Administrator's blog

Moutha Gold in Hilmar

Submitted: Nov 25, 2005

There is no doubt a lot of money and influence is on the line in the Hilmar Cheese situation, although the Modesto Bee keeps shrinking the amount. The original fine levied by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board was $4 million. Yesterday it shrunk to $3 million after the Moutha Gold got into it.

To recapitulate briefly, Hilmar came up with a proposal in September to inject its offensive wastewater so deep in the ground it would presumably disappear from human consciousness.

At that hearing, which was public, Vance Kennedy, of Modesto, a retired PhD in hydrology, said and wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency some unflattering, authoritative things about the deep-injection plan. (1) (I have included them in full below.)

Then everything went dead in the water until this week, when the Sacramento Bee wrote a $3-million settlement proposal (instead of a $4-million fine) had been worked out without benefit of more public input, six new members had been appointed to the regional water board and it would decide the issue next Tuesday. But there was one catch: John Norton, from the state Water Resources Control Board, wrote the regional board urging them not to approve the deal.

Enter Mike Boccadoro, the Moutha Gold, senior vice president of the Dolphin Group, a public relations and lobbyist organization. The Moutha Gold gets hold of Mike Mooney at the Modesto Bee with another version of events. Already we’re in deep manure.

See, it was the Sacramento Bee that broke the story that Hilmar Cheese, founded by Chuck Ahlem and others, had routinely violated water quality regulations with impunity for years. The Sacramento Bee thought that was a bit much, probably because our Gov. Hun had appointed Ahlem undersecretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Ahlem was selling himself as the biggest cheese maker in the world but environmental, environmental, environmental. But, by skewering a political hypocrite, the Sacramento Bee incidentally compelled top staff at the Central Valley regional board to act: it fined Hilmar Cheese $4 million – the largest fine for the largest cheesemaker. Symmetry.

But Modesto isn’t Sacramento. Modesto is headquarters for the Western United Dairymen and hometown of Mad Cow Annie Veneman, former secretary of the USDA and Bill Lyons, Jr. former secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. And that’s just the living top agricultural officials Modesto has produced. That city is represented in Congress by Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced (Resources and Agriculture committees), in the state Senate by Jeff Denham, R-Salinas and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and in the state Assembly by Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Reporter Mooney, the modbee’s political veteran, is all ears to the story the Moutha Gold has to sell.

"It (Norton's letter) is so fraught with reckless, inappropriate and inaccurate statements that I can't even begin to elaborate," said Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for Hilmar Cheese and senior vice president with the Dolphin Group public relations firm. "It is not in any way the official position of the State Water Resources Control Board." (2)

Well, that’s a real mouthful but par for the course of the firm founded by Bill Roberts, who along with Stu Spencer packaged Ronald Reagan for the San Joaquin Valley in 1966 with a whispering campaign about Black welfare mothers driving 10 kids to the LA Welfare office in a gold Cadillac.

The Moutha’s first sentence is your basic character assassination of some witless government bureaucrat on behalf of the environmentally blameless, largest cheesemaker in the world. We’re walking in a myth here and we’ve forgotten Ahlem was ever undersecretary of anything. This is your basic, elemental shoot out between Agriculture and Government.

It’s the second sentence that kinda takes your breath away, when you consider the Moutha Gold has suddenly switched clients and is now representing the State Water Resources Control Board (presumably in the role of a better, truer bureaucrat).

Mooney (anybody who’s read his lyrical pieces on rivers knows the guy’s a closet clean water lover) craftily spends the rest of the article showing that the Moutha Gold and the world’s biggest cheesemaker’s attorney are misspeaking about state water board procedure.

But there is just enough “balance” in the article to possibly half-persuade the incurious reader that state resource bureaucrats are once harming our Holy Agriculture, which is a mortal sin in high, small, tight, rich circles hereabouts. So the Moutha Gold earned his fee for the story.

The Dolphin Group describes itself in the following way:

We are a full service public relations and public affairs consulting firm with a reputation for achieving results for our clients. Everything we do is designed to change the perceptions of an individual or group -- to get them to think differently -- and to ultimately persuade them to change their behavior. We are result-oriented and by the nature of our business, crisis-oriented as well. With offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento, and over two decades of experience, the Dolphin Group is prepared to accept any challenge. (3)

The word truth is absent and the public is an adjectival target of the euphemisms it modifies. In English, public relations means propaganda, and public affairs means lobbying. Yet it is an honest statement about itself. The LA Weekly described Dolphin much the same way, but with more detail in a piece written in the midst of a campaign for a phony living wage initiative in Santa Monica to defuse a proposed ordinance that really would have raised wages for local hotel workers:

The Dolphin Group had worked with Nielsen, Merksamer on the Dump Bird campaign, but that was just one of its greatest hits. It labored on Gerald Ford’s presidential and Ronald Reagan’s and Deukmejian’s gubernatorial campaigns. More notably, it was the Dolphins who produced the notorious Willie Horton ads, exploiting racial fears that helped sink the 1988 presidential bid of Michael Dukakis. Over the past few years, the Group coordinated the establishment of an employer-dominated farm-worker union to combat the United Farm Workers’ campaign to organize strawberry workers. (The Dolphin Group did not return the Weekly’s phone calls seeking comment on its campaigns.)

