Journalism

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service comments on Minor Subdivision Application Number MS07-058 [Parcel Map Waiver] – Chris Robinson; r

Submitted: Jul 13, 2008

Badlands is declaring the coming days a Sunshine Week to post a number of documents submitted to Merced County government in the last few months. Some of these documents have been included in the official packets of information for Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meetings. Others have been suppressed.

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Opposition letter to Merced Board of Supervisors re: Proposed Minor Subdivision Application/Parcel Map Waiver No. MS07-058 (Chri

Submitted: Jul 10, 2008

Badlands is declaring the coming days a Sunshine Week to post a number of documents submitted to Merced County government in the last few months. Some of these documents have been included in the official packets of information for Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meetings. Others have been suppressed.

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Applicant attorneys' unofficial reply to Raptor/POW letter

Submitted: Jul 09, 2008

Badlands is declaring the coming days a Sunshine Week to post a number of documents submitted to Merced County government in the last few months. Some of these documents have been included in the official packets of information for Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meetings. Others have been suppressed.

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Raptor/POW letter on Robinson parcels, July 1, 2008

Submitted: Jul 08, 2008

Badlands is declaring the coming days a Sunshine Week to post a number of documents submitted to Merced County government in the last few months. Some of these documents have been included in the official packets of information for Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meetings. Others have been suppressed.

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Badlands declares Sunshine Week

Submitted: Jul 08, 2008

Badlands is declaring the coming days a Sunshine Week to post a number of documents submitted to Merced County government in the last few months. Some of these documents have been included in the official packets of information for Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meetings. Others have been suppressed.

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What's happening here?

Submitted: Mar 24, 2008
In his history of the Great Crash, economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted, “Congress was concerned that commercial banks in general and member banks of the Federal Reserve System in particular had both aggravated and been damaged by stock market decline partly because of their direct and indirect involvement in the trading and ownership of speculative securities.

“The legislative history of the Glass-Steagall Act,” Galbraith continued, “shows that Congress also had in mind and repeatedly focused on the more subtle hazards that arise when a commercial bank goes beyond the business of acting as fiduciary or managing agent and enters the investment banking business either directly or by establishing an affiliate to hold and sell particular investments.” Galbraith noted that “During 1929 one investment house, Goldman, Sachs & Company, organized and sold nearly a billion dollars' worth of securities in three interconnected investment trusts--Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation; Shenandoah Corporation; and Blue Ridge Corporation. All eventually depreciated virtually to nothing” ...

Scholes’ and Mertons’ fundamental axioms of risk, the assumptions on which all their models were built, were wrong. They had been built on sand, fundamentally and catastrophically wrong. Their mathematical options pricing model assumed that there were Perfect Markets, markets so extremely deep that traders' actions could not affect prices. They assumed that markets and players were rational. Reality suggested the opposite—markets were fundamentally irrational in the long-term. But the risk pricing models of Black, Scholes and others over the past two or more decades had allowed banks and financial institutions to argue that traditional lending prudence was old fashioned. With suitable options insurance, risk was no longer a worry. Eat, drink and be merry...

That, of course, ignored actual market conditions in every major market panic since Black-Scholes model was introduced on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. It ignored the fundamental role of options and ‘portfolio insurance’ in the Crash of 1987; it ignored the causes of the panic that in 1998 brought down Long Term Capital Management – of which Scholes and Merton were both partners. Wall Street blissfully ignored the obvious along with the economists and governors in the Greenspan Fed.

Financial markets, contrary to the religious dogma taught at every business school since decades, were not smooth, well-behaved models following the Gaussian Bell-shaped Curve as if it were a law of the universe. The fact that the main architects of modern theories of financial engineering—now given the serious-sounding name ‘financial economics’—all got Nobel prizes, gave the flawed models the aura of Papal infallibility. Only three years after the 1987 crash the Nobel Committee in Sweden gave Harry Markowitz and Merton Miller the prize. In 1997 amid the Asia crisis, it gave the award to Robert Merton and Myron Scholes...

The nature of the fatally flawed risk models used by Wall Street, by Moody’s, by the securities Monoline insurers and by the economists of the US Government and Federal Reserve was such that they all assumed recessions were no longer possible, as risk could be indefinitely diffused and spread across the globe... F. William Engdahl, The Financial Tsunami, http://www.globalresearch.ca

The community was shaken Thursday by the news that County Bank (corporate headquarters in Merced) was experiencing difficulties. It's stock had lost 90 percent of its value in two years, down to $3.76 a share on Wednesday, having lost half its value from the previous day. The CEO retired.

With the exception of a rather dramatic graph on the first page -- a jagged descending line showing the drop in stock price -- the McClatchy Chain covered the story as a momentary "blip." It called upon Valley economic gurus Tappan Munroe and Lon Hatamiya (former state commerce secretary under Gov. Gray Davis) for perspective. Munroe's insoucant metaphor, a "souffle with the air slowly leaking out," aptly caught the perspective of our witless Valley economic gurus.

But, that wasn't, and no doubt isn't, the end of the County Bank story. On Saturday, McClatchy reported that the bank stock had rebounded an astounding "72 percent," to $6.48. Problems over? A local builder, both a stockholder and client of County Bank, expressed his "personal opinion" that the bank is "very strong and very well-managed but the (real estate) values declining as rapidly as they did -- it just caught them by surprise."

McClatchy's Modesto outlet published a reassuring story Monday to the effect that local commercial banks didn't invest in subprime home loans and, while developers aren't always paying their loans at the moment and auto loans are a problem, their portfolios are adequately diversified to withstand the fallout from the general collapse of real estate values and foreclosures.

