Mendocino County Today: Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016
by AVA News Service, September 9, 2016
CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING EXAMINES SEXUAL ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION IN THE LOCAL WEED INDUSTRY
by Ryan Burns
The Emerald Triangle’s underground marijuana industry, with its backwoods setting and its code of silence, has given rise to widespread exploitation of women including numerous cases of violent sexual abuse. That’s the key takeaway from a months-long investigation from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) published Thursday on the organization’s Reveal platform.
In an 8,000-word deep-dive story, CIR reporter Shoshana Walter examines the culture, economy and power dynamics of the local weed industry, bringing to light numerous accounts of exploitation, abuse and trafficking. She also calls out the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, saying “law enforcement repeatedly has failed to investigate abuse and sexual violence in the Industry.”
The Lost Coast Outpost asked Walter a few questions via email about her story and what she learned while reporting it. That reporting began after a woman from Humboldt contacted the Center for Investigative Reporting to say she’d been sex trafficked.
“She basically told me, ‘This is happening here, and no one seems to care’,” Walter recalled. “Of course, everyone in California, and across the globe, knows of Humboldt’s reputation as a marijuana growing hub. The fact that something so awful could be going on there surprised and disturbed me. So I went to check it out.”
She spent about two months in Humboldt and surrounding counties during last year’s harvest season, and despite the much-touted secretive subculture of SoHum Walter found people willing to help.
“I slept on several grows, crashed on people’s couches, and became well acquainted with several motels in Garberville,” she said. After two months she returned home to Oakland, but she made additional trips back up here. “I really wanted to understand the culture in Humboldt,” she said.
Her story introduces us to a girl who at age 12 started trimming weed for a grower who gave her meth to speed up her work. At age 14 she ran away to a Eureka homeless shelter, “only to discover that pimps were using it as a hunting ground.”
Another woman fled a local grow scene on foot after the owner started pressuring her for blow jobs and sex. A woman from Mexico came to Mendocino County for a restaurant job and wound up working for a marijuana farmer who “forced her to cook, clean his house and have sex with him,” the story says. Local social service providers and victims alike told Walter that women have been trafficked to the area from around the country and the world.
How common is this? Here’s Walter’s take:
I want to be clear, just as we don’t know exactly how many grows exist in Humboldt (although Lost Coast [Outpost] has done some great work trying to figure that out), I don’t know exactly how many women are being trafficked here. This is a crime, but it’s a crime that’s rarely reported and even more rarely investigated. As such, there is no data. What we do know is that there are large numbers of women being trafficked here, according to social service agencies, and the numbers of women seeking services for sexual assault and trafficking have grown over time. I also know this from talking to escorts themselves, talking to growers who have hired escorts, trimmers who’ve been exploited, trimmers who’ve witnessed escort activity while working on grows, and from speaking with trafficking victims, including a woman from Mexico, teenage girls from Humboldt county, and others.
Trafficking is not always easy to identify. It can look a lot like other things. An abusive relationship, for example. Drug addiction. Debt peonage. When I asked law enforcement in the Emerald Triangle how common trafficking is, several officers described the prevalence of “gold diggers.” I heard this from people in the industry, too. Certainly, there are people who exploit human relationships for financial gain. But this is not a proper explanation for someone who, for example, moved into her employer’s house after her yurt sank, and then felt expected to provide sex to pay off the debt.
In her report Watler explores why women often avoid calling law enforcement. “For victims of sexual assault, the answer often lies beneath layers of fear and shame,” she writes. “Rape usually goes unreported, but trimmigrants face particular pressure to avoid law enforcement. Calling police may rule out future jobs in the industry, especially if that contact alerts police to an illegal grow.”
When victims do reach out to law enforcement they’re often not satisfied with the response. Walter notes in her story that sheriff’s deputies simply don’t have the resources to focus on every problem in our vast rural county. But she also notes that, like weed growers, the Sheriff’s Office has its own profit motives tied to the industry. From the story:
Humboldt County law enforcement agencies made 100 seizures of property and funds last year, including from farmers who had legal permission to grow. The value of the assets totaled more than $2 million – more per capita than was pulled from the state’s 15 most populous counties combined, state data shows. …
The result is tantamount to tunnel vision, said Kyla Baxley, the district attorney’s office investigator. “They’re going in to eradicate marijuana, and they would probably tell you nothing else is happening but the drugs.”
