Environment

Higher education as if students mattered?

Submitted: Dec 11, 2005

The study just released by the University of California, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” (1) is a particularly specious bit of UC/corporate flak, reminiscent of the campaign for UC Merced. The study argues that if you have more college-educated people in your society, you will have less crime and more high-paying jobs. Many economists would suggest that job demand has something to do with the equation – but they didn’t get this grant. A supply of college-educated people of working age less than the job demand for them could be a recipe for extreme job competition, lower wages, higher rates of turnover, social discontent and emigration of a significant portion of a workforce whose education was subsidized by taxpayers. Since what is meant by education in this study is technological training, it’s fair to ask how Californians with technological training compete today with Indians and Asians with comparable training. Ask Silicon Valley, which has been off-shoring California jobs to India and Asia for several decades, as well as importing foreign high tech workers to the Peninsula. San Jose is today a true city of the world, a place larger than California, attracting the best and brightest technological workers of the world.

Training, inventiveness, intelligence and education aren’t the problems facing California. Funded by a group calling itself the Campaign for College Opportunity, which appears to be a front group for the California Business Roundtable, once again, UC is taking an opportunity to recycle unreliable demographic data to make a case for more public spending on UC, with a bit left over for the lesser public institutions of higher learning.

People are tired of this nonsense. It is highly conspicuous waste, meant to doll up a class of “leaders” for their next honoraria. The study was commissioned by the business roundtable, a cabal of banks, insurance companies, developers, land companies, energy companies, construction and engineering firms and miscellaneously wealthy companies like Gap and J.G. Boswell, involved in the world, cotton trade, and the J. Paul Getty Trust, headed by Barry Munitz, former Charles Hurwitz associate and (“chainsaw”) chancellor of the CSU system. The intervening group, Campaign for College Opportunity, is headed by the roundtable’s president, includes a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce vice president, several university officials, a UC regent, union officials and minority group representatives. But the state taxpayers paid for the salaries of the UC researchers to pimp the next college/university building boom, based on demographic assumptions already dubious when they were used to sell UC Merced (2). But, at least then, we knew they were just the usual state Department of Finance figures to support the coming speculative housing bubble. That is now rapidly fading. Evidently, the study indulges in them only because it can. Apparently, it is a UC affectation to demand more public funds, pay exorbitant executive salaries (3), sell its services to whatever the corporate buyer demands, and all without any responsibility to the public that pays for the salaries, the maintenance, repair, and for the thousands of other services, plants and equipment that go to making up public institutions of higher learning from the community college outpost in the remote rural town to UC Berkeley.

Perhaps the cogent business reason for promoting another higher education building boom, paid for by the public, is because new colleges and universities, particularly if located in remote areas, attract suburban development like stables attract horse flies.

Perhaps, the state’s enlightened business roundtable, representing 56 corporations, almost half on the Fortune 500 list, believe that it is essential for us to pay for enough new public higher education institutions so that not one – not one! – potential bio-technician or computer engineer escapes his or her destiny to be trained for entrance into the “new economy;” so that not one potential mortgage lender, predatory credit-card enabler, insurance agent or realtor will slip through the system to become a bum, a mechanic or a handiman in this economy, which our business leaders assure us will continue, generation after generation, through levee breaks, global warming, oil peak, waves of immigration and global competition. We should pay through taxes, tuitions and living expenses to educate the next generation so that not one, but five or ten shall be trained identically, to cut each others’ throats in the high-tech job marketplace of the eternally affluent future of technocracy, sure to continue if only we believe our universities, our business leaders and those they employ in elective governmental posts.

Since the propaganda is coming down so hard on us from this source, I think it might be fair for the public to request that California corporations clean up our air and water, stop building more slurbs, build colleges and universities in other states, subsidize our deprived youth to attend them, pay off the current state budget deficit, and provide adequate energy supplies as long as possible at non-profit rates.

At a time when the state treasury rests firmly in the hands of Wall Street, when rich Californians are not even taxed at the normal level prior to 1993, our business leaders urge more public investment in higher education. Following a period of immense profit-taking, unable to wrap themselves in the flag (sullied by total failure in Iraq), they wrap themselves in the Blue and Gold, the priestly garb of a public university reported to have misplaced 600 pounds of plutonium (3), another $6 million of public funds at Los Alamos National Laboratory (4), and the “distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative stipends, bonuses and other hidden cash compensation to employees” to be investigated by the Legislature in January (3).

