Economy

Memoir of the neighborhood Crying Man: Reflection on the Girl Blog from Iraq

Submitted: Aug 21, 2006

... Are the lives of Arabs worth so little?

... And the world wonders how ‘terrorists’ are created! A 15-year-old Lebanese girl lost five of her siblings and her parents and home in the Qana bombing… Ehud Olmert might as well kill her now because if he thinks she’s going to grow up with anything but hate in her heart towards him and everything he represents, then he’s delusional.

Is this whole debacle the fine line between terrorism and protecting ones nation? If it’s
a militia, insurgent or military resistance- then it’s terrorism (unless of course the
militia, insurgent(s) and/or resistance are being funded exclusively by the CIA). If it’s
the Israeli, American or British army, then it’s a pre-emptive strike, or a ‘war on
terror’. No matter the loss of hundreds of innocent lives. No matter the children who died
last night- they’re only Arabs, after all, right?

Right?

-- July 30l 2006, Baghdad Burning, "I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend..." Girl Blog from Iraq... let's talk war, politics and occupation.
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There was a man in our neighborhood in San Francisco in the mid-1970s, who cried all day long, openly, quietly, with no other manifestation of mal-adaption but poverty. I assume he slept in our neighborhood park, fairly safely, in the lee of our cathedral.

The neighborhood was popular with tourists from around the world and the mafia kept the streets fairly crime-free for the sake of the restaurant trade. Eventually, the lords of our neighborhood, who had tolerated the crying man among a number of docile street people, granted him a job bussing tables at a coffee shop. I noticed one day in 1979, watching him clearing cups and plates off tables, that his tears had diminished to sniffles. I felt a slight tremor of alarm, but reflected that extreme collective grief cannot be indefinitely maintained, and left the coffee shop to go try to make some money.

But, there was a time, 1975, when he cried for all of us. It was such a time that many of us knew he cried for all the grief over Vietnam and America.

In our neighborhood, however, we had Chinese immigrant people so wracked and ruined by war they babbled and gnashed their teeth out in front of God and everybody. Ours was a picturesque neighborhood but not without its sorrows. Who could forget the earnest Chinese evangelist preaching on the traffic island at our busiest intersection? We were a neighborhood, adored by tourists, yet full of incomprehensible speech and futile gestures.

The Crying Man was as simple as a patient of Jesus. He was the answer to the question asked in the Gospel of St. Mark: Where is the salt? He leaked it. He donated it to the neighborhood. It was his rent check and security deposit.

One analysis of present times is that the Americans sought empire too late in the game. The formerly colonized cut off that avenue for the expansion of power. During the Cold War we could see it all as a vast thriller by Greene, Ambler or Le Carre. After that, America declared the "end of history," and dissolved back into nuclear-armed, oblivious adolescence.

“The Americans have gone mad again,” John Le Carre noted in 2003.

A society that has replaced the knowledge of 30 years ago that “what goes around comes around,” with the arrogant corporate slang that “shit happens,” is actually brain dead.

Right?

Even a spider plunging into the void creates a strand of web behind it. This administration plunged us into a void, leaving behind a trail of nothing but destruction and corruption.

But, wait! Something lurks in the void, more terrifying than this void of corporate nihilism itself: slow moving, society-ruining economic and political consequences.

How do Americans benefit from this fascist plutocracy? How will Americans get rid of it? If we succeed, what then?

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

http://www.counterpunch.com/roberts08212006.html
August 21 , 2006
Will the Unemployed Become Cannon Fodder for Bush's Wars?
Artificial Recovery; Real Job Losses
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
…The July report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 113,000 new jobs, all of which are in services.“Leisure and hospitality” accounted for 42,000 jobs, most of which are waitresses and bar tenders. “Education and health services” accounted for 24,000 jobs.
“Professional and business services” accounted for 43,000. Manufacturing lost another 15,000 jobs. In the US today, government employs 7.7 million more people than does manufacturing. Little wonder we have an $800 billion annual trade deficit when the government sector is larger than the manufacturing sector. American economists are yet to face up to the fact that offshoring high productivity, high value-added jobs that pay well and replacing them with waitresses and bartenders is a knife in the heart of the US economy. Charles W. McMillion of MBG Information Services reports that compensation is falling behind price rises and that the US economy has been kept afloat by consumers overspending their disposable incomes by drawing down their accumulated assets and going deeper into debt.
McMillion reports that according the Bureau of Economic Affairs, households outspent their disposable incomes by 1.5% in the second quarter of this year, a rate of dissaving equaled only by the depression year of 1933 … What kind of economic recovery is it when the purchasing power of wages falls instead of rises?
In my opinion, the recovery was artificial. It was based on extremely low interest rates orchestrated by the Federal Reserve. The low interest rates discouraged saving, but the low rates reduced the mortgage cost of real estate, inflated home prices and encouraged consumers to refinance their homes and to spend the equity. The federal government has been overspending its income also, and has wasted a minimum of $300 billion on an illegal, pointless, and lost war that has turned Iraq into a terror zone … Considering the loss of good jobs, the high debt burden, and the dependence on imports, it is unclear what will enable America to pull herself out of the next recession.
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http://blog.aflcio.org/2006/08/21/minimum-wage-%e2%80%98take-this-pay-and-shove-it%e2%80%99/
Minimum Wage: ‘Take This Pay and Shove It’
Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the last time the federal minimum wage was raised. The 10 long years minimum wage workers have earned just $5.15 an hour shows the “skewed priorities” of the Republican-controlled Congress, writes AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on The Hill, the blog recently launched by the influential congressional insider newspaper The Hill.
Says Sweeney in the Aug. 20 post:
If ever an issue clearly showed the skewed priorities of this Congress’ leadership, it’s the minimum wage. Two weeks ago the Senate rightly rejected a cynical ploy by Republican leadership to poison the current minimum wage increase with yet more massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans…
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http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0820-23.htm
Published on Sunday, August 20, 2006 by the New York Times
Five Years After 9/11, Fear Finally Strikes Out
by Frank Rich
The results are in for the White House’s latest effort to exploit terrorism for political gain: the era of Americans’ fearing fear itself is over.
In each poll released since the foiling of the trans-Atlantic terror plot — Gallup, Newsweek, CBS, Zogby, Pew — George W. Bush’s approval rating remains stuck in the 30’s, just as it has been with little letup in the year since Katrina stripped the last remaining fig leaf of credibility from his presidency. While the new Middle East promised by Condi Rice remains a delusion, the death rattle of the domestic political order we’ve lived with since 9/11 can be found everywhere: in Americans’ unhysterical reaction to the terror plot, in politicians’ and pundits’ hysterical overreaction to Joe Lieberman’s defeat in Connecticut, even in the ho-hum box-office reaction to Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center.” … The administration’s constant refrain that Iraq is the “central front” in the war on terror is not only false but has now also backfired politically: only 9 percent in the CBS poll felt that our involvement in Iraq was helping decrease terrorism. As its fifth anniversary arrives, 9/11 itself has been dwarfed by the mayhem in Iraq, where more civilians are now killed per month than died in the attack on America … We look at Mr. Chertoff and still see the man who couldn’t figure out what was happening in New Orleans when the catastrophe was being broadcast in real time on television …Dick Cheney’s credibility is also nil: he will always be the man who told us that Iraqis would greet our troops as liberators and that the insurgency was in its last throes in May 2005. His latest and predictable effort to exploit terrorism for election-year fear-mongering — arguing that Ned Lamont’s dissent on Iraq gave comfort to “Al Qaeda types” — has no traction because the public has long since untangled the administration’s bogus linkage between the Iraq war and Al Qaeda. That’s why, of all the poll findings last week, the most revealing was one in the CBS survey: While the percentage of Americans who chose terrorism as our “most important problem” increased in the immediate aftermath of the London plot, terrorism still came in second, at only 17 percent, to Iraq, at 28 percent … What Republicans really see in Mr. Lieberman’s loss is not a defeat in the war on terror but the specter of their own defeat. Mr. Lamont is but a passing embodiment of a fixed truth: most Americans think the war in Iraq was a mistake and want some plan for a measured withdrawal. That truth would prevail even had Mr. Lamont lost. … As the election campaign quickens, genuine nightmares may well usurp the last gasps of Rovian fear-based politics. It’s hard to ignore the tragic reality that American troops are caught in the cross-fire of a sectarian bloodbath escalating daily, that botched American policy has strengthened Iran and Hezbollah and undermined Israel, and that our Department of Homeland Security is as ill-equipped now to prevent explosives (liquid or otherwise) in cargo as it was on 9/11. For those who’ve presided over this debacle and must face the voters in November, this is far scarier stuff than a foiled terrorist cell, nasty bloggers and Ned Lamont combined.
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http://politics.guardian.co.uk/conservatives/story/0,,1855568,00.html
Tories open nine-point lead as Labour drops to 19-year low
Julian Glover
Tuesday August 22, 2006
The Guardian
David Cameron is on course for a possible general election win, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today that shows support for the Conservatives climbing to a lead that could give them a narrow majority in the Commons, while Labour has plunged to a 19-year low.
The Tories have gained over the last month while support for Labour has fallen heavily in the wake of the recent alleged terror plot against airlines. An overwhelming majority of voters appear to pin part of the blame for the increased threat on Tony Blair's policy of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ministers - including Mr Blair - have repeatedly denied that there is a connection. But 72%, including 65% of Labour voters, think government policy has made Britain more of a target for terrorists. Only 1% of voters believe the government's foreign policy has made Britain safer, a devastating finding given that action in Iraq and Afghanistan has been justified in part to defeat Islamist terrorism.
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http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0820-30.htm
Amateur Warlords
Bush, Cheney, Blair - and now Olmert - have demonstrated they have no grasp of military affairs
by Eric Margolis
Toronto Sun (Canada) -- Aug. 20, 2006
For a leader who styles himself "the war president," U.S. Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush's military record now stands at 0 for 4. Even Italy's born-again "imperial Roman conqueror," Benito Mussolini, fared better.
- Fiasco I: Five years after Bush ordered Afghanistan invaded and proclaimed "total victory," U.S. and allied forces are fighting a losing war against Afghan resistance groups. Afghan heroin exports are up 90%. The U.S. just quietly deployed thousands more troops to Afghanistan to hunt Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in a desperate attempt to save Republicans from getting clobbered in November midterm elections.
- Fiasco II: "Mission accomplished" in Iraq. Bush's war in Iraq is clearly lost, but few dare admit it. The U.S. has spent $300 billion on Afghanistan and Iraq, with nothing to show but bloody chaos, deficits, body bags, and growing hatred of America. The Bush/Dick Cheney "liberation" of Iraq has now cost more than the Vietnam War.
- Fiasco III: The White House had the CIA and Pentagon spend tens of millions bribing Somali warlords to fight Islamist reformers trying to bring law and order to their strife-ravaged nation. The Islamists whipped CIA-backed warlords and ran them out of Somalia. Following this defeat, the U.S. is now urging ally Ethiopia -- shades of Lebanon -- to invade Somalia, thus raising the threat of a wider war between Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Good work, Mr. President.
- Fiasco IV: Bush and Vice President Cheney egged Israel into the hugely destructive but militarily fruitless war in Lebanon over the past month, in what many view as the first part of their long-nurtured plan to militarily crush Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. They did their best to thwart world efforts to halt the conflict …
No sooner had bombing stopped last week than Hezbollah bulldozers were busy clearing rubble, and Hezbollah social workers resettling refugees. Perhaps Bush should ask Hezbollah to take over rebuilding New Orleans … The "war president" has become the fiasco president. The White House should stop listening to bogus military advice from neocon couch commandos who thirst for Muslim blood, and start listening to experienced Pentagon officers who understand the meaning and cost of war.

| »

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN!

Submitted: Aug 14, 2006

Members of the San Joaquin Valley public would like to invite you to the first annual UC Pombozastan Pot Luck.

We’ve got the barrel; you bring the pork.

Public/private partnerships get preferential picnic tables behind gated, straw-bale walls, just like they did it at the old-time Condit Country extravaganzas.

The Valley public would like to invite you all to Merced to help us get this UC Merced 900-acre expansion past them damn federal environmental regulators. Our largest developer, the University of California Board of Regents, is having trouble getting a pesky little Clean Water Act permit out of the Army Corps of Engineers so they can build on land in a ESA designated critical habitat area containing the richest fields in the state of vernal pools, environment for 15 endangered species of flora and fauna, for which one cannot help but think a responsible, institution of public higher education would have secured a permit before commencing construction. The UC Regents are at least not supposed to be typical California fly-by-night developers.

But, who cares? COME ON DOWN! Bring the People’s Money, we’ll run it through UC and it will pick up your tab. Stay anywhere, pay as much as you want for breakfast, lunch and dinner, rent only the most expensive cars – if you need further instructions we can refer you to UC consultants, who can teach you also how to add that absolutely mandatory 10-20 percent on every expense chit.

COME ON DOWN and see UC Merced, which the last state Senate Pro Tem called the “biggest boondoggle ever.” – New campus still faces obstacles, William Trombley, Spring 2004, National CrossTalk, a publication of National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, http://www.highereducation.org/crosstalk/ct0204/news0204-obstacles.shtml

"I don't know why anyone would be surprised," said Patrick Callan, president of the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which has offices in San Jose and Washington, D.C. "It was just the wrong campus in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was pork-barrel politics and institutional arrogance that led us to this. There was a belief at UC that you could just hang a UC shingle out and that would attract students."

-- Merced: Some students at brand-new UC campus say they want out, Tanya Schevitz, San Francisco Chronicle, July 17, 2006, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/17/BAGOLK0B6M1.DTL

And, hey, be sure to bring the People’s Money with you, because UC Merced wants all of it. UC’s talented team of tax-paid flaks and lobbyists can give you all the details. The effort will no doubt be headed by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. Surely, you know the Shrimp Slayer – he’s the guy who’s making Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy’s war against the Endangered Species Act “bipartisan,” on behalf of a few developers, large landowners, financial institutions and realtors in their adjoining districts. Down here we call them the “Pomboza.”

WASHINGTON — ... On Tuesday, Cardoza and Pombo split roughly $50,000 raised at a bipartisan fund-raiser sponsored by prominent developer Greenlaw "Fritz" Grupe. Grupe is active in both San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, with subdivisions underway in Modesto, Turlock, Hughson, Waterford and Stockton.
Grupe also favors the kind of collaborative work Cardoza and Pombo have done on the Endangered Species Act and other issues. While agreeing the joint fund-raiser held at the developer's Lodi ranch was "rather unique," Cardoza said it sent the right kind of signal.
"Frankly, if we cooperated more aggressively, we would all be better off," Cardoza said.

--Valley political bonds strong, Oakland Tribune, Apr 1, 2005 by Michael Doyle, MODESTO BEE http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20050401/ai_n14615689

What Cardoza calls aggressive cooperation, we call the Pombozation of the San Joaquin Valley.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN and watch Pombo and Cardoza pombozate the West’s federal resource agencies.

COME ON DOWN and bring us the People’s Money. We don’t have enough of it. You’ve no doubt read the Congressional report about how the San Joaquin Valley is poorer in some ways than Appalachia. We appreciate our subsidized water, our subsidized cotton, dairy and cattle industries, and all the health and human services aid you’ve been sending. But we need more of it, more and more and more of it. We can’t make it without more and more of the People’s Money down here in Pombozastan, the former San Joaquin Valley. And if we don’t get it, we’re going to pave over the largest, richest agricultural valley in the West.

So there!

COME ON DOWN!

Listen to the UC Merced Chancellor (until she quits at the end of the month)! We need a UC Merced research medical school down here to specialize in respiratory illnesses, cancer clusters, pesticide related diseases, diseases related to contaminated ground water, drug addictions, rural mental illnesses and disorders arising from bovine flatulence here in the epicenter of the dairy industry in the nation’s top dairy state. Pledge the People’s Money to build out UC Merced, which will stimulate a tremendous amount of growth because it will be the anchor tenant for development down the east side of the Valley from Sacramento to Kern counties along a planned eastside Highway 65 and an Eastside Canal.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN and help replace Valley life with mega-dairy subdivisions-in-waiting and slurbocracy. And while you’re at it, explain why you’re doing it, because we really don’t know and the Pomboza won’t tell. Nevertheless, Cardoza provides thoughtful continuity for the slurbocracy from his top floor offices in the Merced County Administration Building.

COME ON DOWN! We know this all sounds a little grim, but we want to assure you that the Valley is a really funny place. We’ve got comedians galore here in Merced. Consider the UC Chancellor Until the End of the Month, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, for example. She had the whole Valley rolling on the floor in helpless mirth this week, when she told the McClatchy chain reporter:

"I needed to make (congressmen) aware that this is the beginning of the process," Tomlinson-Keasey said. "People speak out all the time and say their opinion, (but) I have talked with the Corps, and they have assured me they will play by the rules."

Choking back life-threatening guffaws, members of the public asked: “What rules could she possibly be talking about?”

Surely, she could not be talking about local, state or federal environmental law and regulation. Beyond urging the Pomboza onward to alter it to suit UC’s needs in eastern Merced County, she has no tolerance for it.

Surely, she could not be talking about the rules of good taste, whose university campus sponsors a yearly Fairy Shrimp Festival, hosted in its inaugural year by the unemployable son of a recently ousted provost.

Surely, she could not be talking about those rules of candor said to govern testimony before legislative committees.

Surely, she could not be talking about regulations governing the rehabilitation of wildlife, when she purloined a bobcat for the UC Merced mascot that should have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

Surely, she must be speaking about the UC RULE: UC is sovereign and gets what it wants.

Another great Merced comedian is the businessman Mr. UC Merced, Bob Carpenter, who appeared in the pages of the Los Angeles Times this morning:

So why didn't the university secure permission to build the entire campus before beginning work? "It's easy to criticize after the fact," said Bob Carpenter, a Merced resident who has helped with university planning for 18 years. "But you could argue that if you wait until all the I's are dotted and all the Ts are crossed, probably no projects would ever get done."

But then, the chancellor, not to be trumped in the comedy game by a mere UC Merced booster, even if Carpenter could be called, justly, The UC Merced Booster, concludes:

She expects the Merced campus to infuse the area with a smart-growth population and jobs. "We're contributing enormously to the community."
"We believe we deserve an Olympic gold medal, and not have every bump being foreseen as some Mt. Everest to climb."

An Olympic gold medal, some would say, requires a sports team of some sort. The UCM Golden Bobcats are undefeated so far, but they remain in smoky backrooms rather than taking the field in any sport in which they would have to play by any rules other than their own.

UC built the first phase of the Merced campus without getting a Clean Water Act permit. They spent millions in state public funds on conservation easements to mitigate for wetlands habitat, as the result of backroom deals in the state Capitol between the governor, congressmen, state legislators vying to see who was the Biggest Mr. UC Merced of them all, state and federal resource agency officials, The Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society and other prominent state and national level environmental sluts. Yet, today, when federal agencies look at these easements, they discover many of them aren’t on the right land and have no financial mechanism for monitoring. In some cases, landowners are under the impression they can take millions in public funds for easements yet refuse to let resource officials on the land to monitor the condition of the natural habitat.

COME ON DOWN! The pombozated federal resource agencies are holding a raffle on our remaining natural resources, wildlife habitat and wetlands – piece by fragmented piece.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN! Watch the Developer Dutch Auction on San Joaquin Valley land-use planning.

COME ON DOWN! Watch the sales-tax increase sweepstakes so that the Valley can match funds with the federal government on new freeways, highways and loop roads to stimulate even more growth, as the rural county roads crumble before your eyes. Come on down and watch them fill the potholes in front of the Merced County Association of Governments office!

