Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The governor just signed into law a package of incentives for municipalities and homebuilders to reduce sprawl and embrace smart growth.
The package is more a step in the right direction than a final destination, but anything that helps communities develop in a way that weans them off the auto and onto public transit (or even bikes and foot power) is, well, helpful.
This doesn't mean the Central Valley won't become the next Los Angeles Basin. But it's another tool for those of us who love elbow room between compact and pedestrian-friendly cities.
Almost every economist I know rejects the Paulson approach and argues instead for directly injecting capital into the banks. The taxpayers give them the money and then we own some, or all, of the bank. (That's what Warren Buffet did with Goldman Sachs.)
This isn't about begging for a sliver of equity as a concession for a $700 billion bailout, this is about constructing a bank rescue the way that business people would do it. We have an interest in a well-operating financial system. There is zero public interest in giving away taxpayer dollars to the Wall Street banks and their executives.
This seems like a pretty good idea, and would balance the necessary evil of spending gobs of taxpayer money with the benefit of the taxpayers gaining meaningful investments, instead of just the act of saving the banks.
Maybe this is the next approach our legislators should take while tackling the biggest issue of the day.
I wrote Saturday, in an open letter to Rep. Jerry McNerney, that despite anger at having to use taxpayer money to help consumers who made poor loan decisions and Captains of Industry who abused their positions, sensible taxpayers would understand if a reasonable bailout plan prevented a wholesale collapse of the finance sector and the many businesses, large and small, that rely on it. We just didn't want $700 billion in our money disappearing into a corporate loophole.
Well, McNerney voted "Yes" on a bailout that most analysts have comed to view as a necessary evil with reasonable checks and balances, but a majority in the House did not.
The result was a record plunge on Wall Street, wiping out more than $1 trillion in stockholder value. If that's only an omen of things to come, maybe a $700 billion bailout isn't the worst thing that could happen.
Friday, September 26, 2008
6:01 p.m.: The format is novel. We'll actually get to hear them ask each other questions. Let's see where this one takes us.
6:05 p.m.: Already Obama's relating foreign policy to economic issues. He knows his strength is not foreign policy. It'll be a tug-of-war between Obama pulling this toward domestic issues and McCain staying on as foreign a turf as possible.
6:07 p.m.: McCain playing the empathy and bipartisan card — sticking to his campaign's narrative of a guy breaking bonds with his party.
6:11 p.m.: Both are sticking to generalities. Why did I expect more in the first few minutes?
6:12 p.m.: McCain should be reminded that greed is how unfettered capitalism works, not some strange abberation of the system.
6:13 p.m.: Obama — "day-in day-out responsibility" — what a concept.
6:16 p.m.: McCain makes a soft jab at Republicans in power becoming corrupted by it... wonder if that'll come back to bite him in a Saturday morning ad?
6:18 p.m.: And he takes a hard jab at Obama's "pork-barrel spending." McCain's best shot so far. But the night is young.
6:20 p.m.: Obama cuts across McCain and corrects him on the details of Obama's domestic spending proposals, and then brings it back to the original question, and then reframes his plans in terms of the Bush-McCain narrative. That's Debate 101.
6:24 p.m.: McCain goes into health care and the definition of "rich" — definite Obama strong suits.
6:26 p.m.: They're both accusing the other of lying. To each other's faces! CATFIGHT!
6:30 p.m.: McCain is hammering home the "fiscal conservative" theme, and even brought out the "most liberal voting record in the Senate" tag. And I thought we might avoid the culture wars this evening.
6:33 p.m.: Moderator Man steps in and tries to get a straight answer about how the financial crisis will affect their presidenital budget plans. And McCain offers and off-the-cuff "spending freeze" suggestion, and Obama pounces. Touche!
6:35 p.m.: Where did McCain get the Hillary Clinton reference from? Did he forget that Obama is no longer running against the Senator from New York?
