Roundtable: Mexico's Election, California's Budget, San Diego's Fizzle
July 6, 2012 1:25 p.m.
Guests: Alisa Joyce Barba, senior editor, Fronteras Desk
David Rolland, Editor, San Diego CityBeat
Tom Fudge, reporter, KPBS News
Related Story: Roundtable: Mexican Election, Welfare Cuts, Fireworks Fail
PENNER: I'm Gloria Penner. And today is Friday, July 6th. With me at the Roundtable are Alisa Barba, editor of NPR's Fronteras desk. How are you?
BARBA: I'm great.
PENNER: David Rolland, editor of San Diego City beat.
ROLLAND: It is outstanding to be here, thank you.
PENNER: And Tom Fudge, KPBS news reporter. First time with me on the show.
FUDGE: Yeah, it'll be exciting!
PENNER: And you will survive it.
[ LAUGHTER ]
PENNER: On Sunday, Mexican citizens had their presidential election, and the virtual winner was Enrique PeÒa Nieto, heralding a change from the ruling Pan party to the Pri. But the validity of the vote was being questioned. There is robust interest on this side of the border in the results and what they mean for Mexico and the United States. So with me to take the lead on this story is Alisa Joyce Barba. Before we talk about the implications of the Mexican election, give us some basics, sort of like a Mexican election 101. Who were the three main candidates, who did they represent?
BARBA: Well, the real drama here was whether the Pri, the institutional revolutionary party was going to come back to power. They had ruled Mexico for some 70 years up until 2000. Cauldron was of the Pan party. And most of the polls suggested that yes, indeed, the candidate of the Pri party was indeed the lead in the election, and he apparently is the Victor. So the Pri, after being out of power for 12 years is now back. And that was the main drama.
PENNER: And we just got news that the official count is indeed in, and more than half the ballots were double checked, and his wins official.
PENNER: So what triggers a recount? What does this say about the Mexican elections? Are they fair and democratic? Can you imagine having a recount in the United States?
BARBA: Isn't that what we had to do with the Supreme Court a few months ago?
FUDGE: Florida, Florida.
ROLLAND: How soon we forget.
BARBA: One of the candidates, the candidate for the PRD, Andres Manuel Lopez Abrudor, he run in 2006 and came very close to defeating CalderÛn and has never conceded that defeat. He as well as some civic groups are saying there was some fraud and some vote buying by the Pri. So they're looking into it an investigation, and in fact the federal election group that is looking at this has until September 1st to ratify or to rescind Nieto as the presidential winner.
PENNER: So this is not a similar process to the United States?
BARBA: No, it's a different country, it's a different process. But charges of vote buying, charges of electoral fraud in Mexico, this is not a new story.
PENNER: Well, we'll talk about that anyway. The vote buying itself was kind of an interesting way of doing it. But David, you wanted to say something.
ROLLAND: Well, I just think that vote buying business is really fascinating. I did see, I was reading a lot about this last night, and I saw some video clip was journalists interviewing people who said, oh, yeah, I sold my vote for -- whether it was a baseball cap or a T-shirt or a gift card from a grocery store or straight cash for $50 or so.
BARBA: The rules say you can't go up to somebody and say here's 100 pesos. But basically there were charges that tens of thousands if not millions of gift cards of a specific supermarket were sent out by the Pri which is a strong encouragement to vote on their behalf.
FUDGE: Let's say that this honest was at least honest enough to be legitimate. This is an interesting result. The Pri which ruled the country for so long a time had not been in power for at least a decade and of course had this terrible reputation in the United States of being dictatorial, and when the Pan came into party, it looked like the days were back. Nieto probably made the argument that I'm not your father's Pri. It's different. But is it? It's interesting to see these old power brokers back in power.
PENNER: Is that what's happening?
BARBA: Well, that's the concern. And that's the fear. I saw among the expatriot voters, 40,000 some Mexicans who don't live in Mexico but voted they voted overwhelmingly against the Pri. Because presumably, most of them left Mexico before or in the middle of the CalderÛn regime, and their memories of the Pri, and there's a tremendous amount of concern that it's back to politics as usual, which is a very authoritarian ruling party with a lot of corruption and cronyism. On the other hand, you have to look at this as getting rid of the Pan as well. The last 12 years in Mexico cannot be heralded as a success story by many, many people.
