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Friday, April 12, 2013

Jimmy Carter is Literally Saving the World

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Can you believe Jimmy Carter was President? Of the United States of Deadlocked Congress, nonetheless? In this interview from the Tuesday's airing of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart Carter describes how in just 27 years the 3.5 million cases of extremely painful guinea worm have been eradicated (It was in Asia and Africa). He's pretty modest about his involvement, but President Carter was the leader of the organization that did this.

Let's find a medical problem in this country that can be easily eradicated with knowledge and simple behavior changes and eradicate that problem in less than 30 years. I'd like to see a president who could do that.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Misappropriation of Funds at SRJC

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 3:32 PM

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An inquiry into the alleged misuse of two student funds at Santa Rosa Junior College has spurred questions that could turn into a statewide investigation at the community college level.

On Easter, the Associated Students, in concert with Director of Student Affairs and New Student Programs Robert Ethington, sent questions to the district counsel, the School and Colleges Legal Services of California, about the legality of the current use of some of these student funds to pay salaries.

Each semester, every SRJC student is asked to pay an optional $1 Student Representation Fee, amounting to between $42,000 and $45,000 annually in recent years, according to Robert Edmonds, executive vice president of the Associated Students. The fund was created by special election, and its stated purpose is to be used by students to lobby government to change policies as they see fit.

The other fund is the Student Activity Fee or Student Program Fee, a $15 fee paid by students to join the Associated Students and reap the benefits thereof. Discounted parking, free admission to events and games and discounts at the CyBear lounge are among such benefits.

But instead of going solely to programs and lobbying, these funds are paying for the salaries of two positions, Administrative Assistant III and Account Specialist, and have for a number of years, says Edmonds. A total of roughly $111,000 per year goes to the salaries, benefits and expenses associated with the two positions; $75,000 comes from the Student Activities Fund, and $36,000 from the Student Representation Fee.

"The Associated Students develop a budget every year at this time and they recommend that budget to the trustees,” Ethington said. “This year, that process is being put on standby because of this inquiry.”

Ethington has been working with the students to determine if funds are being used in an appropriate way.

"First and foremost, we want to follow the law," he said.

Every year, the Associated Students develops a budget and takes it to the Board of Trustees for approval. “It is part of the student experience,” said Ethington. “Just like they would in a nonprofit, they recommend that budget to the board. In the 13 years I have been with the college, the board has always approved what the students bring.”

That the students’ budget is approved annually without trustee intervention means every year, the students have passed this line item, approving the funds to be used for salaries.

That is, until now.

Edmonds is the first person in charge of the budget who has taken the inquiry this far. He said as long as it’s clearly and transparently communicated to the students what they are getting for their money, there is no issue. But, he added, if it is considered legal, “I think the district should be responsible for at least half of what the students are paying now.”

“I have been advised that if, as I believe, the use of these funds is illegal, and that I am being compelled to continue including salaries in the budget that I believe is illegal, that I should resign from my position,” he added.

This advice, among other things, created a desire in Edmonds to dig deeper into the issue that had been raised semester after semester by the associated students, but never fully addressed and solved.

Jessica Jones, the president of the Associated Students, created the budget last year, and says she wasn’t made aware at the time that the funds that were allocated to pay the salaries were even accessible.

“I had no idea I could access these funds,” she said. Her chief concern with the current inquiry is that it takes months for the Associated Students to access the funds. She envisions a future where on-campus clubs can easily access funds for appropriate usage such as travel to conferences and putting on events.

According to Edmonds, Ethington is taking steps for this to happen now, but Ethington said that it is difficult once the budget has been passed to get to the reserve funds.

In 2005 there was a memorandum of understanding stating the associate students would pay 75 percent of a .6 full-time equivalent position, according to Ethington.

That later morphed over the years, and the students agreed to pay 45 percent of one full-time equivalent position. At the time of the MOU, there was no specification as to which funds the monies came out of. Over the years, the item in the budget has just passed on and been approved. The number changes every year with contract negotiations and healthcare rate changes.

