A Plague of Big Shots

Submitted: Mar 24, 2007

submitted by Bill Hatch

Big Shots are found everywhere in American society. So, viewing them from the San Joaquin Valley of California, once a great agricultural area now mindlessly converting itself as fast as violation of environmental law and regulation and common sense permits to another Western slurb, is as good a place as any to observe Big Shots.

American society is plagued with Big Shots, people that have gotten to some position of power through an excess of aggression, which they use to bully others. The rest of us all too often take the bullying in stride, hoping for a better day or, under the relentless onslaught, cave and grow permanently afraid.

All Big Shots have some self-righteous ideology, fundamentalism or doctrine to shout down at the rest of us from their positions, just a little above us one way or another.

The self-justification can be anything from “good work habits” to “the war against global terrorism.” All of it is a smoke screen for big-mouthed little cowards playing authoritarian games, throughout the sick institutional structure of this nation – from the orchard and tomato field to the packing shed to the city council to the school to the development corporation and the oil company to the White House.

We sit and read and hope somehow the “We the People” of the high-school texts will miraculously manifest that mythical unity We are said to possess to get the Big Shots off our backs, without risking anything. But, there is too much power, too much money floating around America, too many weapons in obedient hands and way too little human dignity left to stop this imperial cannibalism that is devouring millions of people in our imperial way – the toll rising, unabated by weak political resistance within the empire’s “homeland.”

Americans now confuse order and government in the “homeland” with bullying and being bullied. We elect a majority of Democrats in Congress to stop the war and their “leadership” blows us off in favor of the military contractors, the oil companies and the Israel lobby. But, will the public stand up to them? Call them by their name: hypocrites, sanctimonious bribe-takers, hacks and buffoons? Sue them? Prosecute them? Call their propaganda by its name?

America is a frightened, ruthless, unjust and ugly society full of denial and a guilt growing too large to measure, let alone accept. More than 600,000 Iraqis are dead because of a 30-year political “vacation” taken by the citizens of the USA, culminating in this atrocity. Our health care system is broken because America does not care about its people’s health. Top American political leadership is sociopathic because it serves at the pleasure of transnational corporations with no commitment to anything but their profits and the destruction of government regulation rather than the people and law. But the people are too besotted with corporate propaganda to know their rights, their interests and how to defend either. Yet, the US is losing “the war against terrorism” for the same reason it long ago lost the “war on drugs”: the Big Shots are too corrupt to win a war or stop the carnage of this one. Or rebuild New Orleans. Or save our environment. Or even put a dent in global warming.

Big Shots dominate our federal, state and local legislatures and our media corporations. The political situation in America is, in fact, much more critical than most Americans can imagine. There are entire institutions, vital to a functional society that have dropped off the map of the civilized world because they have been so rotted out by the greed of special interests, bribery and corruption. A small example, that will be familiar only to the very few remaining candid souls living in rural America, will be this year’s Farm Bill, which will demonstrate again that the Department of Agriculture is so corrupt it cannot identify national interest or even farmers’ interests. Likewise with the Food and Drug Agency, that has made unwitting guinea pigs of the entire American society and any foreign markets for our crops too stupid or oppressed to avoid it for the free, unregulated experimentation of the health effects of genetically modified organisms. Resource agencies charged with enforcing environmental law and regulation are daily corrupted by development corporations. Agency-by-agency, institution-by-institution, where can we find one that is working for the People? As glad as we may be made by tidings of churches, with congregations 10,000 strong, doing incredible feats of community outreach and care, can they replace a government that is supposed to serve 300 million people and is not supposed to be owned by transnational corporations?

American universities promote those character traits of sycophantic aggression prized by the corrupt corporate power elites that fund research for private profit rather than public benefit. High school dropouts, unlike the PhDs that staff the nation’s national laboratories, are not recorded to have produced American weapons of mass destruction that menace the world. These weapons aren’t the products of education; they are from its simulacrum, the university/corporate technology/military complex. To these must be added the “independent experts” whose regular gigs are at the brothel think tanks.

As ever, on the cutting edge of military technology, the Pentagon now conducts war by hurling immeasurable (at least by its accounting) tons of pork at the enemy, possibly hoping to crush him under the sheer weight ham and bacon. While the Pentagon appears to have crushed our side, the insurgents have long ago gone on to their own civil war.

Jake Plummer is outraged over the treatment of Pat Tillman: They knew it was friendly fire then–it makes you sick

By: John Amato on Friday, September 15th, 2006 at 4:15 PM - PDT
On HBO’s Inside the NFL, Peter King interviewed Denver QB Jake Plummer about the horrific treatment the Tillman family have received over Pat’s death. There have been four investigations into what really happened to him and now a fifth one is getting close to being completed. How reprehensible has this been for the Tillman family? Pat is killed and they were repeatedly lied to. The family is not speaking out, but Plummer is. Good for him. Somebody has to.

Video-WMP Video-QT (rough transcript)

King: When you first heard that they hid these irregularities, were you outraged?

Plummer: It just made you feel kinda sick that they’d cover up something like that to–for whatever reason. We were all led to believe he died in leading his troops up the hill and then they come tell us it wasn’t–it was friendly fire. What can you do– you’re at their mercy and you just feel for the family…

I mention Big Shots only because there might be lingering in the American collective unconscious – that immense psychic ocean of all that is suppressed and ignored – some residual folk memory of resentment against Big Shots. Perhaps a residual sense of the political taste that caused people to fight to the death against the British so many years ago. However, it is probable that Americans, after 30 years of corporate propaganda, have been so overwhelmingly persuaded of their unique brilliance, success and that Beautiful Freedom we all enjoy, that they all conceive of themselves as Big Shots, entitled citizens, above the masses. In our area, the masses are imagined by our fictitious Big Shots to be foreigners, Mexicans and Asians and such. Casual observation suggests, however, that when Americans, convinced of their Big Shot status, are muscled by the equally convinced, the former group – rather than getting down to political realities – tends instead to develop a severe case of the vapors. “How dare they!” etc. Generally, their croquet balls are carefully aimed and demurely stroked at a non-lethal local official, in no position to help or to harm, simply one more minor Big Shot on his or her way up or down the ladder to Big Shot Heaven. Missing the target amounts to an alliance with one’s own gravedigger, but if one doesn’t know that, there is not point in bringing it up.

“Use it or lose it,” voter registrars used to mutter in front of supermarket doors at the feckless passers-by. They didn’t use it and they did lose it. Everyman the Big Shot, on his way into WalMart, was above mere voting.

The proper American hero of today is Yossarian, the terrified WWII bombardier of Catch-22. When you tell the truth to power, power will fire back. Yossarian wasn’t crazy. Fighting fascism is dangerous work. But, having allowed this unaccountable, authoritarian power to take root on the ground, it must be defeated even though it fights back. That would take courage and spirit, and probably fewer vacations. But, of course, Catch-22 was just a funny novel written 50 years ago, which said some rather off-message things about the “greatest generation.”

Our local McClatchy Chain corporate outlet is a Big Shot with barrels of ink that is never off-message. The Chain is part of the immense advertising/public relations empire in charge of controlling our taste, distorting all issues with one aim – the destruction of a truly public perspective in favor of the very private, “special” perspective of the private profits of their paymasters and their social equals in the Club de Big Shots. In the San Joaquin Valley, the McClatchy Chain relentlessly attacks the San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement, reached between local, state and national environmental groups and farmers and local, state and federal water agencies. The idea of accord between agriculture and environmental groups is an abomination to McClatchy advertisers – principally real estate development, finance and insurance – and they cannot allow this agreement to live, which would put Sierra snow melt back into the state’s second-longest river all the way to the Delta. To this destructive end, the Chain has taken to quoting every inane utterance of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, a bullyboy for corporate agribusiness welfare. The Big Shots the Chain does not name, who are bankrolling Nunes’ attack on the settlement, are smoother and worse.

The Big Shots intend to protect their power and their wealth. That’s all they have to say now, and all they ever had to say, millions of barrels of ink ago. Where’s the “Progress”? What did agribusiness, built on federal water, crop subsidies and low wages, really accomplish? Where is the quality in those islands of wealth surrounded by poverty and economic anxiety? What was the ideal served? Where is the happiness?

Do we live to buy what we don’t need to keep corporate CEOs in the style to which they have become accustomed, averaging 300 times higher compensation than the median income of their employees? Do we live for the fame of having invaded and destroyed already crippled nations to plunder their resources? Do we live to support and applaud or suffer in fearful silence the fraud and corruption of predatory plutocrats? Were we born to become the generation that forgot the difference between news and advertising? Is our purpose in life here in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere to stand at attention and sing hymns of praise to the destroyers of the Public Trust and the builders of grotesque slurbs – just because Big Shots have the “freedom” to do it?

Is this nation’s destiny freedom for Big Shots and the shaft for the rest of us?

“Of course not, of course not,” I hear you saying.

I end in communion with the great Dodge City lawman, Bat Masterson, who went on to a distinguished career as a New York City sports writer. He wrote:

There are many in this old world of ours who hold that things break about even for all of us. I have observed, for example, that we all get the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime and the poor get it in the winter. -- Bat Masterson

| »

Pombo's Ghost haunts the McClatchy Chain

Submitted: Nov 10, 2006

Our questions this evening for the McClatchy Chain's Washington correspondent are:

1) Didn't the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Commerce and representatives of 15,000 Friant irrigators settle with local, state and national environmental organizations on the question of letting water flow in the San Joaquin River again on behalf of the Chinook salmon, which is listed as a threatened species under the Engandered Species Act?

2) Hadn't the spring run of Chinook on the San Joaquin River been entirely wiped out in the 1950s as the result of drying up a 60-mile stretch of the river downstream from the Friant Dam and the Friant-Kern Canal?

3) Since when did Rep. RichPac Pombo, Realtor-Tracy, give a damn about that river, those fish, the San Joaquin River settlement agreement, or the ESA?

4) At least the way the Chain's DC correspondent wrote the story when it was happening, wasn't it Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA (whose reelection this year passed almost unnoticed in the revolt of the people against fascism) who put the little Valley congressmen together and made them pass a bill to fund part of the settlement?

5) Isn't Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, now chairwoman of the Senate Enviroment and Public Works Committee?

6) Won't Feinstein's fellow San Franciscan, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, soon be the Speaker of the House?

7) Didn't the federal district court just reject the latest assault on the critical habitat designation under the ESA for 15 endangered species living in and around vernal pools, the richest fields of which lie in the congressional district of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Pombo's Ghost-Merced?

8) Hadn't Pombo's Ghost written two unsuccessful bills to wipe out the critical habitat designation?

9) Haven't San Francisco Democrats known how to handle what are now called Blue Dogs since the days when Assembly Speaker Willie Brown put Assemblyman Gary Condit in a broom closet in the famous "Gang of Five" affair?

The doubts this story casts over the prospects of getting a bill through to partially fund the settlement has the fingerprints of the Modesto and Merced irrigation districts and Westlands Water District all over it, transmitted to the Chain's DC fabulist by Cardoza. While Democrat West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall, to be the new chairman of the House Resources Committee, is unlikely to listen to Pombo's Ghost, wouldn't he be likely to listen to three extremely well placed Democrats from the San Francisco Bay area, all with demonstrable records favoring the environment, including the state's second longest, worst polluted river?

The only Valley congressman that performed any positive role in the settlement at all was Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, whose district contains the Friant Dam, Lake Millerton and the beginning of the canal. The McClatchy Chain clobbered Randanovich for his constructive role and applauded Pombo's Merced Ghost and the irrigation districts for attempted obstruction. Meanwhile, Rep. Devin Nunes, Rightwing Raver-Visalia, failing to impeach the federal judge who heard the case, howled on in Mcclatchy pages at the top of his lungs while his constituents quietly faced reality.

Cardoza gambled away his future the day he walked out of developer Fritz Grupe's Lodi ranch, arm-and-arm with Pombo, the man he then called "Mr. Chairman," and split a reported $50,000 with him of developer cash. The next thing we knew, the Pomboza, as we called them then, had fashioned the "aggressively bipartisan" bill to destroy the Endangered Species Act. The special interests then cleverly gave Cardoza a free ride to another term, hoping the Blue Dogs would still have some leverage. They won't. All Cardoza is now is Pombo's Ghost.

The feds are even looking at Merced County's Voting Rights Act violations now. We welcome any and all investigations into activities in the Merced County Administration Building, where Pombo's Ghost has his district office. Cardoza is all that's left of the powerful machine that railroaded through the UC Merced boondoggle and erected a splendid stonewall around Mad Cow Disease.

That machine -- "Honest Graft" is a good working title for it -- corrupted every environmental law and regulation and agency it could lay its sticky fingers on for the special interests of developer. Not content with environmental law, it corrupted every public process it could at the local, state Legislature and Congress level for the benefit of the same few special interests. This Honest Graft Machine brought us the worst air quality of any major farming area in America, a river -- the San Joaquin -- that has become an agricultural waste channel for almost 100 miles, reckless urban sprawl, mounting urban debt, and gigantic losses of some of the most productive agricultural land in the world. And the Honest Graft Machine did everything it could to obstruct the San Joaquin River settlement negotiations and attacked the agreement through the McClatchy Chain the moment it was signed.

So, to repeat, what makes the McClatchy Chain figure Pombo -- heir of Pombo Real Estate Farms in Tracy and, until two days ago, chieftain of the Honest Graft Machine -- would do or would have done anything to help the San Joaquin River settlement? This is an absurd news story.

