Harbingers of Spring 2008?

Submitted: Mar 30, 2008

Harbingers of spring include the arrival of the swallows and the departure of the Sandhill cranes. The article below, about idle railcars, forgot to mention another harbinger of this spring viewed Friday while waiting for a frieght train to pass through town: a man, riding a flatcar between rolls of steel.

Bill Hatch

Modesto Bee
Weak economy slows cargo, idles railcars...SUSAN GALLAGHER , Associated Press Writer...3-28-08
CRAIG, Mont. — BNSF Railway Co., the nation's top hauler of container rail freight, is parking miles of railcars in Montana and elsewhere because there isn't enough freight to keep them rolling...
The cars parked are the type that haul cargo from ships on the coast to points inland, mainly imported goods - an area that's starting to slow down due to the weak economy. Analysts say transportation usually is among the first sectors to show signs of a downturn in the economy and with Americans feeling pinched - employers eliminated 63,000 jobs last month amid declining consumer confidence - it could be a while before the idle cars move.
"If you take a look at transportation, both trucking and rail, you will see that things started softening last summer," said Arnold Maltz, associate professor of supply-chain management at Arizona State University. "The reason you are seeing all those cars parked is that the consumer economy translates into slower imports."...
Union Pacific Railroad spokesman James Barnes said the Nebraska-based company's intermodal business is "just a little down, but that's not unusual for this time of year." ...
One of the nation's leading trucking companies, Schneider National in Green Bay, Wis., says it believes a freight recession began about 20 months ago, well before signs of a downturn closed in on consumers...
Trucking companies are in a unique position. They often compete with railroads for long haul contracts, while also carrying rail freight from the nearest railhead to its final destination...
In Long Beach, Calif., home of the nation's busiest port complex with Los Angeles, the movement of goods has been somewhat stagnant...
While retailers have imported less goods to be hauled by rail or truck nationwide, exports leaving Long Beach rose as the weak dollar strengthened overseas purchases of U.S. goods, Pope said. Rising export volume - including grain and wheat shipped by rail - helped balance falling container imports for most of last year...

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What's happening here?

Submitted: Mar 24, 2008
In his history of the Great Crash, economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted, “Congress was concerned that commercial banks in general and member banks of the Federal Reserve System in particular had both aggravated and been damaged by stock market decline partly because of their direct and indirect involvement in the trading and ownership of speculative securities.

“The legislative history of the Glass-Steagall Act,” Galbraith continued, “shows that Congress also had in mind and repeatedly focused on the more subtle hazards that arise when a commercial bank goes beyond the business of acting as fiduciary or managing agent and enters the investment banking business either directly or by establishing an affiliate to hold and sell particular investments.” Galbraith noted that “During 1929 one investment house, Goldman, Sachs & Company, organized and sold nearly a billion dollars' worth of securities in three interconnected investment trusts--Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation; Shenandoah Corporation; and Blue Ridge Corporation. All eventually depreciated virtually to nothing” ...

Scholes’ and Mertons’ fundamental axioms of risk, the assumptions on which all their models were built, were wrong. They had been built on sand, fundamentally and catastrophically wrong. Their mathematical options pricing model assumed that there were Perfect Markets, markets so extremely deep that traders' actions could not affect prices. They assumed that markets and players were rational. Reality suggested the opposite—markets were fundamentally irrational in the long-term. But the risk pricing models of Black, Scholes and others over the past two or more decades had allowed banks and financial institutions to argue that traditional lending prudence was old fashioned. With suitable options insurance, risk was no longer a worry. Eat, drink and be merry...

That, of course, ignored actual market conditions in every major market panic since Black-Scholes model was introduced on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. It ignored the fundamental role of options and ‘portfolio insurance’ in the Crash of 1987; it ignored the causes of the panic that in 1998 brought down Long Term Capital Management – of which Scholes and Merton were both partners. Wall Street blissfully ignored the obvious along with the economists and governors in the Greenspan Fed.

Financial markets, contrary to the religious dogma taught at every business school since decades, were not smooth, well-behaved models following the Gaussian Bell-shaped Curve as if it were a law of the universe. The fact that the main architects of modern theories of financial engineering—now given the serious-sounding name ‘financial economics’—all got Nobel prizes, gave the flawed models the aura of Papal infallibility. Only three years after the 1987 crash the Nobel Committee in Sweden gave Harry Markowitz and Merton Miller the prize. In 1997 amid the Asia crisis, it gave the award to Robert Merton and Myron Scholes...

The nature of the fatally flawed risk models used by Wall Street, by Moody’s, by the securities Monoline insurers and by the economists of the US Government and Federal Reserve was such that they all assumed recessions were no longer possible, as risk could be indefinitely diffused and spread across the globe... F. William Engdahl, The Financial Tsunami,

The community was shaken Thursday by the news that County Bank (corporate headquarters in Merced) was experiencing difficulties. It's stock had lost 90 percent of its value in two years, down to $3.76 a share on Wednesday, having lost half its value from the previous day. The CEO retired.

With the exception of a rather dramatic graph on the first page -- a jagged descending line showing the drop in stock price -- the McClatchy Chain covered the story as a momentary "blip." It called upon Valley economic gurus Tappan Munroe and Lon Hatamiya (former state commerce secretary under Gov. Gray Davis) for perspective. Munroe's insoucant metaphor, a "souffle with the air slowly leaking out," aptly caught the perspective of our witless Valley economic gurus.

But, that wasn't, and no doubt isn't, the end of the County Bank story. On Saturday, McClatchy reported that the bank stock had rebounded an astounding "72 percent," to $6.48. Problems over? A local builder, both a stockholder and client of County Bank, expressed his "personal opinion" that the bank is "very strong and very well-managed but the (real estate) values declining as rapidly as they did -- it just caught them by surprise."

McClatchy's Modesto outlet published a reassuring story Monday to the effect that local commercial banks didn't invest in subprime home loans and, while developers aren't always paying their loans at the moment and auto loans are a problem, their portfolios are adequately diversified to withstand the fallout from the general collapse of real estate values and foreclosures.

We'd like to go on record as saying that, beyond the stock price and information from public bank documents about its losses, we don't believe a word McClatchy has written about the problem. And the unasked questions are too numerous to list, but one could begin with the compensation for the retiring CEO, compensation for the economic gurus, was it involved at any stage in bundling subprime loans, and how will its losses affect it local agricultural lending this season?

What has happened is a massive loss of confidence, the end of every speculative bubble since the Dutch Tulip. We recall the early boosting of the bubble in Merced, when the same local builder was managing the reelection campaign of former state Sen. Dick Monteith, then claiming to the "real Mr. UC Merced." The builder and his candidate was "confidently" claiming UC Merced was a "done deal" when, in fact, as they knew well, it was not. So, forgive us for our skepticism that the local finance, insurance and real estate industry, bought politicians and McClatchy "were caught by surprise." The only real local question is: Who got to the souffle before it went flat?

The predatory lending practices that have caused a world credit crisis as well as our local crisis, were done here face-to-face by local lenders together with local realtors to local and speculative buyers. Judging by the rate of foreclosures in the north San Joaquin valley, one of the highest rates in the nation, there was an enormous amount of fraud committed here. In fact, it might be said that today the area is floating on a sea of "Liar Loans."

From the incredible amount of lying behind UC Merced, in which the local newspaper was thoroughly involved, to the rise and fall of the real estate value souffle, to this unhappy news about County Bank, there has been fraud, political manipulation, wholesale denial of environmental law and regulation and public process laws on the local, state and federal level, and a pattern of harassment of members of the public who asked any questions. This deceit has been broadly spread among what passes for "leadership" in Merced -- from the builder-politician to the Great Valley Center, UC regents and administrators of UC Merced and their boosters, municipal and county government, state and federal legislators, landowners, developers and lenders.

Saddest of all, few if any of the perpetrators regarded this as fraud or deceit. It was just good business. Alchemical formulas emanating from the nation's financial centers "proved" that risk was not risk and the more bad loans made the better. There were a few dissenting voices, but they were ignored as being, at the least, unpatriotic.

Local legacies of local greed include: a campus born with "complications," tremendous destruction of regional natural resources and wildlife habitat, the worst air quality in the nation, decreasing water quality and supply, local governments with swollen salaries for elected officials and department heads and shrinking budgets, unfinished subdivisions with empty houses and nervous residents, shaky banks, political corruption, bad news for the newspapers to cover over as best they can, and the same old compulsion to boost and to deny.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Merced Sun-Star
County Bank parent company anticipates first loss
CEO Thomas Hawker announces that he will step down when a replacement can be found....LESLIE ALBRECHT
Shares of Capital Corp of the West, the Merced-based parent company of County Bank, were hammered Wednesday following news that the company expects to post its first-ever yearly loss.
Capital Corp said it anticipates it will lose $4 million for 2007.
Shares were trading at $3.76 -- a seven-year low -- when the Nasdaq market closed, a 64 percent decline from the day's opening price. The one-day percentage drop was the largest recorded on any of the major U.S. stock exchanges Wednesday. A year ago, Capital Corp's stock traded at $26.55.
The company blamed its anticipated loss on "the rapid decline in real estate values in California's Central Valley in the fourth quarter of 2007." It was then that Merced led the nation in home-value depreciation, with prices plunging 19 percent between 2007 and 2006, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.
The drop in real estate values means the collateral backing County Bank loans is worth less than it was when the loans were made one or two years ago. Capital Corp must now reclassify those loans as riskier. That, in turn, means the bank must back the reclassified loans with more money than what's required to back more secure loans -- money that comes directly out of Capital Corp's revenue stream, Smith explained...
The loss isn't tied directly to the subprime mortgage meltdown, he added, because County Bank doesn't make many home mortgages or invest in subprime loans. However, the company does lend money to developers buying land, and that land is less valuable than it was a few years ago. "Even though the guy is still paying his loan, by federal law, we have to downgrade the loan because the quality of collateral has gone down," said Smith.
Capital Corp's current problems were foreshadowed in the summer of 2007 when the company reported that a foreclosed loan to a housing developer had put a $5 million dent in its quarterly income compared with the previous year...

