Administrator's blog

Dumb Questions -- A problem in the family

Submitted: Jan 09, 2006

For your entertainment only!

The dull-witted boy’s mother came home one day and opened her credit card bill, never a pleasant chore after Christmas, especially since she was unemployed at the time. Looking down the list of her mounting debts she spied an unexpected item:, for $500.

“What is a jahbook? she asked. What is jah?” she asked. “Who is Danny and why did I pay him $500?”

The dull-witted boy played dumb, furiously working his yo-yo, and quit the premises abruptly to seek the advice of his friend and fellow gambling freak, Li’l Hector Cienfuegos.

“What do I do now?” he asked Hector.

“First, what did you do then?” Hector asked.

“I bet one of those drivers – Biffle or Martin or Stewart – to win. The odds were fantastic,” the dull-witted boy said.

“So, you wouldn’t listen, right?”

“Listen to what?”

“What I told you. You can bet to win in horseracing, but you bet the head-to-heads in stockcar racing. You bet Biffle against Stewart, Stewart against Martin. You never get suckered into betting to win. The odds are long for a reason.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot that. So now this Danny from Jahbook is going to break my mother’s legs?”

“Why? Danny already has her money. Why did you use your mother’s credit card, anyway?”

“Do I have a credit card?”

“You should have asked me for one of mine,” said Hector, a third grader with half a dozen credit cards. “Not that I would have loaned it to you on a bet to win in a stockcar race,” he added.

The dull-witted boy pondered. The real answer was that he was tired of always getting upstaged by a third-grader. It wasn’t that he didn’t like and admire Li’l Hector, his neighbor and best friend, but a man in the sixth grade had to step out on his own.

“I would have, but you know, the newspapers all say that stockcar racing is a family sport, so I thought I’d win one for mom, since she ain’t working right now. She’s real excited about that Atwater track because she thinks she can get part-time work there.”

“Isn’t working,” Hector said. “Gambling is a grammatical endeavor. So, now you owe your mother $500 plus the credit card vig, of what – 18 percent?”

“Maybe I don’t have to tell her?” the dull-witted boy said, weakly.

“Pathetic!” Hector said. “Gambler always pays his debts. It’s the code.”

“But how?”

“Well, first you tell your mother. If you’d just listened to me, you’d have made some money for her, like I do for my mother – by betting the head-to-heads. Then you go to your Uncle Henry and maybe he can find you a job after school.”

“You what?” his mother said, when the dull-witted boy, Hector at his side, spilled the beans and came clean on the Jahbook deal. “You gambled on my credit card? Why? What possessed you? Where did you get the idea?”

“Well, mom, Hector and I have been experimenting a little on the computer, with poker, bingo and stuff,” the dull-witted boy lied. “Paid for most of your Christmas presents,” he added, hopefully. “I bought a new carburetor for Uncle Henry’s pickup,” he said defiantly. “I was making me some money,” he said ungrammatically.

Hector winced.

The dull-witted boy’s mother groaned.

“I did it for my family!” the dull-witted boy yelled. “They say stockcar racing is a family sport. So I bet it. Turns out if you lose, it ain’t so family-friendly.”

“What the hell?” his mother said, grabbing the phone and dialing furiously. “Henry, you get yourself over here immediately and I don’t mean tomorrow,” she yelled in the phone.

Purring smoothly thanks to better carburetion, the genuine ’56 Chevy pickup coasted to the curb of the disturbed household, and Uncle Henry arrived.

“What’s the rumpus?” he inquired.

He got an earful from his sister. His nephew hung his head.

“Ah,” he said, when the outraged mom fell silent. “Hmmm. NASCAR? They bet that? I’m out of touch with reality, evidently, since I cleaned up.”

“Henry, right now I do not give a whatever for your holy cleanup and newly found righteousness, etcetera,” the dull-witted boy’s mother said. “This one,” she said indicated her son, “is screwed up. He is claiming it is OK to steal my credit card number and gamble with some Jamaica bookie online on stockcar racing because this Riverside Motorsports outfit keeps telling the newspaper stockcar racing is about family values – in his case the value of my credit. What it is is embezzlement.”

“Well, let’s march him down to the station and get him arrested,” Henry said.

“I’m thinking about it,” she said.

“I could probably get him a job up the crik long enough so he could pay it back,” Henry suggested.

“Right!” the mother exploded. “From the frying pan into the fire. Doing what, exactly?”

“Well, since the boy’s chosen a path of crime, and you need the money, does it make any difference?” Henry asked.

“Stockcar racing is s’posed to be about family values!” the dull-witted boy moaned.

“That does it!” his mother said. “Take this criminal away!”

In the pickup, Henry thought about it, glancing at the morose, defiant nephew of his, clearly taking the wrong path in life. He thought maybe the pastor should be consulted before going up the crik into the world of alternative economic enterprise.

Pastor Nasrudin was sitting in the cross-legged position, communing with his brother Achmed back in the ‘stans, when they arrived and knocked at his door. He and Achmed had been discussed how their beauteous niece, Jasmina, resented wearing the burka, concealing her sizzling lips. “Are the old ways the best ways?” Achmed was asking. “Who knows, these days?” Nasrudin answered. “She could get her masters here at Stan State, I guess. Marry an almond grower. She wouldn’t have to wear the burka, anyway.”
“I’ll think about it,” Achmed said, as Henry’s knock on the door interrupted the telepathic communication. “Got to go,” Nasrudin said, “my flock calls.”

The moral dilemma presented, the pastor considered his response. “Hmmm.”

The minutes stepped slowly by in the silence.

“Hmmm,” Nasrudin finally said. “Betting on automobiles?”

“Stockcars,” the dull-witted boy replied.

“Cars?” the pastor said, incredulously. “That’s absurd. One does not even bet on camels, my son. Not that some don’t, you understand – and they can be forgiven for not knowing better – but really, child, one does not bet on either camels or cars. It is ridiculous.

“One bets on horses. Mankind has always bet on horses. What – pray tell – are the bloodlines of an automobile? How on earth could you handicap a machine? How many stockcars, as you call them, sire stockcar foals in a breeding season?

“No, child, you are wandering in darkness.”

Turning to Henry, Nasrudin said, “I will take him at $5 an hour to clean up around the church.”

“The mother might think that’s a little slow. Up the crik they pay top wages, you know.”

“Right,” the pastor said sternly, “young, nimble fingers, pick-pick-pick. Nothing good to learn there. No. I will buy the boy’s debt and he will learn, here.”

Nasrudin counted out the money from his wallet, gave it to Henry, turned to the dull-witted boy and said, “There is a broom. Sweep.”

And so the dull-witted boy was saved from a life of crime. After the third after-school session sweeping the grounds of the church, he returned the broom to its corner in the pastor’s office and said goodnight.

“Come here,” the pastor, reading a newspaper, said from his desk.

The boy approached.

“Now, boy, this is the Racing Form. Start with the claiming races. If the horse finished in the money in its last three starts, if it’s racing every 10 days, and it’s carrying top weight, consider it, after checking its trainer. Crosscheck here with the trainers’ standings. Bet the trainer! Never bet a filly to beat a colt! Top weight, no ties! Beware of a dark horse some great trainer is bringing in below class for an easy win! Was the horse claimed in after the last race? Can it go the distance? Beware of drops and rises in class! Here’s the studbook. I expect a full report next week on the first 50 pages.”

Six months later, Li’l Hector was amazed as the dull-witted boy explained the intricate calculations behind betting a trifecta. Hector swore off betting NASCAR head-to-heads that very day, and when the dull-witted boy finished paying off his debt, Hector took the broom, still warm from the other boy’s hands, and began sweeping.

“But you don’t owe me anything,” Nasrudin said.

“I want to study with a master,” Hector replied.

“Ah,” the pastor said. “In that case, there is the studbook. Memorize.”

| »

Vanishing Hakuta

Submitted: Jan 09, 2006

It seemed to begin so auspiciously. UC presented us with a builder of educational bridges, here in the Valley, a man who came talking about a "balance between excellence and equity." We were dazzled, as we were meant to be.

Stanford Professor Kenji Hakuta Named as Dean of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at UC

May 13, 2003

MERCED, CA. --- Kenji Hakuta, Ph.D., is an experimental psychologist by training, a teacher and researcher by profession, and a builder of bridges by nature. He will bring this passion for building bridges to educational excellence, opportunity and enlightenment to the University of California, Merced as the newly named founding Dean of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts...

Hakuta is best known for his research on the psychology of bilingualism and second language learning, as well as for his work in education policy and equal educational access for minority students...

"At UC Merced, I will be busy hiring and developing the academic program, but the precious time that I have for research will be trained on improving access to higher education," Hakuta said. "I look forward to partnering with K-12 educational institutions to increase regional student access to the University of California and developing methods to more extensively track progress toward improvement. Fortunately, there is great staff in student outreach already in place at UC Merced, and my goal is to give that effort as much research backing as possible..."