COME ON DOWN and learn the mystical process of making plans to make plans to make plans to make plans and get public funds to do it.

COME ON DOWN and listen to some whoppers about the Merced County water supply plan, which ain’t, but they all say it is.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN and observe, first hand, the latest design in up-scale yuppie labor camps – zero lot lines, no yards, parks and play areas closer to the freeway than to the home. Watch childhood asthma develop before your very eyes as you are stalled in freeway traffic.

COME ON DOWN and join the fun, if you want to play by the rules UC, the Pomboza, the developers and our wise, far-seeing local governments make up as they go along for the benefit of themselves and their families.

COME ON DOWN! We got a lake to sell you full of Anglo rowing teams.

COME ON DOWN! Maybe you can be an early student in UC Merced’s Coelho Institute of Honest Graft (and public policy), or the McClatchy/Singleton School of Conglomerate Media Management, or study the nanotechnology of nuclear weapons triggers. If you’re lucky and everything goes right, you might get a joint appointment with UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to study Ebola and Anthrax in a genuine safety level 4 biowarfare lab.

COME ON DOWN TO POMBOZASTAN!

We got the barrel; you bring the pork.

Badlands editorial staff
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Notes:

Los Angeles Times
Wetlands give UC Merced growing pains...Tanya Caldwell
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-merced13aug13,1,7214931,print.story
University of California Merced - which cost more than $500 million and took nearly 20 years to plan - still lacks federal permission to build on wetlands near the fledgling campus. UC Merced is developing 105 acres as part of Phase I of the campus and plans to build Phase II on 805 adjoining acres it purchased near Lake Yosemite...that second parcel includes 86 acres of federally protected wetlands. Now, university officials are hoping for an environmental permit to destroy the vernal pools on those wetlands and build, among other things, institutes to study the environment and energy. So why didn't the university secure permission to build the entire campus before beginning work? "It's easy to criticize after the fact," said Bob Carpenter, a Merced resident who has helped with university planning for 18 years. "But you could argue that if you wait until all the I's are dotted and all the Ts are crossed, probably no projects would ever get done." That's true especially in the era of the federal Clean Water Act, which demands permits before wetlands can be destroyed, said UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. "I think we've shown that this is a very reasonable site." The Corps released - and then swiftly rescinded - a draft environmental impact statement detailing concerns about losing the vernal pools. Corps officials said the draft was incomplete and had been released prematurely. They expect to issue an official draft in a few months. But the draft has already created a buzz in Merced, where the Merced Sun-Star and Fresno Bee ran stories July 29 in which a Corps official said a permit for the university's preferred expansion plan "will not likely be granted." Kevin Roukey, the Corps' senior project manager...quoted in the Sun-Star...the site's vernal pools have "basically been determined to be the best in the state, and maybe even the country." Some local environmentalists, such as Carol Witham, have threatened to sue if the Corps grants the permit despite what she calls the university's "flagrant disregard for federally protected land." "They assumed that by having the campus there, that they can force their way into building the rest of the site," Witham, founder of the website vernalpools.org, said of university officials. "We advised them early on that they should've done all of their permits ahead of time. They're essentially gambling with the taxpayers' money." Saturday - the chancellor released a statement saying that Roukey's evaluations "represent the personal opinions of a single individual" and don't foretell the Corps' final decision. Corps officials later agreed and said it was too early to predict what would happen at UC Merced. They added that concerns found in the report wouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker for the university's proposals. For years, the chancellor said, the Central Valley has been "underserved." She expects the Merced campus to infuse the area with a smart-growth population and jobs. "We're contributing enormously to the community."
"We believe we deserve an Olympic gold medal, and not have every bump being foreseen as some Mt. Everest to climb."

Sacramento Bee
Comments...Pressure's on for UC campus expansion
http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/nation/story/14292794p-15132061c.html
Should have located it at Castle...blindman at 3:37 PM PST Friday, August 11, 2006 wrote:
The infrastructure for a new community exists near Merced - it's the abandoned Castle AFB. As usual, UC administrators demostrate that those in ivory towers have little practical sense. A castle location would have been cheaper, and demostrated better overall stewardship of open space.

Stockton Record
Let's get serious...Editorial
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20060813&Category=OPED01&ArtNo=608130306&SectionCat=&Template=printart
More Californians are classified as being poor than at any time in the state's history. Only the Great Depression of the 1930s compares. One of every two public-school students is from a family that qualifies for federal aid. That's a staggering 50 percent. Poverty isn't an ethnic problem. It knows no skin color. It's not confined by geography. People can't build enough gated communities. Poverty crosses every line and creeps into every area of life. Those mired in poverty struggle through each day trying just to survive, unable to do anything meaningful to elevate themselves or their families. Too many leaders...consider progress to be more houses and businesses without adequately accounting for a deterioration in the quality of life for those unable to participate fully in that growth. Obviously, it's difficult to develop a truly meaningful blueprint for change, but we have to try. It's even harder to convince the comfortable and affluent that breaking the cycle of poverty is in their best interest, too. If we don't, an ever-widening gap between rich and poor will reshape California and San Joaquin County in regrettable and regressive ways.

Inside Bay Area
UC, lab, want to build huge biodefense lab...Ian Hoffman
http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_4176406
On rolling, grassy hills between the Bay Area's cities and the farms of the Central Valley, the University of California and scientists of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory see a sprawling biodefense lab as large as two Wal-Mart Supercenters. The University of California and Lawrence Livermore lab are proposing construction in the middle of the lab's Site 300, a once-remote explosives testing area. University officials have rounded up endorsements from the mayor of Livermore to U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, and from the state Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura to the California cattlemen's and poultry associations. Much of the new lab would operate at Biosafety Level 3, a category of biocontainment used for plague and tularemia. But some of the lab, perhaps a fifth or more, would operate at Biosafety Level 4, the highest level of biocontainment. BSL4 is reserved for diseases having no known vaccine such as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, foot and mouth disease or avian flu and requiring researchers to wear "moonsuits" inside airlocked labs. Federal officials have not elaborated on exactly which microorganisms would be studied in the new lab and the degree to which those germs would be modified. The university rejected a request by Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment, a Livermore lab watchdog group, for a copy of its proposal. Twenty-nine teams, mostly led by U.S. universities, leaped to make proposals. On Wednesday, the Homeland Security Department narrowed the list to 18 teams in 11 states. A smaller list of semi-finalists will be visited by federal officials in October, and the finalists will be evaluated in a full, environmental impact study over the next year, with a final decision in July 2008 and operations in 2013.

Santa Cruz Sentinel
Tensions mount over USCS growth...Shanna McCord
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2006/August/13/local/stories/01local.htm
The battle to stop UC Santa Cruz from expanding student enrollment by nearly 50 percent to 21,000 in the next 15 years, along with 2,000 new faculty and staff members, came to a head this week. The University of California threatened to sue the city unless two measures were pulled off the November ballot that seek to stop growth identified in the long-range development plan without UCSC paying its share of impacts on city services such as water, housing and transportation. Almost in the same breath, UC last week offered the city a proposal if the ballot measures were halted. Details of the proposal were not released publicly. The City Council, during a special closed-session meeting Wednesday, unanimously rejected the University of California's proposal and agreed to move forward with the ballot measures even if that means a lawsuit looms. It won't be known exactly how much the city is seeking from UCSC for mitigation costs until a final environmental impact report for the long-range development plan is certified. Since UCSC's long-range development plan of 1988 was written, the university has paid the city roughly $1.2 million to help cover off-campus impacts on infrastructure, including water pump upgrades, a new traffic signal, new turn lane and widening Mission Street. Looking at UCSC's projected water use in the future shows increased demand of 500,000 gallons a day, bringing total daily use at the campus to 2.5 million gallons, which Kocher says the city doesn't have the capacity to provide. To meet the increased water demand, Kocher said UCSC would be forced to rely on the proposed $40 million desalination plant. The additional 500,000 gallons a day for UCSC represents about one-fifth of the desalination plant's estimated capacity, which Kocher said would mean the university should contribute one-fifth of the cost - $8 million - toward its construction and operation. City and county leaders won confidence that the Santa Cruz ballot measures would be less at risk of drawing a lawsuit after the state Supreme Court recently ruled that California State University can't skirt its obligation to pay for off-campus impacts associated with growth.

8-10-06
Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced seeks aid of lawmakers. University looks to Congress to allow expansion plans...Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12569266p-13279371c.html
WASHINGTON -- UC Merced advocates are turning the political dials to avoid permit problems with the Army Corps of Engineers...university's chancellor is calling members of Congress. Lawmakers are leaning on the Corps...all in hopes of salvaging a 900-acre expansion plan favored by the university. "This project is too important to face setbacks over communication," Jennifer Walsh, chief of staff for Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced... The joint university and congressional maneuvering follows a warning - since disputed - that UC Merced's preferred expansion plan probably won't get a permit... Tomlinson-Keasey stressed that Roukey's comments should be considered personal and not a foreshadowing of the final Corps decision. "I needed to make (congressmen) aware that this is the beginning of the process." "People speak out all the time and say their opinion, (but) I have talked with the Corps, and they have assured me they will play by the rules." One San Joaquin Valley congressional tactic now is to ensure that officials more senior than Roukey are engaged in the project, one congressional staffer explained. This entails enlisting officials both at Corps headquarters in Washington and California. "Political pressure has driven a lot of this project from the start," said Carol Witham, founder of the Sacramento-based organization called VernalPools.org. "The draft as originally written would not have withstood a legal test,..."but I think they were under pressure by the university." The university's stated position is that the alternative campus sites are "not reasonably available, obtainable or practical because they would require the acquisition of dozens of new tracts of land, in contiguous parcels, from many different owners, at a cost of more than $100 million in new taxpayer outlays."

8-4-06
San Francisco Chronicle
UC barred from deciding pay packages in private...Patrick Hoge
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/08/04/BAGENKB8LT1.DTL&type=printable
An Alameda County judge has given The Chronicle a partial victory in a lawsuit by ruling that a committee of the UC Board of Regents cannot decide behind closed doors whether to recommend pay packages for top officials...said the University of California's regent committees cannot make "a collective decision'' in closed session on possible future action to be taken concerning compensation matters. Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith ruled against The Chronicle, however, on other elements of the newspaper's lawsuit, which sought to force the regents' compensation committee to meet in public when it discusses pay for its top 20 officials...said discussion of compensation in closed meetings is legal under state law if no action is taken. She also declined to order UC to tape future meetings of its Committee on Finance and Special Committee on Compensation...also rejected The Chronicle's request that UC be compelled to divulge minutes and other records from previous committee meetings that dealt with compensation. Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill, AB775, that would require UC to open its compensation meetings. The bill -- opposed by UC officials -- passed the state Senate Education Committee, and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

City officials blast UC development proposal...Rick DelVecchio
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/08/04/BAG2AKB7KU1.DTL&type=printable
UC Berkeley's planning for a new sports and academic complex is flawed because it doesn't deal with the impact of a major disaster in a remote part of campus split by the Hayward Fault and fails to seriously look at alternatives... Cal's draft environmental impact report describing the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects should be redone because it lacks detail on the impact of the developments described in it and on possible alternatives, City Manager Phil Kamlarz said in a letter to campus planners. Despite the university's name for the plan, the projects aren't really integrated and are being presented in a way that's against the spirit of state law requiring detailed environmental review, Kamlarz said.

7-21-06
San Diego Union-Tribune
UC regents retroactively approve lucrative compensation packages … Eleanor Yang Su
http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060721/news_1n21uc.html
SAN FRANCISCO – University of California regents retroactively approved lucrative benefits and payouts yesterday to dozens of UC executives whose compensation had been criticized in recent months as being in violation of university policy.
In one instance, regents decided to not only retroactively approve but also continue a monthly payment to UC San Diego Medical School Dean Edward Holmes, whose case was highlighted in a state audit in May as problematic.
The state audit had found that Holmes had been overcompensated $128,649 since 2002 because he had received an extra $5,000 per month to offset money he paid to UC San Diego for earnings from his external board service.
UC policy requires certain health science employees who receive stock from corporate boards to provide a percentage of the value of the stock to the university. Even after Holmes fulfilled his percentage, UCSD continued to pay him the additional money per month, according to the audit.
Yesterday, regents defended their decision to continue paying Holmes and many others, stating that they are underpaid compared to their peers at other universities.
“What happened here was not that someone received money that they should not have received,” said Regent Judith Hopkinson. “What happened was there was money that was approved at a level that didn't include regent approval.”
Hopkinson added that in Holmes' case, he was promised that the extra income would be part of his permanent salary. His current annual salary is $453,400.
“He was entitled to it,” Hopkinson said. “It was the honorable thing to do because he was represented that this, in fact, was his new salary.”
Regents, however, have decided to seek repayment in at least two situations. Regents authorized the university to negotiate some repayment by UCSD Senior Vice Chancellor Marsha Chandler for an $8,916 auto allowance she inappropriately received while on sabbatical in the 2004-05 fiscal year. The allowance was paid in violation of UC policy, according to the regents item …

8-10-06
Merced Sun-Star
Sheriff's brother evaded DUI jail time...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12569265p-13279409c.html
When Sheriff Mark Pazin's brother showed up to court in March to be sentenced for a drunken- driving arrest last year, a judge told him he had to pay a fine and take a class. It turns out that despite a policy to almost always bring DUI offenders to jail -- or at least fingerprint and photograph them -- after they are arrested, Merced police decided to forego that procedure with Pazin, the Sun-Star has learned. Instead, police reports show, an officer called the sheriff on a December night and told him to pick up his intoxicated brother. Booking information would have been sent to the state Department of Justice, said David LaBahn, who heads the California District Attorney's Association. In this case, Richard Pazin's arrest file will be "incomplete" and without a photo and fingerprint -- leaving open the possibility that his 2005 DUI conviction could be challenged if he was caught driving drunk again, LaBahn said.

Maneuvers on measures reveal who pulls strings...John Michael Flint
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/community/story/12569317p-13279474c.html
Item 1 — Our Board of Supervisors recently made sure the "Stamp Out Sprawl" measure would not appear on the November ballot. The maneuver, though sleazy and cynical, was entirely legal — and it produced an outpouring of shock, outrage and criticism. What do the following have in common: Bruce Frohman, Denny Jackman, Balvino Irizarry, Carmen Sabatino? All faced opposition from candidates funded by real-estate developers. All were handily defeated
Item 2 — A week after derailing the sprawl measure, the supervisors voted to put the long-awaited road tax (Measure K) on the November ballot, and anyone who tells you this isn't a cost of growth is shining you on. It will be promoted relentlessly - by the Chamber of Commerce, the real-estate industry and this newspaper... Also answered, as if it weren't already obvious, will be the question of who really pulls the strings hereabouts.

Modesto Bee
Officials seeking help with growth...Tim Moran
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/12569320p-13279458c.html
Stanislaus County's mayors and county supervisors say they want to wrestle control of the county's future from big developers, but they need to hire someone to help them do that. The mayors and supervisors have been meeting to develop a blueprint for what the county should look like in 50 years — where it should and shouldn't grow and what kinds of public facilities will be needed to handle that growth. Supervisor Jim DeMartini said such plans need to protect farmland from developers. "The problem is, some developer comes in from out of town, options a bunch of land, and pressures the council to grow another way … They really only care about the land they control," DeMartini said. "We really need to work together."

Tracy Press
Bioterror...Eric Firpo
http://www.tracypress.com/local/2006-08-10-Bioterror.php
A bomb test site in the hills upwind of Tracy has made the “short list” of 18 spots where a research laboratory might be built to help protect against bioterrorism, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday. Homeland Security is looking for a spot to build a 500,000-square-foot research lab to replace a similar, but antiquated, laboratory at Plum Island in New York, which was built in the 1950s. The University of California asked to run the new lab at Site 300, 7,000 acres in the hills west of Tracy that’s part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Homeland Security said the UC has made the first cut, along with 17 other applicants in 11 states. Now that Site 300 has cleared its first hurdle, the anti-nuclear group Tri-Valley CAREs is launching an effort to prevent it from being built west of Tracy...group fears the new lab will research bioweapons, since it will have Level 3 and Level 4 labs...says a nuclear laboratory is no place for a biological laboratory because it sends a message that the lab will be used to develop offensive bioagents instead of trying to defend against them.

8-9-06
Merced Sun-Star
Director of university dining hall out of job...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12564634p-13275230c.html
UC Merced's director of dining and retail services has resigned following an investigation by UC auditors that determined he used university vehicles for personal business, purchased food for his private catering business using UC credit accounts and regularly took food from the university without payment. Prompted by a whistleblower complaint, the university began examining possible policy violations by Thomas Welton in April. Welton told investigators he was unaware of a university policy that prohibited personal use of university cars, used university credit accounts to purchase nearly $2,500 in merchandise, much of which he used for his private catering business, investigators found. Vendor records showed that Welton's wife -- who isn't employed at UC Merced -- signed for some of the purchases. While Welton eventually paid vendors for the purchases, he used university credit to delay personal payment, and only made the payments after the university's investigation began.

8-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
County violating sell-back policy...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12560598p-13271482c.html
An investigation that the Merced County Retirement Board launched last month to look into the legality of new perks given to the county's CEO has found something even more troubling: The county has been overpaying 25 retired employees -- mostly top-level managers and elected officials -- by thousands of dollars each year... inquiry found that the county has been violating the terms of a 2000 legal settlement -- known as the Ventura Agreement -- that limits the number of vacation hours county employees can "sell back" to boost their pensions. San Francisco attorney, Ashley Dunning said in an interview that the Ventura Agreement "could not be clearer" in limiting how many sold-back vacation hours can count toward pensions. Kathleen Crookham, who is the only supervisor who sits on the retirement board and voted to give Tatum the extra sell-back hours, said she also is OK with the retirement board's legal findings. "I guess if that's the legal opinion, you know what, I support it," she said.

8-12-06
Merced Sun-Star
Pension policy rips off taxpayers...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12579690p-1328813
...Merced County has decided to cut back the pensions of 25 retirees that were inflated by a complex vacation "sell-back" that boosted their final year's salary, which is used to calculate the pension payouts they earn every month for the rest of their lives. Instead of being able to sell back 240 hours upon retirement -- or even more for CEO Dee Tatum, who has a separate contract with the board -- the new limit will be 160 hours. But why stop there? We don't think county employees should be able to boost their retirements at all with this bogus vacation "sell-back," which is mandated by something called the "Ventura Agreement." It's the gift that keeps on giving -- all at taxpayer expense. And our local politicians wonder why voters turn down tax increase measures.
Sheriff wasn't involved...Michael H. Sofranek, Catheys Valley...2nd letter
I retired from the Merced County Sheriff's Department's Corrections Division. Knowing the system and knowing how the system works, I do believe the sheriff would not interfere with the process, but I do not believe that the sheriff was not aware that his brother slipped through the cracks in serving his jail time.
Sell-back hours ridiculous...Phil McDaniels, Merced...3rd letter
Let me see if I have this right: The county retirement board increases the sell-back vacation hours for the county CEO, Dee Tatum. Then, as the stink from this rises, the board decides to get a legal opinion and hire outside counsel...investigation shows... they've been committing a no-no since 2000. The first question...how much of an overpayment are we talking about and how does the board plan on getting it back? Secondly, couldn't some common sense be used next time and get a legal opinion first?

