Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tracy e-mail case update

OK, not so much of an update, more of a reminder.

To recap: The city of Tracy is still trying to withold e-mails from the public based on the assumption that if they're sent from a private e-mail account they're private. Even if the content is about a public matter.

The news: I saw on Editor Cheri Matthews' blog yesterday (yes, I stole this quote and concept from her) that a court case similar to the Tracy case was recently resolved in Texas. It was ruled that even though a city official's communications were made via personal Blackberry, the records were open to public scrutiny:
"This is a really important decision," said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. "One of the arguments we're seeing emerge among public officials is that certain delivery platforms or technological devices should be, by their very nature, private, because they own them, or they keep them in their pocket. The delivery platform doesn't make any difference. It's what the content of the message is. If the content of the message is about governing, then it should be public."
Let's see if this precedent helps the case against Tracy.

State of the Union redux

Cheap jokes aside (see, yesterday's blog), President Bush's final State of the Union address stole the headlines this morning despite its lack of sweeping proposals or calls to action.

In essence, the speech was a defense of his past policies and proposals while simultaneously deferring blame for shortcomings to Congress. It was an early pitch for the president's legacy as he envisions it. A quick recap on the issues Bush touched upon:

Iraq: Nothing new here, as the president promised a continuing indefinate and long-term committment. The president lauded the American-led offensive in Iraq that has reduced casualties from the highs of 2006 and 2007 to 2004 levels. However, political successes have been few and far between, with the president citing an imperfect de-Baathification law and the "Anbar Awakening" as successes to build upon. By extending his committment to a prolonged committment, Bush has effectively transferred the political ramifications of true withdrawal (and no matter when that is, there will be plenty) onto a successor.

Health care: Came down against "government-run" health care and proposes making it easier for people to acquire individual insurance instead of just through their jobs. Unfortunately, he failed to address the root of the nation's health care problem: As long as health care is a for-profit endeavor, it will continue to serve investors rather than the sick.

Economy: Many analysts expressed a bit of surprise that this was not a bigger centerpiece of the president's speech. He continued to express long-term optimism while saying the short-term will be tough. The president's long-term solution is etching in stone his tax cuts. This will be a big battle in Congress, as many representatives there feel Bush's tax cuts unfairly favor the top teir of earners.

Terrorism: The central part of the president's speech concerning the War on Terror concerned allowing warrantless wiretapping, as a six-month provision allowing the practice expires Friday. This means that no new warrantless wiretaps could happen (not, as the president suggested, that current taps would be cut off). Furthermore, Bush wants to give telecommunication companies amnesty for breaking federal privacy laws in assisting the government's warrantless spying operations. Not only would such amnesty prevent companies from being punished for breaking the law, it would effectively deny investigators the opportunity another window into the extent and nature of the government's warrantless wiretapping program during the past six years. The Congressional majority asked for a 30-day extension to further debate amendments to a more permanent wiretapping bill, but the White House and some GOPers in Congress refused. Bush essentially wants to railroad a bill through the Congress that will protect industry and his White House, while using the truncheon of national security (and being tough on terror) as his leverage in an election year.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Breaking news from the White House

I've just obtained a copy of President Bush's final State of the Union address that will be delivered later today. Here follows the transcript:


Ladies and Gentelmen of the Congress, distinguished guests, and citizens of the United States of America...

The State of the Union is screwed.

I'm sorry for making such a mess of things the past seven years. Hopefully, my precedessor will do better.

Thank you. Goodnight. And God bless America.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Whose Chamber of Commerce is this?

The Tracy Chamber of Commerce is an entity devoted to promoting — and improving — business in Tracy. Then why, oh why, did it choose to host its annual awards gala in French Camp?

The River Mill in French Camp will get the business of Tracy's own chamber. They didn't have it at a gussied-up community center, catered by a quality local joint like Shorters or Bartoni's. They didn't even choose an area chain like Texas Roadhouse. Nope, French Camp was the obvious place to go.

There are only two logical explanations for this.

The first is that the chamber doesn't want to be accused of playing favorites. But it shouldn't be that hard for the "best and brightest" business minds in the city to come up with a way around that, right?

The second explanation — and my personal odds-on bet — is that someone tore a page from the phone book, taped it to the wall and threw a dart (poorly) to decide where to have the gala.

