Friday, July 31, 2009

The Clown Senator's opening act

He's only been on the Hill for a few weeks, and what's the first thing comedian-turned-Minnesota Sen. Al Franken does to get himself noticed?

Forge a compromise on health care legislation? Nope. Propose an amendment to cap and trade? Nuh-uh. Propose a bill to, say, give stimulus money to Midwestern farmers? Try again.

If you guessed he'd berate T. Boone Pickens for bankrolling television ads criticizing John Kerry during the presidential campaign five years ago, you'd be right on the mark.

Apparently Mr. Franken thinks he's still on the talk radio circuit.

It's sort of like what people have long said about California's two senators -- If you want to get something done, you call Sen. Feinstein; if you want to organize a protest, you call Sen. Boxer.

Oh well, what the heck. Sen. Boxer could use the company in the realm of blustery but inconsequential senators.

Agencies coordinate attacks on food pathogens

The Obama administration is rolling out food-safety measures described as a shift toward handling food-pathogen challenges proactively.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service is issuing guidance for routine inspections of bench trim — steak cuttings used in ground beef — for E. coli bacteria.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, published a proposal for produce-handling guidelines in the Federal Register today, starting a 90-day public comment period.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says the guidelines will be followed in two years by enforceable standards. They represent a strategy shift at FDA, says Hamburg, "from a food safety system that often has been reactive to one that is based on preventing foodborne hazards," according to a USDA statement announcing the dual-agency actions.

The Delaware-based Produce Marketing Association says FDA's proposed standards are less strict than California's Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement or Florida's standards for tomato handling, says The Packer.

No surprise: budget-vote initiative appears

It was only a matter of time. With approval from the Secretary of State's office, signatures are being collected for a ballot initiative to reduce the vote tally required for passing California's budget.

An attorney from Berkeley is leading the effort. His initiative would lower the required two-thirds supermajority of legislators to three-fifths.

There are garbage polls, and then there's reality

RedState blogger E Pluribus Unum poses a question:

Everybody is aware of political polls. Most conservatives view most polls as suspect at best, a propaganda tool of the American left. Demonstrating the foundation of that suspicion is not required to make my point, so I won’t bother, but a typical conservative will dismiss out of hand any poll not from Zogby or Rasmussen.

While both the majority media and the political left have their purposes for fudging their public polls to accomplish political ends, it’s also true that the political left wants to know the true numbers. Even crooked businesses will show one set of books to the IRS, yet keep another set that shows the true state of the business. They are, after all, in the business of making a profit.

So I ask you this: do you really think that if the Democrats really believed Obama’s approval-disapproval rating was 58-30 (CBS News/NYT, yesterday), and the Democrats led 50-44 (Gallup, 2 weeks ago) in a generic congressional ballot, the House Blue Dogs would have given the finger this week to Pelosi, Emanuel, and Obama, and the leadership would have allowed such impudence?

It sort of reminds me of a few years ago, when we kept hearing from poll after poll and pundit after pundit about how unpopular the Iraq war was, yet the politicians kept voting to fund it. And those pesky voters kept re-electing the most staunch supporters of the military effort.

I've often thought it was best, when trying to gauge true trends in public opinion, to watch what the politicians do, not listen to what the pollsters say.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Give that gas-pumper a shower!

Blogger Bruce Ross shares this "Quote of the Day":

Attributed to our very own Rep. Wally Herger: a criticism of the president's $4 billion initiative to improve the hygiene of gas-station attendants.

"Nobody disputes that America's gas station attendants need a shower, but where does it stop?" said Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA). "What about that nasty clerk behind the counter at the 7-Eleven? Or that sweaty fat kid serving up your burger at In-N-Out? Where's the money to hose them down?"

OK, I'm pretty sure this piece is satire. After all, when was the last time anyone in California even saw a gas station attendant? [ ... ]

In Oregon, on the other hand, ...

California's farm crisis receives more national attention

Nationally syndicated radio talk show host and blogger Hugh Hewitt, who's devoted some attention here and there in the past few months to what he calls California's "man-made" drought, weighs in today with a plea for readers to check out this story in London's Globe and Mail.

