Off the Record 2/24/2010

by AVA News Service, February 25, 2010

LAUREL KRAUSE was 15 when her sister Allison, 19, was gunned down by the National Guard at Kent State. Laurel lives near Fort Bragg these days but still suffers the loss of her big sister who was one of thirteen kids shot that early May day in 1970, four of them fatally. Forty years later, Laurel and her 84-year-old mother have enlisted some heavy hitting help in founding a group called the Kent State Truth Tribunal. Laurel is co-founder with Emily Kunstler, daughter of the late William Kunstler. Howard Zinn endorsed Laurel's project, as have Paul Krassner and Bill Schaap of the Institute of Media Analysis. The idea, Laurel says as she refers us to full details on Facebook, is to get the stories of everyone involved, get them recorded, preserved and honored in as thorough a way as possible 40 years after the event.

DOLORES MEIJA WRITES: “It was through the AVA that I first read the poetry of George Tsongas, and when we moved to North Beach in May of 1996, I kept looking out for George as I explored different walking routes. I finally learned who he was via a description in the AVA, and on my early morning walk to work one day I saw him walking his old dog down Broadway. Approaching him from behind I sauntered over to his side and just said, ‘I read your poems in the AVA and really like them.’ Smiling, eyes twinkling, he simply thanked me. That was the beginning of an on-going dialogue whenever our paths crossed, which they frequently did on street corners in the park across from the Catholic church on Filbert Street, and even when I caught him ascending the stairs up Kearney where he lived. I loved talking with him because he was so engaging — no pretense, no hesitation in expressing what he saw in life. He, too much of a gentleman to chide me for my ranting and raving about the scum of the earth who hold power, would listen to me recite the latest political atrocity, and then bring me down to earth with his view of reality. Maybe five or six years ago he took off for Greece (I think) for about a year or so and reappeared in North Beach about a year later and resumed his life there. I hope North Beach honored his death by celebrating his life.”

GEORGE’S last book, published in 2008, is called ‘Wild Broccoli.’ The one lots of people remember, however, is called ‘The Trieste Chronicles’ about life in the famous Grant Avenue cafe where George could always be found during office hours. The old poets are going fast now, but Jack Hirschman, “the red poet,” is more than hanging on. He’s still in North Beach and, like George Tsongas, has never yet given an inch.

MEREDITH LINTOTT'S campaign photo not only doesn’t flatter her, it made me laugh. Our DA is actually quite attractive — put her and candidate Eyster on a wedding cake, and presto-pesto instant photogen! Candidate Finnegan?

Lintott lookin' tough

Now there’s a guy who looks like a prosecutor. Finnegan looks like he takes crime personally, which is what you want in a prosecutor. Which isn’t to say that Mrs. Lintott and David Eyster don’t take crime personally, but we’re talking appearances here.

BUT HERE'S Mrs. Lintott trying to look much fiercer than she is, trying to convey to the cringing tea bag vote she hopes to lure behind her electoral skirts, "Just see if I won’t throw these punks under the jail." Mrs. Lintott is a much more benign personality than she’s attempting to bring off here with this taut-jawed, narrow-eyed portrait, a nice lady who happens to find herself responsible for law and order in a remote corner of the crumbling, lawless empire America has become.

THERE ARE ALSO a couple of probs with Mrs. Lintott’s re-election flier, much of which is blah-blah of that nausea-inducing type that says “I work collaboratively with law enforcement and other agencies to prevent crime and to protect our children…” Yeah, but who’s going to protect us from the children, especially now that they’ve got guns? Seriously, though, Mrs. Lintott, we know a DA works collaboratively with law enforcement, and even most pervs would agree that children should be protected.

THE FLIER’S PENULTIMATE sentence got a little laugh out of me, too. “Mine is a record of promises kept and progress made toward a better, safer Mendocino County for our children and our responsible citizens.” What about the childish elderly? Or the childish, irresponsible elderly, a category I’m comfortable with. I defy the District Attorney to name a thoroughly responsible citizen.

THE QUESTION for a DA in the context of social collapse, I'd say, is what kind of crimes to prosecute, and most of us would be happy with a focused effort on keeping the violent sociopaths locked away, and much less emphasis on the stoners, backyard pot growers and off-their-meds incompetents presently rotated in and out of the Mendocino County courts.