Either way, the chamber missed out on a chance to improve the fortunes of a Tracy business and in the process contributed to the image that someone responsible for driving an economic engine is asleep at the switch.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• A Wolf in sheep's clothing: So Paul Wolfowitz was instrumental in instigating the Iraq war and was dismissed for being a shady character at the World Bank. So why do we want him in charge of a State Department arms control panel?

• Now that's a ringing endorsement: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's resisted backing any presidential contender, told me and other journalists Wednesday he'd endorse any presidential candidate who cut California a $14.5 billion check.

• My highest recommendation to: Alex, a bartender Wednesday through Sunday at Ralph's Club. Not only is he a great guy, he makes a mean martini.

• Might fall under the category of "Not a good idea": The Sacramento City Council is going forward with plans to build more houses in the Natomas area, even though the federal government has declared it a flood hazard zone.

• No wonder he said a 10 percent cut to education is "unrealistic": Assemblyman Kevin de Leon told reporters Wednesday that if 10 percent is cut from the state education budget, it totals out to $800 per student statewide. According to statistics on the Tracy Unified School District Web site, that totals out to more than $13.3 million just for Tracy.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I'm not getting up until it's as warm out there as it is in here."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reality check's in the mail, too

This morning those brilliant financial minds that brought you the federal deficit unveiled their newest plan: tax rebates straight to the taxpayer. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, the check's in the mail.

The average working American adult can expect between $600 and $2,000 from the government, depending on if you're single, married, and how many kids you have. This cash infusion is supposed to help bolster the sagging economy and stave off recession.

But if you're smart, when you get that check, you'll either pay a bill, pay off some debt, or put it straight into a savings account. Which would kind of defeat the purpose of giving away money to boost the economy.

Let's face it, if you're given a check for $600, you're not going to go out and buy that new Porsche you've been dreaming about, but you could pay off a tiny bit of your crushing student loans, put it toward that skyrocketing mortgage, or get a one-month reprieve on your car installment.

I can't help but feel this is a shortsighted approach designed to make taxpayers think their representatives are doing something to help. While this might give a measure of breathing room for a day, a week, or a month, most people need much more than this. They need systematic changes to how government allocates and collects its money.

And we haven't even begun to discuss how this expenditure will help fix a deficit of $250 billion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I must be in the wrong line of work

In journalism (as with most professions) if you screw up — I mean royally, totally, screw up — you get fired. Or, at the very least, you get reminded that you need to do better. You certainly don't get a pay raise.

But not those corporate executives.

In 2007, the top five Wall Street investment houses awarded their management bonuses totaling $39 billion.

For comparison, those companies' stockholders in total earned $11 billion that year. And three of those companies (Merril Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns) lost $11.23 billion.

I'd say I need to get into that line of work, but I really don't want to be guilty of that kind of robbery.

Advice for the next generation

It used to be that you told kids to marry well. Seems that's changed a bit. I heard this advice — suitbable for a generation that has a divorce rate of about 50 percent — between mother and daughter today:

"Marry young, divorce well."

Tongue in cheek? Who cares. I've got another line to file away in my "Classic Advice Handbook."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

This might be called leadership

Check out this quote from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, talking about how he now thinks better of some of the policies he pushed in his first four years in office:

"I have learned a lot of things where I felt one way before I went into office, and all of a sudden you learn things are not quite this way and you change. People call it flip-flopping. I would rather flip-flop when I see something is a wrong idea than get stuck with it and stay with it and keep making the same mistake."

That's how a real leader talks. Wonder if any of the presidential candidates are listening?

Tough times for San Joaquin County

The Christmas season is usually a good time to find work — at least temporarily. There's always a mall somewhere that needs folks to sell the latest cell phone carrying case. So it's not good news that the December unemployment rate for San Joaquin County jumped to 9.7 percent.

Nope, not a misprint. That's nearly 1 in 10 employable persons in San Joaquin without a job. If the country's headed toward a recession, our little slice of California seems to be the vanguard.

Consider the foreclosure fiasco (Stockton, the Foreclosure Capital of the Union, led the charge). Consider the collapse of industries linked to housing (figures reported in another local paper show nearly 2,400 county jobs disappeared in construction and real-estate related fields in 2007). Consider the record number of families seeking help from charities this winter (you remember the line for Brighter Christmas, don't you?).