In the story, reporter Sonia Verma reports what she saw during her visit to the Central Valley.

The lineup at the makeshift food bank by the old rodeo grounds is almost a kilometre long.

Tent cities for the homeless have sprung up on H Street in Fresno.

The last bank, Westamerica, in the nearby town of Mendota has a new sign in the window saying it will close for good.

In California, authorities have begun to issue IOUs instead of cash.

Unemployment stands at 11.6 per cent and 180 cities are set to sue the state over a budget that proposes to close a $26.3-billion shortfall by taking $4.7-billion from their coffers.

In all of this, Fresno County, where Mr. Allen was born and raised, has the unenviable distinction of being the hardest-hit county in the state.

Its jobless rate reaches 40 per cent in some towns. America's housing crisis was its most pronounced here, with prices almost triple a home's value. Nearly half of all sales these days involve foreclosure.

On paper, the numbers are staggering. For the rest of California, Fresno County stands as a cautionary tale of consequences to come.

Water funds flowing to California

Federal agencies today announced allocations totalling $58 million to help California weather its water woes.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation funneled $40 million in federal stimulus funds into drought-relief projects around the state, roughly $30 million of it to the San Joaquin Valley.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, meanwhile, awarded $18 million in grants for local water projects in California. The funding comes through NRCS's Agricultural Water Enhancement Program. The agency announced today its awarding of $58 million for 63 projects in 21 states. California's share is the largest.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cattlemen quickly react

The president of the California Cattlemen's Association reacted quickly to the news that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger line-item vetoed funding for the Williamson Act, which provides property tax rates for farmers who agree to keep their land in agriculture. (See Wes' post below.)

From the CCA:

SACRAMENTO – July 28, 2009 – After weeks of budget talks at the State Capitol and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signing of the 2009-2010 Budget today, CCA President Tom Talbot, DVM, a Bishop, Calif., beef producer, made the following statement regarding the Governor’s last minute line item veto of Williamson Act Subvention Funding.

“The California Cattlemen’s Association is extremely disappointed in the Governor’s unilateral decision to cut Williamson Act Subvention Funding, which is vital to farmers, ranchers and rural communities throughout the state. Retention of the Williamson Act was supported by legislators of both parties in the Senate and Assembly and it is unfortunate that the Governor’s decision today will put family ranches and farms in jeopardy.

In this difficult budget year, CCA and other agriculture organizations have worked hard to maintain Williamson Act Subvention Funding both for those who produce food in this state and for California’s public, who enjoys open space and natural resources provided by rangeland. The Williamson Act is the state’s most broadly-supported conservation program, protecting millions of acres of open space at a bargain rate to state government. Additionally, during these tough economic times, the Williamson Act is a critical component of helping sustain California’s number one economic driver – agriculture.”

In the most recent issue of Capital Press, I wrote about a Farm Bureau expert who said the Williamson Act will be a political football for as long as legislative Democrats and the governor need Republican votes to pass the state budget.

I can think of one way the Farm Bureau and CCA can (theoretically) make that stop. Put an initiative on the ballot.

I say theoretically, because that's what cities and counties thought, too.

Williamson Act suspended, but hope remains

California's Williamson Act has been cut by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but negotiators say the game isn't over.

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), who has lobbied hard for WA funding as the governor proposed suspending it in the past two budget years, says Schwarzenegger is still dangling hope that the program might be restored after lawmakers return from summer recess.

They'll have only a month to work something out before the legislature convenes for the year. There's always the possibility of a veto override, but Nielsen says he'll be trying for a deal of some kind, and hopes to get Schwarzenegger to restore the program in his 2010-11 budget proposal. Stay tuned.

That's funny

Just checking the National Weather Service's daily climate data for Redding, Calif., which cracked a 36-year-old record yesterday by topping out at 113 degrees

Record rainfall for the date, according to NWS:

Trace. In 1915.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Climate Bill: Chambliss wants numbers, more numbers

Common wisdom says climate-change legislation will get a more thorough vetting from agriculture's perspective in the Senate than it did in the House, because every senator represents some ag. In that spirit, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) is busy collecting numbers.