Merced Sun-Star
Bank's shares bounce back 72%
Analyst says volatility a reflection of economic conditions and lower Valley real estate values...LESLIE ALBRECHT
Capital Corp of the West, the Merced-based parent company of County Bank, saw its stock rebound strongly Thursday, shooting up 72 percent from the seven-year low it hit earlier this week.
That drop had come after the company announced its first-ever yearly loss. Capital Corp expects to post a $4 million loss for 2007, the result of plunging real estate values.
At the Nasdaq's market close on Thursday, Capital Corp's stock price had risen to $6.48 a share, compared with $3.76 on Wednesday...
On Thursday Capital Corp put the focus on the present, announcing that unaudited internal financial reports from January and February show the bank has adequate capital on hand. The company had previously told federal regulators that it had fallen below what regulators consider "well-capitalized" status.
Joe Morford, a San Francisco-based analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said while the company's projected loss may be unsettling, it's typical of the problems California banks will probably face over the next year, especially in areas hard hit by the real estate slowdown.
"Six to 12 months from now, this is not going to look that unusual," said Morford. "We think there's going to be problems for several other banks both in the Central Valley and throughout the state."
He added, "A big part of the success of a community bank is the strength of its local market. Right now Merced and the Central Valley are having a real tough time. You're seeing the banks share that pain."...
On Wednesday, the company announced that it's forming a committee of board members to oversee bank operations; CEO Thomas Hawker will now report to the committee. Capital Corp also said it's hired financial advisers.
Those moves could be a sign that federal regulators are closely watching the bank, Morford suggested. "It looks like (regulators) are telling the bank that you need to raise capital, and there needs to be some changes in management," said Morford. "The regulators don't want to see County Bank fail, so they're doing what they can to ensure that doesn't happen."
Meanwhile, bank clients sounded a cautiously positive note Thursday. Local builder Bob Rucker, who's both a stockholder and client of County Bank, said he's watching intently. "The whole banking system is going through a major crisis right now with liquidity," said Rucker. "My personal opinion of the bank is that they're very strong and very well-managed, but the (real estate) values declining as rapidly as they did -- it just caught them by surprise."...

Modesto Bee
Valley's smaller banks eluding upheaval in financial industry
Area firms steer clear of most home loans, limiting fallout from crisis...BEN van der MEER
While giant banks such as Bear Stearns implode as an indirect result of the housing crisis, many of the community banks based in the Northern San Joaquin Valley report being largely insulated from such upheavals.
That's true even after last week, when Merced-based County Bank announced a $4 million loss in 2007, and then saw its stock lose more than half its value in one day before rallying late in the week.
Jeff Burda, president of Modesto Commerce Bank, said most community banks don't make many home loans, including the subprime loans that prompted the recent housing meltdown...
Other banks, like County Bank, may have avoided subprime securities, but made substantial loans to commercial builders. With new housing at a virtual standstill, those builders aren't building, Burda said, and loans aren't being paid...
Credit agencies that monitor banks over time on the basis of criteria such as earnings and liquidity take a more measured stance., a consumer finance Web site, gave five valley community banks, including County, Bank of Stockton and Farmers & Merchants, ratings of three or four stars -- the same ratings most banks receive, with five stars being the best, according to the site...

Chancellor Kang's humility, skills seen as good fit for UC Merced...MICHELLE HATFIELD
MERCED -- Steve Kang has become a road warrior.
A different kind of leader
Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who stepped down as founding chancellor to return to teaching, is remembered for her stiff demeanor and commanding presence. (After going back to the classroom in 2006, Tomlinson-Keasey quietly retired in June, moving to Georgia. She couldn't be reached for comment.)...
Kang said he believes the best leaders are those who earn trust by example.
"You have to be part of a team...
"(Tomlinson-Keasey) never really went to small events. Chancellor Kang goes to everything. I think that's why he's so popular among students," said Brenda Ramirez, a psychology junior.
Goals and plans... Focus on students urged...

Getting UC Merced closer to permit approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for campus expansion and an adjacent university residence community
Starting a strategic planning process to guide the university's academic future
Drumming up community support for a medical school

Beef up student recruitment
Solve budget issues facing the campus, including lack of physical space for professors, students and research
Continue paving the road to a UC Merced medical school
Continue research initiatives among professors, focusing on issues specific to the Central Valley such as agriculture and water and air quality
Academic planning -- "Where are you going to be putting your resources? What do you want to be the best in the world at? You can't be the best at everything," UC President Robert Dynes said.

UC Merced Facts
Year opened: 2005
Number of students: 1,800
Number of employees: 884
Annual budget: $100 million
Size of campus: 18 buildings, 105 acres
Academics: 17 majors, 17 minors
Number of alumni: 76
Estimated amount of money generated by university: $1.2 billion since 2000 ...

Expansion compromise for UC Merced campus...Editorial
It took six years for the University of California Board of Regents to choose where in the San Joaquin Valley to build its 10th campus. It's already taken more than seven years for UC to figure out how to position the campus and the adjoining community on its selected site east of Merced.
What was the hang-up? Limiting the damage to wetlands and to native plants and animals, such as the bald eagle, fairy shrimp and Colusa grass...
Finally, last year, some meaningful conversations started taking place among UC, the corps and two other federal agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. By October, the university announced it had a revised map that reduced the size of the campus and the placement of the community. Last month, the university submitted its formal permit application, which triggers an environmental review process that typically takes 12 to 14 months...
UC needs the Corps' permit to continue with its long-term campus plans, but it is just as essential that there will be shops, restaurants and other amenities close by for students and staff. Some current students and a number of prospective students complain about the isolation of the campus and how far it is into town.
Downsizing the campus by 100 acres does not reduce the academic choices or activities that UC Merced will offer. In fact, it is appropriate that the campus -- which already has won awards for environmental design and energy conservation -- should have a footprint that does the least possible damage to the environment.
It took too long, but we commend university officials and regulators for reaching what appears to be a good compromise.

If anyone can fix (or help) UC, it's this guy...Short Takes
The University of California system -- 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories -- is at a crossroads. With its leadership stepping down after five years; with UC's share of the state budget declining; with the economy changing rapidly; and with a need for innovation greater than ever, a new UC president will step into an extremely challenging environment. On top of these long-term issues is the need to recover from the 2005 controversy over administrative bloat and bonuses, stipends, relocation packages and other forms of unreported compensation to top administrators. Then there's California's short-term budget crisis, which will likely require increases in student fees and rethinking of financial aid. Fortunately, in Mark Yudof, a search committee has tapped the right person to serve as the next University of California president. This first-rate constitutional scholar and teacher has served as chancellor of the University of Minnesota system (1997 to 2002) and the University of Texas system (2002 to now). The UC system really needs someone from outside the system to bring in fresh ideas, fresh personnel and shake up old ways of doing business. Yudof is ideally suited to do that. An extremely effective manager, imaginative thinker and savvy political leader, amazingly he still finds time to teach. He knows how to deal with politicians and the state budget process, create endowed professorships, increase financial aid for students and encourage research partnerships. The UC system needs this kind of president. In a reduced and changing presidency, Yudof is perfect. The regents vote Thursday. They should approve him with unanimous enthusiasm.

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Qualified praise for Cardoza’s move to Washington

Submitted: Mar 16, 2008

To get the qualifications out of the way, we don’t like many of the political positions taken by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. His record on environmental law has been a disgusting sellout to finance, insurance and real estate special interests in his district and his stint as the rear end of the Pomboza (head having been Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy) was disgraceful. Nor do we imagine those positions are likely to change.

Having said that, we can very well understand why a California congressman, any California congressman, would move his family to Washington, DC. There have been examples in Valley political lore – Harlen Hagen, John McFall and Tony Coelho come to mind – in which the congressman lost touch with the district, got too involved with Beltway corruption and fell from power. If memory serves, something similar happened to Jeffrey Cohelan of Oakland, defeated by Ron Dellums. John Burton got all screwed up in Washington and lost his seat. Phil Burton managed to keep the schedule and rise to Majority Whip, but none of the above could match Phil Burton for discipline, energy and intelligence – least of all Cardoza.

But it must be terribly hard to keep a family together under the circumstances of being a California congressman and rather than bash him for his move, we give him this qualified praise. Anyone trying to keep his family together these days deserves it.

He seems to have pulled a few strings with cronies in Maryland politics, like Rep. Steney Hoyer, his old mentor, and with the University of Maryland, his alma mater, to get his wife a decent medical job. Don’t people often ask congressmen to pull strings for them? Isn’t that one of the major functions of a congressman?