Most important, in 1994 the Group ran the unsuccessful campaign for Proposition 188 — an initiative, funded entirely by the nation’s five major tobacco companies, that sought to pre-empt state and local restrictions on smoking in public with far weaker language. The Dolphins marketed 188 to the public, however, as a strict anti-smoking ordinance.

Proposition 188 went down to defeat when the opposition campaign informed voters that it was funded by such anti-smoking activists as Philip Morris, and KK opponents hope that a similar fate awaits the hotels’ initiative. Their own mailings will surely make clear the hotels’ support for KK, but, as longtime Santa Monica activist Vivian Rothstein pointed out during an anti-KK precinct walk last Saturday, the campaign has a real challenge before it. “The hotels’ message,” she said, “is totally aimed at our base.” (4)

I’m not saying the Moutha Gold lies in his teeth every time he comes down here to the land of the Sacred Cow. Standing in Mooney’s shoes a few years ago, after a week of investigation I agreed that Dolphin was fighting a campaign based on truth against a pack of lies fomented by an Arizona milk magnate who was claiming that California’s regulations adding non-milk-solids back to skim milk didn’t make it any more nutritious. State Senator Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, introduced legislation to gut the state’s milk standards. Despite a forensic UCLA nutritionist hired by the other side to testify the Arizonan was right, the Moutha Gold won that campaign. He had much empirical evidence in verifiable public documents to support his case. I read it all and I believe he was right, an opinion shared by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when it upheld trial-court Judge Stanley Karlton's decision. (5)

During our short, intense time together, I noticed moments of discomfort, as if having been so often on the side of pure fable, the Moutha Gold knew well how vulnerable the truth often is.

On the theory that if the University of California can get away with it, Agriculture and the next owner’s of farmland, developers, are denying larger chunks of reality and taking a harder, more reactionary stance against environmental law and regulation. This is shown in Congress currently by the Pombo/Cardoza Gut-the-Endangered Species Act bill. It is bad politics, particularly if the nation is driven into a reform mood; but meanwhile it remains a good living for the Moutha Gold and Hilmar's lawyers.

Regardless of the superior nutritional value of California skim milk, the dairy industry is a major polluter. It pollutes groundwater with its tremendous quantities of wastewater. It pollutes the air with its dust, manure and diesel fumes. It pollutes our politics with huge campaign contributions. And it pollutes our minds with high priced propaganda/lobbying campaigns that deny dairies pollute anything.

Issues remain. The original $4-million fine was calculated according to some guidelines, presumably legal. Now, the special interest -- the largest cheesemaker in the world -- is trying to settle for $3 million. What's a million dollars to the state of California these days? It's a million dollars the public is owed for the grossest violations of water quality regulations in the history of those regulations in this region. Although that dirty water is a special interest solution to its waste disposal, it is a public problem and will remain one -- in the region the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board is supposed to protect. How much of that million dollars is going to pay Moutha Gold and the lawyers to reduce the fine by a million dollars? When you begin to dwell on these topics, the arrogance of the biggest-cheesemaker-in-the-world and its faith in corruption runs about as deep as the proposed injection wells.

Unlike the fables and threats the five or six new regional water board members, the law is real and here to protect the public health and safety, not special interests -- and it's their job to enforce it.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) COMMENTS ON A PROPOSED HILMAR CHEESE COMPANY WELL
Sept. 9, 2005: Letter to Editor, Modesto Bee

These remarks are intended to supplement more technical comments made in a letter sent to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early August. If you have ever filled a balloon with water and squeezed it, you know that, when you push on one side, you cause the balloon to bulge out elsewhere. The same principle applies to water underground. When you inject water into a saturated aquifer underground, you force water already there to go elsewhere. That; “elsewhere” has to be upward. The water in the rocks above that aquifer is quite salty for perhaps 2,000 feet and, when that salty water moves upward, it will mix with good water and ruin it for human use.

It would be bad enough if that overlying salty water only moved upward next to the well, but it can go a mile or more in any direction before contaminating near-surface good water, The injected water itself won’t show up near the surface for a long time, but the salty water it pushes ahead of itself can show up in a fairly short time.

I am amazed that EPA technical people did not reject this injection well proposal immediately, given the situation I have described.

/ ORIGINAL SIGNED /

Vance C. Kennedy, Ph, D.
Retired Hydrologist.

