Roundtable: Food Stamp Cuts; Navy Bribery Scandal; Mayoral Race
November 15, 2013 1:23 p.m.
Megan Burks, KPBS News
Tony Perry, L.A. Times
Sandhya Dirks, KPBS News
MARK SAUER: The Navy encountered rough seas with one of the worst Navy scandals in history. A contractor was arrested and several naval officers targeted. Congress cuts to the food stamp program is also affecting businesses and the poor in San Diego. San Diego votes for a new mayor on Tuesday. I am Mark Sauer and KPBS roundtable starts now. Welcome, it's Friday, November 15. Joining me today are Tony Perry, Megan Burks, and Sandhya Dirks. The working poor and those in poverty are relying on food stamps to survive each month. When Congress allowed a stimulus to expire this month the burden fell on the working poor in our neighborhoods. There is dramatic news regarding ObamaCare this week regarding last minute changes. What did the president say?
MEGAN BURKS: The president reacted to the public upset that insurance policies are being canceled. Yesterday he announced he would give insurance companies an additional year to phase these plans out. They don't have to do that yet. It's kind of ñ make these plans go on, but it's up the insurers and state insurance commissioners.
MARK SAUER: Which policies are these and why were they canceled?
MEGAN BURKS: These are mostly plans on the individual market, and they were being phased out because they did not comply with some of the stricter regulations under the Affordable Care Act.
MARK SAUER: Tony, you have something to add?
TONY PERRY: We area little better off in California. Our system seem to be working better.
MEGAN BURKS: That's true. California is doing much better. We enrolled about 33% of the national total of people that will sign up for this new plan. We're doing really well.
MARK SAUER: What do we know that they don't know? Do we just have smarter geeks?
MEGAN BURKS: We have a lot more people and we were just way ahead of people in that game. California has always been the front runner with this.
MARK SAUER: A lot of these folks were unhappy with the policies. They were not up to snuff. What is with these junk policies?
MEGAN BURKS: There've been some reports that these policies were defending so much and they are only getting fifty dollars in coverage for hospitalization. In some cases it's not offering enough mental health coverage. It needed a little tweak. Not up to the standard.
SANDHYA DIRKS: Was that the insurance companies? It was up to them and so is their decision. The government was spending on insurance companies to do what is best for the government to work at the funny proposition because they were so opposed to Obama care at the beginning. Shouldn't insurance companies - have they been blamed?
MEGAN BURKS: He announced yesterday that insurance companies did step forward, that they were unsure if they can take back all of this. A lot of them have put cancellation notices out already. A lot of them are worried that these healthy individuals who have been insured are not going to this exchange. A lot of unhealthy and older people are signing up.
MARK SAUER: And the president gave a remarkable apology.
MEGAN BURKS: He did say this is his fault. He said Americans have every right to expect him to work to get his credibility back.
TONY PERRY: Are we seeing a privilege of the young and healthy? Are they rebelling on us?
MEGAN BURKS: I don't know if that is why they are not signing up. I did hear that there was a conference call and it sounds like we're not getting as many young people to sign up as we had hoped. That hasn't really ñ we don't know why not.
MARK SAUER: This will move forward in the next couple months. Let's move on to food stamps. The poor are having to make do with less.
MEGAN BURKS: A stimulus boost to food stamps expired November 1. At the 5% cut to food stamps that's about thirty-six dollars less per month for a family of four.
MARK SAUER: You have been reporting in the city and you've focused on a variety of stories there. Tell us about the impact in a working-class neighborhood. Not just on individuals, but also businesses.
MEGAN BURKS: A lot of people think that food stamps are being spent at liquor stores or convenience stores. A lot of food stamps are actually being spent at the farmers market. People are using their food stamps to help sustain small regional farmers and even some farmers who harvest vegetables from local gardens and bring them to the market. Food stamps can bring up to $12,000 a month.
MARK SAUER: That much revenue into the market?
MEGAN BURKS: Through food stamps alone. If people stop spending thirty-six dollars a month there, they can lose up to $7200. Quite a big chunk.
MARK SAUER: The average for a family of four to the farmers market, there was a pioneer in terms of taking food stamps for things like vegetables and healthier foods?
MEGAN BURKS: The first in the county. One of the first in the nation. It beat the odds that this farmers market was traditionally a more upscale neighborhood. It lasted five years in a very little income community.
TONY PERRY: It's in line with the philosophy of food stamps. People think of them as well welfare. Actually its price support. The agricultural community has always supported it. It's a way to get people to buy the product or how the government product of product. That small farmers are now cashing in and that seems in the philosophy of what food stamps is meant to be.