Presumably, Cardoza will return to his district less often and become more engaged with inner-Beltway work like his new position with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, revolutionized by Coelho before his fall, described in Brooks Jackson’s Honest Graft. But, as far as contact with his district is concerned, Cardoza was never much good at it anyway. His “townhall” meetings were absurd and he never has listened to much more than a handful of local plutocrats anyway. They’ll still have his cell phone number. This way, the public may be spared a dose or two of his bathetic vision.

It might be a public benefit if Cardoza showed up less often at his Merced offices on the third floor of the County administration building. Perhaps with less interference from the congressman, local administrators and elected officials could do a somewhat better job. At least this move opens the hope.

Of course, the media has been critical: they stand to lose a little direct access. However, those who have had direct access to Cardoza should reflect that it wasn’t much help, really. When Cardoza talks about politics, it is as boring as listening to a bull rider take 10 minutes to describe the six seconds he was on top.

The hot stuff is in the speculation about what will happen now. But, we don’t know the future. What we know is a congressman seems to be making an attempt to keep a family together, be a less absent husband and father. You can’t knock him for that. Perhaps he didn’t want his children to grow up with asthma, induced by the development he championed. So let him join the Cowgirl Chancellor Carol Tomlinson Keasey and all the rest of the fleeing rodents. Some people are simply too sensitive to deal with consequences. It’s a character thing.

Badlands editorial board

P.S. A St. Patrick Day's reflection on character -- One of North America's greatest 20th-century leaders, Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas, once told a biographer, as he was embarking from the Capitol on yet another 1,000-mile trip in his Willys Jeep to meet with rebellious citizens, that there was rarely anything he could do for his people in the post-Revolution economy, but he could at least be with them and try to encourage them. For Cardoza to keep his residence address in Merced County as a political convenience after holding a couple of "foreclosure workshops," sends the message to the residents of the district that, having been a political leader in the real estate boom and environmental destruction, he is unwilling to take the consequences of his actions that most of his constituents are helpless to avoid.

Whining for a medical school for UC Merced because the Valley has a physician shortage, he takes the one doctor -- his wife -- he might have been able to influence to stay in the Valley to a job in Maryland.

While we still praise him for trying to keep his family together and safe from the social and environmental fallout of the real estate boom and bust and environmental destruction he had so much to do with engineering on behalf of finance, insurance and real estate interests in various backrooms, starting with UC Merced, we don't think it is unfair to call the man a triple-dyed hypocrite.

When in the coming months top officials in county and city government retire, collect their pensions and whatever else they made on the boom and move away, we can add a new phrase to the local political lexicon: "Pulling a Cardoza."

Pulling Cardozas are certainly signs of the times. Another, which we saw yesterday afternoon, was a homeless person with baby stroller and earthly possessions camped in the alcove of the M Street entrance to the splendid offices once occupied by Ranchwood Homes, now up for lease, across from the courthouse park.

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Loose Cheeks, March 10, 2008

Submitted: Mar 10, 2008

Loose Cheeks

Loose Cheeks: Hot Tips
By Lucas Smithereen
Loose Cheeks Senior Editor

Got a hot tip for Loose Cheeks? Call the Loose Cheeks hot-tip line: (000) CHE-EEKS. We’ll get back to you whenever.

A member of the public recently directed the attention of Loose Cheeks’ intrepid reporter A.J. Gangle to the wild, wacky world of agbiz, beginning with the Merced County Farm Bureau's February 2008 newsletter, the New York Times and the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database for a few enlightening items.

Item #1

Merced County Farm Bureau: "We farm. You eat."
We live in a diverse state that is able to produce over 350 different commodities under the most stringent regulations in our nation. California is the number one agricultural producing state. Of the top ten Ag producing counties, California claims eight, with Merced County ranked 6th in the nation. We are blessed with rich soils, available water, and climatic conditions that allow our family farms to be so productive. We hope this website will give you an insight into our industry and the men and women that are the face of our family farms here in Merced County.

"Family" means things to the Farm Bureau not always intuitively obvious to urban dwellers, for example, lot splits on ag land to create ranchettes. On p. 12 of the February Merced County Farm Bureau Newsletter,, the casual reader will find an ad by Century 21 Salvadori Realty, listing three parcels, two 20-acre ranchettes and an 18-acre ranchette. At least two of the three realtors representing the properties, two sisters from the Le Grand area, grew up in "family farming." One of them is a former Farm Bureau director. One ranchette already contains three houses. Another is listed as containing one house and a building site for another, although it is in an "organic"
walnut orchard. On parcels this size, all that is required is a building permit for a second house. The third 20-acre parcel of almonds and one "quaint" dwelling can be purchased together with an adjoining 20-acre parcel in the same varieties of almonds.

"Great income potential!" the ad says. Since it's not great income potential for farming, perhaps what is meant that it is good for more parcel splits and more smaller ranchettes. How long ago were these two 20-acre parcels one 40-acre parcel and then were split by permission of the County in as a favor to the "farming family" that owes it. Or was it a favor to the former family farming realtors?

Item #2

From the Merced County General Plan, Chapter 7:

Objective 2.A. Agricultural areas are protected from conversion to nonagricultural use.
Objective 2.B. The parcelization of large holdings is discouraged.

Merced Sun-Star
Public Notice
PUBLIC HEARING... to consider: MINOR SUBDIVISION APPLICATION No. MS07-058 - Chris Robinson
"PUBLIC HEARING" A public hearing will be held by the Merced County Hearing Officer on Monday, March 10, 2008 at 8:30 a.m., in Conference Room 301 on the 3rd Floor, 2222 "M" Street, Merced, California, to consider: MINOR SUBDIVISION APPLICATION No. MS07-058 - Chris Robinson - To divide a 1,027.20 acre parcel into 3 parcels and a remainder resulting in parcel sizes of: Parcel 1 = 198.63 acres; Parcel 2 = 343.18; Parcel 3 =
165.25 acres, and Remainder Parcel = 320.14 acres under a parcel map waiver on property located on the east side of Highway 59, approximately 1/2 mile north of Youd Road in the Snelling area. The project site is designated Agriculture land use in the General Plan and zoned A-2 (Exclusive Agriculture). THE ACTION REQUESTED IS TO APPROVE, DISAPPROVE OR MODIFY THE APPLICATION. DG All persons interested are cordially invited to attend. Written comments are encouraged and should be sent to the Planning and Community Development Department, 2222 "M" Street, Merced, California 95340, prior to the hearing.
If you have any questions, please call the department at (209) 385-7654.
Sincerely, Robert A. Lewis Development Services Director Legal 08 -286 February 23, 2008

For recent arrivals here in the Foreclosure Capital of the West, what's happening here is that a local cattle baronet whose family exploited the Merced River for irrigation, exploited the river for aggregate, exploited the state for millions to try to reclaim the river after the mining, now seeks to exploit the river and the County by exploiting the river "viewshed" for a few luxury estates. Or perhaps it's all about conservation easements, yet another family adventure at the public trough.

Badlands Journal
Red Menace over Merced
A rouge pall, like the Delta peat fires of old at twilight, hangs over Merced County.
According to Supervisor Mike Nelson, the “socialists” were out this morning at the supervisors’ meeting. A group advocating agricultural preservation were arguing against parcel splits for ranchettes between Gustine and Santa Nella.
And we thought we saw Eugene Debs highballing down the Santa Fe tracks last night.
The Badlands editorial staff investigated, and found at least one ringleader of the agland preservationists has a long history of affiliation with red front groups: the Merced County Chamber of Commerce; American Farmland Trust; the Merced County Farm Bureau; and California Women for Agriculture.
By contrast, Nelson was a union Atwater City fireman for nine years and now draws a public salary from Merced County of over $65,000 a year plus thousands a month in perks, benefits and retirement, beside what the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board pays him to defend special interests from the peril of regulating the worst air pollution in the US. Nelson’s wife is a union public school teacher, drawing a public salary, health and retirement benefits.
We suggest Nelson look again at the red menace hanging over the county. If he can see through the merciless rightwing hypocrisy, he will find it is red ink caused by the reckless, uncontrolled growth approved by majorities of the indemnified supervisors and city councils beholden and in some cases directly benefitting from their ties to finance, insurance and real estate special interests that now control local government in Merced lock, stock and barrel.
Badlands editorial staff

Update: Merced County supervisors' salary is now $74,000 and Nelson is chairman of the board of Merced County Association of Governments, the local pork barrel for federal highway funds.

Item #3

The Merced County Farm Bureau's February newsletter expresses a number of straighforward views about serious issues in the Valley. The executive director wrote about water:

I started the month of February at a water forum sponsored by the City of Fresno. The information was plentiful but we need action, not more words. We need cooperation not litigation. Simply put we need more storage.

Although we're sure Merced's family farmers understood this and all that followed, we were a little mystified.
Action is not litigation and cooperation will produce more dams? There has always been great doubt in the circles traveled by the executive director that Merced County is a part of the state of California.

Item #4

The Valley View editor of the MCFB newsletter, writing about genetically engineered crops, opined that objections to their use and deregulation were "based solely on the fear of the unknown." Gene-drift is a "possibility," according to the author,and "is a legitimate concern that must be considered."

