University of California

The politics of death in Merced

Submitted: Jan 29, 2006

The newspaper coverage of the tragic death of Greg Gomez, 20, of Merced, has from the beginning raised more questions than it has answered. With each succeeding article, the story gets more obscene.

A Badlands reader suggested that without putting all the official reports of the matter together, end-to-end, it is impossible to tell what actually happened. However, in politically sensitive matters including large private or public institutions, police reports do not always make things clearer.

The best we can do it put the timeline of newspaper coverage of the event in some kind of order and raise questions we believe ought to be asked.

The Modesto Bee reported at 4:15 a.m. on Dec. 20 that Gomez was hit by a car driven by UC Merced student, Antony Jay Ducray, 18, of Los Angeles, about 11:30 p.m., according to a California Highway Patrol report. He was taken to Mercy Medical Center Merced.

CHP Sgt. Sam Samra said the accident happened about 2,500 feet west of Lake Road, near the UC Merced campus. Gomez was wearing dark clothes and walking in the road; there are no streetlights in the area, according to the CHP. Though it wasn't raining, it was cloudy and the streets were wet, Samra said.

Ducray, who was driving about 50 miles per hour, did not see Gomez walking in the road before his car struck him, the CHP reported.

Gomez was thrown into Ducray's windshield, and suffered major injuries. Ducray was not hurt, and a passenger in his car, 18-year-old Daniel Joseph Wilson of Rancho Bernardo, suffered minor cuts to his left hand, the CHP reported.
No one was arrested and the CHP said speeding and alcohol do not appear to have been factors in the accident. The collision remains under investigation.

On Dec. 21, Merced Sun-Star writer Rosalio Ahumada reported that Gomez died about 23 hours after he was struck by Ducray’s car. We got more details of the case.

The UC Merced student was not arrested.

Speeding and driving under the influence do not appear to be factors, the report stated, but the car accident is still under investigation, Ahumada wrote.

Evidently Ducray was tested clean for alcohol and drugs.

Ducray, a UC Merced student from Los Angeles, was driving a 2000 Toyota Corolla westbound on Bellevue Road at an approximate speed of 50 mph when the car struck Gomez.

Gomez was reported to have been wearing dark clothing and walking “on a small paved portion of the shoulder of the road. The road has a larger dirt and gravel portion of the road shoulder.” There are no streetlights on that country road.

Samra, the CHP officer on the scene, told Ahumada, “the road was wet and it was cloudy, but officers reported it was not raining when the accident occurred and there was not any fog or other visual impairments.”

The coroner’s office said it would do an autopsy to establish the cause of death on Thursday of that week. We saw no follow-up on that story but the Christmas weekend was coming and the cause of death could not have been more than the listing of injuries sustained from being hit by a car.

The first question that arises is why isn’t this story being covered by the Sun-Star’s veteran police reporter, Mike De La Cruz? The first report from the Modesto Bee has no byline. The second story was covered by the reporter on the UC Merced beat, at least until shortly after this story. Since January 16, another reporter seems to have taken over UC Merced coverage.

How could the CHP officer know the students were driving about 50 miles an hour? Was he on the scene before the accident? Were there witnesses? Is there electronic speed monitoring equipment on that stretch of road?

The story disappeared for a month only to return this week.

On Tuesday, Ahumada’s apparent successor on the UC Merced beat, Janet Pak, informed us:

University of California, Merced, students who want to stay downtown or enjoy a movie late at night won't have to worry about transportation.

A new shuttle service called "Nite Cat" will run every hour from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, said UC Merced spokeswoman Ana Nelson Shaw.

"It helps them be more connected with the community," she said. "A lot of students don't have a car.

"It provides them with a new option to go see a movie that ends late at night or to go eat out at one of the dining locations or see friends who live off campus."

Riggs Ambulance Service, presumably the same ambulance service that took Gomez to the hospital (there is no other in Merced), sponsored the shuttle, “paying $20,000 for the van, fuel and labor costs.” Sounds pretty cheap to me. I wondered if a farm labor contractor could get a van, driver, fuel and maintenance at that price for eight, 20-mile roundtrips a week.

Nite Cat would also prevent people from driving back in poor weather conditions.

"It's not exactly a great drive," he said. "It's dark, narrow and foggy."

There is no evidence Pak even asked if the shuttle might also be connected to Gomez’ death, which would have raised the issue protecting the public against UC Merced students rather than simply protecting UC Merced students from themselves.

At this point, the Badlands editorial board began to study a few UC Merced police reports.

Police Calls...UC Merced calls...Last Updated: January 27, 2006, 07:45:32 AM PST
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/policecalls/story/11736459p-12459406c.html
The UC Merced Police Department responded to three calls on Wednesday.
WEDNESDAY
12:35 a.m. -- Officer took student report of a possible burglary.
12:34 a.m. -- Officer checked a suspicious vehicle parked in the staff parking lot.
5:20 a.m. -- Driver verbally warned at a traffic stop at Bellevue and Lake roads.

Police Calls...UC Merced calls
Last Updated: January 24, 2006, 08:05:33 AM PST
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/policecalls/story/11724321p-12448098c.html

Saturday
11:05 p.m. -- Driver issued a citation for failing to stop at a crosswalk in the student parking lot by Tulare Hall
10:08 p.m. -- Driver given a verbal warning for failing to stop at a crosswalk on Scholars Lane and Emigrant Pass.
12:49 a.m. -- Driver given a verbal warning for failure to stop at a crossing walk on Scholars Lane and Mammoth Lakes Road.

FRIDAY
10:34 p.m. -- Citation issued for failure to stop at crosswalk on Lake Road south of main entrance.
10:08 p.m. -- Citation issued for failure to stop at crosswalk on Scholars Road.

Last Updated: January 10, 2006, 06:45:36 AM PST
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/policecalls/story/11672477p-12400494c.html

SATURDAY
3:33 p.m. --Verbal warning issued for failure to stop at a posted stop sign at Scholars and Emigrants Pass.

UC MERCED CALLS
The UC Merced Police Department responded to 9 calls Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

SUNDAY
1:22 p.m. -- Driver issued a verbal warning near front entrance to Lake Yosemite.
11:42 a.m. -- Officers assist two male adults stuck in an elevator.

SATURDAY
11:50 p.m. -- Driver of a suspicious vehicle parked in the residential parking lot given a verbal warning.
3:33 p.m. --Verbal warning issued for failure to stop at a posted stop sign at Scholars and Emigrants Pass.
3:01 p.m. --Driver issued a verbal warning during a traffic stop at Bellevue and Lake roads.
2:31 p.m. -- Driver issued a verbal warning during a traffic stop on Scholars Lane at the dining hall.
Driver issued a verbal warning during a traffic stop at Lane and Trovare roads.

FRIDAY
7:37 p.m. -- An electrical fire smell in the east wing of the library determined no fire risk.
8:16 a.m. -- Driver of a vehicle blocking the emergency exit found and vehicle removed.