PENNER: It can't. But there was an effort to reduce violent.
FUDGE: And did it ever not succeed!
PENNER: It did not, but wasn't there an effort?
FUDGE: Well, yes. CalderÛn did essentially claim that he was making war on the drug cartels.
ROLLAND: And sent in the army to do so.
FUDGE: Right, and what was the result? Dozens of bodies in places like Monterey being dumped as a message of terror, corruption that appears to me to have been just as bad as it was under the Pri. So I can understand, I think, why Mexicans living in the United States didn't want to go back to the Pri. But if you're living in Mexico and living with that kind of violence, I think you're probably going to vote for anybody who you think can stop it want.
PENNER: Let me ask our listeners about whether they were even aware that there was a Mexican election just a few miles away from here, and how you think that result is going to affect relationships with San Diego and California. Alisa, how it will can affect us?
BARBA: It doesn't look like it's going to affect us a great deal. The Obama administration immediately reached out to the new president, to the official presidential winner, just a few days ago. He has said that he will continue the security policies of CalderÛn. He's talking about changing them somewhat. Of he wants to reduce the level of violence. But the Pri also had a representation of colluding with the cartels, if not having a friendly, at least a live and let live relationship with some of the larger cartels. You do your business, and I'll do mine. And that was again the general wisdom, that that resulted in not so many homicides, not so much violence.
PENNER: Well, I'm thinking about here in San Diego. I can remember what Jerry Sanders reached out to people in Mexico and said I want to establish a relationship. Have we heard anything from him on this election? David?
ROLLAND: No, I have not.
BARBA: If the level of violence goes down dramatically in Mexico -- what have we witnessed in San Diego? Basically the board shutting down to many people. People don't go south. They don't go to Tijuana to go drinking anymore. They don't go down to Baja because there's a lot of fear, a lot of concern. A lot of the things you hear, it's ignorant, but at the same time our kind of international communication that we had maybe 15 years ago is no longer there. That may change if the level of violence goes down.
PENNER: A change would be interesting for both the economy of Mexico, at least northern Baja California is very dependant on tourism. But it would also be a change in terms of the cultural experience that we have. I can remember not too long ago when we had college classes down there, and when you would want your kids to go down and have the experience. Tom, you have children.
FUDGE: Yes. Have I haven't been to Tijuana for quite a while, and I think probably for the reasons that were already mentioned, because it's -- going down there is intimidating. You don't feel secure going to Mexico. I wanted to get back to your question about what does this mean to the United States. I think that's hard to say because it depends on whether you believe he will be an effective leader or not. Obviously the situation in Mexico as a huge impact on the United States, on our economy, on our immigration policy. It has a huge effect. But will PeÒa Nieto have a huge effect on the way the economy performs? Will he have a huge effect on whether there's going to be more or less corruption? We don't know.
PENNER: What do you think, David?
ROLLAND: A couple points. First on getting back to the drug violence, as Alisa pointed out, the Pri, when it was in power, from what I understand cut deals with the cartels that basically kept the violence down to a minimum. But essentially let cartels do what they were going to do is let the drugs flow. So there is a lot of expectation that we might return to that because the -- getting tough on cartels using the military obviously didn't work. But there is some speculation out there that the last decade or so has emboldened the cartels in such a way that maybe there aren't deals to be cut with the Pri at this point. We don't know until it happens, until things play out. But one more comment, going back to PeÒa Nieto himself, and whether he would be a return to the Pri of the past, his critics -- he was the governor of the state of Mexico. Critics that have watched his tenure there believe that he is indeed the Pri of the past. I believe the Pri party is broken down into two main categories, and that would be technocrats and dinosaurs as I think they call them. The last couple of Pri presidents were considered to be technocrats, that they were sort of intellectuals and --
PENNER: Is that a good thing for this country? I keep trying to make that relevance to what's happening here and our suspicion of Mexico. And yet it's one of our major trading partners.
ROLLAND: But it all depends on what happens to the overall economy. CalderÛn obviously doesn't get much credit for turning the country around. But I noticed Wayne Cornelius, a local expert on Mexican immigration in particular sort of defend CalderÛn saying this is a huge recession, and Mexico is just clobbered by the recession just as much as anybody was.