We'd like to go on record as saying that, beyond the stock price and information from public bank documents about its losses, we don't believe a word McClatchy has written about the problem. And the unasked questions are too numerous to list, but one could begin with the compensation for the retiring CEO, compensation for the economic gurus, was it involved at any stage in bundling subprime loans, and how will its losses affect it local agricultural lending this season?

What has happened is a massive loss of confidence, the end of every speculative bubble since the Dutch Tulip. We recall the early boosting of the bubble in Merced, when the same local builder was managing the reelection campaign of former state Sen. Dick Monteith, then claiming to the "real Mr. UC Merced." The builder and his candidate was "confidently" claiming UC Merced was a "done deal" when, in fact, as they knew well, it was not. So, forgive us for our skepticism that the local finance, insurance and real estate industry, bought politicians and McClatchy "were caught by surprise." The only real local question is: Who got to the souffle before it went flat?

The predatory lending practices that have caused a world credit crisis as well as our local crisis, were done here face-to-face by local lenders together with local realtors to local and speculative buyers. Judging by the rate of foreclosures in the north San Joaquin valley, one of the highest rates in the nation, there was an enormous amount of fraud committed here. In fact, it might be said that today the area is floating on a sea of "Liar Loans."

From the incredible amount of lying behind UC Merced, in which the local newspaper was thoroughly involved, to the rise and fall of the real estate value souffle, to this unhappy news about County Bank, there has been fraud, political manipulation, wholesale denial of environmental law and regulation and public process laws on the local, state and federal level, and a pattern of harassment of members of the public who asked any questions. This deceit has been broadly spread among what passes for "leadership" in Merced -- from the builder-politician to the Great Valley Center, UC regents and administrators of UC Merced and their boosters, municipal and county government, state and federal legislators, landowners, developers and lenders.

Saddest of all, few if any of the perpetrators regarded this as fraud or deceit. It was just good business. Alchemical formulas emanating from the nation's financial centers "proved" that risk was not risk and the more bad loans made the better. There were a few dissenting voices, but they were ignored as being, at the least, unpatriotic.

Local legacies of local greed include: a campus born with "complications," tremendous destruction of regional natural resources and wildlife habitat, the worst air quality in the nation, decreasing water quality and supply, local governments with swollen salaries for elected officials and department heads and shrinking budgets, unfinished subdivisions with empty houses and nervous residents, shaky banks, political corruption, bad news for the newspapers to cover over as best they can, and the same old compulsion to boost and to deny.

Badlands Journal editorial board
------------------

3-20-08
Merced Sun-Star
County Bank parent company anticipates first loss
CEO Thomas Hawker announces that he will step down when a replacement can be found....LESLIE ALBRECHT

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/190331.html
Shares of Capital Corp of the West, the Merced-based parent company of County Bank, were hammered Wednesday following news that the company expects to post its first-ever yearly loss.
Capital Corp said it anticipates it will lose $4 million for 2007.
Shares were trading at $3.76 -- a seven-year low -- when the Nasdaq market closed, a 64 percent decline from the day's opening price. The one-day percentage drop was the largest recorded on any of the major U.S. stock exchanges Wednesday. A year ago, Capital Corp's stock traded at $26.55.
The company blamed its anticipated loss on "the rapid decline in real estate values in California's Central Valley in the fourth quarter of 2007." It was then that Merced led the nation in home-value depreciation, with prices plunging 19 percent between 2007 and 2006, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.
The drop in real estate values means the collateral backing County Bank loans is worth less than it was when the loans were made one or two years ago. Capital Corp must now reclassify those loans as riskier. That, in turn, means the bank must back the reclassified loans with more money than what's required to back more secure loans -- money that comes directly out of Capital Corp's revenue stream, Smith explained...
The loss isn't tied directly to the subprime mortgage meltdown, he added, because County Bank doesn't make many home mortgages or invest in subprime loans. However, the company does lend money to developers buying land, and that land is less valuable than it was a few years ago. "Even though the guy is still paying his loan, by federal law, we have to downgrade the loan because the quality of collateral has gone down," said Smith.
Capital Corp's current problems were foreshadowed in the summer of 2007 when the company reported that a foreclosed loan to a housing developer had put a $5 million dent in its quarterly income compared with the previous year...

3-21-08
Merced Sun-Star
Bank's shares bounce back 72%
Analyst says volatility a reflection of economic conditions and lower Valley real estate values...LESLIE ALBRECHT

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/191875.html
Capital Corp of the West, the Merced-based parent company of County Bank, saw its stock rebound strongly Thursday, shooting up 72 percent from the seven-year low it hit earlier this week.
That drop had come after the company announced its first-ever yearly loss. Capital Corp expects to post a $4 million loss for 2007, the result of plunging real estate values.
At the Nasdaq's market close on Thursday, Capital Corp's stock price had risen to $6.48 a share, compared with $3.76 on Wednesday...
On Thursday Capital Corp put the focus on the present, announcing that unaudited internal financial reports from January and February show the bank has adequate capital on hand. The company had previously told federal regulators that it had fallen below what regulators consider "well-capitalized" status.
Joe Morford, a San Francisco-based analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said while the company's projected loss may be unsettling, it's typical of the problems California banks will probably face over the next year, especially in areas hard hit by the real estate slowdown.
"Six to 12 months from now, this is not going to look that unusual," said Morford. "We think there's going to be problems for several other banks both in the Central Valley and throughout the state."
He added, "A big part of the success of a community bank is the strength of its local market. Right now Merced and the Central Valley are having a real tough time. You're seeing the banks share that pain."...
On Wednesday, the company announced that it's forming a committee of board members to oversee bank operations; CEO Thomas Hawker will now report to the committee. Capital Corp also said it's hired financial advisers.
Those moves could be a sign that federal regulators are closely watching the bank, Morford suggested. "It looks like (regulators) are telling the bank that you need to raise capital, and there needs to be some changes in management," said Morford. "The regulators don't want to see County Bank fail, so they're doing what they can to ensure that doesn't happen."
Meanwhile, bank clients sounded a cautiously positive note Thursday. Local builder Bob Rucker, who's both a stockholder and client of County Bank, said he's watching intently. "The whole banking system is going through a major crisis right now with liquidity," said Rucker. "My personal opinion of the bank is that they're very strong and very well-managed, but the (real estate) values declining as rapidly as they did -- it just caught them by surprise."...