March 10, 2006
Badlandsjournal.com: Merced County Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and other members of the concerned public always wondered how developers in Merced County rode roughshod over local, state and federal environmental laws, regulations, agencies and its own public. But, rarely have they been granted the insight provided by this telephone message, recorded on Feb. 3, 2006.
Badlands has blocked out the last two numbers of the telephones the developer left for return calls from the supervisor he thought he’d called as a courtesy to the developer.
Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you! ...

Consult Badlandsjournal.com for a number of posts on government in Merced County, for example: Byrd sues on civil rights violations, July 28, 2006, which includes a brief filed in federal court against the county DA, the Sheriff and other county notables, and notes, including the news clips cited below:

7-15-06
Merced Sun-Star
Amid turmoil, Spencer quits…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12456073p-13175492c.html
After a tumultuous week that included a dramatic car crash, a concussion, calls from the Board of Supervisors to step down, and continuing criminal investigations by the state Attorney General’s Office, District Attorney Gordon Spencer said on Friday he will resign immediately. A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said his agency will continue to investigate Spencer.

7-14-06
Merced Sun-Star
County workers get brush up on ethics…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12450025p-13170424c.html
Amid investigations by the state Attorney General’s Office and growing questions about government accountability, county officials got an earful from Graham and other ethics speakers this week. All county department heads and elected officials, as well as middle managers, were required to go to Graham’s session on Monday. Elected officials and top-level employees also had to go to a two-hour course Tuesday taught by a Sacramento law firm that reviewed accepted guidelines for government openness and accountability. But not everyone attended…four officials, including Spencer, didn’t go to Monday’s meeting… Spencer, who was in the hospital Tuesday after a car accident Monday, didn’t attend Tuesday’s session. The four no-shows Monday — Spencer, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, Human Services Agency Director Ana Pagan and County Counsel Ruben Castillo — must go to Graham’s Aug. 24 course for low-level managers if they want to keep their allowances. Morris said Kelsey had a family emergency and Pagan had a medical emergency Monday. He said he didn’t know why Spencer and Castillo didn’t attend. Supervisor Kathleen Crookham…felt Hedlund’s session was “dull,” she was glad to attend the ethics courses. “It reinforces the kind of things we should remember,” Crookham said.

Correction…Last Updated: July 14, 2006, 02:51:25 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12450026p-13170466c.html
• A headline on Page A1 of Thursday’s Sun-Star about District Attorney Gordon Spencer was incorrect. No representative from the hospital said Mr. Spencer suffered a head injury.

7-12-06
Merced Sun-Star
D.A. still in hospital…Scott Jason
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12439963p-13161488c.html
The Merced County district attorney remained in the hospital Tuesday night with short-term memory loss after a rollover crash Monday night, his attorney said. The California Highway Patrol is continuing its investigation into the crash, though it doesn’t look like any charges or citations will be filed, Public Information Officer Shane Ferriera said. Spencer called his wife from Smith’s phone, and she took him to the hospital… The investigating officer interviewed Spencer at the hospital and tested him for driving under the influence…said the test includes looking for the smell of alcohol, slurred speech or red, watery eyes. Ferriera said he did not know if Spencer was given a breathalyzer test.

Panel may ask Spencer to resign from his post…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12439964p-13161513c.html
Merced County Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said Tuesday that embattled District Attorney Gordon Spencer should resign immediately to help restore the District Attorney’s Office from months of “turmoil.” O’Banion told supervisors at their meeting Tuesday that he wants the board to vote sometime soon on whether Spencer should resign. He later said the vote will be at the supervisors’ next meeting on Tuesday. “I’m not going to take any action until we have the attorney general’s report,” Kelsey said…”I’m not going to let the newspaper tell me what to do and I’m not going to grandstand for the public or for the newspaper.” “We don’t have all the facts.” O’Banion brushed aside Kelsey’s accusations
…”I don’t look at it as grandstanding, I look at it as a responsibility we have to take back a department that is in turmoil.” Supervisor Mike Nelson…when asked if Spencer should resign, he replied. “It would be nice if he would do that, yeah.”

Police chief secrecy isn’t right way…Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439980p-13161532c.html
Plenty of mystery surrounds the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of Kou Xiong, the Merced Police Department officer who was missing for two days before being located in the Madera County foothills. Now, after an internal affairs investigation by the police department, we’re told Xiong is no longer on the force. But that’s it as far as any official accounting of what may have taken place. The public deserves more of an explanation than that…police officials should divulge some reason for Xiong’s termination.

Letters to the editor:
Spencer should step down
…Mark Seivert, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439981p-13161523c.html
Editor: How many investigations need to be done on our district attorney from the state Attorney General’s Office before we demand he step down? I think three in one year should be more than enough for anyone.
Pazin’s actions a let-down…Phil McDaniels, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12439957p-13161493c.html
Editor: With Gordon Spencer involved in Cellphonegate and SUVgate, it is not surprising to find him involved in yet another scheme as nefarious as the purchase of land of a jailed man. What is surprising is the behavior and attitude of one of his partners, the sheriff of Merced County… Sheriff Mark Pazin admits to knowing who the seller of the land was in the “final stages of the deal.” …the sheriff let the chase for big bucks place a cloud over his name and the office of sheriff of Merced County.

7-11-06
Merced Sun-Star
District Attorney Spencer injured in creek car crash…Scott Jason — Chris Collins; — Mike De La Cruz; — The Associated Press
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12435800p-13157709c.html
The Merced County district attorney was taken to the hospital Monday night after he rolled his Ford pickup truck into Bear Creek, a California Highway Patrol officer said. For unknown reasons, Spencer let the Ford F-150 pickup truck drift off the road and into the creek, he said. …CHP Web site said the victim in the crash had minor injuries.

7-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
Spencer purchased land from jailed man…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12425122p-13147572c.html
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the District Attorney’s Office. The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer’s potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry last December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator. The attorney general is now looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, and five other prominent locals purchased in 2004. The intersection of the two events created a clash that was “absolutely impermissible” by attorney ethics standards, said Weisberg, the Stanford law professor. “There was a conflict of interest. ” Dougherty, the county’s presiding judge, said Spencer never told Byrd’s attorney about his involvement in buying Byrd’s land. Kelsey said she always has been troubled that the sheriff and district attorney joined one of the county’s biggest developers to buy the land.

7-5-06
Merced Sun-Star
Tatum had a smorgasbord…Phil McDaniels, Merced…Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12409089p-13133720c.html
Editor: Many thanks to City Editor Mike Fitzgerald for putting in words how many voters feel about the Merced County Board of Supervisors and its constant giveaway of our money to the hierarchy of county government. For someone who flew low under the radar during the Gordon Spencer matter AND the department heads’ perks matter, County Executive Officer Dee Tatum surfaced long enough for another feast at the public trough. The board members have been in office too long and have lost sight of who they work for and who their decisions should benefit.

6-21-06
Merced Sun-Star
County supervisors clarify management policies…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12347503p-13077932c.html
Board of Supervisors approved sweeping changes on Tuesday to Merced County’s policies on car and phone allowances given to top-level employees…also set new ethics training requirements and accountability standards for elected officials and department managers. It was the first official action the supervisors have taken in response to District Attorney Gordon Spencer’s misuse of government equipment…county Auditor Stephen Jones said that the county’s attorney, Ruben Castillo, had advised him that a state law giving district attorneys and sheriffs the right to charge business expenses to the county may also give Spencer legal grounds for getting both a county phone and an allowance. The revised policy means:
• The 33 “A-level managers” in the county, which includes department heads, supervisors and other elected officials, must now sign a new form each year that says they will use their own car and phone for their jobs if they choose to receive monthly allowances as reimbursements.
• The state-mandated conflict-of-interest disclosure forms that county department heads and elected officials fill out each year will now be frequently audited by an outside firm.
• All department heads and elected officials must now attend an ethics training course once a year or lose out on their phone and car allowances.

6-15-06
Merced Sun-Star
Valley politicians report lands sales, wealth…Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12321524p-13054529c.html
WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley lawmakers are a diversified lot, especially when it comes to their personal finances. They own land, though not necessarily as much as they used to. They own stocks. Several have spouses pulling political salaries. Cardoza reported that, last October, he sold 6.2 acres in Atwater. The land at the intersection of Bellevue Road and Redwood Avenue brought the Cardoza & Cardoza Landholding Partnership between $500,001 and $1 million. Cardoza turned to stocks. He reported purchasing some 32 different stocks in November and December. Cardoza’s wife works as a physician in Merced.

Crookham is off the mark…Lorraine Dawson, Merced
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12321534p-13054545c.html
Editor: Some Merced County supervisors dismissed concerns that their allowances were excessive. Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said she was frustrated that questions were being asked about her pay. “It’s really unfortunate when this kind of scrutiny takes place.” “And then it’s really unfortunate when no one wants to run for office because they come under that type of scrutiny.” “Does the rest of the world have to justify what they spend? No. This is a thankless job and one you don’t get rich on.” Mercedians have a right to know where the tax revenue is spent and why. Then there was this comment in a May 2 Sun-Star story: “Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said she’s known for the past few months that (District Attorney Gordon) Spencer has been using a county vehicle while receiving a car allowance at the same time, but she said she doesn’t think it’s a serious violation.” Look no further than comments like these as to why Measure A was not passed.

6-13-06
Merced Sun-Star
OES faults Spencer over grant…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12312342p-13045915c.html
The state Office of Emergency Services says it will closely scrutinize Merced County’s use of grant funds in the future after a report it released Monday concluded that District Attorney Gordon Spencer violated the terms of an OES grant. State will monitor county closely but funds won’t have to be repaid. The report also found that the District Attorney’s Office misled OES when it said it would assign a full-time deputy district attorney to prosecuting people who committed rural crimes. The OES report found three other grant violations:… There is no set deadline for when the attorney general’s report will conclude.

Letters to the Editor…Last Updated: June 13, 2006, 01:52:58 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12312355p-13045923c.html
County wears blindfold…James V. Haslouer, Merced…1st letter
Editor: So let me see if I understand this correctly. If you are a county employee and you jeopardize a state- funded program for your own personal pocket stuffing and accept false cell phone and vehicle reimbursements (embezzlement), you can then use those monies to compute and enhance your retirement! …who was signing the vouchers that District Attorney Gordon Spencer was submitting for five years or perhaps even longer? Pay Spencer more than $150K a year for what? His disdain for the law is obvious.Supervisors, stand up for your constituents and do the right thing.

6-3-06
Merced Sun-Star

Spencer violated Grant…Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12270485p-13006930c.html
District Attorney Gordon Spencer violated the terms of a grant by driving a $27,000 SUV that he was never supposed to use, a report by a private auditing firm has found…conducted by Sacramento-based Macias, Gini and Co. The SUV, a 2005 Ford Expedition, was purchased a year ago with money from a state grant and was intended for Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Morse. Instead, the vehicle was “assigned solely to the County’s District Attorney,” the report concluded…”could jeopardize eligibility of the vehicle” and future funding from the grant. “It basically reinforces the fact that the car was not supposed to be used by the individual who was using it,” county Supervisor Jerry O’Banion said. Last month, the state Attorney General’s Office launched an embezzlement investigation into Spencer’s use of county-owned equipment. The Office of Emergency Services is making its own inquiry into Spencer’s actions. Both investigations are ongoing.

July 16, 2006
http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=local&id=4372012
ABC Action News 30
Fire Damages Offices at Merced County Courthouse
July 16, 2006 - A scandal forced their boss to leave and now there's a new struggle for Merced County prosecutors after fire tore through their offices over the weekend.
Investigators will begin digging out the five offices on Monday, hoping to find out what started the fire. For now, they are breathing a sigh of relief after rescuing a very important case file from the burned building.
Once the smoke cleared, investigators and county leaders got a glimpse of the damage.
"The intensity of the fire was severe. It had buckled a lot of the metal, windows had been blown out, desks, chairs and such were absolutely melted to the ground," said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin.
Fire officials say the west portion of the building suffered the worst damage. Four district attorneys offices are ruined, two others damaged by smoke and water and two courtrooms unusable because of the intense heat.
"At the height of the firefight operations, we actually had flames I would estimate to 50 to 60 feet in the air above the building. Very major major operation," said Merced Fire Chief Ken Mitten.
The fire came just two days after District Attorney Gordon Spencer resigned in the middle of three separate investigations by the attorney general's office. His office was not in the building that caught fire and officials do not believe there is any relation between the two sudden events.
Incoming district attorney Larry Morse left the building just three and a half hours before the blaze began.
"I'm sure I was the last one to leave this building. It was close to 2:00am when I left. I didn't see anything remotely suspicious. I've been in the office until one or two for the last seven or eight days, as you are during trials," said Morse.
Morse says one of the files that burned in a felony office is the case against Tao Rivera. Police say he's the Merced gang member who gunned down police officer Stephan Grey. Luckily, Morse found a copy that was spared in his office. He has now moved it to a safe location.
He says many other criminal cases also went up in smoke, but he doesn't think any accusers are off the hook, because multiple copies are usually made on each case.
Despite the damaged courtrooms, court will go on as scheduled. Those cases set for the affected courtrooms will be moved to other buildings in the complex.
Fire damages are about $750,000

November 17, 2005
Modesto Bee
UC regents increase fees by 8 percent…Michelle Locke, AP
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11490731p-12229564c.html
Cost of going to university has going up 89% since ‘01. The vote came amid heightened criticism of the UC’s spending after reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that the UC has paid millions in bonuses and pay hikes to top executives. …students were not happy with the hikes, demonstrating their opposition by chanting “Education, not corporation!”

Merced Sun-Star
UC tuition fees going up again…Rosalio Ahumada
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11491100p-12229815c.html
Students will pay about $500 more per year. UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey said she knows some students are struggling with educational costs, but the fee increases are needed right now. “We certainly don’t want to exacerbate that,” Tomlinson-Keasey said of student financial woes. About 80 percent of UC Merced’s inaugural class applied for and received financial aid, and 64 percent of those students qualified for need-based financial assistance, according to campus records.

Sacramento Bee
Fifth fee hike since ‘02 gets UC regent OK…Leslie A. Maxwell
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/california/story/13870111p-14709573c.html
UC officials said the fee increases - part of a $2.9 billion budget that they will request from the Legislature for next year - were necessary to maintain their “compact” with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, argued for the board to hold off on the hikes until Schwarzenegger unveils his new state budget proposal in early January. Much of the audience also was angry about recent news reports that hundreds of UC’s senior-level employees received generous housing allowances, bonuses and other perks during a budget crunch.

San Francisco Chronicle
UC president promises increased disclosure about pay packages. Task force also will consider further policy changes…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/17/BAGVTFPO5L1.DTL&type=printable
After facing days of withering criticism, University of California leaders promised Wednesday to disclose more information about how much they pay employees. ” Dynes promised that UC would: … — Provide regents with a summary of UC leaders’ total compensation once a year, including outside income. Dynes said he wasn’t sure whether that information would be released to the public. There is a dark cloud over the university that we really have to reckon with, and it speaks to the question of transparency and honesty,” Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, an ex-officio regent, said. “There is a lot of outrage,” said Bruce Fuller, professor of public policy and education at UC Berkeley. “Is the quality of the university really tied to attracting managers, or is it tied to attracting top faculty?”

Zero hour for Los Alamos. UC has run the nation’s top weapons lab for six decades.
Will it all end this week?…Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/17/MNGQ9FPOD81.DTL&type=printable
Los Alamos National Lab…climax of a four-year saga: a decision that will determine who runs the world’s most glamorous and controversial nuclear weapons lab and that also could end the University of California’s unchallenged six-decade domination of the U.S. weapons program. An announcement could come soon, perhaps even Friday. UC and its industrial partners, including San Francisco-based Bechtel National Inc., are competing for the contract against aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. and its allies — the huge University of Texas system, several New Mexico universities and various industrial partners. Loss of the contract by UC would be a crushing blow to the university system’s reputation and, perhaps, to the state of California, which owes much of its international economic clout and attractiveness to investors’ perception of the state as the Nobel laureate-packed front line of scientific and technological advances. …the Lockheed-Texas team has benefited from continued leaks of bad news from Los Alamos. The latest case involved an “Occurrence Report,” which came to light late last month concerning an incident in October 2003…

UC regents boost next year’s student fees…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/17/BAGVTFPETK1.DTL&type=printable
Hours after the University of California Board of Regents voted Wednesday to impose steep fee increases on students, a regents’ committee recommended that hundreds of top university administrators get pay raises. The proposed “annual merit” salary increases, … average about 3 percent. “Even with this year’s merit increases, the salaries of many senior UC managers still significantly fall below market,” according to the statement. A recent study by Mercer Consulting found that UC offers lower salaries than other prestigious universities, though UC pay is comparable when retirement and other benefits are factored in. However, the Mercer study did not include all forms of compensation used by UC, leaving it unclear whether UC employees are paid better or worse than the average pay of their counterparts elsewhere. …Wednesday, the regents disregarded assurances from state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez that the Legislature would likely allocate enough money to make the higher fees unnecessary

November 16, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle
Outrage in Capitol at UC pay revelations…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/16/BAG1RFP4R61.DTL&type=printable
State lawmakers demanded Tuesday that University of California leaders answer questions about UC’s growing payroll, hidden compensation and a rising inequity between low-paid employees and senior administrators and faculty. Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, “I’m not going to allow UC to become the Wal-Mart of education. The university’s money is public money. They have to be very careful. Before we do anything more with salaries, we have to have transparency.” “This is outrageous,” Denham said. “While students face rate increases every year and UC rank and file workers face salary freezes, the top UC administrators will be getting secret salary hikes. The regents should postpone their vote and let the public see the documents.”

UC’s hidden pay…Editorial
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/16/EDGODFOD701.DTL&type=printable
FOR AN institution devoted to openness and truth, the University of California is falling short. It refuses to speak plainly about the eye-popping compensation packages for its top leaders. The timing for the new salary increases couldn’t be worse. …regents are due to vote on a plan to raise student fees by 8 percent. …after fees have nearly doubled in four years. UC must explain its compensation policies more fully. It isn’t showing the openness that taxpayers expect and deserve from a public university.

Fresno Bee
UC gets $8 million to study San Joaquin Valley’s bad air…AP
http://www.fresnobee.com/state_wire/v-printerfriendly/story/11479672p-12219067c.html
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - The University of California, Davis, will receive an $8 million federal grant to study the effects of one of the country’s most polluted air basins on public health.

11-14-05
San Francisco Chronicle…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO1641.DTL&type=printable
The University of California may have cut student services and maintenance, but not the number of high-paid jobs created over the past two years.

Merced Sun-Star
Famers say UC helps rivals too…Olivia Munoz, AP
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/business/ag/story/11478748p-12218475c.html
UC President Robert C. Dynes met with about 35 growers… San Joaquin Valley growers expressed frustration Thursday that research they help the University of California conduct ends up helping their rivals in the global agriculture market. …also concerned that the system’s budget cuts were affecting the extension office program.

San Francisco Chronicle
Free mansions for people of means…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO0JJ1.DTL&type=printable
For all the attention paid to university salaries, some of the biggest perks at the university are noncash items, such as free housing. At UC, the system spends about $1 million a year to maintain spacious homes for Dynes and the 10 campus chancellors. I think taxpayers would be outraged to discover the nature of this extraordinary perk,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association. Schwartz…said the homes are important to help chancellors cover the high cost of living in California, where many chancellors otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford homes on their university salaries. Public records show that many of the chancellors already own their homes, sometimes close to campus. And at least two chancellors earned tens of thousands of dollars in extra annual income by moving into university-owned residences and renting out their own nearby homes. In addition, records show hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on maintaining some of the estates.. “I suspect this will make it in our 2005 piglet book” of examples of government waste, Coupal said. “This is the kind of stuff that shows that at some point (government leaders sometimes) lose touch with reality.”