The Union of Concerned Scientists, UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela, Jeffrey M. Smith (Seeds of Deception (2003), Frances Moore Lappe (Food First), Dr. Joseph Cummins, Dr. Wes Jackson (Land Institute), Dr. Arpad Pusztai and F. William Engdahl among many other responsible scientists around the world have been considering GE genetic pollution and a host of other problems arising from genetic engineering of food crops for nearly a decade. None of them, however, are Merced County family farmers, so what could they know?
Even the Catholic Church has spoken of biotechnology as a source of "new sins," but the Vatican Apostolic Penitentiary is a long way from Merced County.

Yahoo! News
Vatican lists "new sins," including pollution By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of "new" sins such as causing environmental blight.
The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.
Asked what he believed were today's "new sins," he told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the greatest danger zone for the modern soul was the largely uncharted world of bioethics.
"(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control," he said...Girotti, in an interview headlined "New Forms of Social Sin," also listed "ecological" offences as modern evils...

Item #5

The MCFB article, Understanding CEQA: Public Involvment is Key, got the right point in its title, but we felt strayed a bit lower in the story with advice like:

Contradictory, conflicting, conclusory, or inadequate responses or significant environmental issues need to be submitted in orally or in writing.

With some small experience with CEQA ourselves, we confess that we have absolutely no idea what this sentence means. A spot of editing might have helped, but the Farm Bureau probably couldn't bring itself to edit Sweet Potato Joe's daughter-in-law. And, who knows, perhaps Merced County family farmers know exactly what the sentence means.

Item #6

New York Times
Fairness on the Farm...Editorial
Against all odds, there is still hope that Congress will produce a halfway decent farm bill, one that increases spending for underfunded programs like food stamps and conservation while decreasing subsidies to rich farmers who have never had it so good.
The reason for hope is President Bush, who has been on the right side of the farm issue from the beginning and is threatening to veto any measure that resembles the stinkers produced by the House and Senate last year.
Some legislators are now scrambling for a better version. Tinkering around the edges will not do it.
Mr. Bush has two sound objections. First, the House and Senate bills, each costing about $280 billion over five years, are way over budget and include an array of gimmicky tax increases to make up the shortfall.
Even worse, the bills perpetuate an unfair, wasteful program of price supports and direct payments. Half the subsidies would go to farmers in just seven states producing a handful of crops — corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat; two-thirds of the nation’s farmers would not benefit at all. Mr. Bush has complained in particular about provisions that allow subsidies to flow to farm families making as much as $2 million a year.
What makes these subsidies even more outrageous is that just when the rest of the country is sliding into recession, commodity prices are booming and big farmers are rolling in clover.
In a rational world, legislators would try to find the cuts Mr. Bush wants in subsidy programs, but little is rational when it comes to farm bills. While some influential members of the House have talked about stricter limits on wealthy farmers, Big Agriculture’s Senate friends say the cuts would have to come from conservation programs.
The food stamp program is not yet on the Senate chopping block, but it, too, is not home free. Congressional leaders may be tempted to see this year’s bill as a way to help farm state incumbents hold onto their seats. The dollar amounts are too large, though, and the fairness issues too stark, to stick with a broken system of farm subsidies.

Item #7

Environmental Working Group Farm Bill 2007: Policy Analysis Database --

Top Commodity and Conservation Programs in the 18th district of California (Rep. Dennis A. Cardoza), program years 2003-2005:

Rank Number of Beneficiaries Total

1 Cotton Subsidies
795 $74,723,391
2 Dairy Program Subsidies
709 $18,664,192
3 Corn Subsidies
1,315 $15,867,968
4 Rice Subsidies
139 $5,452,704
5 Wheat Subsidies
899 $3,750,842
6 Env. Quality Incentive Program
282 $2,419,418
7 Oat Subsidies
971 $523,545
8 Barley Subsidies
548 $453,254
9 Conservation Reserve Program
28 $185,179
10 Grasslands Reserve Program
2 $92,732
11 Wool Subsidies
18 $77,294
12 Sorghum Subsidies
172 $58,319
13 Safflower Subsidies
105 $48,407
14 Wetlands Reserve Program
2 $37,008
15 Sheep Meat Subsidies
2 $10,850
16 Sunflower Subsidies
1 $74

Total Direct Payments benefits in 18th district of California (Rep. Dennis A. Cardoza) totaled $31.2 million in program years 2003-2005.

Item #8

More on subsidized farmers no longer alive
Letters to the Editor
Fresno Bee
July 27, 2007
Dear Sir or Madam,
The U.S. Department of Agriculture gets my inept federal bureaucracy of the month award for writing subsidy checks to 172,801 dead farmers totaling $1.1 billion dollars during the period from 1999 to 2005. This gives new meaning to the term “buying the farm.”
All the sordid details are available in a report from the Government Accountability Office located at
Nineteen percent of the deceased subsidy recipients had been dead for seven years or more, while a whopping 40 percent had been dead for three years or more. Even more troubling, someone undoubtedly alive signed and cashed those checks given the considerable difficulty the dead have in signing checks.
There must be plenty of dead San Joaquin Valley farmers on the list given that we are the farming capitol of the nation. They must be chuckling somewhere in the Great Pasture in the Sky that they couldn’t make any money while living but managed to generate some green after they were gone.
Lloyd Carter

Item #9

Merced Sun-Star
Local growers in Washington to push farm bill…Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON…on Capitol Hill, the House Agriculture Committee is poised in coming days to divvy up billions of dollars in a new farm bill… With the House panel planning to write its farm bill over the course of three days next week, Teixeira and several dozen other organic farmers are taking a desperate stab at changing the course of federal agricultural policy. So far, success is elusive. Existing cotton, rice, wheat and corn subsidies would stay essentially the same, under the current bill written by the agriculture committee chairman, Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn. Federal crop subsidies totaled about $17 billion last year. The politically vocal American Farm Bureau Federation likewise supports Peterson’s stay-the-course approach to traditional subsidies, as does the National Milk Producers Federation. California at Davis agricultural economist Dan Sumner allies himself with California’s fruit and vegetable growers, who seek a bigger share of the farm bill. The bill coming before the House committee next Tuesday does boost some specialty crop funding. Even so, specialty crop advocates — and organic growers in particular — complain the current House bill shortchanges the fastest-growing sector of U.S. agriculture. “We are looking for a niche,” said Cindy Lashbrook, a Merced County organic farmer who grows blueberries and almonds near Livingston. “We’re looking to be legitimized, in a way.”

Item #10

Badlands Journal

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance lashes Valley agricultural pollution
Water Board Report Shows that Irrigated Agriculture Has Polluted the Delta and Most Central Valley Waterways
For immediate release:
25 July 2007
(Stockton, CA) The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) has released a landmark draft report presenting the first region-wide assessment of data collected pursuant to the Irrigated Lands Program since its inception in 2003. Data collected from some 313 sites throughout the Central Valley reveals that: 1) toxicity to aquatic life was present at 63% of the monitored sites (50% were toxic to more than one species), 2) pesticide water quality standards were exceeded at 54% of sites (many for multiple pesticides), 3) one or more metals violated criteria at 66% of the sites, 4) human health standards for bacteria were violated at 87% of monitored sites and 5) more than 80% of the locations reported exceedances of general parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, salt, TSS). While the adequacy of monitoring (i.e., frequency and comprehensiveness) of monitoring varied dramatically from site to site, the report presents adramatic panorama of the epidemic of pollution caused by the uncontrolled discharge of agricultural wastes.
The report is posted on the Regional Board’s website at:

Item #11

San Franciso Chronicle
Yes, San Francisco is in the land of cotton subsidies...Carolyn Lochhead
Los Banos, Merced County -- San Francisco is famous for its cotton farmers. Or at least one of them.
At last count, the largest California recipient of federal farm subsidies is the city's Constance Bowles Peabody, 88, a wealthy heiress of pioneer California cattle baron Henry Miller.
Peabody and her now-deceased brother George "Corky" Bowles, collected $2.4 million in cotton subsidies from 2003 to 2005, according to federal data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, which opposes the subsidies.
Actually, so does Philip Bowles, her son, who has run the family's farm operation for more than a quarter-century.
Asked why he should get subsidies, Bowles replied, "Why should anybody?"
A former Yale drama student who once made television commercials, Bowles operates the family's 13,000-acre cotton, alfalfa and tomato farm in Los Banos, where the city fathers erected a statue of his great-great-grandfather in the town plaza.
"The money that we do get from the government I look at as a form of liquidated damages," Bowles said as he drove through his fields, certain that the quality of his cotton and the efficiency of his farm would, if put to the test, obliterate his competitors in the Mississippi Delta and Texas...

Item #12

Where does Ol' Slippery John Pedrozo hang his hat, anyway?
Ol' Slippery got a free ride for a second term yesterday, so we thought to check where he lived, since you can't be too careful with the peoples' elected representatives in Merced County. Ol' Slippery lists his address at 2222 M Street, Merced CA.
Wait a second!
Unless the County administration building has some sort of special status like Washington, DC or the Vatican, it's in Supervisor Crookham's district, not the district Ol' Slippery is supposed to represent.
What's he got in his office up there on the third floor, a cot and a hibachi? Does he barbecue on the roof on pleasant evenings? We didn't even know they had showers in the administration building. Does he spend quality time with the Old Shrimp Slayer, Congressman Cardoza, who also has an office in the building, barbecuing tri-tip while the Slayer cooks the beans? Or do they fry up a batch of fairy shrimp out of the freezer, supplied by some of the Slayer's best contributors?
Ol' Slippery apparently doesn't have a decent Yesman to guide him in the niceties of local government etiquette -- like not sleeping in his office and stuff. County Topflak Mark Hendrickson is obviously too busy dogging the heels of Supervisor Mike Nelson, a real contender for Champion of the Rightwing ... what, exactly?