6:37 p.m.: McCain claims socialized medicine is Obama's goal and substitutes his idea for ineffective tax breaks. The old socialist saw still has teeth.
6:40 p.m.: McCain lists the number of positions on which he has differed with President Bush (torture, tax cuts — positions which he has flip-flopped on since the primary election) and refers to himself as a maverick. In the same sentence! Someone at a college campus just had to pound two beers and a shot of Yukon Jack.
6:41 p.m.: How'd it take this long to touch on Iraq? We are still spending billions of dollars a month there, right?
6:46 p.m.: Obama calls McCain "wrong" about 49 times in 15 seconds.
6:49 p.m.: Nuance points to Obama — clarifying the voting record between him and McCain voting to fund or not fund the troops, and stating that the difference is in the strategy on timetables in Iraq not support of the troops.
6:51 p.m.: Moderator Man says "having resolved Iraq." I know it's in jest, but I still want to stick my hand in a toaster.
6:57 p.m.: Good foreign policy parry from McCain. This is, after all, his strength, and he sounds much more comfortable here than in the domestic arena. But Obama just zinged him by calling to mind his purported hot-temperedness after McCain called for restraint in dealing with Pakistan and other Mideast allies.
7:00 p.m.: McCain recalls his war service. Someone on a college campus just drained a tall boy of Bud Light.
7:01 p.m.: Deuling stories from parents with children in the armed forces overseas.
7:09 p.m.: This is what people wanted, an exchange showing clear differences between the approaches of Obama and McCain. There are differences in diplomacy styles, approaches to Pakistan in Iran, but, surprise, they're both in support of Israel. Never woulda guessed.
7:13 p.m.: Low blow. Obama calls out McCain on his Spain gaffe a week or two ago. Keep the gloves up, gentlemen.
7:14 p.m.: Equalizer. McCain calls Obama "naive" and his policies "dangerous."
7:18 p.m.: Obama again takes a hit, appearing less decisive and too Slick Willie-esque as McCain accuses him of "parsing words."
7:21 p.m.: McCain is hitting his stride — he's found the juvenation machine — and Obama's flagging after a strong start. This past 15 minutes is the best McCain has looked since his "the foundations of our economy are strong" comment two weeks ago.
7:26 p.m.: Obama brings it back to economic and domestic issues, a last chance to try to retain the high ground.
7:29 p.m.: Sept. 11 doesn't come up until the last minutes of the debate. Can you imagine how this could have been different if Rudy Giuliani was the GOP nominee?
7:32 p.m.: McCain hits the Iraq "victory" and "sacrifice" once more. And hits him for lack of experience. Then actually ties Obama's position to Bush's stubbornness and lack of flexibility. What planet am I on? (Hitting face repeatedly with keyboard).
7:38 p.m.: And that's a wrap, folks!
I score a victory for McCain thanks to a very strong second half after Obama clearly was stronger out of the gate, when the debate was focused on domestic policy. This bodes well for Obama in the long run, because the closing debate will be about domestic issues. However, expect the news today and the rest of the week regarding the debate to be slightly favoring McCain's performance. Obama showed up to play and made his positions clear and showed that he has a clear command of the material, but in the echo chamber to follow this weekend, McCain's "he doesn't understand" charge is likely to reverberate, even if Obama showed that he can stand up to the pressure.
The lack of true sparks was disappointing, as the pair looked too polished and stiff to really take advantages of the format's potential for a bare-knuckles verbal brawl. But there's nothing wrong with keeping things civilized (compared to all those sleazy TV ads).
Have fun with the weekend, all. I'm going to get back to work...
• I guess they were serious about that "no confidence" vote: The teachers union at Delta College is recommending the ouster of all incumbents running for the board of trustees this election cycle.
• Can't we all just get along? Guess not: The jousting continues between farmers and conservation groups over the future of Delta water exports.
• Can you say "using a crisis for political gain"? Considering John McCain has admitted he's not well-versed on the economy, his postpone-the-debate-to-help-the-economy move looked disingenuous on its own.