Education as if the state’s youth mattered might begin by designing a curriculum around what they will need to survive the economy bequeathed them by our business leaders? This would involve the question: what does California society need from business rather than what business needs from society? This might lead to concerns about the problem of quality of life rather than income levels, in world where even stolen resources are rapidly shrinking and life satisfaction might well have to be found in living a life “simple in means, rich in ends,” as philosopher Arne Naess puts it. The problem of how to educate a generation of youth to face – not just the diminished expectations of our generation – but the radically diminished expectations compelled by resource depletion on theirs – would be worthy of a public university. But that might require a university that felt itself under some obligation to tell the truth to the people of the state rather than to flak its corporate funders’ line. It would require a look at where we are, rather than at the “statistical fantasies” offered by this study. (5)

By contrast, “Return on Investment: Educational choices and demographic change in California’s future,” seems redolent with privileged irresponsibility, people saying things because they can merely because they are who they are – the ones who got the grant. Perhaps it is a fashionably conspicuous form of madness cultivated in leading academic circles these days.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) http://www.collegecampaign.org/CalROI-ExSum.pdf
(2) http://www.csun.edu/~hfoao102/@csun.edu/csun97_98/csun0223_98/features/wave.html

Said Paul Warren, director of the LAO's education division, "The academic world is saying, 'Panic, panic, panic.' We're saying it's not time to panic.

(3) www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/ c/a/2005/11/30/BAGGQFVT7J1.DTL
(4) www.californiaaggie.com/article/?id=7299
(5) http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/columns/walters/story/13949532p-14784215c.html

The notion of studying the costs and benefits of public higher education is plausible. We should know what maintaining the system is costing taxpayers, what economic benefits flow to society and students from those dollars and what the eventual return to taxpayers might be. We should also be told how the public colleges and universities fit into the state's largely private economy - whether they are training the right number of professionals in the right kinds of fields, for instance, or whether their research is enhancing job creation.

Finally, we should know whether higher and lower education systems, maintained by taxpayers at immense cost - well over $60 billion a year - are meshing well or are wasting money on turf battles and incompatible priorities.

UC professors Henry Brady and Michael Hout, however, merely assume that attending college is a societal benefit and amass their synthetic evidence.

"California is sliding from exceptional to ordinary, from 'great' to 'good enough' (and) our study shows that educational investments can help restore California's greatness and preserve its high quality of life while returning more benefits to the state than they will cost the taxpayers," Brady said in a statement.

Brady and Hout don't tell us whether the economy could absorb the increased number of college attendees and graduates they advocate, or even whether there are substantially more youngsters capable of doing college-level work. While decrying the decline in California's high school graduation and college education rates in relation to other states, they don't explore the factors, such as the huge increase in non-English-speaking students or the immense changes in the California economy, that contribute to those trends. They assume, more or less, that there are many millions of Californians who would attend college if only the taxpayers would foot the bill and that expansion would generate big economic returns.

Finally, Brady and Hout fail to explain this phenomenon: There's no apparent shortage of college-trained workers in California (except in a few highly technical fields), but employers are having a heck of a time recruiting cops, carpenters, nurses, electricians, auto mechanics - even truck drivers. Who's going to do the real work if everyone is getting a college degree?

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The Board

Submitted: Dec 03, 2005

A limited partnership of politicians, developers, agribusiness corporations and the University of California, Merced, appear to have established a unified board of directors composed of three divisions: founding members of the UC Merced Foundation board of trustees, the Great Valley Center board of directors and staff, and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, recently appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In mid-November, UC Merced and the Great Valley Center announced they had merged and that UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey would become the chairman of a downsized GVC board of directors. (1)

Viewed from the perspective of the on-going ecological crisis in the Valley, this group would appear to have been assembled around common interests: the defeat of environmental laws, regulations and local, state and federal agencies mandated to enforce them, dismantling the Valley’s agricultural economy except for its largest agribusiness corporations, and promoting the expansion of UC Merced. This interlocking board of directors is a formidable array of political influence, money and propaganda capacity. Powerful synergies of propaganda, lobbying and funds probably will develop to mold Valley public opinion to accept the worst air pollution in the nation, diminished water supply and quality, the loss of prime farmland, open space and wildlife habitat, the linking of one continual slurb from Stockton to Bakersfield, and UC Merced research guided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in directions both ethically and ecologically offensive.

Some of the problems The Board faces immediately:

Although UC has built the first phase of its Merced campus, federal environmental regulations forced it off the originally donated land of the Virginia Smith Trust onto the former site of a municipal golf course. UC Merced has yet to get federal approval for its plans under the Clean Water Act, regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The regional water quality board rejected Hilmar Cheese’ proposed solution to on-going violations of water quality standards, provoking the ‘world’s largest cheesemaker’ to announce plans to build an even larger plant in Texas. (2)

The San Joaquin Valley is growing almost as fast as Mexico, considerably faster than either California or the US. (3) The worst air-polluted parts of the Valley, mainly around Fresno, now experience endemic child asthma, the highest rates in the state. (4) Sixty percent of the problem is from mobile emissions, the rest from stationary sources. Lately, it has been admitted that dairies are the leading stationary source of air pollution. The growth of the Valley dairy industry is second only to the growth of suburbanization (building sprawling, low-density residential areas also known as slurbs). What is routinely denied about dairy pollution is the contribution of daily, diesel-fueled milk truck traffic. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District also has been looking at charging an air-pollution fee on new construction. And the state Water Reclamation Board recently started to question development on flood plains near Delta levees.

