Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• City budgets in crisis: Vallejo might have to declare bankruptcy. Sacramento will lay off 500 employees. Tracy has a rainy-day fund that will save it much grief in the next few years. But if things don't turn around soon enough, could we be next?

• If you need a dose of spring after January's rains, drive down Chrisman Road south of town. The almond blossoms make it look like the trees are covered in snow — they smell like heaven.

This article does a good job of explaining that while the war in Iraq might not be causing the recession, we could sure be using those more than $1 billion dollars a day for a better cause. Like, say, universal health care.

• In this week's edition of "That's a good sign for the economy," countywide sales of homes jumped by about 200 homes from December to January. Of course, most of those are homes that have been in foreclosure.

• In this week's edition of "That's not a good sign for the economy," San Joaquin County's jobless rate climbed up to 10 percent in January.

• Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger might be barking up the wrong tree with the peripheral canal, but his call to cut water use in the state by 20 percent and to stockpile emergency levee repair supplies is the sign of a forward-thinking guy.

Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "Pretty convenient how every time I build character he saves a couple hundred dollars."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A positive foreclosure spin?

It seems the real estate industry has put a positive spin on the foreclosure boom.

In Saturday's Tracy Press, on Page 27 in the Real Estate Marketplace section, Realty World boasted of "Foreclosure Tours Every Half Hour."

Is it just me, or is it a little disturbing?

In related — and equally pathetic — news, The Associated Press reports that only 33 percent of all households in California can afford an "entry-level home." And that's an improvement.

Save the date for stadium names

Circle March 11 on your calendars, because that's when two committees will return to the Tracy Unified School District board with their suggestions for naming the West High pool and stadium and renaming the Tracy High football field.

The Tracy High field — now named after early football booster Peter B. Kyne — will likely stay the same. But the stadium attached to it will probably be christened after legendary local hall of fame coach Wayne Schneider.

What's less certain is the names that will be offered for the West High facilities. I've already been on record boosting for Pinkie Phillips Pool and Steve Lopez Stadium after the longtime Wolf Pack swim and football coaches. Lopez has told me he'd be honored (as long as it isn't called Steve Lopez Memorial Stadium, he stresssed).

Here's one last plea to the naming committees to give two large figures in the short history of West High sports their due.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Let the water wars begin

Latest report out of Sacramento is that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is mulling an executive order that would start construction on a Peripheral Canal.

Recall that the Peripheral Canal is one of the most controversial ideas in state politics at the moment, and the Legislature can't decide whether to pass it or send it the way of the 1982 canal proposal. That's probably because most of the people representing the Central Valley know that a peripheral canal will siphon water away from rivers and sloughs that farmers and fish depend upon to meet the demands of south-valley farmers and residents in the what would otherwise be desert hills of Los Angeles.

The Peripheral Canal will undoubtedly alter the Delta, and, many fear, would render impossible any attempt to restore it to some semblance of a health.

So why is the governor apparently willing to skip the legislative process? Well, this governor has never had much patience for the wrangling and compromise of the Capitol. I'd also guess that the powerful interests of Southern California were too much for even the Governator to oppose.

But if a Peripheral Canal is built (and it probably shouldn't be), it needs to be done with all the major players aboard. If this report is true, then the Central Valley is being left out of the loop, and local farmers, fishers -- and Mother Nature -- will pay the price for the rest of the state's unquenchable thirst.

Hey, remember me?

You'd think President Bush would be happy we'd almost forgotten he was in charge, but no. He's trying to hang on to a little of the spotlight that's being stolen by his would-be successors, and he's doing it by doing what he does best. Campaigning. Specifically, fundraising for his party.

And of course he says a GOP candidate will replace him as president. That shouldn't be a surprise. I mean, what should he say, that he mismanaged the country so badly that he's tainted almost all of the Republicans who once supported him?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chiming in on Tracy's identity

Last Saturday's column, in which I pitched the slogan "The Crossroads of California" for Tracy, generated quite a few other ideas in addition to those who felt my idea deserved a serious look from the City Council. A few of my favorites:

"Agriculture to Asphalt." ~ lester 1

"A hit man with a pit bull, a tattoo artist and lots of lots of Chryslers with expensive wheels." ~ MrCheese's Brother

"Welcome to Tracy — Don't wear red." ~ ConcernedParents

And one quick hit that couldn't be left out:

"The 'eau de Tracy'? Obviously they never smelled the air in north east Tracy on a warm summer day." ~ Kathy

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• Some things change, some things stay the same ... until further notice: The Tracy Press has gone down to publishing in print two days a week shortly after going to three days a week. This will be the plan until things change again.

