Public Health and Safety

Merced County Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event

Submitted: Mar 10, 2006

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!

End of message…to erase this message press 7, to save it press 9, to hear more options press 0. To replay this message press 4, to get envelope information about this message press 5. To…. Sent February 3rd, at 11:48 am from phone number 704-13** duration 1 minute 14 seconds. To erase this message press 7. To save it press 9. This message will be saved for 21 days. End of messages.

On Feb. 9, City of Livingston Mayor Brandon Friesen wrote San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and members of the public, accusing them of “conducting a documented pursuit and vendetta against Ranchwood Homes.” The mayor said public questions raised and public requests for documentation on this project have "placed our City in the middle of mud slinging and we will not stand for it.”

· The 42-inch sewer trunk line from the City of Livingston: Mr. Hostetler, who does business as Ranchwood Homes, is referring to a mile-long sewer trunk line he built from the corner of the Livingston wastewater treatment plant to a few yards away from where he plans to build a subdivision. The trunk line is built entirely outside the jurisdiction of the City of Livingston in land under county jurisdiction. On Feb. 16, when the project was still incomplete, County Counsel Ruben Castillo wrote a letter to the city attorney of Livingston instructing him in the number of laws the city had broken by "approving" this project beyond its jurisdiction. However, by Feb. 28, the project was completed and the 42-inch, mile-long sewer pipeline was covered over. The public has been granted access to neither city, county nor LAFCO files on this project, despite requests to county CEO Dee Tatum, county Counsel Ruben Castillo, county Director of Planning and Economic Development Robert Lewis, Local Agency Formation Commission Director John LeVan, and the county Board of Supervisors. A request for a meeting with CEO Tatum and department heads has also gone unanswered. The County has taken no action.

· 1,000 acres in North Merced: Ranchwood cleared approximately 1,000 acres of pasture bounded by G Street, La Paloma, Merced Country Club and Old Lake Road, north of Merced. The field crossed Fahrens Creek. Ranchwood put in field roads crossing the creek at two locations, tore out all vegetation along the creek and pushed freshly disked dirt into the stream. The land contains wetlands, is probably habitat for federal and state protected species. There are probable violations of the federal Endangered Species and the Clean Water Act. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

· 300 acres near Le Grand: Ranchwood disked and deep-ripped a portion of a 300-acre field on the corner of White Rock and Le Grand roads in county jurisdiction. The land contains wetlands, is probably habitat for federal and state protected species. There are probable violations of the federal ESA and CWA. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

· 1,100 acres near Le Grand: Ranchwood deep-ripped, leveled and disked approximately 1,100 acres of seasonal pasture land on the SE intersection of Buchanan Hollow and White Rock roads, also near Le Grand. The pastures contained small streams, wetlands, vernal pools and federal and state protected species. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.

These are significant conversions of land. Merced County should have directed Ranchwood to do proper environmental review before proceeding. Instead Merced County turned a blind eye to these significant conversions.

State and federal agencies were notified and are expected to uphold regulatory compliance on these projects.

· Franklin County Sewer District: Ranchwood excavated two additional percolation ponds in a field west of Santa Fe Road north of Highway 59 to service a subdivision Ranchwood is building in the Franklin-Beachwood area. The public has requested documentation on this project.

· Land swaps in Planada:

On April 22, 2003, J&J Family Trust sold a parcel of approximately 20 acres on Gerard Road to the Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing for $300,000 (approximating from the tax assessment of 1 percent).

On October 10, 2003, CVCAH sold the parcel to the Merced County Housing Authority for $300,000 (according to what MCHA official Nick Benjamin told members of the Planada public).

On Dec. 2, 2004, a complex land swap took place in Planada.

A. MCHA sold the same parcel (APN# 053-145-024) to the Pacific Holt Corp. for $550,000 (according to the tax assessment).

B. A.K. Karmangar, a Planada farmer, sells two parcels (approximately 20 acres) to the MCHA for $550,000 (according to the tax assessment).

C. Pacific Holt sells parcel APN# 053-145-024 to Mr. And Mrs. D. Tatum (CEO Merced County) for $269,500.00 (according to the tax assessment). This is apparently a savings of $280,500.00 to the Tatums for a piece of property Pacific Holt bought the same day for approximately twice as much as they sold it to the Tatums.

On Sept. 29, 2005, Hostetler Investment, LLC filed a memorandum of right of option to Pacific Holt Corp to purchase 50 percent of any or all Wallace and Karmangar property actually acquired by Hostetler, and at the actual gross per-acre price. “For instance, if, as expected, Hostetler actually acquires the entirety of the Karmangar Property containing 410+/- gross acres, the Option would apply to 205 +/- acres. The purchase price for both the Wallace Property and the Karmangar Property shall be the actual gross per acre price paid by Hostetler to purchase the Wallace Property and the Karmangar Property which shall be payable in cash on or before the close of escrow.”

On Dec. 23, 2005, a new entity, Pacific Holt Residential Communities, filed for a county General Plan Amendment for residential construction as the owner of 1,390 acres to be added to the Planada SUDP and to be known as the Village of Geneva at Planada. The acreage is composed of Karmangar and Wallace contiguous parcels.

Pacific Holt Residential Communities consists of Hostetler Investments LLC, Pacific Holt Corp., Premiere Partners III of Illinois, Bear Creek Ranch Inc. and local land holders, Bud Wallace, Inc, Opie and Elizabeth Wallace, Partners, and Hare &Sessions Development, Seattle WA.

The County approved the 2003 Planada Community Plan Update to the Merced County General Plan. The PHR Communities property lies outside of the Planada SUDP except for a 20-acre parcel. The Planada Community Plan has been legally challenged and the case is now in state appellate court.

This is by no means all the Ranchwood Homes projects, even in Merced County alone. It’s just a few examples the public has been able to collect from the east side of the county.

Could county CEO, Dee Tatum, fill in the public (after he’s explained it to Supervisor Crookham) on leapfrog, chaotic, unplanned development – the low, cowboy standards of Merced County planning with an out-dated General Plan, speculation-driven development and a new, incompetent planning director? Why does the County routinely disregards proper public process, the protection of public resources? Why has it shown neither the political will nor the ability to plan coherently in the midst of a speculative real estate boom that began before UC Merced was a “done deal”?

Would CEO Tatum explain why he hired a planning director from Nevada who is incompetent in California environmental law or public processes like the Public Records Act?

Could Supervisor Kathleen Crookham illuminate the public on her special relationship with Ranchwood Homes? Would Supervisor Jerry O’Banion of Los Banos explain how Ranchwood Homes does business, since O’Banion knows all things that occur on the west-side turf he shares with Ranchwood?

The Merced County public should ask how county government can do anything but build a reputation as the most corrupt local land-use authority in the state when the top Democrat opponent of environmental law and regulation in the House of Representatives and one of the key fixers behind UC Merced, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is welcome to sit on the third floor of the county administration building.

The University of California, aided by Cardoza, former Rep.Gary Condit, Blue Dog-Ceres, the Condit children, Gov.Gray Davis and compliant state resource agency heads, railroaded (the term “fast-tracked” was substituted) UC Merced through environmental law, regulation and took local land-use authority, set the cowboy standards for development in Merced County. UC also acquainted local land-use jurisdictions with the magic of legal indemnification against legal challenges brought to protect Merced County natural resources, air, water, agricultural land, infrastructure, public health and safety, and endangered species as well as protecting proper public process.

Bill Hatch

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Merced Wal-Mart distribution center

Submitted: Mar 08, 2006

Rev. Jesse Jackson used to describe development in rural US counties: "First you get your prison, then you get your WalMart."

In Merced, first we got UC, now we'll probably get a 1.1-million square foot Wal-Mart distribution center at the UC Merced off-ramp. This will set a new basement for county wages and Local Business is wildly enthusiastic about it. The representative of the Alia Corp. and the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, two of the three authors of a recent Sun-Star guest commentary accused "outside organizers" of obstructing the project, claimed to represent best the interests of the local community. Alia actually represents two global corporations, McDonalds and Chevron, while numerous national and international corporations have memberships in the GMCC, including Wal-Mart.

Rebecca Solnit describes how Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton, is spending some of the corporation's unpaid wages and benefits.

The Wal-Mart Biennale
By Rebecca Solnit
TomDispatch.com -- Feb. 16, 2006

It isn't that, when Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton purchased Asher B. Durand's 1849 painting Kindred Spirits last year, she got the state of Arkansas to pass legislation specifically to save her taxes -- in this case, about $3 million on a purchase price of $35 million. It isn't that the world's second richest woman and ninth richest person (according to a Forbes magazine 2005 estimate) scooped the painting out from under the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had banded together to try to keep it in a public collection when the New York Public Library decided to sell it off. It isn't that Walton will eventually stick this talisman of New England cultural life and a lot of other old American paintings in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Walton family museum she's building in Bentonville, Arkansas, the site of Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters -- after all people in the middle of the country should get to see some good art too. It might not even be, as Wal-MartWatch.com points out, that the price of the painting equals what the state of Arkansas spends every two years providing for Wal-Mart's 3,971 employees on public assistance; or that the average Wal-Mart cashier makes $7.92 an hour and, since Wal Mart likes to keep people on less than full-time schedules, works only 29 hours a week for an annual income of $11,948--so a Wal-Mart cashier would have to work a little under 3,000 years to earn the price of the painting without taking any salary out for food, housing, or other expenses (and a few hundred more years to pay the taxes, if the state legislature didn't exempt our semi-immortal worker).