Services cut for students as high-pay jobs boom…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO1641.DTL&type=printable
The University of California may have cut student services and maintenance, but not the number of high-paid jobs created over the past two years. Payroll records show that 2,275 university employees earned more than $200,000 last fiscal year, up 30 percent over two years. The number of employees making at least $300,000 annually climbed 54 percent to 496 last year. Some employees got raises. Others were hired or promoted to new posts with increased salaries. Still, the boom in top salaries comes at a time when UC leaders say they have been forced to raise student fees 79 percent over four years, increase class sizes and curtail student services to cope with cuts in state funding. “This is not something you want the Legislature to learn about,” said Velma Montoya, who served on the UC Board of Regents for 11 years until her term ended in January. “It is unfair and impolitic.”

The home used by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. Chronicle photo by Mark Costantini
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?m=/c/pictures/2005/11/14/mn_a9_uc00_156_mc.jpg&f=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO1641.DTL&type=printable

More higher-paid employees on UC payroll
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?m=/c/pictures/2005/11/14/mn_higher_paid.jpg&f=/c/a/2005/11/14/MNGDFFO1641.DTL&type=printable

Monterey Herald
The teacher pay UC doesn’t discuss…System shells out millions while claiming poverty…San Francisco Chronicle
http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/news/state/13163302.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Despite complaints from University of California officials that the system has suffered severe cuts in state funding, prompting tuition and fee increases, many faculty members and administrators get paid thousands more than is publicly reported. ‘’We should be comparing full compensation, including the perks, not just the salary, because when you look across the country, you shouldn’t be comparing apples to oranges,'’ said Velma Montoya, an economist who served on the UC Board of Regents for 11 years until her term ended in January. ‘’It’s ludicrous to increase student fees… when you’re talking about executive officers making this much money, and no one knowing about it,'’ said Anu Joshi, a UC Berkeley graduate student and president of the systemwide UC Student Association.

11-13-05
UC’s higher profile…Editorial
http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/story/11476112p-12215740c.html
The recent visit to Fresno by the president of the University of California underscores how the landscape has changed in higher education for Valley students in just a few years. For decades, the Valley was given short shrift by UC. Higher education was left in the hands of California State University campuses, such as Fresno State. Now UC Merced has opened, creating a new opportunity for Valley students. …the UC system is working much harder to spread the word about UC among Valley students and their families. That’s what brought UC President Robert Dynes to Fresno on Thursday…

San Francisco Chronicle
UC piling extra cash on top of pay…Tanya Schevitz, Tod Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNGHFFNMAC1.DTL&type=printable
Despite UC’s complaints that it has been squeezed by cuts in state funding and forced to raise student fees, many university faculty members and administrators get paid far more than is publicly reported. In addition to salaries and overtime, payroll records obtained by The Chronicle show that employees received a total of $871 million in bonuses, administrative stipends, relocation packages and other forms of cash compensation last fiscal year. That was more than enough to cover the 79 percent hike in student fees that UC has imposed over the past few years. The bulk of the last year’s extra compensation, roughly $599 million, went to more than 8,500 employees who each got at least $20,000 over their regular salaries. And that doesn’t include an impressive array of other perks for selected top administrators, ranging from free housing to concert tickets.

Bringing in the big bucks
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?m=/c/pictures/2005/11/13/mn_big_bucks.jpg&f=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNGHFFNMAC1.DTL&type=printable
Here are UC’s highest-paid employees based ontotal compensation. Base salary is a small fraction of their total pay.

Overall payroll
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object/article?f=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNGHFFNMAC1.DTL&o=1&type=printable
Over the last few years there has been an increase in the UC’s payroll…2002 – 2005

Other perks include parties, gifts, travel…Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNGQPFJ9DJ26.DTL&type=printable
In addition to their cash compensation, many senior UC employees receive significant fringe benefits. A partial list includes:
– Housing: Some employees receive free or subsidized housing near campus, including spacious homes (and in some cases, mansions) reserved for chancellors. UC also issued thousands of low-interest mortgages to administrators and faculty…3 percent interest rate. — Jobs: — Entertainment: Gifts:– Travel: Parties: Expensive parties are common.
Patrick Callan, president of the nonprofit National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education…”This is not a slush fund,'’ Callan said. “Every dollar that the university gets is public. It is a public institution. It doesn’t matter where it comes from.”

Livermore Lab’s future tied to risky laser project…Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/11/13/MNG1AFNKRE1.DTL&type=printable
The fate of a super-laser — a multibillion-dollar project under construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is in serious doubt, despite Congress’ decision to grant it a reprieve. …eight years after the facility’s groundbreaking at Livermore lab, the project has cost taxpayers more than $3 billion, at least three times the projected cost, and the tab should exceed $4 billion between now and the projected completion in 2009-2010. Meanwhile, only a small percentage of the projected 192 lasers have been installed and tested. Worst of all, there is serious scientific doubt whether the laser will achieve its near-mythic goal: ignition, the holy grail of nuclear physics. ..recent study by top Pentagon advisory panel cites many technical obstacles and says there’s no assurance the project will work. The group, known as “Jason,” pointed out in a recent report that the project is rife with technical problems. This is an embarrassment that UC can ill afford at a time when federal officials are close to making a crucial decision on another one of the university system’s vital relationships with the Department of Energy.

11-12-05
Fundraiser helps MC students get to UC…Rosalio Ahumada
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11472660p-12212399c.html
With the rising cost to earn a bachelor’s degree, students need scholarship support more than ever. The Merced College Foundation wants to make sure its transferring students have all the help they can get to attend the newest University of California campus. Currently, full-time equivalent Merced College students pay a total of about $800 per school year including campus fees. UC Merced undergraduate students pay about $7,000 in tuition per school year. But that doesn’t include housing costs that range from $14,000 to $20,000 annually.

Anxiety marks Los Alamos mood ahead of lab contract announcement…Heather Clark, AP
http://www.modbee.com/state_wire/story/11472441p-12212115c.html
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) - Many people in this isolated mesa-top community are anxious or fearful about who will win a contract to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory. The main contenders for the contract are two limited liability corporations, one headed by Lockheed Martin and the University of Texas and the other led by Bechtel Corp. and the University of California… …contract worth up to $79 million. The announcement of the winner is expected by Dec. 1. Six percent of the lab’s work force resigned, up from a 4 percent annual norm over the last decade. …poor business practices at the lab led to a purchasing scandal and a series of embarrassing security and safety lapses that culminated in a seven-month shutdown, which the Department of Energy estimated cost about $367 million. UC put the cost at $110 million.

7-3-06
Contra Costa Times
A feeling of 'siege'...Julia Prodis Sulek
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/14952474.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
Sixteen months ago, when Denton started as chancellor, she seemed like a perfect fit. If any community would welcome this openly gay academic who overcame discrimination from her earliest days in a small Texas town, who became nationally renowned for her commitment to women in science and social justice, surely it would be the progressive seaside town of Santa Cruz. Instead, she told friends, ``I'm under constant siege.'' She arrived at the university already trailed by controversy and, during her short tenure, endured unrelenting attacks. ``It wasn't any single story or any single cartoon, but it was a continuing, rolling, unending set of stories and set of cartoons; it was the continuing everyday assault,'' said Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the chancellor of UC-Merced. When a new chancellor arrives in Santa Cruz, the community very nearly holds its breath. In this city of 55,000, the chancellor carries more prestige than the mayor or state legislators. But just weeks before her Feb. 14, 2005, start date, Denton's name was linked with scandal. The timing couldn't have been worse. While the UC president's office acknowledged it should have disclosed the deal from the start, it was Denton who took the heat in Santa Cruz. If Denton had more serious mental health issues, or her medication wasn't right, or she had other personal problems, no one is saying. But Tomlinson-Keasey knows that the problems in Santa Cruz weighed heavily.

8-2-06
Sacramento Bee
Tragedy looms over wildland debate...David Whitney, Bee Washington Bureau
http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/14285230p-15098739c.htmlhttp://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/v-print/story/14285230p-15098739c.html
WASHINGTON -- Nearly 15 months after the manager of the Carrizo Plain National Monument killed herself after months of frustration on the job, the federal Bureau of Land Management is reviving the process of creating a management plan for the 250,000-acre grasslands preserve that will be forever associated with Marlene Braun's tragic death. The backdrop for the battles was more political than personal. Created by presidential proclamation just hours before President Clinton left office in 2001, the Carrizo Plain had become a battleground over cattle grazing on public lands -- an issue on which the BLM typically found itself siding with cattlemen. ... public lands, on the border between Kern and San Luis Obispo counties, are the last big patch of wild grasslands left in California and the home of the largest concentration of endangered species in the state. Some, like the giant kangaroo rat, are in direct competition with cattle. Braun had openly complained that she felt efforts to curtail grazing were being resisted at higher pay grades in the agency, and that she was suffering the fallout. Posthumously, Braun prevailed.

4-1-05

CRS Report for Congress: California’s San Joaquin Valley: A Region in Transition, Dec. 12, 2005, Tadlock Cowan, Coordinator, Analyst in Rural and Regional Development Policy, Resources, Science and Industry Division

Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process, Brooks Jackson, 1990

“This is the tragic story of one of the most fascinating characters in recent Washington history, Congressman Tony Coelho of California (D-Merced) … He rose to power in the house by collecting millions of political dollars for the Democratic party from whatever sources were at hand, creating a modern political machine in which money and pork-barrel legislation replaced the old Tammany Hall patronage …” p. 3

As Coelho himself says, “the system buys you out.” The system doesn’t require bad motives to produce bad government. P. 320

Italics added.

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The unthinkable future: an economy without a real estate bubble

Submitted: Aug 01, 2006

http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/07/31/the_coming_housing_crash.php

The Coming Housing Crash

Dean Baker July 31, 2006

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer.

All the economists who missed the stock bubble—this is almost all economists—are just about to be embarrassed again. Several reports released this week provide the strongest evidence yet that the housing bubble may finally be deflating.

Sales of new and existing homes are both down more than 10 percent from their peaks last year. Mortgage applications are down 20 percent. Sale prices have barely risen from the level of last year, and are actually down after adjusting for inflation. Inventories of new and existing homes both stand at record levels, and the vacancy rate for ownership units has also hit a new high.

This is a very different picture from a year ago, when housing was considered the best investment around. At that time, homes in the hottest markets would routinely sell the day they came on the market for more than the asking price.

The result of this frenzy was an unprecedented run-up in house prices.

Ordinarily, house prices rise at roughly the same rate as other prices. Nationwide, house prices stayed virtually even with the overall rate of inflation from 1950 to 1995. However, in the last 10 years they rose by more than 50 percent, after adjusting for inflation. This created more than $5 trillion in housing bubble wealth.

This bubble sustained the economy through the 2001 recession and provided the basis for the recovery. The housing sector directly employs more than 6 million people in construction, mortgage issuance and real estate. The indirect effect of the bubble was even larger, as people took advantage of the rapidly growing value of their homes to borrow huge amounts of money. This borrowing binge supported rapid consumption growth in a period of weak wage and job growth. It also pushed the U.S. savings rate into negative territory for the first time since the beginning of the great depression. But, it was inevitable that the bubble would eventually collapse. The record run-up in housing prices led to record rates of housing construction. With population growth slowing, the country was building homes far more rapidly than the market could absorb them. At some point, excess supply will put downward pressure on prices.

The weakening of the housing market was further assisted by an entirely predictable rise in mortgage interest rates. The Federal Reserve Board deliberately pursued a low interest policy to help the economy recover from the stock crash, pushing interest rates to their lowest level in 50 years. With inflation picking up steam due to the oil price spike, higher import prices, weaker productivity growth, and a stronger labor market, interest rates are rising back to more normal levels.

The exact course going forward will depend to a large extent on how rapidly interest rates rise, but the basic plot is easy to see. With housing construction still far outpacing the growth in households, there will be a further build-up of inventories. In addition, many people who had been holding homes in anticipation of price rises will rush to sell, now that the market is headed downward. The supply of housing will be increased further by duress sales by people who cannot afford the jump in monthly payments on their adjustable rate mortgages. In addition, the rapidly rising foreclosure rate means that many financial institutions will be auctioning off repossessed homes.

The increase in mortgage delinquencies and defaults is likely to put considerable pressure on financial institutions that are heavily involved in home mortgages. Given the poor quality of many recent loans, some collapses of major financial institutions are virtually inevitable.

The decline in housing prices will sharply limit the extent to which people can borrow against their home to support their consumption. This will cause savings to rebound from their current negative rates to more normal levels—at 6 to 8 percent of disposable income—but will be associated with a sharp falloff in consumption.

Together these effects virtually guarantee a recession, and probably a rather severe recession. Even worse, there is no easy route to recovery from a recession that results from a collapse of a housing bubble, just as there was no easy route to recover from the stock crash induced recession of 2001.

Greenspan used the housing bubble to recover from that crash, because he saw no other mechanism. Unless Bernanke can find some other bubble to inflate, the recovery may be a long slow process. It took Japan almost 15 years to recover from the crash of its stock and housing bubbles.

The crash and post-crash world will not be pretty. Millions of people will lose their jobs and their homes. Unfortunately, the economists who led us down this path are not likely to be among the ones who suffer severe consequences.

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Let them play Monopoly behind gates we lock

Submitted: Jul 30, 2006

In 1950, it has been repeated ad nausea; Los Angeles County produced more agricultural commodities than any county in the state. By the mid-1970s, it began to lead the nation as the most polluted air basin, despite its sea breezes. Today, in this grim "metric," it appears to have fallen behind both the San Joaquin Valley and Riverside/San Bernardino counties.

The San Joaquin Valley is the richest farmland in the western US. Today, Los Angeles is an asphalt jungle and its eastern neighboring counties are developing along the same dismal pattern.

Humanity has yet to learn how to reclaim asphalt jungles for agriculture, should the need or desire occur.

It is not too late to stop the LA-ification of the San Joaquin Valley. Abundant farmland still exists. Given its inversion layer, more development can only turn this valley of the best farmland in the West into a respiratory hell.

Regional and national food security, health and safety for San Joaquin Valley inhabitants and a responsible attitude toward global warming and the waning of the Sierra snow pack argue forcefully against more population growth.

All that is stopping a sane approach to Valley agricultural and natural resources and health and welfare of its inhabitants is the entire political economic system – local, state and federal – dominated by real estate development and the financial, land-owning, construction, and realty interests that swarm around it, and the political passivity of the residents. To turn the San Joaquin Valley into a continuous metropolitan region from Sacramento to Bakersfield is no more nor less than business as usual: destructive enrichment of the few at the expense of many.

It was recently argued in a Merced County staff report on a residential development that criticism of how the development would deal with a Williamson Act (farmland preservation) matter was, in fact, an attempt to stop the project and the population growth and increase in autos the project would create. This, the staff report implied, was an illegitimate reason for arguing the Williamson Act matter.

The same is constantly said about criticisms and lawsuits for violations of local, state and federal environmental law and regulation. "It doesn't matter because the critics just want to stop growth."

This sort of logic reminds me of an old movie, "Never on Sunday," in which an Athenian prostitute who attended every performance of ancient tragedies and was greatly moved by their sorrow and destruction, consoled herself with the belief that in the end "they all went to the seashore."

Presumably, county officials that produce this bilge plan to retire to Pismo Beach to breath clean sea air after their careers of disservice to the San Joaquin Valley public.

The growth now occurring in the San Joaquin Valley is a tragedy, of which one element is always the willful denial of truths like endemic respiratory illness and global warming, which can only worsen with more Valley growth.

The loss of the culture of farming is both sad and frightening.

“The best product of the American farm is the careful farmer,” Wendell Berry once wrote. There are some left. There are also some San Joaquin Kit Fox left, but the trend toward extinction is clear in both species.

American culture and economy -- this gargantuan brat -- has no place for the modest, patient, skillful and inventive farmers who built our valley. Those people wisely mistrusted booms and all the other deals too good to be true, and they did not indefinitely abide whores in government. They believed in hard work and earnest prayer.

In our valley today, the political theory is that the public is the servant of the public servant, who is the servant of destructive enrichment, a form of self-indulgence practiced by a few people and corporations with great wealth, who lack the imagination to do anything but destructively pursue greater wealth.

The poor dears. The appropriate places for them are gated reservations locked from the outside instead of the inside. Let them play Monopoly with their money! Meanwhile, permit the San Joaquin Valley public time and space to deal with the consequences of their binges in real estate.

Bill Hatch

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The Empty Cowboy Hat rides again

Submitted: Jul 17, 2006

Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, is grabbing headlines again after former Rep. Pete McCloskey knocked a few of his teeth out in the primary. If he can keep his fight up to gut the Endangered Species Act until November, the public may never know a Democrat named McNerney is running against him.

That's the first thing: show them how powerful you are. Opposition? What opposition? Even if the Senate is skeptical about the wisdom of gutting the ESA, you go, cowboy, you are Tracy's one and only Buffalo Slayer.

The second thing is to attract that Big Money by championing the cause of big landowners and big developers, whose plans to make really Big Money are just being tied in knots by all the red tape at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces the ESA. Or so goes the Pombo script.

Paint the Service as the enemy, the mean, nay-saying government, standing in the way of private property rights and Big Money. Don't look to close at how much the Service panders to landowners and developers and how weak its will to enforce and its powers of enforcement actually are. But, before you judge, walk a mile with Pombo breathing fire and brimstone down your neck every time you try to do your job, threatening to cut your budget more than he and the Bush administration have already cut it. It's combat biology.

Blame the critical habitat designation sections in the ESA and describe them as no-growth nature reserves where only endangered species are allowed to walk. Don't accurately describe the conditions under which the Service gets involved with projects in a critical habitat designation. And never talk about federal water, developers and areas designated critical habitat. You could be stepping in something there.

Measure everything by whatever money figures you can dredge up. On the critical habitat designation for the Red-Legged Frog: "The estimated cost in San Luis Obispo County alone is $165 million." Whose estimated cost? Is it costing the county or some landowners $165 million and year to preserve the frog? More than a year? Or is what Pombo saying is that the local Building Industry Association and realtors came up with that number? Or, is he saying someone in his office or the Bush administration came up with that number, which would be shot down by a federal judge as was done in a critical habitat lawsuit over vernal pools several years ago -- shot down as exaggerated, phony, as a lie?

"When conflict is unavoidable, TESRA (Pombo's gut-the-ESA bill) requires compensation for private property owners' loss of property or the use thereof." Even Bush is worried about that because it is as open-ended as Bush's commitment to Halliburton of Iraq.

Earth Justice, analyzed this provision of TESRA:

Representative Richard Pombo’s (R-CA) Endangered Species Act bill (HR 3824) will be voted on this week in the House of Representatives. However, instead of focusing on recovering endangered species, it would force taxpayers to pay unlimited amounts for any business losses from speculative development schemes that corporations never had the right to pursue in the first place. It would give companies and developers the ability to extort taxpayers’ money simply for complying with the law.

If H.R. 3824 passes: Taxpayers would be required to pay.H.R. 3824 would force taxpayer to pay “the fair market value of the forgone use of the affected portion of the property including business losses” for any use that would not comply with the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) Section 9 prohibition on actions that would illegally kill or otherwise “take” a protected species. Corporations would receive windfall payments even if they paid little, or nothing, for the property, and even if they can make massive profits on permissible remaining uses of the property.

Rep. Pombo’s bill would create a new unlimited corporate welfare entitlement.