Hakuta is particularly excited about applying knowledge he has acquired from the field of education toward building the liberal arts component of the campus. He has a clear vision for the academic foundation he hopes to help create: an educational environment that fosters critical and reflective reading, persuasive and analytic writing, and effective and responsible leadership.

"I feel it is important to achieve a balance between excellence and equity," Hakuta said. "As a new campus, there also is the really interesting challenge of creating the kind of culture where teaching has a shared priority with research. We want to recruit faculty who have spectacular research programs, but who also see themselves as teachers. That kind of supportive teaching environment is especially vital given UC Merced's special mission to serve students of the Central Valley, many of whom may be the first in their families to attend a university, along with students from the balance of California."

As with the mix of students, Hakuta aspires to attract a mix of faculty, including some with local connections. Another personal priority is hire faculty members whose interests cut across divisions of academic discipline and who are committed to increasing educational access and, more broadly, to regional development such as the environment and the economy. He is intrigued by the opportunity to contribute to the World Cultures Institute, one of UC Merced's two signature research institutes. Looking at the institute as a means to facilitate cultural and linguistic understanding through scholarship and internship programs, he points to the learning opportunities that arise when connections are made between the cultures and languages at the local scale with cultures and languages at the global scale...

So went the UC Merced bobcatflak campaign around the arrival of Dr. Hakuta at UC Merced in the spring of 2003. Last week UC Merced announced he would leave in July 2006.

He said he had considered the move for the past two months, but new job opportunities leading research teams at two California universities would allow him to live closer to his aging mother in the Bay Area.

"There's a lot of things I want to get done," Hakuta said. "We figured the campus is open now, and this is a pretty good time to make the move."

One job option is at a UC campus and the other is at a private university, but he would not say which one he is interested in, because those job searches are still ongoing. His decision should come in February, he said.

Hakuta is the primary caretaker for his mother, who lives in Woodside, so he wants to live in closer proximity as her needs increase.

He was also itching to get back to conducting research in his scholarly work, which emphasizes the psychology of bilingualism and second language acquisition.

"Some of my friends in the field kept saying they missed me, my research," Hakuta said. "I felt guilty to not be training some of these faculty members..."

A research university in the Central Valley would be a fertile ground for bilingual research projects, but the life of an administrator leaves little time for direct contact with research...

Beyond his leadership role as one of three founding deans, Hakuta has made contributions to creating a campus culture that values academic excellence and promotes community interaction, said David Ashley, UC Merced executive vice chancellor and provost...

Regionally, Hakuta has been actively engaged in building connections with the Great Valley Center, where he also serves on the Board of Directors. The non-profit think tank recently entered into a formal partnership with UC Merced.

He said he would continue to serve on the board as long as the Great Valley Center wants him there. He and his wife, Nancy Goodban, will continue to be advocates for the region.

"The Central Valley is something that we'll always carry with us," Hakuta said. "The future of California depends on how successfully the Central Valley transforms itself..."

In the meantime, Hakuta said he still has to lead his school in searches for 10 new faculty members, fundraising and helping current faculty get research funding. But establishing the UC Merced Child Development Center is a project that is very close to his heart.

The childcare center is expected to serve 150 children up to 5 years old, and will include an infant care unit. Officials are aiming to open the campus center in early 2008.

He said he would help the chancellor in the search for a successor, and announcing his departure in January will allow the university to make a smooth transition.

There's no prescription for the perfect leader, he said, but maintaining a Valley focus should be a major focal point for the new dean.

It’s good to know that Hakuta and his wife, who seems to have founded a group called Valley Hopefuls, will continue to advocate for the region from back in the old Bay Area. We got the impression, from more than one Hakuta public appearance, that UC was finally going to explain us Valley people to ourselves and to the rest of the world. Why are we so poor, for example.

But these were the naive speculations of the untutored masses. Instead of a live dean of social science, arts and humanities, we now have a partnership between UC Merced and the Great Valley Center. UC Merced and the recipients of its "outreach" have been saved from intellectual ferment for as long as the grants hold out.

A man, two of whose favorite authors are Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and Noam Chomsky, should be missed out at the former municipal golf course. But who, in our humble Macondo, could tell what goes on out there? We are, after all, or were, the objects of research, not its subjects. The objects of UC research are, by definition, incapable of speculation. This explains why whatever UC says to us sounds like flak, and whatever we say to UC sounds like pure cafone.

We were interested in the high praise given Hakuta for a

clear vision for the academic foundation he hopes to help create: an educational environment that fosters critical and reflective reading, persuasive and analytic writing, and effective and responsible leadership.

People have come to the Valley and stayed their whole lives with a vision less clear and grand than that. Here we thought leadership was at least as much about what the leader did as what he said, except that there shouldn’t be too much difference between the two. But, again, you see, we just lack the culture. What sort of example did Hakuta set for the students and faculty, we ask, rudely.

Sal, si puedes? (Get out if you can?)

It is not for us to judge the ways of UC professors or even to attempt to interpret them from the dubious sources broadcasting the rumor of Hakuta's departure. We don't possess the culture to understand. Possibly, it is a question of options.

But, stumbling through the Internet in our crude auto-didactic way, we did learn that UC Merced just hired another professor.

Renowned Berkeley Physicist Raymond Chiao to Join UC Merced Faculty

December 14, 2005

In a major recruiting triumph for the University of California, Merced, Professor Raymond Chiao of the UC Berkeley Physics Department has accepted a joint faculty appointment in the fledgling university's schools of Natural Science and Engineering. He plans to pursue a new line of research in gravitational radiation when he assumes his new post.

"Professor Chiao's expertise and experience as a researcher and teacher will be enormous assets," said Dean Maria Pallavicini of the UC Merced School of Natural Sciences.

"Faculty members and students will benefit from his insight and example, and his high-level research is going to have a major impact on the physical sciences and engineering academic programs. It's an honor for UC Merced that he has decided to join us."

"The potential for engineered applications based on Professor Chiao's scientific research is tremendous," said Dean Jeff Wright of the School of Engineering. "We're extremely pleased that he will be part of UC Merced's Energy Institute, where we are already working on solar energy solutions that use advanced optics. His work will simultaneously fit our mission and expand our capabilities ..."

Clearly, Chiao is a man who deals with immutable facts of nature, not the ephemeria of social life and living languages. Here's solid man, who can produce a win-win public/private partnership to capture earth radiation, just like UC captured cow farts.

Hakuta’s departing insight, with its theme of "balance," suggests prolonged, unhealthy exposure to Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced and the Great Valley Center leaders of "smart growth."

"There needs to be a balance between the regional and national aspect of this university. It can't just be a UC campus that happens to be in the Valley."

Thoughts like that could end up costing people money, if UC administrators don't remain diligent in their sustained efforts to suppress anything resembling rural sociology in California. That would be because people in the Valley need money and there are reasons that they don't have money. If you started studying that topic, there would be rumblings from the trustees of the UC Merced Foundation, who have all the Valley money.

But, whatever are the Valley Hopefuls going to do without the Hakutas?

V.I. Ratliff


Fontamara, Ignacio Silone

One hundred years of solitude, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez

| »

Jack and the Shrimp Slayer

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

Yesterday the Tracy Press published an editorial that noted Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, had also received money from Washington super-lobbyist, now singing to federal prosecutors. The amount is small, compared with what Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy has received, but Cardoza felt called upon to protest today even the mention of his name in connection with the wholesale corruption now being investigated. So, on account of a thousand dollars from an Indian casino, we get this:

I have never met Mr. Abramoff, nor have I had any dealings with him. Period. In fact, the contribution I received from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians occurred long after the tribe had cut all ties with Mr. Abramoff and his firm.

Cardoza wrote in a letter to the Tracy Press today.

Mr. Abramoff’s admitted crimes are shameful and flagrant abuses of the public trust. Any public official convicted of wrongdoing in this matter should be punished to the furthest extent of the law... The scandal surrounding Mr. Abramoff has cast a dark cloud over Congress and threatens to further weaken the public’s trust in the integrity of their government.

he continued.

When the Shrimp Slayer conjures up "the public's trust" to defend his moral rectitude, the public gets the fantods. The man speaks like a neo-con hack. The Pomboza, Cardoza and Rep. RichPac Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy's wholesale attack on the public trust in their suite of bills to dismember the Endangered Species Act, comes to mind. The Pomboza collecting their contributions from developers last spring at their joint fundraiser at the Grupe ranch in Lodi comes to mind. It turns the public mind to the Pomboza trip, with Interior Secretary Gale Norton, in January 2004 to the Marianas, where Abramoff textile sweatshops are located. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez is now calling for a House investigation (along with other on-going investigations) into connections between members of Congress, Ambramoff's Marianas clients, and legislative affecting the area.