The trouble lies in what the painting means and what Alice Walton and her $18 billion mean. Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways. The superb Rockefeller folk art collections in several American museums don't include paintings of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of miners in Colorado, carried out by Rockefeller goons, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles doesn't say a thing about oil. But something about Wal-Mart and Kindred Spirits is more peculiar than all the robber barons and their chapels, galleries, and collections ever were, perhaps because, more than most works of art, Durand's painting is a touchstone for a set of American ideals that Wal-Mart has been savaging.

It may be true that, in an era when oil companies regularly take out advertisements proclaiming their commitment to environmentalism, halting global warming, promoting petroleum alternatives, and conservation measures, while many of them also fund arguments against climate change's very existence, nothing is too contrary to embrace. But Kindred Spirits is older, more idealistic, and more openly at odds with this age than most hostages to multinational image-making.

Kindred Spirits portrays Durand's friend, the great American landscape painter Thomas Cole, with his friend, the poet and editor William Cullen Bryant. The two stand on a projecting rock above a cataract in the Catskills, bathed like all the trees and air around them in golden light. The painting is about friendship freely given, including a sense of friendship, even passion, for the American landscape itself. In the work of Cole, Durand, and Bryant, as in the writing of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, you can see an emerging belief that the love of nature, beauty, truth, and freedom are naturally allied, a romantic vision that still lingers as one of the most idealistic versions of what it might mean to be an American.

Cole was almost the first American painter to see the possibilities in American landscapes, to see that meaning could grow rather than lessen in a place not yet full of ruins and historical associations, and so he became an advocate for wilderness nearly half a century before California rhapsodist and eventual Sierra Club cofounder John Muir took up the calling. Bryant had gained a reputation as a poet before he became editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post and thereby a pivotal figure in the culture of the day. He defended a group of striking tailors in 1836, long before there was a union movement, and was ever after a champion of freedom and human rights, turning his newspaper into an antislavery mouthpiece and eventually becoming a founder of the Republican Party (back when that was the more progressive and less beholden of the two parties). He was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln and of the projects that resulted in New York's Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum -- of a democratic urban culture that believed in the uplifting power of nature and of free access. Maybe the mutation of the Republican Party from Bryant's to Walton's time is measure enough of American weirdness; or maybe the details matter, of what the painting is and what Wal-Mart and its heiress are.

Kindred Spirits was commissioned by the wealthy dry-goods merchant Jonathan Sturges as a gift for Bryant in commemoration of his beautiful eulogy for Cole, who died suddenly in 1848. Bryant left it to his daughter Julia, who gave it in 1904 to what became the New York Public Library. It was never a commodity exchanged between strangers until the Library, claiming financial need, put it and other works of art up for sale. So now a portrait of antislavery and wilderness advocates belongs to a woman whose profits came from degrading working conditions in the U.S. and abroad and from ravaging the North American landscape.

Maybe the problem is that the Crystal Bridges museum seems like a false front for Wal-Mart, a made-in-America handicrafted artifact of idealism for a corporation that is none of the above. The museum will, as such institutions do, attempt to associate the Wal-Mart billionaires with high culture, American history, beautifully crafted objects -- a host of ideals and pleasures a long way from what you find inside the blank, slabby box of a Wal-Mart. One of the privileges of wealth is buying yourself out of the situation you help to make, so that the wealthy, who advocate for deregulation, install water purifiers and stock up on cases of Perrier, or advocate for small government and then hire their own security forces and educators.

Walton, it seems safe to assume, lives surrounded by nicer objects, likely made under nicer conditions, than she sells the rest of us. I have always believed that museums love artists the way taxidermists love deer. Perhaps Alice Walton is, in some sense, stuffing and mounting what is best about American culture -- best and fading. Perhaps Crystal Bridges will become one of the places we can go to revisit the long history that precedes industrialization and globalization, when creation and execution were not so savagely sundered, when you might know the maker of your everyday goods, and making was a skilled and meaningful act. One of the pleasures of most visual art is exactly that linkage between mind and hand, lost elsewhere as acts of making are divided among many and broken down into multiple repetitive tasks.

Perhaps she could build us the Museum of When Americans Made Stuff Locally by Hand for People They Knew or perhaps that's what Crystal Bridges, along with the rest of such institutions, will become. Or Walton could just plan to open the Museum of When Americans Made Stuff at some more distant date, though less than half of what's in Wal-Mart, sources inform me, is still actually made here -- for now. The world's richest woman, however, seems more interested in archaic images of America than in the artisanry behind them.

Walton has already scooped up a portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale and paintings by Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper for her museum. That museum, reports say, will feature many, many nineteenth-century portraits of Native Americans -- but it would be hard to see her as a champion of the indigenous history of the Americas. The Wal-Mart that opened last November in Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, is built so close to the Aztec's Pyramid of the Sun that many consider the site desecrated. The Wal-Mart parking lot actually eradicated the site of a smaller temple. "This is the flag of conquest by global interests, the symbol of the destruction of our culture," said a local schoolteacher. Thanks to free-trade measures like NAFTA, Wal-Mart has become Mexico's biggest retailer and private-sector employer.

Imagine if Walton were more like Sturges, supporting the art of her time. Imagine if she were supporting artists who actually had something to say about Wal-Mart and America (and Mexico, and China). Imagine if, in the mode of the Venice Biennale or the Sao Paolo Biennale, there was a Wal-Mart biennale. After all, Wal-Mart is itself China's seventh-largest trading partner, ahead of Germany and Russia and Italy; if it were a nation, it would be the world's nineteenth biggest economy. If it's on the same scale as those countries, why shouldn't it have its own contemporary art shows? But what would the Wal-Mart nation and its artists look like?

Rather than the open, luminous, intelligent architecture Moshe Safde will probably bestow on Bentonville, Arkansas, imagine a shuttered Wal-Mart big box (of which there are so many, often shut down simply to stop employees from unionizing) turned into a MOCA, a museum of contemporary art, or better yet a MOCWA, a Museum of Contemporary Wal-Mart Art. Or Wal-Art. After all, Los Angeles's MOCA was originally sited in a defunct warehouse. You could set the artists free to make art entirely out of materials available at Wal-Mart, or to make art about the global politics of Wal-Mart in our time -- poverty, consumerism, sprawl, racism, gender discrimination, exploitation of undocumented workers.

Imagine a contemporary artist, maybe with Adobe Photoshop, reworking Kindred Spirits again and again. Imagine that Cole and Bryant are, this time, standing not on a rocky outcropping but in, say, one of the puzzle and art-supply aisles of a Wal-Mart somewhere in the Catskills, dazed and depressed. Or imagine instead that it's some sweatshop workers, a little hunched and hungry, on that magnificent perch amid the foliage and the golden light, invited at last into some sense of democratic community. Imagine paintings of Edward Hopper's old downtowns, boarded up because all the sad and lonely people are shopping at Wal-Mart and even having their coffee and hot dogs there. Imagine video-portraits of the people who actually make the stuff you can buy at Wal-Mart, or of the African-American truck-drivers suing the corporation for racism or of the women who are lead plaintiffs in the nation's largest class-action suit for discrimination. Against Wal-Mart, naturally.

Imagine if Alice Walton decided to follow the route of Target with architect Michael Graves and commissioned some cutting-edge contemporary art about these issues: videos and DVDs you could buy, prints for your walls, performance art in the aisles, art that maybe even her workers could afford. Imagine if Wal-Mart would acknowledge what Wal-Mart is rather than turning hallowed American art into a fig leaf to paste over naked greed and raw exploitation. But really, it's up to the rest of us to make the Museum of Wal-Mart, one way or another, in our heads, on our websites, or in our reading of everyday life everywhere.

Rebecca Solnit's Tomdispatch-generated Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities is out in a new and expanded edition. Her other recent books include A Field Guide to Getting Lost and, with Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers.

Copyright 2005 Rebecca Solnit

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Cardoza's boss taken to task

Submitted: Mar 01, 2006

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is the principle co-author of the Gut-the-Endangered Species Act, whose No. 1 rightwing Republican promoter is Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. The "D" often put after Cardoza's name stands for Democrat, which makes him the symbol of bipartisan unity and "balance" among the ESA gutters. It's obvious why Pombo is in it: it's strictly a matter of his family's real estate business. Although Cardoza's family owns and sells some land, the Shrimp Slayer is in it mainly for UC Merced and developers that would make Merced as large, chaotic, crime-filled and polluted as Fresno. Cardoza carries the local rightwing agenda so well they can't find anything wrong with him. He's exactly their kind of Democrat, a good little functionary for whoever has the money to pay for the tune.

People look at the Pomboza and wonder how any collection of communities could be dumb enough to elect such an unlovely pair to Congress. There must be something in the water. Or is it the air?

Bill Hatch
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Rep. Pombo’s bill an ‘act’ that betrays ecology of the earth
by David James Duncan

March 1, 2006

I am a lifelong fisherman. I became one as a boy out of love for salmon, and also out of love for the fact that Jesus and many of his disciples were fishermen. I feel I owe it to Peter, James and John to protect our increasingly endangered line of work.

I mention this because U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., has pushed a bill through Congress that would gut the Endangered Species Act, a globally admired law that has kept several thousand ark-loads of plants and animals---including wild salmon, sea otters, lynx, eagles, bighorn sheep, condors---from being driven to extinction. If Pombo’s bill becomes law, endangered species will lose to developers, the extinction of wild salmon will in many places be guaranteed, and the ancient trade of Peter, James and John will vanish with the salmon.

