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."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Things that should be in the health care bill

The Fresno Bee published this editorial on Sunday pointing out the items the newspaper's editorial board believes should be in the health care reform bill. They include preventing insurance companies from using "pre-existing conditions" to deny coverage or put policy holders in a high-risk pool at a very high cost. This is one of the most unfair parts of the current system.

The newspaper also says health insurance should have more portability to allow people to move from job to job without worrying about losing their coverage. To read the complete Fresno Bee editorial, click here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stop taking guns to health care protests

The intimidation tactics being used by protesters at the health care town halls were bad enough when they were shouting down people they didn't agree with. Now they are taking guns to the protests and displaying them publicly.

The latest was on Monday when a health care protest in Phoenix got menacing. The Associated Press reports that a dozen people carried guns -- one had an assault rifle -- at a protest at the convention center where President Barack Obama was speaking.

Phoenix police said the protesters with guns were not doing anything illegal. That may be the case, but it was still wrong for them to have guns at this event. If the National Rifle Association thinks this kind of behavior is going to make average Americans support their cause, they are just plain crazy. This tactic will backfire on the NRA.

I wholeheartedly support the right to protest a political cause. But you are losing the argument with me if you have to display a gun during your protest.

Here's more form the AP: " Gun-rights advocates say they’re exercising their constitutional right to bear arms and protest, while those who argue for more gun control say it could be a disaster waiting to happen."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nevada is going after California business in creative way

With all of California government's financial problems, Nevada economic development officials think this is a good time to lure Golden State businesses across the border. They are spending $1 million on an advertising campaign that warns California businesses that they will lose if they don't move to a more business-friendly state.

One ad says, "If the Legislature doesn't stop monkeying around, you can kiss your assets goodbye." It features a monkey making spitting sounds at the camera, with bananas falling from the sky, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Nevada effort points out that the Silver State doesn't have corporate or personal income taxes and no inventory tax. The campaign also says Nevada's workers compensation costs are much lower than in California.

The neighboring states have fought for each other's business for years. In 2004, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a much-publicized visit to Las Vegas and drove an 18-wheeler down the strip. The truck was plastered with signs that encouraged Nevadans to move their businesses to California.

Now Nevada is trying to take advantage of California's budget problems. The state is paying its bills to vendors with IOUs, a practice that Controller John Chiang said will continue until Sept. 4. That makes this an opportune time for Nevada to go after California businesses, which have been frustrated by high taxes and state regulations.

But there's another reason Nevada is getting agressive right now. The state is reeling from the economic downturn and it needs an influx of new capital to get its economy turned around. The once booming state is seeing residents leaving because they can't find jobs.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sometimes police chases turn out deadly

In a San Joaquin Valley community, a tragic accident over the weekend has police re-evaluating their pursuit policy. A high-speed chase left eight dead, including five children.

It started in the city of Dinuba, when a police officer was going to make a routine traffic stop Saturday afternoon. The car took off, with the three youthful occupants determined to evade police.

It turned out that the car was stolen. A few miles down the road, the car blew a stop sign and struck a pickup carrying a family of seven to a youth football game. The children -- ages 1 to 8 -- were ejected and died.

The three in the stolen car - ages 16, 17 and 19 -- also were killed.

High-speed chases almost always end badly. It's better in most circumstances to let the crooks go. They'll soon be caught, either via radio or police helicopter. But these crashes are deadly because of the speed of the cars colliding.

This is a lesson that we must still learn.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Internet is killing post offices

The U.S. Postal Service has told Congress that it will close almost 700 post offices around the nation because business is down. Not as many people are using the mail these days, as more and more of them correspond by email and pay their bills on line through a bill-paying service.

The Postal Service also is considering other money-saving proposals, including not delivering mail on Saturdays.

"The Postal Service lost $2.4 billion in the latest fiscal quarter, in addition to $2.3 billion in the first half of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1," according to the New York Times. "Despite billions in cost reductions, the Postal Service projects a $7 billion loss for the year."

The Postal Service expects to handle at least 27 billion fewer pieces of mail this year.

The health reform protests miss the point

The protests against the Democrats' health care reform proposals appear to be set up by the Republican Party and their water-carriers on the radio talk show circuit. But let's put that aside and discuss whether the current system works for most Americans.

The problems in the system are many, including not covering all Americans, costing too much for coverage, and gouging those with pre-existing conditions.