SANDHYA DIRKS: And that's wife food stamps are known as a snap program. Supple nutritional assistance program work. That's why they bound together in legislation in Washington. The bill is not just a foreign bill, such as for farmers, it also contains the food stamp program. You see that a lot of microlevel in San Diego by these two things are actually so connected. They're trying to get split apart now. We also realizing I'm a national scale there's a fight over separating them into separate bills.
MARK SAUER: If a poor family runs out before the end of the month, what options do the have?
MEGAN BURKS: Mom and Dad skip meals so the kids can eat, or go to a food bank or the local church. The number of food banks has skyrocketed since the 1970s. There are tens of thousands in the United States. The reliance on these is very acute.
MARK SAUER: That's going to increase too. We'll do more reporting on that. Now to a troubling case that involves reports of bribery within the Navy. It wasn't that long ago when contractors were found to take a bribe from a congressman. Tony, tell us about this contractor Fat Leonard Francis.
TONY PERRY: He's running a firm out of Singapore. He supplies and US ships and other ships throughout the Asia-Pacific area. He has for decades and it's called ship husbanding. A lot of services that he provides. We are everywhere in that area. It's very expensive, even when you're not getting ripped off. Five people are indicted in San Diego. The last two were arrested in our country and are being held without bail. The three Americans have bail. The two admirals have been put in put on leave and their security clearance has been taken away. It is not a criminal indictment, we do not know what the allegations are that they are hinting that it may have to do with being too close to Fat Leonard. The allegations are that the Navy commanders leaked out information to Leonard's firm. About where Navy slips were going to ask some cases did set the ships to a different place because Francis had a good relationship and that port. He would then bill for things that were never done or overbilled we don't know how much. In one port in Thailand for one year, we think the US taxpayer lost $10 million. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
MARK SAUER: Tell us about the folks on the other end. They have done all sorts of things.
TONY PERRY: Indictments, prostitutes, fancy first-class flights, first class hotels, $1000 to one of the Navy commanders, tickets to go see Lady Gaga. Tickets for the family to go see the Lion King. It runs the gamut. They communicated through email so the federal prosecutors have all of the emails in which Francis is bribing with girls. In some cases one of the commanders wanted to see a list of the prostitutes by a height, weight and bra size.
MARK SAUER: So this is a huge case.
TONY PERRY: It's going to get even bigger. They expect other civilians and officers being involved. On the criminal and the Navy side. It's going to get bigger and it is said to be the biggest Navy sandal since Tailhook. This is huge bribery and loss of money. The Navy canceled more than $200 million worth of contracts with this firm. They're not going to be pulling into port and have this firm any more.
MARK SAUER: You bring up Tailhook. Would this change the culture? You mentioned twenty years this guy had a relationship with the Navy and contracts years ago. Are they going to suddenly start looking at these contracts?
TONY PERRY: I think so. Asia-Pacific is the future. We're sending more ships to more ports for longer period of time. Where to pivoting our form policy towards that part of the world. This is a lot of money, and the approval is being made by people along way away from the individual port. They are pushing paper through real quick I would imagine. You can start to see how it would happen if you don't bear down. They are now bearing down. In 2010 day notice the bill for $110,000 for warehouses in a certain port. The Thai government had said no fees, we will not charge you for that. But yet Francis's firm allegedly tried to build the American government for $110,000.
MEGAN BURKS: Was there any auditing going on? Who's minding the store?
TONY PERRY: They're yelling bloody murder at the shared about these allegations. There will be a lot closer scrutiny. Were sending a lot of ships in a lot of places. There's so much money involved. It's very expensive to print one of these large American assets. There's a lot of movement money moving through so quick. Their competitors, and presumably we're looking at them to the business of them. Where running them through a squeaky clean process to make should this never happens again.
MARK SAUER: A couple of other related stories. The catastrophic aftermath of the typhoon in the Philippines. What has happened there?
TONY PERRY: So far we have a cruiser headed there. But the thirty there. I think they are already there. Getting warmed up is the hospital ship, the Mercy. It's going to take a while to get there about three weeks. The Navy will say when we get there that will be needs that are different than there are today. The Navy has a lot of experience with dealing with a infectious diseases. Were getting those folks together. When the order comes to the plate of mercy we will see people who have expertise in what we think and what we know the Filipinos are going to need for a long time.
SANDHYA DIRKS: The first wave of that damage from the fan to typhoon. The second wave is without water and food hygiene, and security.
TONY PERRY: And the reinsert their from Okinawa? If certain capabilities themselves so have an initial force. Long-term look for Mercy and other American assets including some from San Diego.
MARK SAUER: These four Marines killed this week in this accident accident in Pendleton. Do we know any more about this?