At the time I learned of the Pombo bill I was studying recent salmon and river restoration projects in the Pacific Northwest. The contrast is stunning! When even a few tax dollars are spent on restoring life instead squandering it, Americans go bananas in wonderfully altruistic ways. When Washington State was offered a federal grant of just $13 million for wild salmon restoration, the people and businesses of that state answered with over $30 million and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours of their own. Restoring even 10 yards of ruined riverbank is an arduous undertaking. In five years Washingtonians enhanced some 1,755 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. Some 200,000 native trees have been planted to cool streams and shade out invasive plants. Fiftyfour million salmon have been released into state streams. These united efforts are a labor of love that costs U.S. taxpayers nothing. Tens of thousands of the hero-hours have been logged by school children, whose sole motivation is their yearning to keep salmon alive in our world with them.
What a stick in the eyeball to turn from this to Pombo’s so-called “Endangered Species Recovery Act.” What this Act would really do is terminate America’s long-standing commitment to endangered species by removing the link between wild creatures and their habitat---as if wild animals and birds can live in a bulldozed vacuum. The Act’s veiled purpose is to force Americans to pay developers simply to obey conservation laws the rest of us gladly honor. To accomplish that end, it will prostitute by law the science that protects endangered and threatened species. Getting back to the apostle fishermen, Pombo’s Act will also betray the teachings of the Bible, which tells us that “the Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof” (Psalms) and that humans are mere “tenants” (Leviticus) placed here as “caretakers” (Genesis), to rule not as the greed-driven would have it, but “on earth as it is in heaven,” as the Father who created and blessed all forms of life would have it.

There are a few among us who still believe in “infinite exploitable resources” despite the finiteness of Earth. There are a few who still believe in the Easter Bunny. The fact remains that industrial civilization has long been engaged in a war not against foreign enemies, but against the life support systems of our world. The 21st will be the century of the Great Cease-Fire in this war, or it will be a century of the kind of environmental terror, havoc and dearth we are now repeatedly witnessing not just in foreign lands, but right here in America. The thousands of businesses recently destroyed by hurricanes, floods, wars and social chaos directly related to fossil fuel overdependence are dire proof that the planet’s life support systems and our economic activites are directly related. The emissions of my car in seemingly clean-skied Montana merge with a carbon dioxide cloud that encircles the globe, contributing to superheated oceans, storms of record-breaking force, the annihilation of commerce, the loss of biological diversity, and increased human suffering. Every nonsustainable act we commit and every shortsighted policy we sign into law now threatens to eliminate long-term business profits.

It’s hard to imagine a more shortsighted policy than Pombo’s “Endangered Species Recovery Act.” This bill is indeed an act. While sucking like a leech at the integrity of the word “recovery,” it in fact betrays endangered plants and wildlife and erodes biological, religious and economic integrity by attacking the life support systems and truth-telling that make life and commerce possible.
Please ask Senator Burns and Baucus to send Pombo’s Act back to whatever dark cave it came from.

David James Duncan is an author, fly fisher and educator. His novels include The River Why and The Brothers K. His forthcoming book is God Laughs & Plays: churchless sermons.
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Republican Pete McCloskey Talks about GOP Corruption and the Environment
By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Interview

Tuesday 28 February 2006

On February 12, I sat with Pete McCloskey at a public park in Lodi, California, to ask him a few questions about his race against the most anti-environmental congressman in history, Richard Pombo. Mc Closkey is challenging Pombo in the Republican primary, adding a lot of spice to the race, which includes three Democratic challengers as well.

Note: Parts of this interview will appear in an upcoming program on Free Speech TV: SourceCode Episode 3 - Enemies of the Environment. SourceCode teams up with TruthOut to give you the scoop on the biggest threats to preserving our country's public lands, endangered animals, and last wild spaces. Tune into Free Speech TV, Dish Network Ch. 9415, Sunday, March 5, at 9 a.m. and noon, or Monday, March 6, at 8 p.m. or 11p.m. (all times Eastern). Visit sourcecode.freespeech.org to view past shows.

Kelpie Wilson: What was your greatest accomplishment for the environment when you were in Congress in the 1960s and '70s?

Pete McCloskey: I suppose I tried to protect a few porpoises when the tuna fishermen were catching the porpoises in their nets. We tried to reduce the taking of endangered whale species, something my opponent Mr. Pombo now supports the increase of. Japanese whaling is one of the issues between me and him.

KW: What about the Endangered Species Act? What was your role in that?

McCloskey: Well, perhaps the greatest achievement, and we didn't know it at the time, was we held an Earth Day in 1970, and out of that Earth Day a lot of students got involved in saving the environment, or trying to. They listed 12 of my colleagues, the Dirty Dozen, and took out seven of them in the next election. The result was, when Congress convened in January 1971, everyone was now an environmentalist. They had seen a new force, college students, who favored the environment. Out of those next four years, we passed the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Amendments, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Estuary Protection Act, the Coastal Zone Act; all of those came through my subcommittee, Fish and Wildlife, a subcommittee which is now under Pombo's jurisdiction as chairman as the House Resources Committee.

KW: So the ESA is now 34 years old, and even environmentalists agree that some changes are needed. Pombo wrote and passed a reform bill through the House. What is in that bill?

McCloskey: If it passes in the form that Mr. Pombo got it though his committee, it would gut the ESA, and it would gut the whole scheme of protection for endangered and threatened species. Pombo announced that this was nothing new; he wrote a book in 1995 saying that he wanted to abolish the Endangered Species Act. But he didn't just change those provisions that should be changed, and I can give you a few: we would like to make them more farmer friendly; we would like to make them so that, when the government gets an application to develop endangered species land, the government comes in right at the start and says you can do this or you can't do this or you have to mitigate what you're going to do. It's been hard to get though the bureaucracy.

What Pombo wants to do is make it even tougher to get through the bureaucracy. You could use the entire budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service just to pay off developers. He's put a provision in there that a developer who is restricted by endangered species concerns should be compensated for all future loss of profit for any project he might propose to develop that land. Well, he'd bankrupt the agency with that, and I think that's his purpose. Again, it's not just to end the problems of the Act, it's to abolish it or make it ineffective.

KW: Who are the top Republicans in history who've made important contributions to conservation and environmental protection?

McCloskey: The father of Republican environmentalism is Teddy Roosevelt, who, with Gifford Pinchot, started to set aside wilderness and national forests and national parks. Teddy Roosevelt Island has become a national park in the middle of the Potomac River, right across from the Watergate Hotel. Pombo wants to sell Roosevelt Island for development for residential purposes, along with fourteen other parks, one of which is in his own district, in the town of Danville. He believes that the solution to this country's ills is to take all of the public lands and turn them into private development. Well, the beauty that we have here, half of northern California, is in public lands. If you develop it, you lose the priceless privilege of kids out there that are looking for crabs or frogs or something of that kind, growing up near flowing rivers, or swamps, or tidelands, particularly the High Sierra. He's got a bill to put 18 dams in the Immigrant Wilderness. Well if you ever backpacked up there, the idea of one more dam in the High Sierra is crazy, but that's his view, and that's his belief, and that's why I'm running against him.

KW: So what are the Republican values that you represent and how are they different from Richard Pombo's?

McCloskey: In my time, we served with noble and ethical leaders: Gerry Ford, Bob Michael, John Rhodes, men of impeccable honesty. We didn't have anybody locked up for a violation of ethics. Of course we were in the minority, nobody wanted to bribe a Republican; you bribed the Democrats in those days. We had 36 or so congressmen indicted, and all but one of them was a Democrat. But now the Republicans have had the power for the last 13 years, and I believe they've been corrupted: the arrangements between Tom DeLay, the majority leader, and Jack Abramoff. Remember, Tom DeLay jumped Pombo over six other congressmen to make him chairman of the Resources Committee.

The values that we had were, first: honesty and ethics. Second: we wanted a balanced budget; we had fiscal responsibility. Pombo and his allegedly conservative friends have spent us into the greatest deficits in history, trillions of dollars in deficits. That's no Republican value. We were environmentalists of the Teddy Roosevelt theory. We believed in separation of church and state. We believed in the independence of the Supreme Court not being subject to politicians. Now you've got Pombo introducing a bill ... he wants to give Congress the right to overrule Supreme Court decisions on constitutional issues. That's not a Republican value, that's almost radical. That would destroy the checks and balances that the Constitutional forefathers provided.

I suppose the worst value of all is that he wants to give away the public lands for development. My wife and I have spent half our lives, half our adult lives, trying to save special parts of California. I'll give you examples: the Bridgeport Valley over in Modoc County; the Bear Valley up in Calaveras County. We've managed to set those aside in conservation. Most recently, the Hearst Ranch, 82,000 acres. That preserves 15 miles of pristine beach. That's worth doing. It's worth preserving the remaining public lands of California, for your kids and my kids and grandchildren. Pombo wants to destroy all that. He really thinks development is the key to Northern California. You've seen what it's done in Southern California. A lot of us are fugitives from Southern California, trying to preserve the last of Northern California's open space wilderness.

KW: What he's trying to do is kind of like selling off family heirlooms to pay the rent.

McCloskey: I've differed strongly with the Bush administration. It's cut back all of the money for the parks and the forests. They want to put snowmobiles in Yosemite. What they want to do is roll back the environmental progress of 30 years, and it's just wrong. Pombo is their chief operative in doing that, so I'd like to take him out of the Congress and maybe restore a Republican value of the preservation of open space in wilderness. He thinks wilderness is bad because no people are allowed to go into the wilderness. Well, that's baloney, you go into the wilderness like Mohammed went to the mountain or Moses went into the desert. You get inspiration from the wilderness. It is not in this man to preserve and protect wilderness.

KW: Getting back to Republican values, what are the worst examples of Pombo's corruption?