Of course, out there in the Great Water, where Bikini was and the US still conducts tests, maybe the Shrimp Slayer was scouting out territory for UC weapons of mass destruction testing.

More questions are raised than answered by Cardoza's pious denial. For a congressman who doesn't know Abramoff, he's certainly up to date on when and for how long the lobbyist was connected with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. In fact, Cardoza's deep dependency on Pombo, Doolittle, DeLay and the rest of the hard rightwingers in the House suggests involvement with their top money guy, Abramoff. We may never know, however, because campaign financing in this country is a hall of mirrors equal to its tax code, federal highway and HUD funding. Given the public's low level of trust in its congressmen, Cardoza raises a good question: why trust his denial of involvement with Abramoff? Or is just because the other half of The Pomboza, Pombo, denies knowing a lobbyist who gave him $55,000?

Any public official convicted of wrongdoing in this matter should be punished to the furthest extent of the law ...

Cardoza intones. Are we looking at a falling out among thieves? Next thing we know, Cardoza will deny every having known Pombo -- who is in the limelight, along with Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin -- of this investigation. Will Cardoza also deny knowing Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, who received $8,500 from the Abramoff operation? Will he give up membership in the Portuguese American Political Caucus of the House of Representatives, whose members received $200,700 from various Abramoff pots? For example, Patrick Kennedy, D-RI, co-chair with Pombo of PALCUS, received more than four times ($42,500) what Rep. Nick Rahall, D-WVa, ranking minority member of the Resources Committee received ($10,000) from Abramoff.

Just exactly where will all the denial end? Who knows, but probably the Abramoff affair will test the limits of absurd denial as it unfolds.

The Tracy Press wasn't making this up. It came from, whose parent website is

Bill Hatch

No Abramoff dealings

I would like to clarify a few points from Thursday’s editorial, “Reform U.S. Capitol lobbying,” which stated that I had received a contribution from an Indian tribe connected to Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. I have never met Mr. Abramoff, nor have I had any dealings with him. Period. In fact, the contribution I received from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians occurred long after the tribe had cut all ties with Mr. Abramoff and his firm.

Mr. Abramoff’s admitted crimes are shameful and flagrant abuses of the public trust. Any public official convicted of wrongdoing in this matter should be punished to the furthest extent of the law.

I strongly agree that Washington needs to take immediate and dramatic action to reform lobbying. This is long overdue. The scandal surrounding Mr. Abramoff has cast a dark cloud over Congress and threatens to further weaken the public’s trust in the integrity of their government. My sincere hope is that Americans’ outrage over this violation of the public trust will force Congress to enact meaningful reform that will crack down on these abuses and demand greater transparency from lobbyists and public officials. I pledge to speak out and fight for these reforms.

Dennis Cardoza

Reform U.S. Capitol lobbying

Super lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s squealing to federal prosecutors may expose the depth of this sordid game of special interests exchanging monetary gifts for political influence in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

Among those on Abramoff’s trail of deception, fraud and money exchange are about 300 members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats. They include Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. Between 1999 and today, Pombo has received $54,500 in contributions from Abramoff and the American Indian tribes that hired him as a lobbyist. Cardoza has accepted $1,000.

Pombo’s contribution from Abramoff and Abramoff-connected parties is the fifth highest among the members of Congress (Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., is No. 1 with $101,620). Since 2003, Pombo has been chairman of the House Resources Committee, which handles Indian affairs.

Neither Pombo nor Cardoza has been implicated publicly in the Abramoff case. Pombo says he has never met the guilty lobbyist. Fortunately, Pombo’s rise in leadership came at the same time Abramoff’s influence as a lobbyist was dwindling because of federal investigations.

Accepting campaign contributions from a lobbyist, an Indian tribe or other special interests isn’t a crime unless there is a direct quid pro quo, and even then it is hard to prove in court. That’s why prosecutors let Abramoff and his associates make deals — so they can squeal on the lawmakers.

Abramoff was associated with the K Street Project that was designed by the Republican Party to force big business and trade groups to hire more Republican-connected lobbyists. The K Street Project created an almost seamless relationship between members of Congress and corporate America. Abramoff was the middleman who profited from the monetary influence.

After the partisan finger-pointing ends in Washington over the Abramoff case, Congress must to embark on immediate lobbying reform with tougher disclosure laws and stricter professional standards.

The Abramoffs of D.C. reflect the wrong side of democracy — the freedom to commit greed and fraud when no officeholder wants to look. This disregard of fairness in government disillusions Americans, who wonder if all lawmakers are crooks, not statesmen.

Among the ways the statesmen can regain the confidence of Americans while decreasing the influence of lobbyists and political action committees with fistfuls of dollars is by interacting more with the folks in their districts and states and less with Abramoff-clone lobbyists.
Miller Calls for Probe into Abramoff's Marianas Dealings
By Josephine Hearn
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) today called for a congressional investigation into former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, which Abramoff represented from 1994 to 2001.

Miller wrote a 7-page letter to Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over U.S. territories, asking that the committee exercise its appropriate oversight responsibilities without further delay to investigate a variety of allegations of improper behavior, including the overpayment for lobbying services, interference in territorial elections, interference in contract procurement, and the questionable payment of overseas trips for Members of Congress and staff. Abramoff has been at the center of a growing scandal over sizeable fees he and his associate Michael
Scanlon charged Indian tribes for lobbying and public relations. Two Senate committees, a federal taskforce and the Interior Department¹s inspector general are conducting separate investigations into the duo and their dealings with members of Congress and administration officials.

Abramoff arranged for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to visit the islands in December 1997 to tour textile factories. The commonwealth¹s government, an Abramoff client at the time, and the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association paid for the trip.

A senior GOP aide to the Resources Committee said that the committee had seen Miller¹s letter, was still reviewing it and had no response at press time.

Miller and Abramoff have long been at odds over labor and immigration policy in the islands, with Miller contending that current laws are abusive to immigrant workers. Abramoff has represented garment manufacturers seeking to maintain the islands¹ exemption from certain U.S. immigration and labor laws.

Meanwhile, in other Abramoff-related news, watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington launched a new web site,, to chronicle Abramoff¹s association with various members of the Congress, lobbyists and conservative activist. The group is urging visitors to the web site to contact House ethics committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and ask that the committee begin an investigation.
Miller: Abramoff Money Halted Sweat Shop Legislation

POSTED: 7:50 am PST January 4, 2006
UPDATED: 12:39 pm PST January 4, 2006

UNDATED -- East Bay Congressman George Miller just couldn't understand why his legislation to end sex and textile sweat shops in the Northern Mariana Islands -- a U.S. protectorate in the Pacific -- was being blocked in the House of Representatives. Now, he has his answer.

Miller had run into a roadblock allegedly thrown up by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"There is no question that Jack Abramoff is no run-of-the-mill lobbyist," Miller said on Mornings on 2. "The Mariana Islands were one of Abramoff's clients…The garment industry there was importing young men from China and elsewhere work in sweat shops…There's a sex rade…labor camps."

"I was trying to get legislation passed in the House," Miller added. "It passed out of committee in the Senate and had bi-partisan support. I just couldn't get it to the floor of the House of Representatives."

Miller said it was time to investigate why the legislation was being blocked.
Blue Dog in South Pacific.

Delegation arrives for 2-day visit By Mark-Alexander Pieper Pacific Daily News;


* A congressional delegation arrived on island last night for a two-day a fact-finding trip.

A six-member congressional delegation visiting the Micronesia region on a fact-finding mission arrived on Guam last night for a two-day stay...

The delegation, accompanied by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and David Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs, was greeted by local dignitaries at the island's commuter terminal adjacent to the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam...

The delegation includes California Congressman and House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, Delegate Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa, Reps. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo. All are members of the resources committee with the exception of Lucas.

After the statements, the delegation was whisked away to a hotel. Media was denied interviews with the delegation.

Earlier yesterday, the Interior Department announced that Norton and CNMI Gov. Juan Babauta signed a grant that will provide more than $5.1 million to the CNMI to mitigate the impact of migration from the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands.

"These funds will help the CNMI provide health, education and other social services to the citizens of the freely associated states who are permitted to migrate to the CNMI under the Compacts of Free Association," said Norton, who made her first visit to the Northern Marianas this week before arriving on Guam. lists Rehberg received $30,000 and Lucas $2,500 from Abramoff operations.

| »

Timing is everything

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

While some in Merced scratch their heads and chew their pencil erasers trying to comment on a large Riverside Motorsports Park Master Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Report and others don their black RMP caps to rally in support of the track, John Condren, CEO of RMP, and Kenny Shepherd, RMP president, take their dog-and-pony show to Tracy to talk about the wonders of an expanded Altamont Speedway and about expanding their lease on the Speedway from two to 10 years.