On Wednesday, USDA released a preliminary study that Chambliss, ranking Republican on the Senate ag committee, requested last week. It says that despite early costs to agriculture, the industry as a whole will benefit through carbon offsets outlined in HR 2454, the House-passed bill -- and that the numbers er on the conservative side, so impacts could be lower and benefits higher.

But Chambliss isn't quite satisfied. He's also asked the Environmental Protection Agency to publicize an analysis it performed with Texas A&M University, and he asked Joseph Glauber, USDA's chief economist, for an impact study. EPA says its data is forthcoming. Chambliss and several other Republicans sent a letter to Glauber today, pressing for results.

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) plan to introduce Senate legislation after the August break. Politico says some Democrats consider Boxer too confrontational for this issue.


For the first time, President Obama's approval rating has fallen below 50 percent, according to the daily Rasmussen poll. This comes after he's been pretty consistently in the mid-50s in terms of overall approval, and the precipitous dip comes just two days after his high-stakes press conference on health care.

Peter Baker at the New York Times thinks Obama is overusing the media. (Hat tip: Veronique de Rugy at NRO's The Corner)

In the past four days, Mr. Obama gave “exclusive” interviews to Jim Lehrer of PBS, Katie Couric of CBS and Meredith Vieira of NBC. He gave two interviews to The Washington Post on one day, one to the editorial page editor and one to news reporters. He held a conference call with bloggers. His hourlong session in the East Room on Wednesday night was his second news conference of the day. And on Thursday, he invited Terry Moran of ABC to spend the day with him for a “Nightline” special.

Politicos on both sides of the aisle are bewildered, Baker writes.

“I’m really perplexed. It’s unbelievable,” said Karen Hughes, Mr. Bush’s White House counselor. “They’ve taken his greatest political asset — his gifts as a communicator — and totally diluted them. It’s been especially notable in the last couple weeks.”

Some Democrats said Mr. Obama should worry about frittering away the novelty of his presence. “It’s a risk of overexposure,” said Joe Trippi, a political consultant. “If you use it all up on health care, you may not be able to use it on something else. But if you’re going to risk using it all up, this is the one to risk it on."

This is not to mention that we couldn't watch a baseball all-star game last week without seeing Obama preen for the cameras or spending the better part of an inning watching him sit there with the broadcasters rather than watching the game.

Any president is going to get a lot of face time on TV. But one has to wonder, just as people used to talk about "Clinton fatigue" and "Bush fatigue," when we're going to start hearing the expression "Obama fatigue."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Studies outline environmental threats, opportunities

New environmental studies are drawing similar messages for farmers: a healthy future requires significant changes in production and water-use practices.

A UC Davis study says climate change is bringing a reduction of the winter chill that fruit and nut crops require. Farmers need to start considering long-term temperature trends when selecting tree varieties, the study says.

A Pacific Institute study, meanwhile, says that if California agriculture is to maintain its world leadership in quality production, it must continue to improve water efficiency.

This report says the water study "provides considerable ammunition to environmentalists in their fight with farmers over the West's dwindling water resources."

Many orchard growers would take exception, considering the investments they've made in computer-controlled equipment that injects each measured drop into the soil. But many producers can't yet afford that equipment. And significant numbers of growers still use flood irrigation for various crops, the study says.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

CA Budget update: Williamson Act facing cuts

According to a memo leaked from the office of Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth and published by Capitol Weekly, Williamson Act funding would be cut by 20 percent under the budget agreement reached last night.

State budget: no details yet

With the big-five negotiators having announced an agreement on the state's budget late Monday, Capitol staffers are scurrying to write bills while interest groups try to sort out the looming impacts.

Williamson Act funding, a perennial survivor of chopping attempts, could be impacted. And with reductions of local-government funding set to make up a significant portion of the state's $26 billion shortfall, agricultural commissioners' offices could see significant cuts too.

University and college funding is reportedly cut by $2.8 billion under the agreement, meaning impacts are possible to ag research and cooperative extension programs.

Much will be hammered out in trailer bills in the coming weeks, as legislators work to implement budget guidelines. But first lawmakers need to agree on the new package, which Gov. Schwarzenegger said he wants ratified by Thursday. A contentious battle is expected.