McCloskey: His corruption: Here's a man, Jack Abramoff with his K Street Lobbying project, who has given all this money to Pombo - $54,500. Well, we say, what? Why Pombo? Why would Mr. Abramoff bestow this largess on Pombo? Why would Pombo's staff get these thousand-dollar seats to this skybox? What did he give up for that? We don't know the answer to that yet, the grand jury or the federal attorney hasn't told us, but one example is the Marianas Islands. Abramoff started in the 1990s to try to shield the Marianas Islands from US immigration and labor laws. A man named Willie Tan, who ran this sweatshop operation, brought in young women from all over China and Southeast Asia and the other islands, saying: "Come to America and sign this paper that you'll pay $5,000 for the privilege of going to America." Well, they got them to the Marianas Islands, which is a US trust territory, which can use the label "Made in America" on the clothing it manufactures. Pombo went to the Marianas in 2004, and suddenly gets nine contributions in the thousands of dollars from Marianas businessmen. Now why are they giving Pombo that money? Pombo absolutely refuses to investigate Abramoff and his connection with the Marianas, the sweatshops, the prostitution, and these girls being lured into coming there. Why won't he investigate it? That's what Congressional committees do when sweatshops or fraud are brought to your attention, and a man goes to jail for pleading guilty to bribing congressmen. You investigate that. Pombo won't. That's corruption.

KW: Anything else?

McCloskey: I'll tell you one other thing, that is corruption. When he put in this bill to amend the Endangered Species Act, he not only took out habitat protection but he put a provision in there to exempt farmers from using pesticides for five years in endangered species areas. We wonder: why would a California congressman do that? Then we see suddenly that he's funded in his travel, illegally, by a private foundation. He gets $23,000 from this foundation to travel, which you can't accept. He's a founding governor of the foundation; he can't deny he knew it was a private foundation. But this foundation, who is it funded by? The Japanese Whaling Association, the Association of Fur Traders - these are the guys that import elephant tusks or endangered parrots, and finally, Monsanto gave this foundation $115,000. Well, who benefits from the allowing of the use of pesticides? Monsanto. Whenever you find Pombo doing or not doing something, you chase it down to his contributors.

Big mines: He tried to get hundreds of thousands of acres of mining lands transferred to mining companies for development. Even the Congress couldn't accept that. They took it out of a bill he inserted it in privately. We have about 200,000 of those acres in Northern California; he was going to put it up for sale to mining companies. You follow his contributions: half of those were from big oil, big timber, big railroads, and big mining companies. I'm not going to take any PAC money. I may lose, because I won't get as much money as he does. I'd like to draw the distinction between congressmen who are on the take and whose positions reflect their largest contributors and those who don't. Here is Abramoff going to jail for bribing congressmen and Pombo. You ask him ... "Oh, he never lobbied me." Baloney.

KW: Why won't Pombo debate you?

McCloskey: I don't know that he won't debate me. He always speaks through spokesmen. The spokesman says: We don't want to debate McCloskey; he's way back in the 70s. Those values of his, about honesty and not being controlled by lobbyists, that's the seventies, and he's unworthy to debate. Well, if you're running for the Great Debating Society of United States, the United States Congress, I think you would want to debate your opponent. I always did. I served in the House 15 years and when someone ran against me, I'd say, I'll debate you every two weeks between now and Election Day. Let the public learn from hearing the debates. I won't say he's afraid to debate, but it looks that way.

KW: A final question. What are some of the ways that Pombo has been neglecting the district here, his own district?

McCloskey: There's the water quality in the San Joaquin River, the levees, and the strength of the levees in the Delta, most of all the traffic. Half of my old district seems to be moving from the Peninsula and the East Bay over here for affordable housing. The other morning, I drove out at 5:30 in the morning coming to Stockton on Route 580; cars were ten feet apart, four lanes abreast. At 5:30 in the morning there's an absolute traffic jam. He hasn't brought in any money to widen those highways. He really has not paid attention to this district. One child in six is getting asthma as a result of the air quality. He refuses to accept that global warming is an issue. He says that certainly automobile emissions are not creating greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. That's a head-in-the-sand attitude for this valley, in which traffic and air pollution are crucial issues. San Joaquin County is part of the poverty belt of California. They're below poverty level, way below the average in California. He's just voted to cut Medicaid and Medicare and Head Start programs. That's not what a congressman from this district ought to be doing.

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Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

Submitted: Feb 21, 2006

From:

Lydia Miller
President San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced CA 95341
raptorctr@bigvalley.net
(209) 723-9283, phone & fax

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto CA 95350
Sburke5@sbcglobal.net
(209) 523-1391 phone & fax

Bryant Owens
Planada Association, Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 S. Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550
recall@mercednet.com
(209) 769-0832
____________________________________________________

To:

Merced County Board of Supervisors

Dee Tatum
Chief Administrative Officer ceo@data.co.merced.ca.us

Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development rlewis@co.merced.ca.us

Ruben Castillo
County Counsel
c/o Merced Co. Board of Supervisors dist1@co.merced.ca.us etc.
Merced County
2222 M St.
Merced CA 95340

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

Sent via email

Date: Feb. 21, 2006

Dear Sirs and Mesdames:

At 5:30 p.m., Feb. 21, Ranchwood was still working on the pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant that goes south from Vinewood Road beyond Magnolia Road, apparently without any county permits or environmental review. Both the County and Livingston were notified of complaints on Feb. 6. There is no evidence of any code enforcement.

Is the County unable to enforce the numerous ordinances, policies and laws that this illegal project violates, or it is unwilling? We sincerely hope that this project is not what it looks, walks and quacks like: collusion between the County, Livingston, developers and landowners to circumvent environmental regulatory compliance.

We request a meeting with County Chief Administrative Officer Dee Tatum and department heads on this project. We understand all too well that this is the way Ranchwood does business.

We request that the County inspect the project, stop the project and/or fine the developer for proceeding with illegal construction. This is not a mere 42-inch “dry, private” pipeline trench. As you can see by the attached photos (sent under separate cover) we took Feb. 20, the trench for this pipe, which Mr. Lewis was 42 inches, the impacts are broad, to both the environment and to the public. This project crosses several paved county roads; one unpaved county road and an MID canal. There is inadequate posting for public safety as our pictures show; there is wear and tear on the county roads from heavy equipment; and the developers are storing building materials and spoils on the shoulders of county roads.

We estimate that the mounds of dirt on either side of this trench are between 10-15 feet high. Having found numerous paint balls at the foot of these mounds, it’s clear that the public is using these mounds for recreation. Given the instability of this loose, sandy dirt, this is an attractive nuisance of public health and safety concern. Who is liable in case of injury arising from this attractive nuisance? In the attached photos you will see, an ATV driven by teenager, carrying an adult with a young child in his arms.

We realize that Ranchwood is working at breakneck speed to finish. This illegal project must have the County in a desperate situation. To stop now would compromise the County and the City of Livingston. However, there are legal consequences for not stopping it. At this point, indemnification would be entirely inappropriate.

The most obvious effect from the project from a field inspection, is the cumulative impacts from residential development tying into this main sewer line from Joseph Gallo land adjoining the WWTP to Magnolia Road. This requires full review under the California Environmental Quality Act before – not after – construction of the sewer main.

There is an uncalculated amount of agricultural land being -- and to be -- converted to real estate development, enabled by this sewer line. This requires full CEQA review and review under the Agricultural Preserve policy of the county.

At least six wells and four 1-million gallon water tanks are proposed to provide drinking water for residential development. The impact of these new wells on the groundwater level and farmers’ wells has not even been mentioned, let alone considered. Assurances of surface water from Merced Irrigation District are – as everyone knows – useless during a drought.

Ranchwood bought an almond orchard on Robin Road facing Consolidated Farms (see photos). Ranchwood is removing orchards to create a super shoulder on Magnolia for the movement of heavy equipment and construction-material storage. It is now storing sewer pipe on this ranch, called “Hostetler Ranch, Almond Orchard, L3.” The orchard appears to have been called “Merced-Lincoln” before Ranchwood bought it.

The public would also like to know by what arrangement Ranchwood is storing heavy equipment in the Livingston Corporation Yard on Vinewood Road beside the city wastewater treatment plant.

As the County approaches its general plan-update, we urge it, incorporated cities and unincorporated towns with community plans to coordinate the planning process. The update period provides an opportunity for this sensible approach to long-term county planning and it should not be missed. Until the new county General Plan and coordinated general plans of smaller jurisdictions are completed and integrated into a coherent land-use planning policy, we call for a moratorium on any new permits for residential development.

We made a Public Records Request under state Government Code 6250 et seq. in our Feb.6, 2006 letter for all documents associated with this alleged “private pipeline” project that have been generated up to the time that the agencies should comply with the request. They have not yet complied. We would like to review these records at a time and place to be arranged, prior to any copying taking place. As provided by the Public Records Act, you have ten days to determine whether you have records subject to the Act. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this arrangement. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us. Thank you for your time and courtesy.

We are attaching (under separate cover) the first set of photos of the project, bounded by Vinewood, Magnolia, and Robin and Washington roads, taken on Feb. 20, 2006. Two more sets of photos will follow. For reference, we are also attaching our letter of Feb. 6, 2006 (under separate cover).

cc:

Brandon Friesen, Mayor/Municipal Officer, City of Livingston Bfriesen@livingstoncity.com

John LeVan, Merced Co. LAFCO jlevan@co.merced.ca.us

Badlandsjournal.com

Interested parties

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A river of milk runs through it

Submitted: Feb 16, 2006

Elections and debate on a new five-year Farm Bill are upon us. The Bee reported last week that members of the House Agriculture Committee will be visiting Stockton in the first week of March to hold hearings on the Bush administration's proposals.

These proposals include taxing dairymen 3 cents per hundredweight, cutting cotton and rice subsidies and a $200-million annual subsidy to promote American agricultural exports. Recent recipients include Blue Diamond Growers, the California Table Grape Commission and Sunkist Growers, the Bee reported. (1)

It's a shakedown. To make it more obvious, Bush is proposing sizable cuts in farm supports in this year's budget.