Badlands editorial staff

Fresno Bee -- Nov. 9, 2006
Environmentalists happy to be back in the national conversation...Michael Doyle / Bee Washington Bureau
The "Western rebellion" that propelled California Republican Rep. Richard Pombo to power now has receded, leaving many of its most important goals unmet and possibly beyond reach. Democrats will run the House Resources Committee, which Pombo has led for the past four years. That will mean new priorities for parks, public lands and Western water. It could mean less attention to a proposed San Joaquin River restoration in California's Central Valley. The Western rebellion, also known as the Sagebrush rebellion, involves people in the West who think the federal government oversteps itself on property rights issues, especially regarding enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. They also chafe over the fact that half the West is owned by the federal government instead of private interests. The probable new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. She's one of the Senate's most liberal members; the current chairman, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, is among the most conservative. The changing cast of characters will play out in many ways: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil-and-gas drilling perennially championed by House Republicans won't go anywhere in the next Congress. Drilling off the coast of Florida or other states becomes a real long shot. The Endangered Species Act, which Pombo built his career on combating, has a new lease on life. The Democrat who's poised to become House Resources Committee chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, voted against Pombo's Endangered Species Act legislation. As a lame duck, Pombo will have much less clout in moving the legislation that's needed to implement a multihundred-million-dollar San Joaquin River restoration plan. The legislation, yet to be introduced by Mariposa Republican Rep. George Radanovich, is needed to finish settling a long-running lawsuit that would return salmon to the river. Backers of the San Joaquin River plan had hopes of getting the bill introduced and passed during the upcoming lame-duck session; that now seems remote.

| »

Not invited to the funeral

Submitted: Nov 10, 2006

The Badlands Journal editorial staff has few opportunities to defend the honor of the Merced Sun-Star. But, fair is fair. A working girl's got rights, too. On Primary Election night, the Sun-Star committed an act of photojournalism. It took a picture of Jesse "The Crestfallen" Brown, director of Merced County Association of Governments and manager of the failed Measure A campaign. Brown's face expressed bewilderment and despair in a painful moment of political defeat. But the special interests behind the measure to raise sales taxes to pay for the UC Loop Road, maybe the Los Banos By-Pass, and at least for the potholes in front of Brown's office, plunged fiercely forward with a new campaign in the General -- Measure G. As predicted by the campaign's own polling, Measure G also failed. The Sun-Star worked as diligently for both measures as an escort service in duck season. But, it's not good form to invite the party girl to the funeral.

From the Sun-Star's blog, "Sunspot":

Nov. 7, 2006
Speaking of Measure G ...
Submitted by Joseph Kieta, Merced Sun-Star editor

Each election night, Sun-Star reporters and photographers patrol various political parties to get photos and talk with the winners and losers. Just about every newspaper does this ... they're not the most exciting photos and the comments can be predictable, but sometimes we get something surprising and interesting for you, our readers.

Don't expect to see a photo out of the Measure G party. Jennifer West, the Measure G campaign manager, said the gathering of supporters will be held at a private home (we hear it's her house) and a Sun-Star reporter and a photographer are only welcome if Measure G wins.

Nov. 9, 2006
Measure G not likely to come back soon...Leslie Albrecht
If Merced County votes on a transportation tax measure again, it probably won't happen until the country selects its next president...2008 is the earliest. Measure G, which failed Tuesday, was the third version of a transportation tax that voters have decided on in the past four years... earned 60.66 percent of the vote, falling short of the "super majority," or 66.7 percent, approval it needed to pass. "I think obviously we need to do a better job of education," Spriggs said. "We need to do a better job in the next couple of years of educating folks." Whether voters will see the measure again is up to the Merced County Association of Governments governing board... All five county supervisors and one elected official from each of the county's six incorporated cities serve on the board. But the public will have a chance to weigh in too, said Jesse Brown, executive director of MCAG. Starting early next year, MCAG will hold a series of public workshops to update the transportation expenditure plan, the document that lists the county's top transportation priorities. During the transportation plan's 2001 update, public input drove the decision to pursue a transportation tax ballot measure and the long list of projects the tax would fund, Brown said. Now the public will be asked to help form a new plan that doesn't include the sales tax as a funding source, Brown said.

| »


Submitted: Jul 23, 2006

It’s fitting to speak of mirages when the Valley gets this hot.

The political mirage of the week, in the wake of former Merced County DA Gordon Spenser’s spectacular fall that ended in Bear Creek a week (just before a mysterious fire in the DA department’s offices), was the set-to between developer Greg Hostetler (Ranchwood Homes) and Supervisor Deirdre Kelsey at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, exhaustively detailed below by the local press.

There is nothing like a juicy scandal. However, the whole thing was inevitable and is probably not the biggest political scandal waiting to unfold in Merced County.

All this drama, and the press and political obsession with making it all personal and a matter of integrity and reputation, is a waste of time and nothing but a scintillating diversion from the problem.

When urbanization comes, farming goes. It is a cold-blooded, ruthless process driven by the long-range planning of one small group, developers, and their profit taking. Everything else, including the reputations of particular developers and particular politicians, so engagingly showcased in this case, is a sideshow. Yes, it is flamboyantly Merced that the DA and the sheriff would have been partners in a deal to buy an advantageously placed land parcel from an inmate of the county jail indicted for attempted bribery of a police officer, who ended up serving six months instead of nine years. Yes, the peculiar blend of arrogance, stupidity, greed, and possibly actionable behavior is what we have come to have a perfect “right” to expect from “leadership” in Merced County.

Furthermore, we are not holding our breath in expectation that either Spenser, Pazin, Hostetler or any other members of the Bellevue Partnership (purchasers of the inmate’s land) will ever be indicted for anything, by Attorney General Bill Lockyer or the newly appointed DA, Larry Morse, II. Lockyer’s connections with Merced and Spenser are deep -- for instance, he has appointed two not one but two former Merced law enforcement officials to the top investigative position in the state Department of Justice -- and Morse has his own political career to look after. It is even a question how much further this investigation will go, if any further at all, because of what else might be found and who else, among the county’s “good old boys and girls” would be implicated in backroom land deals.

When the county “leadership” committed itself and the rest of us to becoming home to the University of California, Merced campus, it set in motion a speculative real estate boom that has laws of its own, not all of them legal, if you get the distinction.

There used to be another such informal law, in politics, that was pretty widely observed between the end of WWII and the election of Ronald Reagan as governor, and even the Reagan people mostly observed it. The idea was that the people would accept an ambition for political power and they will accept an ambition to get rich, but they will not – at least would not – accept an ambition for both in the same politician. The combination was felt to violate the public taste, which can lead to disasters now befalling Spenser and perhaps others soon to follow here in Merced County.

Another informal law from that bygone epoch was that an office holder was expected to be able to drink with people attempting to influence his vote, accept their political contributions and even their prostitutes, and vote against them the next morning.

Today, it is nauseatingly obvious here in the big speculative land boom that the loyalty of local, state and federal legislators representing Merced County has been sold to developers. You see it week after week in local land-use decision after decision, at the state level in the new Valley partnership for growth, and in Congress Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has introduced three bills in three years tailor-made to streamline the sale of farm and ranchland to developers and urbanize this area over the dead body of the Endangered Species Act and the species it is designed to try to protect.

All the protestations of personal insult, damage to reputation, even allegations of danger to a supervisor in the board chambers (because Hostetler called her out on her own profound conflicts of interest), are nothing but a Punch and Judy show. Anyone who has ever articulately opposed a board of supervisors’ or city council’s position in Merced County has received worse abuse from supervisors and council members than Kelsey received from Hostetler. One recalls grimly, former Supervisor Cortez-Keene’s McCarthyite interrogations, for example. More recently, board chairman Mike Nelson’s nasty response to any criticism and supervisor John Pedrozo’s belligerence toward it are equally fondly recalled. So, the public doesn’t buy Kelsey’s political vapors anymore than it buys Spenser’s memory loss.

The law in Merced County is that the most aggressive developer wins, period, whether it’s done crudely, as the scofflaw Hostetler does it, or more smoothly as larger, richer competitors of Ranchwood Homes do it, or with the elegant disdain of UC Merced, which steadfastly denies it is a developer at all while being the largest developer in the county. What is called “planning” in the county amounts to accommodation to development. Political competence consists of making sure developers agree to pay all legal expenses the county might incur as the result of lawsuits arising from their land-use decisions, which frequently violate aspects of the California Environmental Quality Act and laws of public process.

“Planning” in the county is a complete joke. The county has not updated its General Plan since before UC Merced was even contemplated and has chosen the route of simply amending it whenever necessary. It’s present face reminds one of members of Davy Jones’ crew in Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, with the university launched and the speculative boom gyrating out of control, local land-use jurisdictions are planning new general plan and community plan updates here, there and everywhere.

Even this tardy diligence is grudging and is planned to take about as long – as best it can be guessed – as the boom itself continues to its bust. The best thing for the public interest that could be done is to have a building moratorium while these updates, particularly the county general plan, are being done. When confronted with a public statement, signed by a coalition 15 local and regional groups, urging a moratorium, the supervisors voted for business as usual.

Whose interests do they represent?

Bill Hatch

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.

The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.
We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.

Indemnification is the widespread, corrupt practice in which developers agree to pay for all legal costs arising from lawsuits that may be brought against their projects approved by the land-use authority — city or county. Without having to answer to the public for the financial consequences of decisions made on behalf of special interests, local land-use authorities can be counted on to continue unimpeded their real policy: unmitigated sprawl, agricultural land and natural resource destruction, constant increases in utility rates, layering of school and transportation bonds on top of property taxes, and the steady erosion of the county’s infrastructure.

Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge VernalPools.Org
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers


Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.
P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

Merced DA under fire for 2004 land deal
He, 7 other investors made deal with a man facing bribery charge
By Chris Collins
Merced Sun-Star

Last Updated: July 9, 2006, 05:20:05 AM PDT
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the district attorney's office.

The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer's potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry in December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator.
The attorney general now is looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler and five other prominent locals bought in 2004.

The owner of the farmland, former Merced College police chief Richard Byrd, was arrested in March 2004 for bribing a sheriff's deputy. His bail was set at $500,000.

Byrd said his imprisonment forced his security company to go out of business and prompted his daughter to sell his land to help pay for attorney fees and other expenses.

Prosecutors in Spencer's office were working on a plea deal with Byrd in May 2004 when Spencer and the other investors pitched their offer to buy the land, according to public records and property sale documents Byrd provided.

Investors close deal

The investors, organized under the Campodonica Trust led by Merced real estate agent Carl Campodonica, closed the $1.3 million deal on the land July1, 2004. Byrd was released from jail 15 days later.
Frank Dougherty, the Merced County Superior Court presiding judge, said he has looked into the case and found that Spencer was "intimately involved" in pressing felony charges against Byrd.

It also is clear from property sale records that Spencer knew he was buying land from the man he was prosecuting. One document shows Spencer's and Pazin's signatures next to Byrd's name.
When the purchase went through two years ago, it drew little attention. But concerns about the deal have resurfaced in the wake of multiple investigations launched by state and local agencies examining Spencer's use of grant funds and county dollars.

The attorney general's investigation of the land deal could lead to extortion charges against Spencer.
Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor who specializes in white-collar crime, said Spencer's decision to pursue the land deal while prosecuting Byrd was "unbelievably bad."

"If the district attorney said to the defendant, 'I'm going to charge you with crime X, but if you reduce the price on your land, I'll give you a better deal,' then, boy, you could talk about extortion," Weisberg said.
Byrd said he never was approached by anyone from the district attorney's office while he was in jail. But he said he originally was told through his lawyer that he was facing nine years in state prison.

Byrd gets sentence reduced

After Byrd's daughter accepted the Campodonica Trust's offer to buy the land, Byrd was offered a plea deal that reduced his sentence to six months of county jail time.

Byrd also said he wonders why his $500,000 bail never was reduced.

Spencer did not return calls last week seeking comment. His Merced attorney, Terry Allen, said the attorney general's investigation is based only on "speculation."

"I assure you Byrd wasn't coerced into doing anything and Gordon wasn't doing anything to gain some advantage over him," Allen said.

Most of the other seven investors who were part of the Campodonica Trust either didn't return calls or said they didn't want to comment.

Hostetler, a local developer, said he joined the investment group at the last minute to help provide a little extra money needed to seal the deal. He said he didn't know Byrd was the seller.

Sheriff regrets joining group

The attorney general's office won't acknowledge it's investigating the land deal, but Pazin and Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Morse II said two investigators and a deputy attorney general have interviewed them as witnesses about the property purchase.

Pazin said that, at the behest of Dougherty, he sent a letter to the attorney general a few weeks ago asking his office to look into the land deal.

The sheriff said that when he joined the Campodonica Trust he didn't see a problem with entering the land deal. But he said he now regrets joining the investors.

Pazin said he didn't realize he was buying land from Byrd, who was in the custody of the Sheriff's Department at the time, until the final stages of the deal.

"Is there anything neglectful that I did? The answer is no," Pazin said.

"But is there a perception issue? Yes. And I accept that."

News that Spencer bought the land from a man he was prosecuting has roiled some county supervisors.
"The whole thing sounds like a real bucket of rotting fish," Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said.

"I'm surprised that a transaction like that would occur."

Merced Sun-Star
Land deal rhetoric flares up...Leslie Albrecht
Tension about recent press coverage of former District Attorney Gordon Spencer's land deal with Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and other prominent locals boiled over at the supervisors' meeting Tuesday when Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler harshly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey. Hostetler is one of the investors who bought land from a man while he was in jail being prosecuted by Spencer. During the meeting's public comment period, Hostetler leaned over the podium and read a statement that first refuted information in the Sun-Star story, then accused Kelsey of making "uncalled for comments." Hostetler said a Merced County civil grand jury investigation into Kelsey's family mining business five years ago left Kelsey in no position to pass judgment on others. This isn't the first time Hostetler and Kelsey have clashed. In March a voicemail message reportedly left by Hostetler was posted on the Web site Badlands Journal. In the message Hostetler accused Kelsey of using county staff members as her "personal pit bulls" to attack his employees.

