Thursday, May 31, 2007

Friday random thoughts...

Note: I've been sick the past week or so, so the blog's been neglected. I'll get back on the horse, starting with my usual Friday random thoughts, cheap shots and bon mots.

• In January, I wrote this column about the tragic accident that killed Michael Ucci and injured Bret Clifton, Marie Ucci and Justin Baker. I said then the time wasn't ripe to make it an educational experience. But now, thanks to the wonderful efforts of Ken Ucci (and Bret Clifton), I'm glad to say that moment has arrived.

• The family owning the controlling shares of Dow Jones & Co. are meeting with Rupert Murdoch about a renewed takeover possibility. For the love of God and all things journalistically holy, please let the Bancrofts say no again.

• Hunger knows no season, but giving sometimes does. One more reason to help contribute to the food drive that begins this Sunday in Tracy.

• I recently re-read the transcript of the second Republican presidential debate, and I found Rep. Ron Paul's candor regarding foreign policy as refreshing as I found Mitt "Made for TV" Romey's desire to look as tough on terrorism by promoting torture disgusting.

• So the state pumps are shutting down to help out the Delta smelt. That's great and all, but I'd prefer a long-term solution to a 10-day Band-Aid for what ails the Delta.

• Random thought of the week: "I'm pulling for ya... we're all in this together."

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week "If people could put rainbows in zoos, they'd do it."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• The fact that the Delta smelt can no longer survive in their natural habitat — because of toxic releases, competition from invasive species, damned rivers or giant pumps sending water hundreds of miles away — shows we’re running out of time to fix the Delta.

• And I'd rather not water crops with water that can't support fish life.

• After arguments, it sounds to me like a judge is going to rule in favor of the Tracy Press in a lawsuit against the city seeking a councilwoman's records. That's probably a really premature statement, but if the Press does indeed win, will the city appeal?

• Check out the comment by alert reader "owl" at the very bottom of this article by Bob Hendricks. It's one of the most succint rebuttals I've heard to the evidence often paraded about by those who refuse global warming.

• This pork isn't so bad: That $20 billion in "pork barrel" projects attached to the Iraq war spending bill includes hurricane disaster relief, health care for low-income children and a minimum wage hike.

• Illegal immigrants are paid less than American workers, so, it is said, American workers are often priced out of work. So immigration bill opponents want to prevent illegal immigrants from becoming legal? Last time I checked, if they were legal residents, employers would be forced to pay the legal minimum wage because the then-legal workers would have legal recourse. So how would making these illegal residents legal ones be bad for American workers? By making the immigrants compete on a level wage grade? I don't get it.

• I'm not one to trust the government or people who stand to profit from keeping secrets from the public. But I'd sure like to see some actual evidence before buying into this conspiracy theory presented by an activist covered by this John Upton report.

• Loyalty is more important than competence in some circles, it appears.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I think conversation should be kept to a minimum until afternoon."

• Random thought of the week: "While you enjoy a day off this Monday, remember the honor of the men and women who died in the service of their country."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Can we punish them yet?

Some opponents of the new bipartisan immigration bill are afraid that it offers a too-easy path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.

Forget that the actual proposed process might actually be too complicated for most high-school educated, home-grown American citizens. The fact that hardline opponents of illegal immigration are balking at this measure kind of astounds me.

The biggest problem most of the immigration opponents bring up is that we don't want to reward illegal behavior. This bill would give those responsible — and able — enough to achieve a perfectly legal avenue to citizenship. That's right folks, this new bipartisan bill encourages people to follow the law.

It's not the path to citizenship that is available now, or will be after the legislation would expire, but it's a chance for to legitimize people who are going to be in our country anyway. That way they can pay taxes and contribute to society, the other big beefs espoused by hardline immigration opponents.

So the push to make it even harder for those currently in the country to become citizens must not be to ensure people follow the law, and it must not be to ensure illegal immigrants contribute to society. It must be to punish those who have already come to America seeking a better life.

Punishment is the only reason to make the current proposal tougher (do illegal immigrants honestly have $5,000 lying around to pay so they can become citizens?)

I don't know about you, but forcing people to live on the margins of society without adequate recourse to social, medical and educational services seems like punishment enough.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• With the City Council's 4-1 Tuesday decision, it looks like an aquatics center — and an Ellis subdivision that again pushes Tracy growth westward — is a foregone conclusion.

• I have a solution to Tracy's crime problem that will also give youths something constructive to do: arm all our children with shotguns. My inspiration for this two-birds-with-one-stone idea is Howard Ludwig, an Illinois man who obtained a gun permit for his 10-month-old son, "Bubba." Seriously, I couldn't make this up.

• Of course, just giving guns to our toddlers, children and teens would be irresponsible. We'd also have to arm the teachers.