Mike Marsh, CEO of United Western Dairymen told the Bee that 3 cents per hundredweight worked out to about "$5,700" per year to an 800-cow dairy. A fraction -- probably a significant fraction but less than the tax -- will be required in the form of campaign contributions to buy off the tax.

Presumably, cotton, rice and the fruit and nut corporations are busily calculating the campaign-contribution costs, too. Meanwhile, learned consultants are coming up with new words for subsidies and new ways of hiding them from the public on the assumption that agricultural economics as we know it will continue and agriculture will come up with the political vig.

The choice of Stockton for the Central California hearing is interesting because Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy has a challenger in the Republican primary, former Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Woodside.

Pombo is known primarily as chairman of the House Resources Committee and as the face of the ESA-gutting team. The rear end of the team is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, a "Democrat" so popular with the Republican developers, landowners and real estate speculators in his district he appears to be running unopposed for his next term.

However, although Pombo and his “bipartisan” sidekick, Cardoza are primarily known for their hard right, pro-growth, anti-environmental positions, they are both members of the Agriculture Committee. He sits on the Livestock and Horticulture, and the Department Operations, Oversight, Dairy, Nutrition and Forestry subcommittees.

In local farming circles, the Pombo/Cardoza operation is known as The Pomboza.

The Bee commented:

Realistically, Capitol Hill is not fertile soil for many of the farm proposals planted by the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget, which starts Oct. 1. Some, such as a proposed 5 percent cut in crop subsidies and a $250,000 limit on subsidies paid to individuals, withered quickly in past years. (1)

In other words, it's an old, rotten story we no longer have to think much about because farmland is disappearing, replaced by subdivisions like those on Pombo Real Estate Farms in Tracy.

Coverage of the farm budget is more vivid in Great Falls, MT, not experiencing a speculative housing bubble at the moment, and is probably more representative of how the Central Valley’s remaining farmers sense the situation:

Ag feels pinch in Administration's proposed budget

By DALE HILDEBRANT, For The Prairie Star
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

There were few cheers on Capitol Hill, as President Bush delivered his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The budget slashes many domestic programs, including agriculture, while projecting a record $423 billion deficit. The overall suggested spending bill will cost $2.77 trillion and would give the Pentagon a 6.9 percent increase and a 14 percent boost to foreign aid.

There weren't any budget increases in the ag portion of the spending bill, only cuts and a proposed tax on sugarbeet producers and dairy farmers. The Administration plan would cut crop subsidies by five percent while increasing certain agricultural fees, including a 1.2 percent tax on sugarbeet growers, which is identical to a proposal made last year by the White House, but scrapped later by Congress.

Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, in addressing the budget ag proposals said, “The President's budget proposed today is full of gimmicks and runs low on common sense.

“For agriculture, at best, this budget is a rehash of the President's strategy of sacrificing farm support for a sell at any cost international trade policy. At worst, this budget shows no commitment on the part of the President to the needs of our nation's farmers,” he continued. “America 's farmers and ranchers cannot afford the uncertainty that these proposals would create, and Congress should quickly reject them ...” (2)

The choice of Stockton as the site for this congressional hearing also has historical resonance with McCloskey in the race.

Dairy industry critic, Robert Cohen, wrote:

While writing MILK: The Deadly Poison, I discovered transcripts of Nixon's actual meeting with dairymen on March 23, 1971.

Knowing the tapes were running, and having been presented with $3 million dollars in cash, Nixon was recorded saying: "Uh, I know...that, uh, you are a group that are politically very conscious...And you're willing to do something about it. And, I must say a lot of businessmen and others...don't do anything about it. And you do, and I appreciate that. And I don't have to spell it out."

After the dairymen had left, advisor John Connally was alone with Nixon, and said:
"They are tough political operatives. This is a cold political deal." …

What did this $3 million dollar "investment"do for the dairy industry? In 1971, 120 billion pounds of milk were produced. An additional 27 cents per hundred pounds of milk translated to $3.24 billion extra dollars for the dairy industry.

On March 23, 1971, Secretary of the Treasury, John Connally summarized the day's events to Nixon: "These dairymen are organized; they're adamant, they're militant...And they, they're massing an enormous amount of money that they're going to put into political activities, very frankly." (3)

In March 1971, Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-CA, had just returned from Vietnam. Recently, he recalled that month:

While in Vietnam and Laos during March 1971, I had taken sworn affidavits from a number of pilots who stated they had been bombing targets in Laos and Cambodia, many with the coordinates of specific rural villages, some being in Laos' famous Plain of Jars, a considerable distance from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which had once been a legitimate bombing target.

Upon returning home, I testified before two Senate committees. I was interviewed on various television shows, including that of William Buckley. I related the stories of the bombings of which I had been told, both by Air Force pilots and by Laotian refugees from the Plain of Jars. My statements were immediately denied by various high-ranking administration spokesmen, who stated unequivocally that the United States was not bombing in Laos. The controversy received national coverage ...

A few days later, it was announced that we were indeed bombing in Laos, but that for security reasons, this knowledge had been withheld from the civilian secretaries of the Air Force, Navy and Army. At the direct order from the White House to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, false coordinates were reported to the secretaries for the daily and nightly bombing runs over Laos and Cambodia. The justification, then as now, was that national security required that the bombing raids not be disclosed to the American people. (4)

McCloskey ran against Nixon in the New Hampshire Republican primary in 1972. No doubt, the Nixon campaign in New Hampshire was funded partly by dairy money. McCloskey went on to serve another decade in Congress. Among his accomplishments was co-authoring the Endangered Species Act. He said at a Stockton meeting late last year that he had tried to testify on the ESA three times before Pombo’s resources committee and each time Pombo had refused him a hearing.

The Bushites might be holding this hearing in Stockton to shore up Pombo's support in his district against a dangerous opponent, not only of Pombo, but also of this administration. Rove could not possibly want McCloskey, who campaigned for Kerry in 2004, (5) in Congress next year. McCloskey would become an instant leader of moderate, ethically minded Republicans against the war-mad, rightwing House leadership and White House.

The Bush administrative version of political support is more money from fewer, bigger contributors. The aim could be to redeem the hearts and minds of the 11th CD by mixing agriculture and developer cash in with Abramoff contributions. Why not? Rove gave agribusiness what some say was the most lavish farm bill on record in 2002. (6)

Now the White House is playing rough: it's a guns v. butter moment.

What will Pombo say at the hearing on the esoteric topic of the next farm bill? Will he earn their money from gratitude by going against his president and his rightwing ideology? Or will he earn their money from fear by supporting the dairy tax and the subsidy cuts? Or will he, most characteristically, say one thing in public and do another thing in private? How will Pombo of Tracy's Pombo Real Estate Farms relate to Pombo, member of the House agriculture committee? Will he turn the hearing into an anti-ESA, pro-private property rights rally? Will he wear his cowboy hat?

Who cares? Whatever he does, he will remain within character as a buffoon of the emerging autocracy.

One can imagine a Pombo fundraiser in early March, co-hosted by Western United Dairymen and the region's most prominent developers, Grupe, Spanos and Tsakapoulos -- because today's young mega-dairyman may have to sell his real estate tomorrow if the subsidies aren't adequate.

In Pombo's politics, San Joaquin Valley agriculture, the greatest laboratory in the world for the study of what is wrong with the industrial, corporate agricultural model, has reached a higher stage of absurd destruction: Pombo’s politics are like the Holstein heifers born every day without working reproductive organs because their mothers are "spiked" with growth hormones; like the billions of almond blossoms waiting for bees that do not come; like developer-sponsored childhood asthma; like commuter-clogged highways to disappearing Silicon Valley jobs; like Pombo Real Estate Farms; like the dead San Joaquin River; and like the extinction of wildlife on land and fish in the Delta. This absurd destruction must be as attractive and familiar to Bush and Rove as McCloskey's honesty must be hateful to them.

However, rather than any clear political agenda in the latest proposed farm bill, we might just be observing the blind workings of the free market in that business enterprise called the American political system. Despite the recent overwhelming speculative bubble in housing in the Valley, agriculture is still the region’s enduring economy. It’s a terrible system at the moment. It is easy to agree with almost all its critics. The only caution is that if you too suddenly remove the system of subsidies upon which much of the Valley agricultural economy rests, and pave it over and turn it into a horribly polluted labor camp for the convenience of rich, coastal counties, it will have had no more chance of evolving than the San Joaquin Kit Fox.

Perhaps in the course of his campaign, McCloskey can teach the Pomboza the meaning of the word, “oversight.”
------------------

(1) www.modbee.com/business/story/11795200p-12512621c.html

(2) http://www.theprairiestar.com/articles/2006/02/15/ag_news/local_and_regional_news/local12.txt

(3) www.notmilk.com/trickydick.html

(4) http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0405-05.htm

(5) inprogress.typepad.com/republicanswitchers/ files/ifyoureatruerepublicanvote4kerrymccloskey.pdf

(6) www.pacificresearch.org/ press/kqed/2002/kqed_02-06-04.html

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California house products sold like last year's cars

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

Taking an advertising tip from the nation's failing auto industry, which just laid off another 60,000 workers, this Sacramento-area home builder is running a house-product sale reminiscent of a year-end car sale or the weekend radio ads for Okie Paul and Mary's furniture sales fifty years ago in Sacramento. Only the numbers appear to be bigger.

Best news of all -- this fine, genuine, California-built developer culture has come right here in Merced, too. Ain't we big now! Ain't we got klass?

There's some differences and similarities between subdivisions and car lots that might be worth thinking about. When you finish building and selling your house products on your subdivision, you get another lot and do it again. When the car dealer finishes selling last year's models, he gets next year's models on the same lot. It's subtle, but it's there.