Although these guys are too cute by half, in their various pitches here and there about the Valley, they manage to drop things.

“We’ve had more tracks close in the past 12 months than in the entire period (from) 1975 to 2005,” he said. With Stockton 99 due to close at the end of 2006 “we cannot afford to lose another track, so we stepped up to the plate.”

Timing is everything. Condren is a talented man. Perhaps, given the timing, he should consider promoting bicycle tracks, popular during the McKinley administration, widely adored by the present administration at war for oil and the right to torture anyone to get more of it.

Bill Hatch

Changes come to local raceway
Christopher H. Roberts

Tracy Press -- Jan. 6, 2005

Major changes are afoot at Altamont.

Just three weeks after the surprise announcement that Riverside Motorsports Park, LLC, of Atwater are the Altamont raceway’s new managers, the company’s CEO and president revealed the vision for the track’s future at a meeting Thursday in Tracy.

Among the planned improvements are a new Musco lighting system, membership in NASCAR, a remodeled pit area, effective wind-screens and the ability to convert the quarter-mile oval track into 27 different street courses.

Riverside, currently in the middle of a $230 million racetrack construction project in Merced, chose to take on the added burden of managing and improving Altamont for the overall good of the sport, CEO John Condren said.

“We’ve had more tracks close in the past 12 months than in the entire period (from) 1975 to 2005,” he said. With Stockton 99 due to close at the end of 2006 “we cannot afford to lose another track, so we stepped up to the plate.”

The meeting began with a blend of urgency and fatalism.

“Motorsports is in trouble,” Riverside president and former racer Kenny Shepard said. “If we don’t do something, Altamont will be a business park in two years.”

“Failure is not an option,” Condren said.

To explain the business side of the venture, Condren and Shepard used a mix of racing talk and corporate speak.

Condren announced that the days of one event a week at Altamont are over, as a wider variety of events spread over three to five days make for “multiple revenue streams.”

“I like to call this a paradigm shift,” he said.

However, many racers present raised fears that their particular racing classes would be phased out at Altamont, fears that neither Condren nor Shepard allayed.

“We’re looking at what’s going to work for the next 10 years,” Condren said. “If your class gets eliminated
— I’m sorry.”

The problems that have plagued Altamont for years — shoddy lighting, primitive pits and the legendary high winds — were specifically addressed.

And news that a new Musco lighting system was already on the way drew a round of applause.

Still, the 200-odd assembled drivers, mechanics and racing fans were skeptical at first.

“These are promises we’ve heard before,” Ken Benhamou of Pleasanton said to Condren. “You’ve got a big task ahead of you — if you make promises, I want to see you commit.”

To this, Condren pointed to the $1.5 million already invested by Riverside in Altamont as proof that the new management will stay for longer than the initial two-year lease.

He also emphasized the large amount of work already done.

“We’ve moved a mountain in three weeks” since signing the agreement to lease the track, Condren said.
The plan is simple at its core.

“The goal is to get the stands full,” Shepard said. “This conversation means nothing if that track is a
ghost town.”

To do that, Riverside will need to make sure Altamont’s image becomes much more ubiquitous.

“A lot of people in this town don’t know that the track is still around,” Gayle Widgay of Tracy said.

Condren and Shepard assured that a sophisticated marketing plan is already under way, including extensive media advertising and corporate sponsorships.

The professionalism seemed to encourage those present that 2006 would truly usher in a new era at Altamont, and any fears held going into the meeting were relieved — at least for now.

“They seem like real businessmen,” racer Ryan Steele of Pleasanton said. “Not just some old guys running a track. And that’s what Altamont needs.”

| »

POW/Raptor comment letter on Riverside Motorsports Park draft environmental impact report

Submitted: Jan 06, 2006

From: Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
Modesto CA 95350

To: Mr. James Holland January 6, 2006

Merced County Planning Department
2222 M St.
Merced, California 95340 Emailed
Fax: (209) 726-1710

Re: Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report, Riverside Motorsports Park – General Plan Amendment No. 03005,Zone Change No 03007, State Clearinghouse # 2003071138

Dear Mr. Holland,

We are commenting on the DEIR of the Riverside Motorsports Park.

This project, as meticulously described in detail in the DEIR, does not need the flexibility provided by a special zoning designation. Therefore we object to the development plan zoning designation. This proposed major auto raceway, with great cumulative impacts on the environment of Merced County, should, under no conditions, be permitted to change its plan subject only to the administrative approval of a new, out-of-state director of Development Services.

The DEIR is so narrowly focused on the needs of the project that it fails to even consider the broader impacts the project would have to natural resources, public health and safety and infrastructure needs.

We found it unacceptably confusing that the master plan didn’t coordinate in any obvious way with the DEIR.

Until the county General Plan is properly updated, even to consider the number of possible amendments this project would be asking for is irresponsible land-use planning. Currently, the County is claiming an update in 1995. This is not true; it was amended. An amendment is not a comprehensive update. Since then, a number of other amendments have so warped the General Plan that it is now admitted by all to be a useless policy document.

The County has yet to coordinate responsibly with other jurisdictions on other projects like the Bellevue Corridor and the Atwater/Merced Expressway Project.

Racetracks have a history of failure and this one is competing with several major tracks in nearby counties, including Laguna Seca and Sears Point. Proponents require special zoning that will give them extreme flexibility, despite the apparent level of detail and narrow focus of this DEIR. Under the master plan, changes can simply be made by administrative decision of the director of Development Services. Given these three factors, we must consider the probability that this RMP is a holding pattern, just like a golf course, and that at any time, at the administrative discretion of the director of Development Services, the project can be converted, at taxpayer expense, into commercial development, part of a commercial corridor.

The environmental checklist is so over defined by the needs of the project, as opposed to the needs of the environment, that the proposed mitigations and the lack mitigations fail to reach the standard of a competent DEIR, leaving the public and the resource agencies unable to accurately address this project.

Growth is happening in this area in a haphazard, unplanned way. The impacts from this growth have not been taken into consideration in this DEIR. Mitigation measures in this DEIR defer responsibility to other plans, which, like the regional water plan anticipated for six years, are plans to make plans, for example the Traffic and Circulation Management Plan on page 4-31 of the Master Plan. Mixed in with these plans to make plans, are concrete proposals, such as the creation of a new road, Riverside Drive, without any analysis or alternatives.

This document provides no proof for its claim that there will be no impact to wildlife and habitat from the project.

The document displays a faulty understanding of environmental benefit, for example, on p. 4-2 of the Master Plan.

There is no analysis of the pharmaceutical and solvent content of wastewater proposed to be used in the project.

These documents rely on the infrastructure of the former Castle Air Force Base, yet there is no discussion of this infrastructure or its environmental condition.

We have been consistently involved in this area of the county for a number of years, and have provided the County with numerous public comments on environmental concerns.

We are reserving the right to submit additional information at the time of the public hearing on the FEIR.

In conclusion, we support the no-project alternative because this project fails meet CEQA standards and the county’s current, out-dated general plan.

Respectfully submitted,

Lydia Miller

Steve Burke

cc: Interested parties
William Hatch,

| »

Merced County League of Women Voters' dead questions office

Submitted: Jan 04, 2006

The Merced County chapter of the League of Women Voters recently published its January 2006 newsletter concerning a meeting on county land-use policy. Badlands attended and reported on the meeting, Unanswered questions on Merced growth, Wednesday, December 7th, 2005. That meeting was bogus. A large crowd was encouraged to write down questions about growth, listened to a panel of planners, and then the meeting was shut down -- the panel did not answer any of the questions. The reason given was that City Hall was not available beyond a certain time, that time arrived, therefore the meeting was over. There was also some funny business with the computer projector that took up additional (precious) time.

Soliciting questions from the public about growth in one of the two fastest growing regions in the state, and then not answering them but passing them on to the political classes, descends to the level of mere pandering to the remarkably corrupt local, pro-growth power structure of Merced.

While the Badlands editorial staff doesn’t mind critically covering local political events (we think that’s what journalism ought to be and used to be), the staff collectively winces while performing the unpleasant duty of criticizing the League of Women Voters. Badlands staff grew up listening to mothers talk about the League, reading League newsletters and voter education pamphlets. The staff learned its first lessons in democracy from League mothers.

But, says the Merced League, it distributed all the questions to the people that matter. These are the same people who have voted consistently for the development engulfing the county. These are the people who hold unanimously as their first, collective metaphysical principle, that “growth is inevitable.”

According to the newsletter, the League had retired UC professor, Dr. William Teitz compile all the questions and then they were sent to all the presenters (Teitz, the former county planning director and three city planners), the county Board of Supervisors, the mayors of the six cities in the county, and the Merced Sun-Star and Merced County Times.