5052 Tully Road
Modesto, Ca. 95356
August 6, 2005
-----------------

To: Eric Byous, U.S EPA, Region 9
From: Vance C. Kennedy

Subject: Proposed injection of wastes into a deep aquifer by the Hilmar Cheese Company

These comments relate to the above subject. I will first present a series of questions and follow with a discussion of what I believe are major problems with the proposal.

Question 1. A representative of the California Regional Quality Control Board said that the Board bad no official knowledge of the well proposal. Why not? Does the Board have no jurisdiction?. One would think that such a proposal would be of concern to them, given the points mentioned below.

Question 2. What is the expected chemistry of the injected water and that of the receiving water?

Question 3. What is the salinity of water at various depths fix several thousand fret around the proposed well? See comments below for reasons for this question.

Question 4. What are the relative densities of injected and receiving waters?

Question 5. Does anyone question the statement that water is incompressible? If not, then the discussion presented below should be pertinent.

As a generalization, in sedimentary rocks, the horizontal permeability to water flow us considerably greater than the vertical permeability. Thus, water injected under pressure will flow laterally until the resistance to flow laterally becomes a significant fraction of the resistance to vertical water flow. Then, some displaced water will move toward the surface, pushing deeper saline groundwater upward into shallow aquifers. That upward movement can be tortuous and delayed greatly in time. But, the displacement has to happen due to the incompressibility of water. Furthermore, it is not the chemistry of the injected water as much as the chemistry of the displaced water that is the problem initially. Even if one injected distilled water, the same displacement upward of saline water would occur. Legally, it might be a lifetime before the actual injected water neared the surface and could be identified as coming from Hilmar Cheese, The displaced saline water can be expected to contaminate near-surface aquifers much sooner.

If the injected water is less dense than the receiving water, it will tend to float upward and push saline water upward also, but very slowly. Thus, the regulators may well be gone long before that becomes an obvious problem. Not to worry?

When groundwater is contaminated, it is not a simple matter to clean it up by flushing with clean water. To understand why, picture through-going channels in the aquifer bounded by areas of essentially immobile water in tiny openings. The contaminant flows in the open channels readily but can only penetrate the tiny pores by diffusion, whose rate is concentration dependent. When clean water flushes out the open channels, the contaminants in the pores will diffuse slowly into the open channels until temporary equilibrium is reached or new flushing is done. The process can be repeated over and over, but, as the concentration of the contaminant decreases, the rate of diffusion slows also and “complete” cleaning will take forever. Adsorption processes slow cleaning as well.

In summary, the damage done by deep well injection to shallow aquifers may take years to show up, but, when it does, the damage can be far from the injection well and be impossible to tie to that well. Because the actual injected water is the pusher, that water may stay a long time in the deep injected aquifer before moving upward.

The Modesto Bee has expressed concern about the Hilmar well, so I am sending a copy of this letter to them. The subject is obviously a matter of some public interest. My background is that of a hydrologist that has been involved in studies of contaminant transport in natural water systems. A 5-minute presentation seems inadequate to cover the items discussed in this letter. If you wish to discuss these comments prior to the meeting. I can be reached at 209 545 3575.

Vance C. Kennedy, PhD.

(2) http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11517556p-12254646c.html

Hilmar Cheese decries plan critics
Plant: State regulators' letter may create conflict of interest

By MICHAEL G. MOONEY
BEE STAFF WRITER
Last Updated: November 24, 2005, 04:22:09 AM PST

Representatives of Hilmar Cheese Co. on Wednesday blasted state regulators who want the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board to reject a proposed $3 million settlement of the company's long-standing water pollution violations.
Earlier this week, the Office of Statewide Initiatives — a unit of the State Water Resources Control Board — issued a letter criticizing the settlement pact because it was hammered out behind closed doors and would let Hilmar Cheese indefinitely pollute groundwater surrounding its Merced County plant, about a half mile north of Hilmar on Lander Avenue.

"We recommend that the proposed settlement agreement be rejected," the letter states, "and that an order be issued containing a schedule designed to return the discharger to compliance."

The letter is signed by John Norton, chief of the Office of Statewide Initiatives. The Bee was unable to reach Norton for comment Wednesday.

Members of the regional water board are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to accept the settlement.

"It (Norton's letter) is so fraught with reckless, inappropriate and inaccurate statements that I can't even begin to elaborate," said Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for Hilmar Cheese and senior vice president with the Dolphin Group public relations firm. "It is not in any way the official position of the State Water Resources Control Board."

Hilmar attorney Mark Fogelman, in a letter issued Wednesday afternoon, questions the propriety of OSI sending the letter to the regional water board and contends it creates a potential conflict of interest because the state water board likely will review and determine the "correctness" of the regional board's action on the proposed settlement.