But your car lot and your subdivision work together because your new residents bring and buy cars.

But this gets into your air, your water, your traffic and your public health and safety problems -- not to mention what you're doing to the wildlife -- which are all way too subtle thoughts for your genuine California developer culture. Your genuine California developer culture keeps it real simple: it's all about their profits.

SAVE $50,000 TO $150,000 BETWEEN 10 A.M. AND 10 P.M. FEBRUARY 11

Turn off the tube. Drop the rake. This Saturday is your chance to buy a Centex Home in almost any Centex Sacramento area neighborhood and save $50,000 to $150,000 on selected homes. New construction or one of our ready-to-move-in homes, it doesn't matter. Next Saturday's the day. 10 a.m. ‘til 10 p.m. is the time. Every sales office will be open in each of our participating neighborhoods.Visit www.12HourSacramentoHomeSale.com for locations. So why not let the leaves blow into the neighbor's yard? You're gonna be moving anyway.

ELK GROVE When it comes to inviting new home designs combined with exceptional neighborhoods, Centex Homes leads the way in Elk Grove. We now have two new neighborhoods in the region – each offering the quality, value and architectural flair that have made Centex a true favorite throughout the region.

SERRANO - EL DORADO HILLS With the Sierra Mountains in the background and city lights below, it's no wonder Serrano is one of the region's most sought after neighborhood settings. Our new LaCima neighborhood sits high atop Serrano and encompasses every aspect of the community's natural beauty. And you'll see that our inside spaces are just as stunning as the outside.

LINCOLN Lincoln is a shining example of why South Placer County is the fastest growing area in the entire region. And whether you're a first time buyer or looking for your million dollar dream home, you'll find that no one offers more choice in Lincoln than Centex. Come choose your favorite new home from over 30 individual plans at 9 new Centex neighborhoods.

WHITNEY RANCH - ROCKLIN Every now and then a community comes along that changes everything. Whitney Ranch in the Rocklin foothills “is” such a place. What's more, it's home to Black Oak – our newest premier neighborhood of custom-caliber luxury homes. There's never been a better place to reward your success.

The Sacramento Bee

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Canada buys a brace of local legislators

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

Toronto-based Brookfield Land Co., with offices in Roseville, honored state Sen. Jeff Denham, Dolt-Salinas, and Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, Shill-Tracy, at a developer fete in Sacramento last night. The Canadian developers plan to build 13,000 houses between Merced and Atwater in the near future.

Booze, finger-food and campaign contributions were served.

Was Brookfield's local fixer, Cameron Doyel, authorized to offer the Dolt and the Shill emigration papers after their terms expire and Valley air quality reaches a level unhealthful for retired developer representatives in the former state Legislature?

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11777657p-12497098c.html

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Publicly subsidized Merced Grifters to give another "One Whine" concert at state Capitol

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

“ With a paid lobbyist by their side, the group of two dozen people calling themselves the "One Voice Delegation" will meet with directors, cabinet heads and politicians in the capital today and Wednesday.” Chris Collins Merced SunStar Tues Feb-07-2006

Regular Meeting
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2005

Regular Meeting – 10:00 a.m.

48. Supervisor Kelsey - Approve the One Voice Program Membership Contribution of $16,982 for FY 2005/2006 and approve the necessary budget transfer. APPROVED AS RECOMMENDED AYES: ALL

Editor,

The One Voice Delegation walks like a political action committee and talks like a political action committee, it collects political contributions from its members and expends those monies on political special interests like a political action committee, except the One Voice Delegation hasn’t registered with the state of California as a political action committee.

According to the minutes of the October 18th 2005 Board of Supervisors meeting (Item #48), the supervisors unanimously voted to transfer $16,982 from the general fund to the One Voice Delegation for expenses in the 2005/6 fiscal years. This lobbying is therefor being subsidized, directly by county residents through taxes!

That money should be clearly recorded and identifiable as to where that funding comes from and how and where it is being spent. An accounting of how those funds eventually return any appreciable benefit to the unwitting taxpayer should be traceable at the end of the process. Without an accurate audit trail these benefits will not be possible to determine.

This audit trail will not even exist if MCAG is allowed to continue expending county general fund revenues without formally declaring its political motivations and complying with the laws regulating those activities.

It would be appropriate and prudent for this group to document all of its donors and expenditures insofar as the lobbying activities outlined in the Sun Star article represent the “consensus” of a very small and select special interest group from among the diverse population of Merced County. Though brash in the scope of its ambition, the One Voice Delegation cannot possibly believe that it represents the consensus of Merced County as a whole.

The rules under which a political action committee must operate are necessarily more stringent than the requirements imposed by the leadership of the Merced County Association of Governments. There are good and logical reasons for this kind of official supervision not the least of which is to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest.

While I strongly defend any political groups right to lobby for a cause, I take great exception to them doing so with my tax dollars if I happen to disagree with either their philosophy or their stated agenda. I happen to disagree that this groups stated philosophy would be achieved by their stated agenda.

I see a request for money to build a bypass for Los Banos, and to widen Hwy 99 and to build the UC campus yellow brick road, and I wonder how do any of these projects or funding alleviate poverty, unemployment or traffic congestion, for the people who actually live in Merced County?

I see an effort to regain access to gasoline taxes for road maintenance at the county level, yet I see a county administration dedicated to urban sprawl. Why should the state build or upkeep roads in Merced so that more people can commute from the Valley to jobs in the Bay Area? For that matter, why does Merced county think building better freeways through the county will alleviate the surface traffic congestion throughout the county?

I am not saying that lobbying the state for funding is wrong, although it does clearly highlight how ‘welfare dependant’ the administration of this county actually is, I rather intend to point out that the One Voice Delegation’s is acting as a political action committee and must submit to the same standard and regulations as any other similar organization.

Ms. Steelman, one of the MCAG facilitators interviewed for the SunStar article is indeed charming and adroit at her job! Having participated directly in the MCAG’s previous program ‘Partners in Planning’ I am painfully aware of the process through which the facilitators are able to steer a disparate group of ‘pre-identified’ stakeholders, to a predetermined consensus. The whole process is chilling in its efficiency, imbued with an indomitable sense of self-preservation and when all is said and done demonstrates as little concern with the input of the stakeholder as an Australian shepherd has with the concerns of a lone sheep.

Bryant Owens- Plainsburg (209) 769-0832

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Mysterious sewer line leaps out of Livingston

Submitted: Feb 07, 2006

From:

Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350
(209) 523-1391, ph. & fax

Bryant Owens
Planada Association and Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550
(209) 769-0832

To:

Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development
Merced County
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340

Jon LeVan
Local Agency Formation Commission
Merced County
2222 M Street 2nd Floor
Merced CA 95340

Board of Supervisors
Merced County
2222 M Street 3rd Floor
Merced CA 95340

Brandon Friesen
Mayor
1416 C St.
Livingston, CA 95334

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It has come to our attention that the City of Livingston has authorized a private developer to install a 42 -inch sewer main connecting a 300 acre parcel along Magnolia Avenue near Westside Blvd, in a portion of unincorporated Merced County adjacent to but outside the SUDP of the City of Livingston.

This is clearly a ‘project’ under CEQA, and must be halted immediately and the City of Livingston must be enjoined and required to follow all the appropriate protocols for environmental review of a project of this nature. In addition we request and require the County of Merced Planning and Economic Development Department to assert its land use jurisdiction in this matter.

It is our understanding that the installation of these municipal services is a prelude to annexation of this 300-acre parcel into the City of Livingston. As such the entire project is premature and represents a clear violation of LAFCo of Merced County’s jurisdiction and statutory authority with regard to out of boundary service extensions in Merced County.

The City of Livingston’s mistaken authorization of this project has allowed grading and deep ripping on agricultural land in violation of the County of Merced’s Williamson Act Zoning.

The particular parcel must be removed from the Agricultural Preserve according to a prescribed process adopted by the County Board of Supervisors in 2000. This has not been done.

The City of Livingston has acted irresponsibly and precipitously in authorizing non agricultural land uses on land not properly under its legal jurisdiction: Livingston may not act as lead agency with regard to any aspect of this ‘project’ without providing the appropriate Notice of Exemption to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, The EPA at the federal level, the County and the Local Agency Formation Commission. No evidence exists that any such notice of exemption has been filed with any of the aforementioned agencies. If such notice has been approved at any level of the City of Livingston City Council level, these commentators challenge the validity of such notice and ask that it be invalidated.

Proceeding in the aforementioned manner places the City Council of Livingston in violation of California Government Code 65402 requiring mandatory referral of such a proposal to the county LAFCo, and the county Department of Planning and Economic Development. This has not been done. If this project is to proceed correctly, given the total acreage involved, such project would definitely qualify as a ‘major expansion’ of an SUDP. Such a designation automatically triggers the need for CEQA review and an EIR is mandatory. The City of Livingston has previously attempted to annex agricultural land by designating it as blighted. This tactic was rebuked by the County of Merced and eventually rescinded by the City of Livingston.

There is no evidence of any negotiations between the County of Merced and the City of Livingston regarding tax and revenue sharing agreement, and consequently there have been no noticed public meetings to discuss those agreements, in violation of state law, local ordinance, and Merced county’s current General Plan. The county of Merced is currently in the preliminary stages of updating its General Plan. The City of Livingston has not yet filed even a notice of preparation for expanding its SUDP. The proposed project is therefore premature in that the context for approving such a major expansion does not yet exist for either jurisdiction. There is no notice of preparation on file with the county or the state reflecting any such intention on the part of the City of Livingston. We therefore request that this project be stopped until such time as the appropriate land use authority can be determined and that jurisdiction be asserted.