ART VOLKERTS retired as boss at the Press Democrat in 1986. He stayed on for a year after the New York Times bought the paper. The NYT media conglomerate paid about $60 million for the PD, as I recall the figure, and promptly converted the Rose City daily from the essential regional daily paper Volkerts had created into the cash cow for the mothership it is today with little local reporting, and most of that of the press release re-write variety. The whole show could be outsourced to Bangladesh without its present readers being the wiser. But under Volkerts we got a daily paper that gave us a complete picture of the Redwood Empire every 24 hours. The focus was entirely local, which is what a regional paper should be. When the Times took over, we began to get whole pages of wire service stuff that read like it had been selected at random by a chimpanzee and hurled at the paste-up boards. Reporters were laid off and dummies laid on, hence today’s product. Volkerts was born and raised in Sebastopol. As a young man still married to the woman he married out of high school, Volkerts ran the family’s hardscrabble farm — people really did live off the land before World War Two — then worked the war years at Mare Island. He even did some hard rock mining at Bodega Head. By the time Volkerts had worked his way up to managing editor at the PD — he learned the fundamentals of journalism while confined to the old tuberculosis sanitarium in Santa Rosa — he knew everything there was to know about Santa Rosa and West Sonoma County, which then defined the paper’s area of circulation. A news person who has been out in the world is going to produce a better newspaper than these J-school upstarts who go straight from the classroom into the newsroom, then from the newsroom to the Blah-Blah Foundation For Media Marshmallows or, worse, back to the classroom as teachers where they bland down the next generation of corporate hacks and hackettes. Hemingway himself couldn't even get an interview at a contemporary American newspaper; he never went to college, never learned to write dumb. It was Volkerts who took the Press Democrat's coverage into Mendocino and Lake counties, and east into Napa County. For years, the Press Democrat was a must read every afternoon, and then a morning must read when suburbanization got in the way of afternoon deliveries. Art Volkerts rode the newspaper wave from the time the newspaper was the sole source of news to now when the newspaper is just about extinct in the deluge of pure misinformation generated by the internet. How A Young Dirt Farmer Became Editor of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat is Volkerts fine memoir, and way too brief at a mere 45 pages. but Volkerts, who has just turned 90, an alert 90, is an old school guy — modest, self-effacing, traditional. I still miss the paper Volkerts produced, the one with Gaye LeBaron every day and Herb Dower on high school sports. The New York Times burnt it down, all the way down to a Teen Page every week. Art Volkerts was supporting a family when he was a teen.

ON THE BUS with Bruce McEwen: “I was sitting in the back of the westbound MTA the other afternoon with some friends of mine, old acquaintances from my homeless days. As we lounged on our packs and coats, a bottle went round in a brown paper bag, and who should get on just before the bus pulled out? Captain Fathom, fresh off a stay at the Low Gap Hilton. Fathom took a seat up front by the driver and was fastening his seat belt when the boys in the back of the bus began to yell, 'Captain! Captain Fathom! Back here. Sit back here.' The Captain didn’t need to be persuaded, and here he came swinging down the aisle, that big smile he always wears seeming to take up most of his face. 'I hear you got your ankle bracelet off, Captain,' someone said. The Captain replied he was indeed no longer being electronically monitored by the forces of law and order. We all cheered. 'Way to go, Cap!' The Captain’s eyes were clear, his speech lucid. One of MTA's bon vivants offered The Captain a go at the bottle in the bag. Fully aware of his recent difficulties with the demon rum, I tried to shove the bag away from the Captain, only to find myself shoved out of the way. I was surprised when The Captain himself said, 'Naw, I’m allergic to the stuff. It makes me break out in handcuffs.' The Captain laughed that big laugh of his, and the bus lumbered on over the hill towards Boonville. The Captain said he would soon be headed for Florida where his father lay on his death bed. 'I want him to see the last grandson of Benito Mussolini before he goes,' Fathom explained, not that any of us understood how an Albion pot farmer could be the grandson of the Italian dictator who wound up hanging upside down from a telephone pole in 1945, five years or so after Fathom was born. The Captain had gifts for all us. He gave me a book, a British tourist some travel advice, the rest some revolutionary slogans. He said he’d be back in March, and the talk turned to the best way to get to Florida in these uncertain times. But I got off in Boonville before Fathom’s travel plans had been fully worked out.”