The whole League-orchestrated Q-but-no-A “public meeting” was a hoax. Tietz, the retired UC professor, gave a very interesting, somewhat drastic presentation about Valley growth that might actually have had some impact if it had been given before UC Merced was a “done deal.” The county planning director (since demoted) gave a countywide overview. Three city planners provided their views on development in their cities. Fast-growing Atwater, strangely, was not represented.

Did the League want to put on an event about growth that looked like it was really open to public, in order to log it in under that title so that it could be referred to later as a real “public dialogue”? Were the planners and the questions window dressing in some sort of display? If it really had been set up to be a town hall meeting it would have gone on until 3 in the morning at a local church. Perhaps, League officers are just hooked on the architecture of these chambers of local government, in which officials are always seated above the public.

The miasma of growth now hangs over Merced political life like a permanent, toxic tule fog. The real war for the future of the county is all but won by developers. It’s a perfect game of political blackmail. The developers have their teeth deeply buried in county government now. If farmers who want to continue farming publicly criticize growth policies, things can happen. Everybody knows how this goes. But, dragging the tradition of the League of Women Voters into it stinks.

The League of Women Voters is committed to making democracy work in Merced, California, across the country and around the world,

Its newsletter claims.

Join us in educating and encouraging men and women to be active citizens and address the issues that affect our lives—election administration reform, campaign finance reform, civil and human rights, citizen engagement, judicial independence and criminal justice, education, health care, urban sprawl and our natural resources …

The newsletter urges. These are important values. Mothers in League chapters during the dark days of McCarthyism were accused of being communists for standing up for these values. Right here in the San Joaquin Valley, 50 years ago. Imagine!

Respect for their mothers’ political bravery requires Badlands staff to make a critical remark of a greatly respected institution: it takes more than a scarf to make a League president. It takes a willingness to stand up for values, which, although non-partisan and thoroughly American, are always controversial. If you don’t stand up for them, but just quote them in your newsletter, you’re betraying them.

But, not content with League value statements, this League chapter has to drag Margaret Mead into it.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

This business of using old values, hard fought for, as advertising and propaganda for an organization that dares not understand what these values mean, and what they cost these women, and for how long, is a widespread bad habit or our era, drowning in propaganda. But those values meant something and should not be simply stuck in a newsletter like decoration or a shopping ad.

Just because you’re not on the front lines of things, doesn’t mean you have to be in the lap of power, either. Just because you are not contributing to a public dialogue does not mean you have to fake one. If you aren’t on the front lines as the League used to be, you ought to go have tea somewhere out of the way.

The way the League handled these questions, they became ammunition and rhetoric for the status quo, thoughtlessly committed to catastrophic growth in Merced County but wise to any advantage provided that will make them look less than the authors of catastrophe. An opportunity for a real public town hall meeting was misrepresented and misused. It was as bad and Cardoza the Shrimp Slayer’s “town hall meeting” in the same venue several months earlier.

Rumors have reached the Badlands staff that the League official facilitating this meeting is planning a career in elective office. Considering that we’ve seen more democratic public meetings at Chairman “Fox Hills” Sloan’s county Planning Commission, we’re taking an early, negative stand on this candidacy. In our view, Merced does not need more of the same-old, same-old well-known substance that seems to get tracked onto every institution in this county, regardless of former ideals. Developers have their teeth in the throat of local government here. This is no time for the League of Women Voters to be used as a platform for political postures.

The League newsletter concluded with a stirring letter from a mother in 1951 about how to raise a democratic child:


I can help make democracy live because the best citizen is not the one who knows the most, but the one who cares the most. Because I am a mother, I can teach my children to care about people and those values essential to democracy.

If I show my child that his rights and possessions are respected, if I teach him to take his turn and to do his share, if I help him to feel loved and valued for himself, I’ll be teaching him to believe in the inalienable rights of all people.

I will not train my child in blind obedience born of fear, for that makes dictators possible. I will expect only the conformity suitable to his age. I will not demand acceptance of all my opinions. I will tolerate the stress and strain of disagreement in order to encourage that free expression of ideas which enriches group life and in order to further the self-discipline required for democratic living. My child can become truly democratic only by practicing that way of life.

By my example, I will seek to show my child that democracy is worth all it costs. I will obey the laws, even those I dislike. I will pay my taxes without evasion. I will be fair to people who differ from me in race, religion, or political philosophy. I will study my government in order to vote intelligently. I will take time to serve my community.

In such simple everyday ways we can do our share as citizens. If we parents care enough, we can make democracy live.

Martha Fugate Pitman
Reprinted from the July 1951 Parents’ Magazine

What a beautiful dream, and how widely shared it was in the Valley in those years. They were not the easiest years economically or politically, but there was that sweet dedication of parents who had known depression and war and had transmuted harsh experience into love and care for the next generation. And with that love went these high ideals, League of Women Voter ideals. There was a code for “democratic living,” and we thought we were learning it. But we let the code down, not understanding, I think, the amount of struggle that lay just behind it, in perhaps the previous three generations. It may well have been children of League mothers of that era who reminded us of Susan B. Anthony, Mother Jones and the other heroic women in American history. We inherited it; we didn’t earn it. Eventually, that movement for democracy, became fatally involved with the power aspirations of the Democratic Party and was corrupted as horribly as conservatism, allied with the Republican Party, is now being corrupted.

In fact, unfortunately, the values Mrs. Pitman so eloquently articulated during the recession of the early 1950s, are a code of conduct almost guaranteed for failure in practical affairs in America. Unless checked by concerted public action, the lying, bullying, lawless thief is far more likely to gain power and wealth in this society.

I wish there had been a real town hall meeting on development because I think it is only in that sort of forum that real public power over the public future can be developed. But, following the well-established pattern of orchestration established by UC Merced and its local boosters in and out of government, that did not happen this time.

And time is running out. If the Merced public is not to be coerced into complete slurbocracy, town meetings in which citizens – whether feeling safe or not – do get up and speak their minds directly to power are necessary. Otherwise, the Merced public cannot expect anything but more of the slurbocracy now engulfing it. The developers came to play and they wrote many of the rules of the game.

Here are the unanswered questions, rescued from the League of Women Voters’ dead question office. They are doubtlessly now being eagerly studied by our political leaders as carefully as a comment letter on an environmental impact report. The Badlands staff is holding its breath and turning blue in the face waiting for the detailed answers the supervisors, mayors and newspaper editors are going to give in public to these questions.

1. Does the urban growth of Merced County benefit current residents economically more than outside investors/developers?
2. How does it reflect on our community when we raise children that can’t afford to live or work here? Why must we continue the urban growth of Merced County at the expense of our quality of living?
3. How will the urbanization affect our cost of living? Do we as citizens, have rights to object to any of your plans if we don’t like them?
4. Why has growth not taken place along Hwy 5?
5. Where are all these future residents going to work? And shop? And go for recreation? Is this more cars on the roads driving out of the area, spending money in other areas?
6. What happens to the houses + land that is left over from the development that is moving to the north?
7. How will the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center affect traffic on 99 and air quality?
8. What are some major planning issues? Are the requirements that developers have to meet to develop really feasible? These requirements can sometimes kill development and instead maybe could make incentives or fee reduction.
9. Why so much low density residential in the county expansion plans?
10. Are the community plans financially constrained? Who is paying for the new infrastructure + expanded services?
11. Should the county and cities adopt a jobs/housing balance into their general plans?
12. In terms of the growth in Franklin / Planada what is the plan for wastewater?
13. What steps are being taken to expand the city of Merced (i.e. ready existing streets and freeways) to accommodate so many more people?
14. What conjectured growth could be attributing to U.C. Merced? (As a single catalyst)
15. Should major roadways be determined before development is approved?
16. Do you foresee an eastside freeway being constructed? The route could follow the old road before the railroad. The route would create beltways around urban areas like Visalia, Fresno, Merced, Modesto, and Sacramento.
17. What about roads?
18. Due to infrastructure capacity constraints can new alternatives be used, for example, recycled water (tertiary treatment-package plants) to meet the needs of new development?
19. Has the underground water supply for the San Joaquin Valley been quantified? If not how can continued urban growth continue?
20. Growth is inevitable however it is taking away the farmland. The same people wanting to build are the ones that will complain when food is expensive. Why do they always choose to use high producing agricultural areas to build houses? Why can't they use non-producing land?
21. In view of the diminishing acreage of productive agriculture land, an irreplaceable resource will boards of supervisors and city councils ever be able to contribute to the preservation of agricultural land? If not what do you suggest?
22. Can agricultural businesses continue to survive at the height of urban development?
23. What’s going to happen to the farm based business with urban growth?
24. Has there been consideration of growing up in multiple story housing complexes in order to preserve agricultural land?
25. Where’s the water?
26. What is the proposed plan for wastewater tax for?
27. Why is the prime farmland scenario unrealistic?
28. Food security requires farmland be protected. Should we require protection by state or federal government to protect farmland like environment is protected?
29. Why are the farmers so dead set against urbanization? Can’t individual farms continue to farm in the middle of growth?
30. To curb urban encroachment into Prime farmland is anything being done to encourage high-rise apartments/condos & office space?
31. Who should determine if a local food supply is important far future generations? Should food security be a public policy issue?
32. What measures are being taken to 1) To ensure resource conservation and 2.) Protect wildlife and natural areas?
33. Can the panelists comment on the potential for collaborative planning between local agencies for regional development in Merced County and throughout the central valley.
34. Dr.Teitz you write in your report that “Valley residents are skeptical about their government institutions ability to solve problems.” (Pg. 80) What can governments do to reduce the skepticism and meet the needs of the future?
35. With all these general plan updates going on, where to how can individuals (local) organizations be most effective in getting what WE want? (Versus out of area investors) Can the panelists comment on the potential for collaborative planning between local agencies for regional development in Merced County and throughout the central valley?
36. You mentioned “resistance to growth” from the Bay Area (as one of the forces of population growth+ urbanization to the valley) what have they done and why can’t we also resist such growth?