• If this is what it takes to rally the party faithful, the party faithful might be in trouble: GOP donors flocking to Sen. John McCain only after a recent NY Times article with questionable intent.

• Who says spring is here? Old Man Winter is ready to make an encore February appearance, as experts predict a wicked weekend in the Sierras.

• San Joaquin County is safer than you'd think, but days like this don't help: Three men were shot Thursday in Stockton in two different incidents.

• And next you'll tell me that water is wet: Evidently Karl Rove tried to find, or create, dirt about an Alabama Democrat. How is this news?

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "I like these cold, gray winter days. ... They help you savor a bad mood."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

They're all wet

Today in Sacramento state leaders are knocking their heads together in an attempt to find ways to expand the state's water supply.

The only consensus likely to come from the meeting is that California needs to both expand its water supply and cut back on how much it uses per capita.

It would be interesting to make the price of water reflect its true cost — which would mean someone in desolate San Bernardino would pay through the nose, while folks in wetter Eureka could fill their swimming pools with change found in the couch.

But that probably isn't going to happen, which is probably a good thing. California's water crunch needs cooperation, not another water war.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Star Wars — 2008

Let's not wet ourselves with excitement over the next coming of a missile defense program — even if the pending missile meeting with a doomed satellite goes as the Pentagon plans.

If this is a success — and the military admits that's far from a given — consider still the following items: There's only a 10-minute window that the Navy has to shoot the satellite on the first go-round, and inclement weather might shut the window entirely. The planners have had days to study and orchestrate this. And top brass continue to downplay the chance of success.

So now that you're informed, how excited are you for that Star Wars plan? Do you want to spend billions of dollars on a system that might not work even under perfect and non-apocalyptic conditions? Want to entrust the off-the-cuff downing of nuclear missiles to a system that might not even shoot down a satellite with many days of planning? (Or, want to give more welfare to huge weapons and aerospace companies at the expense of taxpayers?)

Even if the Pentagon does shoot down the satellite on the first try, does any of this instill confidence in the old Regan-era plan?

Thought not.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Goodbye Fidel, hello Raul

What happens when a revolution lasts for several decades? It becomes the status quo.

The next revolution in Cuba, now that Fidel Castro has stepped down as its head of state, will likely be an economic one. His successor, Raul Castro (yes, they're related), is known to favor a slight liberalization of the economy.

If the U.S. is smart, it will dump sanctions and the embargo and take advantage of any free-market leanings of Fidel's successor. The best hope for democratizing Cuba isn't another revolution, but to make inroads via the economy. Because change isn't likely to come with a continuation of the status quo.

Political dissidents will not have any more leeway under a Raul regime than they did under Castro. Some commentators have called Raul, the country's military leader, "the most feared man" on the island. His ascension to power was smooth and planned. He won't rock the boat on his own. But the influx of U.S. economic stimulus that would come from lifting sanctions might create enough waves so that he has no choice.

So presidential candidates, take note: Unless the status quo is altered, there will be no change in Cuba.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday random thoughts...

• Yes, the Delta's health is truly on the way down: And the fact that I can sit on a levee and pull a (non-native) striped bass out any day of the week shouldn’t be taken as anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

• In the "From one devil to another" category: Yahoo exploring a deal with News Corp. so it doesn't have to partner with Microsoft.

• This is what happens when non-news folks control news organizations: The New York Times will lay off 100 newsroom staffers. Notice the paragraph in this article that explains the move is because of stockholders. (Something tells me those two hedge funds don't have solid journalism as a priority.)

• Aren't you glad that whole national debt thing isn't worrying them anymore? Congress and the Roger Clemens saga.

