Public Health and Safety

Growth boom in national debt

Submitted: Dec 03, 2007

National debt grows $1 million a minute
By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Like a ticking time bomb, the national debt is an explosion waiting to happen. It's expanding by about $1.4 billion a day — or nearly $1 million a minute.

What's that mean to you?

It means almost $30,000 in debt for each man, woman, child and infant in the United States.

Even if you've escaped the recent housing and credit crunches and are coping with rising fuel prices, you may still be headed for economic misery, along with the rest of the country. That's because the government is fast straining resources needed to meet interest payments on the national debt, which stands at a mind-numbing $9.13 trillion.

And like homeowners who took out adjustable-rate mortgages, the government faces the prospect of seeing this debt — now at relatively low interest rates — rolling over to higher rates, multiplying the financial pain.

So long as somebody is willing to keep loaning the U.S. government money, the debt is largely out of sight, out of mind.

But the interest payments keep compounding, and could in time squeeze out most other government spending — leading to sharply higher taxes or a cut in basic services like Social Security and other government benefit programs. Or all of the above.

A major economic slowdown, as some economists suggest may be looming, could hasten the day of reckoning.

The national debt — the total accumulation of annual budget deficits — is up from $5.7 trillion when President Bush took office in January 2001 and it will top $10 trillion sometime right before or right after he leaves in January 2009.

That's $10,000,000,000,000.00, or one digit more than an odometer-style "national debt clock" near New York's Times Square can handle. When the privately owned automated clock was activated in 1989, the national debt was $2.7 trillion.

It only gets worse.

Over the next 25 years, the number of Americans aged 65 and up is expected to almost double. The work population will shrink and more and more baby boomers will be drawing Social Security and Medicare benefits, putting new demands on the government's resources.

These guaranteed retirement and health benefit programs now make up the largest component of federal spending. Defense is next. And moving up fast in third place is interest on the national debt, which totaled $430 billion last year.

Aggravating the debt picture: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates could cost $2.4 trillion over the next decade

Despite vows in both parties to restrain federal spending, the national debt as a percentage of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product has grown from about 35 percent in 1975 to around 65 percent today. By historical standards, it's not proportionately as high as during World War II — when it briefly rose to 120 percent of GDP, but it's a big chunk of liability.

"The problem is going forward," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard and Poors, a major credit-rating agency.

"Our estimate is that the national debt will hit 350 percent of the GDP by 2050 under unchanged policy. Something has to change, because if you look at what's going to happen to expenditures for entitlement programs after us baby boomers start to retire, at the current tax rates, it doesn't work," Wyss said.

With national elections approaching, candidates of both parties are talking about fiscal discipline and reducing the deficit and accusing the other of irresponsible spending. But the national debt itself — a legacy of overspending dating back to the American Revolution — receives only occasional mention.

Who is loaning Washington all this money?

Ordinary investors who buy Treasury bills, notes and U.S. savings bonds, for one. Also it is banks, pension funds, mutual fund companies and state, local and increasingly foreign governments. This accounts for about $5.1 trillion of the total and is called the "publicly held" debt. The remaining $4 trillion is owed to Social Security and other government accounts, according to the Treasury Department, which keeps figures on the national debt down to the penny on its Web site.

Some economists liken the government's plight to consumers who spent like there was no tomorrow — only to find themselves maxed out on credit cards and having a hard time keeping up with rising interest payments.

"The government is in the same predicament as the average homeowner who took out an adjustable mortgage," said Stanley Collender, a former congressional budget analyst and now managing director at Qorvis Communications, a business consulting firm.

Much of the recent borrowing has been accomplished through the selling of shorter-term Treasury bills. If these loans roll over to higher rates, interest payments on the national debt could soar. Furthermore, the decline of the dollar against other major currencies is making Treasury securities less attractive to foreigners — even if they remain one of the world's safest investments.

For now, large U.S. trade deficits with much of the rest of the world work in favor of continued foreign investment in Treasuries and dollar-denominated securities. After all, the vast sums Americans pay — in dollars — for imported goods has to go somewhere. But that dynamic could change.

"The first day the Chinese or the Japanese or the Saudis say, `we've bought enough of your paper,' then the debt — whatever level it is at that point — becomes unmanageable," said Collender.

A recent comment by a Chinese lawmaker suggesting the country should buy more euros instead of dollars helped send the Dow Jones plunging more than 300 points.

The dollar is down about 35 percent since the end of 2001 against a basket of major currencies.

Foreign governments and investors now hold some $2.23 trillion — or about 44 percent — of all publicly held U.S. debt. That's up 9.5 percent from a year earlier.

Japan is first with $586 billion, followed by China ($400 billion) and Britain ($244 billion). Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries account for $123 billion, according to the Treasury.

"Borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from China and OPEC puts not only our future economy, but also our national security, at risk. It is critical that we ensure that countries that control our debt do not control our future," said Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican budget hawk.

Of all federal budget categories, interest on the national debt is the one the president and Congress have the least control over. Cutting payments would amount to default, something Washington has never done.

Congress must from time to time raise the debt limit — sort of like a credit card maximum — or the government would be unable to borrow any further to keep it operating and to pay additional debt obligations.

The Democratic-led Congress recently did just that, raising the ceiling to $9.82 trillion as the former $8.97 trillion maximum was about to be exceeded. It was the fifth debt-ceiling increase since Bush became president in 2001.

Democrats are blaming the runup in deficit spending on Bush and his Republican allies who controlled Congress for the first six years of his presidency. They criticize him for resisting improvements in health care, education and other vital areas while seeking nearly $200 billion in new Iraq and Afghanistan war spending.

"We pay in interest four times more than we spend on education and four times what it will cost to cover 10 million children with health insurance for five years," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "That's fiscal irresponsibility."

Republicans insist congressional Democrats are the irresponsible ones. Bush has reinforced his call for deficit reduction with vetoes and veto threats and cites a looming "train wreck" if entitlement programs are not reined in.

Yet his efforts two years ago to overhaul Social Security had little support, even among fellow Republicans.

The deficit only reflects the gap between government spending and tax revenues for one year. Not exactly how a family or a business keeps its books.

Even during the four most recent years when there was a budget surplus, 1998-2001, the national debt ranged between $5.5 trillion and $5.8 trillion.

As in trying to pay off a large credit-card balance by only making minimum payments, the overall debt might be next to impossible to chisel down appreciably, regardless of who is in the White House or which party controls Congress, without major spending cuts, tax increases or both.

"The basic facts are a matter of arithmetic, not ideology," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group that advocates eliminating federal deficits.

There's little dispute that current fiscal policies are unsustainable, he said. "Yet too few of our elected leaders in Washington are willing to acknowledge the seriousness of the long-term fiscal problem and even fewer are willing to put it on the political agenda."

Polls show people don't like the idea of saddling future generations with debt, but proposing to pay down the national debt itself doesn't move the needle much.

"People have a tendency to put some of these longer term problems out of their minds because they're so pressed with more imminent worries, such as wages and jobs and income inequality," said pollster Andrew Kohut of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Texas billionaire Ross Perot made paying down the national debt a central element of his quixotic third-party presidential bid in 1992. The national debt then stood at $4 trillion and Perot displayed charts showing it would soar to $8 trillion by 2007 if left unchecked. He was about a trillion low.

Not long ago, it actually looked like the national debt could be paid off — in full. In the late 1990s, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office projected a surplus of a $5.6 trillion over ten years — and calculated the debt would be paid off as early as 2006.

Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan recently wrote that he was "stunned" and even troubled by such a prospect. Among other things, he worried about where the government would park its surplus if Treasury bonds went out of existence because they were no longer needed.

Not to worry. That surplus quickly evaporated.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's, said he's more concerned that interest on the national debt will become unsustainable than he is that foreign countries will dump their dollar holdings — something that would undermine the value of their own vast holdings. "We're going to have to shell out a lot of resources to make those interest payments. There's a very strong argument as to why it's vital that we address our budget issues before they get measurably worse," Zandi said.

"Of course, that's not going to happen until after the next president is in the White House," he added.

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The brutal sentimentality of Ol' Shrimp Slayer and other municipal discontent

Submitted: Dec 01, 2007

Constituents of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, received on Friday a newsletter titled "Foreclosure Event," announcing a foreclosure-counseling session in Stockton for Saturday, co-hosted by Rep. Jerry "HighTek" McNerney, Pombo's Replacement-Pleasanton. On the surface, this is one more episode in the Denny Show in which the ol' slayer demonstrates his compassion for constituents (on one day's notice).

If only it were so. Some of the Shrimp Slayer's constituents, however, found an article on the Blue Dog Coalition published the same day, "Blue Dog Democrats: Conservative, Or Just Plain Corrupt?" by David Sirota. Cardoza is a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of Democrats that votes with Republicans most of the time. He is one of three congressmen who lead the coalition. As Sirota explains, the Blue Dog opposition to H.R. 3609, the Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act, reeks of one more Blue Dog sellout to finance, insurance and real estate special interests. Cardoza, one of the most mindless pro-growth congressmen in the nation during the real estate bubble, represents a district that now contains the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. In the backroom, he sells out to special interests; in public he twists the knife into the victims of mortgage fraud that has caused a global credit crisis by offering "counseling." McNerney trots along as liberal window dressing.

The juxtaposition of the Cardoza flak and the article on Blue Dog corruption reveals the pattern of behavior we have come to expect from the Shrimp Slayer. Cardoza always claimed to be in favor of the Endangered Species Act at the same time as he introduced three bills to gut it. Presumably, even now he is working behind the scenes on the latest, administrative, attempt to accomplish what Congress refused to do. Whoever is vulnerable -- from victim of predatory lending to little beastie -- you can be sure to find Cardoza nearly weeping in public and stomping in the backroom. This combination of sentimentality and brutality is the essence of this politician's corrupt career. Whenever the Denny Show comes to town oozing compassion, look in the backroom for what he's covering up. This is a guy who acts as if he believes the US Congress exists solely to enhance his personal power and wealth. He does not appear to have any other goal or any shame at all.

However, on Nov 15, 2007, Cardoza voted for H.R. 3915: Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007. All Democrats who voted voted for H.R. 3915, joined by 64 Republicans. Everything about this bill looks good except the date. It should have been the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2004. But there is just nothing like Congress for slamming doors shut on empty barns. And for that you can't blame Cardoza. It's the company he keeps. The Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed Congress got a 25-percent approval rating on November 5--eight points lower than the president.