If everyone were covered, the entire system would be less expensive. Currently those without coverage use the hospital emergency room or routine health matters because they will be seen by a doctor, even if they have to wait for hours. In addition, delaying routine matters makes them much more expensive to treat if their maladies turn into actually emergencies. We all pay for this more expensive system through our health insurance premiums and increased taxes on public-run hospitals.

If you actually get sick and have a pre-existing condition, it will cost a fortune to cover you because of the way insurance companies rate you. You are put into a more expensive pool if you buy insurance individually and that only encourages people to go without insurance. We must do away with pre-exiting conditions out of fairness to all.

The protesters seem to think the current system works. They must not have a pre-exsting condition or are on Medicare.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Will legalized pot bail out California?

There are several efforts underway to legalize marijuana and use the tax proceeds to balance California's upside-down budget. They tax everything else in California. Why not pot?

State officials say legalizing marijuana could add $1.4 billion a year to the state treasury. The idea is supported by 56% of California voters, according to a poll taken in April. But there's a huge gap between what people tell pollsters and what they'll actually do on the issue when they go into the polling both on election day.

There are at least two marijuana initiatives trying to get on the California ballot, and a San Francisco lawmaker has a bill that would tax marijuana.

You gotta be on dope to support this. This state doesn't need anymore impaired people trying to cope. It's bad enough with all the alcohol problems. Can you imagine all the people driving cars on pot while texting their friends and putting makeup on at the same time?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Here's one more way poor people are scammed

Have you ever noticed all the loan places that you see when you drive through poor communities in any California city? Most of there are the so-called "payday" loan outlets. They get their names from the practice of loaning against a future paycheck.

The catch is these places charge outrageous interest rates and fees for the short-term loans. In most cases, consumers pay interest and fees of more than 400% for a two-week loan. If they renew the loan at the end of the period, the fees and interest rates go even higher. It puits them into a cycle of debt.

The California Budget Project explains the process this way:

Payday loans are short-term, high-interest-rate loans that are generally provided to low- and moderate-income individuals who need immediate access to cash prior to receiving their next paycheck. Loans are secured with a personal check that borrowers “postdate” to their next payday, at which time the loan must be repaid.

California law allows payday lenders to charge a fee of up to 15 percent of the face value of the check, up to a maximum face value of $300. A borrower who writes a check for the maximum amount – $300 – receives a loan of $255 and pays a fee of $45. Due to high fees and short repayment periods, payday loans carry high implicit annual percentage rates (APRs), with an average APR of 429 percent for payday loan transactions in California in 2006.

This is one more outcome of being poor. If these consumers had better credit, they would get better loans. But they have few choices so they get scammed by the payday lenders.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

California is running out of water

California has a water system that was designed in the 1960s for a population half the size of the state's current 38 million residents. Now the state is running out of water. But it's not because there isn't enough water in California. The problem is that too much rain falls in the northern part of the state and not enough in the central and southern parts.

This problem could be solved if the various water interests would get together on a solution that would provide enough water for farmers, city dwellers and to protect the state's sensitive environmental areas. But Californians are a stubborn bunch and they are refusing to compromise.

This is what's needed:

-- Increased water storage (dams) to capture excess rain during rainy years to be used in the dry years. The excess water now runs into the ocean.

-- Underground water banking for storage, recharge and to move the water around the state.

-- Increased conservation methods, including some rationing in cities that don't meter their residents. Conservation could save 20% of the state's water annually, which is the amount that would be generated by building a dam. The best part of conserving water is that water is available immediately. It will take 10 years to build a dam.

The California Legislature and the federal government have been discussing solving the problem, but it hasn't gotten past the talking stage. The Fresno Bee has reported that the Legislature will continue to deal with budget issues and may not take up the water problem this year.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Joe Biden crashes White House beer summit

So how did Vice President Joe Biden get invited to the White House kegger with the president, the professor and the cop? I figure the Veep must have crashed it.

But there he was with President Barack Obama, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley. As we all know, Obama called the beer summit after he said the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting Gates at his house. That set of a national backlash so the president decided to make this a "teachable moment" on race relations. That might take the political pressure off him.

What better way to teach a lesson than to have a bunch of guys sitting around and getting hammered on beer. After some belching and tall tales about beer-drinking in their college days, they'd all be pals.