Item #13

Jess Brown and his Porkbarrel Band of Renown have concocted yet another transportation document, this time on an expressway between Atwater and Merced -- for April Fools' Day release.
It is called the Atwater Merced Expressway Draft Environmental Impact Report and it is a plan to make a plan to make a plan to make a plan ... to make pork.

Item #14

A great big ATTABOY! to Tom Grave for making it to the big time with his recent appointment to the Citizens Advisory Committee of Merced County Association of Governments. Tom has made it out of the pits where the public sits and into the hallway outside the backroom. He'll be close enough to smell the smoke now.

Item #15

Another great big ATTABOY to Sonny Star and the Gigolo Press of Merced for a fine column by Steve Cameron in today's mega-sports section-in-a-zillion colors. Cameron is a man of deep convictions, one of them that Sonny Star, the New York Times and the rest of the US press never writes an article to sell more papers.
Since the waning years of the 19th century, there have been two ways newspapers make money. The old-fashioned way was to increase circulation because that was the first way to increase advertising revenues back in the days of actual media competition in the US. The modern way newspapers make money is to monopolize
advertising regions after driving out competition. Big Mama McClatchy's house runs most of the callperson press in the Valley. Sonny makes it, to the extent Sonny does make it, on a captured local business community that HAS to advertise in the local gigolo press.
Don't get us wrong. We are great fans of Cameron's exploding sports section. It's real Big Time. Livingston goalie eyes the pros. Hot stuff. But examples comes to mind to disprove Cameron's claim.
When Riverside Motorsports Park was buying huge amounts of advertising with the paper, Sonny Star endorsed the project. When that advertising stream ended (about the time a lot of real estate advertising was also ending), Sonny did a real number of RMP -- a day late and a lot of legal trouble short of doing a timely job of informing the public and decision makers on RMP dirt.
And then, of course, there were the years of special UC Merced inserts, during which Sonny Star mainlined UC Bobcatflak.
Not to mention the bevies of comely young realtors right out of high school posing in the real estate inserts back in Flip City Days.
Hey, maybe we could bring back the lasses with a Flip City Days Festival to brighten up tours of brand new empty houses. Sonny Star should get working on it.

Merced Sun-Star
Please trust this about our sports section...Steve Cameron
Hey, this is an historic election, so...
...I've been in this business a long time, and I can tell you without a question of doubt that we don't ever make editorial decisions while wondering if a few more people might plunk 50 cents into a box.The only time we sell extra papers is well-advertised, and it's because you ask for it.
For instance, if a local high school wins a district football championship, we might print a special eight-page commemorative edition. Maybe. But that's it.
After hearing that woman on CNN, I'm not sure the public actually will believe this, but I want it on record.
We make editorial decisions for lots and lots and lots of different reasons. Selling a dozen extra papers at Save Mart ain't one of them. And never will be.

Item #16

Feral shopping cart whitewash.
Everybody in town, except Sonny Star, knows those shopping carts are as wild and willful as our exploding alley cat population. But, Sonny, always ready with a way to tranquilize the population, is claiming today that human agency is involved in the dispersal of shopping carts, complete with the usual lying photos of shopping carts bathing in the creek and resting against street signs and such.

Merced Sun-Star
Despite '03 law, shopping carts still clutter landscape...DOANE YAWGER...3-8-08

But the people know the real story on those criminal shopping carts. You hear them cruising our sidewalks at night and you turn out the lights and cringe because here they are again to rob and steal with their big black garbage bags and rattle off down the alley.
People don't talk much about getting mugged by shopping carts for fear nobody would believe them. And that is the great advantage our predatory feral shopping carts enjoy in this town. They are highly organized into gangs, each with its own distinctive colors, easily identified by police if they wanted to look.
Feral shopping carts represent the largest threat to law and order Merced has ever seen.
In the end, they will pick us clean.

Item #17

Local casino in the offing?
The rumble close to the ground is that the Madera/Highway 99 casino is a catspaw. The rumor is that state Legislature, abused for more than a decade by bloviating local real estate special interests spouting hyper-inflated metaphors from "high-tech, bio-tech engine of growth" to a suckling baby, has been combing the vicinity for a Native American tribe -- any tribe -- to sell the campus to for a dollar. Meanwhile big supporters for the campus are rumored to be willing to step aside because they already cashed in on growth stimulated by the campus and because the whining brat has become a civic embarrassment.

Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced leaders plead for budget mercy
Assembly panel meets on the campus to hear university's stance on funding...VICTOR A. PATTON
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang on Thursday likened the university to a "baby" -- one that still "needs milk" and tender loving care to survive.
Translation for state legislators: UC Merced "cannot afford any budget cuts"...

Item #18

Great big ATTAGIRLS to the staff of the East Merced Resource Conservation District for printing a brochure in which the inside is upsidedown from the outside. Is it a metaphor or just another sincere expression of incompetence?

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Help support family farmers who protect endangered species habitat

Submitted: Mar 07, 2008

From The Endangered Species Coalition:

You can help family farmers protect endangered plants and animals on their land. Please call your Member of Congress and ask them to support the Endangered Species Recovery Act and incentives for landowners to save endangered species.

Help support family farmers who protect endangered species habitat.

Congress has a great opportunity to help at-risk wildlife, with a new bill called the Endangered Species Recovery Act (S. 700/H.R. 1422). This legislation will provide farmers, ranchers, family forest owners and other landowners with the financial tools they need to protect the hundreds of endangered animal and plants.

The Senate has already passed the companion bill in the Senate Farm Bill tax package. This means that the time is ripe for the House of Representatives to move this important piece of legislation as quickly as possible.

Call your member of Congress and ask them to support the Endangered Species Recovery Act. The Capitol Switchboard is (202) 224-3121. Ask for your Representative's office.

Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support the Endangered Species Act. However, the Act is chronically under-funded in regard to recovery planning and habitat restoration--especially on private lands. More funding is needed to save America's endangered wildlife.

For more information, visit

Thanks for your help to protect endangered species,

Leda Huta
Executive Director, Endangered Species Coalition

The Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) is a national network of 380 conservation, scientific, sporting, religious, humane, business and community groups across the country. Through public education, scientific information and citizen participation, we work to protect our nation's wildlife and wild places. The ESC is a non-partisan coalition working with concerned citizens and decision makers from all parties to protect endangered species and habitat

Endangered Species Coalition
PO Box 65195
Washington, DC 20035
(202) 320-6467

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When carpenters can no longer afford to buy the houses they built

Submitted: Mar 01, 2008

A lesson certain to be unlearned in California: When finance, insurance, real estate, large landowners and politicians create a housing bubble like the one we have been through, the only form of economic growth permitted to survive is construction. Thefore, when the bubble bursts, so may the economy itself. The Invisible Middle Finger of the Market has flipped off California.

San Diego Union-Tribune
Carlsbad for-profit You Walk Away assists those facing foreclosure...Emmet Pierce
You Walk Away LLC has found a way to profit from the ongoing mortgage crisis, but co-founder Jon Maddux says the Carlsbad-based company also is providing a valuable service to borrowers who took out risky adjustable-rate loans during the fevered housing boom.
Launched in January, the business helps distressed homeowners navigate their way through the foreclosure process for a fee of $995. Although it has served about 200 clients so far, Maddux says the potential market is largely untapped. An estimated 1.8 million adjustable subprime loans are scheduled to reset to sharply higher interest rates nationwide over the next two years...“The contract goes both ways,” Maddux said. “The mortgage has a clause that says if they don't pay, the bank gets the house back. When they made the loan, it was risky. It allows for Plan B if (borrowers) can't afford the home anymore or they have to make a decision whether to put food on the table or make the mortgage payment. . . . We try to help protect the homeowner.”
Economist Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said the creation of a company that helps borrowers go into foreclosure reflects “a collective erosion in borrowers' commitment to service their loans"...“People are walking away just because it was a bad investment.”
Martin McGuinn, a San Diego attorney who represents lenders and loan servicers in foreclosures, called the trend disturbing. “From a lender's standpoint, the worst thing in the world that could happen is for people to simply walk away from their property,” McGuinn said.
January foreclosures in San Diego County totaled 1,305, up 32 percent from December and up nearly 257 percent from January 2007. Notices of default, the first step in reclaiming mortgaged properties, totaled 3,109, up 21 percent from December and up 145 percent from a year earlier...Gabe del Rio, president of the Housing Opportunities Collaborative, a nonprofit consortium of homeownership and housing counseling agencies, said distressed borrowers have other alternatives besides harming their credit through foreclosure.
Information on foreclosures is available at no cost online or from the nonprofit groups he works with, he said. “A foreclosure is the worst outcome that could happen,” del Rio said. “There are other steps you can take.”
As loan defaults have surged, lenders have become more willing to negotiate, he said. In some cases, they will take back homes and forgive the remaining debt to avoid the expense of the foreclosure process. “You are basically settling with the lender,” del Rio said. “You are saying, 'I will give you back the collateral if you release me with from my debt.' You are not just skipping out.”
Another option is a short sale, in which a lender agrees to allow the borrower to sell the home for less money than the amount that is due on the loan... “All the critics out there, what do they recommend?” Maddux asked. “If they can't sell and they can't refinance and a loan modification puts them in a similar situation, what is their option?”
You Walk Away offers reliable foreclosure information, he added. If borrowers “did it themselves, they could save some money, but there are too many mistakes that could cost you well over $1,000.” The company operates in California and six other states where Maddux and co-founder Chad Ruyle have agreements with attorneys who address local foreclosure laws...