Are deputies deliberately turning a blind eye to the problem? Is it more than just a lack or resources? Walter responded via email:
This is a good question for law enforcement. I think there’s definitely a lack of resources, and a lack of knowledge. It’s clear there’s a high crime rate in Humboldt county, particularly for such a rural area, and law enforcement cannot thoroughly investigate everything. There’s also the problem of victims not reporting abuse in the first place. Most of the women I talked to did not call the police.
In part because of those limited resources, law enforcement has to make choices about what to pursue, and they have chosen not to prioritize investigations of trafficking, exploitation and abuse. I saw that time and again when victims did report. It’s simply not a priority for law enforcement.
A major thread in Walter’s story follows “Terri,” a pseudonym for one of the victims of convicted rapist Kailan Meserve. Terri, Walter reports, came to Humboldt County during the 2014 harvest season looking for trim work and wound up at the Yellow Rose bar in Petrolia, talking to a grower “twice her age, tan and muscular, with a swagger and salt-and-pepper hair” — Meserve.
The story goes on to recount Meserve’s assaults on Terri in nauseating detail and describe the impact those assaults had on the insular community of Petrolia. Ultimately the story paints a picture of a culture entrenched in secrecy and a criminal justice system that falls short for victims of sexual assault.
We asked Walter what members of this community — those involved in the industry and those who aren’t — can do to address the problem?
This is a great question. I think the most important thing people can do is acknowledge that there’s a problem. While reporting, I faced a lot of pressure not to report anything that would make the marijuana industry look bad. People who need help often face the same resistance. Simply acknowledging someone else’s pain can go a long way toward making victims feel comfortable coming forward. Many of the service providers I spoke with in more rural areas also told me they feel overwhelmed during peak harvest season, when seasonal workers pour into town. Creating resources for those workers and travelers, informing them of their rights, and providing access to those resources, might also help.
There are definitely people in the community who are aware of and care about the problem — advocates and community organizers, people who work with the homeless. I also spoke with law enforcement officers who recognize the problem, and are trying to work on it. But when it’s not really a priority, it’s hard.
Growers also seem to be unaware of their duties under labor laws. That makes sense, since so much of the industry remains underground. But I visited a lot of farms in compliance with local regulations that still seemed unaware of the requirements.
Read Walter’s full story over on the Reveal website.
(Courtesy, the Lost Coast Outpost.)
SUPERVISOR DAN HAMBURG is not high on our list of most admired elected officials, but we stood up and saluted our supervisor today when he came out strong for the Green Party's Jill Stein for President. Speaking on Politics, A Love Story, a KZYX talk show hosted by Bob Bushanksy, Hamburg said he was definitely supporting Stein, that Clinton was worse than Trump. Which is simply a statement of the obvious. But we'd fully expected Hamburg to do a basic lib-lab shuffle back to Hillary when Bernie did his promised fold. But by gumbo he didn't. Dan! Your old pals at the AVA salute you!
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Woman Caller: Everybody seems to be going on and on about Obama. Does anybody remember what he was up against? The entire right wing locked up in lockstep as a party against him. They refused to let anything through. They fought them tooth and nail. And he received almost no support from all these people who whine and complain every election about him. If you want to get Jill Stein elected, work your ass off for the next eight years while the president is in power and then build an operation, a ground game, and work it. Everybody shows up at election time and whines and complains about the people who get elected who worked very hard.
Hamburg: People who get elected are also the people who get checks from Goldman Sachs. The people who get elected are also the people who get six and seven-figure checks from Goldman Sachs.
Caller: That's silly! You are being silly. You are being absolutely silly about this. It takes money. Listen, I hate Goldman Sachs even more than you do. I fought those people for the last six years, believe me. I've taken a stance.
Hamburg: How do you feel about all the money Obama and Clinton have taken from them?
Caller: [Laughs.] You have to make a living, pal. What do you do to make a living?
Hamburg: There's making a living and there's aggrandizing. I'm talking about people who fall over on their knees for the corporate masters.
Caller: Oh, Pulleeeeze. You're being silly. [Laughs.] Absolutely silly.
Hamburg: I think Obama tried. I totally acknowledge what you're saying. I think some of it is true. I think they tried to pull the stuff on Obama that they tried to pull on Clinton, basically to stop him at every turn.