"This thing has a long ways to go," said Don Gordon, president of the Agricultural Council of California. "It's just really hard to know what's going on. We're going to be spending the next several months dealing with budget issues. It's kind of depressing actually."

A discussion of CDFA's budget situation is scheduled for tomorrow's meeting of the state Board of Food and Agriculture.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Monday's the deadline to enter

From the Oakdale (Calif.) Cowboy Museum:

Entry Deadline for Rancher’s Day July 20

A Celebration of the 5th Annual National Day of the American Cowboy

The July 20, deadline is quickly approaching for those entering the “Rancher’s Day” competition events at the 5th Annual National Day of the American Cowboy Celebration on July 25, at the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo Grounds. The events include a two man rope and sort, a four man calf branding and a working cow dog class. There will also be a businessman’s calf branding to encourage friendly competition in the community. “This will be a fun way to celebrate the Cowboy as well as educate the public on real ranching work,” says Mary Guardiola CEO of the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce. This event is free to the public and it is sure to be entertaining. There will be a BBQ starting at noon for $10 per plate. If you’re interested in entering any of the events, please call or stop by the Oakdale Cowboy Museum for more information.

Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009

Much has been said and written in the past 12 hours or so about the death of Walter Cronkite, who was dubbed "the most trusted man in America" in a national survey.

Certainly Cronkite was one of the pioneers of the business, being the first to anchor a regular 30-minute network newscast and helping to make network news a dominant force for decades. He also provided a comforting and reassuring voice during some of America's most turbulent moments, including the assassination of President Kennedy.

Some of my favorite memories of Cronkite were actually of Johnny Carson's parodies of him on the "Tonight Show." I remember one in particular in the early '80s, when Johnny delivered the newscast that Cronkite might have wished he could and called new anchor Dan Rather a "pretty boy."

I heard Brit Hume say last night that Cronkite was part of an era of journalism that has also died. But I think he was actually among the first to usher in the present era of introducing opinion into television newscasts. Remember that he came out firmly against the Vietnam War in his broadcasts, at a time when injecting such opinion into news just wasn't done. Sure, the sharing of opinions by Cronkite and others in his era was much more subtle than it is for the network anchors of today. But the political bent of the anchors of that day was generally well known -- so much so that by the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan was touted for his ability to "go over the heads of" the national media.

While you could still respect Cronkite, John Chancellor and others even though you sort of knew where they were coming from, later generations of newscasters and even print journalists have taken their brand of opinion-based journalism to a whole new level, and their industries have suffered greatly as a result. When Cronkite himself began engaging in full-throated activism in his later years, it caused many of us to see his entire body of work in a whole new light.

So it's certainly appropriate to call Cronkite a pioneer in the news business. But when it comes to his legacy, it's fair to say that it didn't stop being shaped when he went off the air.

[ The observations in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Capital Press as a whole. ]

Friday, July 17, 2009

Worker-safety board irks Schwarzenegger on heat rules

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday expressed disappointment with the state's worker-safety board, which fell short of approving emergency heat-safety rules at its meeting in Los Angeles.

“With today’s vote the board has failed in their mission to ensure the health and safety of California’s outdoor workers," the governor said in a statement.

Ag groups, wanting rules that spell out heat-safety rules more concisely, were likewise disappointed.

When the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board considered an emergency heat rule last month, it declined to vote at all. Members had various reservations, including whether circumstances were so urgent as to require a quick rule change through the emergency process.

Len Welsh, chief of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, wanted a revised rule after eight employers were shut down in May for violations. The department's enforcement resources were maxed out, and the rule needed greater definition, Welsh said.

He offered a second alternative that altered the original proposal's shade requirements. But the board rejected it on Thursday, instead taking a vote on the original proposal — and came up with a draw.

Which means the emergency-rule process is pretty much dead for this year.

Check Capital Press next week for more on this.

A constitutional convention for California?

From our editorial this morning:

If citizens and lawmakers pay attention, this summer they can benefit from work of a state commission putting finishing touches on ways to stabilize California revenues. In September, a citizen group seeking a rewrite of the initiative-bloated California Constitution promises to launch the process that could lead to a constitutional convention. Among ideas for a new document are modifications of the initiative, such as raising the number of signatures needed to qualify a proposition for the ballot.

