Merced County

The brutal sentimentality of Ol' Shrimp Slayer and other municipal discontent

Submitted: Dec 01, 2007

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20071130_conservative_or_just_plain_corrupt/

Constituents of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, received on Friday a newsletter titled "Foreclosure Event," announcing a foreclosure-counseling session in Stockton for Saturday, co-hosted by Rep. Jerry "HighTek" McNerney, Pombo's Replacement-Pleasanton. On the surface, this is one more episode in the Denny Show in which the ol' slayer demonstrates his compassion for constituents (on one day's notice).

If only it were so. Some of the Shrimp Slayer's constituents, however, found an article on the Blue Dog Coalition published the same day, "Blue Dog Democrats: Conservative, Or Just Plain Corrupt?" by David Sirota. Cardoza is a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of Democrats that votes with Republicans most of the time. He is one of three congressmen who lead the coalition. As Sirota explains, the Blue Dog opposition to H.R. 3609, the Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act, reeks of one more Blue Dog sellout to finance, insurance and real estate special interests. Cardoza, one of the most mindless pro-growth congressmen in the nation during the real estate bubble, represents a district that now contains the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. In the backroom, he sells out to special interests; in public he twists the knife into the victims of mortgage fraud that has caused a global credit crisis by offering "counseling." McNerney trots along as liberal window dressing.

The juxtaposition of the Cardoza flak and the article on Blue Dog corruption reveals the pattern of behavior we have come to expect from the Shrimp Slayer. Cardoza always claimed to be in favor of the Endangered Species Act at the same time as he introduced three bills to gut it. Presumably, even now he is working behind the scenes on the latest, administrative, attempt to accomplish what Congress refused to do. Whoever is vulnerable -- from victim of predatory lending to little beastie -- you can be sure to find Cardoza nearly weeping in public and stomping in the backroom. This combination of sentimentality and brutality is the essence of this politician's corrupt career. Whenever the Denny Show comes to town oozing compassion, look in the backroom for what he's covering up. This is a guy who acts as if he believes the US Congress exists solely to enhance his personal power and wealth. He does not appear to have any other goal or any shame at all.

However, on Nov 15, 2007, Cardoza voted for H.R. 3915: Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007. All Democrats who voted voted for H.R. 3915, joined by 64 Republicans. Everything about this bill looks good except the date. It should have been the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2004. But there is just nothing like Congress for slamming doors shut on empty barns. And for that you can't blame Cardoza. It's the company he keeps. The Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed Congress got a 25-percent approval rating on November 5--eight points lower than the president.

Finally, Mercedians received an editorial from Sonny Star, Mama McClatchy's local gigolo press, complaining about the dangers to the community of foreclosed, empty houses, "Foreclosure is not a superficial problem -- it creates unsafe and unhealthy conditions in our community...Our View." Sonny Star never saw a development it didn't like, including the Riverside Motorsports Park project (until after it was approved by the board of supervisors). Sonny suggests an "emergency law" to deal with the growing problem.

Badlands Journal suggests that those responsible for this growing problem, the members of the Merced City Council and the Merced County Board of Supervisors, be held personally liable because -- as the local land-use authorities -- they approved the projects that are now stinking up the town. Five of the seven city council members were realtors when these projects were approved and they profited from them. They knew the game and have absolutely no claim of innocence. Developers and large landowners dictated every land-use decision the supervisors made throughout the speculative real estate boom. Personal liability, in our view, would include sending out the elected officials who made the land-use decisions in work crews in color-coded overalls to maintain those empty houses. The idea that those who made such stupid decisions, driven by such open greed, should now open the public trough with an "emergency law" to maintain homes built for a speculator-driven bubble, is vintage Sonny Star. It works on the principle that if the public is dumb enough to pay to clean up a mess made by the land-use authorities elected to serve the public and by the gigolo press, another boom will start and real estate advertising revenues are sure to return to the coffers of McClatchy Co.'s local outlet.

Badlands Journal editorial board
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Vision Credit Education, Inc.
Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act--11-1-07

http://blog.stopccdebt.com/emergency-ownership-and-mortgage-equity-protection-act/
Congress may soon vote on H.R. 3609, which is titled the Emergency Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act. The idea is to provide bankruptcy judges the authority to modify mortgage loans to help families afford the payments.
The bill proposes allowing distressed homeowners to include their mortgage in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing. There are some other important proposed changes also.
H.R. 3609 would eliminate the credit counseling requirement that was put in place by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. A distressed homeowner would merely have to prove to the court that a foreclosure action has commenced. It is unknown if this provision will remain in the final version of the bill.
These are the major points of the bill:
Eliminates taxpayer bailout of subprime mortgage industry
Helps some families avoid foreclosure
Helps surrounding property values by reducing overall foreclosure rates
Lenders could avoid expensive foreclosure costs
Eliminates requirement for credit counseling to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy (assume foreclosure action has commenced)...
DSNews.com
MBA Not Fond of Proposed Bankruptcy Legislation...Kerri Panchuk...10-5-07

http://www.dsnews.com/view_story.cfm?id=1612
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) released a statement this week signaling its concerns about proposed legislation that, if passed, would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of a mortgage contract during bankruptcy proceedings. The house bill, HR 3609, passed the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law by a 5-4 vote.
“Giving judges free rein to rewrite the terms of a mortgage would further destabilize the mortgage backed securities market and will exacerbate the serious credit crunch that is currently hindering the ability of thousands of Americans to get an affordable mortgage,” said Kurt Pfotenhauer, senior vice president for government affairs and public policy at the MBA. “The current legislation gives no guidance as to the proper parameters for judges to modify existing loan contracts.”
Pfotenhauer says judges with more authority to decrease a loan's value also have the ability to hit all consumers in the pocketbook.
“The reason you only pay six percent on a mortgage loan, where another type of consumer loan may cost ten percent or more, is that the mortgage loan is secured by an asset—the home,” explained Pfotenhauer. “When a judge can unilaterally reduce the amount that the lender can get when the home is sold, it devalues the asset securing the loan and the lender and investor will either not fund a loan, or will increase the cost of the loan. Either way, consumers are the ones who pay the price.”
Truthdig.com
11-30-07
Blue Dog Democrats: Conservative, Or Just Plain Corrupt?...David Sirota