Caller: He was pushing for a carbon tax, remember that?Remember single-payer?
Hamburg: Obama wouldn't even let it get a hearing.
Caller: They turned down claims because of that and they've hit him over the head about it ever since. They use everything they can muster against Hillary because they want to keep her down. She got up there and fought and nobody stood behind her.
Hamburg: That's not true.
Hamburg: I was in Congress when that was happening.
Caller: I don't believe you.
Hamburg: There was a whole phalanx of representatives and senators who wanted Hillary and Obama to come up with a real health care reform program and she refused.
Bushansky: Okay we're going to move on. Thank you for your call.
AS MORE of our fellow citizens fall through the cracks, we have a family here in the Anderson Valley that has fallen through the cracks in the cracks. This latter-day Joad family is camping out under a strip of redwoods not far from the Navarro Store. This homeless family has roots in Navarro. Dad grew up here, graduated from Anderson Valley High School. His family owned a place at Rancho Navarro where they lived for years before moving to Los Angeles. Now the son is back with his family but without a legal place for him and, neighbors say, his raucous brood, to stay. So the family is squatting in unsightly conditions among a narrow strip of redwoods beside Highway 128. The children are enrolled in the Boonville schools where they are said to be good students. Mom and Dad work but are under-employed. The older children work, too. But even with a regular income, there are zero affordable rentals anywhere in the Anderson Valley. Our vagabonds won't be able to stay where they are for much longer, and won't want to stay where they are when the rains start. What can be done? Someone with a back forty might step up, but that's unlikely given the givens of this particular situation. County Fairgrounds here in Boonville? Their trailers don't seem to be street legal, and probably aren't inhabitable by County standards. Stay tuned.
WATERCOLOR by Annie Kalantarian
1950 Chevrolet 3100, 1/2 ton pickup, factory price $1,243
WHY DO SMART PEOPLE do such stupid things? Why are most of us often so certain about things that turn out to be wrong? How can we Americans, snug in our world of Peace, Freedom and Democracy, be faced with a presidential election choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?
A minor case in point. Last Tuesday after meeting with others in the front of the Ukiah courthouse to see off a small contingent of Mendonesians heading to North Dakota in support of the Native American protest against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline, I popped into the Courthouse to look at original court documents giving Blackbird Farm a prescriptive easement to access their property off the Greenwood Road so they can increase their guest load from 36 to 292 overnighters. (36 to 292!) The file was in the Courthouse basement and would be brought up for viewing the following day. "May I photograph them?" "Certainly."
Wednesday afternoon I went back but was refused entry at the security checkpoint with my small digital camera.
"If I had a cell phone, could I take that in?" I asked.
Since all cell phones these days have built in cameras I was baffled but after taking the camera back to my car I returned to view the three, 3-inch-thick file folders. Maybe twenty minutes later the polite, soft spoken clerk was at my desk informing me that they closed at 3:00 and it was 3:05. They would keep the files upstairs for two weeks for me to come back.
With a couple hours before the Courthouse actually closed I went upstairs to the court administration office to point out the strange rules relative to cameras. There I was assured that when I returned if I called ahead something could be done to get me in with my camera.
Let me make it clear that all parties to this little vignette were polite, pleasant and if not apologetic, understanding. As was I.
This morning as I sat at my computer writing this I realized that I had not been given back my driver's license, which I had to provide in order to take the documents to the desk to view the docs. Thank God I look my age so I should be able purchase that bottle of whisky that might help to assuage my dismay with the current sociocultural paradigm.
MENDO VOICE PIPES UP
While I do appreciate the bit of publicity you've thrown our way, I would have also appreciated if you could have checked with me before running that little blurb, because you got your facts wrong. Kym is definitely not working for us. She has kindly let us crosspost some of her things, that is all, she remains fiercely independent, and I wouldn't want anyone to imagine that she is doing otherwise.
Sarah is not on staff. You also missed someone that we DO have as a contributor Dan Young of Fort Bragg. And we have a contributing columnist, Ben Wolff, with more columnists coming.
We're also not "pot-centric," we're just going to cover the community in a frank and honest way that accurately reflects the huge role that cannabis has in the county. If a paper in Kansas wrote frankly and accurately about corn it wouldn't be "corn-centric."