The Valley Board is disturbed by this “unbalanced” regulation.

Then, there is the national political embarrassment of the north Valley congressional delegation, known by local farmers as “O Pomboza," formerly representatives RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

A forthright approach to environmental problems was pioneered last spring by board member Greenlaw “Fritz” Grupe, a prominent San Joaquin County developer. Grupe assembled developers at his Lodi ranch for a joint political fundraiser for O Pomboza. Not long after the fundraiser, the two congressmen jointly authored a bill to gut the Endangered Species Act, with particular attention to critical habitat designations, because their joined districts contain extensive critical habitat for 15 endangered species associated with seasonal wetlands. UC Merced is built on and wishes to expand on the densest concentration of vernal pools in the nation.

Beyond the Pomboza problem, the period of one-party Republican rule seems to be running off its tracks and corruption investigations are becoming popular again. These are stressful times for special interests because it may become unpopular as well as illegal again to actually buy a politician. Public opinion may resent, at least for awhile, the daily spectacle of the richest, most powerful interests purchasing votes from elected toadies, "cultivating leadership," and the whole seedy story of how money buys power to make more money. The fathomless propaganda resources of UC could be invaluable at such a time.

The possibilities for networking and "synergy" (this year's replacement for the old standby -- "win-win, public/private partnerships) on The Board are beyond imagination, however its Executive Committee, composed of those who sit on more than one of its divisions, is small.

Tony Coelho, the former Democratic congressman from Merced, is a member of the founding board of trustees of UC Merced and of the board of Great Valley Center. In his position as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Coelho was so spectacularly corrupt that an ethics committee when his own party controlled the House, investigated personal loans he received from Michael Milken. Wall Street Journal reporter Brooks Jackson wrote a book about Coelho, called Honest Graft. (5) It’s not well read in the Valley, but The Board knows the story well because prominent members were involved. Coelho, like Tom DeLay and other House members currently under investigation, was a political entrepreneur. He may have thought of himself as a pioneer in the theory that politics was just another business, but Jackson reminded us that in fact, Coelho and the Republican campaign funders against whom he competed were just reproducing the political conditions of the McKinley Era, so highly prized by Karl Rove 20 years after Coelho left. Jackson said of Coelho: “In a healthier political setting Coelho could well have become Speaker of the House, possibly a great one. He deserved a better system. So do we all.” (6)

However, his career from beginning to end was shaped by the Valley political system, in which Valley special interests contributed large amounts of money, often to coastal liberal Democratic machines, in return for promises of support on key special interest legislation and to keep liberal policies out of the Valley.

Coelho quit Congress and went to Wall Street. Ecologically, he is known for trying to get two projects into the Valley that environmentalists defeated: a United Technologies rocket factory and a super-collider. According to reliable rumor, he was frequently summoned by Valley interest groups to explain complex issues to his successor, Gary Condit, and Coelho was deeply involved, from the beginning, with siting UC Merced.

He is a brilliant, energetic politician whose ambitions drove him to rise and fall and rise again in local and national political systems none of us deserve.

Grupe was also a member of the founding board of trustees of UC Merced Foundation and last month the governor appointed him deputy chair of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. Since 1966, one of Stockton’s two major developers, Grupe now has other credentials. He is a member of the advisory board of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley; and he was past-president and current member of the Urban Land Institute. But Grupe is on The Board because he's a charter member of the political economic system neither Coelho nor we deserved.

Carol Whiteside, founder and president of Great Valley Center, was also a founding member of the UC Merced Foundation. She served on Pete Wilson’s staff and was appointed by him assistant secretary of the state Resources Agency. As mayor of Modesto, Whiteside presided over that city’s most rapid growth period.

Rayburn Dezember, of Bakersfield, currently serves as a director of the Bakersfield Californian and Trustee of the University of California, Merced Foundation. He previously served as chairman of American National Bank from 1966 to 1990, director of Wells Fargo Bank from 1990-1999, director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 1984 to 1989 and director of Tejon Ranch Company from 1990-2002. The governor appointed him to the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. Plans to develop a $57-billion new city on the Tejon Ranch threaten the habitat of one of America’s most endangered species, the California Condor, along with a host of other wildlife species located on the largest piece of private property left in the state. Dezember’s local newspaper, the Californian, has long had a reputation as one of the most rightwing papers in the state.