• Can you say "maybe they're working together on this"? But McCain's move looked downright craven coupled with the House Republicans' holdout, offering a convenient opportunity for McCain to "bridge" a gap that appeared almost overnight.
• See, West High-Tracy High really is a friendly rivalry: Lincoln and St. Mary's high students got into a fight over their schools' "rivalry." In an In-N-Out parking lot.
• Scary finance-realted thought: Your individual share of the national debt is approximately $27,000.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I think she's overly generous describing many of the proposition's supporters.
It's not that they're defending "traditional marriage," the definition of which has changed through societies and time (witness polyandry and polygyny). What they're trying to codify in state law is a particular interpretation of Biblical precepts.
Some supporters of Proposition 8 don't even try to hide their desire to blur the separation between church and state. Others are more subtle, but the end game is the same.
The problem here is simple — religion-driven Prop. 8 supporters confuse the role of the state and the role of the church.
When it comes to religion, marriage is a holy institution blessed by God.
When it comes to the state, marriage is a freely entered contract between two able-minded adults.
One has to do with salvation, the other with taxes. See the difference?
The state has no business getting into the realm of sanctification and Sacrament, but that's exactly what the religion-driven pushers of Prop. 8 want to happen. They want religion tied up in state law. Make no mistake, they're pushing theocracy.
Everyone should have the right to practice religion freely — so let churches and individuals condemn same-sex marriage all they want. It's their right.
But it should also be the right of same-sex couples to have the rights and priviledges via a secular state-codified contract that heterosexual couples have. That's why Proposition 8 deserves the no vote it's likely to get.
Yet despite the success, further conservation efforts are needed to offset rising water rates and a steep decline in water supplies from a key Northern California source, experts say.
"We need people to understand that we no longer have enough water going forward to even meet normal demand," said Ryan Alsop, government and public affairs director for the Long Beach Water Department.
"There needs to be a paradigm shift in our relationship with water ... not only in Long Beach, but everywhere in the region."
It's taken a serious crisis for major players to realize we need "a paradigm shift" — aka a complete overhaul — of how we treat, use and view water.
It's not enough to just do the normal conservation of short showers and full loads in the dishwasher, and it's not enough to simply talk about pressing water needs. The need is here, right now, and it's only going to grow.
So what about it, elected leaders?
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
If you're in need of someone who feels your pain, this is your guy.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Considering we're in the state's summer sun belt and rely on air conditioners to survive July and August, you'd think Tracy would be ripe for solar deployment. Now that Celeste Garamendi and Evelyn Tolbert are making it a central part of their campaigns, maybe it'll gain some traction.
A couple things worth pointing out, politically speaking:
1. Tolbert's been pushing for more awareness about getting Tracy green for some time. This space has even been prompted — not for her, mind you, but for the concept.
2. It seems that Mayor Brent Ives is a little behind the times when it comes to the alt-energy thing, which is surprising, given that he's involved with Lawrence Livermore Lab, one of the nation's leaders in science and innovation.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Jim McLeod, protagonist of the column, lays the blame squarely at the feet of the Endangered Species Act, because, as he puts it, it's a tool used by "environmental terrorists" to stop as much water from flowing to farmers and cities as they can. Laws that put the environment first are strangling water deliveries and the construction of water storage, he said, and in turn strangling Central Valley farmers.
It's worth pointing out that without "terrorists" like these and the ESA, we'd be polluting and ravaging our own backyards even more. It's also worth noting that farmers are by far the biggest users of Delta water in the state and are tilling land that isn't arable without sizable and unnatural importation of water.
But McLeod is right that stringent laws and concern about wildlife have prevented construction of more water storage facilities that could help transfer the bounty of wet years to ease the pain of dry ones. Here's a place where the environmental lobby could try to find some common ground with the folks growing their food.
And let's not forget those living in Parts Previously Unwatered who insist on green lawns despite living in the semi-desert that is the Los Angeles Basin. Don't tell me their constant demand for more water — from here, there and everywhere else — is reasonable.