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20071130_conservative_or_just_plain_corrupt/
Through their ethics scandals, Republicans in Washington long ago began making the word “conservative” synonymous with the term “corrupt.” Surprisingly, though, it is a group of Democrats that is cementing this definitional conversion for good.
In the midst of the housing crisis, a cadre of self-described “conservative” Democrats called the Blue Dog Coalition is demanding congressional leaders delay legislation designed to help people trapped in high-interest loans stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. The bill, House Resolution 3609, allows judges to ameliorate the terms of abusive “subprime” mortgages. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., is championing it-a gutsy move for a lawmaker whose state domiciles major lenders.
The Blue Dogs say they oppose Miller’s initiative out of concern for the integrity of the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill-a telling justification. Under that odious law, millionaires can shield their mansions from creditors, and corporate executives (think: Enron guys) can prevent ripped-off shareholders and employees from seizing their holdings. Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren notes that the law also “permits people with vacation homes and investment property to rework their mortgages in bankruptcy.”
But regular homeowners? Sorry-without Miller’s legislation, judges are barred from defending you against the vultures.
Blue Dog Democrats cite the social conservatism of their rural and exurban districts as the reason for such high-profile stands against their party. Somehow, we are expected to believe that their constituents’ anti-abortion or pro-gun views mean those same constituents want Congress to help banks throw people out of their homes. But since when did any voters-conservative or otherwise-support that kind of thing?
Since never, of course. “Conservatism” is being used as the cover for corruption.
As National Journal reports, corporate lobbyists “knew exactly who to go to in order to stop the [foreclosure relief] bill in its tracks: the Blue Dog Coalition.” These lawmakers are the mercenaries’ go-to crew not because of any principled ideology, but because they have been big recipients of campaign cash from the finance and real estate industries.
Of course, this is only the most recent example of pay-to-play shenanigans on banking issues.
In 2005, 20 “New” Democrats-another group billed as “conservative”-signed a letter demanding the passage of the original Bankruptcy Bill. Those Democrats had pocketed a combined $750,000 from the financial industry.
That same year, the Senate cast a “conservative” vote defeating a bill limiting credit card interest rates to a whopping 30 percent-a modest measure to say the least. Eighteen Republican and Democratic lawmakers voting against the measure had previously voted for a tougher interest cap. What changed? They received about $2 million from the credit card and banking industries in the interim.
Still, this new Blue Dog letter takes the cake for sheer brazenness. Why? Because the current mortgage crisis is especially hitting the kinds of exurban and rural districts these “conservative” Democrats purport to speak for.
The Atlantic Monthly’s Matthew Yglesias recently reviewed foreclosure data and found that “the hardest-hit areas are the high-growth fringes of vibrant metro areas”-the exurbs that Blue Dog signatories like Illinois Rep. Melissa Bean (D) represent.
Real Estate magazine reports, “In 500 rural counties, one-third or more of mortgage originations involved high-interest loans.” That could spell trouble for districts like the one represented by Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga.-another signer. His state has almost 30,000 homes financed by subprime loans.
So, will these faux “conservatives” win? Maybe in this battle over mortgage reform, and in some other upcoming skirmishes like the brouhaha over taxes. National Journal reports that this same group of Democrats is intent on “limiting the scope” of proposals to close the loophole letting billionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than the janitors who clean their offices. Apparently, the Blue Dogs would have us believe conservative, working-class constituents are insisting their congressional representatives not only support bank foreclosures, but also help Wall Street barons rob the federal treasury.
Nonetheless, over the long term, those like the Blue Dogs will have an increasingly difficult time succeeding-both legislatively and electorally. The more they attach their “conservative” label to such obscene corruption, the more that label will be indelibly tarnished. Aiding loan sharks and tax cheats may elicit campaign donations and smiles in Washington, but it is no way to win hearts and minds in the rest of America.
David Sirota is the bestselling author of “Hostile Takeover” (Crown, 2006). He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network-both nonpartisan research organizations. His daily blog can be found at www.credoaction.com/sirota.Foreclosure Event‏
From: Dennis Cardoza (dennis.cardoza@congressnewsletter.net)
Sent: Fri 11/30/07 10:36 AM
Dear Bill ,
We all know from news reports and personal experiences that the foreclosure crisis sweeping the country is having a particularly severe effect here in the Valley. My last e-newsletter addressed this issue and included a survey asking you to tell me how the foreclosure crisis has affected you personally. The responses that I received were overwhelming; almost 70% of those answering were affected by the crisis in some way.
In response I, along with my colleague Congressman Jerry McNerney, have organized a comprehensive foreclosure workshop at 10am on Saturday December 1st to offer free, confidential advice to families facing foreclosure or worried about making their mortgage payments. Counselors will be available from government agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the California Housing Finance Authority, and the Stockton Housing Department, as well as non-profits such as NeighborWorks and Consumer Credit Counseling. To make the most of the time with counselors, participants are asked to bring all relevant mortgage and financial paperwork. Details on the event are below. I strongly encourage anyone facing foreclosure problems to attend this workshop.
Please RSVP so we can ensure there are enough counselors on hand to offer assistance. To RSVP, or to ask any other questions you may have, please call Erica Rodriguez at (209) 476-8552 or email McNerney.RSVP@mail.house.gov.
What:
Foreclosure workshop – free, confidential counseling for families facing or concerned about facing foreclosure.
When:
Saturday, December 1, 2007
10 a.m. to Noon
Note: this event is workshop format so those seeking help are encouraged to stop by at any point during the event.
Where:
Stockton Arena Conference Room
248 West Fremont St.
Stockton, CA

Sincerely,
Dennis Cardoza
Member of Congress

From:Opensecrets.org
Dennis Cardoza

http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.asp?cid=N00024874
Cardoza has received $43,395 from the finance, insurance and real estate sector in the 2007-2008 campaign cycle. This is second only to his contributions from agribusiness, which total $117,440 in a Farm Bill year. In this period Cardoza has received:
$5,000 from American Bankers Association
$5,000 from National Association of Home Builders
$4,000 from Granite Construction
$4,000 from Farm Credit Council
$3,300 from Financial Center credit uNION
$2,000 from Fannie Mae
$1,000 from Mortgage Bankers Association
Merced Sun-Star
12-2-07
Foreclosure is not a superficial problem -- it creates unsafe and unhealthy conditions in our community...Our View

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/177/story/86660.html
Take a stroll through some of the relatively new subdivisions in Merced and you'll notice something ugly: There are a lot of foreclosed homes descending into neglect.
The telltale signs begin in the front yards, where an overgrown, weed-infested mess of a lawn signals to everyone: This property has been foreclosed!
In extreme cases, some of the homes have been broken into, and others are infested with pigeons or other vermin. We're talking about dwellings that are in some instances less than a year old.
These eyesores are smack in the middle of some of the city's nicest addresses. They're a black eye for all of us...
We think the council's best option is to pass an emergency law to deal with the blight.
Doing so may send shivers up the city attorney's spine (he'd have to help craft something that doesn't trample on the rights of property owners), but it likely would be the most proactive measure the city could take because it actually would have teeth.
The city's code currently requires a lengthy review process prior to inserting itself to fix blighted properties. This process routinely takes months -- and that's just too long.
An emergency law could shorten that review process to a more responsive level -- say, a month or less...
That may be an extreme step -- but at least something gets done.

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Department of Interior admits MacDonald wrongdoing

Submitted: Nov 27, 2007

Press release from House Natural Resources Committee on Julia MacDonald. The Department of Interior admitted to the committee that MacDonald interferred with the US Fish & Wildlife Service on behalf of special interests in several Endangered Species Act cases. Two of those cases occurred in Merced County.
Badlands Journal editorial board

------------------------

November 27, 2007

CONTACT:
Allyson Groff, 202-226-9019
Allyson L. Groff

Communications Director
Committee on Natural Resources
U.S. House of Representatives
http://resourcescommittee.house.gov

Rahall: Interior Concedes MacDonald Meddled with Science

Washington, D.C. – In response to months of allegations about political tinkering within its own ranks and demands for reviews by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), the Department of the Interior today conceded that seven out of eight decisions made during the tenure of Julie MacDonald, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, warrant revision.

“Julie MacDonald, who was a civil engineer by training, should never have been allowed near the endangered species program. This announcement is the latest illustration of the depth of incompetence at the highest levels of management within the Interior Department and breadth of this Administration’s penchant for torpedoing science. Today we hear that seven out of eight decisions she made need to be scrapped, causing us once again to question the integrity of the entire program under her watch,” Rahall said.

Rahall has repeatedly pressed the agency to review possible political tampering within its ranks. A May 9 oversight hearing, called in the aftermath of a scathing Inspector General report, examined MacDonald’s role in politicizing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Following up, Rahall sent two letters, dated May 17 and June 20, to Interior’s Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, requesting a departmental review of a number of ESA listing decisions made during MacDonald’s service.

The latest announcement outlines seven specific ESA decisions that Interior has determined were “inappropriately influenced” by MacDonald. The Fish and Wildlife Service had announced on July 20 that it intended to review eight ESA decisions where it appeared that MacDonald had played a significant role in asserting her own political interests to overrule scientific decisions on endangered species recovery.

“Julie MacDonald’s dubious leadership and waste of taxpayer dollars will now force the agency to divert precious time, attention, and resources to go back and see that the work is done in a reliable and untainted manner. The agency turned a blind eye to her actions – the repercussions of which will not only hurt American taxpayers, but could also imperil the future of the very creatures that the endangered species program intends to protect,” Rahall said.
..............................

Contact: Leda Huta, (202) 320-6467

Sarah Matsumoto (510) 520-1004

US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE TO REVISE 7 ENDANGERED SPECIES DECISIONS TAINTED BY CORRUPTION

Press Statement of Leda Huta, Executive Director, Endangered Species Coalition

Washington, DC- “The Endangered Species Coalition welcomes the news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will revise seven endangered and threatened species decisions improperly influenced by political appointees.

“We are heartened to hear that the Canadian lynx, the California red-legged frog, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and other species on the brink of extinction may finally receive the protections they urgently need. However, this should be the first step in a complete investigation into the Bush Administration’s corruption and political manipulation of decisions affecting our nation’s endangered species.

“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of endangered species protections that have been weakened by political manipulations. The depth of the Bush Administration’s corruption and suppression of science has not yet been fully uncovered.

“We call on President Bush to reexamine all cases where there is documented evidence that Department of Interior officials interfered with scientific decisions. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall must ensure that this process is open and transparent and that the decisions be made based on science rather than politics.