Los Angeles Times
California job growth slows to a crawl
The state added just under 15,000 positions in 2007 and January saw another shrink in employers' payrolls. Training programs and other initiatives will be pursued, officials say...Lisa Girion and Ken Bensinger,1,2772012.story?ctrack=2&cset=true
Here's more evidence that California is losing its struggle against recession: The state shed 20,300 jobs in January, more than the other 49 states combined for the month, a government report showed Friday.
That comes on top of more bad news. California's job engine sputtered nearly to a halt last year, adding just under 15,000 positions, or 0.1%, to the state's payrolls, according to the Employment Development Department's revised annual figures, also released Friday.The state's job losses in the first month of the year swept across several sectors, with construction, information and financial services among the hardest hit...In all, 15.2 million people were employed in California in January. The state's unemployment rate held at 5.9%, unchanged from December's revised rate and up from 5% in January 2007.
The figures show California's hard-hit home-construction sector was a drag not only on the state economy but also figured prominently in the U.S., posting its first job losses in more than four years in January.The U.S. economy as a whole dropped a net 17,000 jobs during the month -- fewer than California alone, meaning that California's losses were offset by gains elsewhere. The nation's unemployment rate edged lower to 4.9% in January from December's 5%.Economists said the latest figures showed that the state economy was sluggish at best and might be headed toward recession...

Inland construction jobs in freefall, state employment records show...JOSH BROWN...2-2908
The crippled housing market sent the Inland region last year into the biggest jobs freefall on record, state figures released Friday show. Riverside and San Bernardino counties lost 7,300 jobs in the past year, the vast majority of losses in home construction-related fields.
The new state figures represent a dramatic revision to the state's estimates in December that showed the Inland region had gained 32,400 jobs during the previous 12 months. Regional economists long had expected a downward revision to the numbers after reports were heard of the construction industry hemorrhaging jobs...

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To medschool, the verb defined

Submitted: Feb 29, 2008

American Dictionary of Flak

medschool, v.i. (see porkbarrel, v.i.): Possible origins Merced CA, first decade of 21st century. 1. To use a new university campus as an anchor tenant for a real estate boom impacting worst air quality basin in the nation, creating an involuntary laboratory for respiratory disease as a base for medical research in respiratory disease. 2. Promise first-rate medical care and abundant numbers of physicians by promoting a scheme for a medical school in one of the poorest areas in the US. 3. (pol) To distract the attention of popular discontent with the highest mortgage foreclosure rate in the nation by promising universal economic and health benefits of establishing a medical school in the midst of an economic and environmental disaster. 4. (edu) To present a real estate boondoggle pretending to be a university campus as a potential medical school. 5. To create a public health and safety disaster to use as a basis for grant proposals to research its effects. 6. (US Congress) To wrap oneself in Hippocratic robes while doing harm. 7. To bury present problems in future fantasies. 8. (civic) To lie while fomenting a future project to avoid telling the truth about the present. 9. To claim that medical students will come to a university campus unable to recruit faculty and an adequate number of students and, despite an increasingly hostile natural, political and economic environment, doctors will stay in that environment, i.e. to evoke the peculiar mystical tradition of University of California administration that "Proximity is Destiny," when in fact proximity to UC Merced means higher density of traffic, air, water and politics.

Newsletter of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced
A Medical School at UC Merced‏
From: Dennis Cardoza (
Sent: Thu 2/28/08 2:15 PM

Dear Friends,
The entire Central Valley region suffers from a physician shortage and a lack of adequate healthcare resources. Recent reports tell us that the problem is worse than initially thought and likely to get far worse in the future. The best way to address this healthcare emergency is to promptly establish a medical education program at the University of California – Merced.

Though UC Merced is only five years old, it is critical that we begin to establish the medical education program now. The entire state of California is expected to face a shortage of up to 17,000 physicians by 2015, but in the Valley we are already facing a shortage. Valley residents are medically underserved with 87 primary care physicians per 100,000 people versus the statewide rate of 126 primary care physicians per 100,000. The number of medical specialists per capita is even lower when compared with other parts of the state.

These statistics highlight the seriousness of the problem and we are already in the process of building support for a medical education program at UC Merced. The University of California’s Health Sciences Advisory Council has recommended a 34 percent increase in medical student enrollments by 2020 to meet increasing demand for doctors. The Council also recognized that medical education programs need to be developed in the SJ Valley and the Inland Empire, where projected population growth rates are twice that of the rest of the state. There is strong evidence that new physicians choose to settle into full-time practice near where they train, so establishment of a medical school in the Valley would produce benefits for the health of the region.

The UC system understands the challenge of meeting our future healthcare needs and the community is coalescing around the plan to bring a medical school to UC Merced. The medical school will be founded on a community-based distributed model of medical education, utilizing current medical facilities in the Valley, as well as the resources of UC San Francisco and UC Davis. The first two years of medical education will be on the UC Merced campus, and the second two years of medical education will be in a clinical setting, with the first clinical campus slated to be at the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Center. More than twenty of the largest community hospitals and community health centers in the Valley are eager to collaborate with UC Merced to focus teaching and research on the community health needs of the region.

I am urging the UC Board of Regents to approve continued planning, provide a reasonable timeframe for initiation, and appoint a taskforce to devise a financing strategy for the development of the medical school at UC Merced. We must work collaboratively to establish the medical school and to address our region’s looming healthcare crisis.


Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress

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The Age of Traumatic Neurosis

Submitted: Feb 20, 2008

Many of us wondered, when John Edwards quit his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for president, if the subject of poverty might not disappear along with his campaign. The middle two passages in this posting are recent columns indicating that at least some journalists have managed to remember poverty remains, despite the disappearance of its champion in this campaign year. The columns are framed by passages from two books of prophetic social science, written 30 years ago. The first passage, sent yesterday by Badlands reader and friend, Paul deMarco, is from a 1975 book by a professor he knew in college on what poverty and disaster did to people in W. Virginia when a dam broke, wiping out their communities, and what poverty looks like -- then and now -- up close. The last passage is one we selected from a book from about the same period, Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism.

DeMarco wrote, in a note titled "chronic conditions inducing trauma": "...Some of our conversation last night about the Central Valley reminded me of this passage I had read yesterday (emphasis is mine):

... now that we are working with new rules for identifying disasters, we have to note that we are edging toward the notion that chronic conditions as well as acute events can induce trauma, and this, too, belongs in our calculations. A chronic disaster is one that gathers forces slowly and insidiously, creeping around one's defenses rather than smashing through them. The person is unable to mobilize his normal defenses against the threat, sometimes because he had been misinformed about it, and sometimes because he cannot do anything to avoid it in any case. In has long been recognized, for example, that living in conditions of chronic poverty is often traumatizing, and if one looks carefully at the faces as well as the clinic records of people who live in institutions or hang out in the vacant corners of skid row or enlist in the migrant labor force or eke out a living in the urban slums, once can scarcely avoid seeing the familiar symptoms of trauma--a numbness of spirit, a susceptibility to anxiety and rage and depression, a sense of helplessness, an inability to concentrate, a loss of various motor skills, a heightened apprehension about the physical and social environment, a preoccupation with death, a retreat into dependency, and a general loss of ego functions. One can find those symptoms wherever people feel left out of things, abandoned, separated from the life around them. From that point of view, being too poor to participate in the promise of the culture or too old to take a meaningful place in the structure of the community can be counted as a kind of disaster.

"Erikson gives sociology a good name," deMarco continued, "for once, with his comprehensive view of history, psychology and culture, and his bell-clear writing. He continues later in his conclusions: "

I have suggested that human reactions to the age we are entering are likely to include a sense of cultural disorientation, a feeling of powerlessness. a dulled apathy, and a generalized fear about the condition of the universe. These, of course, are among the classic symptoms of trauma, and it may well be that historians of the future will look back on this period and conclude that the traumatic neuroses were its true clinical signature." --Kai T. Erikson, "Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood" pp. 255-256. 1976

New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist
Poverty Is Poison...PAUL KRUGMAN

“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Reactions From Around the Web As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.
But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery.

Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain.

America’s failure to make progress in reducing poverty, especially among children, should provoke a lot of soul-searching. Unfortunately, what it often seems to provoke instead is great creativity in making excuses.

Some of these excuses take the form of assertions that America’s poor really aren’t all that poor — a claim that always has me wondering whether those making it watched any TV during Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter have ever looked around them while visiting a major American city.

Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.
But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents’ poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there — and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.

