Letters for February 22, 2007

Personal responsibility is no secret

Re “America’s dirtiest secret” by Sasha Abramsky (SN&R Feature Story, February 15):

Although my point of view may be unpopular, I’m wondering what happened to the term “personal responsibility”? As sympathetic as I am to the many people faced with the unfortunate circumstance of hunger, the opening story about Isabel almost makes me lose compassion.

If she’s already struggling to put food on the table for her four children, why would she stress her resources further by continuing to have baby after baby? That doesn’t make any sense. There are numerous clinics that offer the simplest forms of birth control—called condoms—for the very affordable price of “free.” I don’t know the complete history of Isabel, but why is it the taxpayers’ or public’s problem that she dropped out of high school in 10th grade and continues to have babies that she can’t feed?

The other paradox presented is the lack of food for low-income families while obesity is a problem. My wife and I make a decent income and live in a working-class neighborhood in South Sacramento. We regularly shop at the local discount warehouse style grocery store. Here’s what I’ve observed over the last five years: While we’re buying healthy foods, store brands, sale foods and using coupons, the person or family on public assistance (from my taxes) in front of us is buying nothing but name-brand and junk food. Where is the sense in that? My wife and I usually pass on those so-called luxury foods because we take into account personal responsibility and prioritize our health and budget.

This brings me back to the term personal responsibility and the lack thereof for many of the people out there that are hungry. If my wife and I can survive on a budget of $200 for food, why should anyone be sympathetic to Isabel’s situation—triple the people with nearly triple the budget through food stamps alone?

My heart goes out to people in true need. But for others that take advantage of the system, trifle away their public assistance food stamps on junk food and then complain of being hungry, I have nothing.

Justin Barrell

Put those tunnels to work

Re “Twelve-feet under” (SN&R Editorial, February 8):

SN&R has just tapped the tip of the iceberg with this good article. If anyone has been to Atlanta, they would tell an even grander tale.

Atlanta has an entire Old Town beneath the downtown area. There are stores and shops, restaurants and bars. They even have trolleys to get people around the underground city.

I was very impressed when I first saw downtown Atlanta. It is just up the block from the main Coca-Cola Demonstration Facility. Coke is headquartered in Atlanta, you know.

Seeing this should really excite Sacramento city fathers!

Arthur W. Hickey

Fond memories of Molly

Re “Heart and soul” by Melinda Welsh (SN&R Essay, February 8):

Thanks to Melinda Welsh for sharing memories of Molly Ivins in ways that brought her wonderfully to life for this reader.

More than 30 years ago, as a Yankee from New York learning about life in Texas, I discovered Molly, along with Jim Hightower and others, through their unique voices in the Texas Observer. These folksy, funny and courageous companions cut against the cultural and political grain in provocative and powerful ways. Years later, Ann Richards’ life would show that even Texans could find the wisdom to elect a woman of great spirit and strength. Now she, too, is gone. On the day Molly died, I heard her close friend Sarah Weddington (the inspiring activist whose win in Roe v. Wade as a fledgling attorney in her late 20s changed history) speak at a NARAL gathering in Napa. We felt Sarah’s sadness with her loss of these two dear friends. She reminded us how we can be a part of changing history, how our lives can and do light the way for others. I’ve come to regard the Dixie Chicks with pride as part of this Texas legacy. I’m grateful for such earthy and radiant women who’ve taken on the rascals and powers that be, good ol’ boys and all.

Ira Saletan

Where have all the poor folks gone?

Re “The new, old uptown” by Dana Magliari (SN&R News, February 8):

January’s article on the city planner’s ideas for urban infill (“A man and his city” by Chrisanne Beckner, SN&R Feature Story, January 18) was great. And the news from Del Paso this last week is also encouraging. And then of course there’s those ads about Oak Park every week: Terrific! Up to a point.

The problem with all of this beautification and infill is clear to those of us who study the history of development—summed up in a word: gentrification, which is the flavor of the month in Sacramento. When we pretty-up a neighborhood, there is no doubt that we please the residents, the businesses and the politicians. But the inexorable logic of capitalism and taxation dictates that when businesses are happier about locating in a place, rents and property values rise. As the values rise, so do the property taxes. As the taxes rise, so do the rents for everyone (retail and residences). Of course, it is the poor who suffer and get economically coerced to move.