“The specifics aren’t something I can even look at,” Edmonds said, citing confidential personnel issues. “I can just see the big number.”

The questions that Ethington and the Associated Students sent to district counsel are:

1) Use of Student Activities Fee revenue (pursuant to EDUCATION CODE SECTION 76060-76067):

a) Is it legally permissible for the Associated Students of Santa Rosa Junior College (ASSRJC) to authorize the use of revenue collected from the optional Student Activities Fee to fund salaries and benefits for Sonoma County Junior College District (SCJCD) classified employee position(s) whose duties include work performed on behalf of the ASSRJC?

b) If it is legally permissible to fund such a position, and such a position is fully funded (1.0 FTE) by Student Activities Fee revenue, can the position perform work for the department that supervises the position and provides administrative oversight of the ASSRJC? Background note: some of the work performed may not directly benefit ASSRJC, but it does support the overall financial operations of a college department that has historically maintained a reciprocal support and consultative relationship with the ASSRJC.

2) Use of Student Representation Fee revenue (pursuant to EDUCATION CODE SECTION 76060-76067):

a) Is it legally permissible for the ASSRJC to authorize use of revenue collected from the optional Student Representation Fee to fund salaries and benefits for SCJCD classified employee position(s) whose duties include performing work to support “students or representatives who may be stating their opinions and viewpoints…”(California Title 5, Section 54805) before legislative bodies?

b) If it is legally permissible to fund such a position and such a position is partially funded (.45 FTE) by Student Representation Fee revenue, must at least .45 FTE of work performed by the position be in direct support of activities related to “students or representatives who may be stating their opinions and viewpoints…” before legislative bodies?

c) Must language of intent to authorize salary and benefit funding for SCJCD classified employee position(s) be included in the ballot text of a student election that would include authorization of payment for salary and benefit funding of said position through collection of a Student Representation Fee?

Typically, answers to questions like this come within two weeks, but Edmonds said Monday that district counsel has sent clarification about some of the questions.

Regardless of what the opinion is by counsel and what the district chooses to do at Santa Rosa Junior College, Edmonds said he will likely be taking this issue to the chancellor’s office, and that he hopes the Student Senate of California Community Colleges is on board with him to look deeper into this issue at each college.

There is a General Assembly of the SSCCC at the end of April. Hopefully, said Edmonds, counsel will give their opinion before then so they can bring it up at the annual meeting.

As to the positions and whether the college would be able to fund them if the AS monies dried up, Ethington couldn't comment at this time.

"But," he said, "I think the college would work to find a place for the employees. I am hoping by the end of next week we will have a legal opinion," he said.

"It is a big institution, there is a lot of bureaucracy," Ethington said. "But I think there will be a good outcome. Jessica and Robert [Edmonds] have been great and I commend them on the amount of work and good things they have done for this college. Their job is to advocate and they feel like this is an issue that needs their attention."

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Affordable Housing Forum Fizzles in Marin

Heated atmosphere, few solutions at Citizen Marin's town-hall meeting

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Steve Burdo shares his concerns with Silvestri's arguments at Citizen Marin's forum on March 20, 2013. - KELLY O'MARA
  • Kelly O'Mara
  • Steve Burdo shares his concerns with Silvestri's arguments at Citizen Marin's forum on March 20, 2013.

The 100 people protesting on Wednesday night outside the Pickleweed Community Center—and the three cops patrolling the parking lot, with four more officers inside the meeting room—appeared prepared for a fight Wednesday night at Citizen Marin’s first-ever town hall meeting on Bay Area planning and affordable housing.

Instead, they got a nearly hour-long presentation from real estate financier, media activist and community organizer Bob Silvestri on the history of regional planning and housing development.

The Canal Alliance and Marin’s Action Coalition for Equity held up signs saying “I Just Look Illegal” and “End Apartheid in Marin,” protesting the neighborhood groups that have worked to stop affordable housing projects. Groups like Friends of Mill Valley and the Novato Community Alliance, both part of Citizen Marin, have come out against low-income developments in the past, citing concerns about high density. While many in the organizations have said they don’t associate with the extreme right, their rhetoric has often become nasty, and has divided communities.