Kelsey fires back in strongly worded letter to chairman
By Leslie Albrecht
July 21, 2006

The fire of controversy ignited when developer Greg Hostetler publicly criticized Supervisor Deidre Kelsey is heating up.

Kelsey fanned the flames with a letter to board chairman Mike Nelson saying that she felt afraid for her safety when Hostetler read a statement about her during the public comment period at Tuesday's supervisors meeting.

"I am extremely disappointed that NO ONE intervened appropriately to stop the personal attack coming at me from the podium," Kelsey wrote in her letter to Nelson.

Kelsey's letter also says Hostetler used the "county forum as a means to personally attack me and my family."

Hostetler called Kelsey's letter a "mischaracterization" of what happened at the meeting.

"It would be my opinion that Deidre has overreacted, is acting childish, and is spinning the truth," said Hostetler.

He called for Kelsey to resign immediately because of the findings of a 2001-2002 Merced County civil grand jury report that investigated a complaint about Kelsey's family's mining company.

Hostetler's comments at the Tuesday meeting were a response to a Sun-Star article about a land deal Hostetler made with former District Attorney Gordon Spencer, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, and other prominent locals.

Hostetler, Spencer, Pazin and others bought the land from a man who was in jail awaiting prosecution by Spencer. The State Attorney General's office is investigating the deal.

Kelsey was quoted in the article saying, "The whole thing sounds like a real bucket of rotting fish."

At Tuesday's meeting Hostetler called Kelsey's comments "inflammatory and unprofessional."

He held up a copy of the 2001-2002 grand jury report -- which investigated a complaint about Kelsey's family's mining company -- and said that Kelsey had engaged in "unethical conduct."

The jury's report accused Kelsey of having a conflict of interest involving her family's mining business. Kelsey told the Sun-Star in 2002 that the report was the work of "a good-old-boy network" upset because she did not bow to economic special interests.

Kelsey said Nelson, as chairman of the meeting, should have stopped Hostetler's speech because he was harassing and haranguing her and "looking with hostility directly at me" and "leaning forward towards the dais."

"I demand to be provided with a safe workplace and I believe the law provides for the safety of elected officials while engaged in county business," the letter said.

Kelsey's letter asks that "this issue be resolved either through some action of (Nelson's) or through the collective actions of the Board policy immediately."

Nelson met with County Counsel Ruben Castillo on Thursday and asked him to provide a legal opinion about whether the supervisors can restrict public comment.

A state law called the Brown Act governs how elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors run their meetings, said Castillo, so any county policy would have to be in line with that law.

"I have a constitutional right to speak at a public forum," said Hostetler. "The government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech.

"I will not be silenced. I live in America, not in Baghdad."

Nelson's seat on the supervisors' dais has a button that controls the microphone on the public podium. He said his role as chairman is to turn the mic off if a member of the public becomes disruptive.

"If I thought any member of the public was getting out of hand I would have asked for the sheriff to step in, but that wasn't the case," said Nelson.

Kelsey also faulted Sheriff Pazin and Undersheriff Bill Blake -- who were both in the audience during Hostetler's comments -- for not intervening during Hostetler's speech.

But Blake said he and the sheriff attend supervisors' meetings as participants, not police.

"I don't know what she wants us to do," said Blake. "I can't arrest him for being mean to the Board of Supervisors."

He added, "He didn't swear, he didn't threaten, he didn't yell ... I can't get up and say 'Greg you're breaking the law', because he's not. In fact, I would be afraid that a civil libertarian would think I was infringing under color of law on his free speech."

Kelsey said Hostetler's comments at the meeting caught her totally off-guard.

The meeting's original agenda included a ceremony where Kelsey was to receive a pin honoring her 10 years of service on the board, but the ceremony was postponed.

Instead, Kelsey found herself on the receiving end of Hostetler's criticism.

She said all elected officials can expect criticism, but Hostetler chose the wrong setting.

"That's the elbows and knees aspect of being in politics," said Kelsey. "However, in a public meeting doing county business is a different matter.

"There's a different set of expectations when I'm out and about in the community than when I'm sitting as a supervisor on the dais."

Reporter Leslie Albrecht can be reached at 385-2484 or

Controlling speech at meetings and the Brown Act

A state law called the Ralph M. Brown Act governs how elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors run their meetings. The California First Amendment Coalition's Web Site includes this question and answer about limits on public comments.

Q: How far can an elected body go in controlling what speakers say in their comments?

A: In creating an opportunity for citizens to address a legislative body, the Legislature has created what is described in First Amendment jurisprudence as a limited public forum.

It is limited in the sense that speakers may be held to subject matter relevant to the meeting (or at least the agency's role) and may also be restricted by reasonable rules of time limitation and good order.

But, concluded the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the First Amendment would not permit officials presiding in a public forum of even this limited scope to outlaw comment simply on the basis of its being offensive -- "personal, impertinent, slanderous or profane."

What they may do is react to actual disruption, which in the context of a government meeting can mean simply wasting time to the detriment of all others present.

Board of Supervisors transcript

To view or listen to the meeting, check the Board of Supervisors Web site:

HOSTETLER: Good morning, everyone. My name is Greg Hostetler, 2000 M Street, Merced, California.
I am here today because of my concerns about recent events. I would like to say several things this board and public should know.

I am speaking for myself and not the Bellevue Partnership.

The real estate transaction involving Sheriff Mark Pazin and District Attorney Gordon Spencer was negotiated, signed and agreed to between two business professionals and the seller Mr. Byrd and his daughter.

Neither Mr. Spencer and Mr. Pazin had any negotiations as to the price, terms, and conditions of the purchase from Mr. Byrd. If anyone of the Board of Supervisors would like to see the contract I would be more than happy to show you.

I believe that the purchase contract was professional and ethical.

The property was listed with a Merced real estate company and placed on the MLS, Multiple Listing Service, for approximately 30 days or longer for all members to sell, which is around 700 sales people in the Merced area.

One offer was received for $1.1 million from a potential buyer. The seller countered, Mr. Byrd, with a $1.4 million counter offer. The counter offer was declined by the buyer.

The next offer was received for $1.3 million was presented to Mr. Byrd by two Merced professionals, and it was accepted by Mr. Byrd. Subsequently portions of the buyer's interest were sold to other individuals in Merced, including the sheriff, including myself and a number of other partners and the district attorney. Because the seller wanted an all-cash transaction at $61,000 an acre, which is in the county. The property adjacent to it, two months earlier, sold for approximately $36,000 an acre. It has been reported that the land was annexed and rezoned. That is incorrect.

Several local investors and business professionals felt it was not a good enough investment so they declined to purchase a share.

I think hypothetical comments without the facts about the transaction are uncalled for such as those made by Stanford law professor and comments made by Deidre Kelsey.

They are inflammatory, unprofessional, and do not show the leadership qualities this county needs.

I think Deidre Kelsey's conduct is unethical on a number of issues. One being the operation of the mine of the Kelsey property in Snelling which has been the subject of a former grand jury investigation and it was reported that it had been operated for at least six years and failed to pay county road taxes ...

NELSON: Mr. Hostetler ...

HOSTETLER: ... and operating in a fishing business without county ordinance permitted ...

NELSON: Mr. Hostetler.


NELSON: I would ask you to confine your comments to not attacks on board members please.

HOSTETLER: It's open public I can talk about the grand jury investigation ....

NELSON: I understand that ...

HOSTETLER: ... and I'm going to talk about it.

NELSON: Well you have a minute and four seconds.

HOSTETLER: That's fine. And I understand that. There's an ongoing investigation I understand to the operation of the mining there now and hopefully it will not go unenforced like the last time according to the grand jury report. Thank you.

(Kelsey left the chamber during Hostetler's comments. After Hostetler was done, she returned and sat down.)

KELSEY: If people bring things up that pertain to myself or my family in this forum I will recuse myself from the public forum at that time. And you can see I did leave and I have now come back.

(At the end of the meeting, each supervisor makes a report. Nelson's included the following comments.)

NELSON: I have nothing to report necessarily, but I did want to say, you know we always welcome people to come make comments during public opportunity to speak, but it's nice when people don't make personal attacks. It's just not, really, it's just not appropriate. That's all I have to say.

DA still in hospital
By Scott Jason
Last Updated: July 13, 2006, 01:38:01 AM PDT

The Merced County district attorney remained in the hospital Tuesday night with short-term memory loss after a rollover crash Monday night, his attorney said.

Terry Allen, Gordon Spencer's attorney, said he called Spencer as a friend to check his condition.

"He can't remember anything from two to three days ago," Allen said, adding Spencer can't recall the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Spencer was taken by his wife to Mercy Medical Center Merced after the wreck. He could not be reached for comment.

The California Highway Patrol is continuing its investigation into the crash, though it doesn't look like any charges or citations will be filed, Public Information Officer Shane Ferriera said.

The district attorney, who was wearing a seat belt, was driving alone on South East Bear Creek Drive at about 5 p.m., Ferriera said.

Spencer was a mile east of McKee Road when he apparently didn't follow a left curve and plunged his truck into the creek.

He did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Ferriera said.

A 35 mph sign is posted just before the turn. The CHP is not sure if Spencer was speeding, Ferriera said.

A man who lives near the crash site, Dan Smith, and his two children found Spencer and helped him call his wife. Assisting people who drive their cars into the creek is nothing new, Smith said.

"We treated him and did for him what we've done for a dozen other people," Smith said.

Smith's 9- and 12-year-old sons were tubing down the creek when they found Spencer's truck upside down at 5:30 p.m. Only the wheels and undercarriage were visible above the water.

They told their dad, who thought the truck was abandoned because people have stolen cars, stripped them and dumped them in the creek, he said.

When the two boys went back to get the Ford F-150's license plate number, they saw Spencer waist-high in the creek leaning against the bank.

Smith's 12-year-old son asked if Spencer needed help, and said the district attorney mumbled he didn't.

The son went home and told his dad there was a man in the creek.

After seeing the kids, Spencer crossed the creek and started walking toward Smith's home, about a quarter-mile from the crash, Smith said.

Spencer, wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt, told Smith he was OK, and that he was driving, missed a turn and wrecked his truck.

There weren't any signs the district attorney was drinking or under the influence of drugs, Smith said.
"He acted like someone who had been in an eye-opening wreck," he said.

Smith recognized Spencer as the district attorney and brought him to his house to make a call.

"He was fine and talking with no apparent injuries, except an abrasion on his face from an air bag," Smith said.
Spencer called his wife from Smith's phone, and she took him to the hospital at about 6:30 p.m. She reported the crash to the CHP at 8:10 p.m., Ferriera said.

Leaving the scene and seeking treatment, as Spencer did, is not uncommon in single-vehicle wrecks with minor injuries, Ferriera said.

"It's not like it was a hit-and-run," he said.

The investigating officer interviewed Spencer at the hospital and tested him for driving under the influence.

Ferriera said the test includes looking for the smell of alcohol, slurred speech or red, watery eyes.

Ferriera said he did not know if Spencer was given a breathalyzer test.

The Merced County Sheriff's dive team checked the truck to make sure there weren't any other people in it. After 11 p.m., tow trucks removed Spencer's truck from the creek.

Timeline of the wreck

5 p.m. -- District Attorney Gordon Spencer rolls his Ford F-150 truck into Bear Creek.
5:30 p.m. -- A neighbor and his kids find Spencer and let him use their phone to call his wife.
6:30 p.m. -- Spencer's wife picks him up and takes the district attorney to Mercy Medical Center Merced.
8:10 p.m. -- California Highway Patrol officers are called about Spencer's crash. The investigating officer goes to the hospital to interview Spencer and test him for driving under the influence.
11:15 p.m. -- Tow trucks remove Spencer's pickup from the creek.

| »

Public Letter from Central Valley Safe Environment Network to the McClatchy Company Officers and Board of Directors

Submitted: Jun 23, 2006

Central Valley Safe Environment Network

P.O. Box 64
Merced, CA. 95341

Senior Officers of The McClatchy Company

Gary B. Pruitt - Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer
Heather L. Fagundes - Vice President, Human Resources
Christian A. Hendricks - Vice President, Interactive Media
Karole Morgan-Prager - Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary
Patrick J. Talamantes - Vice President, Finance and Chief Financial Officer
Howard Weaver - Vice President, News
Robert J. Weil - Vice President, Operations
Frank Whittaker - Vice President, Operations

Directors of The McClatchy Company

Elizabeth A. Ballantine
Leroy Barnes Jr.
William K. Coblentz
Molly Maloney Evangelisti
Larry Jinks
Joan F. Lane
Brown McClatchy Maloney
Kevin S. McClatchy
William McClatchy
Theodore R. Mitchell
S. Donley Ritchey
Frederick R. Ruiz
Maggie Wilderotter

2100 Q Street
Sacramento CA 95815

P.O. Box 15779
Sacramento 95852

Tel. (916) 321-1855
Fax (916) 321-1869 Via: Email and Fax

Re: Public Letter from Central Valley Safe Environment Network to the McClatchy Company Board of Directors

Date: June 23, 2006

McClatchy Officers and Directors:

In late April, Merced residents complained to you about a racist column by regular Merced Sun-Star columnist, David Burke, that appeared during a highly inflammatory period of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on undocumented workers in the county.

At that time we asked for an apology from McClatchy for allowing a column to be printed that was an insult to the entire Hispanic community during a period when it is under mounting racist pressure.

To date, we have received no apology from the board or the Sun-Star.

We did receive a telephone message from Lynn Dickerson, vice president for operations, explaining that we had just misunderstood the satire, irony and sarcasm. We also read Sun-Star editor, Joe Keita’s editorial, which followed the same line – a lecture on irony.

We have waited, patiently, for nearly two months for some sign of community sensitivity from the McClatchy corporation, as patiently as we have waited for years for competent journalism from our city’s newspaper.