It would require taxpayers to break the budget to provide “aid” to corporate or other property owners who have not lost any property rights. H.R. 3824 would require payments for ANY reduction in value from ANY forgone use of ANY affected portion of property. In each of these respects, it is contrary to every court ruling on “takings” of property and the views of every member of the Supreme Court. Thus, it would require taxpayers to write checks to companies that have not lost any rights.

It would create perverse incentives to propose environmentally destructive activities solely to be denied permission and thus be entitled to “aid.”

Payments would overwhelmingly go to big corporations.Reflecting the highly concentrated nature of land ownership, Professor C. Ford Runge testified about the 1995-96 “takings” bills that 2.1 million large farm operators and timber operators “own 1,035 million acres of land. That means that 2.65 percent of all private land owners own 78 percent of all private land.”

H.R. 3824 is not necessary.The ESA ensures that agencies respect private property interests through separate “4(d) rules” for threatened species; reasonable and prudent measures; reasonable and prudent alternatives; and incidental take permits and Habitat Conservation Plans. The bill unjustifiably singles out the ESA and sets a dangerous precedent. When the 1995 ESA and Clean Water Act takings bill reached the Senate, it was expanded to cover all federal laws, before it was stopped by a bi-partisan filibuster threat.

This bill attempts to revive the takings approach that has repeatedly failed to pass Congress in the face of strong bi-partisan opposition, including taxpayer groups; state and local government organizations; and a wide range of national religious denominations; as well as labor, conservation and other groups.

For more information contact: Earthjustice Senior Legislative Counsel Glenn Sugameli (202) 667-4500 gsugameli@earthjustice.org -- www.earthjustice.org/library/policy_factsheets/takings_factsheet.pdf

Pombo and the extremists in the White House worry about how much litigation is costing the Fish and Wildlife Service. How much more would this open ended subsidy cost?

So, when you are next considering buying a new breed bull or a John Deere, invest your money in a piece of Pombo instead.

Pombo lines up some figures on how much it is costing us to bring back endangered species to healthy populations. The whole bill amounts to less than a day in Iraq.

"Like many aspects of the ESA, critical habitat is driven by litigation, providing an endless supply of slam-dunk lawsuits to activist groups that can bag taxpayer dollars in the form of attorney's fees."

What is the point of having a wholly developer owned congressman if the public can still sue on the act to defend its environment against the developers? It threatens the economic order, in which the public is often suing against development to defend its own health and safety as well as the right of endangered species to exist and evolve. The way the political system is now going, as just one more lucrative field of investment if you have that kind of money, the public can never gain access or have meaningful dialogue with congressmen of either party so completely bought and sold as
these are today. The implication that activist groups are composed of nothing but lawyers collecting their fees for these easy lawsuits is yet another Pombo lie.

What Pombo and his allies, like Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, want to do is deny the public the right to sue at all so that in the future open space and wildlife habitat will be gobbled up in a quiet, orderly way as the result of legal, out-of-sight deals between developers, congressmen and whatever is left of environmental regulatory agencies. It amounts to simply lopping off the public and the judiciary from the discussion. This is one of the hallmarks of investment-driven legislature: efficiency, privacy, no judicial review, and total control for the investors who bought the bill fair and square.

If you like Pombo as champion of a few very rich developers and landowners, you'll love him next year as the champion of the same investors when he becomes chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, charged with drawing up a new Farm Bill.

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee today, Pombo expressed his objections to the ESA:

Q: What are your problems with the Endangered Species Act now?

A: I didn't like the way it treated private property owners. It was heavy-handed. It didn't really matter what the facts were on the ground or what the science was. It was decisions being driven by somebody in Washington who had never even been to the area being regulated.

I felt it was wrong for them to come in and tell someone who had been farming for a hundred years that you can no longer farm it any more because it was endangered species habitat.

But the more I got into it, I began to realize that the act didn't work. At some point, the agency began to focus on land-use control and forgot all about recovering species.

This was driven by lawsuits. (Environmentalists) would file a lawsuit on the designation of critical habitat, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would lose. As more of a defensive posture, they began focusing on designation of critical habitat and they forgot all about recovering species and whether or not the habitat that was being protected actually did anything.

First, the Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a large office in Sacramento staffed with biologists, who do as much science as they have funding for. They have been in the regulated area. It is the developers who send their lawyers to Washington to lobby for exemptions from enforcement for illegal takes. We think it highly unlikely, for example, that the staffer for an Oregon US Senator, who wrote the Service on behalf of a Los Banos developer, had inspected the land under discussion anymore than the recipient of the letter at the Service's Washington headquarters. But a letter from a senator can have more impact on a federal bureaucracy than a biological study.

While we have never personally heard of a century-old farmer being told he could not longer farm, we have seen several thousand acres in Merced County, pasture land that is prime habitat for 15 endangered species, deep-ripped by developers to clear up any ESA issues, to plant almonds for a few years to hold it for real estate development. But, 100 years ago, farmers didn't use the wildlife-destroying pesticides they use today, yet still, somehow, managed to eke out a precarious and healthy existence, which is why Pombo knows a 100-year-old farmer being crushed by the ESA.

The constant effort of developer-owned legislators and congressmen to sever the
relationship between habitat and species ought to raise the simple question in the public mind: what does an animal or plant species do when it has no habitat? The answer is that it goes extinct, as the San Joaquin Kit Fox, among others, is doing at the moment. If Pombo wanted to actually know, scientifically, what good critical habitat designations were doing for the recovery of endangered species, he would have to quit blocking adequate funding for the Service to conduct the surveys necessary to determine that, as he consistently blocked adequate funding for the CalFed process on the Delta. At the present level of funding, surveys on species are a melange of state and federal studies, salted
with developer-consultant studies. Baselines become acts of business negotiations instead of the results of science. Developers have fought environmental law and regulation relentlessly and inventively, particularly in California, since its inception. The result, from a public point of view, is a scientific swamp full of predators.

Investors in politicians like Pombo and Cardoza are betting that there are not enough people left in California anymore who can remember the abundance of wildlife -- the bird flocks of the San Joaquin Valley, for example -- that used to thrive here. Why should the public sacrifice its memory and its desire to see those flocks building up again to the bottom line of a handful of extremely wealthy developers and their bought congressmen? Why shouldn't we want our environment to become cleaner and healthier for birds and humans and all species, rather than become one more California slurb? While we are asking questions, why wouldn't the public want cleaner and healthier politics in California, something natives also remember.

The velocity of global warming and its impact on the Sierra snowpack, as reported recently by the state Department of Water Resources, may be Nature's way of saying, "Whoa, thar, big cowboy."

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

Contra Costa Times
Endangered species need real recovery now...Rep. Richard Pombo
http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/columnists/perspective/15051396.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp

CALIFORNIA, as much or more than any other state, has witnessed first-hand the Endangered Species Act's shortcomings. Despite the state's obvious stake in ESA, little has been done to move reform legislation through the U.S. Senate. Californians, with untold resources tied up due to ESA, deserve real reform and should demand action from their elected officials. To work, the ESA must refocus on recovery instead of conflict. For TESRA to work, the Senate must get the job done. Endangered species, and Californians, deserve better. Ignoring the need to improve the ESA is a dereliction of Congressional duty and an unrecorded vote to perpetuate a failing conservation program.
---------------------

Sacramento Bee
Pombo lays out case against species act...David Whitney, Bee Washington Bureau
http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/v-print/story/14278671p-15087482c.html

Endangered Species Act...The House approved Pombo's sweeping rewrite of the 1973 law...in September. In the Senate, Pombo's bill was greeted even by Republicans with a measure of skepticism. The Bush administration, while supporting it, is worried about the cost of Pombo's plan to compensate landowners for restrictions on their property use. In an interview, Pombo discussed why he thinks the act signed into law by President Nixon needs
an overhaul and how his bill would work.
Q: What are your problems with the Endangered Species Act now?
A: I didn't like the way it treated private property owners...
Q: There have been some reports, peer reviewed, that have shown the act has been working, that species on the list 13 or more years are by and large stable or improving.
A: That's not accurate...
Q: So you don't think the act is working at all?
A: I wouldn't say it hasn't worked at all. But it hasn't worked the way it should...
Q: How would your bill change it?
A: It completely changes the focus. (By) getting away from the current process of protecting habitat...
Q: The environmentalists claim your bill is just a wholesale elimination of essential habitat. \
A: The funny part is the idea for doing away with critical habitat and going with
recovery habitat actually came from environmental groups...
Q: How would that work?
A: This is where science comes in...
Q: It's late in the congressional session. Are you resigned to this carrying over until next session?
A: Not yet...
-------------------------

Counterpunch.com
June 7, 2003

Bush's War on Endangered Species
Going Critical
By JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

The Bush administration has given up on the art of pretense. There are no more illusions about its predatory attitude toward the environment. No more airy talk about how financial incentives and market forces can protect ecosystems. No more soft rhetoric about how the invisible hand of capitalism has a green thumb.

Now it's down to brass tacks. The Bush administration is steadily unshackling every restraint on the corporations that seek to plunder what is left of the public domain.

For decades, the last obstacle to the wholesale looting of American forests, deserts, mountains and rivers has been the Endangered Species Act, one of the noblest laws ever to emerge from congress. Of course, the ESA has been battered before. Indeed, Al Gore, as a young congressman, led one of the first fights against the law in order to build the Tellico Dam despite the considered opinion of scientists that it would eradicate the snail darter. Reagan and the mad James Watt did also violence to the law. Bush Sr. bruised it as well in the bitter battles over the northern spotted owl. Despite green credentials, Clinton and Bruce Babbitt tried to render the law meaningless, by simply deciding not to
enforce its provisions and by routinely handing out exemptions to favored corporations.

But the Bush administration, under the guidance of Interior Secretary Gale Norton, has taken a different approach: a direct assault on the law seeking to make it as extinct as the Ivory-billed woodpecker. Give them points for brutal honesty.

On May 28, Gale Norton announced that the Interior Department was suspending any new designations of critical habitat for endangered and threatened species. The reason?

Poverty. The Interior Department, Norton sighed, is simply out of money for that kind of work and they've no plans to ask Congress for a supplemental appropriation.

It's no wonder they are running short given the amount of money the agency is pouring out to prepare oil leases in Alaska and Wyoming and mining claims in Idaho and Nevada.

Critical habitat represents exactly what it sounds like: the last refuge of species
hurtling toward extinction, the bare bones of their living quarters. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service must designate critical habitat for each species under the law at the time that they are listed. It is one of three cornerstones to the hall, the other two being the listing itself and the development of recovery plans.

The law hasn't worked that way for many years. Of the 1,250 species listed as threatened or endangered, the Fish and Wildlife Service has only designated critical habitat for about 400 of them. Despite what many mainstream environmentalists are saying, the attempt to unravel critical habitat has a bipartisan history and has even included the unseemly connivance of some environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund.

During the Clinton era, Bruce Babbitt capped the amount of money the agency could spend preparing critical habitat designations. Babbitt tried to wrap this noxious move in the benign rhetoric that was his calling card. He piously suggesting that designating the habitat wasn't as important as getting the species listed. Of course, it's the habitat designation that puts the brakes on timber sales and other intrusions into the listed species' homeground.

Babbitt's monkeywrenching was not viewed kindly by the federal courts, which issued order after order compelling the Department of the Interior to move forward with the designations. Those court orders piled up for eight years with little follow through.

Babbitt could get away with this legal intransigent because the DC environmental crowd was too timid to hold his feet to the fire.

Now the Bush administration has inherited the languishing court orders and a raft of new suits, many filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson and the Alliance of the Wild Rockies in Missoula, two of the most creative and tireless environmental groups in the country. The Bush administration is not embarrassed about losing one lawsuit after another on this issue for the simple reason that it wants to engineer a legal train wreck scenario that it hopes will destroy the law once and for all.

The scheme to pull the plug on critical habitat began soon after Bush took office.

Beginning in 2001, Gale Norton ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to begin inserting disclaimers about critical habitat into all federal notices and press releases regarding endangered species. The disclaimer proclaims boldly: "Designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to species."

This is simply a bogus claim as proved by the Fish and Wildlife Service's own data. In its last report to congress, the agency admitted that species with habitat designations are 13 percent more likely to have stable populations and 11 percent more likely to be heading toward recovery than species without critical habitat designations.

Then in May of 2002 the Bush administration, at the behest of the home construction industry and big agriculture, moved to rescind critical habitat designations and protections for 19 species of salmon and steelhead in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The move covered fish in more than 150 different watersheds, clearing the way for timber sales, construction and water diversions.

The next move the administration made against critical habitat was to begin redrawing the existing habitat maps to exclude areas highly prized by oil and timber companies. Since 2001, the Bush administration has reduced the land area contained within critical habitat by more than 50 percent with no credible scientific basis to support the shrinkage.

The administration had practical motives. In coastal California, Norton ordered the BLM to speed up new oil and gas leases in roadless lands on the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, home to more than 20 endangered species, including the condor and steelhead trout. Where once the burden lay with the oil companies to prove that their operations would not harm these species, now it is reversed. Environmentalists must both prove that the listed species are present in the area and that they will be harmed by the drilling.

Next on the hit list was the coastal California gnatcatcher, whose protected habitat had already been shrunk to landfills and Interstate cloverleaves under Babbitt. Carrying water for California homebuilders, Norton lifted protections for the bird on 500,000 acres of habitat in order to "reevaluate its economic analysis" from the habitat protection plan released in 2000. The administration also moved to rescind protections for the tiny San Diego fairy shrimp.

If you want a case study on how endangered species flounder without benefit of critical habitat designations look no further than the mighty grizzly bear of the northern Rockies.

The grizzly was listed as a threatened species in 1975, but it has never had its critical habitat designated because a 1978 amendment to the Endangered Species Act granted the Fish and Wildlife Service the discretion to avoid making the designation for species listed prior to that year. The provision was inserted in the law by members of the Wyoming congressional delegation at the request of the mining and timber industry.

Grizzly populations are lower now than they were when the bear was listed. Tens of thousands of acres of grizzly habitat have been destroyed by clearcutting, roads and mines. Within the next 10 years, grizzly experts predict that key habitat linkages between isolated bear populations will be effective destroyed, dooming the species to extinction across much of its range. Even biologists in the Bush administration now admit that grizzly population in the Cabinet-Yaak Mountains on the Idaho/Montana border warrants being upgraded from threatened to endangered.

Now the terrible of fate of the grizzly is about to be visited upon hundreds of other species thanks to the Bush administration's latest maneuver. "When opponents of the Endangered Species Act seek to gut the critical habitat provision, they are gut-shooting endangered species, in direct offense to national public policy and our system of majority rule," says Mike Bader, a grizzly specialist with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. "In their zeal to fatten corporate profits, they seek to bankrupt our national heritage."
------------------

Counterpunch.com
July 13, 2006

$11 Million Every Hour
What the Iraq War is Costing Us
By Rep. JOHN P. MURTHA

We are spending $8 billion a month in Iraq. that equates to 2 billion dollars a week, or 267 million dollars a day, or 11 million dollars an hour.

Attached are some comparisons between what we are spending in Iraq as we "stay the course" indefinitely and what those funds could be used for instead.

I've been fighting for our military to get out of Iraq because I'm concerned about the loss of our troops and the future of our military and also because I believe they have accomplished their mission there and the Iraqis must resolve their internal conflict themselves. However, I also wanted to demonstrate what these expenses mean to domestic policy in the United States and give you an idea of just some of the things that what we could accomplish with this amount of money.

NATIONAL SECURITY

$33.1 billion/yr Department of Homeland Security FY 07 budget (4 months in Iraq)

$10 billion (1-time) Equipping commercial airliners with defenses against shoulder fired missiles (5 weeks in Iraq)

$8.6 billion/7 years Shortage of international aid needed to rebuild Afghanistan (one month in Iraq)

$5.2 billion (1-time) estimated need for capital improvements to secure public transportation system (trains, subways, buses)

(3 weeks in Iraq)

$1.5 billion/year Radiation detectors needed at all US ports (rejected due to cost) (5 days in Iraq)

$1.4 billion/ year Double the COPS (community police grants) program (5 days in Iraq)

$800 million/year public transportation personnel training and technical support (72 hours in Iraq)

$700 million/year 100% screening of all air cargo - rejected because of (2 days in Iraq) cost (1/4 of domestic shipping and 1/2 of international shipping is done on passenger planes)

$350 million (1-time) Make emergency radio systems interoperable (1.2 days in Iraq) (recommended after 9/11 but hasn't happened yet)

$500 million/year Double the firefighters grant program (2 days in Iraq)

$94 million/year Restore cuts to cities hit on 9/11 in Homeland Security budget (8-1/2 hours in Iraq)

HEALTH CARE/VETERANS

$36 billion/5 years reduction for Medicare spending in President's FY 07 budget (4-1/2 months in Iraq)

$5 billion/5 years Cut in Medicaid in President's FY 2007 budget (2-1/2 weeks in Iraq)

$2.5 billion/5 years VA health care premium increases in this year's budget. Premiums will double and triple and drug co-payments will increase, costing our military retirees $2.4 billion over 5 years (9 days in Iraq)

$100 million Additional funding recommended for mental health research for Veterans (9 hours in Iraq)

$48 million Medical and prosthetic research for Veterans (half a day in Iraq)

$65 million/yr National Institutes of Health research funding cuts in this year's budget (scientists are leaving the field of health research because funding has been cut so severely) (6 hours in Iraq)

$15 billion/yr Provide health insurance to 9 million children with no health insurance (1-1/2 weeks in Iraq)

$118 million/yr The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides nutritional food packages for less than $20 a month to more than 400,000 elderly people - eliminated in the President's budget (12 hours in Iraq)

EDUCATION

$3.4 billion/yr Cut in education budget in President's FY 07 budget from FY 06 funding level (over 40 programs including drug-free schools, federal support for the arts,technology and parent-resource centers). (13 days in Iraq)

$664 million/yr Perkins Loan program cut in President's FY 07 budget (would help 463,000 low-income students attend college) (2-1/2 days in Iraq)

$99 million/yr Even Start (eliminated in President's budget) (9 hours in Iraq)

ENVIRONMENT/INFRASTRUCTURE

$300 million President's cut to EPA budget in FY 2007 (1 day, 3 hours in Iraq)

$253 billion/30 years Clean up contaminated sites in US (Up to 350,000 contaminated sites will require cleanup over the next 30 years according to a report released by the EPA.) (2 years in Iraq)

$9.11 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog (1 month, 10 days in Iraq)

$6 billion Forest Service maintenance backlog (3 weeks in Iraq)

$2 billion Fish and Wildlife Service maintenance backlog (2 weeks in Iraq)

$47.2 billion/yr Miscellaneous user fees throughout government imposed by President's budget on taxpayers (6 months in Iraq)

$1.7 billion/yr Grants to states cut in 2007 budget (1 week in Iraq)

$15 million/yr Double the Save America's Treasures program (cut in half from last year's budget) (1.3 hours in Iraq)

DEFENSE

$6 billion Double the number of Navy ships we are buying in the 2007 bill from 6 ships to 12. (3 weeks in Iraq)

$8 billion Double the number of total Air Force aircraft we are buying in this bill. That's right ? we could double the number of F-22s, Joint Strike Fighters, C-130's, Global Hawks and Predators we are buying. Or, we could double the number of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft we are buying F-18s, V-22s, KC-130Js, and so on. (1 month in Iraq)

Rep. John P. Murtha is a member of Congress from Pennsylvania.

| »

Happy Bastille Day

Submitted: Jul 14, 2006

The other revelation is that being highly educated was no guarantee of sharing in the benefits of economic growth. There’s a persistent myth, perpetuated by economists who should know better — like Edward Lazear, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — that rising inequality in the United States is mainly a matter of a rising gap between those with a lot of education and those without. But census data show that the real earnings of the typical college graduate actually fell in 2004. – Paul Krugman, July 14, 2006
-----------------------

We read this news of the rapidly growing inequality of income in the United States on Bastille Day, the beginning of the French Revolution, 217 years ago. We appreciate the above revelation about the relationship between higher education and economic benefit, which allows us to dismiss one more persistent claim of UC Merced’s bobcatflackers -- that a UC degree is a highway to economic heaven. -- Bill Hatch
------------------------

http://select.nytimes.com/2006/07/14/opinion/14krugman.html

July 14, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist
Left Behind Economics

By PAUL KRUGMAN

I’d like to say that there’s a real dialogue taking place about the state of the U.S. economy, but the discussion leaves a lot to be desired. In general, the conversation sounds like this:

Bush supporter: “Why doesn’t President Bush get credit for a great economy? I blame liberal media bias.”