Last Updated: December 10, 2005, 07:21:14 AM PST
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/policecalls/story/11576675p-12309523c.html

UC MERCED CALLS
The UC Merced Police Department responded to 6 calls Thursday and Wednesday

Thursday
5:08 p.m. -- Report of a noninjury hit-and-run accident that occurred sometime in the day in the Lake parking lot.

Thursday
6:33 p.m. -- Assisted a disabled motorist with a flat tire.
5:08 p.m. -- Report of a noninjury hit-and-run accident that occurred sometime in the day in the Lake parking lot.

Wednesday
11:32 p.m. -- Two students in the construction area given a verbal warning.
9:53 p.m. -- Assisted a UC resident assistant in student housing.
6:29 p.m. -- Escorted a staff member to the parking lot.
6:27 p.m. -- Conducted a student welfare check at the request of a family member.

Last Updated: November 24, 2005, 06:50:36 AM PST
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/policecalls/story/11517885p-12254904c.html

5:08 p.m. -- Report of a noninjury hit-and-run accident that occurred sometime in the day in the Lake parking lot.

UC MERCED CALLS

The UC Merced Police Department responded to 3 calls on Tuesday.
10:53 a.m. -- Traffic stop on Lake Road at Bellevue Road. Driver was warned.
4:53 p.m. -- Noninjury accident reported at Ranchers and Lake Road.
4:18 p.m. -- Reports of students barbecuing on campus next to dining commons.

Last Updated: October 20, 2005, 06:45:34 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/policecalls/story/11373686p-12120637c.html

9 a.m. -- A hit-and-run accident reported in the Lake parking lot. The responsible party returned to the scene.

Badlands editors, after daring to post this police description of the vehicular situation out at the UC Merced campus, got their money down on the question of whether the public would ever see another UC Merced police log.

Lulu from the Badlands Religion desk, who tipples, complained that UC Merced had never offered to pick her up and take her downtown for Blues night and bring her back home all safe and sound, soul full of throbbing bass guitar.

D.A. May Have Served Alcohol to Underage Drinker Who Died
The Novel and The Tape
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11741563p-12463552c.htm

Saturday Sun-Star readers encountered a novel of 3,288 words in their newspapers and an accompanying audiotape on the newspaper’s website, concerning a political tangent associated with this tragedy. The story would not have suffered at all if a regular police reporter had done it in a few hundred words, something like:

Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer served drinks at the Merced Country Club for an employee Christmas party attended by Greg Gomez. Gomez, 20, later died as the result of being hit by a car driven by UC Merced student Antony Jay Ducray, 18, of Los Angeles. Three hours after Gomez was admitted to Mercy Medical Center, a test revealed a .245 blood alcohol content, about three times the legal limit for driving a car. Gomez was on foot when Ducray’s vehicle hit him.

Spencer said he tended bar at the party for about an hour until the employee-guests went to dinner. He added that he left the party four hours before Gomez was struck by the UC Merced student’s car as he was walking on the side of Bellevue Road .

Spencer explained he had an agreement with three managers at the country club that they were responsible for checking IDs. He said it is possible he served Gomez but did not serve anyone as drunk as Gomez was reported to have been three hours after he was hit.

Chris Collins, one of the Sun-Star’s political reporters, wrote the 3,288-word novel. Collins appears to believe that good district attorneys grow on grape vines or almond trees (the same place they grow good cops) or are as rapidly multiplying in Merced County as his celebrity-of-the-week Greg Hostetler’s housing products. This indescribable travesty of journalism, complete with tape selections, is available at http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11741563p-12463552c.html. It comes off, whether intentionally or not, as one of the most blatant political hatchet jobs in the paper’s dismal history of political coverage. But it is also, fundamentally, something else: a distraction from who killed whom.

UC bobcatflaksters must have danced on their monitors when this novel was published. People will be thinking about Spencer for days, weeks, forgetting who killed whom, all those fraudulent pay packages for top UC administrators and the new generation of nuclear weapons to be built at UC’s two national laboratories of WMDs.

Other evidence that it was some kind of political hatchet job or a PR diversion is that Collins never shares with his readers who it was who told him Spencer was serving drinks at a private country club employees' party. Nor, in the midst of nothing but a political story around manslaughter, does he ever mention that Spencer has announced his retirement. Nor does he ever list, in this political story about manslaughter, either Spencer’s political friends or his enemies.

Jonathan Arons, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in legal ethics, said Spencer had entered a "very gray" area ethically., Collins wrote, 2,500 words into his masterpiece.

Who might the deep, terribly obscure Arons be?

The only guy in the Badlands organization who took the bet Gomez v. Spencer would be studied in Torts courses by future law students pondering the mysteries of causality was Bobo. Bobo’s in sports.

Compared to the fact of his death, did it matter at all that Gomez was 20 instead of 21? If a 90-year-old senile escapee from a rest home in a dark housecoat on a black walker had been in that place at that time, would she have fared any better than Gomez or a Labrador Retriever? Did it matter that the district attorney, doing a volunteer stint as a bartender for his club’s employee Christmas party, said he wouldn’t deny he might have served Gomez a drink four hours before he was struck by the UC Merced student’s car?

No.

Spencer’s suggestion that there was something called personal responsibility poured gasoline on Collins’ passion to play the political blame game with a tragic mystery that could not be reduced to gotcha without violating common decency.

Why was Gomez, drunk, on foot, two miles from the country club at 11:30 p.m.? It must have been the DA’s fault.

Wrong.

There is another, grimmer possibility that would not have come to light without Collins’ reckless novel. With perhaps better information than the public has, Spencer seemed to suggest at one point on the tape that Gomez had thrown himself into the car. If Collins had not been so intent on lynching Spencer, he might have heard that warning. Having done this stupid thing, he raised the issue of suicide – more doubt and misery for the family he describes with such saccharine bathos in the last several hundred words of his opus. Adn what of the misery of the driver and his passenger?

Forget them: we must have the novel of blame, which will soothe all wounds.

Wrong.

Do Collins’ editors have a shred of common sense?

Bill Hatch

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Wobbly three-legged stool

Submitted: Jan 20, 2006

The three-legged stool

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

The short, skinny leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fat, middle leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The long, weird leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Hatch

Notes:

Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution

Douglas Dowd: Thorstein Veblen

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

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

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

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

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

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Merced County League of Women Voters' dead questions office

Submitted: Jan 04, 2006

The Merced County chapter of the League of Women Voters recently published its January 2006 newsletter concerning a meeting on county land-use policy. Badlands attended and reported on the meeting, Unanswered questions on Merced growth, Wednesday, December 7th, 2005. That meeting was bogus. A large crowd was encouraged to write down questions about growth, listened to a panel of planners, and then the meeting was shut down -- the panel did not answer any of the questions. The reason given was that City Hall was not available beyond a certain time, that time arrived, therefore the meeting was over. There was also some funny business with the computer projector that took up additional (precious) time.