3-24-08
Modesto Bee
Valley's smaller banks eluding upheaval in financial industry
Area firms steer clear of most home loans, limiting fallout from crisis...BEN van der MEER

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/248088.html
While giant banks such as Bear Stearns implode as an indirect result of the housing crisis, many of the community banks based in the Northern San Joaquin Valley report being largely insulated from such upheavals.
That's true even after last week, when Merced-based County Bank announced a $4 million loss in 2007, and then saw its stock lose more than half its value in one day before rallying late in the week.
Jeff Burda, president of Modesto Commerce Bank, said most community banks don't make many home loans, including the subprime loans that prompted the recent housing meltdown...
Other banks, like County Bank, may have avoided subprime securities, but made substantial loans to commercial builders. With new housing at a virtual standstill, those builders aren't building, Burda said, and loans aren't being paid...
Credit agencies that monitor banks over time on the basis of criteria such as earnings and liquidity take a more measured stance.
Bankrate.com, a consumer finance Web site, gave five valley community banks, including County, Bank of Stockton and Farmers & Merchants, ratings of three or four stars -- the same ratings most banks receive, with five stars being the best, according to the site...

Chancellor Kang's humility, skills seen as good fit for UC Merced...MICHELLE HATFIELD
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/248077.html
MERCED -- Steve Kang has become a road warrior.
A different kind of leader
Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who stepped down as founding chancellor to return to teaching, is remembered for her stiff demeanor and commanding presence. (After going back to the classroom in 2006, Tomlinson-Keasey quietly retired in June, moving to Georgia. She couldn't be reached for comment.)...
Kang said he believes the best leaders are those who earn trust by example.
"You have to be part of a team...
"(Tomlinson-Keasey) never really went to small events. Chancellor Kang goes to everything. I think that's why he's so popular among students," said Brenda Ramirez, a psychology junior.
Goals and plans... Focus on students urged...

Accomplishments
Getting UC Merced closer to permit approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for campus expansion and an adjacent university residence community
Starting a strategic planning process to guide the university's academic future
Drumming up community support for a medical school

Goals
Beef up student recruitment
Solve budget issues facing the campus, including lack of physical space for professors, students and research
Continue paving the road to a UC Merced medical school
Continue research initiatives among professors, focusing on issues specific to the Central Valley such as agriculture and water and air quality
Academic planning -- "Where are you going to be putting your resources? What do you want to be the best in the world at? You can't be the best at everything," UC President Robert Dynes said.

UC Merced Facts
Year opened: 2005
Number of students: 1,800
Number of employees: 884
Annual budget: $100 million
Size of campus: 18 buildings, 105 acres
Academics: 17 majors, 17 minors
Number of alumni: 76
Estimated amount of money generated by university: $1.2 billion since 2000 ...

Expansion compromise for UC Merced campus...Editorial
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/248069.html
It took six years for the University of California Board of Regents to choose where in the San Joaquin Valley to build its 10th campus. It's already taken more than seven years for UC to figure out how to position the campus and the adjoining community on its selected site east of Merced.
What was the hang-up? Limiting the damage to wetlands and to native plants and animals, such as the bald eagle, fairy shrimp and Colusa grass...
Finally, last year, some meaningful conversations started taking place among UC, the corps and two other federal agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. By October, the university announced it had a revised map that reduced the size of the campus and the placement of the community. Last month, the university submitted its formal permit application, which triggers an environmental review process that typically takes 12 to 14 months...
UC needs the Corps' permit to continue with its long-term campus plans, but it is just as essential that there will be shops, restaurants and other amenities close by for students and staff. Some current students and a number of prospective students complain about the isolation of the campus and how far it is into town.
Downsizing the campus by 100 acres does not reduce the academic choices or activities that UC Merced will offer. In fact, it is appropriate that the campus -- which already has won awards for environmental design and energy conservation -- should have a footprint that does the least possible damage to the environment.
It took too long, but we commend university officials and regulators for reaching what appears to be a good compromise.

If anyone can fix (or help) UC, it's this guy...Short Takes
http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/248145.html
The University of California system -- 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories -- is at a crossroads. With its leadership stepping down after five years; with UC's share of the state budget declining; with the economy changing rapidly; and with a need for innovation greater than ever, a new UC president will step into an extremely challenging environment. On top of these long-term issues is the need to recover from the 2005 controversy over administrative bloat and bonuses, stipends, relocation packages and other forms of unreported compensation to top administrators. Then there's California's short-term budget crisis, which will likely require increases in student fees and rethinking of financial aid. Fortunately, in Mark Yudof, a search committee has tapped the right person to serve as the next University of California president. This first-rate constitutional scholar and teacher has served as chancellor of the University of Minnesota system (1997 to 2002) and the University of Texas system (2002 to now). The UC system really needs someone from outside the system to bring in fresh ideas, fresh personnel and shake up old ways of doing business. Yudof is ideally suited to do that. An extremely effective manager, imaginative thinker and savvy political leader, amazingly he still finds time to teach. He knows how to deal with politicians and the state budget process, create endowed professorships, increase financial aid for students and encourage research partnerships. The UC system needs this kind of president. In a reduced and changing presidency, Yudof is perfect. The regents vote Thursday. They should approve him with unanimous enthusiasm.