Finally, Mercedians received an editorial from Sonny Star, Mama McClatchy's local gigolo press, complaining about the dangers to the community of foreclosed, empty houses, "Foreclosure is not a superficial problem -- it creates unsafe and unhealthy conditions in our community...Our View." Sonny Star never saw a development it didn't like, including the Riverside Motorsports Park project (until after it was approved by the board of supervisors). Sonny suggests an "emergency law" to deal with the growing problem.

Badlands Journal suggests that those responsible for this growing problem, the members of the Merced City Council and the Merced County Board of Supervisors, be held personally liable because -- as the local land-use authorities -- they approved the projects that are now stinking up the town. Five of the seven city council members were realtors when these projects were approved and they profited from them. They knew the game and have absolutely no claim of innocence. Developers and large landowners dictated every land-use decision the supervisors made throughout the speculative real estate boom. Personal liability, in our view, would include sending out the elected officials who made the land-use decisions in work crews in color-coded overalls to maintain those empty houses. The idea that those who made such stupid decisions, driven by such open greed, should now open the public trough with an "emergency law" to maintain homes built for a speculator-driven bubble, is vintage Sonny Star. It works on the principle that if the public is dumb enough to pay to clean up a mess made by the land-use authorities elected to serve the public and by the gigolo press, another boom will start and real estate advertising revenues are sure to return to the coffers of McClatchy Co.'s local outlet.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Vision Credit Education, Inc.
Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act--11-1-07
Congress may soon vote on H.R. 3609, which is titled the Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act. The idea is to provide bankruptcy judges the authority to modify mortgage loans to help families afford the payments.
The bill proposes allowing distressed homeowners to include their mortgage in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing. There are some other important proposed changes also.
H.R. 3609 would eliminate the credit counseling requirement that was put in place by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. A distressed homeowner would merely have to prove to the court that a foreclosure action has commenced. It is unknown if this provision will remain in the final version of the bill.
These are the major points of the bill:
Eliminates taxpayer bailout of subprime mortgage industry
Helps some families avoid foreclosure
Helps surrounding property values by reducing overall foreclosure rates
Lenders could avoid expensive foreclosure costs
Eliminates requirement for credit counseling to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy (assume foreclosure action has commenced)...
MBA Not Fond of Proposed Bankruptcy Legislation...Kerri Panchuk...10-5-07
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) released a statement this week signaling its concerns about proposed legislation that, if passed, would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of a mortgage contract during bankruptcy proceedings. The house bill, HR 3609, passed the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law by a 5-4 vote.
“Giving judges free rein to rewrite the terms of a mortgage would further destabilize the mortgage backed securities market and will exacerbate the serious credit crunch that is currently hindering the ability of thousands of Americans to get an affordable mortgage,” said Kurt Pfotenhauer, senior vice president for government affairs and public policy at the MBA. “The current legislation gives no guidance as to the proper parameters for judges to modify existing loan contracts.”
Pfotenhauer says judges with more authority to decrease a loan's value also have the ability to hit all consumers in the pocketbook.
“The reason you only pay six percent on a mortgage loan, where another type of consumer loan may cost ten percent or more, is that the mortgage loan is secured by an asset—the home,” explained Pfotenhauer. “When a judge can unilaterally reduce the amount that the lender can get when the home is sold, it devalues the asset securing the loan and the lender and investor will either not fund a loan, or will increase the cost of the loan. Either way, consumers are the ones who pay the price.”
Blue Dog Democrats: Conservative, Or Just Plain Corrupt?...David Sirota
Through their ethics scandals, Republicans in Washington long ago began making the word “conservative” synonymous with the term “corrupt.” Surprisingly, though, it is a group of Democrats that is cementing this definitional conversion for good.
In the midst of the housing crisis, a cadre of self-described “conservative” Democrats called the Blue Dog Coalition is demanding congressional leaders delay legislation designed to help people trapped in high-interest loans stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. The bill, House Resolution 3609, allows judges to ameliorate the terms of abusive “subprime” mortgages. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., is championing it-a gutsy move for a lawmaker whose state domiciles major lenders.
The Blue Dogs say they oppose Miller’s initiative out of concern for the integrity of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill-a telling justification. Under that odious law, millionaires can shield their mansions from creditors, and corporate executives (think: Enron guys) can prevent ripped-off shareholders and employees from seizing their holdings. Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren notes that the law also “permits people with vacation homes and investment property to rework their mortgages in bankruptcy.”
But regular homeowners? Sorry-without Miller’s legislation, judges are barred from defending you against the vultures.
Blue Dog Democrats cite the social conservatism of their rural and exurban districts as the reason for such high-profile stands against their party. Somehow, we are expected to believe that their constituents’ anti-abortion or pro-gun views mean those same constituents want Congress to help banks throw people out of their homes. But since when did any voters-conservative or otherwise-support that kind of thing?
Since never, of course. “Conservatism” is being used as the cover for corruption.
As National Journal reports, corporate lobbyists “knew exactly who to go to in order to stop the [foreclosure relief] bill in its tracks: the Blue Dog Coalition.” These lawmakers are the mercenaries’ go-to crew not because of any principled ideology, but because they have been big recipients of campaign cash from the finance and real estate industries.
Of course, this is only the most recent example of pay-to-play shenanigans on banking issues.
In 2005, 20 “New” Democrats-another group billed as “conservative”-signed a letter demanding the passage of the original Bankruptcy Bill. Those Democrats had pocketed a combined $750,000 from the financial industry.
That same year, the Senate cast a “conservative” vote defeating a bill limiting credit card interest rates to a whopping 30 percent-a modest measure to say the least. Eighteen Republican and Democratic lawmakers voting against the measure had previously voted for a tougher interest cap. What changed? They received about $2 million from the credit card and banking industries in the interim.
Still, this new Blue Dog letter takes the cake for sheer brazenness. Why? Because the current mortgage crisis is especially hitting the kinds of exurban and rural districts these “conservative” Democrats purport to speak for.
The Atlantic Monthly’s Matthew Yglesias recently reviewed foreclosure data and found that “the hardest-hit areas are the high-growth fringes of vibrant metro areas”-the exurbs that Blue Dog signatories like Illinois Rep. Melissa Bean (D) represent.
Real Estate magazine reports, “In 500 rural counties, one-third or more of mortgage originations involved high-interest loans.” That could spell trouble for districts like the one represented by Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga.-another signer. His state has almost 30,000 homes financed by subprime loans.
So, will these faux “conservatives” win? Maybe in this battle over mortgage reform, and in some other upcoming skirmishes like the brouhaha over taxes. National Journal reports that this same group of Democrats is intent on “limiting the scope” of proposals to close the loophole letting billionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than the janitors who clean their offices. Apparently, the Blue Dogs would have us believe conservative, working-class constituents are insisting their congressional representatives not only support bank foreclosures, but also help Wall Street barons rob the federal treasury.
Nonetheless, over the long term, those like the Blue Dogs will have an increasingly difficult time succeeding-both legislatively and electorally. The more they attach their “conservative” label to such obscene corruption, the more that label will be indelibly tarnished. Aiding loan sharks and tax cheats may elicit campaign donations and smiles in Washington, but it is no way to win hearts and minds in the rest of America.
David Sirota is the bestselling author of “Hostile Takeover” (Crown, 2006). He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network-both nonpartisan research organizations. His daily blog can be found at Event‏
From: Dennis Cardoza (
Sent: Fri 11/30/07 10:36 AM
Dear Bill ,
We all know from news reports and personal experiences that the foreclosure crisis sweeping the country is having a particularly severe effect here in the Valley. My last e-newsletter addressed this issue and included a survey asking you to tell me how the foreclosure crisis has affected you personally. The responses that I received were overwhelming; almost 70% of those answering were affected by the crisis in some way.
In response I, along with my colleague Congressman Jerry McNerney, have organized a comprehensive foreclosure workshop at 10am on Saturday December 1st to offer free, confidential advice to families facing foreclosure or worried about making their mortgage payments. Counselors will be available from government agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the California Housing Finance Authority, and the Stockton Housing Department, as well as non-profits such as NeighborWorks and Consumer Credit Counseling. To make the most of the time with counselors, participants are asked to bring all relevant mortgage and financial paperwork. Details on the event are below. I strongly encourage anyone facing foreclosure problems to attend this workshop.
Please RSVP so we can ensure there are enough counselors on hand to offer assistance. To RSVP, or to ask any other questions you may have, please call Erica Rodriguez at (209) 476-8552 or email
Foreclosure workshop – free, confidential counseling for families facing or concerned about facing foreclosure.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
10 a.m. to Noon
Note: this event is workshop format so those seeking help are encouraged to stop by at any point during the event.
Stockton Arena Conference Room
248 West Fremont St.
Stockton, CA

Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress
Dennis Cardoza
Cardoza has received $43,395 from the finance, insurance and real estate sector in the 2007-2008 campaign cycle. This is second only to his contributions from agribusiness, which total $117,440 in a Farm Bill year. In this period Cardoza has received:
$5,000 from American Bankers Association
$5,000 from National Association of Home Builders
$4,000 from Granite Construction
$4,000 from Farm Credit Council
$3,300 from Financial Center credit uNION
$2,000 from Fannie Mae
$1,000 from Mortgage Bankers Association
Merced Sun-Star
Foreclosure is not a superficial problem -- it creates unsafe and unhealthy conditions in our community...Our View
Take a stroll through some of the relatively new subdivisions in Merced and you'll notice something ugly: There are a lot of foreclosed homes descending into neglect.
The telltale signs begin in the front yards, where an overgrown, weed-infested mess of a lawn signals to everyone: This property has been foreclosed!
In extreme cases, some of the homes have been broken into, and others are infested with pigeons or other vermin. We're talking about dwellings that are in some instances less than a year old.
These eyesores are smack in the middle of some of the city's nicest addresses. They're a black eye for all of us...
We think the council's best option is to pass an emergency law to deal with the blight.
Doing so may send shivers up the city attorney's spine (he'd have to help craft something that doesn't trample on the rights of property owners), but it likely would be the most proactive measure the city could take because it actually would have teeth.
The city's code currently requires a lengthy review process prior to inserting itself to fix blighted properties. This process routinely takes months -- and that's just too long.
An emergency law could shorten that review process to a more responsive level -- say, a month or less...
That may be an extreme step -- but at least something gets done.