“The Bush Administration has a long history of corruption and political interference in scientific decision making in endangered species decisions. A report released in March by the Inspector General of the Department of Interior found that Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald rode roughshod over numerous decisions by agency scientists concerning protection of the nation’s endangered species. The report also found that MacDonald violated federal rules by sending internal documents to industry lobbyists with ChevronTexaco, the Pacific Legal Foundation, California Farm Bureau, and others.

“We thank the members of the House Natural Resources Committee for holding oversight hearings regarding many of these decisions as well as other cases of political interference in endangered species decisions. We welcome the opportunity to work with Congress to ensure that this is a complete and thorough examination so that species on the brink of extinction receive the protections they deserve.”

As the guardian of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) and the wildlife it protects, the Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) is composed of 380 environmental, conservation, religious, scientific, humane, sporting and business groups around the country. Our tools are public education, scientific information and citizen participation in decisions affecting the fate of at-risk species. Through extensive grassroots work, education, discussions with lawmakers, and the dissemination of information, we work to ensure that the Act itself, as well as all endangered animals and plants, can be passed on safely into the future.

###

Sarah Matsumoto
Deputy Director
Endangered Species Coalition
Oakland, CA
(510) 520-1004
smatsumoto@stopextinction.org
www.stopextinction.org

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Is growth inevitable?

Submitted: Nov 24, 2007

There are a number of planning processes going on in the San Joaquin Valley at the moment. They include the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint dealing with transportation planning, numerous general plan updates of counties and cities including Merced County and whatever proposals UC/Great Valley Center is fomenting. Although these planning processes are formally uncoordinated, they are closely linked by the guiding ideology of finance, insurance, real estate and large landholding interests: "Growth is inevitable."

Isn't it more likely that death and taxes are inevitable and that growth is merely desirable to some people in society? In fact, recent news suggests that growth may not even be possible in the near future, let alone inevitable.

If you read the local papers, you will see that in September Merced had the highest rate of households in some stage of foreclosure in the nation (one in 68 households). In October, Stockton came on strong with a rate of one in 31 households.

If you read the financial news, you will see that when reset time comes on the mortgages loaned in 2006 at the height of the speculative housing boom, foreclosure rates will rise.

If you read further in the financial section, you will see that most financial news is bad at the moment and that the speculative housing bubble, having burst, is spreading to credit card debt and auto loans and in fact to all securitized loans and to the banks and hedge funds. You will note articles that attribute falling stock-markets from the US to Germany to Shanghai to problems in the US mortgage-lending industry. You will also note that oil is very close to $100 a barrel now, which among other things is a hardship on the hundreds of thousands of commuters in the north San Joaquin Valley who drive to the Bay Area for work every day. You will also note bankruptcies among nationwide construction corporations and falling stock prices for those still standing.

Countrywide Financial sank 20.1 per cent on the week to $9.65 after analysts said the company could be affected if GSEs stopped buying its mortgages in the secondary market. However, the company said rumours that it would seek bankruptcy protection were "absolutely false".Meanwhile the big banks once again suffered a torrid week, precipitated by a Goldman Sachs analyst note that forecast another $48bn in writedowns by the end of 2008. Citigroup shed 6.8 per cent to $31.70 after the note said Citi could take $22bn in writedowns linked to its portfolio of collateralised debt obligations, $11bn this quarter, and $11bn next year.Homebuilder stocks were also punished amid a deepening malaise in the US real estate market.The S&P homebuilder index was down 14.3 per cent this week at 318.07, declining for six consecutive days before buyers sparked a rebound yesterday.Shares in Pulte Homes , shed 25 per cent of their value this week at $9.63. With house prices plummeting, nervous investors are keeping a careful eye on retail sales amid fears that belt-tightening consumers may deliver a poor shopping holiday season...
Elsewhere, General Motors was the Dow's biggest fallers this week, down 7.2 per cent at $27.16.-- Financial Times, Nov. 24, 2007

Recession appears now to be a more likely outcome of the speculative housing bubble than growth.

But, planners say: Now that we have the rooftops (setting aside for a moment whether the houses are inhabitated), the commercial development will come. All we need is more federal highway funds in one of the top two worst air-pollution basins in the nation as oil prices continue to escalate, they say. They also say that nothing bad can happen in Merced because we have the UC campus.

But more and more mainstream economists are saying that there has been something quite wrong with the way both residential and commercial real estate investment is handled in the US, and this mishandling is leading to global financial problems of a magnitude no one quite understands. No one is talking about any other kind of growth around here but residential and commercial real estate growth.

The slogan, "Growth is inevitable," in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains cities with the highest mortgage foreclosure rates in the nation, seems a little silly right now. The planners, politicians and special interests should come up with another slogan. If they are too rigid to invent a new slogan, perhaps the public could help them with something less rigid and more open, perhaps even a question like: "Is growth inevitable?"

Bill Hatch
----------------------

Notes:
Financial Times
Ailing mortage lenders set tone on Wall St...Chris Bryant in New York...11-23-07
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/1df0301e-990e-11dc-bb45-0000779fd2ac,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F1df0301e-990e-11dc-bb45-0000779fd2ac.html&_i_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fhome%2Fus

ECB set to pump cash into money markets...Ralph Atkins and Ivar Simensen in Frankfurt and David Oakley in London...11-23-07
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/6a8adc9a-99b7-11dc-ad70-0000779fd2ac,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F6a8adc9a-99b7-11dc-ad70-0000779fd2ac.html&_i_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fhome%2Fus

CounterPunch.com
"A Generalized Meltdown of Financial Institutions"
Take a Look at Professor Roubini's Crystal Ball...MIKE WHITNEY...11-24-07
http://www.counterpunch.com/whitney11242007.html

Nouriel Roubini's Global EconoMonitor
The Next Shoe to Drop in the Credit Meltdown: Commercial Real Estate and Its Massive Forthcoming Losses...Nouriel Roubini...11-14-07
http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/roubini/226654/

The Housing Bubble
http://thehousingbubbleblog.com/index.html

Center for Economic and Policy Research: Housing
http://www.cepr.net/component/option,com_issues/task,view_issue/issue,11/Itemid,22/

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Wade resigns presidency of East Merced Resource Conservation District

Submitted: Nov 21, 2007

Bernard Wade, president of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, resigned his office and board membership at the monthly EMRCD meeting Wednesday afternoon.

At a very tense meeting of the Merced River Stakeholders Monday, Wade, who has a riverfront property near Snelling, attempted several times to inject an element of rational explanation into the argument between MRS stakeholders and the EMRCD. The attack on the stakeholders by three of the five EMRCD board members attending the MRS meeting was led as usual by Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook, who is also a paid staffer for the EMRCD and the Merced River Alliance and owns a farm on the river.

The speculation is that the EMRCD would not tolerate Wade's continual polite friendliness to members of the river stakeholders groups, even those who opposed the EMRCD grant as little more than a staff gravy train.

He closed his short letter of resignation to the EMRCD board with a line from Shakespeare: "The fault is not in our stars... but in ourselves."

Bernard Wade is a gentleman whose good manners, friendliness, ability to listen and tolerance of disagreement will be sorely missed in Merced County public affairs.

Badlands Journal editorial board

The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason. Umberto Eco, ternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt

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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:

 Read More »
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The real speculators

Submitted: Nov 15, 2007

The only story that matters in Merced today is how one in 68 householders are in foreclosure trouble. But, that is the story least likely to be told in public because it involves the people we elected to the city councils and the county Board of Supervisors. We will have to do our own reflecting on it; elected officials won’t.

In incorporated cities, the councils are the local land-use authorities. In unincorporated areas, the board of supervisors is the local land-use authority. These are all elected officials. In addition to two state legislators, Merced also has a congressman, Dennis Cardoza, heavily involved in real estate, whose local office is on the third floor of the county administration building.

Although we are familiar with a few development projects that have been sued, some successfully, we are only aware of one project that was rejected during this whole frenzy, which has now given Merced such a fine reputation in the finance, insurance and real estate industry. Admittedly, last month Stockton surpassed us with a one-in-31 rate, tops in the nation, but the housing crash is young and we may yet regain our title on a per capita basis.

Although it may be a benefit to the city of Merced that one realtor and one realtor/insurance agent/mortgage broker were replaced by two candidates not involved in real estate, it doesn't matter -- the damage is done and cannot be undone. When the damage was being done, five of the seven members of the Merced City Council were actively engaged in the real estate business, including the reelected mayor. The damage, however, could still be limited. The entire county does not have to become an urban, industrial slurb along the lines of cities east of Los Angeles. But, that would require reflection and gumption on the part of public officials. The recent winner of the Merced City mayoral sweepstakes, realtor Ellie Wooten, seemed to have chosen patriotism over real estate as her theme, enlivening her campaign with a rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Patriotism is the last refuge of realtors?