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Loose Cheeks, March 10, 2008

Submitted: Mar 10, 2008

Loose Cheeks
FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT

Loose Cheeks: Hot Tips
By Lucas Smithereen
Loose Cheeks Senior Editor

Got a hot tip for Loose Cheeks? Call the Loose Cheeks hot-tip line: (000) CHE-EEKS. We’ll get back to you whenever.

A member of the public recently directed the attention of Loose Cheeks’ intrepid reporter A.J. Gangle to the wild, wacky world of agbiz, beginning with the Merced County Farm Bureau's February 2008 newsletter, the New York Times and the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database for a few enlightening items.

Item #1

Merced County Farm Bureau: "We farm. You eat."
We live in a diverse state that is able to produce over 350 different commodities under the most stringent regulations in our nation. California is the number one agricultural producing state. Of the top ten Ag producing counties, California claims eight, with Merced County ranked 6th in the nation. We are blessed with rich soils, available water, and climatic conditions that allow our family farms to be so productive. We hope this website will give you an insight into our industry and the men and women that are the face of our family farms here in Merced County.
http://www.mercedfarmbureau.com/DesktopDefault.aspx

"Family" means things to the Farm Bureau not always intuitively obvious to urban dwellers, for example, lot splits on ag land to create ranchettes. On p. 12 of the February Merced County Farm Bureau Newsletter,
http://www.mercedfarmbureau.com/pdf/February%202008%20Issue.pdf, the casual reader will find an ad by Century 21 Salvadori Realty, listing three parcels, two 20-acre ranchettes and an 18-acre ranchette. At least two of the three realtors representing the properties, two sisters from the Le Grand area, grew up in "family farming." One of them is a former Farm Bureau director. One ranchette already contains three houses. Another is listed as containing one house and a building site for another, although it is in an "organic"
walnut orchard. On parcels this size, all that is required is a building permit for a second house. The third 20-acre parcel of almonds and one "quaint" dwelling can be purchased together with an adjoining 20-acre parcel in the same varieties of almonds.

"Great income potential!" the ad says. Since it's not great income potential for farming, perhaps what is meant that it is good for more parcel splits and more smaller ranchettes. How long ago were these two 20-acre parcels one 40-acre parcel and then were split by permission of the County in as a favor to the "farming family" that owes it. Or was it a favor to the former family farming realtors?

Item #2

From the Merced County General Plan, Chapter 7:

Objective 2.A. Agricultural areas are protected from conversion to nonagricultural use.
Objective 2.B. The parcelization of large holdings is discouraged.


http://www.co.merced.ca.us/planning/pdf/generalplan/chapter7/chapter7.pdf

2-23-08
Merced Sun-Star
Public Notice
PUBLIC HEARING... to consider: MINOR SUBDIVISION APPLICATION No. MS07-058 - Chris Robinson
http://www.legalnotice.org/pl/mercedsun-star/ShowNotice.aspx
"PUBLIC HEARING" A public hearing will be held by the Merced County Hearing Officer on Monday, March 10, 2008 at 8:30 a.m., in Conference Room 301 on the 3rd Floor, 2222 "M" Street, Merced, California, to consider: MINOR SUBDIVISION APPLICATION No. MS07-058 - Chris Robinson - To divide a 1,027.20 acre parcel into 3 parcels and a remainder resulting in parcel sizes of: Parcel 1 = 198.63 acres; Parcel 2 = 343.18; Parcel 3 =
165.25 acres, and Remainder Parcel = 320.14 acres under a parcel map waiver on property located on the east side of Highway 59, approximately 1/2 mile north of Youd Road in the Snelling area. The project site is designated Agriculture land use in the General Plan and zoned A-2 (Exclusive Agriculture). THE ACTION REQUESTED IS TO APPROVE, DISAPPROVE OR MODIFY THE APPLICATION. DG All persons interested are cordially invited to attend. Written comments are encouraged and should be sent to the Planning and Community Development Department, 2222 "M" Street, Merced, California 95340, prior to the hearing.
If you have any questions, please call the department at (209) 385-7654.
Sincerely, Robert A. Lewis Development Services Director Legal 08 -286 February 23, 2008

For recent arrivals here in the Foreclosure Capital of the West, what's happening here is that a local cattle baronet whose family exploited the Merced River for irrigation, exploited the river for aggregate, exploited the state for millions to try to reclaim the river after the mining, now seeks to exploit the river and the County by exploiting the river "viewshed" for a few luxury estates. Or perhaps it's all about conservation easements, yet another family adventure at the public trough.

6-26-07
Badlands Journal
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=339
Red Menace over Merced
A rouge pall, like the Delta peat fires of old at twilight, hangs over Merced County.
According to Supervisor Mike Nelson, the “socialists” were out this morning at the supervisors’ meeting. A group advocating agricultural preservation were arguing against parcel splits for ranchettes between Gustine and Santa Nella.
And we thought we saw Eugene Debs highballing down the Santa Fe tracks last night.
The Badlands editorial staff investigated, and found at least one ringleader of the agland preservationists has a long history of affiliation with red front groups: the Merced County Chamber of Commerce; American Farmland Trust; the Merced County Farm Bureau; and California Women for Agriculture.
By contrast, Nelson was a union Atwater City fireman for nine years and now draws a public salary from Merced County of over $65,000 a year plus thousands a month in perks, benefits and retirement, beside what the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board pays him to defend special interests from the peril of regulating the worst air pollution in the US. Nelson’s wife is a union public school teacher, drawing a public salary, health and retirement benefits.
We suggest Nelson look again at the red menace hanging over the county. If he can see through the merciless rightwing hypocrisy, he will find it is red ink caused by the reckless, uncontrolled growth approved by majorities of the indemnified supervisors and city councils beholden and in some cases directly benefitting from their ties to finance, insurance and real estate special interests that now control local government in Merced lock, stock and barrel.
Badlands editorial staff

Update: Merced County supervisors' salary is now $74,000 and Nelson is chairman of the board of Merced County Association of Governments, the local pork barrel for federal highway funds.