BARBA: Yeah, and I think you need to look at Nieto as Romney and Obama as well. How we're going to be voting in November when we're still in the depths of recession? I think there's a lot of people here who are going to be looking for change as well. And this guy comes in, he says he's the new Pri, he says things have been very difficult, we have 55,000 dead bodies, this war going on. There's parts of Mexico that are literally lawless at this point, that are run by the cartels. And he's saying we're going to come back. 12 years is a long time to be out of power. Say you're an 18 year-old voter.
PENNER: But he is a young man.
BARBA: He is, and very sleek, and married to one of the top soap opera stars. And I think he provides a very pretty image. But one thing to keep in mind, we talked about trade, the maquiladoras are doing very well. There's a lot of business coming back to northern Mexico from China, and this sector of the economy is starting to rev up again. We're talking about $1 billion of trade per day between Mexico and the U.S. and that's the part of this relationship that any presidential candidate in Mexico is not going to touch.
PENNER: And how does this affect the knowledge that we have over here of the value Mexico to this country in terms of trade partners?
BARBA: If people recognize what an important trade partner they are, they have to recognize that our relationship with Mexico is a very important one.
FUDGE: They provide us with a good labor force.
PENNER: Now, is that changing, Tom? It seems I've been reading that immigrant is reduced, that fewer people are coming here.
FUDGE: Well, it comes and goes, depends on the U.S. economy as well as the Mexican economy. With regard to the Pri and whether they can cut a deal with the cartels, I think that subject came up, there are so many cartels out there, the zetas, the Sinaloa cartel, so who do you talk to? I also wanted to mention at some point here, if you get a chance to read this, and it is online, read William Finnegan's article about Mexico in the New Yorker magazine. It's called the king pins. It's very powerful and also very sad. And in fact, he makes what I consider to be a very effective argument, that Mexico is a failed state, that so much of Mexico is controlled by these armed criminal militias that it's turning into Afghanistan. And after reading that, I kind of wondered, what's the United States doing spending all of its time looking at the Middle East and central Asia? Because we have this potentially failed state right below us.
PENNER: Our time on this segment is up. It went very quickly. And thank you all for all the really good information.
PENNER: It's a rough time in California financially with revenues less than expenses. Something's got to give! Part of the governor's plan is to find more revenue by increasing state income taxes on wealthier Californians and raising the state sales tax by 1 quarter cent. But there's another part of the governor's budget, and that is making cuts to the safety net for the poor. David, you wrote an editorial about cutting funds to cal works. What is it that cal works does, and how successful has it been?
ROLLAND: Well, it came about in 1996, president Clinton signed welfare reform, a bill that reformed welfare as we knew it. It was kind of driven by the Republicans in Congress under Newt Gingrich's leadership. And a year later, California -- all the states basically had to pass implementing legislation, and in California we passed something we call cal works. And what that did was set up in all 58 counties a system whereby people would get aid if they needed it. This is parents, families with children, would get aid and they needed it, and they would also get help getting back on their feet, whether it was through childcare subsidies or job training or even as small as, you know, I was working in butte county at the time, and I sat in on these session where is they help people write resumes.
PENNER: So there's training going on.
BARBA: Yeah, yeah. Also help with drug and alcohol treatment and mental health treatment if that's what people needed. So it was basically helping people get back to work. And that was the carrot, and then the stick was a cumulative time limit that the state put on aid. So parents could only be on aid for a cumulative five years, basically for a lifetime. That was their limit. Children would still -- if those people didn't get work, they still needed help, their children would still continue to get help, but they wouldn't.
PENNER: Tom, it occurred to me that helping the needy is something that -- aren't people going to be for? But then there are those who say enough is enough.
FUDGE: And that is the baseball ideological discussion you get into it. What is enough? If you're going to put a time limit on welfare, a time limit on the amount of time that welfare recipients can take welfare, should it be five years or two years? If you're punishing the parents, are you punishing the kids as well? You're always going to get into an argument about that. I think the thing you can't argue about in California right now is that the fact that we just don't have, as you said, enough money to pay expenses. And I guess to me that's the real issue.
PENNER: That is the real issue, but the question is, do you get the money or do you cut the expenses?
FUDGE: Well, I think Governor Brown has decided, as David was mentioning, to take a page from president Clinton's book and say this is going to be -- this is going to be welfare reform California style. And it's my understanding that starting now, two years is going to be the limit, if you're going to be an adult in receiving cal works. The clock starts ticking, and after two years, you're done.