But Silvestri, who called his politics “far to the left of President Obama,” gave a speech arguing that the “top-down, one-size-fits-all planning” of the One Bay Area Plan, which allocates housing requirements, isn’t going to solve Marin’s problems. Instead, he argued—to increasing applause and heckles from the audience as the night went on—that what Marin needs is senior housing, infill housing, second units and the ability for young, working-class families to buy into the community.

Worse, he said, forcing large developments into Marin would ruin small-town communities and do nothing but put money in the pockets of developers.

“We already have everything they’re trying to sell,” he said.

A woman protests outside the forum with the Canal Alliance. - KELLY O'MARA
  • Kelly O'Mara
  • A woman protests outside the forum with the Canal Alliance.

Instead of building more high-density, low-income projects next to freeways, he argued, the minimum wage should be raised, healthcare should be provided for free, and ground-up community priorities should be created for Marin’s towns. He posited further that Marin should opt out of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and create, with Napa and Sonoma, its own council of governments—an idea supported by Corte Madera’s withdrawal from ABAG last year.

While some in the audience cheered at the ideas, others Silvestri’s speech as nothing but a smokescreen.

“A lot of what you said makes sense, but a lot of your solutions are way down the road,” said Steve Bingham, of San Rafael.

As the night went on, the town hall forum became a public space for people to decry mortgage payments, question the existence of global warming, and yell at Silvestri that some of his proposals sounded like communist socialism. Toni Shroyer and Susan Kirsh, supporters of the anti-ABAG movement and moderators of the forum, battled with speakers for control of the microphone and encouraged hostile forum-goers to wrap it up.

But, while there was talk of lawsuits to fight ABAG and more forums in the future to discuss alternatives, many who came hoping to learn about affordable housing options felt discouraged. Few solutions or changes were tangible—and that wasn’t good enough, said a number of activists.

“Business as usual,” said Kiki LaPorte of Sustainable Fairfax, “is how we got to where we are now.”

Nearly 300 people filled the room. - KELLY O'MARA
  • Kelly O'Mara
  • Nearly 300 people filled the room.
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Schroeder Hall Gets $1 Million Boost—Maybe

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 at 3:15 PM

The inside of Schroeder Hall.
  • The inside of Schroeder Hall.

Fundraising for the unfinished student portion of the $150 million Green Music Center at Sonoma State University is getting a kickstart, thanks to a $1 million pledge by Sandy and Joan Weill.

The Weills, who donated $12 million toward the completion of the main hall now named in their honor, will give $1 million toward the completion of the 250-seat Schroeder Hall. This donation is dependent upon the university securing $2 million in donations by Sept. 1, 2013. Donations must be at least $100,000 to qualify toward the million-dollar match.

University officials had long declared that $5 million was needed to finish the hall, which will be used for student and smaller choral performances. Now, apparently, that number is down to $3 million. (In related news, the center's outdoor pavilion, which once needed more than the $15 million MasterCard donated for naming rights, has also been scaled back in scope and will be seeking no further funding.)

Schroeder Hall will be a student recital hall following the original idea by Don Green, for whom the center was named, after he and his wife Maureen donated the first $10 million to the Green Music Center project.

The hall was named by Jean Schulz in recognition of the Beethoven-loving pianist in her late husband Charles’ comic strip, Peanuts. (She donated $5 million toward the completion of the project.) The exterior has been finished since 2008, but the inside remains seatless and barren. A 1,248-pipe Brombaugh Opus 9 pipe organ, currently housed in Rochester, NY, will be installed permanently upon completion. The music department hopes to hold many of its 70 annual concerts in Schroeder Hall.

Before Yo-Yo Ma's concert in January at the Green Music Center, the university held a cocktail reception inside Schroeder Hall for large donors. A projection of the artist’s rendering of the completed hall was cast above the stage, and complimentary cocktails and smoked salmon puffs were distributed in hopes of massaging the pocketbooks of the North Bay’s most affluent music lovers. Weill himself solicited donations to complete Schroeder Hall before a group of VIP attendees at a gala dinner after the concert.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Oops...