Biden joined the group Thursday evening, which makes me wonder what would happen if the president had to call a beer summit every time Biden said something stupid. I also wonder whether the D.C. police set up a DUI checkpoint outside the White House.

So what was the beer of choice? From press reports: "Bud Light for President Barack Obama, Sam Adams Light for Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates and Blue Moon for Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley. Vice President Joe Biden joined the group with a glass of Buckler, a nonalcoholic beer."

Hold on here. How can you have any fun when two guys are drinking light beer, one is drinking non-alcoholic beer and only the cop is drinking real beer?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Job applicants literally slug it out while applying for grocery positions

We know jobs are tight, and tensions are high among applicants for the few jobs available. But if police arrest you while you're applying for a job, you probably don't have a chance at the position.

The Fresno Bee is reporting that police had to use pepper spray to stop job applicants from fighting while waiting in line for their employment interviews at a grocery story. There were more than 400 people in line in Southeast Fresno Monday when five men and two women started fighting. The seven were arrested outside a WinCo foods store. That reduced the WinCo applicant pool to 393.

Police said the altercation started just before noon on a very hot Fresno day. The verbal argument quickly became a physical one and the next thing you know there was a near riot. It took 12 officers to quell the disturbance.

The arrested applicants should polish their standing-in-line skills before they move on to the more rigorous parts of finding a job.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Guv's pup bites hand that pets him

Whoops. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick didn't quite plan his town hall meeting in Boston to go that way. His new puppy nipped a woman who tried to pet the 9-week-old black Lab.

Tobey has been popular since the governor got him recently and must have been tiring from all the attention. News reports say the woman was bitten when she bent down to pet the puppy but continued to play with him. She had a red mark and later went to the hospital to make sure the bite wasn't serious.

California gets balanced budget, but is it really?

I'm predicting the California Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be back at the negotiating table in a few months because this "balanced budget" actually has a lot of accounting gimmicks and borrowing. But there are signs that the economy is beginning to improve and that will help if revenues increase through more retail sales and other taxes tied to the economy.

Schwarzenegger said he's proud the the Legislature for making tough choices last week and finally passing a revised budget that closes the $26 billion spending gap. The governor says California is coming back, and the California Dream is strong as ever.

He didn't mention that the state is limiting college enrollment in the public universities and raising fees substantially on students already there. These are the people who will drive the California economy in the future and it's terrible short-sighted to damage the university system so severely.

By not acting responsibly earlier on the budget, the state was put into a no-win situation. But it was of the lawmakers' own making. The state was out of cash, forcing officials to send IOUs instead of payments to thousands of state contractors and other doing business with the state.

It's definitely time to reform state government.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obama won't legalize marijuana

The nation's drug czar says President Barack Obama opposes making pot legal. “Legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary, and it’s not in mine,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. His statement was reported by The Fresno Bee.

Kerlikowske was in the Fresno area after checking out a raid on a foothill marijuana farm that was on U.S. Forest Service land. This is the nation's top farm-producing county and it's no wonder pot grows so well. But it won't be a legal crop if the feds have anything to say about it.

In a joint operation with federal, state and local agents, marijuana plants valued at about $1.3 billion have been confiscated and 82 people arrested in recent days in Fresno County. It's called Operation SOS — Save Our Sierra — and is aimed at eradicating marijuana in eastern Fresno County.

Kerlikowske told The Bee that he can understand why California legislators are talking about taxing marijuana cultivation to help cash-strapped government agencies in the state. "But the federal government views marijuana as a harmful and addictive drug," the newspaper reported. "Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit."

Starbucks getting healthy?

Starbucks makes great coffee, but it's been a bit lacking in the food department. The food items sold at Starbucks are very average, contain too much sugar, artificial flavors and dyes. So the world's No. 1 coffee company is changing the food menu and is now offering healthier fare.

We'll see if it's an improvement. If any of our readers have tried the new foods, let us know what you think. Starbucks has a real opportunity to capitalize on the healthy-eating trend so this is a good strategy.

Starbucks has announced a new advertising campaign to go along with the food changes: "Real Food. Simply Delicious."

Reuters reports that Starbucks has changed 90% of its baked goods, with the new items including, salads, oatmeal and smoothies. Preservatives have been removed as much as possible, according to the news reports.