Soliciting questions from the public about growth in one of the two fastest growing regions in the state, and then not answering them but passing them on to the political classes, descends to the level of mere pandering to the remarkably corrupt local, pro-growth power structure of Merced.

While the Badlands editorial staff doesn’t mind critically covering local political events (we think that’s what journalism ought to be and used to be), the staff collectively winces while performing the unpleasant duty of criticizing the League of Women Voters. Badlands staff grew up listening to mothers talk about the League, reading League newsletters and voter education pamphlets. The staff learned its first lessons in democracy from League mothers.

But, says the Merced League, it distributed all the questions to the people that matter. These are the same people who have voted consistently for the development engulfing the county. These are the people who hold unanimously as their first, collective metaphysical principle, that “growth is inevitable.”

According to the newsletter, the League had retired UC professor, Dr. William Teitz compile all the questions and then they were sent to all the presenters (Teitz, the former county planning director and three city planners), the county Board of Supervisors, the mayors of the six cities in the county, and the Merced Sun-Star and Merced County Times.

The whole League-orchestrated Q-but-no-A “public meeting” was a hoax. Tietz, the retired UC professor, gave a very interesting, somewhat drastic presentation about Valley growth that might actually have had some impact if it had been given before UC Merced was a “done deal.” The county planning director (since demoted) gave a countywide overview. Three city planners provided their views on development in their cities. Fast-growing Atwater, strangely, was not represented.

Did the League want to put on an event about growth that looked like it was really open to public, in order to log it in under that title so that it could be referred to later as a real “public dialogue”? Were the planners and the questions window dressing in some sort of display? If it really had been set up to be a town hall meeting it would have gone on until 3 in the morning at a local church. Perhaps, League officers are just hooked on the architecture of these chambers of local government, in which officials are always seated above the public.

The miasma of growth now hangs over Merced political life like a permanent, toxic tule fog. The real war for the future of the county is all but won by developers. It’s a perfect game of political blackmail. The developers have their teeth deeply buried in county government now. If farmers who want to continue farming publicly criticize growth policies, things can happen. Everybody knows how this goes. But, dragging the tradition of the League of Women Voters into it stinks.

The League of Women Voters is committed to making democracy work in Merced, California, across the country and around the world,

Its newsletter claims.

Join us in educating and encouraging men and women to be active citizens and address the issues that affect our lives—election administration reform, campaign finance reform, civil and human rights, citizen engagement, judicial independence and criminal justice, education, health care, urban sprawl and our natural resources …

The newsletter urges. These are important values. Mothers in League chapters during the dark days of McCarthyism were accused of being communists for standing up for these values. Right here in the San Joaquin Valley, 50 years ago. Imagine!

Respect for their mothers’ political bravery requires Badlands staff to make a critical remark of a greatly respected institution: it takes more than a scarf to make a League president. It takes a willingness to stand up for values, which, although non-partisan and thoroughly American, are always controversial. If you don’t stand up for them, but just quote them in your newsletter, you’re betraying them.

But, not content with League value statements, this League chapter has to drag Margaret Mead into it.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

This business of using old values, hard fought for, as advertising and propaganda for an organization that dares not understand what these values mean, and what they cost these women, and for how long, is a widespread bad habit or our era, drowning in propaganda. But those values meant something and should not be simply stuck in a newsletter like decoration or a shopping ad.

Just because you’re not on the front lines of things, doesn’t mean you have to be in the lap of power, either. Just because you are not contributing to a public dialogue does not mean you have to fake one. If you aren’t on the front lines as the League used to be, you ought to go have tea somewhere out of the way.

The way the League handled these questions, they became ammunition and rhetoric for the status quo, thoughtlessly committed to catastrophic growth in Merced County but wise to any advantage provided that will make them look less than the authors of catastrophe. An opportunity for a real public town hall meeting was misrepresented and misused. It was as bad and Cardoza the Shrimp Slayer’s “town hall meeting” in the same venue several months earlier.

Rumors have reached the Badlands staff that the League official facilitating this meeting is planning a career in elective office. Considering that we’ve seen more democratic public meetings at Chairman “Fox Hills” Sloan’s county Planning Commission, we’re taking an early, negative stand on this candidacy. In our view, Merced does not need more of the same-old, same-old well-known substance that seems to get tracked onto every institution in this county, regardless of former ideals. Developers have their teeth in the throat of local government here. This is no time for the League of Women Voters to be used as a platform for political postures.

The League newsletter concluded with a stirring letter from a mother in 1951 about how to raise a democratic child:

HELP MAKE DEMOCRACY LIVE

I can help make democracy live because the best citizen is not the one who knows the most, but the one who cares the most. Because I am a mother, I can teach my children to care about people and those values essential to democracy.

If I show my child that his rights and possessions are respected, if I teach him to take his turn and to do his share, if I help him to feel loved and valued for himself, I’ll be teaching him to believe in the inalienable rights of all people.

I will not train my child in blind obedience born of fear, for that makes dictators possible. I will expect only the conformity suitable to his age. I will not demand acceptance of all my opinions. I will tolerate the stress and strain of disagreement in order to encourage that free expression of ideas which enriches group life and in order to further the self-discipline required for democratic living. My child can become truly democratic only by practicing that way of life.

By my example, I will seek to show my child that democracy is worth all it costs. I will obey the laws, even those I dislike. I will pay my taxes without evasion. I will be fair to people who differ from me in race, religion, or political philosophy. I will study my government in order to vote intelligently. I will take time to serve my community.

In such simple everyday ways we can do our share as citizens. If we parents care enough, we can make democracy live.

Martha Fugate Pitman
Reprinted from the July 1951 Parents’ Magazine

What a beautiful dream, and how widely shared it was in the Valley in those years. They were not the easiest years economically or politically, but there was that sweet dedication of parents who had known depression and war and had transmuted harsh experience into love and care for the next generation. And with that love went these high ideals, League of Women Voter ideals. There was a code for “democratic living,” and we thought we were learning it. But we let the code down, not understanding, I think, the amount of struggle that lay just behind it, in perhaps the previous three generations. It may well have been children of League mothers of that era who reminded us of Susan B. Anthony, Mother Jones and the other heroic women in American history. We inherited it; we didn’t earn it. Eventually, that movement for democracy, became fatally involved with the power aspirations of the Democratic Party and was corrupted as horribly as conservatism, allied with the Republican Party, is now being corrupted.

In fact, unfortunately, the values Mrs. Pitman so eloquently articulated during the recession of the early 1950s, are a code of conduct almost guaranteed for failure in practical affairs in America. Unless checked by concerted public action, the lying, bullying, lawless thief is far more likely to gain power and wealth in this society.

I wish there had been a real town hall meeting on development because I think it is only in that sort of forum that real public power over the public future can be developed. But, following the well-established pattern of orchestration established by UC Merced and its local boosters in and out of government, that did not happen this time.