The Merced Sun-Star has steadily disengaged itself from the community of Merced since the arrival of UC and its induced development. We had hoped that once McClatchy bought the paper, we would get competent journalism in our rapidly changing county. Instead, the McClatchy Co. local organ has continued to ally itself with the propaganda of special, outside, exploitive interests. Worst, it substitutes cheap sideshows for solid news people in Merced County need – often desperately – to know. It is an untrustworthy newspaper.

In the days following his literary offense against an 18-year-old high school girl incarcerated at an ICE facility in Bakersfield, Burke tried several strategies to explain himself. His attempt to appear on a local Spanish-language radio station was refused. He asked Le Grand High School administrators (where the 18-year-old was attending school before her arrest) if he could come out to talk to the students. The administrators asked the students. The students said they did not want to hear Mr. Burke’s explanation. The administrators relayed the message.

Surely, the second largest newspaper chain in America, based in Sacramento, knew by late April that rightwing Republicans were going to make illegal immigration from Mexico a big campaign issue in the 2006 elections. Its Minneapolis paper is only a stone’s throw from the Wisconsin congressional district of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, author of HR 4437. Surely, McClatchy added the Merced Sun-Star to its holding because it was aware of the speculative real estate boom unfolding due to the arrival of UC Merced. How could the McClatchy organization not have known about the on-going, heavy development pressure on rural eastern Merced County, home of a large number of the county’s farmworkers and focus of the ICE raids in April. Certainly, a news organization as huge and sophisticated as McClatchy could figure out that the pressure on illegal Mexican immigrants in this part of the Valley is directly tied to escalating real estate values and developers’ plans for that region, which include icing farmworkers and endangered species as quietly as possible.

Into that explosive situation, the second largest newspaper chain in America injected this schmuck, Burke, this “former journalism professor,” and his “irony.” When we objected, we got an official explanation of irony instead of the simple, honest apology for a management oversight, which you owe this community and refuse to offer.

We are still waiting for that apology to our community for this insult. We live in one of the most ethnically diverse communities in America. We all make it work and this highly inappropriate column insults all of us, regardless of our ethnicity. When you insult the race and status of our neighbors, when you support (however “ironically”) policies that frighten people in our neighborhoods, you harm everybody. Just because McClatchy chooses to ignore – ostrich style – its insult to our community does not mean that the insult is forgotten. However, even at this point, a sincere apology might help.


Central Valley Safe Environment Network


Sent: Monday, May 01, 2006 11:06 AM
Subject: Merced sunstar article

Hi, My name is xxxx xxxxx and I am just asking for help. On April 22 there was an article put into the merced sun star by a David Burke a journalist . I was truly offended , I happen to personally know Alma Osegueras older sister Christina and could not believe what this man wrote but, most of all I cannot believe that the merced sunstar would allow such racism . I am disgusted with this newspaper . I don't really know what I can personally do. can the residents of Planada and Le Grand start a petition to get this man terminated or what ??? I don't know if your office handles things like this. I am just so angry at the merced sun star and I can tell you as a resident of Planada I'm not the only one. Please help..

Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 9:39 AM
Subject: RE: Racially offensive commentary in the Merced Sun-Star

In case you haven't had a chance to read the Sun-Star this morning attached
is Joe Kieta's column as it appeared in our paper and on our website.
Hank N. Vander Veen
Publisher-The Merced Sun Star

Merced Sun-Star
Column wasn't meant to offend...Joe Kieta

David Burke was appalled by the strong-arm tactics U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents recently decided to write an ironic column that took the extreme opposite side in an effort to point out what he feels is the senselessness of the agency's actions. Unfortunately, some readers missed the irony in the column -- and for this we truly are sorry if anyone was offended. If used skillfully, a tongue-in-cheek comment or column can effectively crystallize an opinion; if the irony is missed, readers can be confused or outraged by the comments. ...some took his comments literally. ...he received an e-mail hours after it appeared applauding him for the extreme views. He since has received many more messages from readers who missed the irony. Burke's worried the column creates an incorrect perception that he's bigoted and insensitive. He wants to set the record straight: ...
For our part, the Sun-Star will be more careful in the future to make sure satirical columns are clearly labeled as such, which will eliminate any confusion. We could have labeled Burke's column accordingly, but didn't -- and for this, please accept our apologies.

Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 12:46 AM
Subject: Saturday's Sun-Star column...

I have received a lot of feedback regarding my column from Saturday’s edition of the Sun-Star. I understand that you found the article to be offensive and that you’ve formally complained to officials of the McClatchy Corporation on behalf of the Central Valley Safe Environment Network.

My intention with this piece was to use irony and sarcasm to draw attention to attitudes and actions that I believe are cruel, unfair, insensitive and un-American.

Irony, as you know, is a technique in which a writer, or speaker, makes a statement that is opposite to their beliefs. This incongruity can have a dramatic effect when combined with sarcasm, as I attempted to do in the commentary.

A problem with irony is that some readers may take statements literally and believe that the intended message is actually its opposite. I clearly failed to craft this piece skillfully enough to make the irony clear to some readers.

For the record, let me say that I abhor the treatment of Alma Oseguera and her family at the hands of immigration agents. I believe raiding their home at 3 a.m. is the kind of behavior that we expect from secret police or government thugs in other countries, but not in the United States.

I do not believe that U.S. citizens are “more equal” than people from other nations and I despise racism and discrimination.

I hope you’ll take another look at Saturday’s commentary. A second read might reveal that my use of hateful language was intended to get the attention of good people who have become polarized and now view immigrants unfairly. My hope was that by exaggeration I might open some eyes and force people to look at the impact current policies are having on individuals like Alma.

Finally, I have a track record with the Sun-Star and I believe my body of work provides clear evidence that I am an advocate for children and for causes that are completely inconsistent with racism and intolerance.

I invite you to take a look at back issues of the paper. One article that may be particularly revealing is still posted online. You may choose to visit the following site:

I hope you will reconsider your position regarding my column or at least accept that my intent was not to promote racism. Though I may have missed the target on Saturday, a dialogue has begun and I believe the end result may still be enlightenment. I hope you’ll participate in the discussion and that you’ll continue to read the Sun-Star and my column.


David Burke

Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 10:50 AM
Subject: Quepasa News
Merced Newspaper Article

The following is an article published by the Merced Sun Star. It is very disturbing and in the "Gray" area of Hate Mail. It was written by a retired journalist. A group called Central Valley Safe Environment Network has responded to the McClatchy Newspaper Company. I will print their response at the next QUEPASA NEWS.

Sent: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 8:40 PM
Subject: Letter to The McClatchy Company re: Racially offensive commentary in the Merced Sun-Star

Wow - hard to believe they would publish that crap!
Juan de la Rana-Salta

Sent: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 3:28 PM
Subject: Racially offensive commentary in the Merced Sun-Star
Re: Racially offensive commentary in the Merced Sun-Star
Date: April 25, 2006

McClatchy Officers and Directors:

We write you to protest the publication on Saturday, April 22, 2006 of a column by a regular contributor to the Merced Sun-Star titled “Liberty, opportunity are for Americans only.”

Speaking as citizens of Merced and for citizens of the San Joaquin Valley and of the United States, we will not tolerate racist smears of 18-year-old high school girls in our newspaper; we will not tolerate our newspaper publishing its contempt for an entire ethnic minority; we will not tolerate a vicious attack on a person little more than a child without any means of defending herself, presently in a Border Patrol holding tank in Bakersfield; we will not tolerate our newspaper bullying the weak and defenseless.

We are not asking for or demanding the immediate dismissal of the publisher and the editorial staff of the Merced Sun-Star that published this racial slander and libel against a high school girl. We expect nothing less than their dismissal and an apology from the McClatchy board for publishing material with racial hatred content intended to intimidate and incite.

This newspaper has entirely lost contact with its community and with decency.

Merced Sun-Star, April 22, 2006
Weekend voices: Liberty, opportunity are for Americans only

The Central Valley Safe Environment Network is confident McClatchy officers and directors will do the right thing in a timely manner, removing the “leadership” of this newspaper, which increasingly over the last decade become a source of unjust speech and propaganda.

Central Valley Safe Environment Network

Sent: Tuesday, April 25, 2006 3:23 PM
Subject: Sun-Star article Weekend voices
By David F. Burke
Last Updated: April 22, 2006, 03:31:08 AM PDT

Get out of this valley, Alma Oseguara. Maybe after a few weeks in a Kern County jail you'll finally understand that we don't want you and your kind here in the San Joaquin Valley.

Never mind that you spent the last 12 years attending school here, and were weeks away from graduation at Le Grand High School. You and your bleeding-heart classmates need to understand that we expect you to obey the law of the land.

Even six-year-old illegals have to play by the rules and because you entered our country without permission when you were six, our agents were perfectly within their rights to "target" you and to bang on your door at 3 in the morning, demanding that you pack your bags and go directly to jail.

And don't start that old song about escaping from Mexico to get away from an abusive father, Alma.

Do you think we're the kind of nation that would welcome the wretched refuse of another country? Do you think we want more homeless, tempest-tossed masses of tired and poor people like you? Does our border look to you like some kind of golden door?

Forget that idea. We stopped holding the torch for your kind of immigrants long ago.

Liberty and opportunity are for Americans only. Did you imagine that we were talking about Mexicans when we said, "all are created equal?" Get real, Alma. Say goodbye to Le Grand High, to dreams of college and to friends and relatives you've known for a dozen years.

Bienvenidos a Mexico.

Let me explain how it works, Alma. My son looks a bit like you; he has the same skin tone. But Jesse had the good sense not to be born in Mexico - he was born in New Mexico.

About 300 years ago, his ancestors, named Garcia, came through Texas -- well, it may have been "Tejas" then -- and up into northern New -- I mean Nuevo -- Mexico and southern Colorado.

Then, 150 years later, my ancestors picked a fight with Mexico. We first tried to get what we wanted peacefully, offering our neighbors to the south $25 million for California. But the ignorant Mexicans thought the state was worth more than that.

So, we sent two armies into Mexico and a third to California, by way of New Mexico. The silly Mexicans refused to surrender, so we captured Mexico City and "convinced" our captors to accept just $15 million for the Golden State. The vanquished Mexicans threw in New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Utah - about half of their country, all told - for free.

And that, Alma, should explain why my brown-skinned son -- who was born in New Mexico -- gets to stay while you -- who were born in Old Mexico -- must leave.

It's not personal. It's the law. If you like, you can think of it as manifest destiny.

Now, get out of my country. And don't come back until you are legal.


Hank Vander Veen
Publisher, Merced Sun-Star

Joseph Kieta
Editor, Merced Sun-Star



Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of "Eco-Justice" -- the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders

| »

After another week of flak

Submitted: Jun 11, 2006

If for some reason, one finds oneself trying to look at things while standing somewhere in
grass roots, one of the first problems met is smoke generation. Part of learning the lay of
the land involves locating the local, regional, state and national smoke generators operating
near the grass roots one stands in. In other words, what flak, generated by whom, is smogging
local communications with propaganda for whose profit?

Public relations, as it is called, is among our newest professions. Related, and somewhat
newer, are our "environmental consulting firms," known in some circles as "bio-stitutes,"
because they sell their science for fees. If the grass roots in which one stands are
withering, there are biostitutes ready and willing to declare with scientific authority that
the withering is only in the eyes of someone who happens to be standing in grass roots in
the path of development.

One of the worst examples of smoke generation, combining science and PR, is promotion of
genetically engineered seed, crops with patented gene modifications in their seeds whose
pollen spreads the modified genes around the surrounding countryside. The GMO corporations
seem to be companies run almost entirely by their PR departments, with a few scientists in
the lab shotgunning strands of DNA with foreign genes to "see what sticks." Of course,
any farmer knows who ever asked any pesticide salesman why any pesticide worked, only to
receive the answer, "We don't know but it sure kills bugs," there is virtually no
environmental or even agricultural concern involved in the "corporate culture" of the giant
pesticide companies now producing GE seed.

If one's grass roots are in the San Joaquin Valley, the mental smog comes from a variety of
smoke generating equipment, some of it old, some of it new. Pesticide and fertilizer
companies have been promoting their ever-changing products and extracting their profits from
the Valley for decades. Farmers have come and gone, the entire scale and crop mix of Valley
agriculture has changed, but the pesticide (now GE-seed) corporations go on, immortal,
fictional persons that they are. Sometimes it takes a word from afar, even from as far as the
North Dakota wheat deal, to remind us that seed is life, corporations are just pieces of
paper. Some of the commodities -- dairy, cotton, rice, poultry, some fruits -- are old and
possess venerable smoke machines. An odd, and oddly unacknowledged aspect of our economic
system is that although the PR of its biggest winners has never failed to preach the holy
mystery of the market and competition, while doing everything they can to control their own
markets and protect their own government subsidies. The current one-party, far-rightwing
House of Representatives is a psychotic case in point. Taking big telecommunications' firms
money, they vote against enshrining in law the principle of neutrality on the Internet,
proving again the old political adage the the only truly free market in America is Congress,
where everyone is for sale. They call that being conservative and even godly when in fact it
is just religiously sanctified graft.

The grass rooter may take the privilege of remaining skeptical about the economic benefits of
market control and subsidies on certain agricultural commodities. Likewise, he may take a
skeptical position on various governmental strategies to keep land in agricultural production
rather than letting it go to the developer's blade. California's Williamson Act and
Agricultural Preserve laws, which provide a property tax subvention to farmers and ranchers,
has probably been the best law for preserving agriculture in the state -- not that it has not
and cannot be perverted by developers planting large, newly acquired parcels in crops of
convenience (grapes and almonds are popular) waiting for the right time to build the next
subdivision. Meanwhile, of course, this business strategy add to the supply of the commodity
they are growing, lowering the price for everyone else trying to make a living growing that

There is the additional strife among generations in farming families that works its mischief. Families get tired of the struggle to make a living with each other on farms. Selling is a good way of settling up. It's an amazing thing to the urban supporters of agriculture, but farmers do not always love their farms. Another factor is the low social status of farmers, which can be attributed more to the eyes of those who hold themselves above farmers than to farmers themselves, although farmers play status games among each other, too. For a number of reasons, farmers in the Valley seem more conventional than farmers on the coast, for example, although this is a more recent phenomenon than it appears. Valley history is full of stories of colorful, inventive, incredibly creative farmers. The chances are they are still out there, but for some reason, they are not as visible as they once were to the public.