"No subdivision or part of the state board should be commenting on the matter when it is pending before the regional board," Fogelman wrote, "and no such comments should be given any weight whatsoever in the deliberations of the regional board."

Hilmar Cheese contends the OSI should have submitted its comments to the state water board's executive director, Celeste Cantú.

"However, the OSI comments indicate that Executive Director Cantú never authorized the filing of the comments," Fogelman wrote.

The Bee was unable to reach Cantú for comment Wednesday.

But William L. Rukeyser, a state water board spokesman, said Norton and other OSI staffers did follow proper procedures by putting their concerns about the proposed settlement in writing.

Rukeyser said Norton took care in the letter to point out that there had been no consultations between his unit and the state water board.

Nor had there been any contact, he said, between Norton and any of the attorneys involved in negotiating the proposed settlement.

Rukeyser did say, however, that attorney Catherine George, who represented the regional board in the negotiations with Hilmar Cheese, was aware of the OSI's reports on the water pollution allegations. He insisted, however, that the proceeding had not been tainted.

Hilmar spokesman Boccadoro was not convinced.

"Clearly," he said, "this is an attempt to grossly misrepresent the facts, to confuse and influence inappropriately the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board."

(3) http://www.dolphingroup.org/

(4) http://www.laweekly.com/ink/00/47/powerlines-meyerson.php

(5) supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/ decisions/lower_court/99-16981.pdf

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Upcoming Hilmar Cheese decision stinks

Submitted: Nov 24, 2005

The Central Valley regional Water Quality Control Board is set to approve a deal between regulators and Hilmar Cheese Co. on Nov. 29 that would “grant the world’s largest cheesemaker sweeping immunity for hundreds of water pollution violations – and for future offenses.” (1)

How did this happen? We can only guess.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Hilmar Cheese founder, Chuck Ahlem, to the state Department of Food and Agriculture in January 2004, apparently under the apprehension Ahlem was an “environmental” dairyman. (2) When the Sacramento Bee broke the story this year that Hilmar Cheese – far from being an icon of environmentalism – had been cited by this same board numerous times for water quality violations and, somehow, nothing had been done about them. Exposed, Ahlem resigned from the CDFA and the water quality board fined the cheese company $4 million. Some in the Valley thought the fine made a good press release.

After a plan was announced two months ago that Hilmar would inject its wastewater thousands of feet down, to loud public disbelief and derision, the story quieted down and went behind closed doors. Meanwhile, it was discovered the board needed some new members and the governor appointed them. There were six vacancies on the nine-member board that needed immediate attention from the governor. Five are mentioned on the water board’s website:

His appointments are:

Linda Adams, 56, of Sacramento, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She most recently served as chief of staff to the state controller from 2004 to 2005. Previously, Adams was a member of the California Performance Review, director of the Department of Water Resources, legislative secretary and chief deputy legislative secretary to the governor and principal consultant to the Senate Agriculture & Water Resources Committee. She is a member of the board of directors of the Sacramento Local Conservation Corps. Adams is a Democrat.

Paul Betancourt, 46, of Kerman, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. He has been managing partner of VF Farms since 1983, a family farming operation. Betancourt also writes a monthly column on agriculture and urban issues for the Fresno Business Journal. He is a member of the Kerman Unified School Board, Fresno County Farm Bureau, Valley Clean Air Now Board and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District-Community Advisory Committee. Betancourt is a Republican.

Kate Hart, 34, of Granite Bay, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She has served as associate attorney with Trainor Robertson since 2004. Previously, Hart served as associate attorney with Reed Smith and Woods and Daube. She is a member of Trout Unlimited and CalTrout. Hart is a Republican. On 11 November 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the following appointments:

Sopac Mulholland, 60, of Springville, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She has served as the executive director of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust since 2002. Mulholland was previously interim executive director for the Economic Development Corporation of Tulare County from 1998 to 1999. She is also the owner and operator of River Valley Ranch, McCarthy Creek Ranch and Quail Run Ranch. Mulholland is a former member of the Occupational and Health Standards Board. Mulholland is a Republican.

Dan Odenweller, 60, of Stockton, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. He most recently served as a fishery biologist and manager in the Habitat Conservation Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries from 2001 to 2004. Odenweller previously served with the California Department of Fish and Game from 1971 to 2001, retiring as a senior fishery biologist. He is a member of the American Fisheries Society, the Sierra Club and Delta Flyfishers. Odenweller is a Republican. These positions require Senate confirmation. The compensation is $100 per diem.

Hilmar can count of local support from elected officials. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced is a member of the House Resources and Agriculture committees, and is co-author with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy of the Gut-the-ESA bill. State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas (or Merced – he can’t quite remember which) is chairman of the state Sen. Agriculture Committee. State Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, is chairwoman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, a member of Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife, and of the Assembly Select Committee on Water, Infrastructure and the Economy. Each is a beneficiary of dairy largesse through the various associations and PACs the industry generates as abundantly as it produces government commodities.