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Growth robs water from existing residents

Submitted: Sep 11, 2007
Until our water authorities base their new commitments on an actual -- legally sound -- surplus we will continue to subsidize new development while we experience rationing, reduced use forced by rate increases, cost-prohibitive landscaping and a gradual decline in agriculture.-- Glenn Carroll, North County Times, Sept. 11, 2006


North County Times

Guest Column: Is conserved water fueling overgrowth?...Glenn Carroll, Fallbrook resident
Glenn Carroll was a director for the Tuolumne Utilities District for four years

Water authorities tell us to conserve due to shortages while they continue making commitments to serve new development. Some agricultural users face 30 percent cutbacks in January, yet growth marches on. Water derived from cutbacks is apparently considered "surplus" for growth. If additional supplies are not developed, each new house added increases the point at which we will face future cutbacks.

Growers are already impacted by heavy price competition from foreign imports, like avocados from Mexico. It is no wonder the San Diego County Water Authority's water management plan projects a 42 percent reduction in agriculture by 2030 "primarily due to conversion to housing."

Reservoirs were supposedly built to provide emergency backup for existing customers during droughts, plus some capacity for growth. But during shortages the question arises how they separate the backup water from that designated for development.

Theoretically, existing customers should not have to cut back in dry years -- unless their water is used for new customers.

Why not ration new development along with everyone else? Some water officials respond that denying new hookups at this time would be unfair to the plans of developers since the present shortage is considered temporary. Indications are, however, the opposite is true: The Colorado River is in its eighth year of drought. The Sierra snowpack is only 40 percent of normal and has been diminishing for years. Environmental problems plague our northern delivery system. Climate change is now taken seriously. This area is experiencing a historic drought. Another water official says, "This could be the beginning of a long-term shift" in water resources.

Plans to develop additional water like desalination are uncertain and far in the future. A proposed new canal from the north to increase supplies would take more than 20 years to complete -- if the bond passes (it was defeated once). Same story for new reservoirs.

Metropolitan Water District -- our major supplier -- was hit in 2003 with a 50 percent cutback in its Colorado River allotment due to states upriver exercising seniority rights. California's share was reduced from 1,212,000 acre-feet per year to 606,000 acre-feet per year. The San Diego County Water Authority signed subsequent contracts for an additional 277,700 acre-feet per year, but California still ends up 328,300 acre-feet per year short of its original allotment. (An acre-foot serves two homes/eight people.)

Metropolitan also receives water from the State Water Project. However, our San Diego County Water Authority has been routinely overdrawing its 15.8 percent legal entitlement from this source (25 percent in 2004), but since there are districts in the Los Angeles area that have not yet reached full build-out, this has not been an issue. It's something for future generations to deal with.

Until our water authorities base their new commitments on an actual -- legally sound -- surplus we will continue to subsidize new development while we experience rationing, reduced use forced by rate increases, cost-prohibitive landscaping and a gradual decline in agriculture.

Growth clearly has priority over existing residents.

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Behind the curve

Submitted: Sep 07, 2007

Politics attracts all sorts. In fact the personalities in politics are probably as complicated as a number of the systems in nature. However, politics never resembled a Sunday school class.

One of the many rough distinctions one can make about people in politics is between those who read and those who don't.

The other day I happened to be in a meeting in a distant town in which a small disagreement broke out between someone who reads and someone who doesn't. The one who doesn't read was talking about his long friendly chats with a local land-use official. The fellow who reads documents countered, saying that documents indicate the land-use official has been lying in his teeth for months.

"You're just ahead of the curve," the jawboner replied, dismissively.

The north San Joaquin Valley is now the most notorious region in the nation for foreclosures stemming from our red-hot speculative real estate boom. The nation itself is notorious for having started a world-wide credit crisis, stemming from bad subprime loans. North San Joaquin Valley land-use authorities, cities and counties, were enabling partners in this global scam all the way. If it hadn't been for a few lawsuits, they would have done more.

A whole lot of fine print went unread. But the people who wrote it knew what they were doing.

Now, city, county and state officials, probably under panicked pressure from bankers, plan to do something about it. They are behind the curve. They didn't read the documents. They were told by a number of people who do read documents -- which would not include their newspapers -- that this was going to happen. They were told. They were warned. They arrogantly dismissed all the warnings because they didn't come from the developer bought-and-sold McClatchy Chain.

Now, from so far behind the curve they hope you will not be able to see who they are, they gently nudge the barn door, which will be stuck wide open at least until these individuals are thrown out, some into cells if wheels of justice still grind here.

We are supposed to applaud their responsible reforms? They prey upon the public's belief in government, which is a good belief. They follow the Bush line that any criticism of politicians and policies of the existing government is unpatriotic and anti-government and, of course against "our sacred American Way of Life."

The American Way of Life is not this corrupt, it is not this irresponsible. It does not depend on urban sprawl or even NASCAR. Our government has not always lied to us like this much. Corrupt public officials have been sent to prison. The government did not fall. In fact, it got better. But, government around here is beginning to look like a pork barrel full of bad apples.

Now these same elected officials and "planners," who have profited from the boom, expect the people to believe they can "reform"? What contempt they have for the public they have injured on behalf of a small group of finance, insurance and real estate special interests in these northern San Joaquin Valley counties.

Is it deserved? Perhaps. Even now, groups of the usual suspects representing the usual groups of official citizens, refuse to read documents and continue to allow themselves to be flattered by politicians and planners that meeting and talking makes all the difference, when in fact it has never made any difference in land-use planning around here. These are the professional citizens who live in mortal fear that if they get close enough to "the curve" waves will appear. In this, they are abetted every step of the way by the McClatchy Chain. How can a story involving a policy on commercial development fees to be submitted to a city council five of seven of whose members have real estate licenses be reported with a straight face?

This Merced story looks like a pretty, fallen cottonwood leaf floating on a dairy lagoon. There is not one word about the employment commercial development would bring to a city where unemployment is again rising. In the Modesto story, at least the reader can catch the scent of fear and aggression in the general air.

Badlands editorial board

Merced Sun-Star
Developer perks may be on the chopping block...Leslie Albrecht

Take your handout requests elsewhere.
That's the message the Merced City Council could soon send to builders if it approves a new policy banning discounts on commercial development fees.
The Planning Commission approved the policy Wednesday night; the City Council is scheduled to consider it Sept. 17.
The policy would "make it clear that the city is not inclined to entertain requests for financial incentives for commercial development and ... refrains from negotiating impact fees on an individual basis."
In other words, no more special deals, discounts, breaks or rebates.

Modesto Bee
Toss book on growth, report urges...Garth Stapley

Study would put planning in state lawmakers' hands.
California's air would be cleaner if city and county leaders would stop making bad decisions on where to build houses and stores, according to a new state report.
Poor development decisions also contribute to global warming, according to the California Energy Commission's study.
"The Role of Land Use in Meeting California's Energy and Climate Change Goals" makes the extraordinary recommendation that legislators mandate regional growth plans that could be used to create a statewide growth plan.
That could mean stripping land-use decisions from tunnel-visioned city and county leaders who would lose one of their most important powers.
"There must be a concentrated and collaborative process to identify where, and in what way, long-term growth should and should not occur in the state," the staff report reads. The document also urges new studies on how tax laws facilitate lousy planning.
Proposition 13, embraced by California voters in 1978, holds down property taxes but inadvertently promotes sprawl, the report found.
The same decision-makers during the past three decades introduced the phenomenon of long commutes by providing inexpensive housing far from jobs, according to the report.
Study sounds familiar theme
Carol Whiteside, president of the Modesto-based Great Valley Center, said leaders can craft "back to the future" plans by regularly calling for grocery stores, for instance, within new housing projects. Children chauffeured to school should have the option of walking, she said.
"In many ways, this requires a change of culture," Whiteside said. "A lot of people grew up that way. It's back to the future."
The report is among several technical documents to be compiled in the 2007 Integrated En-ergy Policy Report, scheduled for review in November by en-ergy commissioners. They would send it on to legislators and Gov. Schwarzenegger, who would issue a response within three months. The report grew out of a 2005 Schwarzenegger edict and last year's Assembly Bill 32, both of which target emissions reduction.

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Hun meets environmental Typhoid Mary

Submitted: Sep 05, 2007

The Hun Our Governor panicked a few weeks back when a bunch of young activists did some demonstrating in front of the Fresno offices of the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Control Board, which had just decided to forestall pollution cleanup, accept the worst designation of air quality the federal government has to offer until 2023, to keep its viability with the Federal Highway Authority.
"Rooftops bring retail," goes the mantrum of local planners. "And we pray to the Lord they also bring highway funds," they whisper. Meanwhile, rooftops bring increases in air pollution in our valley with its inversion layer.
The Hun wants to make the history books for being environmentally sensitive and has done some work to that end. But, Valley residents were making themselves heard that the state and regional air quality boards are a disgrace to government and a blemish on the Hun's immaculate image.
He reacted. He tossed out the head of the state air board and hired Mary Nichols, always described as a veteran environmental lawyer and state and federal environmental "leader." Now, we find that Nichols is invested up to her neck in energy stocks, beginning with the largest private coal company in the world and the largest petroleum company in the state. It made a good press release last month. "The Hun does something..."
Now, his hometown newspaper has done some digging and found Nichols' portfolio and its a doozy, if you're into conflicts of interest and perception of corruption.
Environmental lawyer? Whose side was she on?
Environmental leader? As Gov. Gray Davis' resources secretary, she fast-tracked the largest public development at the time in the state, UC Merced, past every mere legal hurdle in its way, and the mess she made has not yet been sorted out. Evidently she knew the law, as a "veteran environmental lawyer," and she clearly broke it in a number of instances surrounding UC Merced. So, whose side was she on?
But the Hun looked down from his cigar porch at the Capitol and said: "Democrat, woman, environmentalist!" nodded once and it was done. It makes him look like a dolt, and he isn't quite that.
So, who on his staff recommended Nichols? Who on his staff knew Nichols, recommended Nichols and either ignored her investments or felt it would be just too tacky to check?
The Hun ought to look down from his porch and give that one the thumb, because whoever that was made a monkey out of him.
There are issues in California that boggle the mind and the term-limited state Legislature has made them all worse. But, this one was relatively simple. The Hun blew it like the political rookie he remains.
He can dump Nichols or stonewall, denying that the mere public perception of conflict of interest really doesn't matter because all state officials maintain the highest ethical standards.
A mere member of the public might imagine the officials meet at their designated watering holes, distressed, and wonder why the public does not trust them. In fact, some will snigger at the Hun's political distress; others will say he must remain strong against the venal press "exaggerating" Nichols' portfolio; some will talk about descending real estate values; and most will talk about the trips they are going to take, because they've all got aces down in the hole.
Bill Hatch

