Sunday, July 31, 2005

Eeek! A Mouse! Oh, Wait...nevermind.

It's Saturday Night Live out here in Los Osos, with CSD Director Le Gros and Director Gustafson sitting in for Gilda Radner's delightfully goofy Emily Latella, that woefully confused crank who would rattle on about "violence" in the streets, before being informed that the word she was mishearing was "violins," not "violence." Blinking into the camera, she would sheepishly say, "Oh, . . well . . . nevermind."

So, CSD Director Le Gros and CSD Gustafson signed documents asking a judge for a restraining order against Los Osos businessman Richard Margetson, stating that they feared for their lives and their family's safety and please, please Your Honor, please keep that awful Mr. Margetson far, far away from us.

Then, when everyone trotted into court, lawyers in tow, sha-ZAM! Le Gros and Gustafson said to the judge, "Oh, nevermind," and then dropped the whole thing. As reported in a July 28th, New Times update, "Court documents indicate that their request for a restraining order was made for the explicit purpose of excluding Margetson from voicing his opinion during a critical decision-making period."

A "Let's Shut Margetson Up" ploy becomes especially interesting because Mr. Margetson was instrumental in bringing to the public's attention the price differences between simply accepting the CSD's proposal for a fire tax increase, versus waiting and getting a competing bid for the same services from the CDF. The public voted down the original proposal and voted for the new CDF bid. Without Margetson's sustained efforts to inform the public, the public would have been unaware that they had any choice in the matter. That's certainly the kind of guy you don't want hanging around public meetings asking dangerously serious questions or pointing out that the emperor is not only naked but will soon be so broke he won't be able to buy any clothes, even imaginary ones.

The New Times article further stated, "Through the declaration of his attorney, Karol Voght, "Le Gros even acknowledged that he was 'seeking the injunction for the critical time period during which he, as a director of the Los Osos CAD, would be voting on the controversial Los Osos sewer project."

In short, they wanted one of their critics silenced so he couldn't ask any, uh, really, really interesting questions during a critical time, and attempted to use the courts to do it.

Now, the puzzle: When you fill out papers asking for a judge to impose a restraining order, don't you have to swear, affirm, whatever -- under penalty of perjury -- that the basis for your complaint is true? And that if it turns out that you were just using the court to jerk somebody around, you could and should be held accountable -- for for perjury and for filing false statements & etc, if nothing else?

So, which court documents are the correct ones? Did these two directors actually fear for their lives? If so, why would they be the ones who asked to dismiss their own case? And, as the New Times reports, admit that "Margetson 'did not harass, attack, strike, threaten, assault, hit, follow, stalk' them?" Or did they finally truthfully acknowledge that they were simply using the court to silence a member of the public?

Which version was sworn to? They can't both be right.

Which begs a few questions: Did two CSD Directors commit perjury? Or is making stuff up all O.k. so long as you simply tell the judge somewhere along the line, "Oh, well, nevermind. . . heh-heh?"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Check your Wallets and Bring a Snorkel -- Grover's Baaaaack

We think in generalties, but we live in detail.
Alfred North Whitehead

Our Gropinating Governor is promoting an initiative for the November ballot that would put a cap on state spending. It's called the "Live Within Our Means Act," and folks promoting this hope it will become the next Proposition 13. That alone should give people pause.

In a July 25th L.A. Times story, it is noted: "This is the next big thing at the state level," said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, one of the country's leading anti-tax activists. 'A lot of groups have become involved . . . Soon you will see it on the ballot in every initiate state."

If Grover Norquist is lurking behind this initiative -- and he is -- be afraid. Be very afraid. This is the guy who wants to starve government down to a size that it can be strangled in a bathtub. The philosophy of anti-tax conservatives like Norquist (and Dick Armey, who's also pushing this initiative) is simple: You want a national park? Go buy one of your own.

In short, for conservatives like Norquist, The Commons has no value. It has been the mantra heard relentlessly since the "Reagan Revolution." The Commons is Commie! Government is wicked and can do nothing right. Privatize! Privitize! The free market can do no wrong. Let the marketplace decide. The "we" in "We the people" is no longer operative. We conservatives are NOT a "We" in "We the people." We conservatives for "tax reform" and strangled governments are really just a bunch of people who don't mind benefiting from all kinds of governmental programs, but we want The Other Guy to pay for it, not us.

Hilariously, Norquist, Army and now, our Gropinator, will have no trouble conning a whole lot of people into going along with this deal. After all, isn't the initiative's title just too perfect? "Live Within Our Means Act." Who could object to that?