Times are indeed getting tough. They're going to get tougher. And no rebate or insta-tax cut from the government is going to fix it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday random thoughts ...

• How stupid do they think we are? The White House now says those millions of e-mails it lost either were never missing or never existed. At least the administration doesn't have to worry about a credibility issue — we already know it doesn't have any.

• Listen to the man, Grand Theatre naysayers: Mayor Brent Ives says "The council and community have to be patient with the Grand as it finds its traction." In other words, give the place a chance to work its magic.

• Will testosterone render him unable to make peace with warring nations or make him more likely to act without consulting others? Interesting how male gender stereotypes get no mention, but gender questions about the first viable female candidate for president are considered perfectly appropriate by some pundits.

• Hope they don't end up in the hands of Sunni insurgents: What do you think will happen to the $20 million in arms we just sold to Saudi Arabia?

• No, you lie about it and then go to war: President Bush, saying in a recent interview that pledging to go to war generally doesn't win you elections.

• One under-the-radar presidential candidate is considering me for secretary of state: If you don't believe me, read Mike McLellan's Ethics & Values column in Sunday's Tracy Press. (Although I'm honored, I'm worried the association might sink this guy's shot at the White House).

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "When you're great, people often mistake candor for bragging."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sad news for San Joaquin shutterbugs

If you still like your camera with film instead of a memory card, today is a sad day.

The Stockton Record is reporting that Gluskins — a fixture of local photography for some six decades — is closing its doors. It seems that the digital revolution is not without casualties.

I, like many folks who grew up in Stockton, have a personal connection to the family-owned shop. Gluskins developed every single photo that appeared in the St. Mary's High School yearbooks from 1999-2001 (when I was a staff member, copy editor and editor-in-chief). It's where I processed my photos from the 22-day blitz I took through Europe between junior and senior years of high school. It's where I go when my Pentax doesn't seem to work.

Gluskins spent years helping people capture their own history. Now, it's history too.

So if anyone can recommend a good Tracy photo shop, please let me — and other readers — know about it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Just gimmie some truth

Ever feel like every politician is lying to you? So do the guys at FactCheck.org. They've been especially busy dispelling the half-truths and flat-out-lies of the young presidential primary campaign, and both Democrats and Republicans (hell, every candidate still out there) is guilty of one distortion or another.

Check it out. If, that is, you can stand it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Romney fights for his life

Mitt "Made for TV" Romeny has already won the Michigan primary, according to Drudge Report, with about 10 percent of precincts reporting.

It's good news for the Romney camp, because the win will allow his flagging campaign to fight another day. A loss to Sen. John McCain would have galvanized media support and attention for the Vietnam War veteran and solidified his position as frontrunner. It would also have essentially knocked Romney out of top-tier status.

Despite the victory, Romney's chances for netting the GOP nomination are dim. So far in this election, voters have valued authenticity and conviction (or at least the perception of such). That bodes ill for Romney, who's changed his positions more than once (and in a very short time period) and seems to have no problem with it. He makes the 2004 "flip-flop" of Sen. John Kerry look like the stubborn steadfastness of Winston Churchill.

Romney's Tuesday victory will likely only postponing the inevitable.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What makes Tracy special

What sets Tracy apart from its over the hill cousins, like Livermore, to the west and valley siblings, like Stockton, to the north?

A couple weeks ago I was just outside town off Durham Ferry Road, and watched a man ride up to a corner market, hitch his horse, and stroll inside.

My guess is that kind of thing doesn't happen most places. It's a slice of Tracy's rural roots that still exists, right next door to the urban cool of the Grand Theatre. That, to me, is pretty special.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Maybe I could join the CNN crew...

The past two weeks, alert readers have caught errors in my columns (links to the corrected Web versions are here and here).

My errors are pretty inexcusable, and I'm sorry for them. In a profession in which credibility is everything, mistakes are killers.

But at least I'm in good company. What with the entirety of newsdom predicting an Obama landslide in New Hampshire — essentially giving him the keys to the White House before the first primary in the nation — there are plenty of journalists wiping egg off their faces lately.

Hopefully taking accountability can restore some measure of public trust. Not that the public trusts the media to begin with ...