As to our funding, I wonder what your source is there.
Finally, we're just getting off the ground, and are still working the kinks and bugs out of site, in case you spot any problems. But thanks again for the hat tip.
Kate Maxwell, Publisher.
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From their website:
The Mendocino Voice is an online newspaper, updated daily, based in Mendocino County, California. We’re focused on watchdog journalism for the North Coast, and on covering daily news and community life in rural Mendocino County, including the cannabis industry.
We want to bring you the local news that you think is important, while building a sustainable model for local journalism.
Many people may not realize but The Willits News, the Ukiah Daily Journal, The Mendocino Beacon, the Fort Bragg Advocate, the Redwood Times, the Eureka Times Standard, and the Lake County Record Bee are all owned by one national news corporation, Digital First Media (DFM). Now, there are many good reporters working at these papers, and we in no way want to diminish their labors. But we ourselves have worked at a DFM paper, and know first hand the way corporate priorities limit good local reporters.
The result of this corporate monopoly has been publications that stretch their staff too thin, and news that does not accurately represent the community. We would like to do our small part to change this, and to bring hard hitting, accurate reporting to communities across Mendocino.
Mendocino And The Reefer
We want to be upfront in saying that we will not shy away from speaking frankly about our county’s largest employer, cash crop, and main economic base: cannabis. If we were in Detroit we’d write about cars, if we were in Napa we’d write wine, and if we were in North Dakota we’d write about oil—but we are in Mendocino so we’re going to write about weed.
Furthermore, we think the double standard around cannabis has gone on too long. On one side, a disdain for the plant and those who grow it has meant—until very recently—a strange effort on the part of politicians and business people to avoid even using the word marijuana, as though it were a taboo. We have seen grown adults, city council members and county supervisors, giggle nervously when merely speaking the name of the plant that is the economic lifeblood of the county. Simultaneously, among growers, a reasonable need for discretion and distrust of authority has blossomed into an all encompassing culture of secrecy which hinders participatory democracy and corrodes community trust.
We think that information and transparency will provide a necessary corrective, agreeing with Justice Brandeis that, “…sunlight is believed to be the best of disinfectants.”
THE SLIME THAT KILLS
"High level of nutrients"
Translation — chemical runoff from vineyards.
The public is being cautioned by Mendocino County’s Health and Human Services Agency about toxic seasonal blue-green algae blooms that may appear in local waterways.
Close contact with water containing blue-green algae may cause a variety of health problems for people and pets, according to HHSA Interim Director of Public Health David Jensen, and should be avoided.
Since June, blue-green algae blooms have been identified in more than two dozen freshwater reservoirs, lakes and streams statewide, according to the HHSA. Also called cyanobacteria, the algae hosts microscopic bacteria. Blooms are generally caused by slow-moving warm water and high levels of nutrients in the water. The blooms can move, grow or shrink depending on conditions, according to HHSA information.
As of Thursday, there were no waterways listed as being affected with the toxic algae in Mendocino County under the California Water Quality Monitoring Council’s self-reporting tool, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the threat isn’t there.
“Blue-green algae can reach dangerous levels in areas of warm water and quiet flow,” Jensen said in a statement. “In previous years it has caused the death of dogs that swam in parts of the Eel River, the Russian River and the Navarro River.”
Blue-green algae poisoning is common and symptoms, including death, can be more severe in pets and livestock because they tend to drink the water from affected lakes or reservoirs, according to information provided by the HHSA.
Children and adults may experience serious injuries to the liver, kidneys and nervous system if the contaminated water is swallowed, HHSA staff says. Medical treatment should be sought immediately if a person, pet or livestock is suspected to have blue-green algae poisoning.
The algal blooms can appear as blue-green, white or as brown foam, scum or mats that float on the water’s surface. The blooms may also collect along shorelines and boat ramp areas. Common water purification techniques, including camping filters, tablets and boiling, do not remove toxins from affected water, according to the information provided by the HHSA.
“Boaters and swimmers across the state should be aware of posted signs that indicate the presence of blue-green algae,” California Department of Public Health Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement. “These blooms can produce toxins that pose a health risk if the affected water is touched or swallowed. Signs of blue-green algae poisoning include eye irritation, skin rashes, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, and cold and flu-like symptoms.”