Los Angeles Times
A cloud around the state's air chief...Richard Nemec,1,2137460.story
...Mary Nichols, a veteran environmental lawyer and federal and state environmental leader, with financial ties that may raise more than a few eyebrows. She holds considerable stock in companies -- such as Chevron Corp. and coal giant Peabody Energy Corp. -- that historically have sat at opposite sides of the table from environmentalists....doubly troubling because Nichols has been appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to head the California Air Resources Board... investments in such corporations raise questions about possible conflicts of interest and also about her credibility as a state official who often must make tough decisions against those industries. With a mandate to implement the state's precedent-setting global warming solutions legislation, the Air Resources Board deals with many of the companies in which Nichols holds large chunks of stock. The friendly Democrat-controlled state Senate should not shrink from asking her about these holdings during her confirmation hearing this month. ...the 84-company portfolio that she and her husband hold includes 13 energy-related firms, one of which is Peabody, the world's largest private-sector coal provider. The Air Resources Board's major focus for the future will be on global warming. The burning of coal is considered to be a major source of the problem. So how can the board's chairwoman hold stock in a huge coal company without giving, at minimum, the perception of a conflict of interest? Nichols's financial report also noted that she holds from $100,000 to $1 million in stock in Chevron, an oil and gas company that has substantial dealings with the Air Resources Board and other parts of state government. ...state senators need to find out how long Nichols has had financial ties to major companies that fall under her new regulatory jurisdiction. In addition, the extensiveness of her portfolio -- particularly among global energy firms -- raises some questions about her priorities at this stage of her career. Nichols' defenders say she has "balanced" her portfolio with green investments, but the commission's documentation doesn't support this contention. Would we typically expect the head of the Air Resources Board to hold interests worth from $10,000 to $100,000 each in Peabody, or Edison International, Southwest Gas Corp., BP,Suncor Energy, Royal Dutch Shell, Northern Border Partners, a natural gas pipeline or Chevron? Together with huge chemical and mining companies in her portfolio, it is the breadth and depth of Nichols' financial interests that is troubling.

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Citizens for Intelligent Growth town-hall meeting

Submitted: Sep 04, 2007


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The Pomboza, now an Agency

Submitted: Aug 26, 2007

They're still at it! The inseparable couple of wannabe Endangered Species Act
extirpators, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, and former Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy (reborn as a lobbyist) have teamed up on a scheme to defeat an evil plot by the federal government to make San Joaquin County homeowners living in flood plains pay flood insurance. The Pomboza has so far obstructed updates of FEMA flood-plain maps but time in running out. It is very hard to tell from the stingy reports on this plan what the deal really is, but it seems to be something like this: municipalities
along the river and developers will put up funding for levee work and hope the feds will generously match the money.

On August 3, the Stockton Record editorialized that, although as chairman of the House Resources Committee, Pombo did exactly nothing for Delta levees after the Jones Island break and after Katrina, as a lobbyist, he is proposing a win-win, public-private partnership called Central Valley Resources Agency to lobby for federal flood funds and, one imagines, gut the FEMA flood plain maps, at least in San Joaquin County. Pombo has already signed lobbying contracts with Stockton and Manteca but was rebuffed recently by his hometown city council in Tracy.

It seems like a strange way to run a government in the face of a potential problem that could endanger the drinking water supplies for 23 million people, but levees, as has been noted, are strange jurisdictional creatures, mostly private, so perhaps it is the only way the Pomboza can proceed. The state has expressed itself as tired of the idea that it must pay for flood damage along the Delta as the result of legislation brought to life by the artful state Capitol management of developer lobbyists.

The area we call Pombozastan is but a province -- including all its local governments -- of a larger win-win, public-private partnership designated in 2005 by the Hun, our governor, as the Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. Stretching through interlocking watersheds from the San Joaquin Delta to the Kern River, encompassing subdivisions on flood plains in Stockton to the immense prison/megadairy complex of Kings and Kern counties, it ain't no ecotopia. It's got the worst air quality in the nation and it is the Number One target in California for urban growth. It remains the most productive farming valley in the US, probably in the world, but agriculture's days are numbered in the San Joaquin Valley. We are calling it today the dual monarchy of GrupeSpanopolis and the Fresno Catastrophe, an internal empire of developers who control all levels of its government. the Pomboza is merely its northern-most province.

The Record reports today, Congressman Cardoza is calling for a "regional group to tackle levee problems." Cardoza was sworn into his seat in the state Assembly when a levee break had put about half his district under water in early 1997.

Now let brave souls make wild surmises: this Central Valley Resources Agency will find its way into the Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley plan because its co-chairman is Fritz Grupe, Stockton's largest developer. Due to the essentially private nature of this "agency," the public probably won't see much of the Pomboza Plan before it is sprung as part of the Valley partnership. We'd probably have to bribe a little bird to monitor the Hun's famous Cigar Porch to get an accurate report of the doings of the Central Valley Resources Agency.

The remorselessly consistent Pombo, has left the "Natural" out of his agency's title. But's he's happy he's chairman of a new Resource Agency. Now an employee of a powerful Western lobbying group, Portland-based Pac/West, flaks for our beloved Northwest timber interests, in alliance with the cutting edge of modern agribusiness thinking on private property rights, Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation, and funded by developers, the Pomboza agency would appear to be omnipotent. The people who actually live here now would appear to have about the same chance for decent quality of life as a Chinook salmon smolt or a Delta smelt.

Pombo was defeated for reelection to his eighth term by the present Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton. McNerney, the soul of political ambition and yet as timid as a "cautious twerp" of the sort manufactured en masse by the state and national environmental groups that defeated Pombo, is absent from debate on the formation of the Central Valley Resources Agency, although he represents at least as much Valley flood plain as Cardoza does. One imagines the conversation:

"But Dennis, I need some press on water issues in my own district."
To which Cardoza replies with one name: "Andal," McNerney's probable opponent in 2008, a former state Assemblyman, state Franchise Tax Board member and developer in Cardoza's district.

McNerney sneaks off over the Altamont to his stronghold in Bay Area suburbia, far from those tacky Delta water wars. Perhaps he is being advised to do so by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-SF, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA (SF). Who knows what their developer husbands are invested in around here? Too bad, because the people need a voice, which they ain't going to get with either end of the win-win, public-private beast we call The Pomboza Agency and its owners and trainers.

We hope to be surprised by sudden lurches of political evolution not yet in evidence. Meanwhile,the public is in a theological pickle: to pray for rain for drinking and irrigation water, or to pray for continued drought so the levees don't break -- that is the question.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Dozens hash out levee accreditation...The Record
Dozens of local, state and federal officials met Thursday to hash out a levee
accreditation process that could end with thousands of residents forced to pay flood insurance as soon as 2009. San Joaquin County officials say they're being required by the federal government to make levee improvements that have not been defined and that they haven't been given enough direction from FEMA or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, asked cities and counties if they'd like to form a regional group to tackle levee problems. Cardoza recently visited New Orleans and called Thursday's meeting to give all the parties a better understanding of the remapping

The voice of Pombo...Editorial
Finding a common voice among San Joaquin County officials and residents regarding flood protection is common sense. Even if they're a decade or more behind Sacramento County, Stockton officials have done the right thing by pledging $100,000 in startup funding for just such an endeavor. It's very ironic they would hire former Rep. Richard Pombo, the Republican from Tracy, to help. Pombo spent 14 years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he had an ideal platform from which to encourage and support that kind of unity. He couldn't formally lead it, but he had every opportunity to help persuade county and city leaders to establish a public-private collaboration. Pombo - who had become chairman of the House Resources Committee - had other priorities. Now he works for Pac/West Communications, an Oregon-based business that has been commissioned to set up a mechanism for lobbying state and federal officials for flood-protection funds. Now, uniting the county's leaders is a priority in Pombo's new job. This public-private partnership, to be known as the Central Valley Resources Agency, still is in the formative stages. Pombo will know who the key decision-makers are in Washington, D.C. He probably will prove to be an effective advocate.

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Work in progress

Submitted: Aug 12, 2007

I was recently asked to produce a bibliography of "essential books" on the San Joaquin Valley.


A dozen favorites leapt to mind; a few days later a dozen more; and the pleasant task began to turn into a real project destined for certain failure and remorse. It turns out not to be so easy to remember the books of a lifetime and each dive into the Internet provides more that look very useful but I haven't had time to read yet.

When one gets to a certain age it becomes difficult to remember the heroes because they are all gone and it is harder to recall that I met some of them a time or two, here and there -- for example, Fred Ross, a slim, serious man, perpetually moving purposefully around the Delano headquarters of the UFWOC; the wise, friendly Larry Itliong; or Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel on the phone correcting the spelling of her name in an article I'd written; or the voice of Art Coelho, poet and publisher of our Valley voices, from Montana, talking about burning up cowboy boots on big cats disking the west side and years wandering the West as an itinerant poet composing the best list of country poets in the West.

I remembered a call about a great farm labor leader in farmworkers rest home in Delano leading a seminar on Lenin to fellow octogenarians from the fields. We dreamed of that moment when those workers would confront St. Peter and demand to know: "What is to be done?"

I remember the face of the great, betrayed C. Al Green, director of the multi-racial AFL-CIO Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a victim, like Chavez, of liberal perfidity that has resulted in indebted servitude in the fields today. All the political thieves of San Francisco have ever wanted from the Valley was agribusiness campaign cash, any way they could get it. "Migrants don't vote," they said. These days, it's "Illegal immigrants don't vote."

The longer I worked on it, the more holes I saw in the vista of written material on the San Joaquin Valley that stretched out before me like a vast battlefield of a war that has been going on since before the great Yojuts leader Estanislao defeated the young Lt. Mariano Vallejo. Looking at water rights issues today, sometimes it seems as if the ghosts of heroes and villains rising off the battlefield are pulling the strings of the living in a never-ending feud we call our "Valley way of life." Another way to look at it is that bioregions matter.

Every reader will find something missing in this bibliography. For example, I am frantically digging in book boxes for a good one on the Chinese in California I know I have somewhere but cannot remember the title of. Can't find it, have nothing on their enormous contribution except in various general histories like Bean's superb California: An Interpretive History.

Everyone I have talked to has added a book I've forgotten or never knew about.

So, this is a work in progress and I invite anyone to write us at, gleefully to announce what a knucklehead I was to forget their favorite, indispensible books about the Valley.

Meanwhile, apologies to the people who originally requested the bibliography -- we'll let you know when it's done.