California's last convention was in 1878 when a rewrite of the 1849 Constitution was completed. Voters approved it in 1879. California voters again OK'd a constitutional convention in 1933 during the Great Depression.

The Legislature refused to pass enabling laws that would make the convention happen. This time advocates say they'll use an initiative petition, wrapping enabling legislation into the measure submitted to voters, bypassing the current Legislature.

We urge Californians to be part of these reforms, not give up on their government. And we urge our readers elsewhere to study the lessons of California and use them for mid-course adjustments in how their states do the public's business.

It would be interesting if a constitutional convention that was ordered through initiative fiat ended up limiting the number or scope of ballot initiatives in California -- initiatives that are at least partly responsible for the state's runaway budget.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Environmental group sounds off on forest bill

The Sierra Forest Legacy, an environmental group that has been fighting forest-thinning efforts under the so-called Quincy Library Group project in northeastern California, has issued an "action alert" on the forestry bill by Rep. Wally Herger that I wrote about several weeks ago.

The group asserts:

Each, year, for millennia, California's forests have burned. The rich tapestry of biologically diverse habitats that characterize the region is largely dependent upon regular fire return. Many species of plants and animals are actually threatened from lack of fire. Forests have naturally regenerated after fire for hundreds of thousands of years. Today, fires that are ecologically uncharacteristic -- due to timing, size, and intensity -- are the result of human activities and the legacy of 150 years of logging, fire suppression, and development.

Republican lawmakers are now attempting to capitalize on the public's fears concerning forest fire. Under the misleading title, "California Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act," HR 2899 is a radical attempt to force emergency by-pass surgery on California's national forests. The bill explicitly cuts bedrock national environmental laws and policies, and turns control of national forest management over to local counties.

Our national forests need a restoration prescription, not a radical scheme that will increase threats to imperiled species and habitats, driving them closer to the brink of extinction and potentially increasing fire hazards.

More here. (Hat tip: Bruce Ross)

Would private insurance become illegal under Dem health care bill?

According to the Investor's Business Daily, it would. (Hat tip: RedState.)

When we first saw the paragraph Tuesday, just after the 1,018-page document was released, we thought we surely must be misreading it. So we sought help from the House Ways and Means Committee.

It turns out we were right: The provision would indeed outlaw individual private coverage. Under the Orwellian header of “Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage,” the “Limitation On New Enrollment” section of the bill clearly states:

“Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day” of the year the legislation becomes law.

So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised — with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won’t be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers.

RedState blogger Dan Perrin adds:

So why would the Dems make individual health insurance illegal?

To force everyone into government run health care, of course.

President Obam’s promise of “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” is a complete lie.

Is it any wonder that 10 Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have told Chairman Waxman to go pound sand?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

BREAKING: TANC project abandoned

From the Transmission Agency of Northern California:

TANC Commission Votes to Terminate TANC Transmission Project

The Transmission Agency of Northern California (TANC) announced today that its Commission has voted to terminate the environmental review process for TANC's Transmission Project (TTP).

Without the financial support of key TANC utility members to proceed with this process, TANC cannot undertake a detailed environmental analysis of the proposed alternative routes. As such, the TTP and the proposed alternative routes are no longer being considered.

Despite today's decision, TANC still agrees with the assessments of the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Energy Commission and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) that additional transmission must be built to meet California's goals for renewable clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction. TANC is committed to continue working with transmission owners, utilities, and others to identify solutions for providing reliable and cost-effective transmission service to customers throughout northern California, in accordance with California's energy goals and policies.

Opponents of the project tell me they're still afraid that the federal Western Area Power Administration could take it over and finance it.

For more on this issue, keep checking

Arnold's 'old schtick' is getting stale

Opines the Sacramento Bee in today's editorial:

In his latest television ad, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dusts off his old shtick of portraying himself as an outsider battling evil.

Speaking directly into the camera, Schwarzenegger blames "Sacramento" for the budget mess, leaving the impression that he hasn't set foot in the Capitol after nearly six years as governor.