The commentators’ request, under the California Public Records Act, to inspect any indemnification agreements entered into by this developer, Mr. Hostetler and Co., and/ or any of his associates, specifically Mike Gallo and Co., ‘holding harmless’ the City of Livingston for any legal challenge to the environmental review of the proponent’s (s’) project. We also request to inspect any documents showing any other agreements between the two named parties and the City of Livingston. We also request to inspect any documents pertaining to any agreements between local business or industry (specifically Foster Farms) with regard to connection to the proposed waste water conduit into the city of Livingston.

To the best of our knowledge, a Ms. Donna McKinney, possibly a consultant with the firm PMC, is acting as the director of Planning for the City of Livingston. Who is paying her salary? To whom does she report?

Another matter of concern is the fact that authorizing this sort of activity outside of an existing SUDP is a violation of the Subdivision Map Act. According to the documentation that has been inspected to date it appears as though the developer has requested pre-zoning for parcels within this 300-acre site, to which the 42-inch sewer main is to connect. This seems to be several steps premature for an annexation request. When will the public have an opportunity to comment on any identified significant environmental effects?

We have grave concerns over the lack of information concerning who will be allowed to access this new infrastructure. Can the City of Livingston WWTF actually serve the anticipated urban expansion? What funding source exists for other necessary municipal services? How does this proposed project coordinate with regional water and wastewater needs? If a municipality in Merced county becomes incapable of serving the WWTF needs of its customers and fails, does the responsibility for those services revert to the county? Can the county afford to assume that sort of infrastructure liability?

Have there been any Can/Will Server letters of agreement between the Livingston WWTF and this developer? Is a Will Serve letter valid in the demonstrable absence of capacity?

Given that this developer has a plethora of residential development projects in Merced County and elsewhere, and considering the abject indiscretion of the City of Livingston in lending its ‘approval’ to this developer (especially since the approval lacked jurisdiction or authority) ,we request that all development projects by this developer throughout Merced County and especially anywhere proximate to the City of Livingston or the surrounding unincorporated communities be red-tagged (administratively halted) until such time as the environmental review of each of those current projects can be reviewed for accuracy and compliance with the appropriate laws, codes mitigation measures and appropriate checklists, and until the public is assured that each project is under the inspection and review of the appropriate agency.

This hubris on the part of the developer coupled with the abject irresponsibility of those agents of the City of Livingston demands commensurate sanctions by the appropriate governing bodies and/or state agencies. We request that those authorized to do so pursue such sanction to the fullest extent of the law.

We appreciate your consideration of this information and request to be notified in writing prior to deliberations and/or actions pertaining to this information by each of the notified agencies. Regarding inspection of the documents requested above, we reserve the right to inspect any documents identified subsequent to the above request, prior to any copies being made. We will give specific instructions as to which documents we need copies of when they have been identified and are available for inspection. It is our understanding that each agency notified in this document is responsible to respond to our request, within the statutory time frame with any identifiable documents described herein.

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller, President Steve Burke
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- ChairmanPlanada Community Development Corporation

Cc: Interested Parties

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Wobbly three-legged stool

Submitted: Jan 20, 2006

The three-legged stool

Viewed from an ecological perspective, rooted in the environment of the San Joaquin Valley of California, politically affairs this week seem to be perched on a very wobbly three-legged stool.

The short, skinny leg

When (funded) “value-free facilitators” begin showing up in your community, it is probably time to count the silverware or, from an ecological perspective, inventory the environmental quality of your neighborhood. We have an area called “South” Merced, where, traditionally, minority groups have lived south of the tracks and the highway. Through the years, the city has done a pretty decent job of hustling federal funds to repair and restore old single-family houses and build some multi-family apartment complexes. The county housing authority is located there. However, the area has almost no business, at least business useful to the residents, like a decent shopping center with a supermarket. In recent months, the city has proposed the development of a specific urban development plan for the neighborhood, appointed a citizen’s advisory commission and has engaging consultants to draw up a land-use plan.

What the area needs is development that pays its way for the schools it overcrowds, a decent shopping center with a supermarket, and more employment. A dark thought is that it will the area in which the city will fulfill its low-income housing quotient required to keep its general plan correct. Several new low-income complexes have already been built and more are already in the planning pipeline.

“We’re just glad to be here to facilitate this process,” said the value-free facilitator with a Crash Davis (“Bull Durham”) grasp of cliché, before a group of about 40 at a meeting two weeks ago. A number in the audience were government officials, including three city council members (including the mayor) and two supervisors. A city planner led a significant portion of the meeting.

An elderly resident complained about the governing vocabulary. “My tax bill doesn’t tell me I live in North or South Merced,” she said. “It says Merced. All we want is to have the same facilities throughout Merced.” She described 24 empty streetlights on her street. Later, an officious city councilman told the group those streetlights were in the county, not the city, so the city wasn’t responsible.

“There is something ignorant about this whole thing,” the resident commented. “Let’s use our intelligence and forget this North/South Merced.”

The value-free facilitator and the city planner went right on calling it South Merced, referring to my neighborhood as “Middle Merced.” North Merced is where the growth, induced by the arrival of UC Merced, is rapidly doubling the size of the city.

One of the neighborhood’s present dilemmas is what to do with Carl Pollard, an African-American resident of the neighborhood who, after losing six campaigns for the city council, was recently appointed to it. Less than a month after the appointment, he was charged with driving a car without insurance, with an open container of alcohol and some amount of marijuana in it. He has been fired from his realtor job. If convicted, presumably he would lose his council seat. Pollard led an invocation at the beginning of the meeting.

There are better people than Pollard, a political accident that has happened, trying to work for a decent level of services (at least one supermarket south of the tracks, for example), as development that does not pay its way rages to the north and more “low-income” housing development – horribly impacting schools in the south – is planned for the neighborhood. Perhaps, if they organize themselves, beginning by believing almost nothing of what city and county officials tell them, they will have a prayer the Rev. Pollard shall not lead.

“Value-free community organizing” facilitated from the top down by University of California personnel is illusory. What has worked in a modest way in the neighborhood has been volunteer crime watches that have existed for years. What will make things more miserable is crowding in more low-income residents to satisfy regional low-income housing mandates into an area with a chronically low level of services and usable commercial enterprises.

The fat, middle leg

A year ago, the Sacramento Bee did a series of articles exposing a classic situation of corporate power in diary processing. Hilmar Cheese had been polluting surface and groundwater near its site for years. The San Joaquin Regional Water Quality Control Board had been effectively bought off by the corporation. Publicly embarrassed, the board levied a $4-million fine against Hilmar.

After the state Water Resources Board in November refused Hilmar Cheese’s proposal to pay a fraction of the fine the regional water quality board had levied against it for polluting its area with huge quantities of wastewater, the federal EPA approved a test deep-injection well this week. Presumably, if the engineers on this project are more skillful than on the plant’s last techno-fix, the test will be successful, paving the way for injection of Hilmar Cheese’s 2-to-3 million gallons a day of waste water more than 3,000 feet below the Valley surface.

Meanwhile Hilmar’s corporate lawyers and water board lawyers continue to negotiate a settlement of the fine. The board should hear a new proposal by March, Catherine George, water board attorney, said today.

Vance Kennedy, a retired hydrologist from Modesto, told me yesterday it was as “done deal:” EPA has the power to override the state water board’s decision, on the grounds that deep injection is out of the state board’s jurisdiction over surface and ground water.” George confirmed Kennedy’s report.

“Ground water” refers to the aquifers several hundred feet down from which well water is drawn for domestic and agricultural use.

Kennedy said the EPA is using the analogy of water injection into oil and gas wells to force the products to the surface from beneath impenetrable layers. Hilmar, he said, is supposed to have a 100-foot thick layer of shale deep down, presumably impermeable.

He repeated the point he made in several hearings on the project: that water is incompressible and will move laterally, for miles, until it begins to push salty water up into groundwater aquifers lying above “impenetrable” layers.

“The sad thing is that salty water elsewhere may not show up for years or decades,” he said. He added it might not ever be possible to trace salt-water intrusion into wells back to the lateral pressure caused by Hilmar’s deep injection system.

Worse, Kennedy said, it’s a precedent for the San Joaquin Valley. Every wastewater facility from Redding to Bakersfield will be looking at this technology. EPA approved a number of wastewater deep-injection wells in Florida, providing another decade of rapid growth. The Sierra Club sued in February 2005, citing massive ecological damage. Kennedy said he’d been told Miami effluent has been traced as far away as Bermuda.

This middle leg is overweening corporate power to dominate surrounding communities and destroy their environments. Merced, the second largest dairy county in the nation, is afflicted with Big Dairy, an extremely powerful lobby from county to country devoted to the propositions: Bigger and More. The best comment I’ve heard on the economic philosophy of Big Dairy was from a small dairyman who said: when someday milk is so over-produced it isn’t worth a penny, some dairyman will say it’s a good day to buy cows.

The Hilmar Cheese deal reveals a tendency in our economy toward outright corporate ownership of government. In the lexicon of American politics exists the phrase, which covers the situation so well a book about the political career of a former Merced congressman, Tony Coelho, is titled, “Honest Graft.”

This sort of corruption tends to spiral out of control, as in the present case of the Abramoff affair. Some economists argue that eventually, the power of special interests devours the nation’s substance for the gains of very few, if gigantic firms. In the case of US transnational corporations, the approach has been to cause deep structural unemployment of domestic industrial workers and devour other nations’ substance at very low wages. The process is well advanced in the US, particularly in California, where the state budget is beginning to resemble the budget of Third World nations like Argentina and Chile, raped by utility and development corporations and thrown into the tender claws of Wall Street for the foreseeable future.