What it comes down to is compromise. But the best we've been able to come up with is a peripheral canal that would kill the Delta and doesn't really address all other concerns, either. Sigh.
There has to be a balance between the Delta (environmentalists), the food (farmers), and the showers (urban dwellers).
Wonder if we'll ever be willing to find it...
Friday, September 19, 2008
• Who's the winner in local power plays? The valley is projected to be California's fastest-growing region in coming years, so putting a couple power plants near Tracy makes sense. Of course, even the cleanest fossil-fuel burner doesn't make a good neighbor.
• A welcome green plank in the platform: Mayoral candidate Celeste Garamendi has trotted out several ideas for improving Tracy's sustainability. Not all of them are novel or original (such as the antenna farm solar array), but they all have merit.
• When the corn turns golden, so does the weather: Waving goodbye to the summer heat feels pretty good.
• The scum always rises, right? San Joaquin County's most infamous Death Row inmate is back in the news. If I didn't oppose it on principal, I'd administer the injection myself.
• There's nothing like secondhand experience: Helping someone who's been on crutches the past four weeks has really given me an appreciation for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Thing is, these state maps don't align with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps, the ones that are being used to determine who must buy flood insurance and who doesn't.
(If you live in Tracy, chances are you're safe. Lathrop residents, however, might want to invest in canoes. See the FEMA map for San Joaquin County here if you're curious.)
It'd be nice if these kind of things could line up. But remember, this is the California government we're talking about. The one with an annual months-late budget that consistently ignores the primary rule of budgets: don't spend more than you make.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Timothy Brick, a chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, summed up the situation in the Inland Empire's Press-Enterprise by saying: "In past planning, the worst-case scenario we looked at wasn't bad enough. This is the worst-case scenario."
And unless California taps into more water — or learns to go without plush lawns and dedicates more resources to super-efficient farming — the worst-case scenario will exceed expectations.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
• Tracy Ellis Station:
Not a reference to the controversial megadevelopment, the name is meant to evoke Tracy's historic railroad past. Ellis was the name of the original Central Pacific coaling station at the foot of the Altamont Pass. When the Mococo line was build, Ellis was disbanded and literally moved to Tracy.
• Tracy Transit Plaza:
A straightforward, solid name that tells you exactly what it's there for. Along the lines of Grand Central Station.
• Tracy Multimodal Station:
Signifies... well... nothing. The same unweildy and bureaucratic name given to the project at its outset. I can't imagine why this suggestion made the cut.
The winner is... none of the above. Say hello to the "Tracy Transit Station." Technically, the pre-meeting No. 2 won, but with a minor tweak. Read the full story here.
I took Sen. John McCain at his word while writing this column, but now I realize it's obvious that, as president, he would not, as he pledged in a widely read op-ed penned with Gov. Sarah Palin, be up to the task of guiding our market economy.
It's McCain, not Sen. Barack Obama, who's long on bluster and short on answers when it comes to the economy. Obama has an actual plan and understanding of why the economy is in the midst of its current tank job. Just this week, McCain said the economy was fundamentally strong.
Maybe for him, he of the many houses.
In reality, McCain has been a champion of dogmatic deregulation whether it made sense or not. Yet now that it's a popular point of view, he would have us believe he is the one to bring modern, effective regulation to Wall Street.
Meanwhile, Obama's been touting meaningful financial market reform for the duration of his campaign.
Who are you going to trust your money with?
Friday, September 12, 2008
Despite that, it seems McCain wasn't talking about regulation at all.
According to Bloomberg.com, McCain and Co. want to eventually take the struggling mortgage backers private, breaking up Freddie and Fannie and selling them off to individual interests once they've stabilized. (No worries, though. Private financial insitutions did a fine job steering clear of the housing crisis, so I'm sure this plan is completely without problems.)