It makes for great television. But it's a lousy display of statesmanship.

Now more than ever, Schwarzenegger must show he can work with lawmakers and strike the tough bargains that will close a $26 billion hole. Fingering lawmakers as the sole source of California's budget troubles not only insults them, it risks torpedoing a deal that is essential if California is to avoid insolvency.

In his TV ad, Schwarzenegger urges viewers to "Stand firm. Stand for California."

Most Californians want the governor to stand firm. In particular, they don't want him to back a budget deal that relies mostly on gimmicks and borrowing. They've seen that script before.

You know what? The Bee is right.

At the so-called "tea parties" that I've seen or been to, people have expressed as much dismay at Arnold as they have with any politicians in Washington. They're certainly not buying the Hollywood act.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What an abomination

Sheryl Crow singing the National Anthem at the All-Star Game.

It's bad enough that President Obama has to sit in the broadcast booth for part of the game.

Can't we keep politics out of baseball? Can't we enjoy a few hours of entertainment relief without hearing from Our Ubiquitous Leader and his half-witted cohorts?

New website tenative launch scheduled

We are tentatively scheduled to launch the new Capital Press website on Monday, July 27.

That date is still subject to change, but we are moving full steam ahead to make that date.

I hope to post an update here if that date changes as we get closer. I may even be able to offer a sneak peek at the site work in progress next week. The site is starting to come together, but there is still only test content on there and there are inactive links and non-functional features, so it's not quite ready for public viewing. I but I hope to offer loyal blog readers, Twitter followers and Facebook fans an advance look prior to the official launch.

If you have the homepage of Capital Press bookmarked, there will be no need to change that, as the address will be the same after launch. However, subscribers to our electronic newsletter will have to re-register and re-subscribe to continue to get e-mail updates. However, as we advance in our site development, we hope to be able to offer e-newsletter subscribers more newsletter options as far as focus of stories and frequency of updates. Right now we just have one daily newsletter and the option to get periodic (and infrequent) breaking news alerts.

So, keep an eye on the Capital Press website, our blog or our Twitter feed for updates and you may get a link to the test site.

Is that something folks would be interested in seeing? If so, you may be able to be among the first to see the new Capital Press website.

A "debt tsunami"

The blog RedState posts:

What was it that touched off today's market rally? According to the UK Telegraph, it was due to analyst Meredith Whitney's urge to buy Goldman Sachs. Why is Whitney so confident about Goldman Sach's future performance?

"Our more bullish outlook on Goldman Sachs shares is deeply rooted in our sustained bearish stance on the U.S. economy and the state of U.S. financials at large. Specifically, we expect a tsunami of debt issuance from federal/sovereign, state, and local governments ramping up debt issuance to fund woefully underfunded budget gaps. In addition, we expect corporate debt issuance to be at least 60% as strong as peak cycle levels, reflecting sizable debt maturity rolls. What's more, given fewer players in the market, not only is GS benefiting from market share gains on these products but more widely in the derivatives products."

It's an ill wind that blows no good. This is one case where GS investors are going to make out like bandits because of a continuing bad economy and an unprecedented level of borrowing. Good news, huh?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Report: Pigs at risk from people

From Reuters:

There is a growing risk that pigs will catch the new H1N1 flu strain -- commonly known as swine flu -- from humans, German researchers said on Thursday.

Widespread transmission from people to pigs could mix up virus strains further, leading to unpredictable changes in the disease.

There have already been a handful of suspected cases of humans passing the current pandemic H1N1 virus to swine. The latest German research confirms it is infectious to pigs and can spread rapidly.

The researchers' findings are consistent with what we've been hearing from producers for the past three months -- more of a concern that pigs would get the disease from people than vice versa. That concern led to Oregon State Veterinarian Don Hansen's controversial guidelines directing that a certain distance be kept between people and swine at fairs.

For more on these subjects, check next week's Capital Press.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Obama's popularity is shrinking

According to the latest edition of the Rasmussen daily tracking poll, President Obama's "approval index" -- a comparison of those who strongly approve and strongly disapprove of his performance -- is down to minus-8. As you can see from Rasmussen's graphic below, Obama's been trending downward for quite some time.