And time is running out. If the Merced public is not to be coerced into complete slurbocracy, town meetings in which citizens – whether feeling safe or not – do get up and speak their minds directly to power are necessary. Otherwise, the Merced public cannot expect anything but more of the slurbocracy now engulfing it. The developers came to play and they wrote many of the rules of the game.

Here are the unanswered questions, rescued from the League of Women Voters’ dead question office. They are doubtlessly now being eagerly studied by our political leaders as carefully as a comment letter on an environmental impact report. The Badlands staff is holding its breath and turning blue in the face waiting for the detailed answers the supervisors, mayors and newspaper editors are going to give in public to these questions.

1. Does the urban growth of Merced County benefit current residents economically more than outside investors/developers?
2. How does it reflect on our community when we raise children that can’t afford to live or work here? Why must we continue the urban growth of Merced County at the expense of our quality of living?
3. How will the urbanization affect our cost of living? Do we as citizens, have rights to object to any of your plans if we don’t like them?
4. Why has growth not taken place along Hwy 5?
5. Where are all these future residents going to work? And shop? And go for recreation? Is this more cars on the roads driving out of the area, spending money in other areas?
6. What happens to the houses + land that is left over from the development that is moving to the north?
7. How will the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center affect traffic on 99 and air quality?
8. What are some major planning issues? Are the requirements that developers have to meet to develop really feasible? These requirements can sometimes kill development and instead maybe could make incentives or fee reduction.
9. Why so much low density residential in the county expansion plans?
10. Are the community plans financially constrained? Who is paying for the new infrastructure + expanded services?
11. Should the county and cities adopt a jobs/housing balance into their general plans?
12. In terms of the growth in Franklin / Planada what is the plan for wastewater?
13. What steps are being taken to expand the city of Merced (i.e. ready existing streets and freeways) to accommodate so many more people?
14. What conjectured growth could be attributing to U.C. Merced? (As a single catalyst)
15. Should major roadways be determined before development is approved?
16. Do you foresee an eastside freeway being constructed? The route could follow the old road before the railroad. The route would create beltways around urban areas like Visalia, Fresno, Merced, Modesto, and Sacramento.
17. What about roads?
18. Due to infrastructure capacity constraints can new alternatives be used, for example, recycled water (tertiary treatment-package plants) to meet the needs of new development?
19. Has the underground water supply for the San Joaquin Valley been quantified? If not how can continued urban growth continue?
20. Growth is inevitable however it is taking away the farmland. The same people wanting to build are the ones that will complain when food is expensive. Why do they always choose to use high producing agricultural areas to build houses? Why can't they use non-producing land?
21. In view of the diminishing acreage of productive agriculture land, an irreplaceable resource will boards of supervisors and city councils ever be able to contribute to the preservation of agricultural land? If not what do you suggest?
22. Can agricultural businesses continue to survive at the height of urban development?
23. What’s going to happen to the farm based business with urban growth?
24. Has there been consideration of growing up in multiple story housing complexes in order to preserve agricultural land?
25. Where’s the water?
26. What is the proposed plan for wastewater tax for?
27. Why is the prime farmland scenario unrealistic?
28. Food security requires farmland be protected. Should we require protection by state or federal government to protect farmland like environment is protected?
29. Why are the farmers so dead set against urbanization? Can’t individual farms continue to farm in the middle of growth?
30. To curb urban encroachment into Prime farmland is anything being done to encourage high-rise apartments/condos & office space?
31. Who should determine if a local food supply is important far future generations? Should food security be a public policy issue?
32. What measures are being taken to 1) To ensure resource conservation and 2.) Protect wildlife and natural areas?
33. Can the panelists comment on the potential for collaborative planning between local agencies for regional development in Merced County and throughout the central valley.
34. Dr.Teitz you write in your report that “Valley residents are skeptical about their government institutions ability to solve problems.” (Pg. 80) What can governments do to reduce the skepticism and meet the needs of the future?
35. With all these general plan updates going on, where to how can individuals (local) organizations be most effective in getting what WE want? (Versus out of area investors) Can the panelists comment on the potential for collaborative planning between local agencies for regional development in Merced County and throughout the central valley?
36. You mentioned “resistance to growth” from the Bay Area (as one of the forces of population growth+ urbanization to the valley) what have they done and why can’t we also resist such growth?

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Lack of incentive

Submitted: Dec 30, 2005

It's very hard to see that the USDA has any incentive to properly monitor GMO crops, pharma or otherwise, considering they are so gung-ho in favor of them, along with the land grant universities whose "win-win public/private partnerships" with biotechnology corporations have produced them.

When the nation is going to wake up and discover this technology required serious public testing it never received remains a question based on the ability of lobbies and propaganda to bend perception. Using the example of genetic contamination, however, whatever is said from bent perspectives won't change inevitable facts. So far the critics have been right, every step of the way.
-----------------------------------

Investigators say the USDA lacks details on what happens with pharma-crops.

By PHILIP BRASHER
REGISTER WASHINGTON BUREAU
Des Moines Register, December 30 2005
http://desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051230/BUSINESS01/512300334/1030

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has failed to properly oversee field trials of genetically engineered crops, including plants designed to produce chemicals for medical and industrial uses, investigators say.

A report released Thursday by the USDA's inspector general said the department "lacks basic information" on where field tests are or what is done with the crops after they are harvested.

The report is the latest blow to prospects for developing an industry based on mass-producing pharmaceutical chemicals from genetically modified corn. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack once called the idea the "future of our state."

During the inspector general investigation, auditors found that two large harvests of pharmaceutical crops remained in storage at test sites without the USDA's knowledge or approval.

The investigators also said that in 2003 the department failed to inspect fields of pharmaceutical crops with the frequency that officials said they would.

"Current (USDA) regulations, policies and procedures do not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology," the report said.

The report "confirms the public's lack of confidence in the USDA to oversee pharmaceutical and industrial chemical crops," said Susan Prolman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that has been critical of the agricultural biotechnology industry.

USDA officials said they have made a number of improvements since the investigation was done but disagree with some of the findings.

"We were addressing many of the issues as they were looking at the same issues," said Cindy Smith, deputy administrator for biotechnology regulatory services in the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

She said violations cited in the report were minor. Also, the agency now does all the required inspections of pharma-crop sites, including one last summer near Burlington, Ia., she said.

The department is heeding one of the inspector general's suggestions and may make it mandatory for researchers to provide global positioning coordinates for test sites.

Smith's staff has grown from 23 to 65 since it was established in 2002.

The Agriculture Department oversaw 67,000 acres of biotech field trials in 2004, up from 8,700 in 1994.

Relatively little of that acreage is devoted to pharmaceutical or industrial crops, but there is special concern that those plants could contaminate conventional crops or get into the food supply.

A small biotech company, ProdiGene Inc., was ordered to pay more than $3 million in penalties and cleanup costs in 2002 after mismanaging field trials of pharmaceutical crops in Iowa and Nebraska.

Pharma crops are seen as a cheap way to mass-produce human and animal drugs. Corn has been the crop of choice because it is relatively simple to engineer and produces a lot of grain that can be easily stored and processed.