Monday, an official of the State Water Resources Control Board, which oversees the state’s regional water quality boards, wrote the Central Valley board urging it to reject this settlement.

"We are deeply concerned with the precedent of granting immunity from civil liability for all such past and future violations," said John Norton, chief of the state Office of Statewide Initiatives.

Three of the Republicans among the five new appointees to the Central Valley board for which we have public information would seem capable of voting for anything pro-agriculture, anti-environmental, particularly when it would help a prominent Republican dairyman, despite the decision stinking as highly as Hilmar on a bad day.

If this happens, it would remain to be seen what power the state board would have to remedy the injustice done to the people in and around Hilmar. If the executive branch, after a belated but real beginning to bring the cheese company to heel, returns to its corrupt habits under what must be considerable political pressure, a judicial approach should be sought if one is possible.

California is the nation’s top dairy state and the dairy industry is historically a powerful, rich lobby in Sacramento and Washington. Although industry pricing (including subsidies) remains an unfathomable mystery, even to most dairy producers, from time to time its lobbying enthusiasm gets exposed. The last time this happened was called the “milk-fund scandal.” It was revealed as a by-product of the Watergate investigation. (4)

Bill Hatch
-------------------------------------------

Notes:

(1) Don't let polluters off easy, state says...Chris Bowman
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/v-print/story/13892086p-14731032c.html
Top state water-quality enforcers on Monday blasted a proposed settlement that would grant the world's largest cheesemaker sweeping immunity for hundreds of water pollution violations - and for future offenses. The officials said the proposed deal between Central Valley regulators and Hilmar Cheese Co. sets a bad precedent and offers scant justification for dropping all violations stemming from years of dumping putrid, poorly treated wastewater on open fields near its Merced County factory. In a letter Monday, the officials urged members of the state's Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board to reject the settlement, which is scheduled for the board's vote Nov. 29. "We are deeply concerned with the precedent of granting immunity from civil liability for all such past and future violations," said John Norton, chief of the state Office of Statewide Initiatives.

(2) http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2005/01/17/jnelson.DTL

(3) http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley/HomePageAttachments/new-board-members.pdf.

(4) http://www.watergate.info/tapes/71-03-23_milk-price-supports.shtml

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Movie lines

Submitted: Nov 24, 2005

These are troubled times. Lobbyists plead guilty and sing like canaries, investigations "widen," new Grand Juries are convened, there is talk about "high crimes and misdemeanors" at the top, the war has gone horribly wrong and keeps getting worse. Something has begun the end of which is not known. Neither blood nor money seem able to hide the lies anymore. The Badlands staff, stunned, confused, in the words of our local congressman, the Shrimp Slayer, "troubled," looked deep into our hearts ... and probably like many Americans, came up with some lines from a couple of movies. They didn’t make a whole lot of sense but they expressed attitudes that don’t make a lot of sense either, but which are “going around like that flu.”

Bill Hatch
------------------------------------

Wall Street (1987)
Stanley Weiser & Oliver Stone

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, is that greed—
for lack of a better word--is good. Greed is right.
Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and
captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
Greed, in all of its forms--greed for life, for money,
for love, knowledge--has marked the upward surge of mankind.
And Greed--you mark my works--will not only save
[this company] but that other malfunctioning corporation
called the USA.
Thank you very much.
--Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas)
------------------------------------

Miller's Crossing (1990)
Joel and Ethan Coen

It's a wrong situation. It's gettin' so a
businessman can't expect no return from a fixed
fight. Now if you can't trust a fix, what can
you trust? For a good return you gotta go
bettin' on chance, and then you're back with
anarchy. Right back inna jungle. On account of
the breakdown of ethics. That's why ethics is
important. It's the grease makes us get along,
what separates us from the animals, beasts a
burden, beasts a prey. Ethics. . .
--Johnny Casper (Jon Polito)

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Deep thinking about the Valley

Submitted: Nov 20, 2005

The San Joaquin Valley is in the news this weekend. Two of the great treasuries of American intellect were on display: the University of California and the New York Times.

Kenneth Rosen, chairman of the UC Berkeley Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, lectured 500 business people on the Valley real estate market this weekend. Rosen, a real public/private, win-win partnership kind of guy, "also heads a real estate market research firm and an investment trust with $81 million in assets." (1)

His idea is that:

"A significant number of homes — 20 to 40 percent of those sold (from Merced to Bakersfield) — are being purchased by investors," Rosen said. "We're worried too many people are buying houses for investment, not occupancy."

Local Merced realtors say 60 percent but who's really counting?

Rosen imagines a situation in which interest rates would rise, valley home prices would fall, and investors would "dump their investment homes."