Bill Hatch, for the Badlands Journal editorial board


Garden of the Sun, Wallace Smith (the only history to date strictly about the SJV)
Handbook of the Yokuts Indians, Frank Latta
The Stanislaus Indian Wars, Thorne P. Gray
The Destruction of the California Indians, Robert F. Heizer
Saints or Oppressors: The Franciscan Missionaries of California; In The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide, Rupert and Jeannette Costa
Flooding the Courtrooms: Law and Water in the Far West, by Mary Catherine Miller (a legal biography of the Miller&Lux cattle company)
Empires in the Sun, Peter Wiley, Robert Gottlieb (development of power utilities in the West)
Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (DDT)
Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner
Death in the Marsh, Tom Harris (the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge ecological disaster caused by agricultural drainage containing heavy metals)
Fruits of Natural Advantage, Steven Stoll (the self-destructive economics of agribusiness)
The New California, Dan Walters
Works of Paul Taylor and Dorothea Lange: Taylor was one of the first academics (UC Berkeley economist) to study farm labor, both Mexican and Dust Bowl immigrants; Lange's photographs of migrants stand alongside Walker Evans' work with James Agee as testimony to the destruction and poverty of the Depression
Factories in the Fields, Carey McWilliams
Farm workers and agri-business in California, 1947-1960, Ernesto Galarza
Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa, Jacques E. Levy
United Farm Workers website, history section
Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement, Craig Scharlin
Articles on 160-acre limitation by E. Phillip Leveen (have to do Google search for them, Leveen was the top spokesman for the 160-acre limitation for federal water during the last great war over it in the late 70s; an agricultural economist at the time, he was trained as an historian and gives the history of the whole federal water/land fraud in the Valley)
Articles by Don Villarejo, founder of the California Institute for Rural Studies, list available at (nearly 50 years of thought and research on the Valley balancing social, economic and environmental justice claims)
California Institute of Rural Studies publication catalogue
Isao Fujimoto, UC Davis emeritus, has published a number of studies on different aspects of the Central Valley -- from farm labor to environmental issues
The King Of California: JG Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire, by Mark Arax,Rick Wartzman
Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, by David Mas Masumoto
BORDER CORRESPONDENT, Selected Writings, 1955-1970, Ruben Salazar
Mean Justice, by Ed Hume
California: An Interpretive History, Walton Bean
Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), (the Florida front line of current farm-labor organizing)

Legal and administrative decisions and discussion: The San Joaquin Valley has produced major legal contests on an array of natural resource issues; these sources will lead the reader into essential topics in Valley history; others are dealt with in the non-fiction section

Public Trust Doctrine
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Mono Lake Decision
San Joaquin Raptor Wildlife Rescue Center
Monterery Accord decision: PCL v. DWR
Kesterson Wildlife Refuge
San Joaquin River Settlement
Rapanos Decision
CEQA decisions (law firm blogs like Abbott and Kinderman Land Use Law blog offer reviews of recent decisions: San Joaquin Raptor v. County of Merced, Woodward Park Homeowners Association, Inc. v. City of Fresno, Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth Inc. v City of Rancho Cordova, Hayward Area Planning Association v. City of Hayward, City of Marina v. Board of Trustees of California State University, etc. provides current news on lawsuits, administrative decisions, essays and articles on resource law

Fiction, Poetry, Drama

Poetry of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel (the greatest Dust Bowl poet, still writing about her people until shortly before she died this April)
Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle, by John Steinbeck
The Octopus, Frank Norris
The Ford, Mary Austin
Art Coehlo (Cuelho) and Seven Buffaloes Press
Gerald Haslam's works, short stories and Workin' Man's Blues (memoirs of youth in Oildale and the development of "Nashville West," Bakersfield.
Plays of Luis Valdez ("Zoot Suit," "La Bamba").
Luis is the farmworkers' Bertold Brecht.
Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California's Great Central Valley, edited by Stan Yogi, Gayle Mak, and Patricia Wakida
Fat City, Leonard Gardner

Additions since posting:

New Roots for Agriculture, Wes Jackson
Topsoil and Civilization, Vernon Gill Carter and Tom Dale
The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin

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Central Valley Safe Environment Network reply to a Merced County Planning Commissioner

Submitted: Jul 10, 2007

A number of local eco-justice advocates would like to thank Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook for providing a public opportunity to discuss the place of the eco-justice movement in Merced County. Veteran local organizers understand better than the commissioner does that she is just a messenger for the special interests doing business through a combination of propaganda and political coercion to promote urban sprawl and environmental destruction in the San Joaquin Valley. Nevertheless, they appreciate her letter of July 2, in which she complained about criticism from eco-justice advocates and offered an essay on right livelihood, a Buddhist theme, by a Christian eco-justice theologian, to chastise local advocates for their lack of spiritual attainment and point to her own. (See Central Valley Safe Environment Network Mission Statement, Lashbrook’s letter, and Matthew Fox essay, Right Livelihood, below.)

In doing a little soul-searching on why this type of energy is coming my way…, Lashbrook begins.

Merced veteran eco-justice advocates don’t need to do any soul-searching about the type of energy coming at them from Commissioner Lashbrook. In a statement at a teleconference public meeting of the East Merced Resource Conservation District in mid-June, Lashbrook declared “war” on the local eco-justice movement in Merced County and on any who collaborate with it.

Her reasons require some history.

In late May, the commissioner tried to steamroll the Merced Stakeholders group into approval of a grant proposal (claiming in advance of anyone seeing the proposal that the stakeholders supported it). There are stakeholders who believe this proposal involves unnecessary studies and is little more than a front for the commissioner's self-promoting and self-dealing financial enrichment. Eco-justice advocates are among the opponents to the grant: ergo the commissioner declared war in public.

I have been working on cultural solutions for environmental problems for decades, Lashbrook continued.

Organizers who have been working for 30 years – three decades – vaguely remember the planning commissioner’s rare contributions to opposing environmentally destructive projects. For several years, she has been working her way up the political pecking order through memberships and positions in various farm groups whose record on cultural solutions for environmental problems is spotty. However, Lashbrook has sporadically testified against some projects.

Merced eco-justice advocates believe quite deeply that it is possible to have an ethical career in environmental work. They have proved it for many years and will continue to prove it. From decades of experience with grant writing and reviewing grants at a local, state and national level, they know there is an ethical protocol to write a grant proposal and that the grant writers, including, Lashbrook, didn’t follow it.

The question the commissioner puts:

Do you believe that it is unethical to have careers in the fields that we have a passion

is bogus and self-pitying. The commissioner is a publicly appointed official of the County of Merced, sitting on the most important commission in this uncontrollably growing county. What’s ethical about a passion for political self-promotion and financial self-dealing in grant proposals for public funds? What's ethical about taking credit for financial gain for the Merced County eco-justice movement’s work over 30 years, while simultaneously denying the existence of this movement? She is a follower of the politicians’ version of county history: it didn’t exist before UC Merced and its induced speculative growth boom got here. Now, politicians like Lashbrook must exert every propaganda effort to denying the consequences of this “new beginning.”

As for her next plaintive inquiry:

Is there anyone trying to work within the system that you admire that I could learn from?

the answer is yes, right here in Merced.

The lecture the commissioner sent is an essay written by an Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox. In the mid-1980s, when Rev. Dr. Robert Ryland was founding Sierra Presbyterian Church and co-founding the Merced Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice from which the Central Valley Safe Environment Network (CVSEN) evolved, he attended a week-long seminar with Fox. At that time, Fox was a Dominican priest in trouble with his Catholic order because his theology had expanded beyond the order’s doctrines.

Fox and Ryland spent a great deal of time talking about justice, particularly the relationships between social, environmental and economic justice. Ryland later wrote a letter to the Dominicans’ headquarters in the Vatican on behalf of Fox. Eventually Fox was driven out of his order and became an Episcopalian associated with Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and has continued to expand his thought and practice, giving the environment a much greater place in Christian theology at a moment when much contemporary, fundamentalist theology is restricting the place of the creation.

Rev. Dr. Ryland has certainly worked "within the system" -- for about six decades. The commissioner could benefit greatly from his insights as have a number of veteran advocates in Merced County, who have been on the frontline of eco-justice work beside Rev. Dr. Ryland in the nation and beyond “for decades.” They have not been afraid of conflict, and government officials, agencies or private special interests have not intimidated them. They have not sought political appointments to pro-growth planning commissions and aren’t impressed by planning commissioners and elected officials who declare war on them. One night at a Sacramento restaurant, then Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza declared war on Merced eco-justice activists, quietly eating their dinners. Their campaigns include hundreds of projects locally, statewide, nationally and globally, starting with the rehabilitation of wildlife, United Technologies rocket-engine plant, to Riverside Motorsports Park.

Rev. Dr. Ryland was the producer of “Three Parables, (1989)” a documentary on Kesterson, the Valdez oil spill, and the pollution of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. “These were three earthly stories with Heavenly meaning, contemporary parables,” Ryland explained. Rev. Dr. Ryland sat on National Council of Churches grant review committees. He also attended workshops in organizing led by Saul Alinksy, whose organizational techniques Central Valley Safe Environment Network rely upon heavily to this day. Other Merced eco-justice advocates reviewed grants with the National Council of Churches. Nobody in the country does eco-justice work at the depth CVSEN does.

NOTICE: Before viewing this video, “Three Parables, please read this statement.

The intent of this video, “Three Parables,” is to place the viewer between the Good News of the Gospel and the bad news of technological disasters.

My prayer is that the results will be an ecumenical affirmation of faith on a global scale uniting us all in an urgent concern for the future of the planet. Now is the time to build a network of faith communities that can reduce and stop the increase of technological disasters.

Now is the time God has given us to combine the unique diversity and the spiritual power of our unity of faith in God. Hear those who will be speaking to you in this video. Feel with them the impact of technological disasters in their lives. They are not unique. The ultimate reality is WE ARE THEY!!

We need idea people, activists and those who compile statistics. But, the passion and the pain are learned from those who are the victims. Listen to the Spirit speaking to us through our brothers and sisters.

Res est sacra miser.
(A sufferer is a sacred thing.)

Dr. Robert E. Ryland

CVSEN has had a long history of empowering local groups and leaving them with adequate resources to continue to work. CVSEN has always worked on private, non-profit funds.

Throughout this work, eco-justice advocates frequently have had to go to court to defend environmental law, environmental regulation, public trust and public health and safety issues, the preservation and mitigation of agricultural land, and to defend public access -- frequently denied by elected and appointed officials in Merced County and their staff. Among the violators of public processes has been the county Planning Commission, in addition to the county Board of Supervisors, which appoints the planning commissioners. For the last three decades eco-justice advocates in Merced County have made a positive difference through public participation and legal challenges.