Informed economist: “But it’s not a great economy for most Americans. Many families are actually losing ground, and only a very few affluent people are doing really well.”

Bush supporter: “Why doesn’t President Bush get credit for a great economy? I blame liberal media bias.”

To a large extent, this dialogue of the deaf reflects Upton Sinclair’s principle: it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. But there’s also an element of genuine incredulity. Many observers, even if they acknowledge the growing concentration of income in the hands of the few, find it hard to believe that this concentration could be proceeding so rapidly as to deny most Americans any gains from economic growth.

Yet newly available data show that that’s exactly what happened in 2004.

Why talk about 2004, rather than more recent experience? Unfortunately, data on the distribution of income arrive with a substantial lag; the full story of what happened in 2004 has only just become available, and we won’t be able to tell the full story of what’s happening right now until the last year of the Bush administration. But it’s reasonably clear that what’s happening now is the same as what happened then: growth in the economy as a whole is mainly benefiting a small elite, while bypassing most families.

Here’s what happened in 2004. The U.S. economy grew 4.2 percent, a very good number. Yet last August the Census Bureau reported that real median family income — the purchasing power of the typical family — actually fell. Meanwhile, poverty increased, as did the number of Americans without health insurance. So where did the growth go?

The answer comes from the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, whose long-term estimates of income equality have become the gold standard for research on this topic, and who have recently updated their estimates to include 2004. They show that even if you exclude capital gains from a rising stock market, in 2004 the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans surged by almost 12.5 percent. Meanwhile, the average real income of the bottom 99 percent of the population rose only 1.5 percent. In other words, a relative handful of people received most of the benefits of growth.

There are a couple of additional revelations in the 2004 data. One is that growth didn’t just bypass the poor and the lower middle class, it bypassed the upper middle class too. Even people at the 95th percentile of the income distribution — that is, people richer than 19 out of 20 Americans — gained only modestly. The big increases went only to people who were already in the economic stratosphere.

The other revelation is that being highly educated was no guarantee of sharing in the benefits of economic growth. There’s a persistent myth, perpetuated by economists who should know better — like Edward Lazear, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — that rising inequality in the United States is mainly a matter of a rising gap between those with a lot of education and those without. But census data show that the real earnings of the typical college graduate actually fell in 2004.

In short, it’s a great economy if you’re a high-level corporate executive or someone who owns a lot of stock. For most other Americans, economic growth is a spectator sport.

Can anything be done to spread the benefits of a growing economy more widely? Of course. A good start would be to increase the minimum wage, which in real terms is at its lowest level in half a century.

But don’t expect this administration or this Congress to do anything to limit the growing concentration of income. Sometimes I even feel sorry for these people and their apologists, who are prevented from acknowledging that inequality is a problem by both their political philosophy and their dependence on financial support from the wealthy. That leaves them no choice but to keep insisting that ordinary Americans — who have, in fact, been bypassed by economic growth — just don’t understand how well they’re doing.
---------------------------------

The fact that the rich are getting both relatively and absolutely richer, and the poor are getting relatively (if not absolutely) poorer, in the United States today is abundantly clear to all – although the true extent of this trend defies the imagination. Over the years 1950 to 1970, for each additional dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of income earners, those in the top 0.01 percent received an additional $162. In contrast, from 1990 to 2002, for every added dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent, those in the uppermost 0.01 percent (today around 14,000 households) made an additional $18,000. – “Aspects of Class in the United States: An Introduction,” John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review, July-August, 2006.

| »

Bravo, Rose Burroughs

Submitted: Jun 29, 2006

When, in the wake of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the state Reclamation Board began to take a hard look at building on flood plains along the Sacramento River and the Delta, as it has the authority to do, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fired them all in September 2005.

Nearly a quarter of the governor's campaign financing, about $17.25 million, had come from developers by the time the board began to act to protect the levees and residents alongside them.

Judging from the odd comment by out-going board members, developers have big plans for the levees. One example was this from Jeffrey F. Mount, fired board member and chairman of the UC Davis department of geology.

In an interview several months ago, Mount said, "We need regional land use planning so we don't continue to build behind these agricultural levees."

Also, he said, a mechanism is needed to pay for strengthening existing levees, and flood insurance should be mandatory.

"Everything I'm saying, of course," Mount said, "will be violently resisted by the building industry."

The violence building industry lobbyists and spokespeople do to the truth of the destruction they are causing to public resources, public health and to the environment was brought home yesterday at a round table where a BIA official from Bakersfield insisted air quality is better there now than it was 20 years ago. The statement echoed one made by a Fresno BIA flak last summer, claiming there was no speculation going on in the Valley housing market.

These people will lie to the public -- and they are paid well to lie -- whenever their greedy interests and desire to exploit the environment are challenged in whatever forum. Many of them, we imagine, have never had an experience of earning an honest living and in their hearts lying and earning are inextricably combined.

This week the new, all-Hun board, approved

a developer's plan to build luxury homes atop a massive new levee in San Joaquin County.

The vote by the California Reclamation Board allows the River Islands project in Lathrop to move ahead with the first phase of a development that will eventually include 11,000 homes on Stewart Tract, an island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The developer is British, the Cambay Group, so presumably the atop-new-levee estates will be suitably classy for whatever elite-of-the-week the Bay Area is creating when they go on sale.

Putting aside the environmental and aesthetic destruction of this project, it is another example of colonization of the San Joaquin Valley by global capital groups. Other examples, just in Merced County, include a German aggregate-mining corporation and a Canadian development corporation, alongside all the national home-building corporations, WalMart distribution centers in the nation's top or second worst air pollution basin and the NASCAR track proposed for Atwater.

Let them breathe diesel! say the Walton heiresses.

What made life bearable for generations of low-wage workers in the San Joaquin Valley was access to nature, to the "country." The Bay Area has extruded gated pods of rich, "active seniors" to settle on what was once fairly open, accessible land for recreation in the huge, greedy rush to privatize everything, seal it off, patrol and protect it, warping the life of the older community around it.

Developers have the state over a barrel in California as the result of a court decision that charged the state for damages caused by a levee break several years ago. So the main concern of the board seemed to be how to make sure the new, British-built levee won't break, conveniently forgetting that this folly could depend on what might break well above the new "super levee" adorned with chateaux de silicon. But, before levees are strengthened along the Delta, Cambay and its bankers must build their project, or the global economic system will doubtless crumble.

Federal water runs between state levees, without which Cambay could not build their super levee in the first place. Our Hun, in thrall to developers as every politician in California, fires a board for questioning the wisdom of building on flood plains behind state levees channeling federal water. Then, after the dramatic spring floodwaters recede, here comes the project again. It arrives and is approved as if to remind us that California is now so over-built, over-crowded, its population so beyond the carrying capacity of its resources that coal-fired power plants pollute the Arizona and New Mexico to power California desert air conditioners, and its politicians and courts are so completely in development's pockets that when a levee breaks and floods houses on flood plains behind it, the state pays for the damage.

But -- Sell it and ruin it, it's only the Valley! is the battle cry of our hard-right decision-makers. Their political leader in San Joaquin County is Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and scion on the Pombo Real Estate Farms clan. They call it the "courage" to stand against reason, ethics, economic sanity, environmental law and regulation, and the future possibilities of agriculture in the richest, most productive agricultural valley in the world. Their kind of courage is to sell off the Public Trust, subsidize the damage and endanger public health, approve subdivisions on farmland, then enthusiastically support University of California plans for a research medical school at Merced. According to some statistics, the Valley is short of physicians. UC hopes to attract research physicians specializing in pediatric and geriatric respiratory diseases to this evolving research bonanza of gasping victims of the San Joaquin Valley slurbocracy, which features all the pollution of Los Angeles plus pesticides, along with a derelict levee system.

But the board was not unanimous. Merced County's Rose Burroughs opposed the decision.

"We humans need to respect the power of Mother Nature and realize dirt levees will eventually give out," she said.

Bravo, Rose! May many elected and appointed officials follow her lead and vote their conscience, common sense and environmental awareness.

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

Notes:

ttp://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/14272102p-15082546c.html

Homes approved near river with 'superlevee' protection
State board satisfied with barrier guarding San Joaquin project
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer
June 27, 2006

State flood-control officials gave a green light Monday to a developer's plan to build luxury homes atop a massive new levee in San Joaquin County.
The vote by the California Reclamation Board allows the River Islands project in Lathrop to move ahead with the first phase of a development that will eventually include 11,000 homes on Stewart Tract, an island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The developer, British-owned Cambay Group, plans to build 224 of those homes on top of a new 300-foot-wide "superlevee" overlooking the San Joaquin River.

The Reclamation Board approved an encroachment permit that determines where private structures can be built on the levee. It reserves 60 feet of space inland from the San Joaquin River for levee maintenance.
But critics said it could open the door to more development in the Delta and expose thousands more people to flood risk.

"I believe they have insulted the public, and I believe they have permitted projects that are injurious to the public," said Tom Foley, president of Concerned Citizens for Responsible Growth, a Marysville-based group that opposes the project.

Susan Dell'Osso, River Islands project director, said the levee gives her project some of the highest flood protection in California.

"We think the proposal before you today treats us the same as other applicants," she told the board. "In fact, it's a little harsher on us, yet it's something we can live with."

The board voted 4-1 to approve the permit. RoseMarie Burroughs cast the only "no" vote.

"We humans need to respect the power of Mother Nature and realize dirt levees will eventually give out," she said. "Building homes on levees makes the hair stand up on my back with fear."

River Islands has already received approval from the city of Lathrop to build the homes on Stewart Tract.

The city also granted a grading permit that allowed River Islands to build a new private ring levee inside part of the existing federal levees on Stewart Tract. About 2,400 homes will be built inside this new levee during the first phase of construction.

The Reclamation Board has the right to review any levee alterations on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers systems.

On June 16, the Reclamation Board gave the Cambay Group approval to fill in the space between the new and old levees on Stewart Tract to create the new levee.

Monday's vote determined how much of that levee must be left accessible for maintenance and repairs.

The Reclamation Board effectively decided that only the old federal levee needs to be accessed for long-term maintenance, even though it will be partially buried by the new levee.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed with that conclusion.

As a result, Monday's action excludes private development extending 60 feet back from the San Joaquin River's edge. The rest of the levee will be open to construction of private homes, swimming pools and outbuildings.

The Reclamation Board also reserved an "excavation easement" over an additional sliver of private land up to 25 feet wide. This allows the state to access backyards to dig a trench down to the original federal levee in case repairs are required.

It will have no legal right to access the rest of the massive levee.

Les Harder, deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources, said it is unlikely levee problems would develop farther back on the levee, such as underneath new homes.

He also said that since it is likely housing will be built on Stewart Tract regardless of any Reclamation Board actions, a "superlevee" may be a good idea.

"It's my sense that this superlevee would be far better protection than anything else you have in the valley," he said.

The permit also allows River Islands to make public improvements for a recreational parkway in the 60-foot easement, subject to staff approval. This could include planting trees and building public structures like restrooms.

Board member Butch Hodgkins said this would help ensure that private structures are not eventually built across the levee, which would impede access for flood control.

"There is a common interest between flood control and public use and open space," Hodgkins said.
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http://www.calcoast.org/news/cpr0050928.html

Schwarzenegger fires flood control panel
The state Reclamation Board had begun resisting development along vulnerable levees

Nancy Vogel
The Los Angeles Times
September 28, 2005

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday fired all six members of the state Reclamation Board, an agency that oversees flood control along California's two biggest rivers and had recently become more aggressive about slowing development on flood plains.

The Republican governor replaced the members — who serve indefinite terms at the governor's pleasure — with seven of his own appointees, most with ties to agriculture and the engineering profession. One board seat had been vacant since spring.

Five of the fired members had been appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, and one had first been appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, then reappointed by Davis.

Fired board member Jeffrey F. Mount, chairman of the UC Davis geology department, said he was given no explanation for his dismissal. It was not completely unexpected, he said.

"It's perfectly reasonable for a governor to want to have his own people who represent his policies on flood control," Mount said. He added, "All I know is, we made a lot of people unhappy."

When Hurricane Katrina breached levees and flooded New Orleans a month ago, the board voted to review all urban development plans proposed for Central Valley flood plains — a power it has long held but only occasionally used.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said the appointments had been in the works for "quite some time to ensure the most qualified individuals were chosen."

"The appointees are representative of the valley and experts in engineering and water issues," she said.

In a prepared statement earlier Tuesday, the governor made no mention of the former board members but praised their replacements.

"California faces significant flood challenges," Schwarzenegger said. "To protect our communities, economy and keep Californians safe we need a comprehensive and ongoing effort to reduce these risks with better planning, new investments and improved flood infrastructure." He added that "each one of these individuals shares my commitment to ensuring these lifesaving efforts are not ignored or postponed."

State law gives the Reclamation Board substantial power to review development in the extensive flood plains along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries. The board can make recommendations that local governments cannot ignore without legal findings that justify their plans. Until the last few years, that power was rarely used.

The board had recently begun to challenge local governments' development plans. Along the Feather River south of Marysville, for example, the board balked at Yuba County's plans to build subdivisions in an area that had been flooded by a 1997 break in a levee the state was responsible for.

The state recently agreed to pay more than 600 victims $45 million as a result of that flood.

The Reclamation Board eventually reached an agreement with Yuba County to limit construction to 800 homes in the area this year. The county also agreed to waive the state's liability for future flood damages in the area, known as Arboga.

Mount and other members of the fired board have argued for tougher restrictions on home building near levees. Many stretches of Central Valley levees were built decades ago to protect farmland; they are now aging and weakening at the same time they are being expected to protect thousands of new homes.

In an interview several months ago, Mount said, "We need regional land use planning so we don't continue to build behind these agricultural levees."

Also, he said, a mechanism is needed to pay for strengthening existing levees, and flood insurance should be mandatory.

"Everything I'm saying, of course," Mount said, "will be violently resisted by the building industry."

Outgoing board members said Tuesday they had heard rumors that Schwarzenegger was contemplating changes and understood that he has a right to make his own appointments. But they were surprised that he removed an experienced board when the state faces important decisions about the safety of its levees.

"It is not a good time for a change," said fired member Anthony J. Cusenza, a retired dentist from Modesto. "There is so much going on right now with these issues."

One of the biggest challenges for the new board, he said, is reviewing flood plain development. "We were pretty tough on developers," he said. "We are not in the land use [business.] Our concern was levees. The heat we were getting was — we were adamant about not putting people in harm's way."

Outgoing board President Betsy A. Marchand, a former Yolo County supervisor, said the timing of the board's replacement "does surprise me because this board was very active…. I guess I was thinking that perhaps they were going to let us continue with our program of bringing these issues to the forefront."

Former Sacramento city manager and board member William H. Edgar said the board was also very concerned about home building where levees had not been upgraded. He said it would be difficult for the new board to catch up and address such issues now, "but we wish them well."

In the recently ended Legislative session, the Schwarzenegger administration sponsored a bill that would have created a new Central Valley authority to assess property owners for better flood control. The bill was amended to require simply a study of levee strength and repair priorities, but it still failed, in part for lack of GOP support.

Schwarzenegger's budget this year boosted levee maintenance by $26 million, reversing cuts made in the last several years. This month, he called on California's congressional delegation to seek more than $90 million to pay for strengthening Central Valley levees.

But the governor also has strong ties to the building industry. A Times analysis of Schwarzenegger's donors shows that at least 23% of the $75 million he has raised since 2002 has come from businesses or individuals involved in residential or industrial construction, development and real estate.

The California Building Industry Assn., which represents home builders, and its members are among his biggest donors. The trade group has given the governor's campaigns $180,000.

The others terminated Tuesday are retired Stockton school administrator Floyd H. Weaver and former Tehama County supervisor Burton Bundy.

The new members are Cheryl Bly-Chester, owner of a Roseville engineering firm; Rose Burroughs, owner of a livestock company in Denair; Benjamin Carter, a Colusa farmer; Maureen Doherty, a Maxwell rancher; Francis "Butch" Hodgkins, former executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency; Emma Suarez, a Folsom attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation; and Teri Rie, a Contra Costa County civil engineer.

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Where do "growth" profits go?

Submitted: Jun 17, 2006

I have a dumb question I am proud of. It is so dumb it is worthy of a citizen of the new Appalachia, as the San Joaquin Valley is known in fashionable political circles. None of the smart people in charge of our Merced County growth are talking about this question, at least in public. And if you don't want to live in the shade of a speculative real estate boom, why -- for Land's sake, son, -- you can go straight back to the old Appalachia, at least as far as our fashionable political circles are concerned.

None other than the president of the University of California said UC Merced would be a high-tech and bio-tech engine for growth, and the implication behind his statement was that no community could ask for anything better than such a thing as that because growth raises all boats and brings the long-sought universal prosperity where pies fall from the sky and money grows on trees.

But, where do the profits from all this “growth” go?

Merced County is in the midst of a speculative housing boom. The local paper reports that, “Housing prices have soared to 77 percent above where they should be,” but a housing industry consultant said they should sink “about 35 percent to 40 percent over a period of three years.”

But the essence of a speculative boom is that is bust, as much a part of it as that 77-percent over value, cannot be predicted. From a speculator’s viewpoint, however, it’s a fair guess the housing prices are just about where they should be – maybe a little low, but not bad if you can flip the property before the bust.

Since most of the investment comes from the outside, would the capital and its profits (or losses) return to the outside? Where does the money go that developers paid farmers and ranchers for their land? Pretty places in the mountains and on the seashore? Farm or ranchland in some other, cheaper state? Where does the money a homeowner receives for his or her house go? If you sell your farm, ranch, or house, it seems logical to assume your money goes with you, elsewhere. What economic incentive would there be for local people who had just sold to buy agricultural land or a house in Merced County at the moment? Wouldn’t they want to go raise some other community’s real estate values? Or would they just blow it on golf, cutting horses, really expensive SUVs or trips to Thailand? Has there been any real public benefit from all this money? Has there been any thought that all this investment and profit should produce some public benefit?

It’s clear that one dumb question leads to others, even dumber.

UC Merced’s vice chancellor for money raising, John Garamendi, Jr., announces a big increase in donations to the school now that the campus is open. Does that money benefit the people of Merced? Nope. Primarily, it gratifies the prestige cravings of the donors, UC research, and UC staff after the large cut for administrative fees is taken. If donors want to benefit the educational progress of the people of Merced, isn’t the best bang for the buck still Merced College, which educates local students in practical skills and transfer credits so that they can attend universities and colleges later?