Surely there were other voices in Atwater beside the realtors on its council during that town's real estate frenzy, but the realtors drowned out all others. In Livingston, the planner quipped, "When the rooftops are built, the commercial arrives." Los Banos simply exploded with commuters.

The county board of supervisors is composed of three large landowners, one failed dairyman and a professional rightwing politician, all busily speculating on more growth for Merced County on behalf of their own landholdings and on those of their supporters.

These elected officials are intent on destroying the agricultural base of this county's economy, making Merced air quality as bad as Fresno or Bakersfield, ruining the region's water quality, and destroying the natural resources and wildlife habitat that is Merced County's unique beauty and the source of what is healthy that remains in its environment. They have not shown an inkling of judgment since UC Merced was a "done deal" and to imagine they have been chastened by the foreclosure rate is fantasy. There are too many big deals in the offing: To name a few: Castle redevelopment, Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP), the WalMart distribution center, a 3,000-home new town in Stevinson, development to link Delhi and Hilmar with Turlock, a whole new commercial enterprise zone mapped out with multiple locations throughout the county, all the development that will occur along the UC Merced Parkway, the several thousand more homes in the UC Community, commercial plans for Mission Blvd. south of Highway 99, and greedy “spheres of influence” reaching out from each municipality.

Far from exercising any caution toward predatory finance, insurance and real estate special interests as well as slick operators like RMP, our elected local land-use authorities made love to them from the beginning. To believe they will change their views at this point is absurd. But absurdity is always a part of real hope. It is false hope that lacks the leaven, and false hope is going around Merced like this winter’s flu, foreclosure and fear.

To believe that chatting them up politely in their offices will change their minds belies repeated experience. All it will do is suggest to them new clever tricks to get by the public, like Kelsey's non-hearing "town-hall" meetings on RMP, or demure statements on the WalMart distribution center recently made by the city attorney or the many calculated misstatements of the losing candidate for mayor of Merced. Their minds were captured by visions of development bonanza. No matter how many development corporations go bankrupt, no matter how many of their own citizens suffer foreclosure, the elected officials on our local land-use authorities – many collecting fees on foreclosures – have been permanently blinded by that bonanza. And, for a heady season, they were somebodies, courted by the rich and powerful as the local realtors and mortgage brokers raked in the fees. And they are untouchable in their local jurisdictions.

Today, Merced County residents are suffering one of the larger financial wounds in California.. It is a position shared with those other great centers of foreclosure, Modesto and Stockton, all parts of the region we have called until recently Pombozostan, in honor of representatives Pombo and Cardoza, who intended to obliterate the very idea of endangered species and any open rangeland on which they might exist free from the developers’ ripping chisel. Stockton's largest developer leads the famous California Partnership with the San Joaquin Valley to map out future growth alongside the Valley transportation blueprint two years after he gathered a group to provide a $50,000 campaign pourboire for the Pomboza’s last charge against the Endangered Species Act.
The stink from Pombozastan keeps on rising, like the stench from the old Moffat Manteca-Fed feedlot.

The public must forget this because it is inconvenient to elected officials that the public remember it. So, hacks and flaks are dispatched to make the public forget and provide soothing propaganda to put the public to sleep again and encourage elected officials to continue the mad pace of growth to urbanize one of the world’s greatest agricultural valleys, because its land is cheaper than coastal property. This week, a free-market hack named O’Toole told a gathering of realtors in Modesto to work for the abolition of planning departments and all regulations and laws concerning planning and let the market decide it all. It was reported as an amusing lecture. In fact, that is what was done in Merced and other parts of the former Pombozastan, despite the screaming denials of the hacks and flaks. At the recent UnityFest at UC Merced, a ludicrous seminar allegedly on “Political Participation” took place, consisting of a public “dialogue” between the Merced County flak and the UC Merced flak, tossing puffballs between themselves to the mystification of a few UC students and members of the public who came to learn something about public political participation. The flaks and the hacks are very busy making the public forget what is going on as fast as it happens. The hacks and flaks are in crisis mode. Their job is to make it as difficult as possible for the public to reflect on what has happened in Merced. Today, the rap of the highly coordinated hacks and flaks in town is an impenetrable wall of development propaganda, constantly projecting an even rosier urban future as the here and now gets worse.

In a recent poll, Valley residents alone among the state’s several regions said that Valley air pollution -- not global warming -- was the worst problem in the world. We think that Valley residents, asked the question, took the opportunity to denounce their air quality and the policies, developers and politicians behind it even though the question addressed a region (the world) somewhat larger than the Valley.

The idea that a gigantic slurb the length of the San Joaquin Valley is going to be able to employ its residents is a dubious proposition, first, because the place created by the population estimated will be nearly unlivable – as Stockton and Sacramento would be without a Delta breeze – and won’t be the place attracting business geniuses creating employment. Secondly, because there is no discernable employment plan. UC Merced could well end up being the academic equivalent of Naomi Klein’s crisis capitalism, a ghoulish institution studying environmental diseases and social breakdown caused by growth its arrival in part stimulated. However, vast tracts of the Valley are owned by agribusinesses that don’t employ enough people, are selling to developers or becoming developers. Agricultural organizations like the farm bureaus (insurance companies) have become useless as representatives of anything but private property rights. Valley agriculture is in a contraction pattern, holding onto land waiting for the developer. The creativity, innovation, risk and growth that characterized it through most of the last century is exhausted. Despite massive public water projects, subsidies and subventions and psychotic immigrant policies, and decades of agribusiness propaganda, or perhaps because of them, Valley agriculture seems unfocused today, as if it has lost its sense of meaning, its purpose, its style and its sense of humor. Today, with some exceptions, it is a supine culture, full of empty self-congratulation and empty slogans it no longer believes. Valley agriculture acts like it no longer believes in itself and verything’s for sale. Ag land values seem to be holding at least in Merced County, due to sales to development investors and, lately, to ethanol pressure (one of the latest investment bubbles, which might pop before it floats). But agricultural production looks like a pretty cynical affair these days. Rice, cotton and dairy are still strong enough politically to get what they want out of a federal farm bill, but the specialty crops that are the backbone of California production got very little. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, would have been a far better choice than Cardoza to argue their causes in Congress. But, the Democratic leadership chose the inept Shrimp Slayer, who we think shot his wad during his sojourn in Pombo’s hip pocket trying to wreck the ESA on behalf of local developers rather than specialty-crop producers. Even members of Congress must be able to see through that: the Assistant Destroyer of ESA in 2006 becoming the Champion of Almonds, Kiwis, Blueberries and the Honey Bee in 2007.

It’s been 40 years since Valley agriculture employed many people from the towns and cities it surrounds. Perhaps that loss of connection – knowing the family of the kid in your packing shed – has also slowly rotted agriculture’s sense of local social purpose and the urban Valley’s sense of the local social purpose of agriculture. The food-distribution oligopoly and mounting off-shore competition haven’t helped either.

Politicians, bureaucracies, banks, insurance companies and every business that makes a dime off agriculture have babbled the empty slogans – worst of which because greatest insult to reality is the sanctity of “family farming” – for so long and so effectively that they have hollowed out all content from these sacred phrases. And, like more and more farming, especially of the type best done in California, American manufacturers have been chasing cheap wages off-shore to a point of probable no return and much food processing has gone with them.

Empty phrases like “working class” are beginning to appear in the newspaper. Urban hammers with rural sickles yet, from the mouths of Democrats in City Hall? Unions, which young working people tend to reject, don’t talk about the working class much anymore. Many younger Mexicans never heard of Ricardo Flores-Magon and think Cesar Chavez was a boxer.

Language—above all—language means nothing in this town since UC Merced and the developers bought public speech and the local media. Concerned citizens are warned by supervisors to speak as politely as developers, and our congressman is led to the gutless vacuum of “balance” on every important issue of state. But, we live in a moment of drastically important issues of state in which there is no “balance” whatsoever. Single-issue opponents of projects are cajoled into presenting alternatives they lack the knowledge and data to back up. Merced elected officials are competent manipulators on behalf of their own interests and other special interests. The common good of residents in the here and now is not their interest, special or otherwise. However, embracing the absurdity necessary for real hope, let us hope that the working poor of Merced and those of slightly higher income bilked by mortgage brokers in the “house of their dreams” form unions, among them a Union of the Foreclosed with Ruined Credit. The false hopes of “activists” making alliances with the gravediggers of the present residents promise nothing but one more carefully built trail over another cliff. “Working Class – This Way, Please.” When we need people to confront the land-use authorities that brought this mess down on us, we get people whose one political move is the Big Kiss Up.

