Monday, April 30, 2007

Belated Friday random thoughts...

• West High School was the subject of intense scrutiny April 23 when a Tracy Press Web comment said there was a bomb on the campus. Good for everyone exercising due caution in case the threat was real, but it's worrisome that all a person might have to do to shut down school for a day is post a comment on the TP Web site.

• On a related note: If the accuracy and neutrality of this Tri-Valley Hearld article is any indication of the paper's standards, I'd say the only thing it's good for is to line bird cages or housetrain pets. All it represented correctly was that there was an actual bomb threat.

• Does anyone else find it disconcerting that The Surland Cos. has given the Tracy City Council free rednerings for both the City Hall project and now has done the same for the proposed multimodal transit station? Could Surland possibly be trying to sway influence with the council while a possible deal with the city is still very much up in the air?

• Wearing purple for the May 1 "Paint the Town Purple" event would be a good way to show support for the American Cancer Society. Donating money or time as a volunteer would be even better.

• President Bush insists that a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq would be micromanaging. Guess he never took an actual business class, because a timeline would be classic hands-off management. Passing the war spending bill with a timeline is essentially saying to the generals and decision-makers on the ground that they have a certain time to get things done and will be provided all the money and resources they need to do the job to the best of their abilities. So what Bush really wants, it seems, is a neverending war that isn't managed at all.

• On a related note: The president says he's willing to compromise about the Iraq war spending bill, but he's also clearly said he's not willing to compromise about deadlines, his only objection to the current bill. So what the hell is he talking about? My guess is either he's lying or he's lying.

• Many in Tracy's faith community will participate in Thursday's National Day of Prayer. I'd personally prefer a national day of action. Maybe we can start one, and the days of prayer and action could be a two-day event, with action preceded by careful thought (now wouldn't that be novel in today's society).

• Random quote of the week: "Look before you leap. There might be sharp, pointy rocks below."

• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week: "Weirdness always starts at home." "Even when you look for it, you're never prepared for it."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More developer deals...

One more thought about building more sports facilities in Tracy.

I spoke Wednesday to Pamela Sloan, Stockton's director of Parks and Recreation. She told me that Stockton is about eight months away from completing a $5.4 million soccer complex (eight fields, a concession stand and parking for 320 cars on 35 acres) But it's only costing the city $2.4 million.

Sloan told me that once the grant’s awarded, “you can be up and building within an 18-month or two-year period.”

Free money for a three year wait? Sounds better than waiting decades for developer deals with strings attached. I wonder if the city of Tracy ever looked into this option?

Note to readers: Friday Random Thoughts will be posted Monday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The blurred line between journalism and PR

This item was buried on Page B2 of Wednesday's Stockton Record.

It's about the chief of the Record's Lodi Bureau of 9 years and 20-year newspaper veteran, Jeff Hood, accepting a job as the city of Lodi's first spin czar (what they call a spokesman).

It makes me wonder if Mr. Hood wasn't getting too chummy with city officials while he was working in Lodi. It's not unheard of for journalists to get into public relations or visa versa, but this switch — from one who covers an organization to one who runs interference for that same organization — strikes me as a little incestuous.

Not to impugn Mr. Hood's integrity without knowing the true reasons and circumstances surrounding his move, but moves like this don't help journalists already struggling to assure the public that they are independent reporters of truth who don't get too close or friendly with sources.

As more and more people — and news organizations — mistake press releases and spin for reporting and truth, the line between journalism and public relations becomes blurred. And when former journalists start working for the folks they once were supposed to bring to task, that line gets even more blurry.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• Hero of the week: Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old professor at Virginia Tech, held closed a classroom door so students could escape the wrath of Cho Seung-Hui. He died at the hands of the gunman. It figures that Librescu would help save others from an unconscionable killer — he was a Holocaust surivor.

• Do as I say, not as I do? A couple of weeks after pushing an ethics code, Councilwoman Irene Sundberg addresses the council as a business owner regarding a topic in which she had to recuse herself because of a conflict of interest. In the name of those ethics, it probably would have been a better idea for Sundberg to leave the room, as I've seen Mayor Ives do when talk turns to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, his employer.

• Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, raised about $350,000 in the first quarter of 2007 for his pending re-election bid. His prospective competitor, Guy Houston, an Assemblyman, had almost $200,000 in cash on-hand as of the fourth quarter of 2006. Looks like the 11th Congressional District race could become another big-money magnet.

• Want bigger boobs? Party on! One Florida radio station is offering free breast augmentation to the woman who "parties the hardest" during a contrived slumber party.

• Number of the week: 71. It's the number of times Attorney General Alberto Gonzales essentially told the Senate Judiciary Committee "I forgot" in response to questions that he has not been forthcoming (read: lied) about his involvement in the firing of eight U.S. prosecutors.

• I don't know about you, but I would hope that the top attorney in the United States would have a better memory than that. But I shouldn't make fun. He might have early-onset Alzheimer's and just forgot about it.

• Thanks to Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert for lending support to further protect Tracy's trees. Established, leafy trees, or the lack thereof, help determine the character and beauty of a community. Just look at L.A. ... case in point.

• Random thought of the week: "If it's all you can eat, why do they kick you out at the end of the night, even if you're still eating?"

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "In my opinion, we don't devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Vigilance is the price of liberty

In Tuesday's Tracy Press, commentator Larry Hite (see the Voice section) reminds us that not all mistakes by government officials are evidence of malfeasance. To that end, he recommends we essentially take our leaders at their word when they say "Trust us." Unfortunately, that's not enough.

It's a Pollyanna view to think that all our leaders are trustworthy. Just in the past two months we've learned that the FBI and the Bush administration — who said "trust us, we won't misuse this power," when the Patriot Act was passed — have indeed abused the powers granted by that legislation. In fact, it's those who say "trust me, don't bother with meaningful oversight" who are usually the ones we need to watch most closely.

Larry's right in saying that not all mistakes are unethical. But our leaders can only be trusted to the extent that we can see for ourselves what they are doing. Without laws that guarantee public oversight and transparency, there's no way we can tell for ourselves if mistakes are indeed honest.

A promise from politicians that they won't do anything wrong simply isn't enough. Would that it were.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week: "Talk show hosts, political candidates, news programs, special interst groups... they all become successful by reducing debates to the level of shouted rage. Nothing gets solved but we're all entertained."

• No matter what the reasoning is, it looks very, very bad when three of five Tracy City Council members voice opposition to a proposed ethics code.

• Evelyn Tolbert's pledge to not take any campaign donations over $99 sounds egalitarian and downright democratic. Nevertheless, I'd be very intersted to see from whom she collected more than $43,000 in eight years of fundraising.

• Lawrence Livermore's most recent application to the local air quality district says it might put into the air up to 450 pounds of depleted uranium each year from tests at Site 300. Anyone care to take a deep breath while the wind is blowing from the west?

• Does anyone else find it ironic that pro-war folks — people who used cherry-picked, faulty intelligence and fearmongering to justify an unnecessary war that was secretly years in the planning — are now accusing those who want to end this war as being "reckless?" It boggles the mind.

• If I see Anna Nicole Smith's name on the front page of one more cable news Web site, I am going to scream.

• Take it from Mr. Imus: Whoever first said "Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me," probably issued many public apologies.

• Seriously though, that whole sordid incident shows us two things: No. 1, that words are very powerful and effect the way we view the world; No. 2, that it's too easy for the entire nation to get swept away by some stupid celebrity's ignorant comments.

• Random thought of the week: "Aim low. That way, if you fail, you don't have so far to fall."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tracy takes after White House

Note to readers: This blog has been expanded into a column running Friday, April 13

It seems that Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker might get some support in her fight in keeping secret her e-mails with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from a very powerful place — the White House.