As far as the Great Merced Speculative Housing Boom is concerned, is that a genuine, huge, Perotian sucking sound we hear?

All that obstructs the glorious flow of the boom are the niceties of the land-use laws. But, if Merced County is nearly devoid of the kind of entrepreneurs who created new industries and jobsites, it is exceedingly rich in the kind of politicians and planning departments adept at getting around the niceties of the law.

To begin, everybody who is anybody in Merced County is his or her own planning department.

There are the county and the incorporated cities, which actually have legally constituted planning departments.

There is UC Merced, which had a completely separate planning department until recently. Now they have turned over development of their UC Community to Lennar Homes, a national home building and another de facto planning department.

There is the county Public Works Department that planned the Campus Parkway.

There are large projects like WalMart and the Riverside Motorsport Park, which create their own plans and count on their own political influence to drive them through the legal land-use authorities. Others in this category would include: Gallo’s Yosemite Lakes, Toronto-based Brookfield Homes, KB Home Central Valley, Inc., Florsheim Land, LLC, Crosswinds Development at Bellevue Ranch, the Gallo/Kelley Stevinson new town, and Ranchwood’s Geneva at Planada. This by no means exhausts the list.

Greg Hostetler’s Los Banos-based Ranchwood Homes is in a class by itself, the local boy who pay wages to other local boys and girls. But, nonetheless, some dumb questions about Ranchwood arise. Does Ranchwood operate on its own money? If not, where do its investor profits go? Los Banos? San Jose? San Francisco? Los Angeles? Chicago? Hong Kong? Does being the local developer mean Ranchwood should be granted dispensation from every local, state and federal environmental law and regulation and public process? Or just the laws it wants to break? Who, for example, granted dispensation to Ranchwood to disk or deep-rip several thousand acres of habitat for endangered species? Who excused Ranchwood from installing a 42-inch sewer trunk line from Livingston, entirely in county jurisdiction, without any county permits, to open a corridor for residential development from Livingston’s pathetic sewer plant all the way to Stevinson? What planning department actually authorized Ranchwood to build settling ponds that flooded this winter in Franklin-Beachwood?

There is also the special category of Fox Hills, a new town near Los Banos, one of whose developers is Steve Sloan, also chairman of the Merced County Planning Commission.

There is the Merced County Association of Governments (McAg, as some locals call it) which claims the land-use authority to act as the lead agency and planning department for an entire transportation plan for the county. Although MCAG tries, and reported having spent $420,000 on its latest multi-year campaign to get Merced County citizens to raise their sales taxes to pay for UC’s roads, it has still not added successful political campaign consulting to its resume of expanding powers. McAg’s latest transportation plan would remove 2,000 acres of Valley agricultural land. Now, what has that got to do with the county’s existing General Plan?

There is Gov, Schwarzenegger’s San Joaquin Valley Partnership (whose vice chairman is San Joaquin County’s most prominent developer), which will define what areas between Lodi and Arvin will become exempt from environmental law and regulation for the purpose of development.

Finally, there is the Great Valley Center (known to some as the Great Valley Economic Development Corporation) a non-profit corporation acting as a regional planning agency to push an eight-county council of governments to create a blueprint of those same areas to be exempted from environmental law and regulation.

All this goes on in the bureaucratic stratosphere while the legally constituted land-use authorities stall on updating their general and community plans, the legally compliant documents that include local public comment that are supposed to guide how these jurisdictions want to grow. Merced County has been so completely dominated by UC, by developers and by grifting hordes of planning and environmental consultants, that its officials no longer even see its citizens and their diminishing natural resources, much less hear public doubt. But, hey, how about that Measure A?

Isn’t the speculative housing boom in Merced County “trickle up and out” economics? It has corrupted and destroyed the land-use authority of local government, charged with balancing the impacts on existing citizens from speculative housing booms, their busts and consequences.

This growth boom creates a magnet for chain retailers, extracting more profits from the community, driving local retailers out of business, making downtown a haven for antique franchises -- all perfect according to the impeccably stupid ideology of the far right business community, dominated by developers and realtors. Who benefits when people who should not have tried to buy homes on adjustable rate mortgages cannot meet their balloon payments, meeting instead their natural predators, the foreclosure vultures? Is there anything less conducive to civic harmony than the naked hand of the real estate marketplace?

Ironically, the workers that have probably realized some benefit from the boom have been those farmworkers able to find work in construction. Personally, I would be skeptical of the ability of a tomato picker to construct a roof gable that doesn’t leak, but who cares in a real estate boom? For the rest of Generation Me, when the real estate deal bottoms out, it will be back to McJobs. While local government planners mutter about preserving land for industry to improve the jobs/housing ratio, some members of the public wonder if the owners of parcels zoned for industry are simply getting a property tax break while they hold the land for residential development.

Speculators and developers have bought thousands of acres of Merced farmland and realize a state subsidy on property tax under the Williamson Act. County supervisors only voted in the Williamson Act in 2000, 35 years after the act was established to help farmers keep their land in agricultural production. It was sold politically under the entirely bogus theory that it would be “mitigation for UC Merced,” language not appearing in the legislation nor contemplated in its intent. However, it was very popular among a select group of large landowners and land speculators, who, by 2000 could not be distinguished one from the other. The late passage of the Williamson Act in Merced County, for corrupted reasons, raises the question of what Merced farmers and ranchers might have been able to achieve with 35 years of property tax savings, had supervisors supported agriculture from the act’s inception.

Watching the founding of UC Merced led some members of the public to revise their entire theory of the American university, deciding that there are really only two divisions left: Science and Technology incubating new high-tech, bio-tech engines of growth; while all departments of what was once called Humanities have become nothing but propaganda incubators. Could a university with a beginning as destructive as UC Merced ever produce anything but weapons of mass destruction? We put our hope in Rep. RichPAC Pombo, R-Tracy and his local supporters: let those super patriots become neighbors of UC’s new level-4 biodefense laboratory. We prefer not to. There is something about proximity to Ebola that does not inspire confidence in a UC education.

After nine months of campus operation, UC Merced’s chancellor, provost, one vice chancellor, its environmental compliance officer and the dean of social sciences have fled. Why? It’s just another dumb question.

Bill Hatch
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6-16-06
Merced Sun-Star
Planada...Chris Collins...In Brief
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12326846p-13059086c.html
PLANADA
Planada board to hold meeting about development
The Planada Municipal Advisory Council will host a meeting June 29 to discuss the proposed Geneva Estates development.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Planada Community Hall at the Senior Annex Building.
For more information, call 385-7366. -- Chris Collins

Hot housing likely to cool...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12326842p-13059033c.html
Housing prices have soared to 77 percent above where they should be, which means Merced is "at risk for a price correction," according to the study released earlier this week by financial services company National City and economic information company Global Insight. When prices dip, they'll probably sink about 35 percent to 40 percent over a period of three years, said DeKaser.Developers and real estate agents alike have been forced to slash prices lately.

Grand Jury scolds planners over service...Chris Collins
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12326844p-13059085c.html
A report released by the Merced County Civil Grand Jury accuses the county Planning Department of poor customer service, using faulty computer records, and refusing to carry out an order issued by the five-member Planning Commission.
UCM pledges increase fourfold...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12326841p-13059087c.html
Fundraising efforts at UC Merced this year have drawn the most private support in the university's history, with total donations for the year at more than $19 million, according to university officials. Of the 612 gifts made by 462 private donors this year, the largest - at $5 million - will support the university's proposed medical school. The national corporation that made the donation will be publicly announced soon, said Garamendi. Systemwide, UC has brought in more than $1 billion a year for the past five years, according to the UC Office of the President.

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After another week of flak

Submitted: Jun 11, 2006

If for some reason, one finds oneself trying to look at things while standing somewhere in
grass roots, one of the first problems met is smoke generation. Part of learning the lay of
the land involves locating the local, regional, state and national smoke generators operating
near the grass roots one stands in. In other words, what flak, generated by whom, is smogging
local communications with propaganda for whose profit?

Public relations, as it is called, is among our newest professions. Related, and somewhat
newer, are our "environmental consulting firms," known in some circles as "bio-stitutes,"
because they sell their science for fees. If the grass roots in which one stands are
withering, there are biostitutes ready and willing to declare with scientific authority that
the withering is only in the eyes of someone who happens to be standing in grass roots in
the path of development.

One of the worst examples of smoke generation, combining science and PR, is promotion of
genetically engineered seed, crops with patented gene modifications in their seeds whose
pollen spreads the modified genes around the surrounding countryside. The GMO corporations
seem to be companies run almost entirely by their PR departments, with a few scientists in
the lab shotgunning strands of DNA with foreign genes to "see what sticks." Of course,
any farmer knows who ever asked any pesticide salesman why any pesticide worked, only to
receive the answer, "We don't know but it sure kills bugs," there is virtually no
environmental or even agricultural concern involved in the "corporate culture" of the giant
pesticide companies now producing GE seed.

If one's grass roots are in the San Joaquin Valley, the mental smog comes from a variety of
smoke generating equipment, some of it old, some of it new. Pesticide and fertilizer
companies have been promoting their ever-changing products and extracting their profits from
the Valley for decades. Farmers have come and gone, the entire scale and crop mix of Valley
agriculture has changed, but the pesticide (now GE-seed) corporations go on, immortal,
fictional persons that they are. Sometimes it takes a word from afar, even from as far as the
North Dakota wheat deal, to remind us that seed is life, corporations are just pieces of
paper. Some of the commodities -- dairy, cotton, rice, poultry, some fruits -- are old and
possess venerable smoke machines. An odd, and oddly unacknowledged aspect of our economic
system is that although the PR of its biggest winners has never failed to preach the holy
mystery of the market and competition, while doing everything they can to control their own
markets and protect their own government subsidies. The current one-party, far-rightwing
House of Representatives is a psychotic case in point. Taking big telecommunications' firms
money, they vote against enshrining in law the principle of neutrality on the Internet,
proving again the old political adage the the only truly free market in America is Congress,
where everyone is for sale. They call that being conservative and even godly when in fact it
is just religiously sanctified graft.

The grass rooter may take the privilege of remaining skeptical about the economic benefits of
market control and subsidies on certain agricultural commodities. Likewise, he may take a
skeptical position on various governmental strategies to keep land in agricultural production
rather than letting it go to the developer's blade. California's Williamson Act and
Agricultural Preserve laws, which provide a property tax subvention to farmers and ranchers,
has probably been the best law for preserving agriculture in the state -- not that it has not
and cannot be perverted by developers planting large, newly acquired parcels in crops of
convenience (grapes and almonds are popular) waiting for the right time to build the next
subdivision. Meanwhile, of course, this business strategy add to the supply of the commodity
they are growing, lowering the price for everyone else trying to make a living growing that
commodity.

There is the additional strife among generations in farming families that works its mischief. Families get tired of the struggle to make a living with each other on farms. Selling is a good way of settling up. It's an amazing thing to the urban supporters of agriculture, but farmers do not always love their farms. Another factor is the low social status of farmers, which can be attributed more to the eyes of those who hold themselves above farmers than to farmers themselves, although farmers play status games among each other, too. For a number of reasons, farmers in the Valley seem more conventional than farmers on the coast, for example, although this is a more recent phenomenon than it appears. Valley history is full of stories of colorful, inventive, incredibly creative farmers. The chances are they are still out there, but for some reason, they are not as visible as they once were to the public.

In a place where rapid urban development is occurring, farm commodity groups develop forms of
thinking that would be better taken to a competent psychiatrist for examination and reflection than taken to the public as policy. The skeptical grass rooter can entertain the idea that farm commodities in the US are in a longterm crisis caused by input prices ratcheting ever upward while commodity prices continue their languid wave-like motion in the middle of the graph. Sooner or later, commodity by commodity, despite whatever help the government can and does provide, that rising line bisecting the price graph from lower right
corner to upper left corner cuts through the wave-like motion of commodity prices. Once it cuts through the surface, the gap grows over time. During price troughs farmers are forced out of the commodity; and during peak prices they pay off their mortgage and wait for another price fall. If the commodity is heavily subsidized, it only awaits a new chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture like Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, for the axe. Although Pombo has not yet been named chair of the agriculture committee, it seems that is the plan if the wind-power consultant doesn't beat him after McCloskey placed a few
bandilleras and picks in his neck in the primary.

RichPAC, the political strong arm of a San Joaquin County clan of ranch realtors, knows exactly what to do when agricultural inputs rise too far above agricultural prices: sell the land to the developer and import the fruits and vegetables from some other country. It is a popular, practical approach to any agricultural crisis, at least in California, assuming no way for agriculture to evolve out of its crisis. The farmer is caught between the prospects for his commodity and the Pombo approach. This leads to hysterical contradictions in the public utterance from farm groups, as land ownership becomes more important than agricultural production in their family budgets. HBO could do a comedy series on it.

A minor form of flak that occurs within agriculture is the condemnation of farming by organic gardeners or truck farmers. The conventional, commercial farmers get it from all sides. Yet, one of the things they say that rings true is that it is not a good idea for the United States to become food importers just to pave over good farmland for subdivisions.

Development flak is funded by a consortium of interests -- construction unions, building contractors, aggregate mining firms, engineering firms, hordes of consultants serving all development's needs, developers themselves, and the manifold branches of their financial investors. These are largely statewide, national and even international operations, and the larger ones all have flak departments or consultants, ready for a fee on instant notice to flood a promising real estate market in the midst of a speculative housing boom with
flak-to-order for the issue at hand (Measure A in Merced County, for example).

It is when we get to the propaganda of large landowners that the smoke generator is hard to see from the grass roots. However, keeping with a skeptical view, it is possible that the landowning interest is so entrenched in local government it virtually needs no lobby or propaganda, at least to persuade the land-use authorities. The Merced County Board of Supervisors, for example, seems to possess a comfortable quorum of ranch and farm owners whose properties are not far from the path of urban growth, and the chairman of the county Planning Commission is one of the largest land-owning developers on the west side of the county. Some might consider this connection to sizeable tracts of private property -- in view of the de facto pro-growth policies of the board -- to represent what used to be called in a more democratic era "a conflict of interest." But we don't live in a very democratic era, there is a huge amount of money flowing into Merced County in real estate speculation, possibly even a larger amount of money is flowing out of the county, and it is definitely not polite in governing circles to mention the "C-word."

Yet, there are still other forms of flak billowing up in the Valley. There are the "public information" operations emanating out of state and federal bureaucracies like the regional boards for air and water quality and the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Air and water quality in the Valley is deteriorating. The water board recently announced a huge coup: it levied a multi-million-dollar fine against Hilmar Cheese for ruining water quality in its area. Then the water board permitted Hilmar Cheese to sink deep injection wells to pump its waste deep below the surface. The state air board is limited to stationary sources of pollution. The grass rooter looks at this regulatory truncation and speculates that it must be the result of a high level of special interest investment in the free market of politicians, because it certainly doesn't make any sense in terms of the common good or the Public Trust. The federal BOR, which controls federal water projects, has agendas utterly beyond the comprehension of mere mortal grass rooters. Why the BOR produced so much propaganda against the US Fish and Wildlife Service's discovery of the damage done to wildlife at the Kesterson preserve as the result of subterranean drainage of heavy metals from west side farms is still difficult, 20 years later, to understand from a grass roots perspective. Does the BOR just hate birds or fetuses in general? Does the BOR take a pro-cancer position? Can wildlife biology and the BOR exist on the same planet? The mild-mannered Valley grass rooter shudders to think what went on in the free market of congressmen when biological whistles started tooting at Kesterson.

There is also the flak produced by the water districts and irrigation districts, these public agencies that behave so often like private corporations and over whom there is so little real public oversight. They all have marvelously glossy brochures, pamphlets and magnificently jargoned, lengthy reports that could put a grass rooter to sleep before finishing reading the executive summary. There is no subject in California history over which there has been more political conflict (not to mention the gun battles) than water. As a result, water propaganda represents perhaps the most opaque, obscure, slithery official jargon in the state.

Reading California water policy documents conjures up the image of what happens to the San Joaquin River halfway across Fresno County, where it disappears below the sands of the river bed for 40 miles. There has always been too much missing to make sense of it. And when the San Joaquin resurfaces, it meanders northward beside two canals flowing south.

Nevertheless, it is extremely gratifying that so many earnest people, connected to the real sources of information about issues vital to our region are willing -- at other peoples' expense -- to do our thinking for us. It is so gratifying, actually, that it seems as if some people have forgotten how to think without the aid of flak, contenting themselves with parroting the last opinion to which they were exposed.

In our area there is also University of California flak, in a class by itself. First, UC appears to believe that it invented and hold patents (no doubt in fruitful win-win, public-private partnerships) on the truth. Secondly, as manager of two national laboratories of weapons of mass destruction, whatever it says and does not say
carries with it the authority of National Security. For both reasons, UC is very certain what people should know and what they should not know about UC. UC flak is the most impenetrable obstacle to comprehension in the local flak environment because it constantly changes its story depending on what it thinks simple peasants need to know. UC flak games with history -- its own or anything it thinks it ought to control -- are among the most bizarre in the flak industry. The intent appears to be to completely deny the existence of history, at least any other version of it but the current line promoted by the UC flak-du jour, for whatever
the advantage of the moment it is for UC. Perhaps in the highest echelons of UC, they actually believe history is over. Another view might be, however, that as it develops a new generation of nuclear weapons, it simply believes history is UC.

Finally, there is the effortless repetition of flak in the local press.

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12289754p-13025572c.html
6-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
Measure A: Road fixes to take longer...Leslie Albrecht

While the county can charge developers impact fees to cover the cost of new residents' impact
on roads, those fees can only pay for projects related to new growth, not maintenance
projects like reconstructing Livingston's Main Street.

... because, obviously new residents in Livingston won't be using Main Street like old
residents do?

This is an example, taken from an article that is supposed to achieve a professional journalistic "objectivity" about Measure A, which recently failed. Instead, it is mindless regurgitation of developer flak, the main purpose of which is to disguise by any and all means available the fact that development doesn't pay for itself. In the speculative real estate boom Merced County is now experiencing, two things that under no circumstances can be said by public officials or local media organs are: a boom busts; and development doesn't pay for itself.

Another example:

UC names committee to look for new chancellor of Merced Campus...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12295105p-13030135c.html June 9, 2006
UC President Robert Dynes has named a 14-member search committee that will advise him in
selecting the successor to UC Merced founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who is set
to leave the university's top seat Aug. 31. Three UC Merced faculty members, two UC Merced
students and four UC regents are among the committee members, who are scheduled to meet for
the first time at the university later this month ...

The article continues on its gagged path, announcing that a "diverse" committee including one
representative from the Merced community, will choose the new chancellor. The local representative is none other than Bob "Mr. UC Merced" Carpenter, who has never represented anything but local business -- mainly real estate -- interests from the beginning of the first committee he set up to lure UC to Merced to induce the present speculative development boom.

But, of course, the reporter doesn't know this, because she is perhaps the seventh reporter at the paper to have covered UC Merced since Carpenter was dubbed by a predecessor, "Mr. UC Merced," and her editors have forgotten or simply don't care.

The story mentions in disconnected paragraphs that the top two UC Merced administrators have both left. In fact, that is the story and the question Why? screams for some response. But, as in all stories generated by UC flak, the public gets no answer. Why is Larry Salinas, UC Merced's top flak, on a committee to select a new chancellor at all? Who really runs that campus?