Merced was a great place to farm and agriculture was acknowledged by local government to be the prime economic force in the county until the arrival of UC Merced. The campus stimulated a wild season of real estate speculation, a bubble that has now like a balloon filled with sewer water. UC Merced suggested a whole new, urban, high-tech, bio-tech future for the county, which immediately inflated the residential real estate values and deflated the importance of agriculture (if not ag land values). In one fell swoop, according to the One Voice of our leaders, Merced would transcend the problems of agriculture and become one more fantasy Silicon Valley, just like all the other fantasy Silicon Valleys scattered across the nation. It was lunacy but it sold houses at incredibly inflated prices for incredibly bad mortgages, which are now a part of a global credit crunch that is beginning to cause banks to fail. We are at the center of a massive fraud that everybody who is anybody from Merced County – from Washington to Wall Street to Bob Hart Square – was in on.

The foreclosure crisis is an opportunity for the public to reflect on the veracity, competence, and the intent of its political leaders. They show every sign of wanting to continue their mad urbanization of a rural, agricultural county still productive, relatively beautiful and healthy compared to worse excesses in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties. Since the arrival of UC, their dream solution for poverty has been to squeeze out poor people with inflated real estate values. Too many ships that strategy raised a few years ago are sinking fast these days, having struck predatory financial mines. Local land-use authorities have in front of them the imperious, publicly funded, development greed of the University of California, the anchor tenant for growth down the entire east side of the San Joaquin Valley. The other end of the UC Merced Parkway is anchored by the proposed WalMart distribution center. The UC Community is planned to fill in some of the “blank space” (prime farmland) in between. Behind them, our elected officials have finance, insurance, real estate and large landholding interests. Is there any room for the citizens of Merced County today in their elected officials’ plans for their own tomorrows?

“Growth” here, which simply means more subdivisions, is anything but “inevitable.” It is the result of political deals that profit somebody at the cost of everybody’s future. We must escape the destructive drift of the economic predators and their political cronies. Banks, insurance companies, realtors and large landholders have never been the friends of rural America and they are not now, either. They should not own Merced County’s local land-use authorities. These authorities in the pockets of predators have caused economic havoc and despair in their own communities. The Valley once understood such elementary facts but its steady urbanization has reduced it to the idiocy accompanying mature corruption – the impenetrable mindset of the political class that believes its own propaganda. Former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside, founder of the most cynical development propaganda organ in the Valley, the UC/Great Valley Center, showed this region the way 20 years ago, with Village 1, a deal between her city council and developers that cost the City of Modesto $40 million plus interest.

The test of government is its care of the least of us, not the richest and most powerful. The grand result of local governments’ land-use design in Merced County has been to grow slums full of strangers. In a particularly cruel twist, some of these slums are brand-new subdivisions in which too many people are going bankrupt to form anything like the roots of neighborhoods. A decade ago, there were more humane elected officials and – at least in retrospect – a coherent community. The main cultural difference is UC, whose commitment to rural California has always been the technology of agribusiness. Smaller farmers and lower-income townspeople need to get together, fast. Everyone who is not in on the deal needs to organize against the deal. But, this would require a willingness to confront a gang of experienced, corrupt politicos stoned on their own growth propaganda, spoon-fed them daily by their in-house hacks and flaks. They cannot afford to admit they have done anything wrong or made any mistakes.

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Open letter from Stevinson resident Robby Avilla to Supervisor Diedre Kelsey and Assistant Planning Director Bill Nicholson

Submitted: Nov 11, 2007

As I have noted in letters to the editor of the Merced Sun-Star, and also before the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board, I am greatly disturbed by the process that Merced County used to expand the Stevinson SUDP (Specific Urban Design Plan).

This expansion is only being created to enable the Stevinson Ranch developers to attach a 3,880 unit gated community onto a town with a population of 400 people. Without the development there were no plans by Merced County government in place to expand the growth boundaries of the town of Stevinson.

The two of you, Supervisor Kelsey and Planner Bill Nicholson, both have said numerous times that you wanted to give something to the residents of Stevinson if this development were to be built, and so you wanted the developers to provide sewer and water to the residents of Stevinson. This was both of your selling points for including the development within an expanded SUDP for Stevinson.

I feel that you led the citizens of Stevinson astray with those comments. First, the sewer installation will be a sewer trunk line. Local residents cannot hook into a sewer trunk line. There are only 34 homes along the road where the line is to be installed. A sewer trunk line needs at least 50% capacity before it can flow. The current homes, plus the school, would not even come close to making that trunk line flow. That sewer trunk line will only be used by developers when they create even more residential development in the town of Stevinson. It will never be used by current residents for their own use as you professed that it would. Likewise, the water lines would support such a small contingency of Stevinson's population that it is all but useless to the community as a whole. Merquin School's water is continually tested. It has tested clean for drinking and they would be the main user on that line. Your idea of providing Stevinson with these amenities does not hold up considering the increase in traffic congestion that all of us would have to put up with for years before we would get new roads. I believe that both of you knew that the sewer trunk line would not be usable to the current Stevinson residents and was only being installed for further development, and also that you knew how small a population would be served by the water lines. So, I believe that both of you were not really interested in providing these amenities to the residents of Stevinson, but, instead, were trying to soften the blow of the astoundingly large development to the residents of our community.

MAC Board Chairman, Peter Stavrianoudakis, came to our group, the Stevinson Citizen's Group, saying that the Kelley family requested that Supervisor Kelsey not let him lead meetings in Stevinson anymore. When we questioned him why this could be, he said, "The Kelley family thinks that I am against their development. I am not against their development, I am just against the process that Merced County is using to get it in." Supervisor Kelsey, within one month you removed Mr. Stavrionoudakis from the board completely. You would not give a reason for his removal to the other members of the MAC Board, saying that they serve at your discretion. I feel like the MAC Board needs to be told that the Kelley family made that request of you and then just a short time later you did in fact remove him from the Board.

MAC Chairman, Peter Stavrianoudakis, requested on three separate occasions at MAC meetings that a guidance package should be provided to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board for the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development. Mr. Nicholson, you replied that none had ever been presented to the board for comment and, you also stated, before the Board and the residents in attendance, that you would provide one. You never did so. The Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board has never had a guidance package to comment on about the Stevinson Lakes/Gallo Ranch proposed development. However, the MAC Board was recently given a guidance package to comment on about the Turlock Golf Course Development. They are both privately funded developments. Why would a guidance package be necessary on one development and not the other?

Lastly, and most importantly, every single meeting of the steering committee that formed the enlarged Stevinson SUDP was held in violation of the Brown Act. Nothing was posted in our local newspaper about the formation of the steering committee or the meeting times and dates. Nothing was posted on our post office or any buildings in town of the meeting dates. There were no fliers sent to local residents. The meetings were held in the Stevinson Ranch Clubhouse with no agenda posted on the door.

Supervisor Kelsey, I work within the land use arena in Merced County and many of the people that I work with are staunch defenders of you. You support them and so they want to turn a blind eye as to what you have done in Stevinson. I feel differently. I do not expect them to understand what we have gone through in Stevinson, but I do expect you to right your wrongs. You have touted the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development on two separate occasions at the Board of Supervisor meetings, saying that you think it is a "good project". You made that statement to the Board before a final plan had been drawn and before an EIR has even been completed. You used the Stevinson Development as an excuse to keep projects ongoing during the General Plan update process.

The above issues lead me to believe that the two of you have worked in cooperation to enable the owners and developers of the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development to have an unfair advantage in bringing their project and an unlawfully created SUDP plan before the Merced County Planning Commission and Merced County Board of Supervisors. I believe that you knowingly led residents to believe they would benefit from amenities they will not be receiving, you tried to control the local MAC Board's opposition to the process that Merced County was using by eliminating it's Chairman at the developing family's request, you unlawfully kept the steering committee meetings quiet and you did not give the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board the proper paperwork.