Eco-justice advocates, with the aid of a number of Merced River landowners, recently had to defend the collaborative public processes of another group they helped found, the Merced River Stakeholders, against the self-dealing depredations of the commissioner. When the commissioner encountered their opposition, her response was to ram the grant through without any further consultation with the stakeholders – while continuing to claim to the grant funders that she had Merced River stakeholder support, which she doesn’t have because only a handful of stakeholders even read it before it was submitted to state and federal public funding agencies.

The commissioner did all this under the auspices of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, on whose board she sits. Another board member regards his appointment as a license to snarl at eco-justice advocates on sight. A third regards his position as a license to call them negative ranters. The RCD directors went along with the deal trying, as usual, to isolate veteran eco-justice advocates as obstructionists for insisting on the agreed upon rules of process within the stakeholders group.

At the Merced River Stakeholders meeting, eco-justice advocates were joined in this resistance to a boondoggle grant by a farm/mining ownership. The farmer/mining family also deeply resented the attempt to overthrow rules of process that the group -- composed of interests quite divided at times -- had painstakingly developed over more than a decade of meetings. Many river stakeholders understand clearly that these procedures are their only protection.

Lashbrook’s response to stakeholder opposition to her grant proposal was to announce she didn’t need them. She could find other landowners to support her grant. Stakeholders who own land on the river replied they hoped her grant did not include the need for access to the river because she would have none.

Stakeholders opposed to the grant offered to meet further to try to resolve their issues with the grant proposal. The commissioner refused the offer. The logical person to have brokered a meeting, because she represents much of the river area, was Supervisor Diedre Kelsey. During an email exchange about the grant, Kelsey, who appointed Lashbrook to the planning commission and to the RCD board, offered this note by way of "leadership:"

5/23/07 4:17 PM
Diedre Kelsey here. I have just today been made aware of the problems with the grant application not being reviewed by the Merced River Stakeholder group. As the Board of Supervisor member who represents the Merced River within Merced County, and who helped launch the Stakeholder process years ago, I am concerned about these problems. I have asked to speak with Gwen Huff and expect she will call me soon. (Huff receives an RCD grant to facilitate Merced River Stakeholders’ meetings and would also have directly benefited from the grant.) I must correct Ms. Miller's assertion that I am "conflicted' on river issues or have no political voice".
This untrue statement, which apparently has been repeated at previous MRS meeting, is misleading and again, is untrue. The future of the river as a resource for our county is what is important. I have helped on many watershed and river related or fishery related issues in the past and I am ready to help with this problem or any other that affects my district and the County of Merced.

(Although Kelsey rarely attends stakeholders’ meetings, “apparently” nothing said at them goes unreported to her, by Lashbrook and other political minions.)

Kelsey's long habit of recusing herself on river issues is a matter of public record. She is a sponsor of this grant proposal, she recused herself here, too. Did her private interests stand to benefit from the grant? So, in lieu of political leadership, the public got one more attack on a veteran Merced eco-justice advocate for upholding the rules of public process developed by the river stakeholders against depredations by politicians, now including Lashbrook. However, Lashbrook is simultaneously a board member of the EMRCD, which sponsored the grant, and a paid staff member of the Merced River Alliance, a grant recipient.

Merced Sun-Star
Kelsey gets OK to vote on local mining issues...Corinne Reilly

Supervisor had previously recused herself from voting on the topic because her family is active in the mining business. But under a recently-issued opinion from the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Kelsey can participate in mining votes as long as they don't involve her own property, property within 500 feet of it, or decisions that have a "reasonably foreseeable" financial consequence for Kelsey. Commission spokesman Roman Porter said the FPPC's opinion is only informal advice based on general information that Kelsey provided about her family's business interests. Kelsey said she responded to a request for information from the grand jury several months ago...hired an attorney at her own expense after she learned of the investigation. Kelsey was also investigated by the grand jury in 2002 for a conflict of interest related to her family's mining company. She said she's excused herself from a participating in some mining decisions in the past, including one vote on a mining operation near her family's Snelling company. On most mining decisions, Kelsey has participated, she said. Kelsey also excused herself from a number of votes related to UC Merced's development, after a university subcontractor purchased gravel from her family's company several years ago. She said she regrets not participating in discussions over the December mining vote...board approved a general plan amendment and zoning change to allow Black Diamond Aggregates, Inc. to expand its operations.

I am sad that people that seem to have similar visions can't find ways to enhance each others' work, Lashbrook concludes, sounding more and more like the perpetually “troubled” Congressman Cardoza.

Local eco-justice veterans are skeptical about the similarity of their vision and the commissioner's. This skepticism has been aroused by rude and contemptuous behavior toward them from the commissioner on a numerous occasions.

Members of CVSEN doubt that anyone who understands Matthew Fox could continue to berate them publicly and declare “war.” Probably, Lashbrook sent the Fox essay to wrap herself in a Buddhist robe and flourish a cross to ward off what she considers the evil spirit of eco-justice that might damage her political career and another chance for financial gain.

Rev. Dr. Ryland was consulted for his interpretation of Lashbrook’s letter and how it related to Fox’s essay.

Rev. Dr. Ryland replied:

The item and the letter from Living Farms is the oldest yet new use of a spin attempt to sound like the same , but the actions of the person do not support the work of Matthew Fox. The use of spiritual and negative energy etc. makes her sound like she is using your words to appear a true environmentalist . Coming from commissioner, viewed together with her actions, this is the latest in using words without any definition. Words like democracy and freedom by the present administration are other good examples.
I am reading the article by Fox and we can talk later.

We did talk later. Rev. Dr. Ryland asked,

"What in the world is this commissioner doing by trying to outdo the eco-justice movement in the county. There are no terms that are sacred anymore. Anyone who objects to a decision by the board or the council is labeled an ‘environmental terrorist.’ So people don't know who's right. This is just a way to neutralize the fine work eco-justice work that has been done in Merced County for 30 years. This kind of spin has never been as blatant as it is right now. It's like ‘justice’ according to Bush, which means ‘just us.’”

Commissioner Lashbrook, with the encouragement of Supervisor Kelsey and others, is working ceaselessly, in public and private, to deny the efforts and successes of those who have been in the eco-justice movement in the county for decades, establish herself as a spokeswoman for environmentalists in the San Joaquin Valley, without a clue to the work. She is positioning herself as an authority, establishing her word as authoritative within the numerous public groups where she serves as officer or paid staff. These groups imagine they'll get special treatment now that Lashbrook has become a planning commissioner. Outside the county, she is riding on an eco-justice history she had nothing to do with.

Judging from her behavior in her declared war against CVSEN, it seems that Commissioner Lashbrook is being promoted by elected officials and the finance, insurance and real estate special interests behind them, certainly including UC Merced and the UC/Great Valley Center, as a substitute for the steady, well-documented, effective legal work and public participation of local advocates for many years.

Eco-justice veterans in Merced are aware that there are lobbyists and propagandists in the pay of public and private special interests intent on turning the San Joaquin Valley into the new San Fernando Valley. If local elected officials appear frequently incapable of strategy, these hirelings – of city halls, county seats, the state Capitol, Washington and of financial capitals around the world – are capable of strategy and tactics and do wish to deny the distinguished history of eco-justice activism in Merced and surrounding Valley counties carried out by the Central Valley Safe Environment Network and its collaborating groups.

Merced Sun-Star
Think California is crowded now? Just wait until 2050...Judy Lin, McClatchy Newspapers

By the year 2050, California's largely white baby boomers will have passed on, giving way to younger, second or third-generation Latino families. Latinos are forecast to make up 52 percent of the state's population by midcentury, compared to 26 percent white, 13 percent Asian, 5 percent black, 2 percent multiracial and 1 percent American Indian or Pacific islander. The projections also showed California will add more than 25 million people by 2050, bringing the state population to just under 60 million. According to state statistics, the Golden State is projected to hit the 40 million mark in 2012 and 50 million by 2032. The California State Department of Finance projects the Merced County's population at 266,700 in 2010, 292,400 in 2015 and 322,700 in 2020. The Merced County Association of Governments projects the county's population in 2030, the furthest out it has made such a projection, at 417,200.

The commissioner seems to be involved with several groups, many of whose members are attending staff-directed General Plan Update focus groups from which veteran participants have been barred. Lashbrook and her associates establish their legitimacy with local politicians by declaring their lack of affiliation with the well- established, well-recognized and highly effective eco-justice movement in Merced County.

Lashbrook is just the latest version of the California political line wherever land-use policy is found: Every interest is a special interest; the public interest is not the common good or the public trust, but the special interest of any land-use authority. Participants in public processes are lectured to by politicians being told to be as nice as developers and their lobbyists. Politicians also instruct members of the public to come up with solutions to environmentally destructive development they had no part in planning and that land-use authorities are approving.

Eco-justice work is the cultural solution to environmental problems. It is not self-promoting propaganda that twists a vocabulary created by years of environmental struggle into self-dealing verbiage in search of public grant funds and political advancement.

There is a crisis of legitimacy today in government among elected and appointed officials from Merced County to Washington – from county planning commissioners to congressional representatives. They are in the pockets of finance, insurance and real estate special interests from phony environmentalists on the planning commissioners to “Blue Dog” Democrats in Congress. The eco-justice movement in Merced County has no crisis of legitimacy. It has a long, distinguished record of accomplishment defending environmental, economic and social justice.

Spouting the latest environmental buzzwords is not the same thing as a record of 30 years of hard eco-justice work. In fact, apropos of the present letter, people who spout the latest eco-buzz will not in any way be able to understand the words of Matthew Fox because they have had no experience with the struggle of faith, integrity and sacrifice from which Fox writes. But, there is a group of people in Merced who have long practiced what Fox preaches “within the system.” Lashbrook’s inability to find them suggests a condition of blindness brought on by her political connivance with the corruption of local government and its horrific financial consequences.

Speaking from within the Buddhist tradition, which the commissioner is using as her whip on the backs of eco-justice advocates this week, eco-justice workers agree with the 12th century Soto Zen priest, Dogen, who said that – from mistake to mistake, one continuous mistake is also a path. Enlightenment by this path comes from the consequences of the mistakes, or the sound of one hand slapping, over and over again.

Rev. Dr. Ryland suggested that Lashbrook and her followers, simultaneously at war with eco-justice while writing grant proposals in its name, simply couldn’t produce a proposal honest enough to pass the smell test. He reflects on years of grant reading:

Just some things to think about when reading any request for money.