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University of Perpetual Anxiety

Submitted: Dec 25, 2005

I shouldn't have to be thinking about nuclear war on Christmas Eve. But we've got a University of California campus here in the San Joaquin Valley now. UC Merced has brought us a brand new perspective.

I read the news today, oh boy.

I read this week that after a period of uncertainty, the UC retained control over Los Alamos National Laboratory. The press speculates winning the Los Alamos bid will strengthen UC's chances for retaining Lawrence Livermore National Lab. My immediate concern was the numerous articles since the Wen Ho Lee affair, of security breaches, thefts, and accidents at UC's two nuclear weapons labs. The day before the decision was announced, workers were imperilled by a plutonium spill at Los Alamos.

I shouldn't have to be thinking about nuclear war on Christmas Eve because I am a war baby, taught to crouch under my little desk in grammar school to protect myself from the bombs that could fall on David Farragut Elementary School, near the ocean in San Francisco.Many of my classmates' fathers had recently returned from the Pacific Theater. Some, no doubt, had expected to invade the Japanese mainland. One of our neighbors had been in that PT boat with Kennedy.

I shouldn't have to be thinking about nuclear war on Christmas Eve but the decision, and all the hoopla around it, brought back memories of the Cold War, bomb shelters, the Cuban Missile Crisis, "acceptable losses," decades of nuclear disarmament negotiations and anti-communist campaigns, the Vietnam decade, Star Wars, the "Peace Dividend" and the recent marches against the invasion of Iraq -- the whole national insecurity in which I have lived all my life as a citizen of an aggressive imperial power that has lied to its citizens about its most basic foreign policies.

I shouldn't have to be thinking about nuclear war on Christmas Eve.

In the early 1950s, atomic fever gripped our burgeoning desert town. Bartenders served atomic cocktails. Hairstylists coiffed the atomic hairdo. Revelers danced to the "Atomic Bomb Bounce." Hotel marquees listed detonation times. And Candy King was crowned Miss Atomic Bomb. Tourists were even transported to Mount Charleston's Angel Peak armed with blankets, sunglasses and box lunches so they could watch in awe as the Atomic Energy Commission let 'em rip at the Nevada Test Site. -- Las Vegas Living, June, 2000.

Not being a scientist, I tend to see nuclear weapons as being like Checkov's shotgun on the wall. They aren't just for decoration. My view is Biblical: things come to pass. American corporations' long love affair with the rightwing has finally yielded its reward, an illegal, quasi-monarchy hell bent on imperial militarism and crooked voting machines to hold power. In the midst of this political play for absolute power, here comes UC down to the San Joaquin Valley to build it's "enviromental campus" with, incidentally, memorandum of understanding with Lawrence Livermore Lab in its purse and, now, the new contract to keep running Los Alamos. Locally, about all we've seen them do is corrupt environmental law and regulation and public process, bribe a failing newspaper, organize the local Mr. and Ms. Merceds, and lie about a bobcat. Now that they're riding high on the nuclear hog again, UC Merced's proximity to the Castle base and wide-open spaces, along with that little LLNL MOU in their purse, ought to ring alarms. But to Mr. and Ms. UC Merced, nuke-lab annex looks good for business. And there you have it: in a planet suffocating in the surfeit and waste of the products of man's industry, war is good for business. Mr. and Ms. UC Merced are already investing their anticipated profits. Meanwhile, nearly a billion people are chronically malnourished and little wars keep breaking out here, there, and everywhere.

Fortunately, not all the world is mad enough to regard control of the production of weapons of mass destruction is a cause for rejoicing at Christmas.

There is the story of a man at the UN, a specialist in nuclear proliferation, who disputed the Bush administration line that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons. This man had been running inspection teams in Iraq for a number of years and had found nothing. He and several people working with him testified before the UN Security Council that they had found nothing. The US shouted them down and invaded Iraq anyway. Lately, President Bush has admitted that the intelligence he had that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons wasn't true.

On Dec. 10, Mohamed ElBaradei was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His lecture was an excellent antidote to the orgy of triumphalism surrounding the UC "victory."

In the real world, this imbalance in living conditions inevitably leads to inequality of opportunity, and in many cases loss of hope. And what is worse, all too often the plight of the poor is compounded by and results in human rights abuses, a lack of good governance, and a deep sense of injustice. This combination naturally creates a most fertile breeding ground for civil wars, organized crime, and extremism in its different forms.

In regions where conflicts have been left to fester for decades, countries continue to look for ways to offset their insecurities or project their 'power'. In some cases, they may be tempted to seek their own weapons of mass destruction, like others who have preceded them.

* * * * * * *
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Fifteen years ago, when the Cold War ended, many of us hoped for a new world order to emerge. A world order rooted in human solidarity – a world order that would be equitable, inclusive and effective.

But today we are nowhere near that goal. We may have torn down the walls between East and West, but we have yet to build the bridges between North and South – the rich and the poor.

Consider our development aid record. Last year, the nations of the world spent over $1 trillion on armaments. But we contributed less than 10 per cent of that amount – a mere $80 billion – as official development assistance to the developing parts of the world, where 850 million people suffer from hunger.

My friend James Morris heads the World Food Programme, whose task it is to feed the hungry. He recently told me, "If I could have just 1 per cent of the money spent on global armaments, no one in this world would go to bed hungry."

It should not be a surprise then that poverty continues to breed conflict. Of the 13 million deaths due to armed conflict in the last ten years, 9 million occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, where the poorest of the poor live.

Consider also our approach to the sanctity and value of human life. In the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, we all grieved deeply, and expressed outrage at this heinous crime – and rightly so. But many people today are unaware that, as the result of civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 3.8 million people have lost their lives since 1998.

Are we to conclude that our priorities are skewed, and our approaches uneven?

* * * * * * *
Ladies and Gentlemen. With this 'big picture' in mind, we can better understand the changing landscape in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

There are three main features to this changing landscape: the emergence of an extensive black market in nuclear material and equipment; the proliferation of nuclear weapons and sensitive nuclear technology; and the stagnation in nuclear disarmament.

Today, with globalization bringing us ever closer together, if we choose to ignore the insecurities of some, they will soon become the insecurities of all.

Equally, with the spread of advanced science and technology, as long as some of us choose to rely on nuclear weapons, we continue to risk that these same weapons will become increasingly attractive to others.

I have no doubt that, if we hope to escape self-destruction, then nuclear weapons should have no place in our collective conscience, and no role in our security.

To that end, we must ensure – absolutely – that no more countries acquire these deadly weapons.

We must see to it that nuclear-weapon states take concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament.

And we must put in place a security system that does not rely on nuclear deterrence.

ElBaradei spoke 11 days before Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo,

rallied California lawmakers behind the UC-Bechtel team and said the announcement had her ``dancing in the streets.''

``I thought on the merits, they delivered a knockout punch, but the politics of this have always been trending away from us, to put it mildly,'' she said. ``This is a great day for Claifornia but it's also good news for the American people, who not only have the best science and national security but also the best management for Los Alamos.''