Well, Colorado, for one, where a Republican Governor is futilely trying to get an initiative passed to lift a similar budget cap Colorado has had in place because the cap has resulted in a crumbling infrastructure (Bridge fell down? Go rebuild it yourself with a few bags of Quickrete) and decaying school system (You got kids? Send 'em to private school or home school them yourself. Public schools are a sinkhole of liberal propaganda and a total waste of money. Why should I pay to educate your kids. That's your responsibility.), and bankrupt social services. (Don't earn enough money to be able to buy private health insurance? Don't boo-hoo to me. I shouldn't be expected to pay for Medicaid. Go die in the street.) And don't expect The Government to clean up all the dead bodies lying around in the street either. People shouldn't be expected to pay taxes to pick up dead bodies on the street. That's your responsibility since the street now belongs to you and it's up to you and your neighbors to maintain it. That's not government's job.

For people in California who have watched the iniquities and shortages caused by Proposition 13, this new initiative is simply deja vu all over again.

The puzzle with Grover & Gang and this new initiative is why so many people will again be bamboozled by the siren song of "Pudding for ME but Stick The Other Guy With The Bill," even after Enron proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that free markets often DON'T work, that government's often DO work, that the collective "We" CAN create valuable benefits for ourselves.

(For an example of the height of hypocrisy concerning "free marketers" you only have to look at the Medicare drug bill that President Bush gleefully signed. That bill forbids -- FORBIDS -- the government (Medicare) from negotiating with drug companies for lower pill prices -- the very tactic huge mega companies like WalMart and CostCo use very day to get better deals for their customers, the very tactic that free marketers everywhere cite as one of the benefits of letting the market decide. Instead, our free-market Prez gave away the farm to big Pharma and stuck the taxpayer with the bill. The philosophy of the Medicare drug bill is absolutely clear and a perfect illustration of Norquistism: Lots of nice pudding for Big Pharma, the bill to the little guy.)

But come November, we'll see California again being conned by the same short-sightedness that gave us Proposition 13, which was a quick fix that created even more problems down the road that we're still not dealing with, except with expensive patches. All caused because we refuse to understand that there is no free lunch, that we get what we pay for, that individually we are helpless against powerful, organized corporations (who make sure that they get our pudding while sticking us with the bill), but gathered into an enormous Commons, we have unlimited power to get (and pay a reasonable price for) all kinds of pudding for ourselves.

That rather obvious result of taking The Commons seriously (our pudding for ourselves) seems beyond the grasp of so many people. Which begs a question: Are Americans stupid? Have they been brainwashed by so many lies they no longer know truth from fabrication? Have we as a nation become so childish and helpless that we actually think we're not worthy of getting pudding? Do we actually believe that our pudding should be given to the rich and powerful while we get nothing except the bill?

If so, then it's not government that needs strangling in the bathtub, it's We The People who will drown, thereby getting exactly what we deserve. Pure comedy, with running water.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Oh, Lucy, Jooo Gotta Jes' Chut Up!

O.k., so here’s the premise. A Los Osos private citizen sends a letter to the various construction companies who might bid on the Hideous Los Osos Sewer Project telling them not to bid because the town’s in turmoil, there’s a recall underway, lawsuits are flying, there’s (vague, unspecified) “alleged illegalities” and blah, blah, blah, so if they’re smart they’ll stay away from this mess.

Very few sewer building companies actually do bid on the project, giving as their reasons that the town’s in turmoil, there’s a recall underway, lawsuits are flying, and since the economy’s picking up, they’ve got so many other work offers elsewhere, they don’t need this headache.

And of those few that do bid, even the lowest offer came in at 50% over the most optimistic cost estimates. One of the reasons given for the high bids included a claim that the wily Chinese are buying up all the concrete in the world for their modernization projects, so things concrete are costing a lot more than expected. And, since there was almost no competition and because the CSD set no cap on costs, bids could be wherever the bidders wanted them to be.

Here’s the set up: The CSD has sent a cease and desist letter to a Los Osos citizen, a Mr. Budd Sanford, informing him that he is to, well, cease and desist sending letters to contractors involved in this project and if he doesn’t sign the cease and desist letter, they’ll spend your tax money to haul Mr. Sanford into court to get a judge to make him cease and desist. This is being done because the CSD apparently believes that the lack of bidders and the high bids from those that did submit bids was caused by Mr. Sanford’s letters.

Here’s the catch: Is it even believable that the owner of a ginormous infrastructure-building company, a man who moves throughout the country and world building mega projects, a man who regularly must face down bull-necked labor goons named “Three-Fingers Guido” from New Jersey, or who sits across the negotiation table from gimlet-eyed federal regulators whose threats are backed up by the might and power of the United States government, a man who regularly sorts through snarling, threatening letters from high-powered New York law firms, or who may have to confront armed thugs from a junta in some god-forsaken third world country (Like, say, Los Osos) where his company is putting in a project, is it even conceivable that this owner would get a letter from some guy in Los Osos – not an elected official, not a county employee, not a state regulator, just some guy – telling him to not bid on this sewer project because the community’s in turmoil, a recall’s underway, lawsuits are flying and say, “Holy Smokes, Boys. Look at this letter from some guy in Los Osos. We’re outta here!” Then turn tail and scamper out of town as fast as his steel-toed work boots can carry him?