By chance, it was avian rehabilitators from Merced who started the original Condor Project to save the giant, nearly extinct birds. To date, $35 million has been spent to rescue the condor from extinction. (7) On paper, Dezember is pro-growth, anti-air quality and environment – bad for Bakersfield, bad for the Valley, but a Republican and no doubt excellent contributor to the Hun.

Frederick Ruiz, in the words of a Hun press release, is from “Parlier, has over 40 years experience in the food processing industry. He and his father founded Ruiz Foods in 1964. He has served as a member of the University of California, Board of Regents since 2004. In addition, Ruiz is currently on the board of directors for the California Chamber of Commerce, a trustee on the University of Merced Foundation, a member of the President's Advisory Board of California State University Fresno and a member of Valley CAN ‘Clean Air Now.’ Ruiz is a Republican.”

The Hun replaced Dolores Huerta on the UC regents’ board with Ruiz. Huerta was co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers. Two conjectures: although Huerta looks like a union socialist and Ruiz like an entrepreneurial capitalist, Ruiz Foods received more federal and state grant and loan funding than the UFW ever did; Huerta’s brilliant, committed and sustained community organizing, mainly on behalf of Latino communities in the Valley, did more good for Ruiz Foods than Ruiz Foods ever did for working people who want unions.

Daniel Whitehurst, president, Farewell, Inc. Fresno, was on the founding board of trustees of the UC Merced Foundation and is a member of the GVC board. Whitehurst is a member of a Fresno-based family of extremely political morticians, people of influence since at least the time of late state Sen. Hugh Burns, with old connections to the west side of the Valley.

The Garamendi family presents nearly a two-fer because John Sr., the state Insurance Commissioner now running for state Lt. Governor, is a member of the founding board of the UC Merced Foundation and John, Jr. was appointed vice chancellor for University Relations at UC Merced in June. Family values are important in the Valley.

Agribusiness holds only single memberships, mainly on the UC Merced Foundation board. (8)

Chuck Ahlem, Partner, Hilmar Cheese Company, Hilmar
H.A. "Gus" Collin, Chairman, Sunsweet Growers, Inc., Yuba City
Robert Gallo, President, E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto
John Harris, President, Harris Farms and Harris Inns, Coalinga
William Lyons, Sr., President, Lyons Investments and Mapes Ranch, Modesto
Thomas Smith, President, CALCOT, Bakersfield
Ann Veneman, Attorney at Law, Sacramento (former Secretary of the USDA)
Roger Wood, Vice President, J.R. Wood, Inc., Atwater;
Stewart Woolf, President, Los Gatos Tomato, Inc., Huron

There is a scattering of agricultural producers on the UC Merced Foundation board, along with local businessmen and large landowners:

Carl Cavaiani, President, Santa Fe Nut Company, Ballico
Bert Crane Sr., President, Bert Crane Ranches, Merced;
Jim Cunningham, owner, Cunningham Ranch, LeGrand
James Duarte, President, Duarte Nursery, Inc., Hughson
Price Giffen, President, Giffen Company, Fresno
Art Kamangar, Kamangar Ranches, Merced

Other members include retired UC officials, Silicon Valley executives, lawyers, developers, other educators, investors, public officials and local business people. The Board includes no one from any local, state or national environmental organization. In fact, The Board looks like a special interest reaction against environmental, public health, economic and agricultural concerns to protect its rapid growth strategies. It also looks like a non-elected government.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11495660p-12233968c.html
(2) http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/13919592p-14757777c.html
(3) Dr. Michael Teitz, presentation at Merced City Council Chambers, Dec. 1, 2005
(4) http://www.valleyairquality.com/
(5) Jackson, Brooks, Honest Graft, Knopf, 1988.
(6) Jackson, p. 6
(7) http://www.laweekly.com/ink/05/13/features-zakin.php
(8) http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2000/march1700.htm

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Novel legal theory

Submitted: Dec 02, 2005
Nakayama also forgot to mention that the Bush administration has rewritten the very rules used to prosecute those companies. The Bush version of the rules, which would let power companies off the hook, is being challenged in court by numerous state attorneys general, as well as environmental groups.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for the Bush administration to try to take credit today for enforcing the Clean Air Act's new source review provisions,” notes Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “The Bush EPA has been working overtime to change the underlying clean air rules and prevent such enforcement actions from being brought against dirty power plants in the future."

Nakayama also failed to note that the Bush administration is not only trying to change the rules, but that it recently declared that it would not even enforce the law against the power industry—a move the administration euphemistically described as an effort to “refocus” its activities.