In Dallas outlets, Starbucks is experimenting with a healthier Frappuccino formula. I'm not so sure my Texas pals are into healthy eating, but we'll see how the new-fangled Fraps go over in the Lone Star State.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Thief leaves note telling owner to lock car

This thief had some time on his hands so he left a note in the car that he was robbing in North Dakota last week. The note advised owner Mark Neary to "lock your car in the future."

Neary acknowledges that is good advice, and says he has learned his lesson, according to news reports. The thief took his driver's license, credit cards and other items from the car last week before leaving the message behind.

The thief also praised Neary's taste in music, calling it "amazing." But Neary was very lucky. He also left the keys in the ignition, but the thief chose to leave the warning note rather than also steal his car.

In this crime-ridden society, sometimes the thieves engage in teaching moments.

Health care reform must be done properly

President Barack Obama is correct to push for health care reform, but it must be done the right way or this generational chance to fix our badly flawed system will be lost. The president's allies in Congress must realize that the current bills need to be amended and debated.

If a terrible reform package is passed by Congress, we will only be exchanging a bad system for another bad system that will cost the federal treasury even more than it does now. The goal must be to cover everyone and control the skyrocketing costs of health care. The current bills don't do that, according to most reviews.

This is what the director of the Congressional Budget Office said about the bills in Congress: They don't “reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite: "And that's the way it was"

Journalism legend Walter Cronkite died today at age 92 and there won't be another like him. Cronkite was so good at his job as the CBS news anchor that he was called "the most trusted man in America."

Cronkite was America's news anchor at "CBS Evening News" from 1962 to 1981. I remember him telling the nation in 1963 that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. I was 14 and Cronkite made an indelible impression on me.

As I reviewed the news coverage of Cronkite's death, I came across this fact that so so much about his impact on television news: "He was the broadcaster to whom the title "anchorman" was first applied, and he came so identified in that role that eventually his own name became the term for the job in other languages. (Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; In Holland, they are Cronkiters.)"

The tributes are pouring in, and CBS is preparing a special called "That's the Way it Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite." It will air at 7 p.m. Sunday. This will have a lot of special footage of Cronkite covering the defining news stories of his generation.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Future of Yosemite National Park being debated

A federal judge in California has ordered the National Park Service to come up with a new plan to limit the crowds in the most sensitive area of Yosemite National Park, and the Park Service is looking for public comments on the direction this crown jewel of our park system should take.

Beginning Monday in Fresno, the public will have nine opportunities to weigh in on Yosemite. The Fresno Bee sizes up the complex Yosemite questions in this editorial published on Sunday.

There also will be hearings in Oakhurst, Mariposa, Lee Vining, Yosemite National Park, Groveland, Pasadena, Foster City and Sacramento.

"The key to the plan is establishing how many people can visit the Merced River without trampling vegetation, eroding the banks and harming creatures in the area," according to The Fresno Bee. "The Park Service's previous plan did not have a firm limit, and proposed a monitoring program so limits could be adjusted depending on the river's condition and the number of visitors. That idea was overturned by the court. Now a new plan is being drafted."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson is a ratings machine

There are many who say they've heard too much of Michael Jackson, and wish the media would just let it go. That's missing what drives media coverage -- the audience. If people wanted the coverage to stop, it would. The media are driven by ratings, and the Michael Jackson death and its many details has a huge audience in this country and abroad.

You may not be watching, but your family members and neighbors are, even if they are telling you how excessive the coverage has been. The dirty little secret is they can't get enough of Michael Jackson.

Quite simply, Jackson's death has made a lot of people money, including the tabloid newspapers and the cable television shows that even have commentattors saying how terrible this obsession with Jackson is. And it's the public who is providing this monumental audience.

Here's one example of the Jackson phenomenon: Three of the Top 10 selling albums on the iTunes Music Store this week are Jackson albums. No. 1 is 'The Essential Michael Jackson," No. 4 is his "Numbers Ones," and No. 6 is "Thriller."

Tuesday's memorial service was so popular among computers users, the streaming video slowed down the entire Internet.

But if you think the memorial service was the final act for the King of Pop, it wasn't. There will be all sorts of sordid details coming out, and we'll be examining other parts of his life in detail. We'll want to know what will happen with his kids, and what really killed him. We'll want to know about his plastic surgeries and the child molestation charges. And where will he be buried, and can we visit the grave.

