the Oxnard area while he was growing up.  He chased more than his share of girls and hung out with a questionable crowd.  He spent a lot of time in Oxnard pool halls but none in jail so far as I know.  Cops were a lot more understanding then, I guess.  His time in the pool halls is what saved me.  You see, he had become quite a good pool player, possibly an excellent pool player.  He started taking me to one Oxnard pool hall on Oxnard Boulevard.  I remember it vividly.  We would go early in the morning because it was not crowded at that time.  The time of morning did not change the dingy looks or the smell of this place.  Smoke hung in the air and the guy running it had a hole in his throat.  I think he had to plug the hole with his finger to be able to talk.  The hole with a metal ring around it made a whistling sound as I recall and he made me very uncomfortable.  Dad and I usually played on the 8 foot snooker table.  Now snooker is a tough game for two reasons; the pockets are very narrow and the table is very big, all in all quite challenging.  Dad was good and he taught me.  He always said that if you could shoot snooker, pocket billiards would be a breeze.  So, I got into pool.

One day we heard that a pool hall in Santa Paula was going out of business and they were selling everything including their pool tables.  Dad said that we should buy one and put it in the garage.  By then we had moved from our apartment to my grandparents’ old two bedroom house.  At least we gained a bedroom.  Somehow we squeezed all three of us boys into one tiny bedroom.  It was still an improvement.  Off to Santa Paula we went and bought a pool table, cues and accessories.  It was pretty exciting.  This was a regulation, slate bed, pocket billiard table with ball return.  We had to disassemble it to get it home and then reassemble it in the garage.  It was quite a challenge but we did it with the help of some local pool hall owners.  The felt, balls and cushions were not in very good shape so we made a trip to Los Angles to a billiard supply store and bought new balls, felt and cushions.  We rebuilt the table and it was beautiful; not perfect but pretty darn nice.  I spent all of my free time shooting pool in my garage by myself.  Needless to say, I became quite good.

Keeping my enemy close: Well, somehow I was still surviving the taunting though I don’t remember exactly how I did that.  The word even got out to Robert that I had a pool table in my garage.  You could say that Robert and his group were frequent patrons of the local pool halls where they could act tough and smoke cigarettes.  Plus, I guess that is where their “friends” hung out.  And, of course, since they hung out in pool halls they must automatically be good pool players. One day, and I kind of remember it, Robert acted semi-friendly to me and I was shocked and suspicious.  He said, “Hey, I hear you have your own pool table in your garage, is that true?”  I said it was true and Robert wanted to know if he could come by and shoot pool one day after school.  Of course I was surprised but though I didn’t know the phrase or strategy at the time, I decided it was good to keep my friends close and my enemies closer.  So, my enemy Robert came by to shoot pool with whom I am certain he thought was the biggest sucker and easiest mark on the face of the earth.

The tables are turned: Poor Robert (even though I felt no sorrow for him at that time)!  We started playing and I could tell just by the way he made his bridge that his pool shooting skills were limited.  I can’t remember what we played, it could have been rotation, call shot or 8-ball; maybe all three.  What I do remember is that soon after we started, Robert suggested that we start playing for money.  I reluctantly agreed since I had never done that before.  After two or three hours of this Robert was broke.  Undaunted, and I am sure thinking that this must have been a fluke, Robert scheduled another session with me.  I don’t remember for sure how many sessions we had where we played for money, but in every one Robert went away broke.  I guess he could have had many responses to these embarrassments, but the one he had surprised me.  The taunting stopped; my reputation among his group of friends as someone who could really shoot pool spread. The word was out — don’t shoot pool with Angelo for money. And Robert and I became friends.  Through him I had a link to the hoodlum element in school while not practicing the same things they did.  That link offered me shelter in my storm while I made friends with kids that had tastes similar to mine.

In 10th grade, things were getting better.  I joined the JV football team and became a semi jock.  My Dad gave me his old 1949 Chevy pick-up which I treated like a treasure.  I started a business selling eggs door-to-door in partnership with Steve Cotler whose Dad owned a clothing store in Oxnard.  We would buy our eggs in bulk from a chicken farm in Moorpark and repackage them in one dozen cartons for the door-to-door sales.

11th grade took us to a brand new high school, Hueneme High School, where we would be the first graduating class.  I had a good job in a hardware store in Port Hueneme but had to give up sports to have time for the job.  I bought a ’57 Chevy Two Door Bel Air Hardtop.  Robert and most of his friends all went to Hueneme High as well and we remained friends.  My geek friends were always shocked that I was also friends with this other element in school.  My pool shooting reputation stayed with me but I was often challenged by new friends who thought they were pretty good.  They were never good enough.  My grades were great and my future looked solid.  I even finally landed a girl friend.

The bully’s choice — and his downfall: 12th grade was even better.  I had lots of friends, both geek and hoods.  I became an expert on Chevrolet 283 V-8 engines and completely rebuilt the engine in my Chevy.  The car was a beauty!  We’d cruise “A” street as often as we could so long as homework didn’t interfere.  I had a whole new group of “hot rod” buddies.  It was a real life “American Graffiti” I was living.  We would see Robert every once in a while down town.  He got good grades, had a good sense of humor and always made us laugh even though there was something tragic about him.  Don Bourassa, my best friend, and I got accepted into the Student Engineering Development program sponsored by the Navy at Point Mugu, CA.  This was a 5-year scholarship program that lead to an engineering degree and a job at Point Mugu after graduation.  It was a terrific program.  We tried to convince Robert to join us.  We begged him.  He had the grades but decided at the last minute not to pursue it.  The path he chose was a sad one.  Some weeks later, we were at Foster’s Old Fashioned Freeze on “A” street and some guys who knew we knew Robert asked us if we had heard the latest.  Robert had died in an Oxnard Police Department jail cell the night before; cause was unknown but appeared to be related to some sort of a respiratory condition

A final word to my bully: So Robert you were gone, my tormentor and my friend.  I will never forget you.  Your bullying had an indelible affect on me.  When my life was at rock bottom, you and your friends made it worse.  Had you been nice to me, I could have started my road to recovery sooner.  You could have been my first friend in my new situation.  I am so sorry that you chose not to be that friend.

However, your bullying did not ruin my life.  As I look back over the past 68 years, I have many vivid memories.  These memories were so eventful that they can never be completely forgotten.  Some of those memories are good and some are bad.  Your bullying is one of the bad ones.  My kicking your butt at pool is one of the good ones.

This bullying doesn’t define my life… So how does this composite of good and bad memories and experiences shape a person’s life?  I don’t know for sure.  I only know that the good experiences associated with the good memories gave me joy and made my life richer.  These memories still enrich my life today.  The bad experiences associated with the bad memories were problems I had to overcome and there were many.  The bullying was only one in a whole list.  Some of those items on this “bad” list were self imposed.  There was no one to blame but me.  However, the big difference is that these bad memories don’t have to drag me down in the present.  They are almost like medals I wear that say I overcame these bad experiences and as a result I am better off because of them.

…And bullying doesn’t have to define yours: So, my dear friend out there, don’t ever let a bully whose name might be Robert drag you down.  Be strong.  Figure out a way to overcome.  You have strengths, use them.  You have wonderful attributes, use them.  Persevere.  Never give up, never surrender!  There will be many other trials besides the bullying to overcome.  Who knows, maybe you too will have the chance to kick your Robert’s butt.  Pin that medal on your chest.

Got questions? E-mail me: angelo@ams-enterprises.com.

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