Some big polluters have become so encouraged that they’ve gone to court to seek dismissal of pending charges. It’s as if someone awaiting trial for murder sought freedom on the grounds that prosecutors were going to look the other way in future murder cases. – Frank O’Donnell, TomPaine.com – Dec. 2, 2005

Big polluters and environment destroyers are operating under a new legal theory: if legislation weakening environmental law and regulation might have been pending when they committed their illegal acts under existing law, they might be able to skate. For people interested in rural excursions in Merced County, a trip down White Rock Road in Le Grand from the entrance to the Jaxon Mine all the way to the Madera County line at the Chowchilla River would reveal interesting examples of projects that assume this new legal theory. The idea behind the deep ripping of thousands of acres of seasonal pasture containing protected wildlife habitat seems to be that the Gut-the-Endangered Species Act bill by Congressman R.D. Pomboza, Species Slayer-Tracy/Merced, could get through the Senate, so “let her rip.”

Bill Hatch
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Polluter Playtime (1)
Frank O'Donnell
December 02, 2005

Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a 501 (c) 3 non-partisan, non-profit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.

In a move virtually unnoticed by the press corps, the Bush administration this week quietly dropped a lawsuit against a big electric power company.

The suit against Duke Power Company was brought by the Clinton administration, which accused Duke of illegally spewing too much pollution into the air. The Bush team initially gave lip service to continuing the suit, but it shelved the case after a setback in a lower court.

In the process, the administration demonstrated a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly apparent: For a government seemingly obsessed with promoting the “rule of law” everywhere from Iraq to Mongolia, the Bush administration can be pretty loose when it comes to enforcing the law back home.

Especially when it comes to enforcing environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act.

Whether it’s dealing with coal-burning electric plants in the Midwest or auto emission inspections in Ohio and Kentucky, the administration has decided it won’t even attempt to enforce the law if it seems inconvenient to big polluters or to Republican-controlled state governments.

This isn’t a trivial matter. Hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Americans are dying unnecessarily each year as a direct result of the administration’s cavalier disregard for the law.

The administration’s negligence is perhaps topped only by its brazenly false claims about its enforcement prowess. Consider, for example, the hypocritical assertions made last month by Granta Nakayama, the Environmental Protection Agency’s head of enforcement, as the agency issued a status report on its enforcement efforts.

Nakayama (who, until recently, was a corporate lawyer-lobbyist paid to undermine clean air controls) contended that “EPA's enforcement strategy and accomplishments demonstrate our commitment to achieving cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier communities."

To back his claim, Nakayama cited 10 recently resolved air pollution cases against corporate polluters. Those 10 cases would eliminate 620 million pounds of pollution and bring more than $4.6 billion in public health benefits, including “reductions in premature mortality, bronchitis, hospitalizations and work days lost.”

What Nakayama left out was that half of the results came from cases brought by the Clinton administration. These were prosecutions of electric power companies that violated the law’s “new source review” provisions, which require smokestack industries to modernize pollution controls when they increase emissions.

Nakayama also forgot to mention that the Bush administration has rewritten the very rules used to prosecute those companies. The Bush version of the rules, which would let power companies off the hook, is being challenged in court by numerous state attorneys general, as well as environmental groups.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for the Bush administration to try to take credit today for enforcing the Clean Air Act's new source review provisions,” notes Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “The Bush EPA has been working overtime to change the underlying clean air rules and prevent such enforcement actions from being brought against dirty power plants in the future."

Nakayama also failed to note that the Bush administration is not only trying to change the rules, but that it recently declared that it would not even enforce the law against the power industry—a move the administration euphemistically described as an effort to “refocus” its activities.

Some big polluters have become so encouraged that they’ve gone to court to seek dismissal of pending charges. It’s as if someone awaiting trial for murder sought freedom on the grounds that prosecutors were going to look the other way in future murder cases.

Take, for example, Cinergy, the conglomerate that provides electric power in Ohio and Indiana. Five years ago—in December 2000—Cinergy reached an agreement in principle with the Clinton administration, which had accused it of violating new source review. Cinergy pledged at the time to reduce 1 billion pounds of pollution—more, in other words—than all the “top 10” cases combined that Nakayama boasted about.

But after the 2000 elections, the company refused to sign the deal. Now, Cinergy is asking a court to dismiss the charges because of the Bush administration’s decision not to enforce the law against other companies. Cinergy no doubt will be encouraged by the administration’s change of heart in the Duke case.

The “refocused” Bush policy of non-enforcement unfortunately is spreading like the avian flu to other sources of pollution.

For instance, the states of Kentucky and Ohio recently decided to abolish auto emission inspections in the Cincinnati metropolitan area even though an American Lung Association report documented the area had 19 days this summer with unhealthful air quality.

