“In order to fight each other, the chicks born from the same mother hen put colors on their faces.” -- Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, founder of study centers and active in working for peace during the war in Vietnam.
"You don't know who's swimming nekkid till the tide goes out." -- attributed to Warren Buffett, NPR Marketplace, March 9, 2007
This site has been critical of local leadership for some time. Although at times individuals have been singled out, there has been more criticism of the entire leadership institution, or cult, in the Valley, than of any individual. Experience arguing with government about its policies and direction demonstrate quite vividly that the individuals are nearly completely interchangeable by the time they have been selected for leadership.
It has been the direction, most of all, that has been so disturbing, although the means by which the direction has been achieved are not above reproach. These means, involving much corruption of existing law and public process will continue to be challenged because they must be challenged.
However, the leaders, egged on by a remorselessly personalizing media that tends to present a story involving the most general principles of law and ethics as gossip, take personal affront when they are caught just doing another deal, business as usual. They ought to spare the public their sensitivities; most people know somehow that our individual leaders, whatever their strengths and attractiveness may be, are no match for the special interests whose profits are the true guides of the direction the town and county have taken.
The problem is neither personal or local. There are many regional influences in the same direction. For example, the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District proposes a negative declaration for its new ozone plan. Having drawn even with the worst air pollution basin in the nation, the district doesn't want an environmental impact report on its plan. Regional councils of governments, also appointed boards, pretend to have some concern for air quality but in fact function as legally suitable recipients for federal highway funds based on their transportation plans that promote even more urban growth. These COGs and CAGs are responsible for a series of county measures to increase sales taxes to create matching funds that, they hope, will attract more highway funds. San Joaquin County, which has had such a sales tax increase for several years, just discovered that this particular form of bribery doesn't work -- either because the state transportation department doesn't think the county's plan is that good or because other counties had more political muscle.
Some might take this message from CalTrans to San Joaquin County as a nearly divinely inspired excuse to slow Valley growth. But those people are not members of the Valley leadership cult, for which more growth is the only solution to all problems.
At the level of the state Legislature, nobody but a shrinking group who will never see sixty again can even remember when developers didn't control the important legislation, despite the environmental posturing of elected officials, which has grown positively theatrical with the arrival of Our Hun in the governor's office.
Beyond the state Legislature, our region in particular has been visited by the Pomboza, a bipartisan partnership between representatives Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, which introduced numerous bills to gut the Endangered Species Act on behalf of developers building in their adjoining north Valley districts. Although Pombo was defeated by outraged environmentalists from around the country in the last election, he has joined an anti-environmental lobbying firm, so we imagine the Pomboza is alive and well behind the scenes, where Pombo may prove an even more environmentally
destructive politician than he was as the chairman of the House Resources Committee, since November restored to its earlier title, Natural Resources Committee.
Further examples of the federal approach to the San Joaquin Valley include: the Bureau of Reclamation's latest scheme to avoid responsibility for the selenium disaster on the west side: privatize the San Luis Reservoir; and the full-court attack of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, against the Fraint Dam/San Joaquin River Settlement. The precedent of environmentalists, farmers and water districts coming to an agreement (albeit under warning from federal court that a settlement would be better than a judge's decision strictly by the law), must not be allowed to see the light of day or the world will end, according to Nunes -- willing to skewer his fellow Republican, Rep. George Radanovich of Mariposa in the process.
California's senior US senator, Dianne Fienstein, is the wife of investment banker, Richard Blum, presently chairman of the UC Board of Regents. This power team has rendered the term "conflict of interest" meaningless in California.
In a war began as the result of lies the administration told, the US military, the most powerful, best armed, most highly technologized and expensive miltary in the world, "is in danger of being driven back by a few tens of thousands of lightly armed irregulars, who have developed tactics capable of destroying multimillion-dollar vehicles and aircraft." The American military reaction in Iraq is characterized as "unadorned state terrorism." There is no doubt that denial historical knowledge goes straight to the top of US government. Bush now has been caught so thoroughly in his web of lies that drumbeats for impeachment keep growing.
Obviously, it won't do to blame local leaders for the general dysfunction and atmosphere of lies and destruction. However, given the topography and climate of the San Joaquin Valley, its leaders' growth policy for the profit of national and international finance, insurance and real estate interests at the expense of the public health and safety in the agricultural heartland of the most productive farming and ranching state in the nation, is, in a word, absurd, upside-down, backwards. However, if you stand on your head, it all comes clear: the leaders aren't actually leaders, they are just a select group of strong personalities trained in a cult to follow business, the bigger business the better. What they call "the real world" in authoritative tones designed to crush all question or criticism, is in fact a materialist fantasy of a hierarchy of wealth. This theory of leadership that is actually followership begs the lamentable question: who will be found nekkid when the tide goes out? We would prefer leadership that addresses the real, organic problems of the Valley and find means of improving things. Paving it over simply denies the responsibility of maintaining one of the most vital agricultural areas in the nation.
Any appeal to giantism finds a vigorous response in the Valley, however, because the Valley produces veritable Leviathans of corporate agribusiness and public works: Gallo Wine, Hilmar Cheese, Boswell Cotton, the largest public irrigation projects in the world, etc. This form of economic development has produced tremendous riches for a few and the lowest standard of living in the state for the many and has created a population dislocation in Mexico that has damaged both sides of the border and become a chronic, uncontrollable "hot-button" issue for the authoritarian racist crowd.