Item #3

The Merced County Farm Bureau's February newsletter expresses a number of straighforward views about serious issues in the Valley. The executive director wrote about water:

I started the month of February at a water forum sponsored by the City of Fresno. The information was plentiful but we need action, not more words. We need cooperation not litigation. Simply put we need more storage.

Although we're sure Merced's family farmers understood this and all that followed, we were a little mystified.
Action is not litigation and cooperation will produce more dams? There has always been great doubt in the circles traveled by the executive director that Merced County is a part of the state of California.

Item #4

The Valley View editor of the MCFB newsletter, writing about genetically engineered crops, opined that objections to their use and deregulation were "based solely on the fear of the unknown." Gene-drift is a "possibility," according to the author,and "is a legitimate concern that must be considered."

The Union of Concerned Scientists, UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela, Jeffrey M. Smith (Seeds of Deception (2003), Frances Moore Lappe (Food First), Dr. Joseph Cummins, Dr. Wes Jackson (Land Institute), Dr. Arpad Pusztai and F. William Engdahl among many other responsible scientists around the world have been considering GE genetic pollution and a host of other problems arising from genetic engineering of food crops for nearly a decade. None of them, however, are Merced County family farmers, so what could they know?
Even the Catholic Church has spoken of biotechnology as a source of "new sins," but the Vatican Apostolic Penitentiary is a long way from Merced County.

3-10-08
Yahoo! News
Vatican lists "new sins," including pollution By Philip Pullella
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080310/hl_nm/pope_sins_dc
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of "new" sins such as causing environmental blight.
The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.
Asked what he believed were today's "new sins," he told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the greatest danger zone for the modern soul was the largely uncharted world of bioethics.
"(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control," he said...Girotti, in an interview headlined "New Forms of Social Sin," also listed "ecological" offences as modern evils...

Item #5

The MCFB article, Understanding CEQA: Public Involvment is Key, got the right point in its title, but we felt strayed a bit lower in the story with advice like:

Contradictory, conflicting, conclusory, or inadequate responses or significant environmental issues need to be submitted in orally or in writing.

With some small experience with CEQA ourselves, we confess that we have absolutely no idea what this sentence means. A spot of editing might have helped, but the Farm Bureau probably couldn't bring itself to edit Sweet Potato Joe's daughter-in-law. And, who knows, perhaps Merced County family farmers know exactly what the sentence means.

Item #6

New York Times
Fairness on the Farm...Editorial
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/22/opinion/22fri3.html?_r=1&sq=conservation&st=nyt&oref=sl
ogin&scp=1&pagewanted=print
Against all odds, there is still hope that Congress will produce a halfway decent farm bill, one that increases spending for underfunded programs like food stamps and conservation while decreasing subsidies to rich farmers who have never had it so good.
The reason for hope is President Bush, who has been on the right side of the farm issue from the beginning and is threatening to veto any measure that resembles the stinkers produced by the House and Senate last year.
Some legislators are now scrambling for a better version. Tinkering around the edges will not do it.
Mr. Bush has two sound objections. First, the House and Senate bills, each costing about $280 billion over five years, are way over budget and include an array of gimmicky tax increases to make up the shortfall.
Even worse, the bills perpetuate an unfair, wasteful program of price supports and direct payments. Half the subsidies would go to farmers in just seven states producing a handful of crops — corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat; two-thirds of the nation’s farmers would not benefit at all. Mr. Bush has complained in particular about provisions that allow subsidies to flow to farm families making as much as $2 million a year.
What makes these subsidies even more outrageous is that just when the rest of the country is sliding into recession, commodity prices are booming and big farmers are rolling in clover.
In a rational world, legislators would try to find the cuts Mr. Bush wants in subsidy programs, but little is rational when it comes to farm bills. While some influential members of the House have talked about stricter limits on wealthy farmers, Big Agriculture’s Senate friends say the cuts would have to come from conservation programs.
The food stamp program is not yet on the Senate chopping block, but it, too, is not home free. Congressional leaders may be tempted to see this year’s bill as a way to help farm state incumbents hold onto their seats. The dollar amounts are too large, though, and the fairness issues too stark, to stick with a broken system of farm subsidies.

Item #7

Environmental Working Group Farm Bill 2007: Policy Analysis Database --
http://farm.ewg.org/sites/farmbill2007/

Top Commodity and Conservation Programs in the 18th district of California (Rep. Dennis A. Cardoza), program years 2003-2005:

Rank Number of Beneficiaries Total

1 Cotton Subsidies
795 $74,723,391
2 Dairy Program Subsidies
709 $18,664,192
3 Corn Subsidies
1,315 $15,867,968
4 Rice Subsidies
139 $5,452,704
5 Wheat Subsidies
899 $3,750,842
6 Env. Quality Incentive Program
282 $2,419,418
7 Oat Subsidies
971 $523,545
8 Barley Subsidies
548 $453,254
9 Conservation Reserve Program
28 $185,179
10 Grasslands Reserve Program
2 $92,732
11 Wool Subsidies
18 $77,294
12 Sorghum Subsidies
172 $58,319
13 Safflower Subsidies
105 $48,407
14 Wetlands Reserve Program
2 $37,008
15 Sheep Meat Subsidies
2 $10,850
16 Sunflower Subsidies
1 $74

Total Direct Payments benefits in 18th district of California (Rep. Dennis A. Cardoza) totaled $31.2 million in program years 2003-2005.