PG&E, and one of the larger insurance combines, have wasted no time taking advantage of the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to lavish money on our incorruptible public servants. Lavish money on the incorruptibles and ballot initiatives that would enable for-profit corporations like PG&E to stop independent entities from setting up as mini-PG&E's like Marin County is in the process of doing. Ukiah, interestingly, in its only progressive move in its 150 year history, is its own power entity, that uniquely forward-looking move having been accomplished long before “progressives” of the Mendolib type ushered in the civic entropy characteristic of public life here today. But if more areas set up on their own, if more areas understood that PG&E's first allegiance is to private investors and not the public, PG&E would be finito, or at least finito in the deteriorated, non-public-utility sense it exists now.

BUT A CHRON READER or PG&E mole writes: “One of the major problems with electric power in this country is the electric grid, the power distribution system. It's old, archaic, overloaded, expensive to maintain and prone to failure. Public utilities like PG&E are the ones that maintain this grid and the cost of doing so is spread over all of their customers. If individual communities are allowed to set up their own utilities it doesn't include maintenance of the grid — that's still PG&E's problem. So that cost is now going to be spread over a smaller customer base and rates are going to go up. Are all you cowboys out there understanding this?”

YES, US COWBOYS do understand who owns the poles and the wires and the polluting power plants, but if PG&E had stuck to its mission as a power-providing public utility instead of turning it over the works to the pirates, well, heck, we'd still own it like it was supposed to be, and there'd be plenty of money that now goes to profit-takers left to maintain the grid properly.

IT LOOKS LIKE the County, perennially on the look out for consultants, is about to hire a labor negotiator named Rick Haeg, a retired personnel manager for Humboldt County. Haeg charges $125/hour. He'd cost us $54k for a year of his presumed negotiating expertise. Fran Buchanan, a former SEIU labor negotiator turned management negotiator, had the contract at something like $78k per year. Assistant CEO Carmel Angelo, Tereisa Haase and Jeanine Nadel presently comprise the County's negotiating team. If the County’s primary employee union seeks only a continuation of the current contract, which we understand they intend, the most cost-effective way to proceed would be no consultant, but…

SUPERVISOR DAVID COLFAX has proposed that the County return to the “CAO model,” abandoning the CEO model unsuccessfully implemented by freshly departed CEO Tom Mitchell. The timing is interesting. Now that Carmel Angelo looks like the leading candidate to replace Mitchell, the job may be returned to the CAO model with the Supes in charge of department heads with the CAO scaled back to a combined advisory and administrative role. The community group that had begun to form as an advisory committee to evaluate the pros and cons of CEO vs. CAO is now pointless because Colfax, and presumably a majority of his fellow Supervisors, want to get going with Carmel as CAO, which is what they've officially done as of Monday afternoon.

SUPERVISOR JOHN McCOWEN offered this explanation for why Tom Mitchell abruptly resigned last week: “He didn't state any reason,” said McCowen, “but, uh, so I really can't speculate on, uh, what he might have been thinking, but, uh, hm, you know, I think he had just felt that he had done what he could do here and it was time to move on. But that's, again, just my interpretation. … Anyone who's been a close observer of the board could tell from some of the comments that there's been, maybe, some level of concern about the direction the county was going.”

McCOWEN did have one good idea of the Duh type (which passes for intelligence in Ukiah these days) about how to cash in on Mitchell's departure: “I think we could save salary by not having both a CEO and an Assistant CEO, uh, so, whatever decision we make in terms of an interim or hiring a CEO, my option would be to only fill one of those positions.”

THIS JUST IN: The Board of Supervisors officially and unanimously promoted Carmel Angelo as CEO Monday night at 5:30. Angelo was given a two-year contract. Colfax's CAO proposal was voted down 3-2, with only Kendall Smith agreeing with Colfax.