The other option is more federal control of the federally backed institutions, a plan wherein taxpayers are still on the hook for liability incurred by lending but private shareholders no longer stand to gain.
In truth, either plan would probably be an improvement from the current situation, where taxpayers bear liability and shareholders reap profits.
But McCain's newest reported plan doesn't do anything to address the conditions that allowed both the Savings and Loan Scandal and now the Housing Meltdown — rampant deregulation.
Not enough regulation is just as bad for the economy's long-term health as too much regulation.
Let's hope someone ditches the dogma long enough to realize that, and let's hope there's more to McCain's calls for "reform" than meets the eye.
• Just for the heck of it: I think any politician who has never done manual labor needs to, even if it's weekend warrior style. It gives you an appreciation for the folks who do that every day for minimum wage.
• Who would have thought Suzanne Tucker was running for vice president? Gov. Sarah Palin has evidently conducted official state business from a private e-mail account.
• If you're reading this, the world didn't end Wednesday: That's when the Large Hardon Collider, a supermassive particle accelerator in Europe, was first fired up. Scientists beforehand conceded that there was a very remote possibility that the contraption could have ripped open a tiny black hole.
• Ag still king in San Joaquin: The new agricultural center near the Stockton Metropolitan Airport is a great addition, both for its symbolism and its function.
• Hey, maybe there's a reason for that: Developer Les Serpa called his proposed Ellis project the "most reviewed, most expensive and most scrutinized subdivision in the history of Tracy."
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Seven years ago, the United States suffered a horrible tragedy when terrorists killed thousands of our countrymen and attacked symbols of our national strength. It shook our sense of surety and security to the core. And in the aftermath of the attacks, when we mourned lost friends and family members, our nation lost its way.
No longer was the United States the world’s superpower that acted out of strength, but a country whose leaders acted out of fear.
As after past attacks, we said that we were united and strong. But, as with the internment of Japanese citizens following the Pearl Harbor attack, many of our national actions following Sept. 11 sacrificed core American values.
Even though personal liberty is the most sacred ideal of the American experiment — expressed in Patrick Henry’s cry of “give me liberty or give me death” — it was sometimes abandoned in the name of security following Sept. 11.
And all the while, those who dared to do the patriotic thing and question these presidential policies were called un-American. Even traitors.
Ironically, a noteworthy Republican president, President Theodore Roosevelt, once wrote that “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable ….”
It is not easy to ask hard questions and disagree with leadership when fear is rampant. But passionate individuals with true patriotic gumption have been the conscience of the country dating back to Thomas Paine. With the help of modern patriots, America is beginning to look like America again.
Still, the healing from Sept. 11 has only begun. Families ripped apart by the attacks will never be fully whole, just as the nation will always bear a scar from that frightening day.
But patriots ensure that the scar will not disfigure the American character.
The only way the United States can truly be defeated is if our values of liberty, freedom and restrained government are lost. The people who fight for these values deserve the deepest thanks and gratitude during this time of remembrance.
That includes the men and women fighting in our armed services, whose selflessness and patriotism is undiminished by the politics of war. That includes individuals who defend the nation by questioning policies that degrade the letter and spirit of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And that includes those who remember the United States is the greatest country on Earth not because of its military might or vast resources, but because of the individual freedom granted to each and every citizen.
These men and women remember that America is the land of the free, not the land of the secretly monitored.
It would be a tragedy if we destroyed the best part of our country in the name of protecting it.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Now that Delta College trustees have frittered away millions of the Measure L bond, they've decided to pull the plug on a promised Lodi satellite campus, and the Mountain House and Manteca ones might not be far behind.
According to County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, part of this isn't as dramatic as it sounds, because the need for satellite campuses is diminished with the booming popularity of online classes.
But it's unacceptable that the trusteeship of Delta College is so lacking that one, possibly three main projects of a $250 million bond are not built because of a lack of money.
I think it's safe to say that it's time to vote the bums out.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Monday, September 8, 2008
For that town's sake, let's hope his newest tenure is more free of controversy than his latest one.