That’s not surprising. Growing up in poverty puts you at a disadvantage at every step.
I’d bracket those new studies on brain development in early childhood with a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked a group of students who were in eighth grade in 1988. The study found, roughly speaking, that in modern America parental status trumps ability: students who did very well on a standardized test but came from low-status families were slightly less likely to get through college than students who tested poorly but had well-off parents.

None of this is inevitable.

Poverty rates are much lower in most European countries than in the United States, mainly because of government programs that help the poor and unlucky.

And governments that set their minds to it can reduce poverty. In Britain, the Labor government that came into office in 1997 made reducing poverty a priority — and despite some setbacks, its program of income subsidies and other aid has achieved a great deal. Child poverty, in particular, has been cut in half by the measure that corresponds most closely to the U.S. definition.

At the moment it’s hard to imagine anything comparable happening in this country. To their credit — and to the credit of John Edwards, who goaded them into it — both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are proposing new initiatives against poverty. But their proposals are modest in scope and far from central to their campaigns.

I’m not blaming them for that; if a progressive wins this election, it will be by promising to ease the anxiety of the middle class rather than aiding the poor. And for a variety of reasons, health care, not poverty, should be the first priority of a Democratic administration.

But ultimately, let’s hope that the nation turns back to the task it abandoned — that of ending the poverty that still poisons so many American lives.

Washington Post
King's Dream Deferred, One More Victim of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis... Michelle Singletary
As we spend this month celebrating the achievements of African Americans, I'm saddened by a report that concludes that the subprime mortgage crisis has caused the largest loss of wealth for black and Latino homeowners in modern U.S. history.

The erosion of wealth is staggering.

Subprime borrowers of color will lose between $164 billion and $213 billion for loans taken in the past eight years, according to United for a Fair Economy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. For the past five years, the group has examined the racial wealth divide in this country.

UFE is the latest organization to try to put a dollar figure on the losses resulting from the proliferation of subprime loans. And while some might want to dismiss the findings in the group's report as alarmist, one fact is clearly troubling: Minorities have been hit hardest.

Black borrowers will lose between $72 billion and $93 billion, and Latino borrowers will lose between $76 billion and $98 billion, UFE reports.

"The dream of economic stability and opportunity for everyone living in the U.S., so eloquently described by Martin Luther King Jr., is bound up with homeownership, the most significant source of wealth for most people," said Dedrick Muhammad, senior organizer and research associate at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the UFE report.

Of late, much has been made of blacks' buying power. A study by the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth put black spending at about $845 billion last year. That spending is projected to top $1.1 trillion by 2012. The center describes this buying power, or disposable income, as the total personal income available for spending on goods and services after taxes.

However, it's not enough to consider what people will spend. Wealth is created by what you keep and invest or save. It's also created when people own appreciable assets, such as a home.

"As income comes and goes like a flowing river, wealth -- what you own minus what you owe -- is a reservoir to handle hard economic times, make large purchases, help secure the future of new generations, and protect individuals and families as they age," the report said.

As UFE points out, homeownership is key to achieving economic security. Nearly 60 percent of the total wealth held by middle-class families exists in their home equity. Although home values are declining, owning a home is still the biggest wealth equalizer.

The housing crisis has affected many communities regardless of race or income, but it has disproportionately affected minorities. That's because people of color are more than three times as likely to have subprime loans, the UFE found.

High-cost subprime loans account for 55 percent of loans to blacks but only 17 percent of loans to whites, the UFE report said.

And before any of you fix your lips to place all the blame on the homeowners, just remember that this loss of wealth comes largely as a result of lenders and others in the mortgage industry who took advantage of people trying to achieve the American dream of homeownership.

I've seen some loan documents with crazy-high prepayment penalties that people didn't even realize they had. I've interviewed and counseled hardworking folks who -- yes, foolishly -- were so focused on getting a home that they believed whatever they were told, including that the value of their home would continue to rise, making it easy for them to refinance out of the exotic mortgages with tricky teaser rates.

"On the surface, subprime loan products can sound relatively simple and attractive, and some people have benefited from their use," the report said. "Yet, as more details of the industry's activities began to surface, the predatory practices of many subprime loan brokers came to the forefront. Unless inexperienced borrowers asked complex questions about loan terms covered only in the fine print, they received loans that they had little to no chance of repaying."

UFE is right in concluding that one of the biggest challenges facing our nation is not the lack of wealth but the "destructive distribution of wealth."

When King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, he said this about the economic state of blacks: "The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity" ...

From The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch, 1979:

In a study of 250 managers from twelve major companies, Michael Maccoby describes the new corporate leader, not altogether unsympathetically, as a person who works with people rather than with materials and who seeks not to build an empire or accumulate wealth but to experience "the exhilaration of running his team and of gaining victoires." He wasn to "be known as a winner, and his deepest fear is to be labeled a loser." Instead of pitting himself against a merial task or a problem demanding solution, he pits himself against others, out of a "need to be in control." As a recent textbook for managers puts it, success today means "not simply getting ahead" but "getting ahead of others."
The new executive, boyish, playful, and "seductive," wants in Maccoby's words "to maintain an illusion of limitless options."
He has little capacity for "personal intimacy and social commitment." He feels little loyalty even to the company for which he works. One executive says he experiences power "as not being pushed around by the company." In his upward climb, this man cultivates powerful customers and attempts to use them against his own company. "You need a very big customer," according to his calculations, "who is always in trouble and demands changes from the company. That way you automatically have power in the company, and with the customer too. I like to keep my options open." A professor of management endorses this strategy.
"Overidentification" with a company, in his view, "produces a corporation with enormous power over the careers and destinies of its true believers." The bigger the company, the more important he thinks it is for executives "to manage their careers in terms of their own choices" and to "maintain the widest set of options possible."
According to Maccoby, the gamesman "is open to new ideas, but he lacks conviction." He will do business with any regime, even if he disapproves of its principles. More independent and resourceful than the company man, he tries to use the company for his own ends, fearing that otherwise he will be "totally emasculated by the corporation." He avoids intimacy as a trap, preferring the "exciting sexy atmosphere" with which the modern executive surrounds himself at work, "where adoring, mini-skirted secretaries constantly flirt with him." In all his personal relations, the gamseman depends on the admiration or fear he inspires in others to certify his credentials as a "winner." As he gets older, he finds it more and more difficult to command the kind of attention on which he thrives. He reaches a plateau beyond which he does not advance in his job, perhaps because the very highest positions, as Maccoby notes, still go to "those able to renounce adolescent rebelliousness and become at least to some extent believers in the organization." The job begins to lose its savor. having little interest in craftsmanship, the new-style executive takes no pleasure in his achievements once he begins to lose the adolescent charm on which they rest. Middle age hits him with the force of a disaster...Jennings treats the substance of executive life as if it were just as arbitrary and irrelevant to success as the task of kicking a ball through a net or of moving pieces over a chessboard. He never mentions the social and economic repercussions of managerial decisions or the power that managers exercise over society as a whole. For the corporate manager on the make, power consists not of money and influence but of "momentum," a "winning image," a reputation as a winner. Power lies in the eye of the beholder and thus has no objective reference at all.
The manager's view of the world, as described by Jennings, Maccoby, and by the mangers themsevles, is that of the narcissist, who sees the world as a mirror of himself and has no interest in external events except as they throw back a reflection of his own image. The dense interpersonal environment of modern bureaucry, in which work assumes an abstract quality almost wholly divorced from performance, by its very nature elicits and often rewards a narcissistic response. Bureaucracy, however, is only one of a number of social influences that are bringing a narcissitic type of personality organization into greater and greater prominence. Another such influence is the mechanical reproduction of culture, the proliferation of visual and audial images in the "society of the spectacle"...Modern life is so thoroughly mediated by electronic images that we cannot help responding to others as if their actions--and our own--were being recorded and simultaneously transmitted to an unseen audience or stored up for close scrutiny at some later time...We need no reminder to smile. A smile is permanently graven on our features, and we already know from which of several angles it photographs to best advantage... The new ideal of success has no content. "Performance means to arrive," says Jennings. Success equals success. Note the convergence between success in business and celebrity in politics or the world of entertainment, which also depends on "visibility" and "charisma" and can only be defined as itself. The only important attribute of celebrity is that it is celebrated; no one can say why. pp. 46-47

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Regarding sheds

Submitted: Feb 18, 2008

A number of years ago a state forester was interviewed concerning changes in the culture of his agency following the passage of the Endangered Species Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and kindred legislation regarding the forests. He said, "I knew I was in a different world when bureaucrats started talking about 'viewsheds.'"

The term 'viewshed' indicated that the public had made the aesthetic pleasure of looking at a stretch of forest unblemished by clearcuts a value in the resource bureaucracy by the late 1970's, not just a conservationist howl to the moon. The term, 'watershed,' is older:

"line separating waters flowing into different rivers," 1803, from water + shed. A loan-translation of Ger. Wasser-scheide. Fig. sense is attested from 1878. Meaning "ground of a river system" is from 1878.

Yesterday, in a meeting in Los Banos concerning funding for local management efforts in the state's many watersheds, an interesting conversation broke out regarding the state of San Joaquin Valley agriculture and its future. The vision put forth by a Merced County planning commissioner favored organic agriculture (the commissioner owns an organic farm) and local food system (the commissioner is also a boardmember of organizations advancing this vision).