TONY PERRY: Four Marines from an ordnance disposal team all were combat veterans and all had gone to Afghanistan work all of them had combat action ribbons. These were veterans. Something went horribly wrong and forward added to injured. They were coming in area called the Zulu impact range which had not been counted five years. Comes in five years. It's going to take a while before that comes out.
MARK SAUER: We're in for one last theory. Campaigning at fever pitch, San Diego's going to the polls at Tuesday. In this odd spin to the campaign, all three beating Candidates have versions of the same campaign mantra. It's all about neighborhoods.
SANDHYA DIRKS: We have two city Council members, Kevin Faulkner and David Alvarez. Faulkner is a model Republican and Alvarez is casting himself as a progressive more aligned with former city Councilwoman Donna Frye. Fighting for the little guy. Smack in the middle is nation Fletcher who is writing the fence. In the last year he is gone from being a Republican to an independent and is now running asset Democrat. He was an assemblyman and had the most made recognition at the beginning of this race because he had run for mayor before. Just last year you might remember that.
MARK SAUER: One particular neighborhood issue has crystallized this whole mantra in the campaign. It pits Alvarez and Faulkner, tell us about the Barrio Logan committee plan.
SANDHYA DIRKS: If you look at the narrative legacy of film or, it's his mantra of neighborhoods. All the candidates saying they are pro-neighborhood and all of a sudden there was a moment when the neighborhood was at stake. It was a small neighborhood and the neighborhood off mixed-use work now community plan or zoning for thirty-five years. It's a hodgepodge and cobbled commentated place. It existed even though it shouldn't as a residential neighborhood with heavy industry extent residences in schools. It really found this fight and tension between the maritime industry and the ships and a select group of residents who say that they deserve environmental justice. One of the reasons it's taken on such son of a ramifications of this campaign is that David Alvarez is much and proclaims himself as being a native son of Barrio Logan. He has been fighting for this plan. On the other side you have Faulkner who says this will cost jobs. What you get is a reflection of two different philosophies of how to serve neighborhoods. Do you keep the jobs, so neighborhoods can grow or build the neighborhood said jobs will grow? It is it it's a political divide.
TONY PERRY: Who wants to start doing our Christmas shopping and not worry about the runoff campaign. Is someone going to take it all next Tuesday?
SANDHYA DIRKS: Not likely. I would not place any bets.
MARK SAUER: Top man of the poll was Kevin Faulkner.
SANDHYA DIRKS: Things up and fluctuating so far back and forth. In looking at numbers changing that may change on election day. You have expectations that could be anywhere from 44 to 50%. For a special election its way up there. Yet most of the people voting in absence of ballots are coming from north of eight. People coming more conservative. Tending towards this San Diego status quo. Those that we have not heard from yet, those are good be from south of eight.
MEGAN BURKS: South of eight was really mobilized when they elected Filner.
MARK SAUER: You mentioned earlier that the early ballots and we have more people voted by mail. But they stood to people who are north of eight and south of eight? That he figured that out?
SANDHYA DIRKS: We are basically jousting into the dark. We're guessing. We can say that we haven't seen the force from south of a that came out and elected filter. There are many reasons for that. This is close to a holiday and an off time. Another is that it's not a presidential election. Those repressed the progressive vote. That's par for the course. The question is, there's been so much focus and energy on the ground, especially around this neighborhood. They're both doing this every day.
TONY PERRY: We do forget that Alvarez is not a lock in south of eight. He ran against Juan Vargas. He's gone for Mike Aguirre.
SANDHYA DIRKS: Nathan Fletcher has got some of the unions and African-Americans and churches.
TONY PERRY: And south of eight's military service will speak loudly. Before we don't know what that will mean or what it will finally be the we will think it's going to be two of these three. Were just sitting in the dark.
TONY PERRY: Mike Aguirre will not be there.
MARK SAUER: Let's talk about money. About 4 million raised so far. Who is giving the most here? Who's leading the money race?
SANDHYA DIRKS: Still out for us. He got the support of the labor Council. This is a moment for him. He got a lot of state and national money which ported to help him. That is what people talk about getting out the vote. That is where the money meets the road that if you're going to get up to vote and labor boots on the ground that is going to be the way to do it.
MARK SAUER: He needed it.
TONY PERRY: I find it interesting that we have two rich men involved in this race each with his own horse. Douglas Manchester and his newspapers pushing Faulkner and flailing fractured. Irwin Jacob pushing Fletcher and possibly finding one of the independent committees. Interesting to watch these rich men each pushing his own candidate.
MARK SAUER: Will have to leave it there. Tuesday is the big vote. That wraps up with another week of stories. I would like to thank Tony Perry, Megan Burks and Sandhya Dirks. I'm Mark Sauer, Senior News Editor at KPBS, thank you for joining us today at the Roundtable.