1. Follow the money and to whom does the money go to carry out the proposal.
2. Who are the primary actors and what is their track record in relationship to the purpose of the goals in the mission statement? What is their history before this new proposal was written?
3. What positions are mentioned in the budget and what are the qualifications listed?
4. Who is pushing this proposal the most??
5. Would you do this work if not for these public funds?
Words used today do not have the same meaning to everyone, even when English is used. Words like “rural,” “environment,” “development,” and “concern for the river” need to be defined in the acts of those using the terms.
Just listen to the words used by elected officials and those running for office.
As we have conversations with others we realize they live in very different realities and terms we use and understand are twisted and come back to bite us.
I am sure this is old stuff to you: the people may change and the words may be the same, but the motive and history of those involved is always there. If they look like skunks and smell like skunks, they usually are skunks. (a Ryland truism)
Rev. Dr. Bob Ryland


Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.


Central Valley Safe Environment Network
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy
Stanislaus Natural Heritage Project
Subject: Minutes of June 14, 2007 East Merced Resource Conservation District Meeting by Telephone

Gwen Huff said letters were written to legislators by Pat Ferrigno. The Farm Bureau and Diedre Kelsey were OK with the grant. Huff asked that an emergency item (4a) be placed on the agenda because Ferrigno had written to the legislators, calling for a response from the EMRCD to Ferrigno’s letter.

They took a roll call vote.

On the call at this time: Gwen Huff, Cathy Weber, Karen Barstow, Glenn Anderson, Cindy Lashbrook Karen Whipp, Tony Azevedo, and Lydia Miller. Miller was never asked if a public member was on the phone.

Attempts were made by email and fax to get Bernie Wade on the call. Wade had called the wrong number and was put on indefinite hold. He joined the meeting late.

The purpose of the special meeting was a letter of support for the 4-H Wells Project.

Lashbrook, having just checked her email, brought up the need for EMRCD to sign on to the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition letter to the Governor about the Williamson Act. Sign on deadline was the next day. Weber said the board would like to see the letter.

Wade finally got on the call, requiring a briefing of all that had already happened.

After Huff told Wade about the need for a letter to the legislators to reply to Ferrigno’s letter, Wade asked, “When is this going to end?”

Lashbrook replied: “We’re at war.”

There was a discussion about the ingratitude of the Merced River Stakeholders. Wade recommended that the stakeholders should be cut out.

The board authorized the letter on the 4-H Wells Project, but didn’t authorize either a letter to legislators in reply to Ferrigno’s letter or the letter to the governor on the Williamson Act. Wade and Weber expressed irritation with being presented with 11th-hour decisions (referring to the Williamson Act letter).

Lashbrook brought up the idea of a means to streamline the authority process.

The board decided on an agenda item to ask the stakeholders how they wished to be involved with the EMRCD in the future.

Azevedo said he would be out of town for the board meeting on June 20. It was to be held at Golden Bi-Products Tire Recycling Co.. Barstow said the company had teleconferencing capability.

Submitted July 17, 2007
By Lydia Miller, president
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center


----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, July 02, 2007 10:50 AM
Subject: [POSSIBLE SPAM] Right Livelihood

This article - Right Livelihood - has been sent to you by
Dear Lydia, In doing a little soul-searching on why this type of energy is coming my way, I ran across this article. The spiritual part makes me a little uncomfortable, which probably means it is time to approach it. I do know that you know, or could if you wanted, that I have been working on cultural solutions for environmental problems for decades, and always vowed that when my kids didn't need much of my time, anymore, that I would do more community work. Do you b elieve that it is unethical to have careers in the fields that we have a passion in? Is there anyone trying to work within the system that you admire that I could learn from?I also know that I tend to criticize others for those traits that I see, but don't like, in myself (Human Nature...Ugh!!?!).I am sad that people that seem to have similar visions can't find ways to enhance each others' work.Later, Cindy

Spring 2001 Issue: Working for Life
Right Livelihood
by Matthew Fox

Any discussion of right livelihood has to address the following question: Is the work we
are doing good for the Earth and its inhabitants now and for seven generations into the

Much of our work today would flunk that test. The despoiling of the Earth's health by laying waste to forests, soil, waters, other species, ozone, diversity of plants - all this spells disaster for our species and most of the others with whom we share this amazing home we call Earth. Likewise, the despoiling of souls that goes on in many of our work places does not bode well for a sustainable future. Furthermore, the gap between the haves and have-nots has never been greater, and unemployment is a species-wide disgrace at a time when so much good work needs doing.

What is our work doing to the world? What is it doing to our souls? How can we make things better?

To make work into right livelihood, we must pay attention to just who we are as a species - our strengths and our weaknesses - for it all displays itself in our work. Consider, for example, that today's science is teaching us that each human has been given three brains: a reptilian brain, a mammalian brain, and an intellectual/creative brain.

The reptilian brain, what I call our crocodile brain, is by far the oldest. Crocodiles are win/lose creatures. The crocodile brain gives us our action/response quickness and operates our sexuality and our respiratory system as well. The worst expression of crocodile brain on the planet today has to be the global corporate consciousness that is willing to swallow whole the future of planet and citizens alike in a win/lose scenario
of corporate profit taking. This happens because our ancient crocodile brain is so closely linked to our most recent and most powerful intellectual/creative brain. This brain, so new on the planet, distinguishes us from other creatures. It is the reason our mothers suffered so in bringing us into the world: our brain is too big for the birth canal. This brain can choose to serve the heart or it can choose to serve greed and rapaciousness. With this brain we can create symphonies or we can create gas ovens to make our evil impulses more efficient.

What to do? It is time to tame the crocodile brain. Curiously, in the West, we have myths of killing the crocodile, such as St. George or St. Martin de Tours slaying the dragon. In the East there is a tradition of honoring the dragon, dancing with it, and giving it its due. Dancing with the dragon means befriending the reptilian brain, learning to pet it. This is done by ritual and also by meditation practices. Meditation teaches us to be at home with solitude, and solitude is a reptilian thing - reptiles like being alone, they do not bond. Every human has to learn to be at home with solitude, and this is learned by meditation practices.

The gift of compassion

Our second task is to couple the intellectual/creative brain more with the mammal brain than the reptile brain. Why the mammal brain? This brain is our brain for bonding. Mammals bond; reptiles do not. Mammals have breasts and uteruses; interestingly, the Hebrew word for compassion comes from the word for womb. Mammals introduced compassion to the planet. But of a limited kind. Dian Fossey, who lived among gorillas, never observed gorillas showing compassion to any non-gorilla. The same holds for Jane Goodall, who lived among chimpanzees. She found that chimpanzee compassion was limited to the chimpanzee nation alone.

We humans, who are part chimpanzee and mammal, are here to broaden the practice of compassion on this planet. Does this not explain why so many of our spiritual leaders - from Isaiah to Jesus, from Buddha to Lao Tzu, from Gandhi to Black Elk, from Chief Seattle to Martin Luther King, from Dorothy Day to Mother Theresa - were instructing us in one thing: How to be compassionate?

To be compassionate is to live out the truth of our interdependence. Compassion is not about feeling sorry for another. It is about so identifying with others that their joy is my joy and their pain is my pain, and consequently we do something about both. Compassion therefore leads to celebration on the one hand and to relieving pain and suffering on the other. "Compassion means justice," Meister Eckhart said six centuries ago, and he was right.

There will be no compassion if we cannot tame the reptilian brain. There will only be more win/lose energy, more greed and violence. Gandhi and King are examples of people who, in their nonviolent strategy, committed themselves to recycling the hatred of reptilian brain into love and awareness.

(The political monkey business that went on recently in Florida was less monkey than it was crocodile energy. The high voltage of win/lose energy being released there in the shadow of the Everglades with its morphic resonance of reptilian energy, seemed a very logical place for a political crocodile game to play itself out. And crocodiles they were, all over CNN and network TV.)

How do humans tame their crocodile brains? Meditation is probably the most effective way.

Two stories have come my way recently, both having to do with the workplace. Prison is the place where we generally dump the "losers" in the high-stakes game of win/lose capitalism; the prison-industrial complex is growing like no other industry these days. Two years ago, I learned about something remarkable happening at the biggest youth prison in America, one located outside of Los Angeles. The place had been a hell hole for years, with 600 prisoners in their late teens driven by gang violence within the prison and without. In desperation, I am told, the warden invited three Buddhist monks to teach the prisoners to meditate. At the time, 99 percent of the prisoners were Baptist or Roman Catholic (meaning probably Black or Hispanic) and they didn't know what a Buddhist monk was or what meditation meant. Gradually, however, they settled down to the experience and the energy of the entire place changed from being violent, us-versus-them, and win/lose to being a place of human respect. What did this change in a workplace cost?

Probably three bowls of rice daily for the Buddhist monks teaching meditation.

Meditation calms the reptilian brain, turning the crocodile into a kind of pet within us.

Don't underestimate the power of meditation.

I know a professor of engineering at a major US university who was despairing of academia's pathologies until he entered our university and got in touch with his own "right brain" through exposure to spiritual traditions and practices. Now he is organizing a conference for engineers in which they can rediscover their connection to mysticism, awe, and aesthetics. He has also chosen to go to tribes in the Amazon to help
them construct wells powered by solar energy.

So we can change even our most violent work places, called prisons, into humane places of existence through a practice called meditation. This practice calms the killer instincts in us and allows our more compassionate, communitarian, and bonding selves to emerge.

What if this kind of change in the work world were to spread to businesses, academia, politics, economic institutions, utilities, religions - in short to wherever humans work?

Such training ought to begin in grade schools. Education ought to acknowledge that we have three brains, not just an intellectual one. It ought to make room for creativity, and the essence of education ought to be the proper disciplining and releasing of our creative brains. Compassion begins in the heart with bonding (the mammal brain), but compassion extends to all beings with the help of the uniquely human
intellectual/creative brain.

Instead, in all the political posturing I have listened to about education, there seems to be one criteria: Who can promise the most exams for our kids. Exams do not train the mind for creativity. Education will not be renewed by more exams but by more focus on that which is uniquely human - our capacity for creativity. The crocodile brain, among other factors, is holding us back from our creativity. We must tame it to get to both compassion and creativity.

Education for life
We have to speak about education when we speak about right livelihood because educated people are destroying the Earth. Thomas Berry says most of the destruction of the planet is being accomplished by people with PhDs. Mahatma Gandhi, when his dream of freedom for his country was achieved, responded to the question, "What do you fear most?" with this answer: "The cold hearts of the educated citizens."