Auto inspections do help reduce pollution, and EPA rules stipulate that smoggy states such as Ohio and Kentucky can’t just scrap pollution control programs that they don’t like. Except that, once again, the EPA says it’s not going to enforce the law.

“Illegal and irresponsible,” is how the American Lung Association describes the situation.

So you do have to marvel at the chutzpah of an EPA spokeswoman, who recently declared that, “We will continue to rigorously enforce any violations of the nation’s clean air laws.”

Except, that is, when the Bush administration doesn’t feel like it.

Notes

(1) http://www.tompaine.com/articles/20051202/polluter_playtime.php

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What happened on the way to San Francisco on Thanskgiving

Submitted: Nov 27, 2005

Could it be because the land near the Delta is so rich that despite what is happening on it, somehow not all people believe in the eternity of growth?

It is foolish to become upset about the changes out there in western San Joaquin County approaching the Altamont. One should never become upset about such changes. People too attached to the beauties of Nature suffer too much to live in California. They ought to go join the woman in the town in Nebraska who runs the bar, is the mayor, taxes herself, is the only resident since her husband passed away, and deer wander down her Main Street. Perhaps she would agree to rename the town “New California,” create bike trails, open an organic health-food store and galleries for the painters. The Californians could create in her town the utopia of all their memories of Ecotopia Lost.

Yes, I know the answer to Arne Naess’ question:

“How would mankind’s present role on this planet be evaluated in the light of philosophical world-views of the past?”

(I know it because I read the next sentence.)

“No matter which one of the great philosophies one considers to be valid, our current role would be evaluated negatively. It is in opposition to value priority as announced by these philosophies. This applies to Aristotelianism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and other great philosophies of the last two millennia.”

(Don’t forget to add a zendo on Main Street to New California, Neb.)

“In the great philosophies, greatness and bigness are differentiated. Greatness is sought, but it is not magnitude. The importance of technology is recognized, but cultural values get priority of consideration. The good life is not made dependent upon thoughtless consumption.” (1)

Perhaps it is something about the air the comes off that unfathomable Delta bottom land between Manteca and the Altamont, something about the incredible fecundity of it, that inspires such dreams of greatness (unenlightened by Aristotle, Buddha or Confucius, or Laotse, Boethius, Avicenna, Nicolas of Cusa, St. Thomas, Moses Maimonides, Spinoza, Bacon, Hume, Hegel, Dilthey, James, Dewey, Husserl or Heidegger for that matter), when you live on top of San Joaquin Delta bottom land. All you really need is a big Caterpillar and diesel enough to plant anything from alfalfa to a commuter subdivision.

Of course, the area has been known to flood at times. In fact, that’s what makes the land so fertile. But levees exist to stop flooding now. The main point is that almost anything grows there.

There was a town out there once, called Tracy. It was a long, gangling town that grew up beside the highway, only a few blocks deep on either side. It had a city hall, a high school, some cafes and small businesses, a newspaper, and an old hotel that served the best steak sandwich in the north valley. I suppose that town is still there somewhere, but I worked around that area several years ago and could never quite find it.
The disappearance of Tracy is nothing to get upset about. Remember, one shouldn’t get upset over these things. If one does, it is time to go to Nebraska. Actually, I worked within the city limits of the present-day Tracy and never even found the old highway through the old town.

The land is incredibly rich. It grows anything.

This weekend, our nation’s newspaper of record, Judith Miller’s publisher, the New York Times, lambasted a son of Tracy, Rep. Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee, for a bill he’s pushing to sell off mining claims on public lands. (2) The Times editorialists describe this bill as “an evil trap to be sprung on the American public: Richard Pombo’s plan to put a few hundred million acres of publicly owned land up for sale in the American West.”

Setting aside that the New York Times’ sentiments about the American West are about as warm as they are for the Arab Middle East, what we seem to have here is part of a national campaign against Pombo, a simple ranch realtor who believes in his heart that western rural land exists to be sold, as many times as possible for a decent fee, and has never said otherwise. Because various environmental laws, regulations and agencies impede his quest, he hates them and seeks, in a straightforward manner, to destroy them.

While it is possible to join Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius and Naess in disagreeing with Pombo’s simple view of life in all its porcine sincerity, evil it ain’t, it seems to me. Evil is publishing cooked intelligence that causes the deaths of thousands of innocent people and more than 2,000 American soldiers plus the 15,000 wounded.

