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.