POSTSCRIPT to last week's story about how Glenn Sunkett — the Oakland man convicted of orchestrating a brutal home invasion near Fort Bragg two years ago — has been trying to fire his court-appointed attorney for presenting what Sunkett says was a wholly unprepared defense during his trial last summer. Sunkett, who’s claimed innocence since his arrest in September 2008, has so far been unsuccessful. I’d tried contacting county jail Commander Timothy Pearce for the story to respond to complaints Sunkett (and his lawyer) made about how Sunkett has been treated at the jail. Pearce didn’t catch me before deadline, so his few brief comments didn’t make it into the print version of this story; I’ve included them below. First, Sunkett’s allegations: He says he’s been shackled 24/7 since November, even while he takes a shower; he says he’s been kept in isolation since last March for unexplained reasons; he says his food has been poisoned; he says a jail guard told him he’d be the one to put a bullet in Sunkett’s head if he tried to escape. Pearce declined to discuss any of Sunkett’s complaints, saying he expects Sunkett to sue the jail in the near future. (“I’m waiting to be served,” he said.) Pearce may be right. Jeffrey Fletcher, a private attorney from Sacramento who’s helped Sunkett on his case, detailed the above allegations in a letter to Pearce and other county officials last December. Though he requested a meeting with those officials, Fletcher said recently that he never heard back from anyone. Yet Fletcher also said his “assignment” with Sunkett was temporary, so it’s not clear who would do the suing, as Sunkett’s only attorney, at the moment, is Linda Thompson, who Sunkett is not exactly wild about. Pearce did say Sunkett was a “security risk,” yet charges brought against the inmate for an alleged escape attempt last September were dropped by prosecutor Jill Ravitch (who successfully prosecuted Sunkett for the home invasion) during a preliminary hearing. For this reason, Pearce said, Sunkett gets a beefed-up security detail whenever he’s transported to a court hearing (in one instance, a wing of the courthouse was closed down for fear of what Sunkett was planning). “We don’t do that for everybody,” Pearce said. “You have to earn your way there.” Sunkett, meanwhile, is clueless as to why everyone thinks he’s planning a Wild West-style escape. — Tim Stelloh

INSIDERS tell us that the true reason for the big cutbacks at Nuestra Casa in Ukiah was that too much money, in the judgment of the organization’s biggest grant funder, the San Francisco-based Cowell Foundation which plunks in an annual $180k, was going to administration and not enough for services. Last week Nuestra Casa was closed to regroup, they said, without the Cowell money. Some laid-off employees have said they think the grant was pulled because a Cowell rep didn’t like the way Nuestra Casa staffers were treated when the Cowell rep visited late last year. Others say it had to do with use of grant money for basic operations instead of grant-related services. They may also have been a problem with the way some of grants were administered but didn’t want to pay overhead to Nuestra Casa for facility space and legitimate administrative expenses. There’s some talk that the two professional counselors at Nuestra Casa will try to snag some County mental health contracts. Last but certainly not least was that a significant portion of the Latino community in Ukiah associated with Nuestra Casa felt that Executive Director Claudia Lavenant pretty much ignored them and was more interested in her own funding than in funding for services that the clients had come to depend on. Or, more likely, all of these things taken together.

AT A UKIAH Community Planning Meeting last week Inland Lib came up with a new term for what to do with the abandoned Palace Hotel and the maybe-perhaps-some day to be abandoned Ukiah courthouse. Inland Lib says it wants to “repurpose” the two structures, a statement of both the obvious and Deep Fried Pie In The Sky since the Courthouse would have to be “repurposed” only if it no longer had a purpose and a big Deep Fried if it ever is abandoned and a new one built on Perkins Street. Nothing beyond long-term crumble for both structures is likely in either case, with the Palace Hotel already in long-term crumble now for thirty years. One bold gab-fester did suggest a nice idea, which is that if a new Courthouse is built in Ukiah the old one could remove its 1950 Pinochet wrapper of stone and one-way fascisti windows to again reveal the stately old building beneath, erected long ago when what things looked like still mattered to Americans. In this fantasy, the revived Courthouse structure, would face west to School Street instead east to the visual horrors of State Street, with School Street closed to vehicle traffic and turned into a pedestrian plaza.