Item #8

More on subsidized farmers no longer alive
Letters to the Editor
Fresno Bee
July 27, 2007
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=369
Dear Sir or Madam,
The U.S. Department of Agriculture gets my inept federal bureaucracy of the month award for writing subsidy checks to 172,801 dead farmers totaling $1.1 billion dollars during the period from 1999 to 2005. This gives new meaning to the term “buying the farm.”
All the sordid details are available in a report from the Government Accountability Office located at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d071137t.pdf.
Nineteen percent of the deceased subsidy recipients had been dead for seven years or more, while a whopping 40 percent had been dead for three years or more. Even more troubling, someone undoubtedly alive signed and cashed those checks given the considerable difficulty the dead have in signing checks.
There must be plenty of dead San Joaquin Valley farmers on the list given that we are the farming capitol of the nation. They must be chuckling somewhere in the Great Pasture in the Sky that they couldn’t make any money while living but managed to generate some green after they were gone.
Lloyd Carter

Item #9

9-12-07
Merced Sun-Star
Local growers in Washington to push farm bill…Michael Doyle, Sun-Star Washington Bureau
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13780293p-14360810c.html
WASHINGTON…on Capitol Hill, the House Agriculture Committee is poised in coming days to divvy up billions of dollars in a new farm bill… With the House panel planning to write its farm bill over the course of three days next week, Teixeira and several dozen other organic farmers are taking a desperate stab at changing the course of federal agricultural policy. So far, success is elusive. Existing cotton, rice, wheat and corn subsidies would stay essentially the same, under the current bill written by the agriculture committee chairman, Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn. Federal crop subsidies totaled about $17 billion last year. The politically vocal American Farm Bureau Federation likewise supports Peterson’s stay-the-course approach to traditional subsidies, as does the National Milk Producers Federation. California at Davis agricultural economist Dan Sumner allies himself with California’s fruit and vegetable growers, who seek a bigger share of the farm bill. The bill coming before the House committee next Tuesday does boost some specialty crop funding. Even so, specialty crop advocates — and organic growers in particular — complain the current House bill shortchanges the fastest-growing sector of U.S. agriculture. “We are looking for a niche,” said Cindy Lashbrook, a Merced County organic farmer who grows blueberries and almonds near Livingston. “We’re looking to be legitimized, in a way.”

Item #10

7-26-07
Badlands Journal

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance lashes Valley agricultural pollution
Water Board Report Shows that Irrigated Agriculture Has Polluted the Delta and Most Central Valley Waterways
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/?p=359
For immediate release:
25 July 2007
(Stockton, CA) The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) has released a landmark draft report presenting the first region-wide assessment of data collected pursuant to the Irrigated Lands Program since its inception in 2003. Data collected from some 313 sites throughout the Central Valley reveals that: 1) toxicity to aquatic life was present at 63% of the monitored sites (50% were toxic to more than one species), 2) pesticide water quality standards were exceeded at 54% of sites (many for multiple pesticides), 3) one or more metals violated criteria at 66% of the sites, 4) human health standards for bacteria were violated at 87% of monitored sites and 5) more than 80% of the locations reported exceedances of general parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, salt, TSS). While the adequacy of monitoring (i.e., frequency and comprehensiveness) of monitoring varied dramatically from site to site, the report presents adramatic panorama of the epidemic of pollution caused by the uncontrolled discharge of agricultural wastes.
The report is posted on the Regional Board’s website at:
http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley/programs/irrigated_lands/index.html#Monito

Item #11

9-23-07
San Franciso Chronicle
Yes, San Francisco is in the land of cotton subsidies...Carolyn Lochhead
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2007/09/23/MNH1S5I9N.DT
L&type=politics
Los Banos, Merced County -- San Francisco is famous for its cotton farmers. Or at least one of them.
At last count, the largest California recipient of federal farm subsidies is the city's Constance Bowles Peabody, 88, a wealthy heiress of pioneer California cattle baron Henry Miller.
Peabody and her now-deceased brother George "Corky" Bowles, collected $2.4 million in cotton subsidies from 2003 to 2005, according to federal data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, which opposes the subsidies.
Actually, so does Philip Bowles, her son, who has run the family's farm operation for more than a quarter-century.
Asked why he should get subsidies, Bowles replied, "Why should anybody?"
A former Yale drama student who once made television commercials, Bowles operates the family's 13,000-acre cotton, alfalfa and tomato farm in Los Banos, where the city fathers erected a statue of his great-great-grandfather in the town plaza.
"The money that we do get from the government I look at as a form of liquidated damages," Bowles said as he drove through his fields, certain that the quality of his cotton and the efficiency of his farm would, if put to the test, obliterate his competitors in the Mississippi Delta and Texas...

Item #12

Where does Ol' Slippery John Pedrozo hang his hat, anyway?
Ol' Slippery got a free ride for a second term yesterday, so we thought to check where he lived, since you can't be too careful with the peoples' elected representatives in Merced County. Ol' Slippery lists his address at 2222 M Street, Merced CA.
Wait a second!
Unless the County administration building has some sort of special status like Washington, DC or the Vatican, it's in Supervisor Crookham's district, not the district Ol' Slippery is supposed to represent.
What's he got in his office up there on the third floor, a cot and a hibachi? Does he barbecue on the roof on pleasant evenings? We didn't even know they had showers in the administration building. Does he spend quality time with the Old Shrimp Slayer, Congressman Cardoza, who also has an office in the building, barbecuing tri-tip while the Slayer cooks the beans? Or do they fry up a batch of fairy shrimp out of the freezer, supplied by some of the Slayer's best contributors?
Ol' Slippery apparently doesn't have a decent Yesman to guide him in the niceties of local government etiquette -- like not sleeping in his office and stuff. County Topflak Mark Hendrickson is obviously too busy dogging the heels of Supervisor Mike Nelson, a real contender for Champion of the Rightwing ... what, exactly?