• When's the "COPS" Tracy edition? Local police cruisers will soon be outfitted with dashboard cameras to capture video of traffic stops and pursuits.

• And voter participation stats show we're losing our attachment: "The strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectively be broken down and destroyed — I mean the attachment of the people." ~ Abraham Lincoln

• It's far from perfect, but the new bipartisan immigration bill might be the best chance of uniting Republicans and Democrats to do something about the long-neglected issue of illegal immigration. (I'm concerned about the exorbitant fees charged to become a citizen of the country.)

• Frist blood: No one should be surprised that Dean Andal's first salvo in his campaign against Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, was an iffy characterization of McNerney's vote to let some measures of the Bush tax cuts expire. After all, it's been pretty good strategy in politics lately to latch on to a catch phrase instead of actually discussing the policy points in question.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Nothing spoils fun like finding out it builds character."

• Random thought of the week: "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."

Stop using soldiers for political cover

In today's Tracy Press, alert reader Mike Horn blames Democrats for leaving troops in the lurch.

Of course, all of Mr. Horn's arguments could be turned on the president and his refusal to compromise regarding measurable success and accountability. So I guess it's all a matter of how you look at it.

But what's really distressing about Mr. Horn's commentary is that, in its second half, he uses the troops as a political football. He's using soldiers — flesh and blood men and women he ostensibly supports — to advance a policy point and agenda. Namely, that the Iraq war is worth fighting. So are most of the backers of this war.

When politicians and citizens talk about pulling funding for the war in Iraq or pulling out because they think it's the right thing to do policy-wise, war proponents hide behind the men and women in uniform.

The supportive statements sound well and good, but beneath the patriotic invective to support our sacrificing countrymen and -women is the terrible truth that the soldiers are being used by the very people who say they support the soldiers the most.

Example: When a war opponent says staying in Iraq is bad for the country (policy statement), war opponents could reply: "We must stay in Iraq to support the stability of the country, region, and thus advance our interests in a historically volatile region. We need money to fund this important goal." (another policy statement)
Unfortunately, what often comes out is: "War opponents want to leave our troops without the funding they need. They're endangering servicemen and -women in Iraq. We must have the money to give them the tools for the job."

I say, if you believe the war is a good thing for America, Iraq, the Middle East, the World, say so. Please, let's talk about that. There's plenty of room for policy debate on policy merits. But don't use America's finest as cover for a policy agenda. I believe that's a form of disrespect to those in uniform — not to mention a cheap and craven way to look at politics. The troops deserve better than to be used to score points with voters.

I'd say every sane American wants to keep our troops safe, even if there are different ways of accomplishing that. Let's give them their body armor, rations and paychecks, but let's not confuse wanting to take care of their basic needs with making a policy decision about a war.

So let's have a policy debate about Iraq without using soldiers for political cover. We might actually find a solution to this four-year-old conflict.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Where will the Reverend end up?

It's bad manners to speak ill of the dead. Not to mention that it feels like I'm bucking for a lightning bolt from the great beyond, especially when the dead guy in question claimed to be a man of God. But when it comes to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, I'll make an exception.

Claiming to be a messenger of God and a follower of Christ, Falwell had a vengeful and spiteful interpretation of the Lord (he claimed the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina were God's punishment of an America gone astray — nevermind that the Christian god is supposedly one of unending love and forgiveness).

He also stoked the fears and prejudices of society, again, not something the Jesus of the Gospels would have done. Most notably, Falwell's campaign against the rights of homosexuals in this country should be viewed as something entirely un-loving and un-Christian. (Keep in mind, in the four Gospels Jesus mentions homosexuality a total of zero times, and is not mentioned in the entire Bible more than three or four).

Falwell was truly a visionary, a man who transformed religion from a private conviction into a made-for-media, publicly consumable product. He extended a powerful hand toward millions, and millions returned his offer. He offered hope and strength to many, but his politicization of religion (remember the "Moral Majority"?) is one of the most dangerous things to happen to U.S. democracy since World War II.

His legacy is far from decided. But from this early vantage point, it might be a legacy of lesson — that those who say they do the work of God often turn out to be false prophets.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• Speaking of a city with walls I: Thank goodness that the decision was made to not fence off the 2007 Tracy Dry Bean Festival like last year. I guess it was simply too ironic to close off what is supposed to be the most inclusive event in the city's calendar.

• So the city manager's office thinks Measure A is to blame for the city spending more than it takes in? could've sworn that an increase in discretionary spending or a flailing housing market would have been the obvious culprits. Good thing the fearless Dan Hobbs is there to set us straight.

• Anyone care to wager how long Hobbs' statement is used to wronly justify short-sighted deals with developers for sports parks? Let's see, from when I'm writing this the Tracy Press should hit the stands in about five hours. So my over-under line is five hours.