Perish the thought! Is it possible that stupid, anti-social investments could yield their just rewards? But, not to worry, Rosen said, there is only a 35-percent chance of a serious recession and the US economy should stay strong (despite record deficits and imbalance of trade). It's just that a lot of people buying homes on interest-only adjustable-rate mortgages could lose them. But those people would be mostly Valley citizens actually trying live in their homes, not speculators, so who really cares?

Next, the 500 business people heard from Anthony Downs, a senior fellow at hte Brookings Institution and former chairman of the Real Estate Research Corp. Downs said high home prices were driving middle-class people out of California while many poor immigrants continue to pour in.

"The state is trading mostly middle-class residents who are leaving for many more poor immigrants from abroad," Downs said. "So California's net population and poverty are both rising."

Those middle-class people left a lot richer than they came, one figures, having sold their homes in this market.

But Downs is a anti-government man at heart and so begins a fable about how local land-use authorities "discourage new homebuilding and construction of affordable multifamily complexes."

Right! " ... since homeowners politically dominate almost all suburban governments, he said, too few developments are approved."

Downs is an anti-NIMBY man, too, a real critic for our time. And if the local land-use authority policies he fantasizes are allowed to continue:

"There will be a permanent shortage of housing in California."

It could be that the invisible hand of the market is also the blind invisible hand of the market. It sure can't see the resource destruction it is causing, in case it has the brains to think resource destruction cannot go on forever without increasingly serious political, economic and social consequences.

This seminar makes about as much sense as UC studies on Valley air pollution: it is simply make-work for academics.

The Los Angeles Times produced a feature on how Valley kids go away to college and don't come back. (2)

The nicely crafted, patented LA Times nut-graph says:

When the area's most educated residents leave, "it takes away from the culture and intellectual life of the valley," said Raney, 67.

It also hamstrings the economy, strains the social fabric and puts a damper on the quality of life here in California's agricultural heartland.

Lamentations from Fresno culture-vultures follow. It might be too simplistic to note that what we lack in urban, sophisticated "cultural life" we make up for in agri-cultural life, which -- if only uttered with the utmost hypocrisy by Valley leaders in the pockets of developers -- is still the top productive agricultural region in the nation.

The reason the Valley is attracting all this high-powered urban attention is that its agricultural economy has concentrated into fewer and fewer hands as the generations have gone by. Today, there are many farming parcels of a size very attractive to developers for subdivisions. Hence, LA and the Bay Area are frustrated because the Valley, still dominantly agricultural economy cannot support all the people developers want to build houses for. And there is all this speculative money just looking for a home, any home, anywhere, even if the speculator cannot get enough rent for it to cover the mortgage.

To reply to the LA Times piece about brain drain and the terrible "Third World" economy we have here, let us say: the problem in the Valley is the people WITH college degrees, not those without them because the people with degrees are so busy separating themselves from those without them, they do nothing but obfuscate and establish obfuscating organizations like the Great Valley Center, to study how to beautify Highway 99 rest stops and co-opt potential grassroots leaders with a little grant money, some wine and cheese, and a guaranteed career in community betrayal.

Throughout these articles and a spate of others in recent days like them, never the E-word is heard. There is no thought of balance between urban and rural, town and country, the developed and the open spaces. It might take an old Californian with an ear smashed to the ground to hear it, but our intellectual and media leaders are doing their usual number: ignoring and burying a problem that stands in the way of the quick development buck. California is so besotted on developer wealth it can no longer imagine anything more creative, intelligent and sane than building subdivisions (complete with low-income components) on flood plains. That is the extent of the remaining economic imagination -- pathetic and empty.

The Valley looks ripe. Its communities have been rendered deaf and dumb by political corruption and immigration. Its land is now arranged into neatly vendible parcels. Willing sellers and willing buyers seek each other’s company. The speculators are too dumb to know. So, let a win-win, public/private partnership, by all means, fleece them. By the way, forget the people in the Valley because, obviously, they are uneducated. Actually, don’t quite forget them, declare culture war on them for not supporting the arts in Fresno or for not buying all these houses or for not making more money. Above all things, get their land, such as they still have it.

All that stands in the way of creating a slurb from Bakersfield to Redding is a few environmental laws, regulations and resource agencies. UC Merced set the new standards for coping with these obstructions: build it anyway and dare the resource agencies to enforce the law with politicians climbing up their backs in track shoes.

Oh, and one other thing: an economy to support this slurb, because man cannot live by strip-mall alone. Even in Sacramento, very rich in strip-malls, there is that ever-expanding state government to keep pumping money into the smoggy slurb.