In moments like these, the essential barbarism shines through. Advanced evidence, if our growing poverty and the "Christian" heartlessness aren't enough, is the recent exposure of fraudulent payments to UC administrators, apparently involved in another intramural feeding frenzy for public funds. These frenzies occur regularly, about as often as security breaches and fatal accidents at UC's two nuke labs. Sitting on top of a mushroom cloud is bad for the mind. Everyone wants more money, but you get the impression with these people that they think if they don't fleece the public, they don't rank.

According to ElBaradei's priorities, UC has it backwards.

A recent United Nations High-Level Panel identified five categories of threats that we face:

1. Poverty, Infectious Disease, and Environmental Degradation;
2. Armed Conflict – both within and among states;
3. Organized Crime;
4. Terrorism; and
5. Weapons of Mass Destruction.

ElBaradei's closing remark starkly opposes the danse macabre of California business and political leaders.

Imagine what would happen if the nations of the world spent as much on development as on building the machines of war. Imagine a world where every human being would live in freedom and dignity. Imagine a world in which we would shed the same tears when a child dies in Darfur or Vancouver. Imagine a world where we would settle our differences through diplomacy and dialogue and not through bombs or bullets. Imagine if the only nuclear weapons remaining were the relics in our museums. Imagine the legacy we could leave to our children.

Imagine that such a world is within our grasp.

Probably, AlBaradei had in mind the anniversary of John Lennon's murder two days earlier.

"Imagine," Lennon sang:

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

The song is an anthem for all those in the world who resist war and a view of science that holds that its greatest prestige is in the technology of mass destruction.

Notes:

www.austinchronicle.com/cols_ventura.html

I read the news today, of course, oh boy. Last year there were 21,256 murders in the United States of America. The number, and the percentage, is so staggeringly more than anywhere else in the world that you can't help but think we're at war with each other. The great majority of these people were killed not by burglars or muggers but by people they knew. We are at war with people we know. One broadcast said that what's-his-name – I don't even want to type his name – who killed John Lennon identified so strongly with Lennon that at times he used Lennon's name. He killed himself. -- Michael Ventura (LA Weekly article, December 1980)

Los Alamos in the right hands...Editorial
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/12/23/EDGU6GBNVD1.DTL&type=printable
AWARDING A NEW contract to the University of California for management of the Los Alamos National Laboratory is good for the nation -- as much as it upholds California's long-standing scientific renown. Keeping UC in charge of the nuclear weapons program it helped inaugurate more than six decades ago serves to recognize the university's unique credentials in a field vital to national security. UC was teamed with the Bechtel Corp. and a pair of other partners to win out over a bid submitted by Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest arms-maker, and the University of Texas. The new seven-year contract is worth up to $512 million, but its greater importance to UC is the scientific prestige.

UC wins fight for Los Alamos - The Deal - University beats Lockheed Martin-Texas bid to manage nation's top nuclear weapons lab...Keay Davidson, Zachary Coile
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/12/22/MNG60GBT651.DTL&type=printable
The University of California, besieged by criticism over its management of Los Alamos National Laboratory, beat back a strong challenge Wednesday from a team headed by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the University of Texas for control of the storied weapons lab it has run for over six decades. The actual decision, Bodman said, was made by Tom D'Agostino, assistant deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, a quasi-independent agency that oversees the nuclear weapons department for the Energy Department. Loss of the contract by the UC group, officially known as Los Alamos National Security LLC, could have hurt not only UC but California's reputation as a world center of scientific and technological excellence. Danielle Brian, head of the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight, a frequent Energy Department critic, asked: "What does it take for UC to suffer the consequences of screwing up? Lockheed wasn't a great alternative, but it is hard to see how UC could possibly have been given a vote of confidence. We expect a continuation of the era of chaos at Los Alamos."

UC's problems at Los Alamos Lab...
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/12/22/MNG60GBT5H1.DTL&type=printable
From January 2003 to present

UC wins fight for Los Alamos - The Implications: Bechtel partnership will put lab on a more businesslike footing...James Sterngold
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/12/22/MNG60GBT691.DTL&type=printable
Now, the famed lab faces a challenge it has long resisted: the need to change fundamentally -- from an intellectual institution devoted to science, to a facility run more like a business whose product is nuclear weapons. "The academic and public service aura of 63 years of UC affiliation with Los Alamos ... may ultimately be compromised to some degree, as yet unknown, by the profit motive of a corporation, to whose pockets will flow an extra load of national debt from American taxpayers of the future," Brad Lee Holian, a Los Alamos scientist, wrote in a popular employee blog. But most inside the lab and outside understand that Washington has embraced an approach to nuclear weapons that will have a deep impact not only on Los Alamos but also on its sister institution, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Contra Costa Times
Partnership won't affect lab's research...Matt Krupnick
http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/email/news/13473171.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
Michael Anastasio said the public-private coalition is "positively, deeply" committed to scientific research. "Basic research is the fundamental core that we bring to the country," said Anastasio, who will step down as head of Livermore National Laboratory to take the new job. "This is not a de-emphasis on science. If we do this well, this will actually enhance the science we do." The university's next challenge is competing for management of the Livermore lab,... Also Thursday, the Department of Energy announced it would fine a contractor more than $190,000 for exposing its employees to radiation while removing waste from Livermore National Laboratory in 2004.

Hairstylists coiffed the atomic hairdo. Revelers danced to the "Atomic Bomb Bounce." Hotel marquees listed detonation times. And Candy King was crowned Miss ...
www.lvlife.com/2000/01/then/story01.html

UC hush money?...Editorial
http://www.sacbee.com/content/opinion/v-print/story/14006719p-14839657c.html
Every few years, the University of California mires itself in another set of scandals over outrageous pay and perks for top UC administrators. The latest scandals, brought to light by the San Francisco Chronicle, have created a stench that now stretches from the office of UC President Richard Dynes to the office of UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. Now we learn that UC paid Celeste Rose, a former UC Davis vice chancellor, to go away, keep her mouth shut... "separation agreement" not a litigation settlement...At the best, UC officials are playing word games in claiming this payoff didn't require top-level review. At the worst, they broke UC rules or exploited a vague policy the regents need to clarify. President Dynes, stop making excuses. Release the numbers.