• The Iraqi parliament plans on taking a break while American troops continue to die to try to secure their country. Hopefully the Bush administration can put some pressure on Iraqi lawmakers to stay in session. Because if they're not going to break their backs to save their country, why should Americans?

• Speaking of a city with walls II: Walking around my old college campus last weekend, I saw the chunk of Berlin Wall that sits proudly on campus. It reminded me how happy people were when it was torn down, and what a source of tension and hatred it was. (Baghdad generals, are you listening?)

• One more reason to fight for open government: it's hard to speak truth to power if you don't know what the powers that be are doing.

• Pester Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, during his office hours this weekend. The more people who express their concerns to him, agreeable or not, the better the 11th District will be.

• Random thought of the week: "It's already been sung, but it can't be said enough. Love is all you need and all you need is love."

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Mom won't let us play with guns." "I get to be the zoning board!"

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

His way or the highway

The White House again refuses to compromise regarding Iraq. Check out the latest explanation of why the Bush administration refuses any kind of accountability.

No surprise there. From the start of this war — ever since Sept. 11 — the administration has busted its collective behind to get into this war. Even if the CIA had found no suggestion of Weapons of Mass Destruction (which several credible UN and US sources rightly said were bogus) you can be sure the White House would have led the march to war under some other guise.

Now that it's there, the president has said he'll veto a second spending bill that would actually prolong the war. (Yes, there is some solace in the fact that if the president keeps vetoing these bills, he will actually be the one responsible for ending the war. One can only hope.) The reason he rejects the newest spending bill is because it makes him and his generals accountable for a war that was ill-conceived and botched from the beginning.

And that's not surprising, either. This administration has a horrible track record when it comes to accountability — it's always the fault of someone besides the folks ultimately in charge.

When it comes to the Bush White House, the buck always stops somewhere else.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Friday random thoughts

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Do you have an idea for your story yet?" "No, I'm waiting for inspiration. You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood." "What mood is that?" "Last-minute panic."

• Look for an upcoming Voice commentary that says the Tracy Press owners, local activists and myself are part of a shadow effort to control Tracy at a whim and for court fees. Perhaps the author of this piece perhaps projecting a little bit of self on the situation.

• I must admit, the concept for Tracy's new multimodal station looks great. Kudos to The Surland Cos. for a good job. I only hope Surland doesn't get any special back scratching from the city for the brilliant pro bono work.

• Thanks to everyone who tied a purple ribbon or tried to light a candle in the wind this week in honor of the American Cacner Society's "Paint the Town Purple" week. You guys are, in the words of a co-worker, rock stars.

• A local air pollution control board decided it's OK to postpone making the Central Valley air cleaner. I don't know if they've looked out the window on a hot summer's day, but there's a big smog problem here. The valley's the second-most polluted basin in the U.S., after L.A. Postponing the 2012 deadline for cleaner air to 2023 won't help anyone breathe easier.

• The collapse of Interstate 580 didn't completely cripple Bay Area transportation. But it's a poignant reminder of how fragile our transportation systems are, and as to how more public mass transit would take some load off our overburndened and vulnerable highways.

• I lose that kind of money all the time: How is it that Delta College Trustee Dan Parises failed to mention $2.5 million in income on his economic interests filing? Even if it was an innocent mistake, maybe someone who can "forget" about $2.5M shouldn't be in charge of a college.• Don't be fooled, we're in it for the long-haul: The U.S. has been building large, permanent bases with the lion's share of Iraq construction funds. The higher-ups in Washington have no intention of leaving anytime soon, even if there is a "withdrawal date" that somehow passes Bush's desk.

• A few of my recent columns have taken to task the public conduct of Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker. I don't mean to pick on any one person in particular, but it's hard not to when I see an elected official constantly make decisions that I feel are not in the best interests of the people. Trust me, it's nothing personal.

• Random thought of the week: "I'll let go when you let go."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The tentacles of News Corp.

Rupert Murdoch is at it again. This time, he tried to add the Wall Street Journal to his congolmorate media empire. Fortunately, his $5 billion offer for the company and newspaper was turned down by the Bancrofts, the family with controlling shares in the Dow Jones Co.

Thank goodness.

Murdoch is one of many media owners who have crushed quality and independence in the media in the quest for a profit. The more consolidation, the fewer viewpoints, the more corporatized media becomes. While that might be good for the moguls who control the companies, it's bad for consumers and democracy, because with a greater emphasis on profits, newspapers and other news outlets are less willing to take on the real investigative, muck-racking projects that give journalism value.

Under corporate ownership, with cost-cutting and layoffs the prime drivers to boost profits
(look what happened at the L.A. Times), journalism becomes a sweatshop, machinized process, with more celebrity news and less true substance.

And it's a wonder why Americans don't trust the media? Look no further than its latest corporate incarnation.