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 2:41 PM

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A newsroom typically has a few people look over a printed proof page before it’s sent to the printer. This is used to check for copyediting errors, headline typos and layout mistakes. It’s hard to imagine how this one got past everyone at the Mankato Free Press in Minnesota.

As is unfortunately the case, the “G” of grapefruit in this headline was cleverly substituted for a slice of the fruit, which was woefully inadequate. What you see was actually printed and distributed in today’s edition of that paper. The story’s gone viral, but there has yet to be an official response from the paper. Maybe it will come in an editorial in the next issue.

I know newspapers aren’t perfect—I’ve made my share of egregious typos and headline mistakes—but never have I had an idea this asinine translate to a printed page, let alone an actual printed newspaper. Aspiring layout designers and copyeditors are welcome to apply in Mankato, they’re probably hiring.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Extended Play: Mr. Reich

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 1:18 PM

This week, we wrote about Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration Robert Reich, who will appear at the Glaser Center on Feb. 25.

Beyond Outrage by Robert Reich
  • Beyond Outrage by Robert Reich

Reading Reich's writings (say that three times quickly) is addictive. He's drops facts like Jay-Z drops luxury product names, recounts complex ideas in strikingly simple language and almost every other paragraph has that trade-mark journalist "Holy Crap" moment.

You can read more on his blog, here. He takes on fiscal cliff rhetoric here, writing:

"Here’s the truth: After the housing bubble burst, American consumers had to pull in their belts so tightly that consumption plummeted — which in turn fueled unemployment. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity in the U.S. No business can keep people employed without enough customers, and none will hire people back until consumers return."

This is an idea that he expounds on in his latest book, "Beyond Outrage," which you can read bits of here. This book views The Recession and its aftermath not simply as a by-product of government spending, but of what he calls "anemic recovery" because private spending power is so unequally distributed between increasingly polarized wealth stratas.

"Because so much income and wealth have gone to the top, America's vast middle class no longer has the purchasing power to keep the economy going—not, at least, without going deeper and deeper into debt," he writes.

Fun stuff.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Extended Play: Local Postal Service Union Reacts to Saturday Cuts

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 5:00 PM

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If the proposed plan to cut Saturday service by the United States Postal Service goes through, letter carriers will lose jobs, delivery will be delayed and the budget problem might not even be solved. The problems locally will mirror those being faced on the national level. “We're going to lose a lot of jobs,” says Jerry Anderson, president of the North Coast Branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which covers Sonoma and Lake counties. The union's official stance is against the proposed cut and instead to look at avenues of growth to fund the 75-year pension and health care requirement. “I think there are other ways to go about growing the business,” he says, suggesting shipping wine as an untapped potential resource.

Santa Rosa letter carrier Jeff Parr says there hasn't been enough study, in his opinion, on the potential loss of revenue from the Saturday stoppage plan. He says it sounds as if the Post Master General “has given up on the business.” Saturday service is the competitive advantage of the USPS, since others charge a premium or just don't offer it at all. “I see degrading of service.”

The plan refers only to stopping letter delivery and pick up; the post office will still deliver parcels on Saturdays. This is no surprise, as the parcel business went up 14 percent last year compared to the year before for the USPS. Rural service will suffer adversely, as will those who require medication delivery. The average letter carrier handles about 15 to 20 medications daily, and those don't count as parcels, says Anderson. In fact, anything under two pounds, or is smaller, roughly, than a shoebox, does not count as a parcel under current guidelines.

Senate Bill 316 and House Resolution 630 have been introduced to stop the 75-year prefunding requirement, which was introduced in 2006 and expires in 2016. But it might be too little, too late. “Congress put us in this mess and they can fix it,” says Anderson. “But [so far] we haven't been successful with that.”