Pombo’s worldview is something else. I think it might come from the idea that the “real world” – rightwingers are very big on the “real world” – is only what one owns or has options on, and that concepts like “the planet” just don’t fly in Tracy the way they do in Manhattan. I mean that, not too long ago, back when Tracy was still a long, thin town on a highway, if a couple of longhairs went into one of those cafes for a cup of coffee and started talking “planet,” it could have gotten ugly for them. Because the world, in Tracy, was what you owned (and it still is for those who still own it). If you don’t own any land, in Pombo’s world, there may even be some doubt about your existence, let alone your right to vote. And that land around Tracy is so fertile, who would want anything more? In fact, everyone ought to go to Tracy and buy land … from Pombo. If people only realized this, there would be less disagreeable strife about natural resources in the nation.

For example, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez (across the river from Tracy), the former chairman of a defunct House committee called Natural Resources, should quit sniping and buy pasture while he still can. Miller and Pombo should bury the hatchet over a nice real estate deed. Maybe the New York Times should get in the deal, too.

The land in Pombo’s district is fabulously fertile. It grows anything. Whole bedroom communities spring up there like Johnson grass. It’s amazing. Growth in that region is as inevitable as … well, you know, growth. There’s nothing more inevitable than growth. The alfalfa grows. The tomatoes grow. The subdivisions grow. Everything grows in the incredibly fertile congressional district of Pombo.

Well, maybe except for freeways. It’s not that they haven’t tried to pave everything from Manteca to the Altamont into one Great Road, but it’s a government deal and there are some rivers involved, so they haven’t quite gotten there yet. There are still some pastures and farmland and funky old bridges that distract from the view of the road. If you know where to look (people who have traveled through the area for 40 or 50 years do know) you can still see houseboats and a few other remnants of pre-Pombo primitive existence, which should have been paved over by government long ago. But most people don’t look and if they did, would be offended by the faintly gypsy air of such camps, floating or not, and might complain to a county supervisor about the viewscape they are forced to endure daily on their way to work in the Bay Area.

There is even an old brick silo that used to have a sign on it saying, “Horses for sale.” If it upsets you that you can’t see that sign anymore, you are a candidate for Nebraska. If you can’t maintain, control yourself and refrain from blogging or some such nonsense, go open an antique store on the prairie, and see how your life unfolds. Study the joys of quality of life instead of the standard of living. (3) This is the 11th Congressional District of California: we’re talking standard of living here, to be achieved through land deals, because our land grows anything (unlike the Nebraska prairie, which our developers wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot poll).

So, it gets a little crowded sometimes on the inadequate freeways around Tracy. Pombo wants to cut another one south of the Altamont through a Coast Range canyon straight to Silicon Valley. But that’s a government deal. Actually, some people call it “pork,” an unattractive term for government investment in your congressional district (things like UC Merced, etc.). And Pombo don’t like government. That’s why he’s in government: to stop government.

It doesn’t matter. In his district, the soil is so rich it grows anything but contradictions.

Traffic was thick on Thanksgiving. It just crawled, in both directions, from outside of Manteca all the way into and through Tracy, almost all the way to the Altamont. Growth, it’s beautiful. In the middle of Tracy, on a balcony in one of those subdivisions that loom over the road, a woman stood, a cell phone in one hand, while her other arm made a regular, semaphoric motion, up and down, perpendicular to the traffic. She must have been counting her blessing with each stroke, because there she was, in the Middle of Growth, rejoicing in her standard of living, even as we transients were cursing the quality of our lives. It’s all an optical illusion. From above the freeway, on the balcony of a condominium, it’s all standard of living. Down on the road, it’s all quality of life.

From the road, Ms. Semaphore seemed demented, actually, perhaps deranged by philosophical contemplation of the problems arising from the relationship of standard of living to quality of life. In short, an urban transplant to soil that grows absolutely anything. But again, that’s only the opinion of a driver.

On the other side of the freeway from this particular strand of highway jammed with crawling traffic in both directions, lies (for the time being) a clear expanse of farmland, mostly in alfalfa, that runs to the river, a fair distance away, its riparian corridor of oaks barely visible on that overcast day. We don’t eat alfalfa, of course, although its sprouts might be offered in the health store on Main Street of New California, Neb. Cows eat alfalfa, and California is the largest dairy state in the country and those dairies are concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley.

So, while the southern edge of the freeway in those parts is composed of a sound barrier over which peek the balconies of commuter villages, the view to the north preserves the agrarian heritage of the region.

As we crawled onward, I spent my time looking at alfalfa and the irrigation-canal laterals that water it. These are not timeless scenes because I am not a timeless being, nor were the two snowy egrets timeless, bent over, eyes to the wet earth, hunting in a field. However, they reminded me of a time when these roads were not jammed bumper-to-bumper, the fields surrounded the road, there were many more egrets and other birds in the area, and that part of the trip to the Bay Area, particularly in the cold of early winter, was a drive through the abundant natural life of western San Joaquin County.