This is precisely what happened when the downtown mall went in, forcing many of those living in the low-rent district to relocate to Alkali Flats, Oak Park and Del Paso. Now we are gentrifying Oak Park and Del Paso. The question is not whether people will be driven out, but where they will be forced to move to next.

Kevin Wehr, professor

Let’s build on the rails we’ve got …

Re “2 hours to L.A.—why not?” by Melinda Welsh (SN&R Feature Story, February 1):

In regards to all the chit-chat about the high-speed “bullet” train, it’s not hard to see why the governor might not have much enthusiasm.

Rail travel is good, more is better and necessary, but we already have established rail systems. Where justified and affordable, we can and should improve them. This proposal, by contrast, is a quantum leap from point A to point Z and contains a host of financial and practical problems. It is amazing the project has gotten this far.

Instead of beginning with such an extreme project, it would be a good start to improve existing systems by giving passenger service priority over freight. That means comfortable, affordable trains with convenient schedules that are met.

Keep in mind that Europe has had good rail systems for a long time and only considered high-speed trains for a few select routes, based on long and successful experience. And speaking of speed, remember the Concorde—the plane that got there before it left. It was a beautiful plane, but France and Great Britain not only took a financial bath but had to admit to flaws such as passenger discomfort, noise and ultimate failure of the very expensive idea.

First, proposed rail projects must be accurately estimated. Big projects are usually low-balled—a big mistake, since public trust is lost. The latest example of this is the new East crossing of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. What the heck, just raise the tolls! But for success, inflation factors must be built in and transparent.

Second, the project must be taxpayer-approved and soundly funded. Then it must be scheduled accurately, with timetables met, and finally, it must be operated as promised.

In my view, the proposed California high-speed-rail project, should it be allowed to continue, will prove so expensive that it will never be financially viable, even with subsidies. If we’re serious about more/better/sooner/faster rail use, forget unrealistic pipe dreams and build on what we have.

Ralph Askin
Elk Grove

… and spiff ’em up, too!

Re “Vote on rail—soon!” (SN&R Letters, February 8):

Randall Hansen is spot on about the need for more trains in this state. But we need high speed rail like a fish needs a bicycle. We need more trains to more places. How about two or more trains a day from Los Angeles to Palm Springs and Arizona? How about trains to Las Vegas from both Southern and Central California? How about two or three trains a day from Sacramento to San Luis Obispo and the south coast? How about service to Redding and Red Bluff?

What we don’t need to do is spend $40 billion that we don’t have on something we don’t need. Getting to the places named above, and others I haven’t thought of yet, can be done vastly cheaper by improving the Amtrak service we already have.

Want faster trains? Then make the slowest sections faster. It requires no expensive new (unproven) technology.

Want more trains? Build more cars and locomotives that are available off-the-shelf now. Proposition 1B was supposed to be used for that. Just do it.

Want nicer stops? Replace or rebuild what few stations haven’t already been refurbished over the last 30 years by Amtrak, Caltrans and city and county government.

Want more stops? Maybe it’s time to add new routes and to better integrate commuter rail into a statewide system, with commuter trains sharing Amtrak stations and coordinating with their schedules. Maybe then someone could go from Palo Alto to Tucson, or from Moorpark to Davis, with a single ticket and minimal layovers.

It can probably be done for less than the interest on $40 billion.

Dick Friedman
via e-mail

Homophobic shadow

Re “Beaver lovers unite!” by Jackson Griffith (SN&R Trust Your Ears, January 25):

I am writing in regard to Jackson Griffith’s “music review” of Deluxe, the Bennys and Parlour Dames at Old Ironsides.

Musicians are conceding the right to be criticized when they play music in a public forum. Griffith, however, chose to dedicate very few words toward the music itself, and instead has decided to cast a homophobic shadow over his entire article. Referring to Deluxe frontwoman Katrina Skalland as “charismatically butch” is insulting to all female artists. What does this have to do with the music being presented?

Griffith is continuing to discredit our music scene, his own writing and the journalistic integrity of SN&R. Please hire a writer who cares to write about music.

Dustin Aaron Scharlach