Friday, September 5, 2008
A bit too far, perhaps.
Still, for those interested in all matters water, have a weekend of happy reading.
• If you're Bean Festing this weekend, please plan accordingly: The city's Tracer bus service is on regular hours this weekend. So if you're looking to hang downtown and have a couple Bud Lights, take a sec to plan sober transportation.
• Sleaze with a smile: Gov. Sarah Palin, and her introduction to the country.
• Thanks for bringing us into the "Your Momma" phase of the campaign: Palin has a knack for insults, but does anyone really want that kind of person representing the country?
• The S.F. Niners' 2008 season begins at 1:15 p.m. Sunday: And at 1:16 p.m. that same day, Niners fans start hoping for 2009.
• Political quote of the week: A supporter of Adlai Stevenson once called out, "Governor Stevenson, all thinking people are for you!" And Stevenson answered, "That's not enough. I need a majority."
Thursday, September 4, 2008
He put fear into the heart of Red America that not electing a Republican would be asking for more spending, bigger government and the welcome of Big Brother.
He neglected to mention that 6 years of a Republican Congress and 7½ years of President Bush (a Republican, remember) ran up massive amounts of debt, engineered the biggest expansion of government in recent memory, and gave the green light to secret warrantless spying programs.
He also forgot that it was this Republican administration that oversaw the continued increase in the gap between the rich and everyone else, encouraged the U.S. to become a country that supports torture (which puts us in the company of such great guys as Saddam Hussein) and orchestrated an expansion of executive power that would make Robert Mugabe proud.
Oh, he also left out the trustworthiness factor.
It's like Romney spent the past eight years bound and gagged in a cellar and was let out only for the convention.
In a related revelation, the only thing I've taken away from the two weeks of political conventions is a conviction that one party has no problem stooping to intensly personal attacks, while one party seems to think its popular policy positions are enough to convince voters.
Take a wild guess at which one is which ...
The GOP, in a parade of well-worded nastiness guided by Gov. Sarah Palin — rife with those "elitist" qualities of condescension, smugness and sarcasm — had no problem going after Sen. Barack Obama on a deeply personal level while being, to be kind, "vague" on the policy positions. (Substitute "completely bereft" for "vague" if you're not feeling so generous.)
Democrats have also attacked Republicans in the past two weeks, but they've largely decided to operate within the bounds of normal human decency — saying Sen. John McCain is a guy worth respecting, but that his positions on policy, or at least his most recent ones, are not in the country's best interest.
(Any shots at Palin's daughter, however, are completely beyond the pale and unacceptable — but at least it's not Obama or Sen. Joe Biden who are making these low blows.)
We'll see which strategy is effective this year — though history points to a Republican victory, followed by four years more years of terrible policy.
As every challenger does, Andal is running partly on a "reform" platform, especially the reform of earmarks, those federal dollars hated by all taxpayers — unless, of course, those federal dollars are going to your district. (Ask Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and his beneficiaries if you have any questions.)
But Andal, in his role as consultant for developer Gerry Kamilos, has been touched by the Delta College south-county campus fiasco that wasted millions of local taxpayer dollars.
Of course, Andal wasn't responsible for the board's mismanagement, and neither was Kamilos. But it might be telling that Andal, wearing the hat of a businessman instead of the hat of a public servant, put his allegiance to his employer before the public's investment.
That's par for the course in the business world, but it's troubling in this case because Andal has before served in the California Assembly and prides himself on saving taxpayers money.
What does this mean for the 11th District race? Maybe that Andal needs to prove that, if elected, he would be loyal to his new employers — the people of the 11th District.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
While I'm glad our City Council is trying to play an active role in opposing a plan that could irreversibly damage the Delta, the state's most important waterway, its pleas will likely fall on deaf ears.
The political pull of Parts Previously Unwatered (aka Southern California) is just too great to overcome, even for the coalition of NorCal bodies lining up against the proposal.