A list of current known algal blooms is available online at www.mywaterquality.ca.gov . The state recommends that people and pets completely avoid those affected bodies of water.
(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)
GOING, GOING, GOMES!
On September 7, 2016 at approximately 5:00 AM Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies were dispatched to a reported domestic violence incident in the 17900 block of North Highway 1 in Fort Bragg, California. Upon the Deputies arrival on scene, they spoke to a 33 year-old male who identified Ryan Gomes, 31, of Fort Bragg, as being his cohabitating partner. Deputies learned the 33 year-old male and Gomes were involved in a verbal argument that escalated into Gomes physically assaulting the male. After the physical assault, Gomes left the location by vehicle and was not present when Deputies arrived. Deputies observed the 33 year-old male had visible minor injuries to his hand as a result of the reported assault. At approximately 7:30 AM, Deputies located Gomes inside his vehicle in the 500 block of South Main Street in Fort Bragg. Gomes was arrested without incident and his vehicle was towed. During an inventory search of the vehicle, Gomes was found to be in possession of a glass smoking pipe and approximately 12.3 grams of what field-tested presumptive positive for amphetamine. Gomes was transported to the Mendocino County Jail where he was booked for felony domestic violence, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and being in violation of his active misdemeanor San Mateo County probation. Gomes was to be held in lieu of $30,000 bail.
THE FISCAL YEAR 2016-2017 MENDOCINO COUNTY ADOPTED BUDGET book is now available to the public. The book is available to download at http://www.co.mendocino.ca.us/administration/budget.htm or a limited number of hard copies are available for purchase at the Mendocino County Executive Office.
This year’s budget was prepared based on three additional budget preparation workshops, held in March, April, and May and adopted after two days of budget hearings in June. This process was critical in developing a budget that is responsive to community needs, as well as an entirely re-envisioned budget document format that provides more information to the public, in a way that is easier to understand. The budget addresses the needs of the citizens of Mendocino County with a focus on maintaining and improving County services, investment in employees, investing in critically failing infrastructure, continued long-term debt reduction, and building and maintaining the General Reserve.
The County budget is also available through the County Budget Portal. The portal was launched in the fall of 2015 in an effort to provide a more inclusive and transparent budget. Mendocino County partnered with OpenGov.com to provide a new web-based financial transparency and business intelligence tool that dynamically presents the County's revenues and expenses, from multi-year trends to line item level details. By using the OpenGov platform, residents and staff can use this website to have access and a better understanding of the County’s budget.
Carmel J. Angelo, Chief Executive Officer
by Scott M. Peterson
MACK SULLIVAN wasn’t doing anything when it happened. His equipment operator, Phil Torres was in the cabin checking data. They were putting the finishing touches on an ocean floor survey off Point Conception. It was overcast that September day, about 10am. There was a four-foot swell with no chop. The two were drifting along on Sullivan’s boat. A 26 foot survey vessel named ‘Betty Jo.’ Operating a Reson Seabat 8101 multibeam echoesounder at 200 kHz. Painting the sea bottom. That’s when it happened.
WITHOUT ANY WARNING the ‘Betty Jo’ rose. Then slid off the wave made by a 70 foot Blue Whale breaching five feet from the boat. It was the first one Sullivan had ever seen. Before slipping beneath the waves, the whale made eye contact with him. Torres didn’t say anything. So Sullivan figured he hadn’t seen it. And there wasn’t much discussion about anything on the noisy four-hour trip back to Santa Barbara.
THE NEXT DAY Sullivan got on the horn to Robin Lewis. A buddy of his who worked as an environmental scientist at the Department of Fish & Game. After telling Lewis what happened, Sullivan got a little friendly advice. ‘Don’t tell anyone about this,’ warned Lewis. ‘Because nobody will believe you.’ So Sullivan kept his mouth shut. That was in 2002. Three years after the Marine Life Protection Act had been passed into law. Something that’d change California marine science forever.
SULLIVAN earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Oceanography from Humboldt State University in 1977. One of his early jobs was at a World War II era nuclear waste site near the Farallon Islands off San Francisco. Involving 47,500 drums of leftovers from the Manhattan Project. Dumped there in 300 to 6,000 feet of water by a U.S. Navy barge. Sullivan helped get two barrels of leaking radioactivity to the surface for testing. The site is still awaiting remediation, but lacks funding. Since 1985, Sullivan has owned and operated his own maritime survey company, Sea Surveyor, Inc. in Benicia.
