Is it time for Congress to return their salaries?

Congress for Kids

I’m not going to defend the AIG bonuses. But I find the criticism in Congress ironic: How about Congress return its six-figure salaries, along with the regulators, for helping to create this god awful situation in the first place, because no one was being a “watchdog”?

This belongs in the “gimme a break” department. Let’s hope the press catches on.

(photo from

How a newspaper tried to invest in Facebook

images30I’m in Silicon Valley this week, meeting with some people about a “new journalism” project.

One “coulda, shoulda, woulda” tale being discussed is how The Washington Post tried (but failed) to invest in Facebook.

Instead, it got aced out by a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Facebook is one hot tamale, generating buzz that newspapers are not.

The Post is not sitting idle, however. It has an award-winning Web site and owns a Webzine, Salon, which it bought from Microsoft.

Why don’t newspapers discuss their troubles?

images11I’ve often wondered why some newspapers aren’t more candid in informing readers about their financial woes. It’s no secret to the readers that their newspapers are struggling — much lighter editions, for example.

Transparency leads to credibility, and credibility leads to a tighter bond between newspapers and their readers.

Having said that, some outsiders jump to conclusions too quickly, assuming that *all* newspapers are folding or *all* newspapers will go online. That’s wrong too: some newspaper’s problems are more dire than others.

The issue is often complex and “gray,” not “black or white.”

Still, being upfront with readers about the woes is the best course of action.

Here’s an article on the subject, written in the Columbia Journalism Review, titled “A tale of two papers: P-I offers reporting; San Francisco Chronicle offers flackery.”

Area private schools get boost with public woes

images28The layoffs and budget cutbacks at our public schools are generating a surge in inquiries for many of our area’s private schools.

They report more parents are calling than usual, inquiring about enrollment next year. Private school tuition here is a relative bargain compared with many larger communities. 

The classroom size is smaller, and teachers have public-school credentials. Many parents also worry that friction between the public school administrators and the teacher’s union — while understandable — is not in the best interest of their children.

Private schools have suffered their own plights, however: the closure of Sierra Christian school in Nevada City in January, for example. 

Declining enrollment will force an ongoing restructuring of our schools. It is the price we play for not diversifying our economy beyond retirement and tourism.

We need to attract more families and higher-paying jobs, as I’ve written many times before. Can we?

Sierra College now puts money where mouth is

images110As I’ve been blogging this month, Sierra College is stepping up efforts to hire local contractors for its campus expansion here. Meetings are ongoing.

The Rood Center also said it wants to learn from Sierra College’s efforts.

In a tangible step a legal notice titled “Request for Qualifications” appears in The Union this morning reading, “The district desires to work with western Nevada County contractors and will give preference to those contractors.”

Proposals are due March 24. The posting, stemming from a voter approved expansion called Measure G, also is online at Sierra College’s Web site. Expect a flood of applicants.

Let’s hope this helps jump start our local economy, putting some more local contractors to work. They are among the largest industries here.

Meanwhile, Obama’s stimulus plan for roadwork and other projects is facing roadblocks in some communities, thanks to red tape and other challenges, as the Wall Street Journal reports.

The county’s wish list for “shovel-ready” projects was blogged here.

Is Hastert arrest just the tip of the iceberg?

I keep hearing such speculation in the wake of Grass Valley attorney and Loan Sense businessman Thomas Hastert’s arrest for allegedly “brazenly deceiving” investors and borrowers in our county and neighboring ones.

Seventy-three criminal counts were filed against Hastert in Nevada County Superior Court last month for alleged embezzlement, securities fraud, conspiracy and filing false documents.

Hard-money loans — financing where a borrower receives funds secured by the value of a parcel of real estate — were commonplace in the go-go days. Many of the deals unraveled when the market plunged.

Hastert alone allegedly brokered more than 270 hard-money loans.

The investigation into the Hastert case is ongoing. Investigators often have a hard time with these cases unless victims come forward.

“White collar” crime is tedious and time-consuming work, requiring special expertise. But it often touches a lot of people, so it is worth the time.

Tanning salons booming for people — and pot

images27Despite warnings about skin cancer, a growing number of tanning salons are popping up around here.

We’re not alone. In many cities, tanning salons exceed Starbucks, according to a new study by San Diego State University. 

“We knew that there were a lot of indoor tanning facilities, but we didn’t really know they would exceed the number of Starbucks and McDonalds in most cases,” the researcher told CNBC.

Around here, the Starbucks are decreasing — the one in Albertsons in “Burger Basin” closed, for example.

Tanning salons have other practical uses. In Modesto, police found 1,300 pot plants growing under the bright lights in a tanning salon this week. Imagine that.

Will “green wine” boost our tourism?

murphyslogogreenThe Southern Sierra foothills town of Muphys rang in St. Patrick’s Day with green wine.

It will hold a festival this coming weekend to showcase its homegrown wines, as well as a parade, children’s activities, food and music.

“We feel like we’re a small town, like Mayberry, but we’re a bit more fun and eccentric than Mayberry,” Michelle Plotnik, president of the Murphys Business Assn., told The Los Angeles Times.

The festival is generating some ink in the Times and other publications — a marketing coup for the hamlet. Murphys also was featured in The Wall Street Journal last year.

It’s tough competing with neighboring Sierra foothill towns for tourism dollars in a recession. It’s also a reminder that we always need to be thinking outside of the box and reinventing ourselves.

Nevada City Gas caught in mandate pickle?

I blogged last month that Nevada City Gas, a fixture in town, had temporarily closed. I’m a fan because it’s “old school”: An attendant pumps your gas and cleans your windshield with a big smile. 

Last time I spoke to the owner, she said the station would have to retrofit its pumps to meet state mandates as of April 1. It would require some out-of-pocket costs.

As it turns out, lots of independent gas stations are struggling to keep up with the state mandates for updating nozzles, including ones in Truckee, amid a recession.

Lawmakers are considering offering a one-year extension because of the tough economic times. Let’s hope the idea gets serious consideration. Small businesses are the engines of economic growth.

Too many tourism cooks in the kitchen

“Nevada County selected for major conference,” the Union reported in a front-page headline this morning. The gathering will be held in May of next year, according to an official of the Grass Valley/Nevada City Convention and Visitors Bureau, the article read.

Sound familiar? It should. “Nevada County selected for historic conference,” the paper reported in an identical front-page headline and article last October. The conference will be held in May of next year, according to an official from the county Economic Resource Council, this article read.

It’s like “deja vu, all over again, ” to quote Yogi Berra, with the exception of different officials speaking. Isn’t one enough?