Friday random thoughts ...

• But when will they come over the hill? Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, has secured federal funds for a public bus system between the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station.

• Because you can't keep a conniving strategist down: Karl Rove, still plying his trade, still trying to sink the Democrats.

• Because you can't keep a councilwoman from trying to keep out the middle class riff-raff: Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker, for voting against a city program to give developers incentive to build more affordable housing. (The measure passed 3-1.)

• Someone had to state the obvious, because those knuckleheads sure weren't figuring it out themselves: President Bush, telling Israeli and Palestinian leaders that both sides will have to make concessions to reach a peace agreement.

• Since they've actually got a plan, maybe we should see if it works: Councilman Steve Abercrombie, mayoral candidate Celeste Garamendi, and local sports guy Karl Enzmann have laid out the rough skeleton for meeting local youth sports needs.

Thank the snow gods by skiing! After quite the dry 2006-07, the Sierra snowpack is currently at about 110 percent of its to-date annual depth.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sneak preview: The 11th District campaign

A press release that showed up in my e-mail today gives a pretty good indicator of how the 11th District Congressional campaign will be run.

Dean Andal, the former Assemblyman, who is challenging Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, will try to make this a campaign about economics, specifically taxes. His campaign has already chastised McNerney for favoring the "largest tax increase in history" — which is misleading at best.

That's really a reference, which will likely appear in stump speeches from now until November, to McNerney's desire to let large chunks of the Bush tax cuts (which went mostly to the wealthiest Americans) expire. McNerney's actually come out in favor of a reduction to and possible eventual abolition of the estate tax, as well as keeping his earmark requests to projects that seem mostly worthwhile to the district (list here).

"The Club for Growth PAC" — a group that favors making the Bush tax cuts permanent, school vouchers and all manner of deregulation — has given its gold star to the fiscally conservative and anti-tax Andal, while portraying McNerney as a "Nancy Pelosi look-alike" up to his ears in pork.

Expect the rest of Andal's 11th District campaign to follow this blueprint.

Pop that pill

This is just our daily reminder to always take our prescription medication.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hurrah for (most of) the City Council

Tracy's City Council takes a lot of flak, not least of which from me. So let me congratulate the council for doing something right Tuesday night when it passed an affordable housing initiative.

Well, at least the majority of council members did something right. Faced with the opportunity to give developers incentive to build more high-density, low- and moderate-income housing, Mayor Brent Ives, Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert and Councilwoman Irene Sundberg all gave the green light.

Councilwoman Suzanne Tucker essentially said not in my backyard, wondering aloud if more low- and moderate-income homes would degrade the "character and higher standards we've worked for years to put in place."

Notice to those who can't afford suburban McMansions: someone doesn't want you here.

Luckily, four of five public representatives decided to address Tracy's need for affordable housing — a need that has been overlooked for some years. Hopefully, builders will take Tracy up on its incentive plan to provide more housing for young professionals and blue-collar workers.

Following through with this first step can only lead to the city becoming more diverse and vibrant — something that seems to go hand and hand with character.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Those pesky critters

Newsflash from Nevada: if levees have holes in them, they're likely to break.

This was the scene Saturday in a small Nevada town where a levee broke under strain from heavy rain — and from burrowing critters who likely made the levee look like Swiss chesse from the inside.

The lesson shouldn't be lost on San Joaquin residents. We've got plenty of levees, and no shortage of ground squirrels, with each passing moment making our tenuous flood defenses weaker. Maybe it's time for an emergency hunting season.

Please don't lose the ethical point

As I mentioned in a follow-up comment to my Jan. 4 column, a vote made by Mayor Brent Ives in 2002 is still under investigation by the Fair Political Pracitces Commission, according to reliable source and complaintant Mark Connolly. This fact was misrepresented by myself in the original print column -- my apologies for that. I have since updated the Web version of the column.

In a strange twist, I found late Friday that one of the Tracy Press Web site's serial commentors had taken my factual update and posted it on every story on the site. But focusing on that revelation misses the point, to a certain extent.