| »


Submitted: Jan 02, 2006

A fine example of pro-racetrack poison penmanship appeared in the Merced Sun-Star on Friday. It is offered with a few questions in reply below.

Critics' motives are tainted

Editor: I'm getting very concerned with the ulterior motives of the few but very vocal detractors of the Riverside Motorsports Park facility. Much of what they write is conjecture; the rest is simply untrue.

What are the real reasons they push so hard against such a facility that can add millions of dollars in tax revenues that can then be spent on University of California, Merced, programs, working with RMP as a test lab, to solve some of the problems these people claim to represent? What are they really after?

Many are the same who opposed UC Merced. For that, I would say that RMP is keeping very good company. However they did delay UC Merced's opening for a long time, and when you Google some of the opposing organizations, all you get is a page full of lawsuits and out-of-court settlements. I haven't seen where any of that ill-gotten gain has been spent to solve water or air quality problems. I do see in the environmental impact report that RMP has a plan to save water. If some of our problems are solved, do the detractors lose a source of income?

They are even attacking backers now, claiming that backers are in it for the big bucks. I'm a backer, and I don't stand to gain a dime. We just want a facility that we can be proud of, and this one is like no other in the country.

Speaking of big bucks, where do you suppose all that money from litigation went? To fund a letter writing smear campaign?


Let's try a few simple questions on this smear by Mr. Wood. What ulterior motives would opponents of the racetrack have other than trying to protect their air quality in one of the top two worst air basins in the nation? What ulterior motive would they have beyond trying to avoid incredible traffic congestion and noise?

What's the connection between any tax millions the track might earn and the UC campus? Is he conjecturing that sales taxes will flow from one to the other? The track folks have been suggesting lately a win-win public/private partnership with UC on automotive problems. But I am not familiar with any statements made by UC about this partnership. Have I missed something? Has the UC Merced chancellor endorsed Riverside Motorsports Park?

Where does Wood get the idea that the people who oppose the track are many of the very few people who opposed UC Merced? Where has Wood found a website or any other information describing any out-of-court settlements between UC Merced and opponents? What is he talking about?

Isn't the RMP track similar to the major NASCAR track at Sears Point, about 100 miles from Merced? Aren't the RMP people already exploring a backup plan to expand the old Altamont track near Tracy, which they now manage? How would Mr. Wood know the proposed track "is like no other in the country"? Has he been to the other tracks in the country or is he relying on RMP's Mr. Condren's sales pitch?

Is Mr. Wood just very badly informed or is he deliberately lying on behalf of the racetrack? It doesn't matter because the damage is done. He's made a mean fool of himself in print to anyone who knows anything about the areas he covers in his letter.

But, mean foolishness is all part of this project. The fundamental problem is that the proposed facility -- quite aside from its obvious environmental impacts -- is a temple to denial of reality, like the Iraq War. With more than 2,100 American dead and 16,000 wounded, and around 30,000 Iraqi confirmed dead, we are losing a war lies got us into so that US oil companies could exploit those resources to make gasoline for our cars. Is the motive behind the pagan ritual of stockcar racing (What would Jesus drive?) that as long as the worshippers can see the cars zooming around the tracks, they can forget the reality of shrinking natural resources that will steadily erode the quality of life for all of us?

Kurt Vonnegut summed it up nicely:

"We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we're hooked on." --

Personally, I like the idea suggested recently that we should have a racetrack as long as all the racecars on it are solar-powered.

Bill Hatch

| »

Merced year in frosting

Submitted: Jan 01, 2006

The Merced Sun-Star editors Saturday licked the frosting off their fingers from the cake they imagine they have and are eating, while others in the community imagine the editors been had and are being eaten. Looking at the "many great things" brought in the past year, they said:

Perhaps the biggest was the opening of the University of California, Merced, campus. This dream for several decades finally became a multi-million dollar reality last fall as the first students occupied dorms and classrooms.

Odd choice of words, "multi-million dollar reality." It certainly was a multi-million dollar investment for the taxpayers of California. It certainly raised landowners' property values for development, and home building and land ripping is certainly going along -- involving many millions of dollars going one way and another.

However, the sugar fix is in at the Sun-Star as always: UC Merced was not even a glimmer, much less a dream even in the greedy little minds of the various Mr. and Ms. Merceds, when, as the result of a joint environmental/agricultural lawsuit in the late 1980s, a general plan was finally written for the county in 1991. This general plan, despite Sun-Star frosting delirium, was never updated, as it is now proposed it might be at some point in the next several years. It was amended, amended, and amended, to the point where it is useless as any kind of guidance for development. And the mother amendment of them all has been UC Merced and the UC Community Plan.

Then one wonders at the lapse of adverbial consistency. In the lead, UC Merced is described as the "most notably" good thing. Here, it is merely "Perhaps the biggest." This lapse can be explained by the terrible strain the Sun-Star editors have been under since the UC Merced "done-deal" that wasn't, in 1998, until now. A steady stream of UC Merced Bobcatflak for seven years or more has drowned thought and silenced the critical mind in that newsroom. But the immediate cause is the frosting high from the delusion of having and eating the cake.

The loss of a newspaper is a political tragedy, A.J. Liebling, one of our greatest newspaper critics thought, back in the 1950s. Today it is a foregone conclusion whenever any institution with an adequately staffed flak office moves to town. Merced has a prison, the WalMart and a whole bunch of big-box retailers, and now UC Merced. Merced is now far, far too important for anything as tacky as journalistic inquiry.

A stunning example springs to mind from what the paper calls its news department. A week after County CEO Dee Tatum introduced Bobby Lewis to the Board of Supervisors as his choice to directed the planning department -- nobody on the board or in the planning department seemed to know anything about Lewis -- the newspaper did a story on the appointment. It focused on the "demotion" of former director, Bill Nicholson.

"There isn't quote-unquote a need for a new director," Tatum said. "We really need to focus on what services we're giving people and what the board wants."

Presuming Tatum actually uttered this meaningless statement, reporting, writing and printing it serve only to further fog the public brain, already misted over by the steady stream of Bobcatflak dutifully reprinted as "news" in the Sun-Star for lo, these many years (but not yet decades).

He (Lewis) spent 17 years working in the planning departments for the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson, Nev.

In 1998, he started his own engineering and surveying company and eventually ended up as vice president for a Las Vegas developer.

It would have been awfully nice to know what Las Vegas developer Lewis worked for and whether or not this Las Vegas developer has interests in Merced or is planning to have interests in Merced. There is no evidence our newspaper even thought to ask. The whole article, in fact, increases public suspicion that a new fix is in at the planning department.

Returning to the collective mind of the editors that passed on this story, municipal joy is asked for federal highway funding for the Mission Interchange, which will permit traffic to bypass Merced on its way to UC -- perhaps not a boon to downtown business but a windfall to a number of landowners with farming roots (like Lewis says he has) selling to developers along the Campus Parkway. And if that weren't enough joy, Merced has landed "a major Wal-Mart distribution center which will provide hundreds of good jobs for local residents." Organized labor in America hates WalMart like no other corporation. Is it possible organized labor has some reason for its hatred? Then, of course, there is editorial joy for passage of the obligatory "enhanced" police/fire bond to keep those local residents employed by WalMart, and even some who aren't, in line, and to provide new fire stations for new neighborhoods.

Editorial joy for new school construction is muted because there is nothing to be joyful about after the developers whupped the school administrators into submission this year. The quality of Merced K-12 public education was the big loser for years to come as a result of the UC Merced-induced, speculative housing boom. The concluding pious hope for lower crime rates and better public education is pure frosting revery.