UC's paid leaves called 'Betrayal," Regents' edict ignored, 3 top managers were given lucrative furloughs in violation of university policy...Todd Wallack, Tanya Schevitz
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/12/23/MNG6DGCJ9T1.DTL&type=printable
More than a decade after promising to end the practice, the University of California has given several top administrators lengthy paid leaves when they stepped down. In the past 13 months alone, at least three senior managers have received paid furloughs at their executive salaries before returning to teaching. UC granted the leaves despite a policy approved by the university's governing Board of Regents in 1994 limiting paid administrative leaves for senior managers to a maximum of three months. The regents reaffirmed the limit in September. UC spokesman Paul Schwartz said the senior managers who received the leaves were tenured faculty members, who otherwise would have qualified for yearlong academic sabbaticals at their faculty pay. The charge is the latest in a string of accusations that UC hid perks and pay from the public and lawmakers. The revelations come at a time when the university has said budget constraints have forced it to boost student fees, cut services, increase class sizes and freeze pay for thousands of lower-paid workers.

nobelprize.org/peace/laureates/ 2005/elbaradei-lecture.html - 14k - Dec 22, 2005

Lübeck's dance of death (as all other dances of death) were inspired by The Black
Death.
www.dodedans.com/Epest.htm

www.merseyworld.com/imagine/lyrics/imagine.htm

lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com/

UCI misled Liver Unit regulators on staffing...Alan Zarembo, Charles Ornstein12-21-05
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-me-uci21dec21,1,5056965,print.story
As regulators threatened to close the troubled liver transplant program at UCI Medical Center last year, the hospital's chief executive provided false information to keep the unit running, according to a government document. Details of how UCI misled regulators were included in a letter sent Monday from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who is investigating inequities in the national transplant system. The troubles caught up with UCI last month, when the federal Medicare program announced it would stop paying for transplants. The program closed the same day.

Holding UC accountable...Editorial
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051223&Category=OPED01&ArtNo=512230354&SectionCat=&Template=printart
Scrutiny of University of California admnistrators is intensifying. Rightfully so. Something must be done or UC will lose what Regents Chairman Gerald Parsky describes as its "unique public trust." Californians, thousands of whom sacrifice to educate their sons and daughters, deserve to know what's been going on and how university officials are going to control and justify compensation packages of top-level administrators. Especially those who no longer have jobs to perform but still are being paid. The more scrutiny the better.

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Reform mood hits Valley

Submitted: Dec 19, 2005

Appropriate for the worst air quality basin in the nation, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District last week decided the Valley would be the first region in the nation where developers must pay an air pollution fee for the new homes they build. While the amount of the fee, less than $800, which can be reduced by various mitigating factors, is a token that will be entirely passed on to home buyers, it establishes an important principle.

The Valley air pollution fee on new development acknowledges that the public has been subsidizing new development in the Valley as air pollution descended to Los Angeles standards and is now worse in some years. The Valley public has subsidized the new development with its own health, particularly the health of its most vulnerable citizens – children and the elderly. It has subsidized development with higher health care spending. The Valley public has subsidized growth in terms of deteriorating water quality and supply, sewer, water and road expansions. Valley children have subsidized growth by attending over-crowded, deteriorating public schools.

The Valley public has subsidized urban sprawl politically through the loss of representation of its elected officials, who for years have been distracted from their obligations to the general public by their obligations to developers, who make up the largest part of their campaign financing. The system whereby any developer, from the University of California to the national homebuilders to sand-and-gravel miners, automatically indemnifies the local land-use authority (city or county) from paying its own legal costs if the public sues the jurisdiction for violations of environmental law or public process has protected local land-use decision-makers from taking financial responsibility for decisions appellate court judges on occasion find absurd – unless the University of California is involved. How could UC say or do anything absurd?

Valley children are paying the highest price. Not permitted recess periods during the increasing number of bad air days; their asthma rate is a regional disgrace. What may be producing action on the air quality front is that childhood asthma has no decent respect for income levels, affecting the rich as well as the poor children of the Valley. But, due to developer political rigging in Sacramento, the children also pay because the developers do not pay an adequate amount of money for schools to keep up with growth.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board recently refused to be intimidated by a Hilmar Cheese legal/public-relations campaign to make it back off fining the “largest cheese factory in the world” $4 million for polluted ground water. The board will soon hold a scooping meeting and public workshop to examine agricultural pesticide discharges into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

Tracy, hometown of Rep. RichPAC Pombo, under national attack for months,

authorized spending $60,000 to hire a consultant to write a plan that will identify potentially available land encircling the city's limits and address how the city can pay to keep that land pristine. If adopted, residents may continue to see acres of farmland and trees around town instead of unbridled roadways, rooftops and restaurants. (1)

It might be that the Pombo dynasty of real estate farmers is losing its grip on Tracy government. The leader of the local slow-growthers is Celeste Garamendi, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi’s sister.

The Stockton Record editorialized on Dec. 16 about preserving the Williamson Act to preserve agricultural land.

For 40 years, extraordinary measures have been taken to protect California farmland. This commitment is critically important now -- Since 1965, the Williamson Act has been the No. 1 device for conserving California's 30 million acres of agricultural land. More and more, its protections are under assault as homebuilders, developers and farmers seek ways to circumvent its restrictions. The Williamson Act is a relatively modest program that has been successful in protecting and preserving agricultural land in a state whose economy depends so heavily upon it. It's been especially important in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. There's no reason it shouldn't remain California's agricultural sentinel for 40 more years. (20)

Modesto Bee editor Marc Vashe wrote a tribute to Ralph Brown, former speaker of the state Assembly from Modesto, who wrote the Brown Act protecting the public’s right to access to governmental decisions. Brown retired after a successful legislative career of nearly 20 years, the last three as Assembly speaker. Jesse Unruh succeeded him. John Williamson was elected to the state Assembly in the early 1960s from Bakersfield. He seemed only to have served long enough to get the agricultural conservation law passed, when only years later came to bear his name.

Little is heard from the other half of the bipartisan environmental law gutting team that farmers are calling O Pomboza, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. A consortium of local, state and national groups filed suit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service yet again last week on its latest truncated, politically coerced, critical habitat designation for the 15 endangered and threatened species living in or close to the vernal pool wetlands. The largest fields of contiguous vernal pools in the nation lie in Cardoza’s district. So far, his several bills to damage or destroy the designation under the Endangered Species Act have failed but his finger prints are visible on the various slashed versions of the designation since Cardoza went to Congress in 2003.

Meanwhile, The Shrimp Slayer has a bit of a mess on his hands in his local office on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. A few weeks ago, the county announced Ruben Castillo, county counsel, would be leaving, after a lackluster defense of county policies in a number of lawsuits. Today, the rumor was that Planning Director Bill Nicholson has been demoted to assistant planning director. The new planning director, the story goes, comes from fast-growing Henderson, Nevada, where (s)he has doubtlessly burned the midnight oil studying the California Environmental Quality Act.

And UC Merced still does not have its Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand northward onto the Virginia Smith Trust land where its Long Range Development Plan said it would. This leaves the option of expanding onto the land presently designated for the University Community.

Cardoza, whose political mentors appear to be Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho and Pombo, has worked hard to corrupt both the Brown and the Williamson acts in Merced County on behalf of UC Merced and developers. That kind of reputation might be coming around to bite him if the reform mood surfacing in the Valley gathers any momentum.