Item #13

Jess Brown and his Porkbarrel Band of Renown have concocted yet another transportation document, this time on an expressway between Atwater and Merced -- for April Fools' Day release.
It is called the Atwater Merced Expressway Draft Environmental Impact Report and it is a plan to make a plan to make a plan to make a plan ... to make pork.

Item #14

A great big ATTABOY! to Tom Grave for making it to the big time with his recent appointment to the Citizens Advisory Committee of Merced County Association of Governments. Tom has made it out of the pits where the public sits and into the hallway outside the backroom. He'll be close enough to smell the smoke now.

Item #15

Another great big ATTABOY to Sonny Star and the Gigolo Press of Merced for a fine column by Steve Cameron in today's mega-sports section-in-a-zillion colors. Cameron is a man of deep convictions, one of them that Sonny Star, the New York Times and the rest of the US press never writes an article to sell more papers.
Since the waning years of the 19th century, there have been two ways newspapers make money. The old-fashioned way was to increase circulation because that was the first way to increase advertising revenues back in the days of actual media competition in the US. The modern way newspapers make money is to monopolize
advertising regions after driving out competition. Big Mama McClatchy's house runs most of the callperson press in the Valley. Sonny makes it, to the extent Sonny does make it, on a captured local business community that HAS to advertise in the local gigolo press.
Don't get us wrong. We are great fans of Cameron's exploding sports section. It's real Big Time. Livingston goalie eyes the pros. Hot stuff. But examples comes to mind to disprove Cameron's claim.
When Riverside Motorsports Park was buying huge amounts of advertising with the paper, Sonny Star endorsed the project. When that advertising stream ended (about the time a lot of real estate advertising was also ending), Sonny did a real number of RMP -- a day late and a lot of legal trouble short of doing a timely job of informing the public and decision makers on RMP dirt.
And then, of course, there were the years of special UC Merced inserts, during which Sonny Star mainlined UC Bobcatflak.
Not to mention the bevies of comely young realtors right out of high school posing in the real estate inserts back in Flip City Days.
Hey, maybe we could bring back the lasses with a Flip City Days Festival to brighten up tours of brand new empty houses. Sonny Star should get working on it.

3-8-08
Merced Sun-Star
Please trust this about our sports section...Steve Cameron
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/194/story/174299.html
Hey, this is an historic election, so...
...I've been in this business a long time, and I can tell you without a question of doubt that we don't ever make editorial decisions while wondering if a few more people might plunk 50 cents into a box.The only time we sell extra papers is well-advertised, and it's because you ask for it.
For instance, if a local high school wins a district football championship, we might print a special eight-page commemorative edition. Maybe. But that's it.
After hearing that woman on CNN, I'm not sure the public actually will believe this, but I want it on record.
We make editorial decisions for lots and lots and lots of different reasons. Selling a dozen extra papers at Save Mart ain't one of them. And never will be.

Item #16

Feral shopping cart whitewash.
Everybody in town, except Sonny Star, knows those shopping carts are as wild and willful as our exploding alley cat population. But, Sonny, always ready with a way to tranquilize the population, is claiming today that human agency is involved in the dispersal of shopping carts, complete with the usual lying photos of shopping carts bathing in the creek and resting against street signs and such.

3-8-08
Merced Sun-Star
Despite '03 law, shopping carts still clutter landscape...DOANE YAWGER...3-8-08
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/174311.html

But the people know the real story on those criminal shopping carts. You hear them cruising our sidewalks at night and you turn out the lights and cringe because here they are again to rob and steal with their big black garbage bags and rattle off down the alley.
People don't talk much about getting mugged by shopping carts for fear nobody would believe them. And that is the great advantage our predatory feral shopping carts enjoy in this town. They are highly organized into gangs, each with its own distinctive colors, easily identified by police if they wanted to look.
Feral shopping carts represent the largest threat to law and order Merced has ever seen.
In the end, they will pick us clean.

Item #17

Local casino in the offing?
The rumble close to the ground is that the Madera/Highway 99 casino is a catspaw. The rumor is that state Legislature, abused for more than a decade by bloviating local real estate special interests spouting hyper-inflated metaphors from "high-tech, bio-tech engine of growth" to a suckling baby, has been combing the vicinity for a Native American tribe -- any tribe -- to sell the campus to for a dollar. Meanwhile big supporters for the campus are rumored to be willing to step aside because they already cashed in on growth stimulated by the campus and because the whining brat has become a civic embarrassment.

3-7-08
Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced leaders plead for budget mercy
Assembly panel meets on the campus to hear university's stance on funding...VICTOR A. PATTON
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/172967.html
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang on Thursday likened the university to a "baby" -- one that still "needs milk" and tender loving care to survive.
Translation for state legislators: UC Merced "cannot afford any budget cuts"...

Item #18

Great big ATTAGIRLS to the staff of the East Merced Resource Conservation District for printing a brochure in which the inside is upsidedown from the outside. Is it a metaphor or just another sincere expression of incompetence?

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Sonny Star, the verbsmith

Submitted: Feb 20, 2008

2-20-08
Merced Sun-Star
City Council decides to peer review Wal-Mart impact report
A second consulting firm will examine the first firm's study for $18,800....LESLIE ALBRECHT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/149721.html

Ah, come on, Sonny, say what you really mean: peerreview Wal-Mart.