I am sending this letter via email and hard copy. I am requesting that respective to your particular duties you:

1. Write a letter to the community of Stevinson stating that local residents would not be allowed sewer usage because of flow issues with the development's sewer trunk lines. I want it stated that these lines are for the use of future residential development and not for the use of current resident's waste. I feel that the citizens of Stevinson deserve clarification on this issue.
2. Write a letter to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board stating why Chairman Peter Stavrianoudakis was ejected from the board. Bear in mind that Frank Amaral has been allowed to remain on the board as one of two representatives from Stevinson even though he rarely attends a meeting.
3. I request that the Merced County Planning Department send a guidance package for comment to the Hilmar/Stevinson MAC Board regarding the Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development.
4. I request that the Merced County Planning Department scrap current plans of enlarging Stevinson's SUDP and start from scratch with a process that is legal, publicized and will allow the residents of Stevinson a voice in the size and scope of their own town. A steering committee might be a good solution for some situations, but I believe that when you are considering taking a town from a population of 400 to 19,000 residents it is of utmost importance for the whole town to feel they have representation. This was done in Hilmar and needs to also be done in Stevinson.
5. I request that you form a separate MAC Board for Stevinson. I request that you make that Board represent all members of our community, with members who are both pro and against this development.

I am emailing a copy of this letter to concerned parties so that they know exactly what my grievances and requests are.

Thank you, Robby Avilla

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Anatomy of the housing bubble

Submitted: Nov 04, 2007

Readers familiar with Gray's Anatomy (the book, not the TV show), will recall it is full of detailed, numbered and labeled diagrams of every part of the physical human body, the result of a long scientific tradition begun by body snatchers and grave robbers.

We have recently come across a website, http://the housingbubbleblog.com, which approaches reports of the crash of the housing bubble with the same obsessive, scientific focus on detail. Ben Jones of Flagstaff AZ, author of the site, may be the present-day Vesalius of the crash of the speculative housing boom. Although it is possible Jones is a member of the foreclosure vulture flock, even if he is out speculating on the disaster it is well to recall how useful vultures are in the natural world.

Jones gathers a great abundance of news clips from home and abroad on the housing-bubble collapse. He is performing an extremely valuable service, making the depth and breadth of the crash visible beyond the confines of any particular community in America or elsewhere -- from local housing markets to high finance to foreign markets to the economic consequences beyond the housing bubble crash. These days, The Housing Bubble Blog is an indespensible site. We are very grateful to Jones for his fine work.

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

A few random selections from the blog's latest posts:

From the report: “2. What happened in 2004? The relationship between Californian house prices and disposable income as a multiple of long rates broke down in 2004; we believe that aggressive sales of ‘affordability products’ (e.g., subprime, option ARMs, home equity loans), which spiked in 2004 (see Exhibit 2), drove Californian home prices well-above levels supported by economic conditions.”
“Now that the secondary market for these affordability products has all but evaporated, we expect home prices in California to return to normalized levels (i.e. levels implied by current and forecast disposable income in California as well as U.S. ten-year treasury yields); this implies a 35-40% fall.”
“As of last August the median house price in California was $589K, but economic conditions support prices between $350-380K (see Exhibit 1); material price declines are likely, in our view.”

“‘In general, the mortgage company wants to see a consumer default on three separate payments before considering a loan modification,’ says Elizabeth Schomburg, senior VP of the Family Credit Counseling Service in Chicago.”
“Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says its member agencies in areas from Southern California to Texas have seen the same trend. ‘One counselor in Amarillo, Texas, just told me ‘It seems to me they almost encourage people to fall behind in order to find help,’ Ms. Cunningham says.”

“Canfor Corp. president and CEO Jim Shepard said Friday he won’t hesitate to take more sawmill shutdowns in the face of a continuing poor market and high Canadian dollar.”
“‘If this market ratchets down, we will ratchet down our production, full stop,’ Shepherd told analysts and reporters on a conference call to discuss the company’s $42.1-million third-quarter loss.”
“Prince George Trucking Association president Stan Wheeldon said there was already a reduction in work in the summer which meant more people chasing less work.”

Retail changes? “Wal-Mart is selling 26-inch high-definition TVs for $450 this weekend. Circuit City plans to give away consumer electronics prizes every day for the next 30 days, starting Sunday.”
“Retailers, eyeing the housing slump and the credit crunch that has decimated consumer confidence, are slashing prices early in the hope of snagging a bigger share of the annual Christmas spending spree. That spree is expected to be more subdued than usual, said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.”

“A man waiting to transfer money at the scene told Sai Gon Giai Phong he earlier bought a $300,000 apartment which now costs $2 million. ‘There’s no business more profitable than this,’ another sitting nearby intervened.”
“Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung promised government will impose progressive taxes on housing speculation to help deflate an impending bubble in the real estate market.”
“Ho Chi Minh City recently saw disturbing degrees of speculation-based property sales ominous of a bubbling market when thousands surrounded a housing site last week to purchase flats even before foundations had been laid.”
“Prospective buyers hired proxies to wait in long winding lines for registration applications, with at least one person paid some US$1,000 simply stand in line.”

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For shame

Submitted: Oct 24, 2007

The Valley has always been a hard place, no doubt of that. Merced County probably hasn't been better than the fifth hungriest county in the state at the best of times in the last decade (given poverty statistics on California counties), but now, in the wake of the greatest building boom in its history, it ranks as the third hungriest county in the state and its foreclosure rate is tops in the nation. One in ten go to bed hungry and one in 68 are in some stage of home foreclosure.

For shame -- if only the decision makers in Merced County had any shame. But in the county, for a period of nearly 15 years, decision makers have paid no attention to anything but the arrival of UC Merced and the residential development it induced. The finance, insurance and real estate special interests behind local landowners, developers and the campus employed legions of propagandists to confuse the Merced public to the extent that today, it cannot connect three dots a millimeter apart: UC Merced=speculative housing boom=concealment of chronic poverty. Now,that UC development didn't pan out to universal rising of all ships, the news of chronic poverty is back along with the big hand out to the state and federal government. It's just the latest version of the Great Valley Whine. But it would have been better if all the prominent Valley plutocrats who donated to UC Merced for the magnificent Blue and Gold Future had instead devoted their excess wealth to alleviating the Present Poverty. This is particularly true in the case of some of our wealthiest citizens, who make so much of their money off government subsidies, like Gallo Farming Co., which hauled down $855,000 in federal subsidies between 2003-2005 with a reported annual income of around $50 million from the largest dairy operation in the US. How much of the $996,000 subsidy over those years to the Nickel Family LLC state Senate candidate Wiley Nickel use for that dismal excuse for a campaign against the incumbent in 2006? Whatever that ridiculous excuse for a political campaign cost, it would have been better spent on school lunch programs.

At the risk of stalling the flow of invective, the editorial board thought at this point it might be interesting to take a trip down UC Bobcatflak Memory Lane to get a better look at the real leaders who jerk the chains of elected officials in Merced and other counties in the San Joaquin Valley. Although UC Merced now chooses to keep the membership of its foundation board of trustees concealed from the public, they were appointed with great fanfare and pride. It is a rare gathering of the wise Valley leaders, many of whom personally profited from inside information on the UCM campus location in the speculative real estate boom centered in the north San Joaquin Valley. In fact, UC Merced could be described as long-term blarney and short-term land boondoggle. These wise leaders of finance, insurance and real estate are responsible for the foreclosure rate in Merced County of one in 68 households and for moving the county from fifth to third place in the poverty/hunger scale statewide. Although space does not permit discussion the ironies of any particular notable, Valley people will get some dark, retrospective chuckles out of the list. UC Merced should have adopted a Rattle Snake as its mascot. The time is Spring, 2000. Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, the Cowgirl Chancellor, is in full cry:
(see Herself in full cowgirl regalia at http://www.ucmerced.edu/news_articles/09302003_uc_merced_board_of.asp)

March 17, 2000

CONTACT: Ron Goble, Interim Communications Director, University of California, Merced, (209) 724-4400 or (559) 734-9046, ronald.goble@ucop.edu

UC Merced introduces foundation board of trustees
http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2000/march1700.htm
MERCED -- University of California, Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey has unveiled the university's 82-member Foundation Board of Trustees composed of some of the most prominent individuals in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

The founding UCM Board of Trustees will meet in an advisory capacity and offer counsel and direction to Chancellor Tomlinson-Keasey and her Vice Chancellors.

"Our Trustees are some of the most respected and highest profile corporate and professional leaders representing such vital valley interests as agriculture, oil, technology, medicine, law, education and science," said Tomlinson-Keasey. "We are overwhelmed that so many San Joaquin Valley and statewide leaders have chosen to join the UC Merced family. Their enlightened and insightful advice will be invaluable to me and help assure the success of the new campus."