How about Carpenter, Regent Fred Ruiz and Salinas for a guess? An insurance agent, a frozen food tycoon and a professional flak man. The ingenue who has inherited the Blessed Beat doesn't ask who the Hun replaced with Ruiz on the Regents and what was the nature of that insult to farmworkers.

This is a university? Or is it a shell waiting to be filled up with substances too dangerous for the Livermore Valley?

Our problem in the Valley is that the various contending creeds, expressed in propaganda, don't jibe with our history, experience or daily reality. In fact, taken as a whole, they don't produce a coherent path for the human mind. Agriculture, in particular, is currently producing masses of contradictory claims, all commanding our belief (but perhaps increasing our disbelief). In the face of these contradictions, developers and the investors behind them come with a very simple political remedy to all our confusions: sell the land. Lately, we have been seeing farmers who have become developers, along with the well-known path of developers holding land in agriculture until the next boom comes, producing distortions in the supply of the commodity they choose to farm.

But, considering local projects like the WalMart distribution center, Riverside Motorsports Park, and UC Merced, the average grass rooter must remain quite skeptical about whether they will deliver any of their proposed promises for the common good.

But flak is beautiful, anyway. It does all your thinking for you, it promises you wonderful things, and gives you an unerring guide for correct opinions -- and never mind if, taken together, it make any sense except for the people who pay for the flak. The thing to admire is that flak is so smooth and shiny next to your own lumpy, half-finished opinions riddled with unanswered questions and doubts -- those niggling things in the mind that flak deals with so effectively by completely ignoring them.

Flak is also very flattering. Flak cares about you. Flak invites you to join its side, always the "good" side, urging you to march forward to wealth, prosperity and security. Flak is so nice you forget to ask why these talented, clean, wholesome citizens would be working so hard to send you these warm, smiling messages that do your thinking for you. Flak is thought in a chauffeured limousine.

Nevertheless, we are privileged at the moment to get a glimpse at what happens with the American profession of propagandist itself falls under attack, in the following brace of articles from CommonDreams.com.

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

Notes:

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0608-21.htm
Published on Thursday, June 8 2006 by the Center for Media and Democracy

Confronted with Disclosure Demands, Fake News Moguls Cry "Censorship!"
by Diane Farsetta

Be afraid, be very afraid! If television stations are required to abide by existing regulations and label the corporate and government propaganda they routinely pass off as "news," the First Amendment will be shredded, the freedom of the press repealed, and TV stations will collapse overnight!

At least, that's what the public relations firms that produce and distribute video news releases (VNRs) and other forms of fake news would have you believe. PR firms are banding together and launching lobbying and PR campaigns to counter the growing call for full disclosure of VNRs, the sponsored video segments frequently aired by TV newsrooms as though they were independently-produced reports.

This alarmist campaign comes as no surprise; the PR industry is like any other business interest. And if there's one thing business is good at, it's avoiding meaningful oversight ...

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0609-31.htm

Published on Friday, June 9, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Framing Versus Spin
by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson

Two weeks ago, Rockridge published The Framing of Immigration by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson, an analysis of the framing surrounding immigration used by progressives and conservatives, as well as a discussion of framings not being used, but which would reveal important truths. Late last week, the DailyKos leaked a memo by Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging strategist, advising Republicans how to talk about immigration. If you want to compare what Rockridge does with what Luntz does, this is your chance ...

| »

Notes on random evidence of the people's voice

Submitted: Jun 08, 2006

Several rapidly growing counties, including Merced, put sales-tax increases on their ballots in the June 6 election earmarked for transportation improvements. Costly mailers, paid for by developers, road construction companies and their unions, explained to the voters that without this "self-help" fund emanating from the county, CalTrans would not be likely to fund their projects. The voters seemed to ask why development doesn't pay for itself. (1)

In Humboldt County, voters passed a measure to prohibit outside special interest contributions to local political campaigns. Humboldt's forests are largely held by outside corporations, the largest and most belligerent being Maxxam's Pacific Lumber Co., which recently funded a recall campaign against newly elected DA Paul Gallegos, who had the gall to sue the lumber company for back taxes. Gallegos also won reelection. (2)

In Mendocino County, a supervisor who claims to be impeccably green but recently closed down a mill to develop it on the outskirts of Willits, lost to John Pinches. Hal Wagonet, the loser, narrowly defeated Pinches in the last election. Pinches' margin of victory was greatly aided by local citizens against Wagonet's development plans. (3)

In Placer County, rapidly developing Lincoln-based Supervisor Robert Wagonet beat back a challenge funded by the Tsakopoulos family, irritated that he had held to proper planning processes on a Tsakopoulos development in his district that would have featured at its center a "world-class university." (4)

Former Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Oakland, won the primary for Oakland mayor (to replace Jerry Brown). Alameda County is having to hand count its ballots so it is not yet certain whether Dellums will have to face a runoff election in November. Dellums took courageous stands on national defense spending and on the right of Palestinians to exist. (5)

Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy received 62 percent of the Republican vote in the 11th congressional district against former Rep. Pete McCloskey's 32 percent. McCloskey came, as a former Marine officer and lawyer, to defend the Constitution against the one-party, far-rightwing that has advanced Pombo so rapidly in the House. He came from out of the district as a co-author of the Endangered Species Act and several other key environmental laws, and as co-founder of Earth Day, to cause Pombo, co-author of the gut-the-ESA bill now stalled in the US Senate, as much political harm as possible. McCloskey came to do battle with Pombo as a Republican, to save the soul of the Republican Party.

It is doubtful McCloskey knew much more about the real estate manias of San Joaquin County, the basis of the power of Pombo and his extensive Pombo family clan of ranch realtors, than does Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, House Minority Leader, who backed the loser in the Democratic Party primary. The core of the district, San Joaquin County, is mysterious to Bay Area types. But Pombo needed 70 percent to scare away big Democratic Party money. If the Democrats can bring themselves to back the winner of their primary, Jerry McNerney, and run a decent voter registration drive, the could continue wounding Pombo and possibly beat him.

However, there is a sense Democratic Party treachery may be afoot in poor old San Joaquin County. The Democrats may be keeping their money for a state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, campaign for Congress in two years. Meanwhile, if one follows the Delta press, it appears that Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Pelosi, both San Franciscans, are too chummy with Pombo by far. (6) (7)

Oakland Mayor and former Gov. Jerry Brown walked away with the Democratic Party nomination for attorney general. State Senator Charles Poochigian, R-Fresno, his opponent, threatens a harsh campaign on Brown's record. Fresno doesn't like it that Brown marched with Cesar Chavez and created the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. So what, Chuck? (8)

With an infusion of $8.6 million from the Tsakopoulos family, state Treasurer Phil Angelides defeated state Controller Steve Westly, a Silicon Valley magnate who funded his own campaign. Angelides, a former Sacramento developer and protege of Angelo Tsakopoulos, has also been a long-time Democratic Party funder and has served as state chairman of the party. His knowledge of Wall Street, through investment of billions in state retirement funds and his involvement in the many billions in bonds by which the state now finances itself -- because development doesn't pay its way -- may be an asset for the state government. Whether that expertise translates into assets for the state's people is a mystery. We think it is unlikely that the Tsakopoulos family will not receive some benefit for their generosity in the primary campaign. (9)

Voter turnout was generally, wretchedly low. Arnold the Hun was voted in on a "progressive reform" platform, a purely nostalgic confection of the public relations profession aimed at conjuring up images of Hiram Johnson and Teddy Roosevelt in the Age of Bush, Tom the Hammer, Pombo, Cunningham and Jack Abramoff and the K Street Project. Yet, the feeling for reform is genuine in the populace, if only it can sort out the flak to get to its best shot for a little bit of it. The people might conclude that Angelides serves too many masters. At least with the Hun, you know he serves only one master.

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

Notes:

(1) Measure A: Road fixes to take longer

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12289754p-13025572c.html

By Leslie Albrecht
Last Updated: June 8, 2006, 01:58:29 AM PDT

… "It's devastating," said District 2 Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, who starred in television ads promoting Measure A, the half-cent sales tax that would have raised $446 million for transportation projects throughout the county.

The initiative fell 795 votes short of achieving the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, leaving Merced County leaders disappointed and wondering what kept voters home.

A May 19 poll showed 71 percent support for the initiative, but those numbers failed to materialize on Tuesday.

It wasn't only in Merced.

Transportation tax initiatives in Monterey, Solano and Napa counties all went down in flames. (Merced's fared the best -- Monterey's measure got 56 percent, Napa's got 52 percent, and Solano's got 45 percent.)

A few anti-tax groups campaigned against the Solano and Napa measures, but Merced's saw no organized opposition except for some fliers inserted into newspapers two days prior to the election.

"The fact that we lost millions and millions of dollars by just a few percentage points is just unbelievable," said Crookham. "It was local people who made the decisions about which projects it would fund.

"Why they didn't go to the polls and vote for what they wanted just leaves me baffled" ...
------------------------------------

(2)
http://www.eurekareporter.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?ArticleID=11963

Measure T passes with 55 percent majority
by Rebecca S. Bender, 6/7/2006

Humboldt County sent a message to out-of-area corporations looking to throw their weight around in local elections Tuesday night: Go away.

Measure T, also called the Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy, would prohibit non-local corporations from donating to county elections.

“We’re really excited!” enthused campaign co-manager Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap said close to midnight on Tuesday. “We’re very proud of our community — but we’re not surprised!”

As of press time, with 94 percent of precincts reporting, Measure T was ahead with 54.97 percent of votes stacking up in its favor and 45.03 percent against.

Absentee ballots, reported shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m., fell along a similar divide, with 52 percent yes votes and 48 percent no, giving an initial indication of which way the vote might go.
------------------

(3) http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/local/ci_3909566

3rd District voters choose Pinches' Colfax leading in 5th district race
By KATIE MINTZ The Daily Journal

John Pinches and David Colfax look to be the likely 3rd and 5th District supervisors following Tuesday's election...

With 100 percent of 3rd District precincts reporting, Pinches was the unofficial winner of the 3rd District supervisor seat with 54 percent of the votes...

-------------------------
(4)
http://www.thepresstribune.com/articles/2006/06/07/news/top_stories/05weygandt.txt
Weygandt wins county supervisor race Tuesday

By: Joshua W. Bingham, Gold Country News Service
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 10:09 AM PDT

Through receiving 70 percent of the votes with 92 percent of the precincts rep-orting at 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, Robert Wey-gandt clearly was elected to his fourth term as District 2 Supervisor on the Placer County Board of Supervisors ...

Simmons estimated his team spent about $380,000 on the campaign. Weygandt, however, estimated the Simmons camp spent twice as much as his own.

Causing much media coverage was the fact the Tsakopoulos family, major developers in the area, donated $100,000 to Simmons' campaign on May 31.

Although a Placer County Elections Division spokesperson relayed that, according to late contribution reports, while $118,500 was given to Weygandt's campaign and $232,251.83 was given to Simmons' campaign between May 25 and June 2, a true receipt of how much money was spent wouldn't be available until required in a report later in the year...
------------------

(5)
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/08/BAG46JAKDK1.DTL&type=politics
ELECTION 2006
Oakland Races
Dellums leads, but counting not over
Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Ron Dellums was winning Oakland's mayoral race by the slimmest of margins Wednesday, but with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted one by one, the outcome was nowhere near assured.

The former congressman, who gave what sounded a lot like a victory speech Tuesday night, had just 125 votes more than the 50 percent majority needed to win the election outright, election officials said Wednesday.
-----------------------

(6)
http://www.shns.com/shns/g_index2.cfm?action=detail&pk=POMBO-06-07-06

Primary vote shows 'vulnerability' for Pombo

By MICHAEL DOYLE
McClatchy Newspapers
07-JUN-06

WASHINGTON -- Republican Richard Pombo could pay a price for his victory in his most challenging Republican primary ever.

It all depends on what the meaning of "win" is.

The seven-term congressman from Tracy, Calif., did handily defeat his GOP challenger Tuesday, former congressman Pete McCloskey, 62 percent to 32 percent. In a general election, that would be a more than comfortable margin.

But in a primary, facing a 78-year-old challenger who only recently had taken an apartment in the Northern San Joaquin Valley congressional district, the win could be spun in several ways. Not all of the interpretations favor Pombo.

"The result shows a serious vulnerability, but no more than that," Bruce Cain, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said Wednesday. "At a minimum, it means that the Republicans will have to put money into this race, which they certainly did not want to do."

Money is certainly abundant. Helped by his perch as chairman of the House Resources Committee, Pombo reported raising $81,300 in just the past week. All told, Pombo has raised more than $1.7 million this election cycle.

But it wasn't just the congressional candidates pouring money into the race. In an interview Wednesday, Pombo estimated that the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, among others, spent several million dollars attacking him with ads. Some even ran on expensive San Francisco stations, a rarity for a San Joaquin Valley race ...
----------------------

(7)
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/06/08/BAG46JAFDG1.DTL&type=politics
11TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Pombo basks in his decisive victory
30 percentage point win over McCloskey 'pretty convincing'
Greg Lucas, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Rather than proof of weakness, Rep. Richard Pombo's 62 percent- to-32 percent primary victory over former Rep. Pete McCloskey just as likely signaled how strong the seven-term Tracy Republican will run in November.

Pombo benefits from a district centered in his home San Joaquin County with 44 percent GOP registration to 37 percent Democratic and a challenger in favor of increasing taxes -- including gasoline -- whom Pombo defeated handily two years ago.

"People can dream all they want but it was a pretty convincing win," said Wayne Johnson, Pombo's chief political consultant. "We stopped our advertising two weeks out because we didn't see what the point was."

Environmental groups, angered by the House Resources Committee chairman's desire to weaken the federal Endangered Species Act, spent more than $1 million to defeat him.

They, and national Democrats, see Pombo as vulnerable, particularly if voters carry through in November on an anti-incumbent mood showing up in public opinion polls.

"He isn't motivating his base. He's got a large anti-Pombo vote within his own party," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, which spent more than $400,000 against Pombo in the Republican primary ...

"Pombo won the primary by more 30 points. And for anyone who thinks that's a blow to him you have to look at Pete McCloskey," said Bob Giroux, a former Democratic campaign consultant, now lobbyist. "McCloskey was known in the district but he's also a legend. You could put him in San Bernardino and he'd still get 32 percent" ...

But Pombo is likely to zero in on McNerney's support for increasing a number of taxes.

In a survey on the Project Vote Smart Web page, McNerney said he supports slight increases in alcohol, cigarette, inheritance and gasoline taxes. He wants large increases in capital gains and corporate taxes.

"On just about every issue, he is on the wrong side for the district," Johnson said. "I've never seen a political suicide note this long."
-------------------------

(8)
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/08/us/08brown.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
Jerry Brown Wins Nomination for California Attorney General

By JESSE McKINLEY
Published: June 8, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO, June 7 — Jerry Brown, the former governor of California and the current mayor of Oakland, handily won a Democratic primary for state attorney general on Tuesday, setting up a fight with a lesser-known but well-financed Republican candidate.

Skip to next paragraph
Related
Narrow Victory by G.O.P. Signals Fall Problems (June 8, 2006)
Schwarzenegger Voices New Confidence (June 8, 2006)
This Time, Jerry Brown Wants to Be a Lawman (June 5, 2006)With all precincts reporting, Mr. Brown had received 63 percent of the vote versus 37 percent for Rocky Delgadillo, the city attorney of Los Angeles. The Republican candidate, Chuck Poochigian, a state senator from Fresno, was unopposed.

On Wednesday, Mr. Poochigian blazed through a series of interviews, promising a serious challenge to Mr. Brown, the son of a former governor, Edmund G. Brown Sr., and a three-time presidential candidate who has spent nearly four decades in politics.

"My biggest challenge is overcoming Jerry's name advantage," Mr. Poochigian, 57, said in a telephone interview from Sacramento. "But Jerry has a bigger challenge to overcome, and that's his record."

Mr. Brown embarked on his own campaign tour, barnstorming through the state on a private plane, traveling from Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, to a pair of Southern California stops in Burbank and San Diego; then north to Sacramento; and south again to Bakersfield and Los Angeles.

Along the way, Mr. Brown ventured to Mr. Poochigian's turf in the Central Valley to address police officials. At every stop, he sought to remind voters of his credentials, including his "practical hands-on experience" as a governor and a mayor.

"I've been an independent leader, not just an appendage of narrow partisan politics," said Mr. Brown, 68, before boarding a plane in San Diego. "I'm running against a man who has basically been a staffer or bureaucrat or a legislator. He's never run a darn thing."

But Mr. Brown said he expected a tough campaign, and predicted that Mr. Poochigian would use negative advertisements to try to paint him as being out of step with average Californians.

Mr. Poochigian promised to run "a truthful campaign," but he was already hammering Mr. Brown for a recent spike in crime in Oakland. "In the case of Jerry Brown, the truth is going to hurt," he said.

In the election to determine Mr. Brown's successor in Oakland, the former congressman Ron Dellums appeared to have won, although officials were still counting the ballots.

Mr. Poochigian has $3.3 million in his campaign chest, aides said, and has already raised more money than any other Republican running for statewide office except Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But he probably faces an uphill battle in a state that often votes Democratic. Mr. Brown's vote total among Democratic voters on Tuesday was just 771 shy of what Mr. Poochigian received from all Republican voters.
-------------------

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

OFF AND RUNNING
'NEW ERA': Angelides opens campaign after joining Westly in a unity pledge
Carla Marinucci, Tom Chorneau, Chronicle Political Writers

Thursday, June 8, 2006

M

Sacramento -- Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took to the skies and roads Wednesday, kicking off what's expected to be a pricey general election contest and a raucous debate over who can best protect California's future.

Angelides, on a state fly-around that began just hours after he was declared the winner of a bruising primary battle against state Controller Steve Westly for the party's gubernatorial nomination, promised to bring Democrats together in a unified campaign to lead "a new era of progressive action in California."

"I'm full of hope and optimism ... about what this state can be," said Angelides, surrounded by supporters including Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Democratic lieutenant governor nominee John Garamendi.

In a ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel near Universal Studios, Angelides and Westly declared unity, clasped hands, shared a brief hug and tried to downplay the vitriol that dominated the primary campaign.

Westly said Angelides is "committed to the environmental values" of the Democratic Party -- a statement in stark contrast to ads Westly ran during the past week accusing Angelides of playing a role in the dumping of millions of gallons of sludge into Lake Tahoe.

Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, who for months has appeared at events designed to showcase his gubernatorial policies and status, also went into full campaign mode ...

"The other side is talking about the future; we are building the future," he said. "The other side is talking about all the problems California has; we are solving the problems" ,,,

Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, the president of Sacramento-based AKT Development and daughter of developer Angelo Tsakopoulos -- who with her father donated $8.7 million toward the Democratic candidate's effort to an independent expenditure campaign -- said yesterday that her family was "absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do" and was "enormously proud" of Angelides' win.

But in an interview with The Chronicle, Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis said "I don't know" if the Tsakopoulos family will play another major financial donor role in the general election.

She said the primary effort was aimed at helping firefighters, police officers and teachers get out their message of support for Angelides and level the playing field for the treasurer in his battle against the wealthy, self-funded Westly.

"Phil Angelides is now the Democratic Party candidate -- and the Democratic Party is going to do what it needs in this election," she said. "The party is going to support him" ...

Just how quickly Democrats can recover from the wounds of a bloody political primary competition and turn full attention to Schwarzenegger was openly questioned by former San Francisco mayor and radio talk show host Willie Brown in the state Capitol.

"I think probably Westly will be able to do it -- I don't know about Angelides," Brown said. "He's the one who's most offended" ...
------------------

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