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.