Chancellor Tomlinson-Keasey explained: "Initially, we were contemplating a much smaller board of trustees. However, when we realized the interest of Central Valley leaders and the needs of the new campus, we thought we should start with a full complement of trustees. Thus, the UC Merced founding board will be the size and status of other UC campus boards."

The blue-ribbon board consists of several Silicon Valley executives from such companies as Lucent Technologies and Sun Microsystems. Several current and former members of the UC Board of Regents included in the UC Merced Board of Trustees are current UC Regent chairman, John Davies, former chairs Leo Kolligian, Meredith Khachigian and Roy Brophy, current Regent Odessa Johnson, former Regents Carol Chandler and Ralph Ochoa. In addition, UC President Richard C. Atkinson, and Emeritus Presidents David Gardner and Jack Peltason are members of the new board.

Tomlinson-Keasey noted that several board members were valley natives, but now reside elsewhere in California, such as former Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson, actor/producer Mike Connors and former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho.

The majority of the UCM Trustees, approximately 50, are CEOs of their corporations or organizations. All are prominent, but many have national and international prominence such as Robert Gallo of E&J Gallo Winery in Modesto, developer Fritz Grupe of Stockton, John Harris of Harris Ranch in Coalinga, President Eugene Voiland of Aera Energy in Bakersfield, and William Lyons Sr., agriculture leader from the Modesto area.

The first meeting of the new board will be held March 22 at the County Bank in Merced. The board is representative in size and structure to other UC campus boards which have traditionally taken years to put in place, said Tomlinson-Keasey.

The roster of all members of the board, their titles, affiliations and locations are:

Chuck Ahlem, Partner, Hilmar Cheese Company, Hilmar;

Richard C. Atkinson, President, University of California, Oakland;

Joseph Barkett, MD, Chairman of the Board, Sunset Corp., Acampa;

Dr. Kelly F. Blanton, Founder and Chairman, Epylon.com Corp., San Francisco;

Robert Bliss, Senior Vice President; NEC/BCS (West), Inc., Van Nuys;

Calvin Bright, President and Chairman, Bright Development, Modesto;

Roy Brophy, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, Fair Oaks;

Jim Burke, chairman, Jim Burke Ford, Bakersfield;

Bob Carpenter, President, Leap, Carpenter, Kemps, Merced;

Carl Cavaiani, President, Santa Fe Nut Company, Ballico;

Carol Chandler, California Women for Agriculture, Chandler Farms, Selma

Tony Coelho, Chairman, C/O Gore 2000, Washington, D.C.;

H.A. "Gus" Collin, Chairman, Sunsweet Growers, Inc., Yuba City;

J.F. Collins, President, J.F. Collins Co., Inc., Merced;

Mike Connors, Actor/Producer, Encino;

Roger Coover, President and Publisher, The Stockton Record, Stockton;

Dean Cortopassi, President/CEO, Santomo, Inc., Stockton;

Bert Crane Sr., President, Bert Crane Ranches, Merced;

Jim Cunningham, owner, Cunningham Ranch, LeGrand;

Frank Damrell Jr., Judge, United States District Court, Sacramento;

John Davies, Attorney-at-Law, Allen Matkins, Leck, Gamble & Mallory, San Diego;

Rayburn Dezember, Bank Board of Chairman, Bakersfield;

Diana Dooley, Attorney at Law, Paden & Dooley, Visalia;

James Duarte, President, Duarte Nursery, Inc., Hughson

Ben Duran, President, Merced College, Merced;

John Evans, Chairman of the Board, Evans Communications, Turlock;

Ted Falasco, President, Central Valley Concrete, Los Banos;

Robert Foy, Chairman of the Board, California Water Service Company, Stockton;

Robert Gallo, President, E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto;

John Garamendi, Yucaipa Company, Washington, D.C.;

David Gardner, President Emeritus, University of California, San Mateo;

Lewis Geyser, President, Destination Villages, Santa Barbara;

Price Giffen, President, Giffen Company, Fresno;

Mark Grewal, Vice President and Director, Boswell Company, Corcoran;

Fritz Grupe, Chairman/CEO, Grupe Company, Stockton

Ann Gutcher, Retired 1/28/00, Kern County Board of Trade, Bakersfield;

John Harris, President, Harris Farms and Harris Inns, Coalinga;

Joe Hartley, Director, Global Technology, Sun Microsystems, Palo Alto;

Daryl Hatano, Vice President, Public Policy, Semiconductor Industry Association, San Jose;

Tom Hawker, President/CEO, County Bank, Merced;

Odessa Johnson, Modesto Junior College, Modesto;

Rafer Johnson, Chairman, Special Olympics, Culver City;

Art Kamangar, Kamangar Ranches, Merced;

Edward Kashian, Chairman, Lance Kashian & Company, Fresno;

George Kelley, founder, Stevinson Ranch, Stevinson;

Meredith Khachigian, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, San Clemente;

Dorothy Kolligian, Civic Leader, Fresno;

Leo Kolligian, Former Chairman, UC Board of Regents, Fresno;

Joe Levy, Chairman of the Board, Gottschalks, Inc., Fresno;

Paul Lo, Attorney at Law, Allen Polgar, Proietti & Fagalde, Merced

Robert Luster, President/CEO, Luster Group, Inc., San Francisco;

William Lyons, Sr., President, Lyons Investments and Mapes Ranch, Modesto;

George Martin, Attorney at Law and Civic Leader, Borton, Pettini & Conron, Bakersfield;

Harold Meek, President, Three Way Chevrolet, Bakersfield;

Ginger Moorhouse, Publisher and Chairman of the Board, The Bakersfield Californian, Bakersfield;

Tapan Munroe, President, Munroe Consulting, Inc., Moraga;

John Myers, Attorney at Law and Rancher, Beverly Hills;

Kate Nyegaard, Civic Leader, Board of Directors George Lucas Foundation, Modesto;

Marilyn Ohanian, Psychologist & Civic Leader, State of California, Fresno

Ralph Ochoa, President, Ochoa & Sillas, Sacramento;

Richard Otter, Senior Vice President, Salomon Smith Barney, San Francisco;

Ashit Padwal, Director, Global Public Affairs, Lucent Technologies, Fremont;

Jack Peltason, President Emeritus, University of California, The Donald L. Bren Foundation, Newport Beach;

Samuel T. Reeves, President, Pinnacle Trading Inc., Fresno;

Curtis A. Riggs, President, VIA Adventures, Merced;

Kenneth Robbins, Attorney at Law, Mason, Robbins, Gnass & Browning, Merced;

Guillermo Rodriguez Jr., Assistant to the President, PG&E, San Francisco;

Fred Ruiz, Chairman of the Board, Ruiz Foods, Dinuba

Thomas Smith, President, CALCOT, Bakersfield;

Edward Spaulding, Director of Government and Public Affairs, The Chevron Companies, Bakersfield;

Jerry Stanners, President, Stanners Consulting, Bakersfield;

Timothy Steele, Vice President, Siemens Information and Communications Networks, Inc., Santa Clara;

Cleveland Stockton, Attorney at Law, Stockton & Sadler, Modesto;

Gerald Tahajian, Attorney at Law, Gerald Lee Tahajian, Inc., Fresno;

Ann Veneman, Attorney at Law, Sacramento;

E.J. (Gene) Voiland, President/CEO, Aera Energy LLC, Bakersfield;

Daniel Whitehurst, President, Farewell, Inc. Fresno;

Carol Whiteside, President, Great Valley Center, Modesto;

Roger Wood, Vice President, J.R. Wood, Inc., Atwater;

O. James Woodward III, Attorney at Law and Civic Leader, Fresno;

Stewart Woolf, President, Los Gatos Tomato, Inc., Huron;

Michael Zagaris, President, Zagaris Companies, Modesto.

The Badlands Journal editorial board, focused on social, economic and environmental justice, is frequently challenged in sneering tones by elected officials and their staffs to provide positive solutions to the questions it raises. Numerous warnings have appeared through the years on this site. None were heeded by the decision makers and certainly none by the puppetmasters behind the elected officials. In fact, decision makers are more hostile than ever. Presumably, that is their method of sublimating shame. They are human, they must see what is happening, but shame is an inconvenient emotion in the heart of American leaders at any level of government.