Bill Hatch
-----------------------

(1) 11-20-05
Modesto Bee
Investors like valley housing...J.N. Sbranti
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/11504268p-12241760c.html
Here's a new name for the San Joaquin Valley: "Affordable California." "A significant number of homes — 20 to 40 percent of those sold (from Merced to Bakersfield) — are being purchased by investors... if interest rates rise, the valley's house prices may decline and investors could dump their investment homes. Because of the housing crunch, Downs said there is a large-scale domestic migration out of California. "The state is trading mostly middle-class residents who are leaving for many more poor immigrants from abroad," Downs said. "So California's net population and poverty are both rising."

(2) http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-braindrain20nov20,0,7804653.story?page=2&coll=la-home-headlines

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Bad Thanksgiving ahead

Submitted: Nov 20, 2005

The first article, “The US Has Lost; Let’s Leave,” succinclty states the honest, common-sense case against the war. The second, a statement by Sojourner founder, Jim Wallis, expresses the national wrath about all that is being forgotten as this bloody spectacle in the Mideast blows apart. Wallis reminds us that that the war, like wingnut threats to start another one in Syria or Iran, distracts our attention from the deep moral problem of how these despicable little bullies manage the national budget.

Things are very bad this Thanksgiving. Military commanders are trying to get US troops out of Iraq and the administration is not permitting it because they see every dead American soldier as political cover. Meanwhile national debt and balance of trade are dangerously askew, the speculative housing boom, the source of an unhealthily large percentage of (temporary) employment, particularly in California, is also slowing as interest rates rise. The president has escaped to Asia this weekend to lecture China on its human rights, trade policies and deplorable religious immaturity.

"I look forward to frank discussions on Sunday with President Hu about our need to find solutions to our trade differences with China," Bush said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

"Access to American markets has played an important role in China's economic development," he said.

Bush will also urge Hu to allow greater religious freedom in China, a message he will underscore by starting his day at Sunday services at the Gangwashi Church, one of five officially recognised Protestant churches in Beijing.

U.S. officials were not happy when a Chinese court recently sentenced a Protestant minister, his wife and her brother to prison terms of up to three years for illegally printing Bibles and other Christian publications.

"Of course, it's Sunday so the president will want to worship," said Mike Green, Asian affairs director at the White House National Security Council. "But it's also important that the world see and that the Chinese people see that expression of faith is a good thing for a healthy and mature society." (1)

The US trade deficit, particularly, has raised worries among economists, and it relates directly to decisions China makes about its currency valuation. (2)

The trade deficit remains a trouble spot for the U.S. economy as it widens to new record highs in 2005. Since this deficit has to be financed by borrowing abroad, the question arises as to how long foreign lenders, particularly China, Japan, the UK, Taiwan and Germany, will lend to the U.S. at comparatively low interest rates. A widening trade deficit could ultimately put increasing pressures on U.S. interest rates, thus potentially contributing to an economic slowdown.

Bill Hatch
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The US Has Lost; Let's Leave
Murtha and the L Word
By DAVE LINDORFF
Counterpunch.com – Nov. 18, 2005

Rep. John Murtha, the decorated Vietnam and Korean War Marine vet and conservative Pennsylvania Democrat who stunned Bush administration and Republican congressional warhawks and Democratic go-alongs like Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden alike with his call for an immediate U.S. pullout from Iraq, left unsaid one important word in his dramatic turnaround announcement: defeat.

But that's the real message of his change of heart from Iraq War backer and booster to peacenik.

The war begun by President Bush with such bravado and so little braino, which was designed to convert him from a dismal president to a crisp and awe-inspiring commander-in-chief, has been lost.

The nearly 2100 Americans who have died so far to help the president get re-elected, to make him look like a leader, and to provide cover for his criminal executive power grab, have died for nothing.

An unorganized bunch of insurgents armed with nothing but raw guts, aging Soviet-era rifles, and home-made explosives, have routed the most powerful military machine the world has ever known.

There will be efforts to cover up this astonishing defeat, just as there were efforts made by the Nixon and Ford administrations to hide the fact that the U.S. was defeated in Indochina, too, but the truth is clear.

American military might can destroy a country. It can kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. It can sow terror through the use of indiscriminate use of such WMDs as DU explosives, phosphorus bombs, helicopter and fixed-wing gunships and computerized drones and missiles. But it cannot defeat a concerted popular resistance.

The American military, according to some generals, is once again, as it was during the Vietnam War, falling apart. Recruitment is collapsing, both for the regular Army and Marines, and for the reserves and the National Guard. Parts and even ammunition are in short supply. Morale is at an all time low and sinking.

Who in Iraq would want to die for Bush and Cheney at this point? And yet they keep on dying.

Murtha has it right. It's long past time to call the whole disastrous thing off. The Bush-Cheney mantra of "stay the course" is the desperate cry of two mad men caught in a trap of their own making--two men who are perfectly willing to send thousands more American soldiers to their deaths, and to slaughter tens of thousands more innocent Iraqis, in order to cling to power and to defer a final reckoning for their crimes.
They cannot be permitted to do this.