In a place where rapid urban development is occurring, farm commodity groups develop forms of
thinking that would be better taken to a competent psychiatrist for examination and reflection than taken to the public as policy. The skeptical grass rooter can entertain the idea that farm commodities in the US are in a longterm crisis caused by input prices ratcheting ever upward while commodity prices continue their languid wave-like motion in the middle of the graph. Sooner or later, commodity by commodity, despite whatever help the government can and does provide, that rising line bisecting the price graph from lower right
corner to upper left corner cuts through the wave-like motion of commodity prices. Once it cuts through the surface, the gap grows over time. During price troughs farmers are forced out of the commodity; and during peak prices they pay off their mortgage and wait for another price fall. If the commodity is heavily subsidized, it only awaits a new chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture like Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, for the axe. Although Pombo has not yet been named chair of the agriculture committee, it seems that is the plan if the wind-power consultant doesn't beat him after McCloskey placed a few
bandilleras and picks in his neck in the primary.

RichPAC, the political strong arm of a San Joaquin County clan of ranch realtors, knows exactly what to do when agricultural inputs rise too far above agricultural prices: sell the land to the developer and import the fruits and vegetables from some other country. It is a popular, practical approach to any agricultural crisis, at least in California, assuming no way for agriculture to evolve out of its crisis. The farmer is caught between the prospects for his commodity and the Pombo approach. This leads to hysterical contradictions in the public utterance from farm groups, as land ownership becomes more important than agricultural production in their family budgets. HBO could do a comedy series on it.

A minor form of flak that occurs within agriculture is the condemnation of farming by organic gardeners or truck farmers. The conventional, commercial farmers get it from all sides. Yet, one of the things they say that rings true is that it is not a good idea for the United States to become food importers just to pave over good farmland for subdivisions.

Development flak is funded by a consortium of interests -- construction unions, building contractors, aggregate mining firms, engineering firms, hordes of consultants serving all development's needs, developers themselves, and the manifold branches of their financial investors. These are largely statewide, national and even international operations, and the larger ones all have flak departments or consultants, ready for a fee on instant notice to flood a promising real estate market in the midst of a speculative housing boom with
flak-to-order for the issue at hand (Measure A in Merced County, for example).

It is when we get to the propaganda of large landowners that the smoke generator is hard to see from the grass roots. However, keeping with a skeptical view, it is possible that the landowning interest is so entrenched in local government it virtually needs no lobby or propaganda, at least to persuade the land-use authorities. The Merced County Board of Supervisors, for example, seems to possess a comfortable quorum of ranch and farm owners whose properties are not far from the path of urban growth, and the chairman of the county Planning Commission is one of the largest land-owning developers on the west side of the county. Some might consider this connection to sizeable tracts of private property -- in view of the de facto pro-growth policies of the board -- to represent what used to be called in a more democratic era "a conflict of interest." But we don't live in a very democratic era, there is a huge amount of money flowing into Merced County in real estate speculation, possibly even a larger amount of money is flowing out of the county, and it is definitely not polite in governing circles to mention the "C-word."

Yet, there are still other forms of flak billowing up in the Valley. There are the "public information" operations emanating out of state and federal bureaucracies like the regional boards for air and water quality and the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Air and water quality in the Valley is deteriorating. The water board recently announced a huge coup: it levied a multi-million-dollar fine against Hilmar Cheese for ruining water quality in its area. Then the water board permitted Hilmar Cheese to sink deep injection wells to pump its waste deep below the surface. The state air board is limited to stationary sources of pollution. The grass rooter looks at this regulatory truncation and speculates that it must be the result of a high level of special interest investment in the free market of politicians, because it certainly doesn't make any sense in terms of the common good or the Public Trust. The federal BOR, which controls federal water projects, has agendas utterly beyond the comprehension of mere mortal grass rooters. Why the BOR produced so much propaganda against the US Fish and Wildlife Service's discovery of the damage done to wildlife at the Kesterson preserve as the result of subterranean drainage of heavy metals from west side farms is still difficult, 20 years later, to understand from a grass roots perspective. Does the BOR just hate birds or fetuses in general? Does the BOR take a pro-cancer position? Can wildlife biology and the BOR exist on the same planet? The mild-mannered Valley grass rooter shudders to think what went on in the free market of congressmen when biological whistles started tooting at Kesterson.

There is also the flak produced by the water districts and irrigation districts, these public agencies that behave so often like private corporations and over whom there is so little real public oversight. They all have marvelously glossy brochures, pamphlets and magnificently jargoned, lengthy reports that could put a grass rooter to sleep before finishing reading the executive summary. There is no subject in California history over which there has been more political conflict (not to mention the gun battles) than water. As a result, water propaganda represents perhaps the most opaque, obscure, slithery official jargon in the state.

Reading California water policy documents conjures up the image of what happens to the San Joaquin River halfway across Fresno County, where it disappears below the sands of the river bed for 40 miles. There has always been too much missing to make sense of it. And when the San Joaquin resurfaces, it meanders northward beside two canals flowing south.

Nevertheless, it is extremely gratifying that so many earnest people, connected to the real sources of information about issues vital to our region are willing -- at other peoples' expense -- to do our thinking for us. It is so gratifying, actually, that it seems as if some people have forgotten how to think without the aid of flak, contenting themselves with parroting the last opinion to which they were exposed.

In our area there is also University of California flak, in a class by itself. First, UC appears to believe that it invented and hold patents (no doubt in fruitful win-win, public-private partnerships) on the truth. Secondly, as manager of two national laboratories of weapons of mass destruction, whatever it says and does not say
carries with it the authority of National Security. For both reasons, UC is very certain what people should know and what they should not know about UC. UC flak is the most impenetrable obstacle to comprehension in the local flak environment because it constantly changes its story depending on what it thinks simple peasants need to know. UC flak games with history -- its own or anything it thinks it ought to control -- are among the most bizarre in the flak industry. The intent appears to be to completely deny the existence of history, at least any other version of it but the current line promoted by the UC flak-du jour, for whatever
the advantage of the moment it is for UC. Perhaps in the highest echelons of UC, they actually believe history is over. Another view might be, however, that as it develops a new generation of nuclear weapons, it simply believes history is UC.

Finally, there is the effortless repetition of flak in the local press.
Merced Sun-Star
Measure A: Road fixes to take longer...Leslie Albrecht

While the county can charge developers impact fees to cover the cost of new residents' impact
on roads, those fees can only pay for projects related to new growth, not maintenance
projects like reconstructing Livingston's Main Street.

... because, obviously new residents in Livingston won't be using Main Street like old
residents do?

This is an example, taken from an article that is supposed to achieve a professional journalistic "objectivity" about Measure A, which recently failed. Instead, it is mindless regurgitation of developer flak, the main purpose of which is to disguise by any and all means available the fact that development doesn't pay for itself. In the speculative real estate boom Merced County is now experiencing, two things that under no circumstances can be said by public officials or local media organs are: a boom busts; and development doesn't pay for itself.

Another example:

UC names committee to look for new chancellor of Merced Campus...Corinne Reilly June 9, 2006
UC President Robert Dynes has named a 14-member search committee that will advise him in
selecting the successor to UC Merced founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who is set
to leave the university's top seat Aug. 31. Three UC Merced faculty members, two UC Merced
students and four UC regents are among the committee members, who are scheduled to meet for
the first time at the university later this month ...

The article continues on its gagged path, announcing that a "diverse" committee including one
representative from the Merced community, will choose the new chancellor. The local representative is none other than Bob "Mr. UC Merced" Carpenter, who has never represented anything but local business -- mainly real estate -- interests from the beginning of the first committee he set up to lure UC to Merced to induce the present speculative development boom.

But, of course, the reporter doesn't know this, because she is perhaps the seventh reporter at the paper to have covered UC Merced since Carpenter was dubbed by a predecessor, "Mr. UC Merced," and her editors have forgotten or simply don't care.

The story mentions in disconnected paragraphs that the top two UC Merced administrators have both left. In fact, that is the story and the question Why? screams for some response. But, as in all stories generated by UC flak, the public gets no answer. Why is Larry Salinas, UC Merced's top flak, on a committee to select a new chancellor at all? Who really runs that campus?

How about Carpenter, Regent Fred Ruiz and Salinas for a guess? An insurance agent, a frozen food tycoon and a professional flak man. The ingenue who has inherited the Blessed Beat doesn't ask who the Hun replaced with Ruiz on the Regents and what was the nature of that insult to farmworkers.

This is a university? Or is it a shell waiting to be filled up with substances too dangerous for the Livermore Valley?

Our problem in the Valley is that the various contending creeds, expressed in propaganda, don't jibe with our history, experience or daily reality. In fact, taken as a whole, they don't produce a coherent path for the human mind. Agriculture, in particular, is currently producing masses of contradictory claims, all commanding our belief (but perhaps increasing our disbelief). In the face of these contradictions, developers and the investors behind them come with a very simple political remedy to all our confusions: sell the land. Lately, we have been seeing farmers who have become developers, along with the well-known path of developers holding land in agriculture until the next boom comes, producing distortions in the supply of the commodity they choose to farm.

But, considering local projects like the WalMart distribution center, Riverside Motorsports Park, and UC Merced, the average grass rooter must remain quite skeptical about whether they will deliver any of their proposed promises for the common good.

But flak is beautiful, anyway. It does all your thinking for you, it promises you wonderful things, and gives you an unerring guide for correct opinions -- and never mind if, taken together, it make any sense except for the people who pay for the flak. The thing to admire is that flak is so smooth and shiny next to your own lumpy, half-finished opinions riddled with unanswered questions and doubts -- those niggling things in the mind that flak deals with so effectively by completely ignoring them.

Flak is also very flattering. Flak cares about you. Flak invites you to join its side, always the "good" side, urging you to march forward to wealth, prosperity and security. Flak is so nice you forget to ask why these talented, clean, wholesome citizens would be working so hard to send you these warm, smiling messages that do your thinking for you. Flak is thought in a chauffeured limousine.

Nevertheless, we are privileged at the moment to get a glimpse at what happens with the American profession of propagandist itself falls under attack, in the following brace of articles from

Bill Hatch

Published on Thursday, June 8 2006 by the Center for Media and Democracy

Confronted with Disclosure Demands, Fake News Moguls Cry "Censorship!"
by Diane Farsetta

Be afraid, be very afraid! If television stations are required to abide by existing regulations and label the corporate and government propaganda they routinely pass off as "news," the First Amendment will be shredded, the freedom of the press repealed, and TV stations will collapse overnight!

At least, that's what the public relations firms that produce and distribute video news releases (VNRs) and other forms of fake news would have you believe. PR firms are banding together and launching lobbying and PR campaigns to counter the growing call for full disclosure of VNRs, the sponsored video segments frequently aired by TV newsrooms as though they were independently-produced reports.

This alarmist campaign comes as no surprise; the PR industry is like any other business interest. And if there's one thing business is good at, it's avoiding meaningful oversight ...

Published on Friday, June 9, 2006 by
Framing Versus Spin
by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson

Two weeks ago, Rockridge published The Framing of Immigration by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson, an analysis of the framing surrounding immigration used by progressives and conservatives, as well as a discussion of framings not being used, but which would reveal important truths. Late last week, the DailyKos leaked a memo by Frank Luntz, the Republican messaging strategist, advising Republicans how to talk about immigration. If you want to compare what Rockridge does with what Luntz does, this is your chance ...

| »

Some reasons that could explain the Modesto Bee endorsement of Pombo (if stupidity is not the whole answer)

Submitted: May 31, 2006

In a quiet little editorial on May 18, the Modesto Bee endorsed Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, against Republican challenger, former Rep. Pete McCloskey.

The Bee says that although Pombo is a (as yet unindicted) crook, he "has been effective in many ways."
McCloskey, is described as a quixotic, 78-year-old renegade, an author of the Endangered Species Act angry over Pombo's attacks.

Pombo's gut-the ESA bills are co-authored by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, who represents most of the Modesto Bee distribution area. A practical political consideration not mentioned by the editorialists is that without Pombo's hip pocket to ride in, Cardoza would lose influence in the one-party rightwing House. Rather than register as a Republican, Cardoza is a rightwing Democrat, of use to the House rightwing leadership as "bipartisan" cover for Pombo's radical rightwing legislation and decisions in the Resource Committee.

The Bee notes that Pombo was elevated over more senior House Republicans to the chairmanship of the Resources Committee. The Bee fails to mention that Pombo was also elevated several months ago over more senior Republicans to become vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

These important offices, once earned through years of service to the still untermed House, are now doled out by the radically rightwing Republican leadership to bolster its strengths here, fight off a challenge there and especially to reward loyalty to their radical rightwing policies. Once, even under periods of Republican control, the Congress chose its committee leaders on the basis of seniority, encyclopedic knowledge of esoteric subjects like dairy pricing, cotton and rice subsidies (especially at the beginning of a new Farm Bill debate), ability to compromise and negotiate across the aisle, and perhaps, from time to time, even a for little integrity, civility and authenticity.

In Pombo's case, the radical rightwing Republican leadership of the House, whose guidance the Modesto Bee has followed slavishly, has made Pombo as powerful as it could have in two areas -- resources policy and farm policy -- at a time when north San Joaquin Valley special interests are intent on liquidating both natural resources and agricultural land for a huge speculative housing boom.