It seems that White House operatives used unofficial e-mail accounts to do business with the likes of lobbyist and felon Jack Abramoff so they were not captured by the White House's automatic archives. The conversations were conducted through out-of-house accounts because those, they reasoned, wouldn't be subject to searches by prosecutors and investigators in the case of criminal proceedings or lawsuits. (Read about it here.)

Sounds similar to the Tucker situation, in which she has conducted business concerning her role as a City Councilwoman and liaison with Tracy Tomorrow and Beyond through a private e-mail account, then claimed that the e-mails were exempt from public records act requests because they came from a private e-mail account. (Read about the law carefully here and you'll see that these e-mails clearly fall under the law's scope.)

When it comes down to it, public officials may still conduct public business on a private e-mail account. Or on a private cell phone. Or via private snail-mail letters. That might be an everyday matter of fact or convenience, but when this happens as an attempt to hide dealings from the public (or when used as an excuse to accomplish the same thing) the public trust is violated. This is a proven way for people in power to try to sidestep rules that try to keep them from engaging in underhanded behavior. Politicians who execute this "artful dodge" have no business serving as elected representatives.

It's usually a compliment when you say a City Council member conducts themselves like the public servants in the White House. In this case, it's an indictment of an official who refuses to level with the public they represent.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Who to trust about Global Warming?

Check out this story about Global Warming.

This is the strongest ever report issued about manmade climate change, and it was toned down by hundreds of reputable scientists, mostly because Saudi Arabia and China urged for weaker language.

Hmmm — one of the world's largest oil producers and one of the world's largest oil consumers (eventually to be the largest by far) wanting to weaken a report saying people must reduce carbon emissions, emissions that come from the burning of fossil fuels. Why, I wonder if those two countries have a vested economic interest in influencing science?

A lot of Global Warming naysayers accuse the vast majority of the world's scientists of fudging science because they have a vested interest in proving that humans contribute to climate change. But these scientists, who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of predictable and observable truth, surely have less of an incentive to alter the science than countries, companies and politicians who rely on fossil fuels for wealth and power.

Who would you trust: Scientists who want to make the world a more livable, healthier place; or those who could lose billions of dollars if we follow the advice of said scientists?

Just fuel for thought.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• WinCo Foods will come to Tracy after being OK'd by the City Council. Wal-Mart's SuperCenter is likely to follow suit, especially because it doesn't require a zoning change like WinCo did. Only problem is, Tracy needs WinCo a lot more than it needs a SuperCenter.

• How long will it be before folks start calling the new City Hall "Tracy's Taj Mahal"? (And yes, the Taj Mahal is a masoleum).

• A lot of folks (especially in the TP Web comments) defend the war in Iraq by saying: "If we pull out of Iraq, the terrorists will follow us home." Following this line of logic, we must either fight there until we kill all the terrorists so they can't follow us, or we must never leave, because if we do they'll simply follow. If you know anything about terrorism, you know that no one will ever be able to completely stamp out terrorism. Ever. So, what I guess these folks are saying is that we need to stay in Iraq until the Second Coming. Talk about defeatist.

• Will the city give the Tracy Press the e-mails of Suzanne Tucker, as it clearly should under the State Constitution, or will the city insist on wasting time and taxpayers' money by fighting what will certainly be a losing court battle?

• Mountain House residents seem like they're itching to form their own city. But with only two businesses in the whole community and only the possibility of more within a year, is this tract-home hamlet really going to be ready for independence as soon as residents want it to be?

• Britain says "quiet diplomacy" — not invasions, not guns, not bombs — secured the release of 15 sailors and marines from an often-hostile Iran. Was President Bush taking notes?

• I think it's a moral imperative that we provide every U.S. citizen with health care. But when folks make their point by giving children who don't know any better signs and marching slogans (look at the second picture) it really doesn't help the credibility of the cause.

• Randomest thought of the week: "Consistency: It's only a virtue if you're not a screwup."

• Calvin & Hobbes quote of the week: "There's no problem so awful that you can't add some guilt to it to make it even worse."

••• Attention all alert readers! You're probably wittier than I am. Send me your quips and outlandish quotes at •••