Bill Hatch


| »

Lack of incentive

Submitted: Dec 30, 2005

It's very hard to see that the USDA has any incentive to properly monitor GMO crops, pharma or otherwise, considering they are so gung-ho in favor of them, along with the land grant universities whose "win-win public/private partnerships" with biotechnology corporations have produced them.

When the nation is going to wake up and discover this technology required serious public testing it never received remains a question based on the ability of lobbies and propaganda to bend perception. Using the example of genetic contamination, however, whatever is said from bent perspectives won't change inevitable facts. So far the critics have been right, every step of the way.

Investigators say the USDA lacks details on what happens with pharma-crops.

Des Moines Register, December 30 2005

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has failed to properly oversee field trials of genetically engineered crops, including plants designed to produce chemicals for medical and industrial uses, investigators say.

A report released Thursday by the USDA's inspector general said the department "lacks basic information" on where field tests are or what is done with the crops after they are harvested.

The report is the latest blow to prospects for developing an industry based on mass-producing pharmaceutical chemicals from genetically modified corn. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack once called the idea the "future of our state."

During the inspector general investigation, auditors found that two large harvests of pharmaceutical crops remained in storage at test sites without the USDA's knowledge or approval.

The investigators also said that in 2003 the department failed to inspect fields of pharmaceutical crops with the frequency that officials said they would.

"Current (USDA) regulations, policies and procedures do not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology," the report said.

The report "confirms the public's lack of confidence in the USDA to oversee pharmaceutical and industrial chemical crops," said Susan Prolman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that has been critical of the agricultural biotechnology industry.

USDA officials said they have made a number of improvements since the investigation was done but disagree with some of the findings.

"We were addressing many of the issues as they were looking at the same issues," said Cindy Smith, deputy administrator for biotechnology regulatory services in the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

She said violations cited in the report were minor. Also, the agency now does all the required inspections of pharma-crop sites, including one last summer near Burlington, Ia., she said.

The department is heeding one of the inspector general's suggestions and may make it mandatory for researchers to provide global positioning coordinates for test sites.

Smith's staff has grown from 23 to 65 since it was established in 2002.

The Agriculture Department oversaw 67,000 acres of biotech field trials in 2004, up from 8,700 in 1994.

Relatively little of that acreage is devoted to pharmaceutical or industrial crops, but there is special concern that those plants could contaminate conventional crops or get into the food supply.

A small biotech company, ProdiGene Inc., was ordered to pay more than $3 million in penalties and cleanup costs in 2002 after mismanaging field trials of pharmaceutical crops in Iowa and Nebraska.

Pharma crops are seen as a cheap way to mass-produce human and animal drugs. Corn has been the crop of choice because it is relatively simple to engineer and produces a lot of grain that can be easily stored and processed.

| »

University of Perpetual Anxiety

Submitted: Dec 25, 2005

I shouldn't have to be thinking about nuclear war on Christmas Eve. But we've got a University of California campus here in the San Joaquin Valley now. UC Merced has brought us a brand new perspective.

I read the news today, oh boy.

I read this week that after a period of uncertainty, the UC retained control over Los Alamos National Laboratory. The press speculates winning the Los Alamos bid will strengthen UC's chances for retaining Lawrence Livermore National Lab. My immediate concern was the numerous articles since the Wen Ho Lee affair, of security breaches, thefts, and accidents at UC's two nuclear weapons labs. The day before the decision was announced, workers were imperilled by a plutonium spill at Los Alamos.

I shouldn't have to be thinking about nuclear war on Christmas Eve because I am a war baby, taught to crouch under my little desk in grammar school to protect myself from the bombs that could fall on David Farragut Elementary School, near the ocean in San Francisco.Many of my classmates' fathers had recently returned from the Pacific Theater. Some, no doubt, had expected to invade the Japanese mainland. One of our neighbors had been in that PT boat with Kennedy.

I shouldn't have to be thinking about nuclear war on Christmas Eve but the decision, and all the hoopla around it, brought back memories of the Cold War, bomb shelters, the Cuban Missile Crisis, "acceptable losses," decades of nuclear disarmament negotiations and anti-communist campaigns, the Vietnam decade, Star Wars, the "Peace Dividend" and the recent marches against the invasion of Iraq -- the whole national insecurity in which I have lived all my life as a citizen of an aggressive imperial power that has lied to its citizens about its most basic foreign policies.

I shouldn't have to be thinking about nuclear war on Christmas Eve.

In the early 1950s, atomic fever gripped our burgeoning desert town. Bartenders served atomic cocktails. Hairstylists coiffed the atomic hairdo. Revelers danced to the "Atomic Bomb Bounce." Hotel marquees listed detonation times. And Candy King was crowned Miss Atomic Bomb. Tourists were even transported to Mount Charleston's Angel Peak armed with blankets, sunglasses and box lunches so they could watch in awe as the Atomic Energy Commission let 'em rip at the Nevada Test Site. -- Las Vegas Living, June, 2000.

Not being a scientist, I tend to see nuclear weapons as being like Checkov's shotgun on the wall. They aren't just for decoration. My view is Biblical: things come to pass. American corporations' long love affair with the rightwing has finally yielded its reward, an illegal, quasi-monarchy hell bent on imperial militarism and crooked voting machines to hold power. In the midst of this political play for absolute power, here comes UC down to the San Joaquin Valley to build it's "enviromental campus" with, incidentally, memorandum of understanding with Lawrence Livermore Lab in its purse and, now, the new contract to keep running Los Alamos. Locally, about all we've seen them do is corrupt environmental law and regulation and public process, bribe a failing newspaper, organize the local Mr. and Ms. Merceds, and lie about a bobcat. Now that they're riding high on the nuclear hog again, UC Merced's proximity to the Castle base and wide-open spaces, along with that little LLNL MOU in their purse, ought to ring alarms. But to Mr. and Ms. UC Merced, nuke-lab annex looks good for business. And there you have it: in a planet suffocating in the surfeit and waste of the products of man's industry, war is good for business. Mr. and Ms. UC Merced are already investing their anticipated profits. Meanwhile, nearly a billion people are chronically malnourished and little wars keep breaking out here, there, and everywhere.

Fortunately, not all the world is mad enough to regard control of the production of weapons of mass destruction is a cause for rejoicing at Christmas.

There is the story of a man at the UN, a specialist in nuclear proliferation, who disputed the Bush administration line that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons. This man had been running inspection teams in Iraq for a number of years and had found nothing. He and several people working with him testified before the UN Security Council that they had found nothing. The US shouted them down and invaded Iraq anyway. Lately, President Bush has admitted that the intelligence he had that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons wasn't true.

On Dec. 10, Mohamed ElBaradei was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His lecture was an excellent antidote to the orgy of triumphalism surrounding the UC "victory."

In the real world, this imbalance in living conditions inevitably leads to inequality of opportunity, and in many cases loss of hope. And what is worse, all too often the plight of the poor is compounded by and results in human rights abuses, a lack of good governance, and a deep sense of injustice. This combination naturally creates a most fertile breeding ground for civil wars, organized crime, and extremism in its different forms.

In regions where conflicts have been left to fester for decades, countries continue to look for ways to offset their insecurities or project their 'power'. In some cases, they may be tempted to seek their own weapons of mass destruction, like others who have preceded them.

* * * * * * *
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Fifteen years ago, when the Cold War ended, many of us hoped for a new world order to emerge. A world order rooted in human solidarity – a world order that would be equitable, inclusive and effective.

But today we are nowhere near that goal. We may have torn down the walls between East and West, but we have yet to build the bridges between North and South – the rich and the poor.

Consider our development aid record. Last year, the nations of the world spent over $1 trillion on armaments. But we contributed less than 10 per cent of that amount – a mere $80 billion – as official development assistance to the developing parts of the world, where 850 million people suffer from hunger.

My friend James Morris heads the World Food Programme, whose task it is to feed the hungry. He recently told me, "If I could have just 1 per cent of the money spent on global armaments, no one in this world would go to bed hungry."

It should not be a surprise then that poverty continues to breed conflict. Of the 13 million deaths due to armed conflict in the last ten years, 9 million occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, where the poorest of the poor live.

Consider also our approach to the sanctity and value of human life. In the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, we all grieved deeply, and expressed outrage at this heinous crime – and rightly so. But many people today are unaware that, as the result of civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 3.8 million people have lost their lives since 1998.

Are we to conclude that our priorities are skewed, and our approaches uneven?

* * * * * * *
Ladies and Gentlemen. With this 'big picture' in mind, we can better understand the changing landscape in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

There are three main features to this changing landscape: the emergence of an extensive black market in nuclear material and equipment; the proliferation of nuclear weapons and sensitive nuclear technology; and the stagnation in nuclear disarmament.