It is a moment when the Bee editorial board should have stood for a principle. In fact, the "should" word was used:

It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

The Bee editorialists give no reason why 11th congressional district Republicans "should" choose Pombo, but here are a few I imagine might have persuaded the editorialists:

Get rid of the ESA so developers can build from the Altamont to Bakersfield without any interference from environmental law and regulation, despite the air quality disaster unfolding in the San Joaquin Valley;

Let the government buy up agricultural land at development prices;

Get rid of that 3-cent per hundredweight dairy tax proposed for the new Farm Bill;

Continue strong subsidy support for cotton and rice;

Keep the cabal of Pombo, Cardoza and Valley congressmen Radanovich, Nunes and Costa in control for continued pro-growth, anti-environmental, agribusiness-subsidy and racist policies;

Keep out McCloskey, an independent candidate with a proven record for courageous, principled political positions, who would be no tool for regional special interests;

If necessary (if Pombo is indicted before November), elect one of the Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to see who can be the biggest tool of special interests;

Neither Pombo or the Democrats would be votes to impeach the president; McCloskey has shown he has the courage to take that position if he decided it was the right thing to do.

The Modesto Bee sold its readers down the River of Stupid with this endorsement. It was cowardly, corrupt and dumb -- a combination of components in political policies we are finding more common by the day whenever our leaders speak.

Bill Hatch

Pombo best among GOP options, but he'll have explaining to do later

Last Updated: May 18, 2006, 04:23:03 AM PDT

With his close ties to disgraced Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, contributions from clients of admitted criminal Jack Abramoff, and his off-the-wall plan to sell national parks, Richard Pombo looks to be ripe for defeat in the 11th Congressional District.
We don't think so; not this time. None of Pombo's problems will matter to the majority of Republican voters in a district that includes most of San Joaquin and parts of Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. In this primary, the district's Republican voters are unlikely to vote against their seven-term representative. After all, he is the same big business-friendly, hardball playing, conservative Republican they've been electing since 1992.

As a protegé of DeLay, Pombo was elevated over more senior members to the chair of the House Resources Committee. From that position, he has forged a valley coalition that includes Democrats and Republicans. While we often disagree with the direction he has taken the committee, he has been effective in many ways.

In the primary, Republicans must choose between Pombo and 78-year-old renegade Pete McCloskey (retired Tracy rancher Tom Benigno is a nonfactor). It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

Angry over Pombo's attacks on the Endangered Species Act, of which McCloskey was co-author, Pombo's opponent moved into the district last year to give GOP voters an alternative. This has provided a loud and healthy airing of issues and a real campaign instead of the proforma exercise Pombo usually goes through to win re-election.

We admire McCloskey's quixotic quest, but we doubt that the district's Republicans are interested in an alternative. Besides, even a deeply flawed Pombo has more to offer the district than McCloskey.

It could be a different story in November. Then, a well-financed Democrat with distinctly differing views will present a clearer alternative. Then, Pombo will have to explain why 15 American Indian tribes, all with business before his House committee and some represented by Abramoff, have been so generous to him; why he has voted to protect oil companies' royalties and increase their profits; why he worked so hard to protect DeLay's power, and why he wanted to sell off pieces of15 national parks.

Republican voters should stick with Pombo — at least until they have a better alternative.

| »

Political lessons from the McCloskey/Pombo campaign

Submitted: May 20, 2006

Conventional political "wisdom" says Pombo has raised so much money from corrupt dealings with lobbyists wishing to extinguish every trace of environmental law and regulation on the books that he is unbeatable. But where does that money go?

Into a media flood of lies to try to save Pombo and all he can deliver to the lobbyists. Evidently, this crap is beginning to backfire on the great Buffalo Slayer.

It challenges conventional political "wisdom." If all Pombo can do with the money is produce deceptive advertising and the constituents are not in the mood to be deceived, what a truly incredible waste of money! If Americans ever regained their ear for the truth in politics, campaigns could not cost nearly what these inflated races cost now. If corporations were made by such a public that their political contributions were an incredible waste of money, the political system as we know it could collapse like Enron stock, and conventional political "wisdom" along with it.

Bill Hatch

Adwatch: Pombo's ad focuses on gnatcher
The ad claims Pombo saved lives of U.S. Marines by taking a stand on the gnatcatcher. KCRA 3 took a closer look. The ad was shown to three local experts...Barbara O'Connor is a public communications professor at Sacramento State University. Steve Swatt is a political analyst and former political reporter. Bob Waste teaches public policy at Sacramento State University. KCRA 3's adwatchers have a problem with how this describes that move as "closing" parts of the base. In 2003, Pombo wrote legislation exempting all military bases from critical habitat designations. But according to documents, three year's before Pombo's legislation the Fish and Wildlife Service already decided to exclude Camp Pendleton from this critical habitat decision...the scene in the ad of Camp Pendleton Marines being told they couldn't train because of the gnatcatcher could never have happened.

The following statement from Pete McCloskey on Pombo's latest misleading ad was sent to print reporters moments ago.
If you haven't already checked out the latest Pombo TV ad, and KCRA's analysis, go to:
An analysis of the ad from KCRA is written below, following the McCloskey statement.
Pete McCloskey issued this statement regarding the ad:
"I trained at Camp Pendleton before leaving for Korea in 1951 and trained there nearly every year through 1965 when I volunteered for service in Viet Nam. The Marines have done a better job of preserving the native habitat and endangered species of most of the 400 square miles of Camp Pendleton than have many civilian agencies such as the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Pombo has stretched the truth on the gnatcather, as he did when he lied to the Senate in 1994 about the kit fox. No Marine has lost has life or had it endangered because of the manner in which the base commanders at Camp Pendleton and Miramar have mainitained the natural landscape entrusted to them. Major General Mike Lehnert, who participated in the original assault on Baghdad, has perhaps said it best when he told me last February, when I visited the base, "A country worth fighting for is worth preserving."
"Pombo's deciding vote on May 26, 2005 against $9 million for prosthetic research to help military amputees is far more dangerous to Marines than the remaining wildlife at Camp Pendleton."
As a rifle platoon leader in Korea, McCloskey was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.

| »

Pombo described

Submitted: May 06, 2006

Jeffrey St. Clair produced an excellent summation of the high points of the sleazy career of Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, on this weekend. St. Clair is an experienced investigative reporter that has spent a great deal of time on environmental affairs and corporate lobbying, which makes his take on Pombo dead on target.

The Pombo/McCloskey Republican primary we continue to believe – for lack of evidence so far to contradict this view – is the most important congressional primary in the county because it is a referendum on how willing any congressional district is to tolerate being represented by a flagrant crook. McCloskey is out there in the 11th CD every day offering an intelligent, honest option to his fellow Republicans, while Pombo makes a deal to get Vice President Dick Cheney (18-percent popularity in the latest polls) to come out to the district and shake down developers, agribusiness and plutocrat duck hunters. McCloskey is saying he’ll attend the event wearing an orange hunting jacket.

McCloskey probably doesn’t have enough campaign money for polls. Pombo could poll daily. We speculate the Cheney visit is related somehow to disturbing trends in Pombo’s numbers.

It would be interesting to know how many Republicans, no longer alive, remain on messy voter roles in San Joaquin and the other rapdily growing counties in the 11th CD.

Bill Hatch
Weekend Edition
May 6 / 7, 2006

The Endangered Visigoth
The Rise and Pending Fall of Richard Pombo


The banner stretched across the entrance to the Crobar ­ a trendy New York nightclub ­read, "Welcome to the Pombo-Palooza". At the door, members of the Rockettes handed out cowboy hats to the A-list invited guests. Inside, a model clad in rhinestone hot pants and a cleavage-enhancing top that might have chastened a Hooters waitress rode a mechanical bull. On the stage, the Charlie Daniels Band cut loose with fiddle-driven Southern funk as lobbyists and lawyers, politicians and tycoons danced the two-step and drank iridescent blue martinis.

Such was the scene in 2003 at Congressman Rick Pombo's coming out party. The young legislator from Tracy, California had just been appointed the new chairman of the House Resources Committee. At 42, he was the youngest chairman on Capital Hill. Bush couldn't attend the hoedown but he sent a herogram congratulating the congressman he calls "Marlboro Man".

That night money flowed faster than champagne. Before Charlie Daniels had finished his first set, Pombo's campaign war chest had been fattened by more than $250,000, courtesy of an assortment of real estate barons, oil and mining company executives, timber lobbyists and casino operators. Many of these contributors would turn out to be the cream of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's clientele. (Abramoff now faces many years in prison for his corrupt dealings.) And that was just their opening bid. Over the next two and half years, Pombo's political accounts would be fattened by an additional $2 million from an ever-expanding retinue of lobbyists, real estate barons and corporate PACs.

Pombo's is an unlikely success story. He is a college drop-out from a dusty ranching town in California's Central Valley. He showed no particular flair for politics during his early days and, when given the chance, bankrupted the family dairy ranch. Politics was a last resort, and even in this arena Pombo's future seemed uncertain: he was not a particularly gifted public speaker, nor possessed of an [especially] engaging personality.

Pombo likes to describe himself as a rancher. He shows up to congressional hearings in cowboy boots and a Stetson. He owns a ranch, but spends less time on it than Bush does clearing sagebrush in Crawford. Pombo did place photos of himself on his website constructing a pink barn for his children's pet pigs over the last Christmas break. Pombo used to sport a thin Brokeback Mountain moustache. These days he brandishes a manly goatee. The new growth was detected shortly after the movie premiered.

Western myths aside, the Pombo family didn't make their fortune selling milk from their small herd of dairy cows. They got rich by buying up ranchlands and subdividing them into ranchettes for Bay Area commuters. As a member of congress, Pombo pushed for freeway projects that caused the value of properties owned by his family to soar.

Some thought that young Richard might get a job selling real estate for his uncle, who owned one of the largest brokerages in the Central Valley. But Pombo never passed the real estate exam.

Politically, however, his uncle proved to be a huge help. The red and white Pombo real estate signs are ubiquitous across the congressional district. Thus, Rick Pombo, a tubby and slick-haired man of Portuguese descent, enjoyed huge name recognition before he ever considered running for office.

Pombo has told various stories about the event that prompted him to run for Congress. For years he claimed that he was enraged by plans to turn an abandoned railroad near his family ranch into a bicycle trail which -- he fumed -- would lead to the entire valley being designated a "viewshed" where development would be restricted. Later, Pombo said he ran for office because the family ranch had been designated "critical habitat" for the San Joaquin kit fox, the world's smallest wild canid and an endangered species.

Both stories are embellished to the point of fantasy. Pombo's ranch was never at risk from either action. The allegation about the kit fox driving his family from their homestead is particularly outlandish, since the feds have never designated critical habitat for the tiny vulpine. Real ranchers look kindly on the kit fox, since it feeds almost exclusively on rodents regarded as crop pests. In any event, the habitat designation wouldn't have restricted ranching operations but development. And, indeed, that's precisely what ticked off Pombo. He paid $5,137 into a regional conservation fund as an impact fee for houses he built on his "ranch". The houses went up; kit fox populations went down.

In 1992 Pombo won his seat in Congress after narrowly defeating Democrat Patty Garamendi, daughter of the hugely unpopular state insurance commissioner John Garamendi.

In 1996, Pombo published a book-length screed against the Endangered Species Act and environmentalists. Titled This Land is Your Land, the book was ghost written by rightwing columnist Joseph Farrah. Woody Guthrie wouldn't recognize many of the sentiments set forth in the Pombo-Farrah tract, which called for the dismantling of the Endangered Species Act and disposal of public lands to private interests. Though not a bestseller, the book acquired the allure of a Gnostic gospel among the "Wise Use" crowd, whose concept of wise use derives from God's commandment to Adam in the book of Genesis to pillage the earth's natural resources as he thinks fit. The book put Pombo on the ledger as an apex berserker in what Ron Arnold, the P.T. Barnum of the Wise Users, has billed as the War Against the Greens.

But the Wise Use Movement's backing of Pombo certainly doesn't explain his rise to power. The Wise Users have had their congressional champions in the past, notably Helen Chenoweth, of Idaho. But they've tended to labor in obscurity, deemed as coarse Visigoths even in their own party. For his first few years, Pombo toiled in a similar kind of isolation. His speeches at property rights confabs denouncing Bruce Babbitt as an agent of the United Nations and the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone as an example of "political paganism" garnered only the occasional comical notice in the gossip pages of the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. His bills to dismantle the Endangered Species Act rarely attracted more than a few dozen co-sponsors and usually went extinct without a hearing.

Lately, though, Pombo has been on a roll. His McCarthyesque hearings on the dangers of "eco-terrorism", where environmentalists were hauled up before the House Resources Committee and forced to endure harangues from both Democrats and Republicans, have now culminated in a series of arrests by the FBI of nearly a dozen environmental activists on charges of sabotage, conspiracy and arson. Rod Coronado, an editor of the Earth First! Journal and probably the most famous animal rights activist in North America, was also arrested for giving a speech in 2003 at UC San Diego where he demonstrated how to make and use a Molotov cocktail.

Pombo's scheme to sell off millions of acres of federal forest and range lands, once considered political poison, was adopted by the Bush administration this fall, with a proposal to dispose of 200,000 acres of public land to mining and timber companies and real estate speculators, all in the name of funding rural schools.

This fall Pombo came close to realizing his wildest dream when the House of Representatives passed his bill to annihilate the Endangered Species Act by a hefty margin of 229 to 193. Soon after this mighty triumph, the Washington Times announced the onset of "Pombomania" among young Republican ultras.

Ironically, Pombomania may owe more to his enemies than to the shock troops of the property rights movement. Plucking bellicose quotes from his book and his stump speeches, the Sierra Club turned Pombo into the personification of environmental villainy. In dozens of mass fundraising appeals, Pombo was presented as the new James Watt, the dark agent of the looting of the public estate. Pombo glories in his role. "I'm their bogeyman", Pombo gloats. "They need me to raise money."