How long can it be before Sonny will be medschooling UC Merced?

Badlands Journal editors

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Vern Williams

Submitted: Nov 28, 2007

I mourn the passing of Vern Williams and extend condolences to his family and his many friends and colleagues. I cannot yet imagine Vern absent from a newsroom somewhere, perhaps convening one of his incomparable "Come to Jesus" meetings to calmly restore order when it has broken down.
Bill Hatch

Merced Sun-Star
Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2007
Former Sun-Star editor, 'skilled newsman,' loses battle with cancer
By DOANE YAWGER
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/83422.html

Vern Williams

Vern Williams, a calm and steadying influence on Merced and Modesto journalism for 43 years, died early Monday morning at his Merced home after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 62.

Williams, most recently the photo editor at the Modesto Bee, began his career as an apprentice printer at the Merced Sun-Star and advanced to positions as Linotype operator, sports editor, editor of the Sunday Sun, a short-lived Sunday newspaper, and ultimately managing editor before moving to the Modesto Bee seven years ago.

Funeral arrangements are pending for Williams, a lifelong Mercedian who also excelled in fast-pitch softball and loved all sports, particularly baseball and golf.

"He was a class act," Mike Conway said. "He managed to remain cool no matter what the pressure. He exuded calmness and confidence and always was the coolest head in the crowd."

Conway, now the city of Merced's public information officer, worked with Williams at both Merced and Modesto newspapers. He said Williams was always there when you needed him, was a positive influence on many people and had good news sense.

Frank Thompson, the Sun-Star's production manager for 31 years, hired Williams in 1964 and said he was a fine employee. He had graduated from Merced High School the previous year.

"He followed orders real good; he was a fine worker and always conscientious. He could do anything in the composing room and could be trusted," Thompson said. In his early days at the Sun-Star, he was a linotype operator and later worked in the camera room when the paper advanced from what was called letterpress or "hot type" to offset "cold type" operations.

"You couldn't help but like Vern -- and respect him as well," said Mark S. Vasché, the Modesto Bee's editor and senior vice president. "He was a dedicated and skilled newsman. More important, though, he was an all-around good person -- a man of integrity and character, with a quiet strength and a heart of gold. He will be missed by all who knew and worked with him."

Williams joined The Bee in 2000 as a copy editor on the paper's news desk. In 2004 he was named director of photography, overseeing the paper's photo and video operation.

Smokey Thomas of El Nido, who retired in May as the Sun-Star's press foreman, said he and Williams used to have fun together years ago on fishing trips and playing cards.

"He was always a helluva nice guy and a good friend," Thomas said.

Joe Cortez knew Williams for 21 years, when he was hired as a "stringer" or part-time correspondent to cover local sports events. Now a copy editor at the Bee, Cortez said he was just an aimless kid but Williams saw an aptitude for sports and writing in him.

"He took me under his wing," Cortez said. "The man had given me a career, a path in life. In the newspaper world with the landscape ever-shifting, with deadlines and rewrites, I've never met anyone who kept his head in a crisis in the way Vern did."

What started out as a boss-employee relationship just evolved, Cortez said, with Williams becoming a tremendous friend.

Williams' last day at work was Oct. 26.

Williams became the Sun-Star's sports editor on June 1, 1985 and became managing editor about 10 years later. He was a member of the Three Gateways Sportsmen's Club and was an active booster of both Golden Valley High School's football and band programs.

Williams is survived by his wife of 44 years, Kathie; three sons, Jeff, Chris and Andrew, all of Merced; a niece, Ruth Sweatt of Galt; and three granddaughters, Ashlie, Amberlee and Elizabeth Williams.

Dave Lyghtle, the Modesto Bee's assistant managing editor, also praised Williams on personal and professional levels.

"Personally, it's been a rough day up here," Lyghtle said. "Those of us who worked with Vern the past seven years really, really admired him -- respect that was cultivated long before his cancer diagnosis. In our hearts, we knew this day was coming, but the suddenness took us by surprise. He will be very much missed."

Mike Bradley, currently the Sun-Star's press foreman, knew Williams since 1970 when he started in the newspaper's composing room. He joined other Sun-Star employees at card parties Williams periodically hosted.

"He was pretty even-keeled, always a nice guy. I enjoyed working with him," Bradley said.

Bobby Dallas, of Atwater, played fast-pitch softball with Williams on the ASA Major Division national champions and said he was a mentor to him and his brother Tommy.

Williams, who went from being a catcher to coaching, was a big part in the team's success, Dallas said.

"Vern recruited me to play. He was a super guy to be with. The team was a dream of his and Norm Marasti's. He was a good person," Dallas said.

Former Sun-Star wire editor Rick Albright came to work at the Sun-Star only months after Williams started. He remembers Williams' early duties involved dumping bins of old lead type from that day's newspaper and then working setting type on one of the newspaper's linotype machines.

Albright also remembers hearing stories of Williams' travels with the California Kings' national championship men's major division fast-pitch softball team in 1984. Williams always played catcher during high school and adult softball careers.

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Varieties of federal farm subsidies

Submitted: Nov 20, 2007

"David believes this is a system that's in need of reform," Johnson said, adding that his boss is unlikely to accept any more subsidy checks. --- Scripps Howard News Service, Nov. 16, 2007, http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/28427

The terrible news about flagrant misappropriation of farm-subsidy funds begins:

"Even billionaires get ag handouts" by Lisa Hoffman More than 50 American billionaires have received government farm handouts in recent years from a program created to help struggling small farmers survive. David Rockefeller alone received more than $50,000 from investments in farming between 2003-2005.

Evidence is heaped on that those poor struggling small farmers, whose 40 acres and their mules are now being swept away by a plague of billionaires in the following graphs:

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