• Kathy Griffin wasn't the only "D-List" thing at the ceremony: Evidently, the Chamber of Commerce made up an award for Giffin's assistant for bringing some pub to Tank-Town. Kudos for Tiffany Rinehart, anyway. It's not easy to find something fun to do for a living.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "How on earth do you do this??!" "These things just seem to happen."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Let them eat wedding cake

Today in Stockton, gay and lesbian couples descended on city hall to ask for marriage lisences. One guess as to how that went over.

But the public protest was as good a way as any for the folks there to remind the rest of us that "They're here, they're queer, get over it."

As far as unions of same-sex couples go, I say let it happen.

It always seemed hypocritical to me that the defenders of the "sanctity of marriage" rail against including loving same-sex couples in the institution, but seem to lose their fury when the topic turns to heterosexual spousal abuse and divorce.

There's no reason to discriminate against monogamous, deeply felt love, even if it crosses traditional gender boundaries. Let the bell toll for lovers on Valentine's Day, no matter whom is the recipient of those feelings.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The best thing since color TV

I'm of the opinion that the writer's strike is the best thing that happened to American TV viewers since Technicolor. Some polls I've seen say I'm not alone.

As the strike dragged on and people got more and more used to seeing less and less fresh programming (and *gasp* found things to do besides watching the boob tube), it became increasingly clear that more viewers found themselves responding "I don't care" and "It doesn't affect me" when asked about the strike and dearth of new TV shows.

Maybe — just maybe — it's the start of a tiny cultural revolution. Perhaps it gave folks the idea that television isn't as vital to life as they once thought. It could even lead to the rediscovery of a few long-lost cultural artifacts.

At least I can hope.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My six-word memoir

We're in the process of collecting six-word memoirs. (Read about the project here.)

So submit your personal ode to life in brevity to or leave 'em right here. I'll start it off with my own, even though this is subject to change as events progress:

"Surpirsed I made it this far."

Letting the lawbreakers go

So the Senate went ahead and approved legislation that would forgive telecom companies for illegally helping the government spy on Americans.

But the plan doesn't just give the phone companies a Get Out of Jail Free card, set precedent that private companies can be coerced into spying on citizens and shaft those who had their phone records snooped. It also broadens the surveillance powers of the government in a time when the executive branch has consolidated power and — to be kind — taken liberties with the rule of law and Constitution.

Scary business.

Cheers, however, to Sen. Chris Dodd, who spoke for 20 hours on the Senate floor in an attempt to stall the legislation.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

(Belated) Friday random thoughts...

• I'd run for office, but I don't want to be a criminal: According to this story, the president and Congress are pulling all-time low approval ratings. Could it be because of this? This? This? You tell me.

• Most. Expensive. Ego. Trip. Ever: Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

• But you could have known he'd drop out a week ago from looking at this blog: Mitt Romney got absolutely no votes for president in my highly unscientific poll that closed Election Day. (If you're keeping track, Obama beat out closest competitior Rudy Guiliani 6-4.)

• And you thought the red-state blue-state battle was bad: A recent Tracy Press report about a kid suspended for wearing too much of a known gang color at school (even though he says he's not in a gang) has drawn more than 200 comments, not a few from local parents. Look them over. If you wonder why kids these days seem so crude and vulgar, this might give you an answer.

Because they realized they need TV more than viewers do: A tentative resolution to the Hollywood writers' strike.

• Calvin and Hobbes quote of the week: "These are interesting times. We don't trust the government, we don't trust the legal system, we don't trust the media, and we don't trust each other! We've undermined all authority, and with it, the basis for replacing it! It's like a six-year-old's dream come true!"

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The downfall of journalism

There's slightly more concern about the future of the newspaper industry after recent reports indicate both cyclical and structural revenue patterns for newspaper are headed south — fast.

Companies and newsrooms across the country are facing — or have already faced — deep cuts in staff and resources. Yet profit margins at some of the big boys, some of the ones making these huge slashes on the face of serious journalism, remain a normal stockholder's dream.

Even though the raw dollar figures are down, Southern U.S. newspaper chain Media General reported a 17 percent profit margin for 2007. Gannett, the nation's largest paper chain, saw margins of 21 percent.