The Sierra Club's threat inflation of Pombo almost certainly factored into Tom DeLay's decision to catapult the congressman over the heads of more senior members to the chair of the Resources Committee, one of the most prized seats in Congress.

Pombo also got help from the Democrats. His rewrite of the Endangered Species Act, which eliminates the designation of "critical habitat" for listed species, sets in legal stone many of the practices implemented administratively by his former nemesis Bruce Babbitt when he served as Clinton's Interior Secretary.

In Clinton-time, Babbitt simply refused to designate critical habitat for dozens of at-risk animals and plants, forcing environmental groups into court to compel the Fish and Wildlife Service to live up to its legal obligations. The suits were slow in coming while Clinton was in office, but they began to proliferate after Bush came to power.

Bush and Pombo used those lawsuits, most of which resulted in favorable verdicts for the greens, to charge that the law was outdated and was being exploited by militant environmentalists and litigation-happy lawyers. They got some unexpected help from one of the liberal lions of the House, George Miller, the former chair House Natural Resources Committee. This summer Miller said that the law needed to be reworked.

"There is a recognition that the current critical habitat arrangement doesn't work, for a whole host of reasons," said Miller. "There are some in the environmental community who think the answer is just no to any change, and I think that's a problem."

At those words from a politician once regarded by greens as the most enlightened member of the House, critical habitat went extinct without a fight. There were warning signs of Miller's impending collapse. Shortly after the Democrats lost control of the House, Miller gave up his leadership position on the Resources committee. Friends said he was too tired to fight the likes of Don Young and Pombo.

Another Democrat, Dennis Cardoza, Representative in California's 18th District, worked closely with Pombo to craft his assault on ESA, including a provision that is likely to bankrupt the U.S. Treasury faster than Halliburton's Iraq contracts. Pombo's bill calls for the federal government to pay off developers for not violating the law. Under this rule, the feds would have to compensate property owners for value of a "proposed use" for land inhabited by endangered species. It's a shakedown provision. A Central Valley rancher could proposed to build a casino in kit fox habitat, and the feds would be required to pay out millions to keep them from building it. Then the next year the same landowner could come back with new plans for a golf course and get another payoff.

Sound absurd? A similar law was passed by the voters of Oregon two years ago. The law was initially stuck down by a state court as unconstitutional, but last month the Oregon Supreme Court reinstated the statute, which virtually wipes out the state's vaunted land-use planning regulations.

Pombo's bill is currently stalled in the Senate, where Lincoln Chaffee, the Republican from Rhode Island, has vowed to keep the Endangered Species Act from being "Pomboized". (It may be a coincidence but one of the only zoos in the country that has a kit fox exhibit is the Chaffee Zoological Gardens in Fresno.)

Chaffee may resist his fellow Republican, but you won't hear similar objections from California's senior Senator Dianne Feinstein. She and Pombo have worked closely over the years on everything from water policy in the Central Valley (more water for farms, less for salmon) and logging in the High Sierra near Lake Tahoe. The real estate caucus sticks together.

Pombo says there are other laws he wants to obliterate in the next few years. At the top of his hit list is the National Environmental Policy Act, the law that requires Environmental Impact Statements for all federal projects.

It's been a dramatic run, but, alas, Pombo may not survive to witness the promised land. The ethical noose is tightening around his political career.

Back in the 90s, Pombo made rich sport of attacking Hillary Clinton for her role in the Travelgate affair. But it now turns out that Pombo' office has its own travel-related problems. Pombo's political Svengali is a man called Steven Ding, who has long served as his chief of staff. When Pombo landed the Resource Committee chair, he also made Ding chief staffer for the committee. Ding was double dipping, getting paid by both the committee and Pombo's office.

Ding lives in Stockton and travels back to California every week. The Resources Committee picks up the tab. From 2003 through 2004, Ding billed the committee $87,000 in commuter charges. Some of those visits may not have been to see Mrs. Ding. Even though he has two positions with Pombo, Ding has enough time to also hire himself out as a private consultant to corporations and lobbyists seeking his insider knowledge. Last year, Ding earned $57,000 in outside consulting fees. On four occasions, the House Ethics Committee has cited Ding for lowballing or failing entirely to report such outside remunerations.

Ding wasn't alone, though. He was traveling down a trail that was blazed by his boss. Each year Pombo's office spends nearly twice as much on travel as the offices of the adjacent congressional districts. The biggest freeloader is Pombo himself.

Last summer, Pombo took his family on a two-week vacation, touring the national parks in a rented RV. He sent the $5,000 bill to the Resources Committee. When Rep. Ellen Tauscher questioned the reimbursement, Pombo said he was doing research. And perhaps he was. A few weeks later after he returned from his grand tour, Pombo's office leaked a white paper to the Washington Times calling on the Bush administration to sell off a dozen national parks.

What about Pombo's wife, Annette, whose recipe for Apple-Walnut Crosscut Pie is the most popular page on the congressman's website? Surely, Annette's travel expenses shouldn't have been covered by the committee. It turns out that since 2001 Pombo has paid his wife and his brother at least $465,000 in consulting fees from his campaign fund.

This wasn't Pombo's first infraction. In 2004, he used office funds to pay for the printing and mailing of a flier to a nationwide list of property rights fanatics urging them to write letters in support of Bush's plan to let snowmobilers run amok all over Yellowstone Park. The Ethics Committee ruled that the flier violated the rules on franking and slashed his mail budget. Later that year, Pombo gave all of the Republican staffers on the Resources Committee a paid vacation in October so they could disperse across the country to work in GOP election campaigns.

In October 2005, the Center for Public Integrity reported that Pombo had taken two overseas junkets to New Zealand and Japan. Both trips were paid for by a group called the International Foundation for Conservation of Natural Resources, which receives funding from bioengineering firms such as Monsanto, also from pro-whaling interests. Pombo did not report the trip on his income tax form, though the IRS considers overseas junkets as gifts on which taxes must be paid.

"I really have no idea what is going on with that foundation," said Pombo, when confronted with the report. "Obviously I will have my accountant check into this." Even by the high standards of congressional evasiveness, this was a spectacular bout of memory loss. Pombo founded International Foundation for Conservation of Natural Resources and served as its chairman until July of last year.

Then there's the Abramoff connection. Like Bush, Pombo now pretends to have a foggy recollection of the beleaguered super lobbyist. "I think I met the guy a few times", Pombo said last month. "But he never stepped foot in my office. Never lobbied me about anything."

Unfortunately for Pombo, Abramoff has left a distinct paper trail across Capital Hill, with much the forensic evidence to be found in the chambers of the Resource Committee, where the business of his clients was so often decided. Duane Gibson, a former top staffer on the Resource Committee, left the committee to work in Abramoff's firm, where he represented mining companies and Indian tribes. Gibson helped Pombo draft a rider that would hand over thousands of acres of prime federal lands to mining companies. Three months before Pombo inserted the measure in the budget bill, Gibson hosted a $1,000-a-head fundraiser for the congressman.

In 2002, Pombo went to bat for Charles Hurwitz, owner of Maxxam and infamous looter of redwoods and of Savings & Loans. Pombo and Tom Delay intimidated federal regulators into dropping an investigation into Hurwitz's banking practices. Most of the legal footwork was done by Gibson, who is now under legal scrutiny by federal prosecutors. Hurwitz, of course, has been a top contributor to Pombo's campaign war chest.

Republicans are so worried about Pombo's ethical dilemmas that they've recruited an old war-horse to challenge him in the upcoming primary: Pete McCloskey. McCloskey is a former congressman and a sponsor of the original version of the Endangered Species Act. McCloskey calls Pombo the "Duke Cunningham of the environment," a reference to the now imprisoned congressman from San Diego who memorialized his menu of bribes on his congressional stationery.

Add to that the fact that Pombo's district is changing, as more and more Bay Area commuters move onto subdivisions that have sprouted up on the old ranches and farms of the Central Valley. If Pombo really wants to keep his seat, perhaps he should lose the goatee and go back to that suggestive moustache.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon: Tales of Corruption and Profiteering in the War on Terror.

| »

You can come to our Valley but can you play our blue violin?

Submitted: Apr 30, 2006

Badlands owes the community an apology. We published a letter to the McClatchy board of directors last week that complained about an article in the Merced Sun-Star some Valley citizens found extremely offensive to Hispanic neighbors, friends, Mexico and Hispanic culture in general.

We seem to have brought down on the community something almost worse than that letter: a series of lectures on theories of literary interpretation, the main one called, “Column wasn’t meant to offend,” by Sun-Star editor Joe Kieta. Perhaps this new professorial tone the Sun-Star is adopting is yet another wonderful benefit of proximity to a UC campus.

Hermaneutics does Merced!

Central Valley Safe Environment Network, which made the complaint to the owners of the Sun-Star, was bombarded by instruction about satire, irony and sarcasm. The author of the article telling Alma Oseguera to get out of the Valley, Keita, a top McClatchy corporate official, Sun-Star publisher Hank Vander Veen and numerous other important people including some local Hispanic “leaders” took time patiently to explain to members of CVSEN, an old Valley grassroots organization, that its members just didn’t understand what the retired journalism professor and freelance columnist really meant.

“Shocking news events like these are tailor-made for commentary,” Kieta wrote in defense of the offensive piece. “Burke decided to write an ironic column that took the extreme opposite side in an effort to point out what he feels is the senselessness of the agency's actions.”

Later, Kieta explains patiently to Valley dumbbells, “But if the irony is missed, readers can be confused or outraged by the comments.” This is followed by the news that the author had received emails soon after publication applauding his extremist views.

We may be confused by Kieta’s superior literary erudition, but it seems like the people who wrote those praises weren’t the least bit confused. They thought they had a regular Bull White Man to speak their racism.

From there, Kieta goes on to explain that the author is a first-rate man who is neither bigoted nor insensitive, and either is Kieta, Vander Veen or the Sun-Star – and if we dummies just knew about irony, satire, sarcasm and such, this whole misunderstanding would never have occurred.

We just didn’t think it was either funny or in good taste. However, our superiors enlightened us: Valley people don’t have no taste, we can’t think so we should just shut up when a former professor employs the highly refined, esoteric tools of the literary art to tell us something that is so far beyond us we could never understand it anyway.

How could we understand these things? We come from these communities – born and raised in them, among immigrants like undocumented Mexican workers. What could they know about a law that criminalizes them?

I guess we’ll have to see. But, from an agricultural perspective, this HR-4437 looks like using gasoline instead of diesel to stoke up an orchard brush-pile fire.

But we have in the Valley our own little canons of etiquette, too, apparently unknown to The McClatchy Company or its outlets who serve most of us our daily print. One of them is that we tend to speak rather respectfully about immigrants since most of us are immigrants and because the Valley has been a settling area for immigrants – from the US as well as other nations – for a long time. We don’t find immigration is a joke. In fact, we’ve learned through the years that if you aren’t careful and joke about it in the wrong company, you will get your teeth kicked in. Of course, our little canons do not rise to the level of McClatchy literary interpretation because they lack the elegance.

The largest concentration of undocumented Mexican workers in the nation lives between Stockton and Los Angeles. Hispanic people have always lived in the Valley, in fact a number of them lived here before the arrival of the Anglos. In the last 40 years, since the termination of the Bracero Program, the beginnings of the Maquiladora system, the end of the large Anglo migrations out of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, and the increasing militarization of the US/Mexican border, the population of undocumented Mexican workers in California has radically increased. Agribusiness loves a large pool of workers, the more vulnerable to intimidation and coercion the better from its corporate point of view. In recent years illegal aliens have moved beyond agriculture and even, during the latest speculation-driven construction boom, into building trades.

These people will not be uprooted from the Valley now. They are part of our social fabric, our neighbors, friends and coworkers, and many are homeowners. We have been aware for decades that the lives of our immigrant neighbors are frequently complicated by inadequate papers. Border Patrol sweeps are hardly news in these parts. It’s an old game of harassment and intimidation the government plays whenever special interests get nervous about the workers’ emotional state. The special interests prefer the workers be afraid. Signs of courage, organizing and that sort of thing alarm special interests, who then instruct the government to “do something about the illegal alien situation.”

Actually, however, our Hispanic neighbors and friends here in the Valley have had some rudimentary literary education in recent years. A colorful fellow in Chiapas, who wears a ski mask, smokes a pipe, and controls a region of that state for the benefit of its indigenous inhabitants (mainly Mayas), has shown novel tastes in revolutionary literature. According to this subcomandante, all people really need to read is Don Quixote, with perhaps a little Shakespeare on the side, to get an adequate sense of reality in the post-NAFTA world in a nation that lacked an ideological vocabulary to describe reality.

The Badlands editorial staff – always seeking the key to understanding reality – has had an on-going Quixote study group for a dozen years. We feel it has improved our understanding of reality, but evidently not enough to grasp satire with sufficient depth to understand the refined sense of humor of the retired journalism professor or his bosses.

What we hear in these particularly brutal Border Patrol sweeps, backed by HR 4437, is an old simile from Hispanic political science: The state is like a violin, the left hand holds it but the right hand plays it.

The author of HR 4437, James Sensenbrenner, R-WI, understands this saying because his congressional district has the largest concentration of Hispanic dairy workers in Wisconsin, until 1993 (when California took the lead) the largest dairy state in the nation. He knows who holds it and who plays it.

You can bet the Grand Old Party of Global Corporations (formerly the American GOP or Republican Party) also knows who holds the fiddle and who plays it. Going down the list of the Immigration Reform Caucus Members for the 109th Congress makes interesting reading: half of the 90-plus members come from former Confederate states and the group’s rightwing fervor is “balanced” by two Democratic Party members.