The impact of the EPA decision may go far beyond Hilmar.

The housing development industry is a radical example of the domination of sheer financial interest over the construction of subdivisions containing rows of three or four “housing products.” Everything about the structure of this “industry,” from the elaborate system of subcontracting to the pittance the state requires it pay for the schools it overcrowds, is designed to protect the developer investor from any public liability. In employs mobs of illegal aliens, heretofore always called “unskilled farmworkers,” to do highly skilled construction work for well below union wages. It has bought wholesale political and legal attacks on state and federal environmental law. It is pricing out farmers on agricultural land while making large rural landowners who sell for development rich. Development in states like California and Florida has made a mockery of any concept of urban planning.

If the deep-injection fix takes off in the Central Valley, residents and farmers will be the losers but the corporations will be the winners in the near term, which is their only time frame. Meanwhile, laws that haven’t already been written will be written to limit or exempt them from liability. But, one might object, wastewater facilities likely to jump on this fix are public entities. They are public entities driven every step of the way into surface and groundwater pollution by private development corporations. The system to protect the genuinely public interest is broken, corrupted, for sale, less and less often these days with even a pretence of being other than for sale. Growing numbers of rightwing politicians aggressively promote the ideology that public policy ought to be for sale to the highest bidder. Up and down the ranks of the Republican Party, this is considered to be “the hard, right decision.”

The local glaring, daily example is the loss of rights of existing residents of a region to the same quality of life they had before a UC campus was located in their county and development took off, running roughshod over law, regulation and resources. Against the local land-use authorities’ power to reject projects under the California Environmental Quality Act is the constant drum of developer propaganda: “Growth is inevitable.” You hear it on street corners out of the mouths of people who were once citizens but now passively accept the role of being mere subjects of alien, hostile government. It makes you wonder what else could have been done with all the money it took to convince Californians of this suicidal proposition that has, in 30 years, distorted this state out of all self-recognition, that has replaced, for private gain, a state composed of cities, towns, communities with abundant natural resources and rural economies of hope, with a slurbocracy of mere subjects.

Hilmar Cheese, “largest cheese plant in the world,” is using demonstrably bad Florida technology because its industry largely owns its regulators. Not that the EPA needed much encouragement to worsen the environment of the San Joaquin Valley. Its present administrator started his scientific career at Litton Bionetics, one of the nation’s leading developers of chemical and biological weapons: he is the perfect Bush fox for the EPA henhouse.

But, in our terribly contemporary political culture here in the 18th Congressional District, in Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, we have the epitome of the emerging one-party state, under the relentless pressure of special interest corruption. Cardoza is referred to locally simply as the south end of O Pomboza, the northern end being Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. Pombo is an exemplary modern American fascist, complete with his corruption problems linked to Abramoff, who he denies knowing, and his strong penchant for breaking laws he can’t change, like the Endangered Species Act.

The EPA decision leaves people to believe – and they are definitely meant to believe – they are powerless to stop this level of pollution, corporate irresponsibility and corruption, because the corporations, the Pomboza and the regulating agencies don’t give a damn about the people and believe they exist to do the bidding of the least responsible whim of the corporations who effectively own their own regulating agencies. Some political theorists call this form of government corporatist and describe it as a precursor to fascism. We will content ourselves with the homey old American expression, “honest graft,” well established in government during the McKinley administration, apparently the guide to all domestic politics in the W. administration.

There are residual American political tactics against such corruption. People concerned about this well and its implications for the future of groundwater in the Central Valley ought to consider starting a national boycott against Hilmar Cheese products. A boycott has the old-fashioned charm of asserting the dignity of human communities in the face of inhuman corporate power. People might find it a refreshing diversion from being oppressed and depressed by decisions affecting their lives over which they have no control.

The long, weird leg

A preface is required to begin to describe the last leg of the current stool. I’ve chosen a passage from Douglas Dowd’s book on Thorstein Veblen, an American economist who wrote this during the McKinley administration, at the turn of the 20th century:

“Business interests urge an aggressive national policy and businessmen direct it. Such a policy is warlike as well as patriotic. The direct cultural value of a warlike business policy is unequivocal. It makes for a conservative animus on the part of the populace. During war time, and within the military organization at all times, under martial law, civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance … a military organization is a servile organization. Insubordination is the deadly sin. (The Theory of Business Enterprise, Thorstein Veblen, 1904, p. 391)

What is true of those directly involved in the military applies also to the civilian population in significant degree:

“They learn to think in warlike terms of rank, authority, and subordination, and so grow progressively more patient of encroachments upon their civil rights … At the same stroke they (patriotic ideals) direct the popular interest to other, nobler institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comfort. (Ibid. p. 393)

But for those who might see this as a triumph of business enterprise over the threat of social change led by workers, it is turned by Veblen into a hollow triumph. For, if the discipline and values of the warlike and patriotic society may “correct” the institutionally disintegrative trend of the machine process, it is just as probable that, for the same reasons there would be “a rehabilitation of the ancient patriotic animosity and dynastic loyalty, to the relative neglect of business interests. This may easily be carried so far as to sacrifice the profits of the businessman to the exigencies of the higher politics (Ibid. 395).

Thus, Veblen sees the system of business enterprise caught in a terrible historical dilemma: If, to offset the institutional and threatening imperative of industrialism, it encourages, or acquiesces in, developments that will cause social unrest to “sink in the broad sands of patriotism,” it is faced with the equal probability that what is quicksand for one will sooner or later pull down the other.

The last paragraph of the Theory might be Veblen’s epitaph for the system of business enterprise:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either. (Ibid. p. 400)

(Thus, in the late 1930s, German industrialists who had supported Nazism as a “corrective discipline” for the political and economic troubles of the early 1930’s found themselves increasingly harassed by regulation, taxation, and general interference in their affairs by Nazi Party and Wehrmacht functionaries.) – Thorstein Veblen, by Douglas Dowd, 1964, pp. 52-53.

In our suddenly radical contemporary experience in Merced, we now host UC, a university whose two national laboratories of mass destruction are now competing for the design award for new nuclear weapons. Therefore, we must ask, for what end, the Cold War having ended some years ago? Our current, neo-McKinley imperial administration cum dynastic, monarchal pretensions, aims at nothing less than world domination. Like the Nazis, the neocons didn’t come to power just to regulate, tax and interfere with business. They came with a plan for world domination. Read all about it at the Project for the New American Century (http://www.newamericancentury.org).

The details of the vision really don’t matter nearly as much as the absurd fact of the vision itself “for the spread of American ideals.” For the neocons, the vision is the only fact that matters. One observes the tendency daily in the president. In fact, as opposed to vision, America cannot even fight successfully in two war theaters, let alone the many anticipated by the PNAC. And their he-man, Ariel Sharon, is in a coma.

On the other hand, they have our UC to build new nuclear weapons.

The fat leg should be called by its name: totalitarian ambition. It has not happened yet. The Alito confirmation hearing was held up for a week. Investigations of scandals mount. The drums for impeachment tap, if inaudibly to the ears of American subjects. However, “yet” is a highly ambiguous term in such a moment, because, although we are aware of the velocity of change, we aren’t able to measure it accurately, in large part for lack of honest media. The totalitarian ambition has been an old dream of American industrialists and financiers, evident to Veblen in 1904, far more overt before the two world wars, and the Bush family has been heavily involved in it since before WWI.

The only question of any importance today is whether the American people have the intelligence to see it and the energy left, in this rapidly decaying economy, to resist it, particularly without an effective opposition political party. Appeals to the ideals of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights fall on largely deaf ears. The fundamental right for which American subjects of the British crown fought was the right of political participation. After a century of fraudulent commercial advertising and government propaganda, is there enough citizenship left in the subject population to resist the neocon plan to make the Mideast safe for Israel, US oil companies, conduct an eternal Indian War against Arabs, and subject the US population to enough terror so that it doesn’t notice the absurdity of the neocon vision and the destruction of both the domestic economy and its environment.

The question is important, however, as a preliminary to the larger, more dangerous problem of how we confront global warming and lesser forms of environmental destruction. We haven’t a prayer of avoiding the global tipping point without strong state regulation of corporate environmental destruction. It also leads one to wonder just how many UC-built nuclear bomb blasts it would take to tip the planet over the edge. It is hard to imagine anything more destructive to the environment than a nuclear bomb. But, UC Merced is an environmentally conscious campus.

And they ask why the public mind is boggled so often these days.

Veblen’s prognosis for American business is a useful anchor:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either.” (Ibid. p. 400)

“Full domination” has been achieved all too successfully. The rule of law is rapidly crumbling before this full domination. Law was the arena in which the divergent tendencies met and argued. Without law effectively protecting the rights of citizens, the United States of America ceases to be itself and the voice of reason is drowned by the screaming antinomy between privileged and desperate subjects in a rapidly deteriorating environment. The reasonable solution would appear to be something less than “full domination of business enterprise,” beginning with regulatory agencies that are permitted to perform their necessary public function, uninfluenced by either political pressure or foxes in henhouses. The political irony is that business enterprise would have to call for a rapid, perhaps radical reduction of its domination in order to save the system of government that nurtured its rise to power. That would require an act of reason probably beyond the capacity of corporate attitudes today and equally beyond the capacities of its bought and sold political class. The real road to Hell has been paved with done deals between special interests and government.

But that’s just how things look from the middle of the San Joaquin Valley in California.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution

Douglas Dowd: Thorstein Veblen

Hilmar Cheese Permitted to Drill Test Well
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11676192p-12403995c.html

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

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

Upgrades planned for U.S. nuclear stockpile. Agency leader expects significant warhead redesigns...James Sterngold
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/01/15/MNGTTGNL5P1.DTL&type=printable

Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush

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