Regardless, whether that investigation has been settled or is ongoing is besides the point (as is whether the vote by Ives was a big deal or not -- my guess is it's not). The bottom line is that Tracy can only benefit from a comprehensive ethics code. I simply hope that point is not lost.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Rainy day indulgence

Note to readers: This is an inspired work of fiction (though I guess you’ll be the judge of its level of inspiration) that came to me on this rainy Friday. For the usual "Friday random thoughts," scroll to the bottom of this entry.

“It’s wet today.” That’s about all the explanation you’d get from the men lining the bar at The Shamrock, taking solace in a bloody Mary or Irish coffee. And you’d be lucky to get it. These are Stoics. They are not quick to smile or laugh, and when they do it is a long, drawn out laugh deep in the throat. They are not much for talking. This is why they are at The Shamrock in the first place — there’s not much call for conversation at a bar at 11 a.m. on a Friday when you’re staring down your third dose of vodka and tomato juice. So they shoot sideways glances and say, “It’s wet today.”

Mother Nature would be displeased to hear their description. She woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, and she decided to let someone know about it.

It’s raining so hard that you can see the wind. It comes in sheets and billows — wet, cold, flowing linen hung out to dry on a blustery day. The rain is wedded to it, like young lovers oblivious to the buffets and bruises of the world, until their union is smashed to pieces on your windshield, brushed aside by cruel, callous wipers.

You can see the wind on the road, making ripples on the water pooled in the pavement’s rills and potholes. These are potholes the city said it would fix, when the time was right, one council member said during a meeting on an especially sunny November day. Unfortunately for Rachel Mertz, who was trying to avoid the flooded streets turning half the city into lakefront property, the time wasn’t right soon enough. Her 1987 Buick was swallowed nearly whole just after noon when the weight of her front-right tire expanded a pothole on Jackson Alley into a full-blown sinkhole, taking half of a neighbor’s garage with it.

Rachel was OK. She climbed out and examined the damage. Staring at the crumbling garage and crumpled Buick, she decided to just wait for the tow truck and homeowner — good things come to those who wait, even those who have caused front-page news. She thought about how to explain the event to the reporters, with their cameras and voice recorders hanging on every tick and word. She knew better than to drive down a barely paved alley in this city’s downtown, let alone in a driving rainstorm that had turned the hamlet by the Interstate into a small town again, pockmarked with puddles, temporarily shut off from the outside world.

Friday random thoughts...

• Column errata: In the print edition of my Jan. 4 column, I misstated that then-Councilman Brent Ives cast a vote in 2004 regarding a company he once consulted. The vote actually occurred in 2002. The correct date is included in the Web edition of the column. My apologies.

• Another quandary to consider when dreaming up a city ethics code: Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert has raised nearly $45,000 without disclosing the name of any contributor because all her donations are less than the legal reporting threshold.

• And one more: Councilman Steve Abercrombie had to figure out a way to continue his D.A.R.E. education as a "volunteer" to prevent a conflict of interest.

• Because people seem to like the idea of changing the broken political system: Barack Obama and the Iowa caucuses.

• Because you can apparently sleepwalk through a campaign and still get people to vote for you: Fred Thompson and the Iowa caucuses.

• Because, now that you consider it, you really don't care what a bunch of podunk-nowhere Iowans think: Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and the Iowa caucuses.

• Make it stop. Please, make it stop: If you care at all about the San Francisco 49ers, read this. It might not end the hurting, but at least someone empathizes.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Are you making any resolutions for the new year?" "Resolutions? ME?? Just what are you implying? That I need to change?? Well, buddy, as far as I'm concerned, I'm perfect the way I am! For your information, I'm staying like this, and everyone else can just get used to it! If people don't like me the way I am, well, though beans! It's a free country! I don't need anyone's permission to be the way I want! This is how I am — take it or leave it! By golly, life's too darn short to waste time trying to please every meddlesome moron who's got an idea how I ought to be! I don't need advice! Everyone can just stay out of my face!"

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Primary faults

It's difficult to believe that the Iowa caucuses are already upon us. It's even more surprising (OK, so maybe it's disheartening, but not surprising) that what happens in the churches and basements and living rooms in Iowa will so greatly affect how California votes in one short month.

No more than three candidates in each party will be alive for the nomination by the time Californians get to vote in the primaries. More than likely, each party will be down to a two-horse race. This, of course, is months before the national conventions, where nominees are still technically decided.

It's an American tradition indeed. But that doesn't make it a good one.