PENNER: No direct cash assistance. I think that's an important part. You're not going to get cash.
ROLLAND: Well, you'll get --
PENNER: After two years.
ROLLAND: You'll continue to get money for your children. But it's not like the state hands a check over to a 5-year-old child. They still hand that check over to the parents, and it's just that the family gets less money. So it's not like kids will not suffer for it.
PENNER: But the child care will still be there.
ROLLAND: No. Well, in some cases. That was one of the big ways that Governor Brown and the legislature cut from welfare was by cutting childcare subsidies. If you ask anybody who understands the barriers for a lot of poor people, a lot of low-income people who would very much like to work, if there are jobs available, access to affordable childcare is one of the biggest problems. And that was so crucial for cal works, to include childcare help. Because that's now people can afford to go back to work if they know their kids are being cared for. And under the budget deal, first of all, under the deal that the governor and the legislature worked out, they cut funding to ten thousand child care slots.
PENNER: How much money are we talking about?
ROLLAND: I don't have the specific numbers.
PENNER: I think the number I read is that we would save $400 million.
ROLLAND: Well, that was perspectively, and talking about the cut from four years to two years in terms of the time limit on welfare. The child care thing was more like about $30 million. But after the deal was reached, Governor Brown used his line item budget cutting authority to cut another 34 then and there child care slots. So we've lost a lot of child care subsidies, and that's going to take it a lot more difficult for people to find work. This would be true in a good economy where there are abundant jobs. We're at double digit unemployment.
PENNER: I want to ask our listeners to join in on this. Is this the way to go?
BARBA: I just thought it was interesting to put this in perspective. In 1996 when welfare reform went through, my sense was that there was a broad agreement that -- insisting that people work for five years, or they're on welfare for five years but they are given training, all this help. The whole point is like the old prison debate, are you going to punish or rehabilitate? The point is to get back people in the work force. 1996, that seemed great. 2012? Getting back into the work force is not realistic for 10% of our population already! So it seems -- it's such a different time, and it's such -- it comes down, I have to say, as a very, very harsh cut. And I was looking at some really interesting figures. California has 1/3 of the nation's welfare recipients. That blows my mind. The average cash payout to a family on cal works, are get this, try to live on this, $463 a month is what they're getting now.
PENNER: And I think that your point is an interesting one. Does it still make sense to, considering the state of the economy and the high unemployment rate to, go in this direction since there are no jobs out there anyway?
BARBA: Again, it's a philosophical thing. Are we a nation, a state that can afford to carry a third of the nation's welfare recipients through our taxes and our state? And we're broke!
PENNER: Do they move here after they go on welfare or do they go on welfare once they move here?
BARBA: Who knows?
ROLLAND: I don't know.
FUDGE: It a philosophical discussion, of course. What should your welfare system be like? How much should be incentive? How much should be welfare? But I think Governor Brown is just looking at a very dire financial situation. And he's the chief executive, and he's telling the legislature you got to cut some place.
PENNER: It's true. But as the middle class loses jobs, David, and more people sink below the poverty line, how is it possible for our unhealthy state budget to come up with a growing need? How many people do you know that were not on poverty -- not in poverty a few years ago and are there now?
ROLLAND: There was some good, after the census came out, statistics. I don't have them in front of me, about how many more people are falling below the poverty line. Which is the poverty line is crazy low to begin with.
MAUREEN PENNER: It's not $400 a month. It's much better than that.
ROLLAND: I don't have the numbers in front of me. But you asked the question, is this smart for the economy? Tom is absolutely right. The governor is in a difficult position. He had to find another $15 billion, every year, it seems like almost every six months, we've got another anywhere from $12 billion-$28 billion deficit to deal with. He is in a difficult spot. But to think that just cutting welfare solves a problem is simplistic, because it comes with its own problems. You plunge people into poverty, into homelessness, you have new problems to deal with. You have criminal justice problems.