BY THE WAY, there's Coast Lib and Inland Lib, the two branches of Mendolib, a rural charter of the national impulse occurring as Lib-Lab Flab Glab, sometimes known as On The Other Hand-ism. Lib-Lab indicators are words like paradigm, appropriate and inappropriate (only a lib-lab knows for sure), interface, and, now, repurpose.

DAN HAMBURG was the featured Supervisor Candidate on UkiahValley.tv last week. Hamburg is going out of his way to compete with Jim Mastin for the most ways to say, “I’m a very nice person who will never do a single thing and, no, I don't think $70k per year is too much for sitting in a big leather chair watching the County go broke.”

“I CALLED DAVID,” said Hamburg, referring to incumbent 5th District supervisor David Colfax, “in December of 2008 and told him I would be running for the job and that I wasn't running against him, that I wasn't planning to slam him or even criticize him, that I was running because I wanted the job because at this point, um, you know, in his, um, his tenure on the board, and, and, my, um, circumstances, that I was prepared, uh, to do a little more for the district, but, um, you know, I wasn't trying to pick a fight with David Colfax, I was trying to offer an alternative.”

HAMBURG is running because he's not David Colfax, he “wants the job” and can “do a little more for the district”? It would be hard to do less for the district than Colfax has done, so doing more isn't much of a reason to get behind you, “Dan.”

ONE OF HAMBURG’S ideas has to do with marijuana, of course. “I've been talking to some people about putting a measure on the, um, on the ballot in Mendocino County to ask the citizens, ask the voters, if they would like to see a mechanism put in place by the County to create a revenue stream from the marijuana industry. If you look at the 2008 crop report you'll see the income to the county, or, um, I don't know exactly what the right terminology is, but the grape industry's value as a crop in 2008, and that's the latest one that's available, was $62 million, I think timber was $67 million, and everything else is less than that. So combined timber and grapes you got about $130, $140 million, um, conservatively the marijuana crop is worth, I'd say, three times the combination of those two, so there's a lot of money sloshing around the County from the marijuana industry.”

THERE’S A BIG WASTE of money, right there. Hamburg wants to ask the voters if they’d like to see a pot taxation measure on the ballot? Why not just go ahead and propose it? Why spend tens of thousands of dollars asking? But there it is, vintage Mendolib.

ON HIS WEBSITE, Hamburg and reality say goodbye forever. “The Fifth District has consistently elected intelligent progressives — Norman deVall, Charles Peterson, and David Colfax are all in that tradition. My experience in government, and as an advocate for environmental and social justice, makes me uniquely qualified to serve as your representative on the Board of Supervisors.” deVall looks pretty good in retrospect, if only for his work getting Class K passed into local law. But if Norm did much of anything else it escaped our notice at the hawk-eyed AVA. Peterson was the male equivalent of 4th District supervisor Smith, a grasping blatherer who used the position in a failed attempt to get something better for himself, while Colfax steered the supervisors to big raises for themselves. Period. The so-called progressives really haven't done a damn thing for the presumed ecotopia of the 5th District.

HAMBURG goes on about the importance of neighborhoods, safe roads, trails, bicycle paths, water, etc., none of which the Supervisors have much control over, and none of which can be accomplished or improved in the context of the County's financial free-fall.

ALL HAMBURG says about the budget situation is, “Most of [the County’s] debt is in unfunded retiree benefits, including health benefits for employees who retired before 1998. If this situation is not attenuated (sic), the county could be spending its entire share of the property tax on debt payments by 2015. We must institute a comprehensive (not year-to-year) plan to make our County solvent again. Duplicated services must be eliminated. As member of the Board of Supervisors, I pledge to take the same pay cut as county employees.”

WHICH DUPLICATIVE SERVICES? Hamburg doesn’t say. How could retiree healthcare benefits be “attenuated”? Hamburg doesn’t say. Hamburg has no tangible ideas and brings nothing to the table to address the County’s huge budget deficit. In other words, he's in the tradition of the Fifth District’s “intelligent progressives.”