The war is lost. Iraq has been destroyed and will have to be helped for a long time to allow its people to recover somehow from the devastation caused by decades of brutal dictatorship, American-led sanctions and America's war of aggression and criminal occupation. The broken military will have to be returned home and made into something appropriate for a world that settles disputes diplomatically, not by unilateral acts of violence and terror. Finally, the veterans of this war will need help recovering from the horrors they were forced to participate in and from the physical and psychic wounds they have endured.

Meanwhile, the political leaders who brought all this about must be called to account. Either they apologize, as growing numbers of Democrats (and some Republicans) have begun to do, like Murtha and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards have done, or they must be ousted. Half steps like Kerry's admission that his pro-war vote and his pro-war campaign were mistakes, after which he then trashed Murtha on Hardball, won't do. As for the criminal authors of this war-Bush, Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and others--they should be impeached or indicted as appropriate.)

The first step will be admitting that the US has been defeated in Iraq. Murtha is right that the troops did what was asked of them, but their sacrifices were for naught. The war is lost.

Then we can begin the blame game in earnest.
-------
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can't be Happening!" to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
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As Nation Prepares for Thanksgiving, Jim Wallis and 45 Religious Leaders to Hold Faith Summit on Poverty Nov. 21

11/18/2005 5:29:00 PM

To: Assignment Desk, Daybook Editor

Contact: Jack Pannell of Sojourners, 202-745-4614 or 202-285-1899 (cell)

News Advisory:

What: Roundtable with the Media (Jim Wallis and several religious leaders will discuss the tragic meaning of House Budget vote during the season of Thanksgiving).

When: Monday, Nov. 21, 12 noon until 1 p.m.

Where: Jury's Hotel, 1500 New Hampshire Ave., Washington, D.C.

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and Convener of Call to Renewal, made the following the statement today on the narrow passage of the House Budget Reconciliation Bill.

STATEMENT BY JIM WALLIS:

"The prophet Isaiah said: 'Woe to you legislators of infamous laws ... who refuse justice to the unfortunate, who cheat the poor among my people of their rights, who make widows their prey and rob the orphan.' Today, I repeat those words. When our legislators put ideology over principle, it is time to sound the trumpets of justice and tell the truth.

"It is a moral disgrace to take food from the mouths of hungry children to increase the luxuries of those feasting at a table overflowing with plenty. This is not what America is about, not what the season of Thanksgiving is about, not what loving our neighbor is about, and not what family values are about. There is no moral path our legislators can take to defend a reckless, mean-spirited budget reconciliation bill that diminishes our compassion, as Jesus said, 'for the least of these.' It is morally unconscionable to hide behind arguments for fiscal responsibility and government efficiency. It is dishonest to stake proud claims to deficit reduction when tax cuts for the wealthy that increase the deficit are the next order of business. It is one more example of an absence of morality in our current political leadership.

"The faith community is outraged and is drawing a line in the sand against immoral national priorities. It is time to draw that line more forcefully and more visibly."

http://www.usnewswire.com
-----------------------

Notes:
(1)http://www.swissinfo.org/sen/swissinfo.html?siteSect=143&sid=6252371&cKey=1132444232000

(2) http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=1171451

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Hearst v. UC

Submitted: Nov 18, 2005

In California, you still don’t want to get the Hearsts too angry with you. The arrogance and often ludicrous propaganda of the University of California has been for years more than a match for state Legislature committees and Congress, but apparently it has finally managed to irritate the Hearsts. There are rules, after all, and at least some newspapers will eventually get fed up with a diet of pure flak from a university.

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Border canal seepage

Submitted: Nov 18, 2005

The US/Mexican border is a place generally despised by the interiors of both nations. The general idea is that the border is to be exploited for whatever you can get out of it.

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UC prestige and opulence

Submitted: Nov 15, 2005

“UC gets $8 million to study San Joaquin Valley's bad air...” (1) trumpets this morning’s Fresno Bee. Variously called “the most” or “one of the most” polluted air basins in the nation, depending on the month or the intent of the writer, San Joaquin Valley air is bad, Fresno’s childhood asthma rate is four times the national average, and things aren’t getting any better.

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Wall Street and the GMOs

Submitted: Nov 14, 2005

This is the best article on the GMO situation in months, from the Wall Street Journal. Wall Street may be asking some pointed questions about agricultural biotechnology at the moment, as market resistance shows no signs of fading and billions in investment go to pay biotech corporate lawyers, lobbyists and propagandists.

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Mood swings

Submitted: Nov 13, 2005

Planning in Merced, since the University of California first cast its greedy eyes on a large donation of seasonal pastureland north of the county seat, has been dominated by one agenda: the transfer of large rural properties to developer ownership. This is not to say that a number of other things haven’t happened, but the dominant agenda has been this phenomenon: the willing sale of ranch and farmland to developers.

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