Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fresno City Council destroys tapes of its meetings

I could hardly believe the story I read in today's Fresno Bee about the City Council destroying the audio tapes of their meetings -- 16 years' worth of tapes, from 1992 through 2007. It was a decision that would have made Richard Nixon proud.

My first thought was that someone had gotten to the council. Thought No. 2 was it was just plain dumb by a bunch of people who don't understand the importance of history. The tapes tell us why the council made a particular decision, who argued for and against it, what the tone and texture of the debate was.

It's probably a little of both. Council members didn't understand the historical importance of the tapes and they didn't want their words to come back and haunt them in a future political run.

The excuse is that it takes a lot of space to store all those tapes. Baloney. The public library would surely take them or one of the community's political institutes, such as the Ken Maddy Institute at Fresno State.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The first day of fall in Fresno and it's 100 degrees

Fall officially began at 2:19 p.m. today and the sun beat down like we were in the middle of August. The temperature topped out at 100 degrees and it is supposed to be 101 on Wednesday. I thought we were done with summer.

I love the fall weather so I'm rooting for it to get here soon. The fall and early spring are perfect times of the year in Fresno. Just warm enough to do all sorts of things outside, but we've put the heat of summer and cold of winter to bed for their respective seasons.

It's hot and dry all over California, and that means we're still in the fire season. But at least it's good for the San Joaquin Valley crops that are about to be harvested. Raisin farmers are especially happy because their grapes are on the ground and crinkling into raisins under the heat.

But I'm ready for the fall weather.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Republicans will never be satisfied on health care reform

Much of the Republican opposition to the health care reform package in Congress is based on blocking President Barack Obama from getting credit for his signature legislative piece so early in his tenure. The Republicans are trying to win back Congress in next year's mid-term elections, and they don't want Obama or the Congressional Democrats looking effective.

But that doesn't change the fact that there are problems in health care beginning with the unfairness of limiting coverage of people who are sick or have had previous maladies. The "pre-existing conditions" clause in health care plans was concocted by insurance companies to pad their profits.

So the first thing we must do is to throw out pre-existing conditions. You must also change several other fundamental problems in health care:

Allow portability of group health plans to prevent the so-called "job lock" where people fear moving to another job because they might lose their health insurance; institute tort reform to keep down the cost of malpractice insurance; allow insurance companies to sell health plans across state lines to make the market more competitive; find cost-efficient ways to cover all citizens because everyone ends up paying for the uninsured through our taxes when they get care at emergency rooms and in increased insurance premiums when the costs of the uninsured are shifted to the insured.

All this can be done if Republicans and Democrats are looking out for the public. But don't count on that being their motive in this controversy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

We have become a nation of whiners -- at least in our politics

President Barack Obama wanted to tell the nation's school children to work hard in school, do their homework and take responsibility for their own education. And that became controversial.

Of course, it took right-wing talk radio to stir up the complainers, suggesting that Obama was going to turn their kids into miniature communists with his do-well-in-school per talk. And this passes for political debate in our country?

Can you imagine the parent who will tell their kids that they can't see the president talk about doing well in school because it might indoctrinate them into some subculture of being an academic all star?

I'm stunned by the lack of intolerance in our country. But what's more stunning is the people complaining don't disagree with the message. They just don't like the fact that Obama is delivering it.

What would be the reaction on the right-wing talk shows if Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich gave the same school speech that Obama gave on Tuesday?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

California is on fire

Smoke and flames cover the Golden State today as several fires have taken on lives of their own. There's a huge blaze just north of Los Angeles, and at least seven others in Southern California. And then there's a big one in Auburn north of Sacramento, while others burn around California, including along the Pacific coast.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the state has already spent $106 million of its $182 million fire-fighting emergency reserve. California is expected to get help from the federal government to pay the fire-fighting costs.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that President Barack Obama is receiving regular updates on the California wildfires, and will continue to monitor the situation, according to the Associated Press.

California has also applied for six grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fight fires, according to state officials. They would reimburse the state for 75% of the fire-fighting costs, reports the AP.

Friday, August 28, 2009

This is a tragic story, but at least she's alive

The bizarre story of the kidnapping of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard makes you want to cry. Snatched off a Northern California street by a predator, she spent the next 18 years confined in a backyard, and forced to do unspeakable things. Here's how the Sacramento Bee described the case:

"Last seen as a little fifth-grader in a windbreaker and pink stretch pants, she was reunited on Thursday with her joyful mother. Now 29, she is in good health, police say, except for the horror of what she has endured."

That horror included having to bear two children from the rapist and spending almost two decades living our of a shed or a tent in a backyard. No school. No contact with the real world. There is only one useful punishment for this predator and his wife who participated full in this event.

Here's more from the news story:

"Authorities say she was taken by an Antioch couple, Phillip Craig Garrido and his wife, Nancy. They are scheduled to be arraigned at 1 p.m. today in El Dorado Superior Court in Placerville for rape, kidnapping, conspiracy and other charges. Both are being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

"They allegedly kept her in isolation in their backyard without detection, despite the fact that Garrido is on lifetime parole for kidnapping and rape and subject to home visits by a state parole agent. No one knew she or her daughters – now 11 and 15 – were there until this week."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama administration being very careful on immigration reform statements

President Barack Obama's agriculture secretary won't say whether a guest worker program for agriculture will be part of the immigration reform bill the administration will push in Congress. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with the editorial board of the Fresno Bee on Tuesday, but ducked a question about supporting a guest worker program, according to a political blog in the newspaper that serves California's San Joaquin Valley.

"During an appearance before The Fresno Bee's editorial board Tuesday afternoon, Vilsack said President Obama wants a comprehensive immigration reform solution," reports The Bee's Opinion Talk blog. "But he said the administration is not ready to discuss specific details of the proposal."

It is widely expected that the Democrats will introduce an immigration reform bill in Congress in the fall. But Vilsack told The Bee that the president's priorities right now are health care reform and climate change.

Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, is learning about California agriculture, which far exceeds farm output in his home state. Vilsack will make a tour of San Joaquin Valley farm areas Wednesday morning and then hold a agricultural town hall in Modesto in the afternoon. He has held almost two dozen town halls, but the sessions don't get nearly as spirited as the health care town halls.

California is in the third year of a drought and agriculture also is being challenged by a lack of water from environmental laws and court rulings. Vilsack is being asked to help with drouhgt relief. But water delivery issues come under te jurisdiction of the Interior Department.

Vilsack is also meeting with dairy farmers whose industry is in turmoil. "Dairies are in trouble here and nationally because milk prices are very low and production costs have skyrocketed," The Bee reported. "Vilsack's Agriculture Department has given dairy farmers some relief by increasing the price the government pays for milk and cheddar cheese through a temporary dairy price-support program."