PENNER: Maria from La Jolla, you are on with the panel.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello. I wanted to bring up another issue, which is Medicaid. As of Wednesday of last week, 400,000 children who are currently in healthy families, which is a mostly federally funded program for families who have up to 150% of the poverty level income, it has been merged into Medi-Cal. The issue is first, yes, we are going to save $15 million in state funds, but we're going to lose $200 million in federal funds. There's an issue of continuity of care. Most of the family practice providers for healthy families do not participate in Medi-Cal managed care. So it's going to be very difficult to find a new medical home for these youngsters. The other issue is that the Medicare, Medi-Cal elderly, very poor, are going to be put into passive Medicare managed care. And this is basically going to save about $400 million at the most, because the State of California has such low Medicaid rates that they pay nothing of the 20% which Medicare does not pay of the allowable. So this is an issue of vulnerable populations, mostly uneducated populations, especially in the case of the elderly, that mostly do not speak English, will not be able to understand that.
PENNER: Thank you very much. Let's take another caller and then we will respond to Maria. And Ryan is up next. Thanks for calling in.
NEW SPEAKER: I'm a technical recruiters, and I help people find jobs. And I agree with the idea that maybe it's time we stopped wanting to solve the victims but rather solve the problem. There are tons of employers out there dying to give someone a job. But they can't find the right person to fill that position maybe because there's certain technical requirements.
PENNER: Oh, in other words they aren't trained for that particular job.
NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, but at the same time, the company could train those people. They have the resources at the facility to bring somebody in and make that happen. And looking at it from the government's standpoint, which is essentially what we're talking about, maybe rather than just investing money into giving it to people, maybe we could be investing money into increasing resourcefulness, in other words how we bridge that gap. Somebody needs a job, we can give it to them, we just got to get them there.
PENNER: Let's get some comments on these calls. David.
ROLLAND: Well, I wonder if there's all these employers out there with all these jobs, I wonder why the unemployment rate continues to be so high.
PENNER: Well, he said he can't find the right people with the right skills.
ROLLAND: Then he said that the employers can do this training. So I'm not sure where the disconnect there is. I'm all for solving the root problem rather than solving symptoms. And I'm all for helping people get the resources in order to help themselves, and that's what cal works was set up to do. But the problem now is that we are cutting all the resources at the same time we're cutting the time limit that they can be on. So I don't see how this is going to solve -- whether it's the root problem or the symptom.
PENNER: Right. Let me ask you this, David. According to the most recent field poll, there's considerable support for the governor's tax increase proposal. And that would increase taxes on wealthier people and add to the sales tax. Might that be the answer?
ROLLAND: No, well, that's an answer to a different problem. That's an answer to the state's education problem. And I believe that that's where all that money is already earmarked. If we don't get that money, the state is going to make a major cut from schools.
PENNER: Okay. Alisa, last comment?
BARBA: The whole debate about training and the need -- whether there is a huge need out there for new trained employees, that's a fascinating discussion. Of maybe five or six years ago, there were a lot of training resources in manufacturers and companies in this country. But as they've cut back, as everybody has slimmed down in this recession, a lot of those training resources are gone. And so now there's this huge hue and cry that the kids going into work are not trained well enough. Maybe we go to India, China, elsewhere to get trained workers, and we don't have the resources or care enough to spend the money to train people in-house.
PENNER: Do you ever listen to radio talk show host, Roger hedge coke?
PENNER: He does an occasional commentary for the Union Tribune, and he suggested in a recent column that the legislature will never cut spending and recommends calling their bluff.
ROLLAND: He's lying! The legislature has been cutting spending for the last five years straight.
PENNER: Well, he cited San Diego voters, who said no on new taxes, and no on public safety officers being fired. Could the same thing happen with the state if the voters refuse higher taxes?
FUDGE: Well, they may, and some would argue looking at history, they probably will. If the polls show that Governor Brown's tax proposal has good supports, that may be good news for the budget. But I'll wait until the election to see what really happens.
ROLLAND: Well, the governor and the legislature are trying to work out a deal to cut pension, to cut retirement benefits. Of and I think that's kind of what was happening in San Diego. Elected officials thought they needed to cut pensions in order to get support for new taxes. The and that's probably where the state is going too.
PENNER: I'm Gloria Penner, and this is Midday Edition Roundtable. We have David Rolland from San Diego City beat, from the fronteras desk, Alisa Barba, and Tom Fudge from KPBS news. And we're going to turn to that fireworks story. San Diego is indeed in the news again with its 15 seconds of fame. Locally, nationally, and even internationally. The New York post said don't worry, San Diego. It happens to everyone. America's so-called finest city really blew it last night in the most spectacular 15-second fireworks show in 4th of July history.