So no one wants to hear anymore about Michael Jackson -- except everyone you know.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How to pay for health care reform

The biggest obstacle in the way of health care reform is the method of paying for it. Tax increases don't seem to have support in Congress, although there could be some targeted increases on wealthier Americans. But it appears that reform would have to be paid for through savings in other areas and federal subsidies. It could cost as much as $1 trillion to reform health care over the next 10 years.

That seems like a much better investment than the $1 trillion the feds gave banks, which then continued to refuse to lend to consumers and used part of it for bonuses for their executives.

But this nation needs health care reform and President Barack Obama is right to push for it immediately. Congress, beholden to the insurance industry, will find many excuses for not acting on this needed reform. But Americans deserve a fair system that covers everyone, no matter their pre-existing conditions.

Tell Congress to fix this badly brokern system now.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Palin is resigning before Mark Sanford?

If there's a Republican governor who should resign, it's South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. But the news came Friday that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would resign at the end of the month.

That means Palin can now concentrate on running for president in 2012 without that messy business of having to stay in Alaska and look after the state. This way it's easier to raise money and make political conenctions in the crucial Midwest, South and Northeast.

The Associated Press says Palin will leave office on July 26 -- which means she won't finish her first term as governor of Alaska.

Here's a quote the AP is reporting from Palin:

“I know when it’s time to pass the ball,” said Palin, almost tearfully announcing that she would hand the office over to the lieutenant governor. “All I ask is that you trust me with this decision...”

"Some are going to question the timing of this,” she said in an impromptu news conference at her home. “This decision has been in the works for a while.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's time for Mark Sanford to resign

South Carolina residents have been stunned to find out what a flake their governor really is. The one-time conservative hero needs to resign as governor of South Carolina immediately. No state business will get done while this saga plays out.

It's one thing to get a little gossip on a philandering politician, but we've been getting too much information about Sanford's lover in Argentina, and other sordid details of his private life. He needs to shut up, resign and get his life back together.

Sanford only has 18 months left in her term, but he needs to go now.

Six of his state's major newspapers have called for his resignation, as well as more than half of the Republican caucus in his state legislature. There's no doubt he'll resign. The only question is when.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Western water wars

Some are labeling the battle in California's Central Valley over farm water as "fish vs. human." But this is really much more complicated than that bumper sticker explanation. The federal Endangered Species Act plays a huge role but there's also the third year of a drought to consider, as well as other competing interests, such as Southern California cities that want more water from state and federal sources.

On this hottest Sunday of the summer so far, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came to the heart of California's farm country to defend the Obama Administration's role in diverting farm water to environmental uses. He tried to take the pressure off the administration with a water action plan.

It includes assigning a high-ranking aide to help find solutions to the state's water problems, and saying he wants to direct $160 million in Recovery Act funds for the federal Central Valley Project, which manages the dams and canals that move water around the state.

We'll see if that satisfies the farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. But don't count on it. Complaining about conditions is part of a farmer's DNA.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is Mark Sanford really that dumb or is he just messing with us?

I can't believe someone who has been elected the governor of a state, was considered a major prospect for president in 2012 and was a conservative hero really thought he could get away with that Appalachian Trail stuff. He must have wanted us to know he was having an affair. Nothing else makes sense.

Flying off to Argentina for a fling and then having his staff say he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail was a bit much. He was hiking alright, but it wasn't the kind you do with your boots on.

So a teary-eyed Sanford fessed up this morning. "No, I wasn't hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Yes, I was in Buenos Aires working on my foreign policy with my favorite foreigner. No, I didn't think this through. Yes, I'm ashamed."

He also said, "I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina." And some other things, of course, or it wouldn't have been an affair. He called his lover in Argentina a "dear friend," and I'm glad to hear that.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama signs tobacco bill

President Barack Obama on Monday signed legislation bringing tobacco products under federal authority. It's about time. Nicotine is a drug and should be controlled by the federal government.

This legislation was a no-brainer. The Associated Press reported that the bill is called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, and it allows the Food and Drug Administration to do a number of things. They include prohibiting advertising targeting children, regulating the amount of nicotine in tobacco products, banning sweetened cigarettes that appeal to young people.

The legislation also prohibits phony labels on the cancer sticks, such as “light” and “low tar.” That's a trick that the tobacco companies have been getting away with for far too long.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Schwarzenegger's plane has emergency landing

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan was forced to make an emergency landing in Van Nuys after the pilot said smoke was spotted in the cockpit, according to news reports. There were no further problems and the governor even sent a Twitter message on the incident.