The thing is, the lower his popularity goes, the harder it will be for him to pass big, controversial measures like cap-and-trade and a government option for health care. Or at least he may have to moderate those bills to get them to pass. And as the recession lingers on, Obama's numbers continue to slip.

So in the minds of some people, a little short-term pain may be worth it if it prevents the long-term burdens of high taxes and more onerous regulation.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

California farm losses now tabbed at $1.4 billion

From the California Farm Bureau Federation's Ag Alert:

Preliminary figures on damage and losses from drought and water shortages run as high as $1.4 billion, in just five San Joaquin Valley counties.

Agricultural commissioners in the five counties report that most of the losses relate to acres not planted or to anticipated yield reductions because of water shortages. About $12 million in losses relate to drought damage to rangeland. The agricultural commissioners agree these loss totals could increase as farmers report final production figures.

In the nation's leading county in farm and ranch production value, Fresno, the agricultural commissioner's office estimates 262,000 acres have been idled because of the lack of irrigation water. Using last year's crop report, which estimated production value per acre at an average $2,787, the possible loss totals more than $730 million.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tired restaurant cliches

The Chicago Tribune's dining staff has come up with nine phrases they think should be banned from restaurant menus.

A few samples:

--"World famous"

Having a German tourist say she liked your chicken salad does not make it world-famous.

--"Kobe burger"

If it grazed in Idaho, it's not Kobe. It's only Kobe if it comes from the Kobe region in Japan. [ ... ]

--"Garden Fresh"

Rick Bayless garnishes with microgreens grown in his Bucktown garden. He has the right to say garden fresh. You don't, Subway. [ ... ]

--"Melt in your mouth"

If a piece of steak literally or even figuratively melts in your mouth, there's a good chance it's not steak.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Why Sarah Palin's career is over

She's lost a sizable chunk of conservatives -- the one group that rallied around her through thick and thin.

Want proof? Go here, here, here and here.

The great Spokane duckling rescue

Have you seen this video from Associated Press? It's of office workers in Spokane, Wash., catching ducklings leaping from a second floor balcony and helping them get safely to the river.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

God Bless America

We at Capital Press wish y'all a happy and safe Fourth of July weekend.

Update: SMUD was concerned about location, regulation

I've got a call into the Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District over its decision to pull out of the Northern California transmission line project. Haven't heard back yet, but they told my former paper that they were concerned about "economic and environmental studies of renewable energy transmission."

SMUD decided to withdraw after spending $2 million of the $18 million it had budgeted for feasibility studies of the TANC line, said Elisabeth Brinton, director of communications and community relations for the utility.

Economic and environmental studies of renewable energy transmission raised concern for SMUD, Brinton said.

TANC planners have said the lines would allow members to tap wind and geothermal power that may one day be developed in Lassen County and western Nevada to meet state renewable energy requirements.

But Northern California renewables will deliver less energy at greater environmental cost than solar and wind farms in the Mojave Desert, according to a Renewable Energy Transmission Institute report released earlier this year.

SMUD is also concerned that a rapidly changing legislative and regulatory environment creates too much uncertainty for investment in an expensive, long-term asset like a transmission line, Brinton said.

"It really comes down to what's best for our customer owners," said Brinton.

I wrote about the RETI study at length for Capital Press a few weeks back. You can see the story here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

BREAKING: Largest partner withdraws from transmission line project

From the Transmission Agency of Northern California (TANC):

TANC Statement on SMUD Plans for TANC Transmission Project

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has informed the Transmission Agency of Northern California (TANC) that it intends to with withdraw from TANC’s Transmission Project (TTP).

In light of this recent development, all remaining public outreach meetings on the TTP that are scheduled during the month of July will be postponed. This time will enable TANC and its members, the Western Area Power Administration (Western) and other government agencies involved in the planning process to evaluate their options and to define the next steps in the process.

TANC believes it is important to keep the “public scoping” period open during this time. Allowing the scoping process to proceed will help determine where to put the transmission lines needed to ensure reliable and affordable electric service for the residents and businesses throughout northern California and to expand access to clean energy sources such as solar, geothermal and wind energy.

Keep checking for updates.

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