A member of the group without vision put forth the view that the Valley could probably feed itself on about a third of the farmland now in cultivation but that the problem a planning commissioner ought to be "envisioning" is what will happen to the remaining two-thirds of the farm and ranch land, the economy of which -- as is certainly the case with the county's almond industry -- is based on large-scale exportation. Export-led growth, to eastern US markets and expanding to international markets has been the basis for the Valley's agricultural economy since the early years of the last century and the cropping pattern remains largely the same, although the populations of county seats and some of the other hamlets of that period have swollen enormously. The visionless viewpoint was also advanced that if the same amount of acreage in production today in the same crops, in the same concentration, attracting the same swarms of pests specific to those crops, were converted to organic orchards and rowcrops, it would do very little but destroy the organic market and many of the growers engaged in it. One also wondered silently how long it would be before "organic" pesticide regulations were relaxed to include pesticides perhaps not quite as organic as they were purported by their manufacturers to be.

The vision quest for consensus-based environmental reform through analyses that change from year to year, mirroring environmental disintegration, seems to some to be not a very serious enterprise.

At this point, the planning commissioner, demonstrating leadership skills, put a new term on the table, 'foodshed.' The purpose of this bit of jargon du moment seemed to be to return the conversation to watersheds, and grants for watershed coordinators, another of which the commissioner is writing to fund her valuable political work of going to more meetings where she will learn yet more vital analytical tools like the term, foodshed.

Fleeing the mindless Jargon Monster, another participant tried to address the problem of how to treat the land retired from farming so that the Valley will only grow enough food to feed itself -- and organically! Will it all go to housing?

Or should much of the retired land be preserved as open space, restored to wildlife habitat, provide better and cleaner groundwater recharge? it was asked. Later, it was recalled that on the west side at least, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of land that should be retired because they are full of toxic heavy metals as the result of totally reckless, resource-destroying irrigation, and that it would be hard to restore it to livable wildlife habitat. Facilitators returned the meeting to the topic of watersheds and whether the state should reinvest in watershed coordinator programs on the Merced River watershed.

Some in the room advanced the idea that the state agencies ought to spend the money on their own staffs to inventory and map the amount of land already in state easements through the State Lands Commission among other agencies and enforce existing laws and regulations rather than fund watershed coordinators who broker rather than share information concerning the Merced River watershed for their own financial gain. In other words, the evidence is in that these Reaganesque localizing, privatizing programs merely induce an annual grant-writing feeding frenzy inherently corrupting in local publics because the regulation of natural resources is properly and adequately only as a state function. Local publics ought to be monitoring state and federal governments to do their job in their areas. If it is necessary to go around elected officials in the pockets of finance, insurance and real estate special interests who pressure resource agencies, then it should be done. That is a function the public can do better than it can manage watersheds under the legal jurisdiction of state and federal resource agencies and the mandate of the Public Trust Doctrine.

Driving home from the meeting, through field after field in early preparation for another crop of cotton, participants realized they were driving through a 'fibershed,'interrupted occasionally by various 'cowsheds,' 'poultrysheds' and possibly one 'goatshed.'

Returning the next day to the problem -- What would happen to all the farm and ranch land retired if the Valley should swing away from export-led growth to a local food supply? -- another idea occurred to participants of the stimulating meeting in Los Banos: Why not speciessheds?

What about a vernalpoolshed? A San Joaquinkitfoxshed? A Californiatigersalamandershed? Why not a mangycoyoteshed? Despite a great deal of government policy to the contrary, empirical evidence suggests that wildlife species require wildlife habitat, in fact a good description of a speciesshed would be the natural habitat required by that species in order to live, have a home in the world.

So, now when one looks at a field of seasonal pasture containing vernal pools, cows, coyotes and other wildlife species, one knows he is actually looking at a multi-speciesshed, not a cattle ranch. And as the urban resident gazes across the street from his door, he realizes that he is observing an 'alleycatshed.' Downtown, one realizes he is looking at a 'decayingurbancentershed.' When observing the many half-finished new subdivisions that ring this town, one realizes he is looking at 'foreclosuresheds.'

Leaders like the planning commissioner, superbly trained by the Great Valley Center/UC Merced leadership programs, are constantly bringing us valuable new analytical tools like this, language that will permit our vision to soar and transcend reality, the present, the past and the future. so that we, too, may glide far above this 'littlebluemarbleshed' in a beautiful "Bullship."

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Sonny Star, the Gigolo Press, still claiming it got it right on RMP

Submitted: Feb 16, 2008

The Merced Sun-Star missed, mangled and mutilated the Riverside Motorsparts Pork story so badly in alliance with its advertisers bent on stupefying its readers that it still doesn't get it after all this time: Condren and the County changed the zoning on the land to give the planning department and whoever ends up with it almost unlimited powers to develop it as they please. Without that chunk of private property adjacent to the former Castle Air Force Base, now under County control, the base project cannot get foreign trade zone status. And without that status, many local rice bowls will be broken. Condren has a thousand acres to sell under the most permissible zoning available, regardless of the outcome of the CEQA case.

But, for Sonny Star, a new ensemble for another spring makes all last year's bad go away.

The Merced Sun-Star got exactly one story right throughout the approval process for Riverside Motorsports Park: a relatively small one about how approval for the track project hinged on the Merced County Board of Supervisors overriding the Castle Airport Land Commission's refusal to shrink the safety zone on the airport sufficiently so that on paper it would be "safe" to send planes into the Castle strip over the race track. This story evidently caused so much consternation in the chambers of commerce among those "decent" investors that the actual hearing on the override, Sonny Star showed up in force -- two reporters plus the managing editor. The result was a story that added to public confusion.

All the while, RMP was buying those inserts, the greatest campaign to bribe Sonny Star since UC Merced.

Sonny Star, Cameron does not say, endorsed the RMP project.

However, after the approval and Condren stiffed his local investors, Sonny Star printed all kinds of nasty rumors about him in a hit job rivalling the one they did on former DA Gordon Spenser. In both cases Sonny got all the news except any actual indictment, and in Condren's case, all the news came mysteriously after the supervisors had approved the project. In this regard, Sonny's coverage had as much political impact as Supervisor Diedre Kelsey's ex post facto "town hall meetings," which she conducted as if they had the force of public hearings on the project, when they did not.

Also, during the build-up to the project approval, Sonny steadily ignored or bashed opponents of the track, adopting an attitude toward the project as critical and illuminated as that of Carl Pollard, a Merced City councilman at the time, who mumbled things about "jobs" before the supervisors and planning commissioners from time to time.

"Trusting gang of county supervisors"? Badlands published a memo from Condren written over a year before project approval bragging about having four of the five in his pocket already.

"Decent bunch of racing enthusiasts"? While one of those blameless civic leaders, Kenny Shepherd, was managing RMP's Altamont Speedway, a local resident who opposed the reopening of that track was buzzed by helicopters while the project CUP was violated so many times that even the lords of Alameda County government, who frequently forget that that county's line extend over Altamont Pass, were moved to punitive action as residents sued.

The only mistake Condren seems to have made in his long con on Merced County and local investors was in his choice of lawyers, the bloviating Tim Taylor in the lead, whose reply brief in superior court boiled down to a lecture to the San Joaquin Superior Court judge appointed to hear the case: "Now dear," he seemed to say, "we all know that CEQA exists, but you and I know it doesn't really matter, don't we." Taylor and his associate on the RMP case left the firm now suing Condren, and left them holding a $150,000 bill. Presumably his lawyers are holding a million or two of shares in RMP. We have not heard yet from the managing partners in Taylor's new law firm.

Condren and Sonny Star both allege that the credit crisis is making it difficult to impossible for him to raise the necessary funds to build the track. This raises the question of the congressional district in which the project is located, represented by Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, which remains very close to having the highest mortgage foreclosure rate in the nation (second only to Detroit at the moment, according to the lastest reports). Cardoza's political philosophy boils down to: "This office does not get involved in local affairs (although his office is located on the third floor of the County Administration building) except when it comes to making three attempts to gut the Endangered Species Act on behalf of my friends in finance, insurance and real estate." It is a very dubious proposition that Condren didn't see something like the credit crisis coming. The financial press was full of warnings as early as 2006 and Condren's intelligence is not as corrupted as either Cardoza's or Sonny Star's.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Merced Sun-Star
Condren caught sitting on his last limb...Steve Cameron
...A member of Condren's original investment group -- a decent bunch of racing enthusiasts who lost every penny and then were dumped from RMP entirely -- recalled something Condren confided in them quite early in this miserable affair.
"Merced County is the perfect place for the project," Condren told them, "because it's poor, they're hungry for any big new idea and they're dumb enough to approve anything."
Sadly, Condren's cruel analysis was correct, at least in part.
RMP did sail past a trusting gang of county supervisors who should have done a whole lot more homework.
He also found a lot of honest, hopeful Merced County business folk to rally around him -- promising the moon but later failing even to pay his bills.
It's ironic that Condren, who has masked so much of his business in a blizzard of confusing documents and legal mumbo-jumbo, now finds his ultimate exit speeded up by a group of angry attorneys.
Talk about justice with a smirk. This is it.
One of the first rules of the free-market jungle is never forgetting to pay your lawyers.
But our boy John did it, signing a promissory note for $147,000 to clear up his bills with the firm of Somach, Simmons & Dunn.
When he couldn't or didn't come up with the money, they sued...

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