Is this premise even credible? Or is this cease and desist order merely a very public warning shot across the bow that anyone who disagrees with or speaks up and out against this project will be slap-suited down so everyone in town better get the message loud and clear: Shut up and sit down. Your voice and vote are of no interest to the CSD, you will get the sewer project we pound down your gullet and then you will get the open-ended bill, whatever that turns out to be, and if you cross us we’ll use your money to pay our attorney to haul your miserable behinds into court and ask that a judge shut you up.

If that’s the case, is it the CSD that needs cease and desist protection from members of the community? Or vice versa?

And since I’m sure some guy from Los Osos may have sent a copy of my columns to someone somewhere, perhaps the one wherein I compared this Hideous Sewer Project to building a house upside down in a swamp, where’s my cease and desist order as well?

What am I, chopped liver?

Correction: In my July 6 column, it was the female pit pull that was shot and killed at the scene. The male pit is the one being held pending completion of the case. I apologize for the mix-up.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Correction! Correction!

Oops, my bad! Regarding the "Walking While Stupid" Can(n)on on the pit bull attacks, the female pit was killed by police officers responding to the 9-11 call. It is the male that is being held for evaluation and will probably be put down as well. I apologize for the error.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Walking While Stupid

Pit bull attack stories are getting to be as ritualized as kabuki theatre. First, there’s the awful headline, (“Child mauled!”), the dog’s owner is dismayed, ("We just can’t imagine why Fluffy did this.”), neighbors complain, (“Everybody knew that dog was gonna hurt somebody someday.”), elected officials call for “breed specific dog bans,” kennel clubs fire up their base and protest. Then the whole thing disappears from the news and nothing is done until the next headline.

Pit bull attack stories are also written in such a way that only slowly, over days, does the context emerge and invariably it turns out that it was the owner, not the dog, who was guilty of Walking While Stupid.

The latest fatal attack of a 12year-old in San Francisco was typical, but with one interesting wrinkle. This time Mummy Dearest has been charged with child endangerment because the evidence was clear that she knew in advance that the two family pit bulls were, uh, problematic. That’s why she shut her son in the cellar with orders that he stay locked in there while she ran errands. And why did this woman know that her dogs were, uh, trouble? Here’s how the story put it: “She said she had been worried about the family’s male dog, Rex, because he had been acting possessively towards the other pit bull, Ella, who was in heat.”

Gee, do you think? Then Mummy noted that it was her son’s “time to go. When you’re born, you’re destined to go, and this was his time.”

It is a matter of supreme irony in this case that it’s highly probable that the four-legged pit bull, Ella, who will undoubtedly be destroyed, would have been a better mommy for her puppies than this two-legged version was for her offspring.

While the woman in this case is out of the running for the Mother of The Year Award, the attack is so typical of such cases: Clueless owners, at-risk (or dead) kids and/or neighbors, dead dogs, outraged government officials, legislation that either goes nowhere or hits the wrong target so that nothing gets done until the next outrage.

And it’s the “getting something done” part that is so difficult because, as a society, we demand the freedom to do what we want, when we want it, and are outraged whenever a government agency dares to step in to tell us what to do with our private property (and dogs are considered property); we demand our right to abuse animals however we see fit and woe betide anyone who meddles in our abuse; we refuse to pay sufficient taxes to finance comprehensive animal welfare programs (low cost spay/neuter, humane education, high-rate adoption programs, community outreach, sufficient and effective enforcement of laws now on the books, etc.) but have no problem paying extra to clean up the messes our indifferent attitude costs us; our constitution guarantees we are all innocent until after mauled bodies and/or abused and dead dogs are found lying around; and finally, we haven’t been able to figure out how to legislate against people Walking While Stupid.

A quick visit to our various county dog shelters will give you an idea of how much dog-stupidity is out there: He peed on the rug so I dumped him back at the pound. The dog’s out in the back yard all day and night and his barking is driving me crazy. My dog’s name is “Killer,” and I don’t believe in neutering dogs. He only bit that other dog a few times. Look, he’s growling at me. Isn’t that cute? We wanted the children to witness “the miracle of birth” so we let Missy have a litter of puppies. Want one?

Well, you get the drift. And so it goes, our Dog Mauling, Vicious Dog Headline Kabuki Theatre of the Absurd continues on. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is seeking to have the city “stiffen fines for not licensing dogs, ban ‘backyard breeding’ operations and require owners of certain breeds to obtain liability insurance.” And require that pit bulls be spayed or neutered.

Good luck to him. In too many cases, it’s the owners who should be spayed or neutered, but that’ll never happen. So for The Walking While Stupid Crowd, it’ll be business as usual – more dead kids, more dead dogs, and How much is that doggie in the window, anyway?