"A little adventure just now when my plane made an emergency landing. All's OK, though," the governor Tweeted.

Schwarzenegger had just left California's heartland in Mendota in Fresno County, where he was viewing drought damage to farmland. He was heading home to Santa Monica when the incident occurred. The jet was diverted to Van Nuys Airport.

In Mendota, Schwarzenegger said he would ask President Barack Obama to declare Fresno County a disaster area because of the drought. That would give the region federal funds to cope with the diaster.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran election protest shows importance of a free press

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's goons crack down on citizens protesting his questionable re-election, we can see once more why an independent and aggressive press (which includes the electronic versions) is crucial. The first thing dictators do is shut down the independent media. They fear the truth more than they fear a violent reaction by their citizenry.

So after Ahmadinejad shut down the Iranian media, protesters began organizing their events in Tehran using Twitter and other social networking sites. Now Iranian authorities are shutting down the social networking sites.

Dictators only want one side of events ot be heard -- there's. But Iranian citizens know they need independent voices. Read this from today's Wall Street Journal:

"Iranians have shared online images, video, emails and "tweets" about the protests and spreading violence -- circumventing state-controlled media. But as the public uprising has intensified, so has the government's attempt to control the flow of information. Internet speed is reduced and cellphone service interrupted."

This is why it's important to have a free press.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Protests organized in Iran through Twitter

This is one way to get around a closed society. Use the latest technology to beat the government censors. That's what protesters are doing in Iran as they draw attention to the rigged election results that have returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office.

The Associated Press is reporting that protesters are spreading the word of upcoming protests in Tehran using Twitter.

Here's a paragraph from an AP story from Cairo: "As Iran’s government cracks down on traditional media after the country’s disputed presidential election, tech-savvy Iranians have turned to the microblogging site Twitter."

I like this turn of events a lot. But make no mistake, the Ahmadinejad administration doesn't and we could see a terrible over-reaction from the government.

Things are getting dicey in Iran

Things are so worrisome in Iran right now that even President Barack Obama is talking about the contested election results. The president would normally remain silent, and let our diplomats do the talking. But Obama's comments Monday shows just how bad the situation really is in Iran.

The president said it's up to Iran to determine its own leaders, accoding to the Associated Press. (That's diplomatic talk). But he also said he’s troubled by the situation in Iran and that it would be wrong to stay silent. (That's not diplomatic talk).

The president also said any investigation into Iranian election results must not result in bloodshed, according to the AP. (Wow. That's really not diplomatic).

This was Obama's first comments following the disputed election in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election, an outcome that set off protests over election fraud.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Obama, still hooked on Nicotine, says tobacco is deadly

President Barack Obama still struggles with nicotine addiction, according to his spokesman. This statement comes at the same time the president cheered legislation that adds more regulations on cigarettes.

It's a struggle that many Americans have. They know smoking is bad, but they can't give it up. Nicotine is that powerful.

Here is the Associated Press story on the issue:

WASHINGTON -- The White House press secretary says President Barack Obama still struggles with a nicotine addiction, but the spokesman would not say whether the president still smokes cigarettes.

Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked about the matter Friday, the same day in which Obama talked of tobacco’s deadly effects and hailed the passage of bill that boosts regulation of smoking. In the past, Obama has spoken about the difficulty of quitting cigarettes.

Gibbs said that Obama’s response about smoking would be that quitting the addiction is a lifelong struggle.

Asked directly if Obama still smokes, Gibbs said: “I would simply tell you I think struggling with a nicotine addiction is something that happens every day.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Union spends million bucks on ads pushing more California taxes

The Service Employees International Union, fearful that state employees will bear the brunt of California budget cuts, is trying to persuade state residents that they should pay more in taxes so state programs can be saved. The Sacramento Bee said the SEIU has launched a 1 million statewide advertising campaign.

In a May 19 special election, California voters turned down more tax increases, and the conventional wisdom in Sacramento is lawmakers of both parties won't go against the voters by pushing for more taxes. That means big program cuts to close a $24.3 billion budget gap.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget proposal would make deep cuts, including doing away with much of the safety net programs that aid the poorest California residents.