HR 4437 would:

Make being undocumented a felony rather than a civil offense.

• Expand the definition of smuggling to include dealing with undocumented knowingly or with wanton neglect of their status.

• Make felony record an automatic basis to deny legal status and citizenship.

• Require employers, including union hiring halls to report all employers for federal examination of their eligibility to work.

• Have mandatory detention for suspected undocumented not from Mexico or Canada.

• Militarize the border with a wall of several hundred miles and high tech military surveillance.

• Eliminate due process from many immigration procedures.

• Deputize local and state police to enforce federal immigration laws.

Dennis Cardoza, to his great credit, voted against HR 4437.

This law makes about as much sense as Prohibition but is “good politics” for the GOP-GC because it criminalizes and terrorizes its victims into a position in which they must respond with the only political tactic they have, large public demonstrations. Since non-citizens, by definition, don’t vote, the rightwing political strategy of the year is to scare the hell out of everyone who does vote with another American alien scare, all mixed in together with the eternal war against terrorism. What else can they do? Their president lied to get us into a war we’re losing; his very election in 2000 was the result of highly organized vote rigging in the Southern state where his brother is governor; his regime has begun to spy on everyone they don’t like; he has given monstrous tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent in the nation and has stimulated a jobless economic recovery; with the largest national debt ever reached, the dollar is propped up by nervous Asian trading partners China and Japan; and the off-shoring of what is left of essential industries continues. He is so unpopular that in New York City yesterday an estimated 300,000 people braved a huge NYPD gauntlet to march against his war and all the rest of his policies. And gasoline costs more than $3 per gallon and the price is rising – a boon to the American president’s oil company constituents.

So, let’s see if we can get the “aliens” riled up, reason the Texans who rule us.

All the failures of the Bush regime must be the fault of undocumented Mexican workers, right? Nobody is certainly going to even remember, much less believe that seditious little marsupial, Pogo, who declared c. 1955: “We have found the enemy and he is us.”

Blame the undocumented Mexican worker, tack on a fat pork barrel in the form of a Israeli-style wall across the border, and pass another idiotic, unenforceable law terrorizing another in the long line of hard-working immigrant groups who have come to the United States, give the racists something to dream on and maintain control of the Congress by the GOP-GC.

The left hand holds the fiddle; the right hand plays an ugly, monotonous, malevolent tune:

· about learning more hatred;
· about more graft, corruption, oppression and police power;
· a ballad about betraying for the benefit of special interests the justice upon which we stand, without which we fall;
· and about getting more stupid by the month through denying (with help from our media corporations) the multiple dangers lying ahead instead of facing them like the relatively courageous, independently thinking people we have shown ourselves to be from time to time.

It’s not funny at all, when you come to think about it, because this authoritarian regime is above wit, rhetoric, argument, and is especially above humor. The emperor may look ridiculous without a stitch of clothing on, but if you grin, you could end up in Gitmo. This regime speaks only with power, money and force. It makes you really nostalgic for US Sen. Alan Simpson, R-WY, if, of course, you remember Simpson, which requires an inability to erase the recent history of your nation from your mind. The debate between Simpson and Rep. Barbara Jordan, D-TX, is evidence that before the present political nightmare, the US Congress was capable of thought – including analysis, argument, a very high level of rhetoric, wit, humility, humor and wisdom – even on the very difficult issue of the immigration of undocumented Mexican workers.

And, by the way, now that we’ve dispensed with its literary interpretation, does McClatchy by chance know where Alma Oseguera and her 50-plus fellow victims from our community are now? We’ll take the information in simple declarative sentences. Save the hermaneutics for the boardroom where the elites meet.

Happy May Day!

Pedro Conejo-Tonto

Column wasn't meant to offend
By Joe Kieta
… For our part, the Sun-Star will be more careful in the future to make sure satirical columns are clearly labeled as such, which will eliminate any confusion. We could have labeled Burke's column accordingly, but didn't -- and for this, please accept our apologies.
Biting satire shouldn't bite back. We'll do our best to make sure this confusion doesn't happen again.
Weekend voices: Liberty, opportunity are for Americans only
By David F. Burke
Last Updated: April 22, 2006
Get out of this valley, Alma Oseguara. Maybe after a few weeks in a Kern County jail you'll finally understand that we don't want you and your kind here in the San Joaquin Valley. … About 300 years ago, his ancestors, named Garcia, came through Texas -- well, it may have been "Tejas" then -- and up into northern New -- I mean Nuevo -- Mexico and southern Colorado.
Then, 150 years later, my ancestors picked a fight with Mexico. We first tried to get what we wanted peacefully, offering our neighbors to the south $25 million for California. But the ignorant Mexicans thought the state was worth more than that.
So, we sent two armies into Mexico and a third to California, by way of New Mexico. The silly Mexicans refused to surrender, so we captured Mexico City and "convinced" our captors to accept just $15 million for the Golden State. The vanquished Mexicans threw in New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Utah - about half of their country, all told - for free.
And that, Alma, should explain why my brown-skinned son -- who was born in New Mexico -- gets to stay while you -- who were born in Old Mexico -- must leave.
It's not personal. It's the law. If you like, you can think of it as manifest destiny.
Now, get out of my country. And don't come back until you are legal.

Gadamer, Hans Georg, Truth and Method, Continuum, New York, 1994, pp. 190-192, 265-266
Hispanic Workers Impact Increasing in Wisconsin
By Khrysten Darm
UW-RF News Bureau
A recent presentation by UW-River Falls dairy science Professor Dennis Cooper reflected a new reality in Wisconsin: 10 percent of its dairy workforce speaks Spanish.
Cooper spoke at a Hispanic Dairy Labor Conference recently in Kaukauna,Wis. His presentation was titled: "?Que Pasa? What is Happening with Hispanic Workers? Nine Ideas to Improve Your Success with Hispanic Employees." … Ten percent of the workforce in Wisconsin is Hispanic, and although a high concentration is in the southeastern part of the state, there are still Hispanic workers that come to larger dairy farms in this area. "We are trying to serve dairy farmers and they need information on how to manage a multicultural workforce," Cooper said.
Check out Members of Congress' Immigration Report Cards at
Latino Immigrants in favor of May first economic boycott
Burbank, CA--(HISPANIC PR WIRE)--April 26, 2006--The large majority of Latino immigrants will support the May first economic boycott. More than 70% of the respondents stated that they will support the “Great Latino Stop” by not attending work, buying anything, or sending their children to school, according to a study conducted by Garcia Research made public today.
“The study indicates that even with the differences in opinion that exist amongst leaders and organizations about the best manner in which to make the boycott effective, and the possible negative repercussions like sanctions and unemployment, the immigrant population has received with great enthusiasm the idea of the boycott”, said Cristina Garcia, director of El Pulso Latino, the division of Public Polling of Garcia Research …,1,7557293.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed
How immigration roils tiny Georgian town
Calhoun finds itself at the center of national debate over illegal laborers
By Dahleen Glanton
Tribune national correspondent
Published April 28, 2006
CALHOUN, Ga. -- This is carpet country, home to the largest concentration of carpeting factories in the world. It is a place of abundant jobs and affordable housing--magnets for a growing population of Latino immigrants that some longtime residents see as a threat to their way of life.
Calhoun's 13,000 people are mostly working-class whites. But now nearly one out of six residents is from another country. Some whites see immigrants, legal or not, as unfair contenders in the competition for coveted jobs they have held for generations at the carpet mills. For the most part, they have accepted the changing demographics with apprehension, much as they reluctantly took to forced integration with African-Americans in the 1960s.
Published on Saturday, April 29, 2006 by the Associated Press
FBI Investigated 3,501 People Without Warrants
by Mark Sherman
WASHINGTON - The FBI secretly sought information last year on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents from their banks and credit card, telephone and Internet companies without a court's approval, the Justice Department said Friday. Confirms our fear all along that National Security Letters are being used to get the records of thousands of innocent Americans without court approval.
It was the first time the Bush administration has publicly disclosed how often it uses the administrative subpoena known as a National Security Letter, which allows the executive branch of government to obtain records about people in terrorism and espionage investigations without a judge's approval or a grand jury subpoena. Friday's disclosure was mandated as part of the renewal of the Patriot Act, the administration's sweeping anti-terror law. The FBI delivered a total of 9,254 NSLs relating to 3,501 people in 2005, according to a report submitted late Friday to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate. In some cases, the bureau demanded information about one person from several companies. The numbers from previous years remain classified, officials said.
Published on Sunday, April 30, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times
A Day Without All-Stars?
by Dave Zirin
May day 2006 is being called the "Great American Boycott" or "A Day Without Latinos."
Across the country, Latinos and their allies say they will neither work nor shop Monday to protest what they consider anti-immigrant legislation before Congress.
Although many industries and work sites may be affected, one multibillion-dollar enterprise would be crippled by such a boycott: Major League Baseball.
Of the top 10 hitters in the National League, six are from Latin America, including Albert Pujols, last year's most valuable player. In the American League, five of the top 10 are Latinos, including batting leader and 2003 MVP Miguel Tejada.
Latinos dominate the pantheon of the game's superstars like never before. Seven of the last 10 MVPs in the American League are Latinos. The new reality was laid bare at this spring's World Baseball Classic: The U.S. team couldn't compete with its Latin American rivals, failing to even make it out of pool play … The growing Latino presence in Major League Baseball is a story of exploitation and opportunity. Club owners set up baseball academies in countries where future prospects can be signed in their early teens for pennies, then fired with little cost if they aren't good enough to play in the big leagues. As one player said to me, "The options in the Dominican Republic are jail, the army, the factory or baseball." Many talented players make it to the U.S. and play minor league ball, then stay illegally if they're dropped from a team to chase the dream of a professional baseball career. The outer boroughs of New York City are filled with semipro teams of men in their 30s still thirsting for that contract and hoping it comes before they are deported.
2006 Immigrant Rights Club Educational Guide …
Author: CPUSA Education Commission
First published 04/27/2006 15:25
This educational has the goal of upgrading our understanding of the struggle for immigrant rights and against repressive immigration legislation which is taking place right now throughout the country. The goal is to place in bold relief the central problems of inequality, criminalization, and the greed of US corporations. The suggested readings which are attached include the 2006 report to the National Board on immigration, the resolution on immigration passed at the 28th National Convention, and a PWW article.
The club should invite guests to participate in this educational discussion of the immigrant rights struggle and immediately distribute the educational guide with the attached reading materials to all who will be involved. A discussion leader should be selected to facilitate the discussion. At least 45 minutes to an hour should be devoted to the full educational discussion.
Discussion Questions:
1. How have corporate and governmental policies shaped changes in the immigrant population and the challenges facing the immigrant population? How have the conditions for immigrants worsened?
2. What has been and is now the contribution of organized labor to the fight for immigrant rights?
3. What are some aspects of positive immigration reform? What can your club and district do to help advance the consciousness of the working class, nationally oppressed communities, women, and youth on the issue of immigrants rights? What are some obstacles which must be overcome? What can your club and district do to participate in this struggle? …
Catholic Cardinal Mahony Slams House Bill HR 4437
Liberal Politics: U.S. -- Apr 11 2006
Tells Bush That Priests Will Not Verify Legal Status
In response to an immigration bill passed in late 2005 by the US House, Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, the largest US diocese with five million Catholics, wrote this letter to President Bush, decrying the new mandate that organizations first check immigration status before providing services to any person. …

December 30, 2005
The Honorable
George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Bush:
The House of Representatives recently passed a border-security Bill (H.R. 4437) that has enormous implications and ramifications for all of us in this country.
While I am surely in favor of taking appropriate government action to protect the borders of our country, not every action step is feasible or advisable. Apparently, the recently passed House Bill will require of all personnel of Churches and of all non-profit organizations to verify the legal immigration status of every single person served through our various entities.
In effect, priests, ministers, rabbis, and others involved in various Church-related activities will be forced top become "quasi-immigration enforcement officials." The Catholic Church alone offers a vast spectrum of services for all in need, including education, health care, and social services. Our golden rule has always been to serve people in need--not to verify beforehand their immigration status.
But the Bill imposes incredibly penalties upon any person assisting others' through a Church or a social service organization. Up to five years in prison and seizure of assets would accompany serving the poor who later turn out to be here without proper legal documentation.
One could interpret this Bill to suggest that any spiritual and pastoral service given to any person requires proof of legal residence. Are we to stop every person coming to Holy Communion and first ask them to produce proof of legal residence before we can offer them the Body and Blood of Christ?
Speaking for the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, such restrictions are impossible to comply with. The underlying basis for our service to others ,especially to the poor, is the example, words, and actions of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. The 25th chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel does not simply invite us to serve others in the name of Jesus, but offers such service as a requisite to the Kingdom of God:
"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."
Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen. I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25: 31-46)
This one example in Matthew's Gospel is foundational to our discipleship of Jesus Christ, and all that we do in service to those in need is done in light of our Baptismal commitments.
It is staggering for the federal government to stifle our spiritual and pastoral outreach to the poor, and to impose penalties for doing what our faith demands of us.
Throughout your Presidency, you have encouraged Faith Based Organizations to be strong partners in meeting the needs of the those in our communities. Yet, this Bill will produce the opposite effect.
You must speak out clearly and forcefully in opposition to these repressive---and impossible--aspects of any immigration reform efforts. Your personal leadership is needed to counter such ill-advised efforts.
Thanking you for giving strong leadership in this matter, and with kindest personal regards, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ,
His Eminence
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles
In Leak Cases, New Pressure on Journalists
By Adam Liptak
The New York Times
Sunday 30 April 2006
Earlier administrations have fired and prosecuted government officials who provided classified information to the press. They have also tried to force reporters to identify their sources.
But the Bush administration is exploring a more radical measure to protect information it says is vital to national security: the criminal prosecution of reporters under the espionage laws …

| »

To manage site Login