COUNTY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT of Schools, Paul Tichinin, and we pause here to send a silent prayer heavenward for the educational futures of the children of Mendocino County, has taken a bold stand for clean hands. “Our staff has done an amazing job in trying to get these resources [i.e., some H1N1 info flyers] out to the classrooms in anticipation, okay?, if the pandemic had come into fruition, we would have needed them, or will need them, who knows? They're talking about, there may be a second wave coming through, to assist staff, you know, to isolate, to protect children, in other words you would put it on the child as well as staff, you know, so, the answer is, at least we've got them out at the site level, whether or not they use them… the big thing that we've discovered in the work that Katie's been doing with public health is getting people to wash their hands.”

TO BREATHLESS AFFIRMATIONS from his alleged trustees, Tichinin concluded, “…In getting people to just be conscious of simple hygiene.” Trustee Charlene Ford, added a jubilant “…and covering their mouth!” Tichinin, fake-coughing into his elbow to demonstrate how a safe cough is accomplished, explained, “…to cough like that.” (I wonder how Tichinin and Ford would do in Loogie Heaven, Stockton Street, San Francisco, between Sacramento and Broadway.)

AT THE DECEMBER meeting of the County School Board, Tichinin and his trustees convincingly established that they have absolutely no understanding of the US News and World Report “silver medal” awards to the Fort Bragg and Anderson Valley schools. They had to go at the bogus recognition again at their January meeting.

ASKED BY newly appointed trustee Jonah Freedman how the meaningless prizes were doled out — “What do they deal with? How do they make those decisions…?”

TICHININ reached into his bottomless bag of edu-babble to reply, “Well, the three criteria that they have are, that they, you know, that they have a matrix that they use on judging that, and, you know, unlike some of the indexes that are based on, you know, what are your highest performing students doing, you know, but, instead, you know, are you moving all of your students, you know, so in other words, if you are leaving out a particular group or component, then you're not going to get, you know, ranked as highly as, you know…”

TICHININ’S unidentified female aide added, “I just re-read… Because, I, I couldn't remember last year, and I just re-read it. Anderson Valley comes out so high because they have almost 100% of a transfer rate of their graduating students so, their kids, every senior goes somewhere, a trade school, a two year, a four year, so that gets factored in, the rural geography of our county gets factored in, and then for Fort Bragg it's the high level of transfer work that they're doing in their junior and senior year, so they're these weird little things that actually pop them into this other level.”

COMPLETELY and totally wrong. None of that has anything to do with the US News awards, such as they may be.

FREEDMAN then asked, “They use SAT scores?” Tichinin replied, “They use SAT scores and they also do use the API and they want the AYP indexes but not as the sole component and that's the real key.” Board Chair Charlene Ford, who's become something of an echo chamber for the bumbling superintendent, added, “That's good. That... Because here it sounds like API and all those others are the most…” Ford trailed off.

COMPLETELY WRONG. AGAIN. They do not use SAT scores. They do not use API scores. Neither Tichinin nor Ford nor Tichinin's assistant have the faintest idea of what they’re talking about.

THE BOARD, uninformed, nevertheless talked at pointless length about how they might duplicate Anderson Valley's and Fort Bragg's silver medal “successes” in other districts without, of course, any idea what Fort Bragg or Anderson Valley are doing or if any of it has any measurable effect whatsoever on, as they say, “the educational process.”

AS IF this festival of ignorance wasn't sufficiently appalling, Tichinin informed his trustees that Point Arena superintendent Mark Iacuaniello, fresh off his memorably moronic performance in the Matt Murray case, has somehow been selected as Mendocino County's “schoolmaster/superintendent of the year.” (Readers are reminded that every single school administrator in the County recently signed off on a Tichinin letter objecting to the word “niggardly” as a racist insult. These people are running our schools.) Tichinin was beaming at the announcement of the imbecilic Iacuaniello's award. It was as if Tichinin had finally achieved his life's work, The Triumph of Cretinism. “The board will be adopting a resolution in March acknowledging that,” said Tichinin, still grinning from ear to ear. “They (Point Arena) are very engaged in completing the work on the elementary school remodel,” (which Murray began) added Tichinin, “so they are very excited about that.” Tichinin and Iacuaniello. Think about it, Mendo parents, and know in your bones that your children are educationally doomed.

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