Has contemporary, post-modern academia made any strides in educating the cold heart and warming and melting it since Gandhi spoke these words over 50 years ago? I am afraid not.

The crocodile brain is alive and well in most of academia - uncriticized and unchecked.

The education industry seems incapable of critiquing itself. It needs alternative models.

This is why we started a new university in downtown Oakland five years ago, one that is committed to bringing "universe" back to university (i.e., cosmology as the center of the university) and bringing creativity alive in the students. Our doctor of ministry program focuses on bringing spirituality to the workplace. The 370 students who have joined the program in less than three years all feel a common lack in their previous training.

Whether they are engineers, business people, scientists, mental health workers, therapists, clergy, or artists, all are seeking spiritual practice and training. The most radical and indispensable way to achieve right livelihood is to change the way we train people for work. In our culture we call that education.

It is not enough to find peace. One must also make peace, and this cannot be done without justice. Spiritual practice and ethics must go together. The purpose of meditation is not to make the slavemaster more efficient, but to set in motion strategies and alliances of equality.

Right livelihood came home to me in Salina, Kansas, this past year, where I was visiting the Land Institute directed by farmer Wes Jackson. What I love so much about Wes Jackson is that behind that Methodist farmer's smile and sweet drawl there lies a wily, radical, and committed prophet of a farmer. He believes that we have been doing farming wrong for 10,000 years. Instead of turning the soil over every year and thereby inviting erosion and loss of soil, he is demonstrating that we could be farming by imitating the prairie, which creates soil rather than destroying it.

Wes' critique of his own livelihood gives me - and I hope the rest of us - permission to critique ours in an equally radical manner. I ask: Have we been doing education wrong for 10,000 years? Have we been doing religion wrong for 10,000 years? Have we been doing business wrong for 10,000 years? How about journalism and the media? In short, have we been doing work wrong for a long, long time?

Isn't it time to wake up? Time is running out. Our species will not survive if we do not commit to sustainability in its many forms - not only solar-driven energy sources but also solar-driven (as distinct from reptilian-driven) consciousness. We need to learn to breathe in and out the gift of healthy sunlight (which is literally the air we breathe) and not take it for granted. We need to ground ourselves, connecting to the Earth from which we come and to which we shall all return.

The despoiling of the Earth is not only ecocide; it is also suicide. The distractions we are fed daily by advertisers do not substitute for laying out an agenda of needed work as distinct from work that feeds greed and unsustainable consumerism. As Gandhi warned us, "there is enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed." Right livelihood begins with need. It ends with celebration.

Matthew Fox is founder and president of the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California, co-chair of the Naropa University master's program in creation spirituality, and author of several books, including The Reinvention of Work.

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UC Merced bobcatflaksters now flogging disease-of-the-week

Submitted: Jul 06, 2007
UC Merced Now Home To The Only Animal Research Facility In The Valley
...Roy Hoglund, lab animal resource center director, says "after 4 weeks, the animals are sent to U.C. Davis, the comparative pathology for rodent health diagnostic testing."
...But faculty members also realize animal research labs are often the source of controversy. Just last week, the FBI was called to UCLA ...Ana Nelson Shaw says "we certainly support the right of everyone to have and express their opinion in a safe and legal way. As soon as anybody crosses that line, we will take every step to protect our researchers and of the animals in our facility."
--, July 3, 2007

...Although UC Merced officials say they haven't received any comments or concerns from animal rights advocates about the vivarium, that does not mean they are not taking precautions. -- Merced Sun-Star, July 4, 2007

The UC Merced Bobcatflaksters have got to spin this lab to a fare-thee-well and so, of course, they sought the help of the obliging media.

UC Merced is not the home of the only animal research facility in the Valley. UC Davis has been conducting animal research for many decades and UC Davis is located in the Valley. There is probably other animal research going on in the Valley and it has probably been going on for a long time.

Both stories focus on the animal-activist threat, akin to Supervisor Nelson's "socialist" threat and the "asthma terrorist" threat other public officials see in air-pollution activists exercising their Constitutional rights to speak and demonstrate.

The threat the Bobcatflaksters have gently but firmly guided the dim-witted reporters and their cowardly editors away from seeing is the threat of the lab to the population. It's a slick piece of work, worthy of the great, bygone era when Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the Cowgirl Chancellor, ruled the grounds of the former municipal golf course, ably assisted by Larry Salinas, her quick-witted, sawed-off sidekick in cowboy boots.

Students of the profoundly corrupt boondoggle known as UC Merced scent a quickening of the breeze, a new purpose to the bobcatflak, a new theme. Since it cannot be undergraduate education for the San Joaquin Valley, the campus having admitted it is now a junior college for transferring the able few on to real UC campuses, we look to the only viable academic credential UC Merced has, its memorandum of understanding with UC/Bechtel et al/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The Lab is now contending with a few other sites to put a biowarfare laboratory (one at the highest level of danger to the public) near Tracy, on its Site 300 bomb-testing range.

The proposed bio-facility is slated to cover 500,000 square feet, the size of 5 Wal-Marts. It will house the most lethal pathogens on Earth, with both BSL-3 and BSL-4 capacity. Biosafety Level-3s experiment on infectious or exotic pathogens that are potentially lethal, such as live anthrax, plague and Q fever. Biosafety Level-4s are reserved for extremely exotic biological agents for which there is no known cure, such as Central European tick-borne encephalitis. The biological research will spread across a minimum of 30 acres to accommodate large animals, according to the agency's request for proposals in the federal register. -- TriValleyCAREs, April 16, 2007

The question that the local media lacks the courage to ask is the only question the public needs an honest answer to: what is the biodanger level of the UC Merced animal lab now? What sorts of diseases will be brought to Merced to inject into the laboratory animals? What could happen to students on the campus and the public beyond the campus if these diseases get out? What are the safety measures? What are the procedures if there is an accident?

Local government is utterly dominated by finance, insurance and real estate special interests (FIRE). To make matters worse for the purposes of public safety, the huge speculative real estate boom induced by the UC Merced campus has crashed, leaving the county, along with Stanislaus and San Joaquin, leading the nation per capita in mortage foreclosures. The promise UC Merced dangles before these hapless tools of outside interests is that a medical school will soon arrive. Miraculously, doctors and nurses and laboratory scientists and their assistants will fill the vacant homes whose values are now falling below the cost of their construction. It's the new campaign. The bobcatflaksters providing cover, the boosters can again step onto the bandwagon and off Merced goes, once again, to a glorious future. It hasn't quite arrived yet, (as always), but "we're on our way." Meanwhile, watch carefully for the agents of espionage and sabotage and forget about the agents of arbitrage.

Epidemiologically speaking, our FIRE special interests are playing host to diseases that are not good for public health and safety. As plans for the Site 300 biowarfare lab mature, it is likely the diseases will become more dangerous.

A responsible local government would be demanding to know what the level of biodanger is now and what the plans of the UC Merced animal lab are. Neither our local government nor our media have the wit or the guts to even ask the question of UC Merced.

This isn't leadership; it's depravity.

Bill Hatch

UC Merced Now Home To The Only Animal Research Facility In The Valley
By Sara Sandrik

- Animal testing usually comes with controversy, and U.C. Merced is preparing for that possibility. The new lab is equipped with security cameras and requires key card access. Officials say it's to protect the animals and the researchers.
Eight white mice are the first of thousands of rodents and a few rabbits that could eventually inhabit U.C. Merced. They're here to make sure the university's new laboratory animal research center is safe and sterile.
Roy Hoglund, lab animal resource center director, says "after 4 weeks, the animals are sent to U.C. Davis, the comparative pathology for rodent health diagnostic testing."
If these mice pass the test, more animals will soon be on the way. Researchers will use them to study a variety of conditions that affect humans, including diabetes and asthma.
Lab Director Roy Hoglund says stem cell research is also a possibility. "Most of the work that's going to be done here is going to be studying mechanisms of disease" says Hoglund.
The facility includes 9 animal rooms and 2 surgical suites. University officials say it's is an important step toward bringing a proposed medical school to the campus.
Ana Nelson Shaw, UC Merced, says "our plans for our medical school are dependent on biomedical research and very much of that depends on research that works with animals."
But faculty members also realize animal research labs are often the source of controversy. Just last week, the FBI was called to UCLA after animal rights extremists claimed responsibility for an explosive device found under a professor's car.
Ana Nelson Shaw says "we certainly support the right of everyone to have and express their opinion in a safe and legal way. As soon as anybody crosses that line, we will take every step to protect our researchers and of the animals in our facility."
And Hoglund says there are strict rules and regulations to protect the animals during testing. "Quality animal care equates to quality research and quality science" says Hoglund.
Along with federal guidelines, there is also a local committee that must approve all animal research before it's conducted here at the university.

Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced vivarium's first residents move in...Victor A. Patton

The university has received the first eight mice for its vivarium -- a 5,000-square-foot facility where mice, rats and rabbits will be kept for laboratory observation...animals will be used for a variety of research purposes, including study of infectious diseases of the immune system and stem-cell research. Roy Hoglund, UC Merced's director of animal research services, said the facility is the Central Valley's first vivarium. Before it was built, UC Merced researchers had to travel nearly two hours to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area to conduct research on rodents. Hoglund said although research on animal tissues and cells have occurred at the facility, actual animal testing may not begin for several weeks. Reporters with the Sun-Star and other media were allowed Tuesday to tour the facility, located in an underground area of the school's Science and Engineering Building. Hoglund said UC Merced staff spent weeks sterilizing the entire vivarium, which includes nine storage rooms for animals, four procedure rooms and two surgical suites. Visitors to the facility will be asked to wear sterile covering for their shoes in order to keep micro-organisms from entering the building. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore will help provide oversight and review during the vivarium's first year of operation. UC Merced has set up an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee composed of faculty, a veterinarian and member of the community unaffiliated with the university to provide additional oversight and review and approve research activities. The school will also seek to have the facility approved by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Lab Animal Care International -- a private nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of lab animals through a voluntary accreditation and assessment program. Although UC Merced officials say they haven't received any comments or concerns from animal rights advocates about the vivarium, that does not mean they are not taking precautions. During a media tour of the vivarium, camera operators were asked not to photograph the numbers on doors or exit signs inside of the building -- in order to not give away the specific location of the facility. With the completion of UC Merced's vivarium, all campuses in the University of California system now have vivarium programs, according to Jennifer Ward, UC Office of the President spokesperson.

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