Due to the abstraction of my own philosophical contemplation, I was not surprised when Don Quixote appeared on horseback, his horse standing on a little hump next to a lateral dividing an alfalfa field from pasture. Why not? I wondered. This Delta land grows anything. As I grew closer to the horseman, I began to suspect it really wasn’t Don Quixote – the man was a little too stocky—and the horse, a flashy pinto, was a bit too athletic for Rocinante, exactly. Yet …

Here was a horseman. He was wearing neither a Pombo drugstore/political cowboy hat nor a medieval barber’s basin, but a bent farm cap, just like an ordinary horseman. Perhaps the sorcerers were at work. Sancho? I thought. The pinto argued against Sancho, who rode a donkey. But, as the real Don Quixote teaches, you just can’t tell as long as there are sorcerers in the world. And they are everywhere.

The horseman wore a dark mustache, another Sancho-esque feature. But Sancho would never have ridden this horse, which kept tossing its head as its rider kept raising his right arm in a salute to the freeway. Perhaps the reason the horse tossed its head was because each time the rider raised his right arm in salute, a quirt looped over his wrist came into view.

In the two days since Thanksgiving, I have given more credence to the idea of a stocky Knight of the Sad Countenance than to the squire on the strength of the insane repetition of the salute. (This, of course, is the interpretation of a perfectly sane man driving to San Francisco on Thanksgiving in very heavy traffic, already an hour late for lunch with his 90-year-old mother.) Yet, finally, as I turn over the event once more in my mind, I am not sure if the man was insane or if he was perhaps mocking us. He may even have been trying to teach his horse something about freeways that every horse should know.

No, finally, I don’t know what that horseman was doing there, repeatedly raising his right hand in salute to the freeway, a quirt looped on his wrist. But he seemed to be looking at us as if he knew us. At least some of us felt that he might know us, which is why so many of us honked and waved.

I admit the vague thought entered my mind that perhaps it was Pombo himself, watching the vast herds pass through, counting cars like trail bosses of old counted cows in a canyon somewhere south of the railhead. Or perhaps it was a new, ambiguous, picaresque style of campaigning.

The traffic picked up speed after we had honked and waved at the horseman. Afraid I might be in for a crawl all the way to the Bay Bridge, I’d turned on the radio and had received a very detailed description of a traffic jam in Napa County. However, just as we got to normal speed, the announcer mentioned that a woman had called from Tracy to complain about some cowboy slowing traffic all the way through town. Probably a Democrat.

But, party affiliation aside, at last a grounded person had explained the situation. The horseman was just an obstruction of traffic, no more than a wreck with victims in stretchers on the side of the road. The proper response was to complain to the radio station. Perhaps the highway patrol would send somebody to arrest him and his horse for obstructing traffic. That would be the right thing to do. The traffic must go on, you see. Nothing must be allowed to impede it.

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

Notes:

(1) Ecology, community and lifestyle, Arne Naess (translated and edited by David Rothenberg), Cambridge, 1989, p.87

(2) Privatizing the American West...Editorial
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/26/opinion/26sat3.html?pagewanted=print
While lawmakers are in recess, it is worth reflecting on one particular part of the mess they have left behind. Mr. Pombo is head of the House Resources Committee and has long been determined to privatize as much of the West as he can lay his hands on. Last week, a budget bill scraped through the House... The bill has to clear a few more hurdles before becoming the law of the land... Americans have come to understand that America can't drill its way out of dependency on Middle Eastern oil, and that ravaging the Arctic is no substitute for sound energy policy. They also understand that Mr. Pombo's sleight of hand is little more than legislative robbery.

(3) Naess, p. 88

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Mood swings

Submitted: Nov 13, 2005

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

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McClatchy salsa

Submitted: Nov 04, 2005

Salsa McClatchy Badlands Journal replies to Sacramento Bee editorial on Pombo Bill Hatch -- Nov. 2, 2005 The Sacramento Bee editorial, Pombo mambo, actually looks like the McClatchy Co. going after a bad actor in Congress, one of DeLay’s wretched little henchmen, while the Hammer is back in Texas under indictment for illegal campaign funding. Although green is not really McClatchy’s color, like any good editorial, Pombo mambo provokes thought. For example, how can Sacramento Bee editorialists mention Pombo’s Gut-the-ESA bill without mentioning its co-author, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, whose district encompasses the circulation area for two of its papers, the Modesto Bee and the Merced Sun-Star. The editorial first appeared in Sacramento last week and was reprinted in the Modesto and Fresno Bees yesterday. Perhaps the reason for McClatchy reticence lies in the landscape of its region and the shape of the Pombo/Cardoza bill to gut the Endangered Species Act.

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