FUDGE: They're so mean!
[ LAUGHTER ]
PENNER: They are! Well, it was supposed to last 17 minute, and thousands were there for the event. Tom, at this point, do we really know what happened?
FUDGE: Well, let me put it this way, we have got know an explanation from the co-owner of garden State fireworks, August San tory, and he spoke to reporters yesterday. Basically what he told us is that it wasn't human error, it wasn't anything that was wrong with the fireworks, and that was fairly obvious when you saw them all blowup. It was a computer glitch. It was a problem with computer programming. My take on what this guy said, when he said it was a computer glitch, I think he blames somebody who gets blamed a lot in situations like this. It was an act of God.
PENNER: God! It's a computer!
FUDGE: So he blamed God. It wasn't anything that they could do about it. It was outside of their power. That's his explain. But no matter how you explain what happened on the evening of 4th of July, it was -- the New York Post was right. It was a huge screw-up.
PENNER: I'm hearing more and more around places since Wednesday night people say it wasn't my fault, it was my computer. So I'm beginning to think it's becoming the new mantra. You don't blame people. You blame your computer.
FUDGE: It's an act of God. You're blaming God.
PENNER: Does San Diego, Alisa, you're a sensitive person, deserve this ridicule?
BARBA: We advertise ourselves as America's finest city. When we mess up like this, we got to take it. We're supposed to be America's finest city. And everybody you talk to in San Diego, they never stop telling you how fabulous this place is, how great it is. I've had people say to me, why leave? This is so great! So if we're going to put ourselves on that pedestal, you're going to have to take the guff that comes with it.
FUDGE: Garden can the state fireworks is based in New Jersey, not based in San Diego. So I'm blaming New Jersey, and God.
[ LAUGHTER ]
BARBA: I live in Point Loma with -- well, there are tens of thousands of people lined up in Point Loma, and all the big houses with their fancy parties and people invited over, and to sit there and watch that kaboom, and then to realize -- to have the music playing in the background while you realize that something massively wrong had happened --
PENNER: How long did it take you to realize it?
BARBA: Well, it was pretty quick.
FUDGE: And I was one of the people who took his kids down to the waterfront, the very first time I'd ever been to the bay to watch fireworks. And we saw the big boom, but it didn't really look like it was everything. We thought it was a little mistake and they were going to go on with the show. Then we saw people about after a half an hour, picking up their lawn chairs and heading to their cars.
PENNER: Considering all that's going on in the world today, why do you think this nonevent, I call it a nonevent, got this kind of media attention?
ROLLAND: Oh, you're asking me? That's that age-old question! Why the media in this country focuses on all the drivel that it focuses on all the time. The media loves it when stuff blows up! Or when stuff fails. I don't know. Matt Hall had an interesting piece, talking about the ubiquity of fireworks shows, sea world as one every night, and it used to be such a big deal. The only time I ever saw them really was maybe on 4th of July somewhere or at dodger stadium where they had it a couple times a year. Those were amazing things for kids. And I'm wondering why people care so much now about this. Because you get them all the time!
PENNER: But I want to know who picks up the cost? Who is going to pay for it?
FUDGE: Well, let me first respond to David's comment. I just don't think you can trivialize what happened. This was a very big screw-up. And you had tens of thousands maybe hundreds of thousands of extremely disappointed people including me with my two little kids who were expecting to see fireworks! And the other thing of course you have to think about is the subject that you brought up, Gloria. Who paid for this thing? This fireworks display cost about $350,000 all together. And the port of San Diego put up $145,000.
PENNER: Is that public money?
FUDGE: Well, it's from the port, it's public money. It's not direct taxpayer money. It may come from their car rental or parking services.
PENNER: But it's money that could be used for something else.
FUDGE: Yes, it's public money. So there's a lot that has to be made right after this huge screw-up. Garden state has said that we'll do a free show. We're sorry about this, we'll do a free show. But the cost of the fireworks is only a small part of what goes into a show like this. You've got to rent the barges, you've got to provide security, you need permitting.
PENNER: And who pays for that?
FUDGE: The port and downtown businesses.