But in this economy, don't expect California residents to be in the mood for more taxes, no matter how persuasive the SEIU ad campaign is.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Schwarzenegger promises California budget deal in two weeks

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that the elusive budget deal in California could be resolved within two weeks. But that $24.3 billion budget gap the state is facing is a big one, and it will be difficult for him to find consensus with the Democratic leadership that controls the Legislature.

California has been struggling with the budget for most of Schwarzenegger's almost six years as governor. During a special election last month, California voters turned down a budget package that would have prolonged tax increases, throwing the financial mess back to the governor and Legislature.

The message from the voters was clear -- no more tax increases to solve the budget problem. That means popular social programs, as well as education funding, are on the chopping block.

Police union agrees to wage freeze to save jobs

The city of Fresno and the Fresno Police Officers Association have reached a tentative agreement to have officers giving back a 2% pay increase already scheduled for next year as part of a wage freeze for all city employees. The move -- if ratified by union membership -- would save 44 jobs on the Fresno Police Department.

That's part of a shared sacrifice being implemented in Fresno to help the city get through a severe revenue decline because of the economic downturn. Property taxes are down and taxable sales have declined substantially. Those are two big areas of income for California cities.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin has cut the city budget by $26.8 million in each of the next two years. That figure includes the employee wage freeze.

President finally will increase stimulus spending

The wimpy, but costly federal stimulus plan needs a bit of stimulating itself, and President Barack Obama says he will do just that very quickly.

Despite a stimulus commitment of $787 billion, the White House has only spent $44 billion so far, and the unemployment rate continues to rise. What's going on over there? The economy has lost 1.6 million jobs since the stimulus bill was signed four months ago.

The president said he's frustrated at the slowness of the stimulus funds entering the economy and he's going to do something about it. "Now we're in a position to really accelerate," the Associated Press quoted the president as saying.

Let's get this money flowing and America back to work.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hold on a second, Chrysler

Whoa, Nelly. That agreement for Fiat to buy Chrysler isn't such a done deal after all. On Monday, the United States Supreme Court delayed the purchase of Chrysler until a hearing can be held on the proposed sale. Three Indiana pension and construction funds asked for the delay.

Chrysler, which is in bankruptcy, wants Fiat to buy it as part of its way out of Chapter 11. The delay could be complicating because Fiat has the option of pulling out of the agreement if the sale does not close by June 15. That would likely force Chrysler into liquidation, and that wouldn't be good for anyone. The federal government is backing the sale to Fiat.

The delay, which was authorized by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is only expected to be temporary. We'll see how this plays out. There's a lot riding on the sale to Fiat.

Most California lawmakers refuse to take pay cut

Members of the California Legislature, who plunged the Golden State into a financial mess that is forcing the layoff of thousands of state workers and salary cuts for the remaining employees, have mostly refused to take pay cuts themselves. That shouldn't surprise you. They are a self-centered, self-absorbed bunch.

The Sacramento Bee reports that four out of five state lawmakers are taking the full pay of $116,208 a year. The state has a $24.3 billion budget gap, and most state workers are facing pay cuts and furloughs. Other have been terminated. But lawmakers must reduce their pay voluntarily, and most of them have refused.

A pay commission has reduced the pay of future lawmakers by 18%, but that won't kick in until they are in new terms. The state is prohibited from cutting legislative pay during the current term, which is why it must be done voluntarily. So far, there are few volunteers.

Seems like this is more of "Do as I say, not as I do."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Schwarzenegger defends illegal immigrants

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reacted to the increased immigrant-bashing in his state by defending the work that illegal immigrants do.

"(We) ignore (the) contributions undocumented immigrants make," Schwarzenegger told the Sacramento Bee. "Everything we eat today is picked and created by undocumented immigrants, to a large extent."

Good for him. It's easy to blast these workers, but they are performing jobs that Americans won't do, especially in the agricultural areas of California.

The Sacramento Bee also had this quote from the governor: "I think it's an easy scapegoat for people to point the finger and say, 'Our budget is out of whack because of illegal immigrants,' " Schwarzenegger said. "It's not. Our budget is out of whack because we have self-inflicted wounds that the Legislature and this state has never really sat down and had the will to go and make the necessary changes."

These remarks are sure to be controversial. There are many who blame illegal immigrants for all our problems. Because of that, not many politicians stick up for illegal immigrants. Schwarzenegger is an exception.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Take your guns to church

In a church in Louisville, Kentucky, the pastor is encouraging parishoners to take their guns to worship service on June 27 to celebrate the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and the Second Amendment.