Today, with globalization bringing us ever closer together, if we choose to ignore the insecurities of some, they will soon become the insecurities of all.

Equally, with the spread of advanced science and technology, as long as some of us choose to rely on nuclear weapons, we continue to risk that these same weapons will become increasingly attractive to others.

I have no doubt that, if we hope to escape self-destruction, then nuclear weapons should have no place in our collective conscience, and no role in our security.

To that end, we must ensure – absolutely – that no more countries acquire these deadly weapons.

We must see to it that nuclear-weapon states take concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament.

And we must put in place a security system that does not rely on nuclear deterrence.

ElBaradei spoke 11 days before Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo,

rallied California lawmakers behind the UC-Bechtel team and said the announcement had her ``dancing in the streets.''

``I thought on the merits, they delivered a knockout punch, but the politics of this have always been trending away from us, to put it mildly,'' she said. ``This is a great day for Claifornia but it's also good news for the American people, who not only have the best science and national security but also the best management for Los Alamos.''

In moments like these, the essential barbarism shines through. Advanced evidence, if our growing poverty and the "Christian" heartlessness aren't enough, is the recent exposure of fraudulent payments to UC administrators, apparently involved in another intramural feeding frenzy for public funds. These frenzies occur regularly, about as often as security breaches and fatal accidents at UC's two nuke labs. Sitting on top of a mushroom cloud is bad for the mind. Everyone wants more money, but you get the impression with these people that they think if they don't fleece the public, they don't rank.

According to ElBaradei's priorities, UC has it backwards.

A recent United Nations High-Level Panel identified five categories of threats that we face:

1. Poverty, Infectious Disease, and Environmental Degradation;
2. Armed Conflict – both within and among states;
3. Organized Crime;
4. Terrorism; and
5. Weapons of Mass Destruction.

ElBaradei's closing remark starkly opposes the danse macabre of California business and political leaders.

Imagine what would happen if the nations of the world spent as much on development as on building the machines of war. Imagine a world where every human being would live in freedom and dignity. Imagine a world in which we would shed the same tears when a child dies in Darfur or Vancouver. Imagine a world where we would settle our differences through diplomacy and dialogue and not through bombs or bullets. Imagine if the only nuclear weapons remaining were the relics in our museums. Imagine the legacy we could leave to our children.

Imagine that such a world is within our grasp.

Probably, AlBaradei had in mind the anniversary of John Lennon's murder two days earlier.

"Imagine," Lennon sang:

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

The song is an anthem for all those in the world who resist war and a view of science that holds that its greatest prestige is in the technology of mass destruction.


I read the news today, of course, oh boy. Last year there were 21,256 murders in the United States of America. The number, and the percentage, is so staggeringly more than anywhere else in the world that you can't help but think we're at war with each other. The great majority of these people were killed not by burglars or muggers but by people they knew. We are at war with people we know. One broadcast said that what's-his-name – I don't even want to type his name – who killed John Lennon identified so strongly with Lennon that at times he used Lennon's name. He killed himself. -- Michael Ventura (LA Weekly article, December 1980)

Los Alamos in the right hands...Editorial
AWARDING A NEW contract to the University of California for management of the Los Alamos National Laboratory is good for the nation -- as much as it upholds California's long-standing scientific renown. Keeping UC in charge of the nuclear weapons program it helped inaugurate more than six decades ago serves to recognize the university's unique credentials in a field vital to national security. UC was teamed with the Bechtel Corp. and a pair of other partners to win out over a bid submitted by Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest arms-maker, and the University of Texas. The new seven-year contract is worth up to $512 million, but its greater importance to UC is the scientific prestige.

UC wins fight for Los Alamos - The Deal - University beats Lockheed Martin-Texas bid to manage nation's top nuclear weapons lab...Keay Davidson, Zachary Coile
The University of California, besieged by criticism over its management of Los Alamos National Laboratory, beat back a strong challenge Wednesday from a team headed by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the University of Texas for control of the storied weapons lab it has run for over six decades. The actual decision, Bodman said, was made by Tom D'Agostino, assistant deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, a quasi-independent agency that oversees the nuclear weapons department for the Energy Department. Loss of the contract by the UC group, officially known as Los Alamos National Security LLC, could have hurt not only UC but California's reputation as a world center of scientific and technological excellence. Danielle Brian, head of the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight, a frequent Energy Department critic, asked: "What does it take for UC to suffer the consequences of screwing up? Lockheed wasn't a great alternative, but it is hard to see how UC could possibly have been given a vote of confidence. We expect a continuation of the era of chaos at Los Alamos."

UC's problems at Los Alamos Lab...
From January 2003 to present

UC wins fight for Los Alamos - The Implications: Bechtel partnership will put lab on a more businesslike footing...James Sterngold
Now, the famed lab faces a challenge it has long resisted: the need to change fundamentally -- from an intellectual institution devoted to science, to a facility run more like a business whose product is nuclear weapons. "The academic and public service aura of 63 years of UC affiliation with Los Alamos ... may ultimately be compromised to some degree, as yet unknown, by the profit motive of a corporation, to whose pockets will flow an extra load of national debt from American taxpayers of the future," Brad Lee Holian, a Los Alamos scientist, wrote in a popular employee blog. But most inside the lab and outside understand that Washington has embraced an approach to nuclear weapons that will have a deep impact not only on Los Alamos but also on its sister institution, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Contra Costa Times
Partnership won't affect lab's research...Matt Krupnick
Michael Anastasio said the public-private coalition is "positively, deeply" committed to scientific research. "Basic research is the fundamental core that we bring to the country," said Anastasio, who will step down as head of Livermore National Laboratory to take the new job. "This is not a de-emphasis on science. If we do this well, this will actually enhance the science we do." The university's next challenge is competing for management of the Livermore lab,... Also Thursday, the Department of Energy announced it would fine a contractor more than $190,000 for exposing its employees to radiation while removing waste from Livermore National Laboratory in 2004.

Hairstylists coiffed the atomic hairdo. Revelers danced to the "Atomic Bomb Bounce." Hotel marquees listed detonation times. And Candy King was crowned Miss ...

UC hush money?...Editorial
Every few years, the University of California mires itself in another set of scandals over outrageous pay and perks for top UC administrators. The latest scandals, brought to light by the San Francisco Chronicle, have created a stench that now stretches from the office of UC President Richard Dynes to the office of UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. Now we learn that UC paid Celeste Rose, a former UC Davis vice chancellor, to go away, keep her mouth shut... "separation agreement" not a litigation settlement...At the best, UC officials are playing word games in claiming this payoff didn't require top-level review. At the worst, they broke UC rules or exploited a vague policy the regents need to clarify. President Dynes, stop making excuses. Release the numbers.

UC's paid leaves called 'Betrayal," Regents' edict ignored, 3 top managers were given lucrative furloughs in violation of university policy...Todd Wallack, Tanya Schevitz
More than a decade after promising to end the practice, the University of California has given several top administrators lengthy paid leaves when they stepped down. In the past 13 months alone, at least three senior managers have received paid furloughs at their executive salaries before returning to teaching. UC granted the leaves despite a policy approved by the university's governing Board of Regents in 1994 limiting paid administrative leaves for senior managers to a maximum of three months. The regents reaffirmed the limit in September. UC spokesman Paul Schwartz said the senior managers who received the leaves were tenured faculty members, who otherwise would have qualified for yearlong academic sabbaticals at their faculty pay. The charge is the latest in a string of accusations that UC hid perks and pay from the public and lawmakers. The revelations come at a time when the university has said budget constraints have forced it to boost student fees, cut services, increase class sizes and freeze pay for thousands of lower-paid workers. 2005/elbaradei-lecture.html - 14k - Dec 22, 2005

Lübeck's dance of death (as all other dances of death) were inspired by The Black

UCI misled Liver Unit regulators on staffing...Alan Zarembo, Charles Ornstein12-21-05,1,5056965,print.story
As regulators threatened to close the troubled liver transplant program at UCI Medical Center last year, the hospital's chief executive provided false information to keep the unit running, according to a government document. Details of how UCI misled regulators were included in a letter sent Monday from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who is investigating inequities in the national transplant system. The troubles caught up with UCI last month, when the federal Medicare program announced it would stop paying for transplants. The program closed the same day.

Holding UC accountable...Editorial
Scrutiny of University of California admnistrators is intensifying. Rightfully so. Something must be done or UC will lose what Regents Chairman Gerald Parsky describes as its "unique public trust." Californians, thousands of whom sacrifice to educate their sons and daughters, deserve to know what's been going on and how university officials are going to control and justify compensation packages of top-level administrators. Especially those who no longer have jobs to perform but still are being paid. The more scrutiny the better.

| »

To manage site Login