Opinion Columns & Blogs

Garth Stapley’s thumbs up, thumbs down: Olsen, nut tariffs, Highway 132 and Epstein

Fireworks in Modesto light up the streets

Modesto and Stanislaus County had a relatively calm night on the Fourth of July with reported illegal fireworks, but law enforcement officials are hoping holiday mischief doesn’t continue.
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Modesto and Stanislaus County had a relatively calm night on the Fourth of July with reported illegal fireworks, but law enforcement officials are hoping holiday mischief doesn’t continue.

An opinionated roundup of issues behind some recent headlines:

Thumbs up on Kristin Olsen for putting the needs of her children ahead of her own political aspirations. After 15 years in the limelight — as a Modesto councilwoman, state Assemblywoman, and most recently, Stanislaus County supervisor — Olsen announced this week that she’ll step aside when her term is up in 18 months. The area has been better for her energy, intelligence and commitment, but she has decided that her three teenage children will have put up with more than a fair share of her frequent absences.

The timing of Olsen’s announcement, with a year and a half to go in office, is amusing. She and her predecessor, Bill O’Brien, were accused of conspiring to hurt any chance a potential opponent might have had by having O’Brien wait until the last minute in 2016 to spring a surprise announcement — that he would step aside and endorse Olsen. It worked — she was unopposed on the ballot — but the criticism must have stung. Apparently she learned a lesson and will not try to pull a fast one for her successor, whoever that might be.

Thumbs up on local transportation leaders for bringing a new freeway segment west of downtown Modesto to the brink of construction. Caltrans a few days ago agreed to send $65 million our way for a new Highway 132 alignment, from Highway 99 to Dakota Avenue, which has been in the works for 63 years. It’s about time this thing got off the ground.

Thumbs down on the illegal fireworks that kept people awake all hours of the night last week and beyond, putting dogs in a frenzy and endangering our neighborhoods. See our letters to the editor section today for examples of how this activity affects people.

Thumbs up to The Miami Herald, a sister McClatchy newspaper, for investigative journalism in a November series that paved the way for authorities to bring new charges of sex trafficking against billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein. The 66-year-old New York socialite has been all over the news for allegedly molesting dozens of girls as young as 14. A federal prosecutor acknowledged “some excellent investigative journalism” at a Monday press conference, and The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board on Tuesday praised “The Herald’s exhaustive investigation.” It’s a good example, McClatchy CEO Craig Forman said in a companywide email, of “our shared mission across McClatchy of holding the powerful to account and giving voice to the powerless.”

Thumbs down on President Trump’s trade wars for disproportionately harming our farmers here in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Area almond and walnut growers, smarting from lost opportunities in China thanks to the White House’s dispute with that country, had hoped to make up lost ground by shipping more nuts to India, already a huge market. But Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs caused India a few weeks ago to retaliate with new tariffs on U.S. products, including almonds, walnuts, apples and other goods. “The India tariffs will be particularly painful for California nut growers,” Western Farm Press reported a few days ago, noting that nuts are the state’s top farm export to India, at $662 million last year. Reactions “so far have been primarily of regret that trade policy actions by the U.S. have greatly affected U.S. farmers, including West Coast nut producers,” the publication said.

Thumbs up on the many people who responded after my recent column about letters to the editor, by writing more letters. They’ve been coming in at a steady pace since. We appreciate the literary contributions, and hope you’re enjoying hearing what’s on your neighbors’ minds.

Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.