PENNER: Okay, David, I'm going to follow up on this. Considering the shaky economy, can we expect some pushback from San Diegans who are dealing with homelessness and joblessness and then watching thousands of dollars of public money go up in smoke?
ROLLAND: I don't think so. I don't know. Like Tom said, I may be trivializing this whole thing, and just to comment on the disappointment, if this was the worst disappointment that you get in your life, you're generally doing all right. But getting back --
PENNER: I'm trying to pull it out of trivialization.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ROLLAND: And I'm resisting because I think it's really trivial! No, I don't know. For people to sort of think about it in context of more important societal needs, which is I think where your question was going, I guess I'd be surprised if it went too far in that direction. But I guess I think that would be a positive thing if that happened.
PENNER: How do you respond to Tom's comment that people like to see things blowup?
FUDGE: I'd like to hear somebody argue with that one.
ROLLAND: I can't.
BARBA: I don't think it was so much the blowup. Of that happened so quickly, and nobody knew what was going on. It was this vast, empty amphitheater, expectant amphitheater. And it was a premature explosion when there was this huge expectancy of something happening. So there was no doubt in my mind that that was going to be a big story.
PENNER: In the lead-up, I'm going to go to Tom, to all of this, there were questions of lawsuits about the contamination of the bay. And I was just thinking how powerful now is the ammunition that this gives to all those people concerned about the environmental damage of exploding all this material into the bay and its effect on the sea life there?
FUDGE: Well, I don't think it gives them -- partner the expression, any ammunition. I think the issue that has been raised by Marco Gonzalez, and environmentalists like him are not changed by this. In fact, it's funny when I think about this because I was looking at tweets right after this explosion happened, and I got a tweet from Marco Gonzalez which said I was in La Jolla! I had nothing to do with it! So he was kind of cracking a joke about the fact that he's been opposed to all of these fireworks displays.
ROLLAND: One of his attorneys was about 5 feet away though, when it happened.
FUDGE: Well, there you go! We're looking for a cause. No, I'm not serious. But I don't think this really has any effect on that environmental discussion. I don't think it gives them any ammunition.
PENNER: No ammunition, no concern about a waste of money. The port of San Diego has had its share of unflattering stories about wasted money, particularly for travel by port commissioners. So this isn't going to rank really high up there?
BARBA: I think it was a big disappointment. I can imagine that, again, Sandy Purdin who helps to arrange this, not having had it happen, it was a huge bummer. But we're blessed in San Diego, there were a lot of people who saw fabulous fireworks in Coronado and La Jolla and Ocean Beach.
FUDGE: I could see those fireworks too. They were just a long ways away.
PENNER: Anything else to add to this, Tom that we don't know about that you got from your reporting?
FUDGE: Well, the big question that retains is how are they going to straighten this one out? How are they going to make it right to the very disappointed spectators who came and saw nothing? How are they going to make it up to all the people who have invested money in this? I did talk to sandy Purdin who's the executive producer of the big bay boom, which has been unofficially renamed the big bay bust, and he said that garden state has not received its final check, but they have compensated garden state. And so they did get some money for creating this disaster. Whether this will lead to lawsuits, whether this will lead to another free fireworks show, that will be the thing that we'll have to see. And that's what still needs to be worked out.
BARBA: I still want to know what happened. Of I don't buy this computer glitch. With these highly computerized events, I can't imagine how you can have an unplanned glitch that lights everything up. It makes no sense.
PENNER: But can we expect that there's going to be another -- another stab at this next year to try to get it right?
FUDGE: Well, sure. They do this every year, and I'm sure they'll do it again next year. The big question is whether garden state is going to be the contractor. And I put that question to Sandy. I said this particular New Jersey company, are they done? And he said well, we always put the show out to bid, and certainly one of the factors that we will consider is if garden state does apply for it, what happened last year.
PENNER: Okay. Final comment, David?
ROLLAND: I don't know if the Union Tribune has editorialized on this, but the powers that be at the Union Tribune can't stand the port right now because they won't get behind the big stadium proposal, and they really, really love America and fireworks. So I don't know. I think if you want to see somebody make a real big deal about this, you may just watch the Union Tribune editorial pages.
PENNER: You think that's where it's going to be?
PENNER: I of course asked the question right at the beginning, why so much coverage? And the answer was people like a big bang. And on that note, we're going to thank our panelists.