Notes:

(1) Tracy to plan for open spaces...Rick Brewer...12-18-05
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051218&Category=NEWS0101&ArtNo=512180351&SectionCat=&Template=printart

(2) Keep saving the land...Editorial...12-16-05
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?Date=20051216&Category=OPED01&ArtNo=512160333&SectionCat=&Template=printart

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Deep thinking about the Valley

Submitted: Nov 20, 2005

The San Joaquin Valley is in the news this weekend. Two of the great treasuries of American intellect were on display: the University of California and the New York Times.

Kenneth Rosen, chairman of the UC Berkeley Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, lectured 500 business people on the Valley real estate market this weekend. Rosen, a real public/private, win-win partnership kind of guy, "also heads a real estate market research firm and an investment trust with $81 million in assets." (1)

His idea is that:

"A significant number of homes — 20 to 40 percent of those sold (from Merced to Bakersfield) — are being purchased by investors," Rosen said. "We're worried too many people are buying houses for investment, not occupancy."

Local Merced realtors say 60 percent but who's really counting?

Rosen imagines a situation in which interest rates would rise, valley home prices would fall, and investors would "dump their investment homes."

Perish the thought! Is it possible that stupid, anti-social investments could yield their just rewards? But, not to worry, Rosen said, there is only a 35-percent chance of a serious recession and the US economy should stay strong (despite record deficits and imbalance of trade). It's just that a lot of people buying homes on interest-only adjustable-rate mortgages could lose them. But those people would be mostly Valley citizens actually trying live in their homes, not speculators, so who really cares?

Next, the 500 business people heard from Anthony Downs, a senior fellow at hte Brookings Institution and former chairman of the Real Estate Research Corp. Downs said high home prices were driving middle-class people out of California while many poor immigrants continue to pour in.

"The state is trading mostly middle-class residents who are leaving for many more poor immigrants from abroad," Downs said. "So California's net population and poverty are both rising."

Those middle-class people left a lot richer than they came, one figures, having sold their homes in this market.

But Downs is a anti-government man at heart and so begins a fable about how local land-use authorities "discourage new homebuilding and construction of affordable multifamily complexes."

Right! " ... since homeowners politically dominate almost all suburban governments, he said, too few developments are approved."

Downs is an anti-NIMBY man, too, a real critic for our time. And if the local land-use authority policies he fantasizes are allowed to continue:

"There will be a permanent shortage of housing in California."

It could be that the invisible hand of the market is also the blind invisible hand of the market. It sure can't see the resource destruction it is causing, in case it has the brains to think resource destruction cannot go on forever without increasingly serious political, economic and social consequences.

This seminar makes about as much sense as UC studies on Valley air pollution: it is simply make-work for academics.

The Los Angeles Times produced a feature on how Valley kids go away to college and don't come back. (2)

The nicely crafted, patented LA Times nut-graph says:

When the area's most educated residents leave, "it takes away from the culture and intellectual life of the valley," said Raney, 67.

It also hamstrings the economy, strains the social fabric and puts a damper on the quality of life here in California's agricultural heartland.

Lamentations from Fresno culture-vultures follow. It might be too simplistic to note that what we lack in urban, sophisticated "cultural life" we make up for in agri-cultural life, which -- if only uttered with the utmost hypocrisy by Valley leaders in the pockets of developers -- is still the top productive agricultural region in the nation.

The reason the Valley is attracting all this high-powered urban attention is that its agricultural economy has concentrated into fewer and fewer hands as the generations have gone by. Today, there are many farming parcels of a size very attractive to developers for subdivisions. Hence, LA and the Bay Area are frustrated because the Valley, still dominantly agricultural economy cannot support all the people developers want to build houses for. And there is all this speculative money just looking for a home, any home, anywhere, even if the speculator cannot get enough rent for it to cover the mortgage.

To reply to the LA Times piece about brain drain and the terrible "Third World" economy we have here, let us say: the problem in the Valley is the people WITH college degrees, not those without them because the people with degrees are so busy separating themselves from those without them, they do nothing but obfuscate and establish obfuscating organizations like the Great Valley Center, to study how to beautify Highway 99 rest stops and co-opt potential grassroots leaders with a little grant money, some wine and cheese, and a guaranteed career in community betrayal.

Throughout these articles and a spate of others in recent days like them, never the E-word is heard. There is no thought of balance between urban and rural, town and country, the developed and the open spaces. It might take an old Californian with an ear smashed to the ground to hear it, but our intellectual and media leaders are doing their usual number: ignoring and burying a problem that stands in the way of the quick development buck. California is so besotted on developer wealth it can no longer imagine anything more creative, intelligent and sane than building subdivisions (complete with low-income components) on flood plains. That is the extent of the remaining economic imagination -- pathetic and empty.

The Valley looks ripe. Its communities have been rendered deaf and dumb by political corruption and immigration. Its land is now arranged into neatly vendible parcels. Willing sellers and willing buyers seek each other’s company. The speculators are too dumb to know. So, let a win-win, public/private partnership, by all means, fleece them. By the way, forget the people in the Valley because, obviously, they are uneducated. Actually, don’t quite forget them, declare culture war on them for not supporting the arts in Fresno or for not buying all these houses or for not making more money. Above all things, get their land, such as they still have it.

All that stands in the way of creating a slurb from Bakersfield to Redding is a few environmental laws, regulations and resource agencies. UC Merced set the new standards for coping with these obstructions: build it anyway and dare the resource agencies to enforce the law with politicians climbing up their backs in track shoes.

Oh, and one other thing: an economy to support this slurb, because man cannot live by strip-mall alone. Even in Sacramento, very rich in strip-malls, there is that ever-expanding state government to keep pumping money into the smoggy slurb.

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

(1) 11-20-05
Modesto Bee
Investors like valley housing...J.N. Sbranti
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/11504268p-12241760c.html
Here's a new name for the San Joaquin Valley: "Affordable California." "A significant number of homes — 20 to 40 percent of those sold (from Merced to Bakersfield) — are being purchased by investors... if interest rates rise, the valley's house prices may decline and investors could dump their investment homes. Because of the housing crunch, Downs said there is a large-scale domestic migration out of California. "The state is trading mostly middle-class residents who are leaving for many more poor immigrants from abroad," Downs said. "So California's net population and poverty are both rising."

(2) http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-braindrain20nov20,0,7804653.story?page=2&coll=la-home-headlines

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Hearst v. UC

Submitted: Nov 18, 2005

In California, you still don’t want to get the Hearsts too angry with you. The arrogance and often ludicrous propaganda of the University of California has been for years more than a match for state Legislature committees and Congress, but apparently it has finally managed to irritate the Hearsts. There are rules, after all, and at least some newspapers will eventually get fed up with a diet of pure flak from a university.

 Read More »
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UC prestige and opulence

Submitted: Nov 15, 2005

“UC gets $8 million to study San Joaquin Valley's bad air...” (1) trumpets this morning’s Fresno Bee. Variously called “the most” or “one of the most” polluted air basins in the nation, depending on the month or the intent of the writer, San Joaquin Valley air is bad, Fresno’s childhood asthma rate is four times the national average, and things aren’t getting any better.

 Read More »
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