(Note: Despite these heavy-hitters, some papers truly are just trying to stay afloat.)

Ironically, the Internet means more people than ever read newspapers, and more people expect the type of hard-hitting, fact-digging journalism that these budget cuts tend to hurt.

It's a downward spiral, and until newspapers are either content with smaller profits or find away to fully harness the Internet as a money-making tool, the profession will continue to degrade.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

And the winner is ...

OK, so by now everyone knows that Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton won the California presidential primary. But no one scored a knockout punch (McCain landed a haymaker on Mitt Romney's chin but didn't take him down).

McCain will still have to defend himself from Romney attacks in the coming weeks if Romney's Tuesday night pledge to keep on fighting all the way to the White House is for real. Even though McCain appears to be in an unassailable position and on the way to the GOP nomination, it's still a long road.

But if the road to the Republican nomination is long, the Democrats' road is marathon-esque. Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama are, for all intents and purposes, still on equal footing. They'll be fighting for the nomination possibly all the way to the convention.

I see this as a great thing for the Democrats, as it means both Clinton's and Obama's supporters are still going to be very interested — and invested — in the process. There are no disaffected clothespin crossovers throwing their support behind Clinton or Obama because "They're better than the old white guy" (that would be whichever candidate the GOP decides on).

So there's a chance that the Democrats will have two viable candidates with lots of support and interest headed into the convention, while many Republicans will likely have heard more attack ads leveled at McCain and still decided that he's the lesser of two evils.

Of course, it could also mean the GOP has time to rally around McCain while the Democrats pick themselves to pieces, leaving them vulnerable, unprepared and depleted for the general election.

Either way, this is a real campaign with real choices. And that's almost enough for now. Almost.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fat Tuesday Election Day

They should really have Election Day on Fat Tuesday — a day to gorge on jambalaya, guzzle a few (dozen) carbonated malt beverages, and bare body parts for beads — every year. At least, that way, when we end up shaking our heads seven years later wondering "How the hell did this happen?" at least we'll have an answer.

(Actually, I recommend voting before boozing. Really.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

A sign of the apocalypse?

So Ann Coulter says she'd rather vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton than Republican John McCain in the general election.

This means:
• Hell has a new ice-skating rink, swine ranchers are mourning their departed charges and the Earth is about to fall off its axis, or
• She's making a cynical move in an attempt to damage McCain, or
• She's making a cynical move in an attempt to damage Clinton, or
• She's even more unstable and crazy than we thought. (My personal choice.)

Election cycles are scary, sometimes. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Friday random thoughts ...

• A secret anti-scrapbook agenda? I'm waiting for someone to say that I'm happy a local business is leaving the old JC Penney building because of today's column about the departing scrapbook store. Not true. I think it's a cool store and belongs downtown. I simply don't think it was the best fit for a 20,000-square-foot building.

• Here tough times: Some will no doubt scramble to blame the coming $9.6-million 2008-09 city deficit on Measure A. The slowdown in home construction instigated by Measure A definitely affected revenue. However, if city growth had been sensible to begin with, voters never would have had to pass Measure A, and this mess would be much more managable, even with a tanking economy.

• There tough times: Tracy Unified School District faces budget cuts of $6 to $7.5 million for fiscal year 2008-09. That means something's gotta give in an already stretched-thin district budget — arts programs are probably already in the crosshairs.

• Everywhere tough times: Despite Stockton's claim to fame as the nation's foreclosure capital, Nevada leads the country as far as states go. About 3.5 percent of the Silver State's homes are in foreclosure.

• Cheap thrill of the week: When I saw snow Monday on the hills south of Tracy — and again on the hills east of San Jose on a drive to the coast — I was giddy. True story.

• Enough to upset an anti-war guy, even: The Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 to tell the Marine Corps recruiters in the city they're "unwelcome and uninvited intruders." These council members should direct their beef to the asleep-at-the-switch Commander-in-Chief, not the men and women turning their lives over to their country's service. Even if we succeed in de-glorifying war and understand it for the grisly mess it is, we should still thank the heavy lifters of the armed forces for what they do.

Message to Berkeley: It's best not to make these guys feel unwelcome in the country they're pledging to protect. Especially when that includes you.