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Russian Meteorite Impact a Wake-Up Call

Posted By on Fri, Feb 15, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Artists rendition of a giant asteroid about to smash into Earth.
  • Wikipedia
  • Artist's rendition of a giant asteroid about to smash into Earth.

A meteorite struck the Earth this week, injuring over 1,100 people near the Russian city of Chalyabinsk, which has a population over 1 million. It weighed 10 tons and lit up the sky, streaking through the atmosphere on its way to impact. It’s the worst recorded impact in history. And it went completely undetected. To quote San Francisco Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper, this is not good, folks.

The idea that the planet can be struck at any time by a space rock that could potentially wipe out a massive amount of the population is scary. Not to seem like Chicken Little, but the sky is always falling, it’s just usually burned up into bits before it hits us. When a large enough rock gets through, it means big trouble. This infographic from the Guardian UK sums it up quite nicely.

The lack of detection could have been due to lack of tracking resources, or it could have been due to the gigantic 2012 DA14 asteroid that narrowly missed the planet. It came so close, in fact, that it passed inside our communications satellites. Had it hit Earth, the impact would have had the power of more than 250 Hiroshima bombs exploding at once in the same place.

A recent discovery showed that within 33,000 years of a massive asteroid hitting the Earth, dinosaurs went extinct. The theory of what killed the dinosaurs can probably be pegged on a massive meteorite impact, at least for the most part. Humans, now the dominant species on the planet, could be next.

It’s not like the Bohemian didn’t see this coming. Or that astronaut Rusty Schweickart, co-founder of the B6-12 foundation, which is dedicated to tracking asteroids and preventing collisions with Earth, hasn’t been trying to explain the importance of this for years. But as he explains, most of the time it takes a tragedy to cement the importance of prevention in people’s minds. Maybe this will be it.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Darius Anderson Wants to "Rape and Pillage Other Publications"

New Press Democrat owner also hints at run for office

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 9:21 PM

Sonoma West Times and News reports that (in)famous lobbyist Darius Anderson gave a keynote speech at a recent California Newspaper Publishers Association event in Sacramento.

Press Democrat front page
  • Press Democrat front page

"Anderson said he is not done buying newspapers yet," the articles reads. "'We’re coming to a town near you soon,' he told the room full of fellow newspaper owners. 'I plan to go to San Francisco and rape and pillage other publications and take their talent and bring it to Santa Rosa.'"

In November, Anderson was one of a team of local investors who bought the Press Democrat.

As we wrote then: "Darius Anderson has a long history as a high-powered lobbyist for companies like PG&E, Station Casinos, Pfizer, Microsoft and Catellus, and has worked for Clint Eastwood and been a fundraiser for Gray Davis. In 2010, Anderson was fined half a million dollars in a corruption probe. He currently wants to build a $30 million boutique hotel off the Sonoma plaza."

Anderson's words at the conference were, no doubt, offered in jest. But they have a sinister ring, considering the numerous conflicts-of-interest that could arise from his joint roles as lobbyist and newspaper owner. According to the Sonoma West article, Anderson both "called for a "bigger role" of the newspaper industry in statewide affairs" and "offered himself for a possible run at statewide office in the future." The piece does report that Anderson declared intentions to put the paper in a non-profit trust if he does run, to "avoid the appearance of any conflicts of interest."

See the full video of Anderson's speech here:

In other news, Anderson collects Cuban art.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

One Billion Rising

Posted By on Tue, Feb 12, 2013 at 1:35 PM

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Ever seen a flash mob in person? Want to show support for the movement to end violence against women? Here’s your chance to experience both at once. On Valentine’s Day (that’s this Thursday, Feb. 14) hundreds of women will take part in a flash mob song and dance to “Break the Chains,” in English and Spanish, at 5pm in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square. Men will stand by in a semi-circle and sing in support.

The mob is a part of One Billion Rising, an international movement to end all violence. It was spurred by Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler and will include over 200 countries. “More than one out of every three women on this planet will experience violence during her lifetime,” says Ensler in a press release. “Dance joins us and pushes us to go further, and that is why it's at the center of One Billion Rising."

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