Not sure what Pastor Ken Pagano expects to be dropped in the offering plate. Maybe ammo, since there is reportedly a shortage of ammunition these days.

This Associated Press reports that Pagano wants the guns to be unloaded and security wil be checking people at the entrance to the sanctuary.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Central California is ground zero for gay marriage battle

Following the state Supreme Court upholding Proposition 8, the measure that banned same-sex marriage in California, both sides of the issue headed to Fresno last weekend to win the hearts and minds of the conservative region.

Supporters of gay marriage figured they must persuade some residents to back their side if they are ever going to win the issue at the ballot box. The San Joaquin Valley voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 8, but the number was much closer statewide.

On the same weekend, opponents of gay marriage held a rally to reinforce their majority, and to celebrate their Supreme Court victory. They don't want to give up political ground to the other side.

Some think gay marriage supporters don't have a chance in this region, and on first glance it might appear that's correct. But the numbers aren't all that bad for supporters of same-sex marriage.

Consider this: Proposition 8 only had 52% support statewide, but 70% in the San Joaquin Valley. That gives backers of gay marriage more people to go after in the Valley. So the same-sex marriage folks are thinking that they don't need to peel away everyone in the Valley to help their statewide number. They figure there is a chunk among the 70% who could be persuaded to switch.

And they brought big names to help them. Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron was there, and so was Eric McCormick of "Will and Grace" fame.

So a 2-percentage-point swing statewide would put the issue even, and they hope to get a least that many votes out of Fresno when this issue come up again in the 2010 or 2012 election.

Gay marriage now legal in New Hampshire

The Associated Press reports that New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has signed three bills that legalizes same-sex marriage in his state. New Hampshire is now the sixth state to make gay marriage legal.

The AP says the will take effect in January. That's two years after New Hampshire legalized civil unions. In addition to New Hampshire, same-sex marriage is allowed in joins in Massachusetts,Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Iowa.

The AP says opponents of gay marriage have targeted Maine’s law with a public vote. That's what California did last November after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage through a court ruling. Proposition 8 overturned the court ruling in California and the same Supreme Court said last week that voters had the right to do that through a constitutional amendment.

It's time for comprehensive immigration reform

This nation has ducked its illegal immigration problem for far too long, and now there are at least 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. This problem is only going to get worse if something is not done about our immigration system.

It's time for a solution that recognizes the need to do something with illegal immigrants already in this country, protects the nation's borders from terrorists and smugglers and ensures an adequate supply of labor for jobs that Americans refuse to do.

Congress and President Obama must act now. But while they talk about a comprehensive immigration reform plan, don't count on anything getting done in Congress this year. And that means the problem will only get bigger.

Gov. Schwarzenegger disappoints in California

Arnold Schwarzenegger swept into the California governor's office in 2003 with great popularity, and a mandate to change government in the Golden State. Instead, the Republican governor teamed with the Democratic Legislature to run up massive budget deficits that could not be covered during the economic downturn.

The budget gap in California was $15 billion in February, $22 billion in May (when a ballot package raising taxes failed) and now it is estimated by the governor to by $24.3 billion. Clearly, something is wrong with California's political leadership, and it starts at the top.

Schwarzenegger addressed a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday, and said the government's "wallet is empty." I think we already knew that, governor. With voters turning down tax increases, the only alternative is massive cuts to state programs.

That means education (which has the biggest share of the budget) has the most to lose, along with the most vulnerable: children, elderly and the poor. They don't have lobbyists looking out for their programs.

The only way this budget can be balanced is for a lot of needed programs to be devastated. Unfortunately, that's the price Californians are going to have to pay after the state has been on a spending binge for most of Schwarzenegger's tenure as governor.

Schwarzenegger has the rest of this year and all of next year to turn around his governorship. Plenty of time to resurrect his image if he comes up with a plan to save California. So far, though, his ideas have been lacking.

Saving marriage

The biggest threat against the institution of marriage is divorce -- not same-sex marriage or any other variation. One out of every two marriages ends in divorce and most married people have had more than one marriage. So let's protect marriage by banning divorce.

If you marry someone, you're stuck with them -- for life. It's too easy to get out of marriage these days. Let's stop it now.

No more divorce.