The litany: five of the seven Merced City Council are realtors; three of the five county supervisors are large landowners (one representing some of the nation's top recipients of farm subsidies), a fourth (failed dairyman) represents farmer/landowners (brother-in-law of the county farm bureau executive director and future president of California Women for Agriculture), and the fifth represents Atwater realtors (whose greed belies their size). We don't have the data on the Atwater and Livingston councils. The state senator is from Salinas and the assemblywoman is from Stockton (both with Livingston addresses at the moment). On behalf of UC Merced, finance, insurance and real estate special interests, landowners and members of his family and friends, the congressman led three attacks on the federal Endangered Species Act in his short, disgraceful term of office, most of it spent in former Rep. RichPAC Pombo's back pocket. These days, he seems to be leading unsuccessful attempts to subsidize fruit and nut growers, no doubt attempting to forestall the consequences of massive overproduction of almonds and the little problem with the Honey Bee.

For shame. These leaders, backed by the culture of Fat City easy virtue provided by the UC/Great Valley Center, spent 15 years focused madly on future residents of Merced, ignoring those who lived here now. They conducted a massive propaganda campaign against the Present Tense, which fed effortlessly into a speculative housing bubble that, in its aftermath, has caused a global credit crisis. It is a record of so nearly perfect social, economic and environmental injustice that it recalls a comment:

How can one defend a system that creates wealth by making the majority poor?
– Henry C. K. Liu (quoted by Mike Whitney) in Market Oracle:
http://marketoracle.co.uk/Article2481.html

It has taken a world credit crisis to slow our leaders down. They aren't stupid. They are quite cunning, calculating and subtle in the pursuit of wealth -- so much so, so nakedly in accord with what our congressman calls in reverent tones,

"the Valley Way of Life."

In fact, local government in Merced County (as is it in most places in California) is totally controlled by wealthy special interests. It is the planet on which our leaders have chosen to live, as opposed to where we live. If it weren't for the consequences of their 15 years of purely speculative thought, we might call it pathetic because it is veering so far so fast from the Earth of pain, suffering and the real, so long ignored economy of this county, agriculture, in irreversible decline because farmers have become primarily landowners in their minds.

It's hard to measure all the government aid that comes into this county. Between 1995-2005, the Environmental Working Group estimates that $186 million came to Merced farmers in subsidies. EWG admits that its records so far are only partial, but it has made strides recently on pass-throughs to individuals from agribusiness corporations. Still, with all that federal aid (not including publicly subsidized irrigation and all the other little things government does for our "family farmers," they are selling their land for subdivisions and commercial sites. This is the growth that kills. If land stays in agricultural production, the society has an opportunity to improve the farming system. Residential and commercial real estate development kills the option, not to mention what it does to the environment.

As for the public funds flowing into UC Merced, who can tell? What is the price for a well pimped, witless virgin ? All her relatives from the village in Mindanao are surrounding her to support her career in Manila to get their handouts.

Pathetic. Cruel. But Very Pacific Rim.

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

10-20-07
Modesto Bee
Jobless numbers ratchet up for Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin
Housing crisis cited for construction work loss in three counties...Christina Salerno

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/98241.html
Unemployment rates in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties swelled above last year's averages, the result of a shaky economy and deepening housing crisis. The three counties each gained at least a percentage point from the previous year, with Stanislaus County recording the biggest jump. The county went from an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent in September 2006 to 8 percent last month, according to state Employment Development figures released Friday. The construction sector, reeling from the downturn in home sales, posted the steepest decline over 12 months, 28,600 jobs statewide.
Modesto Bee
10-11-07
Valley home prices continue to plummet
Merced takes turn at top for lost homes
1 in 68 houses in county got foreclosure notices; SJ, Stanislaus not far behind...J.N. SBRANTI

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/90253.html
It's a title no one wants, but counties in the Northern San Joaquin Valley keep passing around the undesirable honor of having the nation's highest home foreclosure rate.Merced County is the latest to get that title, pushing Stanislaus County into the No. 2 spot and San Joaquin County into No. 3.September filings show Merced County had the nation's highest percentage of homes in the foreclosure process. An estimated 1 in 68 homes there received some type of foreclosure notice last month, according to RealtyTrac, which monitors such statistics. That's more than eight times the national rate of 1 in 557 homes...
Merced Sun-Star
County ranks third in country for hunger
Food summit brings together several groups to try to solve the nutritional problems facing Merced's poor residents...Scott Jason

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/60283.html
Merced County may be a thick slice of the Central Valley breadbasket, but more than a third of its poor adults scramble to eat the crumbs.
Yet 25,000 low-income adults here face that problem regularly, and an estimated 38.2 million Americans have trouble putting food on the table.
Though the statistic may drop jaws, it's not filling stomachs. That challenge has been undertaken by the Merced County Hunger Task Force. With Merced County ranked as the third-highest population in the country that has trouble feeding itself, the group of community service agencies met Friday for its second annual all-day summit about the hunger crisis.
While the idea of chronic hunger may conjure images of homeless residents, the problem afflicts seniors, children, students and, most surprisinglyMerced's working class that struggles to survive.
...one out of 10 Merced County adults faces the prospect of going to bed hungry.
$1.1 million grant awarded to UC Merced...Victor A. Patton
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/60280.html
Called the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, the grant will allow eligible students to receive up to $2,800 in the summer to support research related expenses. The funds will also let the students attend national and international conferences with their professors.
The program will provide about $220,000 to UC Merced each year for the next five years and is expected to benefit at least 50 students during its funding cycle
Environmentally friendly house going up -- made of straw...Dhyana Levey
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/60272.html
Hay is for horses, straw is for houses.
That's what Jean Okuye of Livingston says.
Okuye, 67, began looking about three years ago for a way to build an energy-efficient home with sustainable products. "I wanted to work with nature as much as possible," she said. "A house with materials more cradle-to-cradle than cradle-to-grave."
That means she'd rather see her home products recycled and reused than end up at the bottom of a landfill. She has the future in mind -- five generations of family members have lived on her 78 acres of land, which was just put in a conservation easement. After researching her options online she connected with the eco-friendly Bay Area design and construction firm Skillful Means and learned all about the uses of straw bales.
Part of her inspiration may have been genetic. In her ancestors' Japan, as well as today, at least one room in many homes is made of tatami, straw mats, for flexibility and comfort. About 160 bales of rice straw now make up the walls of her new dwelling, which will be 1,370 square feet when it's done...
The straw provides effective insulation, which was a selling point on this project, said Okuye, an almond farmer and president of the Valley Land Alliance, which seeks to protect local farmland. Her goal was to conserve energy by creating a house without air conditioning or central heating.

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Public comments on public minutes of EMRCD board meeting

Submitted: Oct 09, 2007

Below, find two comment letters on the public minutes of the last East Merced Resource Conservation District board of directors meeting. The Badlands editorial board has received several comments, actually, but declined comparison with 1950s French theater of the absurd. We wish to point out to the second correspondent that Lydia Miller has never conducted a "circus" at any Merced River Stakeholder meeting and one credible witness to that is Pat Ferrigno, representing the Bettencourt family ownerships on the river. Nor have river property owners created circuses at the MRS.

The EMRCD, which represents largely self-serving, grant-funded interests of its out-of-control staff, intends to destroy the collaborative, non-voting strength of the MRS. To that end, after stakeholders successfully killed an EMRCD grant on the basis that the studies were redundant, the staff salaries were models of conflict-of-interest and the EMRCD attempted to ram the grant down the MRS throat unread, the EMRCD summoned a bogus meeting of the MRS, presided over by an illegal quorum of its own board members, while the MRS held its legitimate meeting elsewhere.

The strength of the MRS lies in its non-voting governance, which has permitted -- uniquely for a decade -- widely divergent interests of farming, ranching, mining, environmentalist, resource agencies and others, to meet and continue to share vital information about our river. MRS has no intention of surrendering to some flak attack by the "one voice" crowd, fronting for finance, insurance and real estate special interests that aim to take away riparian water rights from property owners and destroy riparian habitat.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Bill: I read the lengthy email from the Badlands Journal about the EMRCD and the inside struggles for transparency. I am not a property owner there but do read. It is refreshing to know that transparency and openness of our local government will be fought for. Thank you. Charles Ulmschneider

Bill, I thank you for the recent e-mail sent regarding the meeting of MRS.
I do represent my own 200 acres in the Snelling area. I have several
partners in the property and I was asked to attend these efforts from the
start. Several years ago, I was informed that Lydia Miller was to attend
the next meeting and at that time my group decided that she would simply
create another circus costing Merced citizens too much bounty. I do try to
stay informed but refuse to entertain frivolous discussions by those who
simply want to stop all landowners from the enjoyment of their rights. I'm
still not sure where you stand on any matters but atleast you share
information well. Repectfully, Kevin Collins

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