One of the major problems of thinking about the Valley is that its leadership denies the history of the Valley. Elites constantly form, rise, and morph between outside-funding cycles. A good example is the Great Valley Center, founded by a former pro-growth Modesto mayor on grants from a young, aggressive charitable foundation based in Silicon Valley and a group of the proper national environmental non-profits with completely self-serving agendas. As far as GVC was concerned, history began when it got its non-profit status and first grants. Its agenda was based on the idea that growth is inevitable and it produced numerous "smart growth" fantasies in a series of workshops and conferences noting for the declining quality of thinking and of sandwiches. Finally, it has joined in a win-win, private-public partnership with UC Merced, a public corporation convinced that absolutely nothing existed in the Valley before Itself arrived. The idea that history is nothing but the chronicle of the current leadership cult has been as thoroughly discredited as the flat-earth theory.
Despite high concentrations of wealth in a few agribusiness fortunes, there is relatively little philanthropy beyond projects that advertise their funders. Support for glamorless programs that get youth started in the right direction, shelter the homeless and care for the e;derly poor who honestly labored here and in general helps the community rise according to invaluable local knowledge about how resources should best be spent, was more evident 50 years ago than it is today. And UC Merced has made the situation worse by ripping off enormous tax-deductible contributions from regional plutocrats. UC Merced should not be blamed for this. The Valley has not had real charitable-spending leadership. The results of the lack of it are all around us. We have not been charitable where it matters. This must remain a mystery if one is not to indulge in futile blaming.
Nor can one blame Christianity for Valley churches that spend more time bashing gays than supporting the poor. We can see where an attitude of denial of reality greed and hypocrisy ends, but it is harder to see where it began. Perhaps, as some thoughtful religionists suggest, there is simply a loss of soul in America. Perhaps the prices paid for power and wealth were too high. Psychologist Erich Fromm noted 40 years ago:
The very picture of mid-twentieth century capitalism is hardly distinguishable from the
caricature of Marxist socialism as drawn by its opponents."
An article last week in the Merced Sun-Star, describes a quandary a Detroit-based developer and the city find themselves in:
Bellevue Ranch is the second largest development the company is currently working on.
Navigating endangered species and wetlands laws marks new territory for city officials too, who find themselves dealing with fairy shrimp for the first time within the city limit.
We begin with the Bellevue Ranch as a regulatory/development problem, with no reference to what it was, no reference to the lawsuit that produced the EIR on the project, and city officials are presented as having known nothing about the endangered species present on the land. This is deceit, not journalism.
The article echoes statements about vernal pools and fairy shrimp (endangered as are 11 species of plants found only around vernal pools) made from the earliest planning stages of UC Merced. It represents the earlier outrage, voiced by the various local Mr. and Ms. UC Merceds of their moments, that the fairy shrimp and the vernal pools in which they live are the greatest enemy Valley civilization has faced since Estanislao broke out of Mission San Jose. Once again, local business and political leaders, following the profit needs of outside developers, line up against an embattled federal resource agency charged under the Endangered Species Act with protecting endangered species that only live a few months a year and rarely exceed two inches in length. Yet their range in Merced County includes the eastern and western watersheds, the pastures where percolation takes place. By protecting fairy shrimp and vernal pools, local leaders would be protecting air quality and water quality and quantity for existing Valley residents. But local leaders didn't become local leaders by listening to any interest but business, which in the Valley regards all land in farming and ranching as fair game for more subdivisions. If it sounds as if I am excluding the farming and ranching business, like they say, there is no parcel of land in the Valley not for sale at a price. Agricultural organizations have fallen into a state of political autism, paralyzed by their dual position as both producers and landowners. Large landowners, like Mike Gallo and the Kelley family, become developers while smaller farmers suffer the steady degradation of their districts by encroaching urban development. In the battle between the farm and the subdivision, development always kicks the teeth out of "right to farm" policies.
So, we are in for another round of smart-growth fantasies as the air quality deteriorates and the water quality and quantity diminishes unless the nationwide speculative housing boom, particularly egregious here, produces a national recession that stops economic growth. Leadership by developer feeding frenzy halted by national recession is not our idea of leadership. The local followership cult is outrageously irresponsible, greedy, and it grovels before outside finance, insurance and real estate special interests.
Badlands editorial board
Tiny shrimp blocking builder...Leslie Albrecht
Building permits decline...Leslie Albrecht
Central Valley Business Times
California housing remains nation’s least affordable, despite cooling prices
Vacant and costly
Empty homes leave owners on the hook
By J.N. SBRANTI
'Smart' rebels outstrip US
Top American generals make shock admission as Iraq leader pleads with neighbouring
countries to seal off their borders
Paul Beaver in Fort Lauderdale and Peter Beaumont
Sunday March 11, 2007
Surge and Destroy
The Brutality Escalates in Iraq
By Michael Schwartz
Tomdispatch.com -- March 11, 2007
Marx's Concept of Man, Erich Fromm, Ungar, New York, 1966.
Factories in the Field, Cary McWilliams, Peregrine Press, 1971 (originally published in