‘THINGS CHANGED when the MLPA passed,’ says Sullivan. ‘Blue ribbon panels replaced local scientists.’ And according to Sullivan, those panelists came out of nowhere. Most of them promoting corporate interests. Particularly those of a competitor. A Dutch outfit by the name of Fugro Pelagos. The MLPA called for a detailed survey of the entire California coast. From tidewater to the three-mile limit. The survey would be funded by the California Ocean Protection Council, and guided by the California Ocean Science Trust. Two agencies that — before 2000 — didn't exist. Together they started the California Seafloor Mapping Program. Cutting Fugro in. And Sullivan out.
THE MLPA WAS AN UPHILL SELL. The Department of Fish & Game was the lead agency to implement it. So they hired ‘communications’ firms. Three of them. First it was RAAB Associates, LTD from Boston. Next it was CONCUR in Berkeley. And then Kearns & West out of San Francisco. Two of these companies had something in common. A ‘facilitator’ named Dr. Eric Poncelet. The problem was ship strikes on endangered whales. Particularly Blue Whales. In September of 2007, five of them were found belly-up near the Channel Islands in Southern California. Each was reported by the Feds as an ‘Unusual Mortality Event.’ Which was a PR nightmare for State officials. But a paycheck for Poncelet.
IMPLEMENTATION was done in four coastal areas. Adding another letter to that acronym — MLPAI. At the top was the Blue Ribbon Task Force, or BRTF. Under that was the Science Advisory Team, or SAT. This was supported by Regional Stakeholder Groups, or RSGs. Composed of individual stakeholders. Each to be interviewed by one of Poncelet’s public relations firms. The goal of each working group was to set the boundaries for Marine Protected Areas — MPAs. And the cornerstone of this was the creation of seafloor maps. By the United States Geological Survey, or USGS. Enough acronyms for now.
THE ACTUAL PROCESS was a ‘collaboration’ according to Dr. Poncelet. Between State officials and himself. Poncelet described it as a Goldilocks solution. With the first two attempts being lopsided. One way or the other. The third was ‘a balance.’ There was noticeable pride in Poncelet’s voice as he said so.
JIM MARTIN didn’t see it that way. An award winning author of four books — including ‘How to Fish the Mendocino Coast’ — Martin saw a distinct ‘anti-fishing bias’ in the MLPAI. And he should know. Martin served on a Statewide Interests Group, or SIG. Which seems to have been created as a gulag for dissent. Where it could be ignored. Martin recalls Poncelet’s ground rules this way — ‘It was a process that couldn’t be questioned.’ Other unhappy participants included Vivian Helliwell. Watershed conservation director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. Who resigned in June of 2009. Because the MLPA process was ‘neither fair nor transparent.’ Martin couldn’t agree more. ‘It was supposed to be a $250,000 project,’ he said. ‘Then it spiraled out of control. Now it’s costing California taxpayers $35 million a year to put fishermen out of work.’ Adding, ‘It was hijacked by special interests.’ Martin remembers Dr. Poncelet well. ‘He’s a Jedi Master of facilitation,’ Martin told me. ‘For meetings with a predetermined outcome.’
AT ITS PEAK, Sea Surveyor, Inc. had four survey vessels. Ranging in size from a 72’ trawler to a 14’ skiff. By 2008, Sullivan and his company had been surveying California waters for nearly thirty years. Under a permit from the California State Lands Commission. With a spotless record. All without harming a single marine mammal. Getting survey permits from CSLC isn’t easy. Neither is keeping them. Unless you’re the size of Fugro.
FUGRO PELAGOS is a giant. According to the latest financial statements, its annual revenue tops $2 billion. Fugro reports 13,500 employees worldwide. Along with 60 aircraft and 55 vessels. One of them was the ‘Pacific Star.’ A 176’ steel ship with no propeller guards. And Fugro’s choice to map the California coastline. Fugro’s reputation is well known among marine scientists. ‘You’ll never get fired for hiring Fugro,’ claims one biologist who asked not to be identified. ‘But you may if you don’t.’
THE ‘PACIFIC STAR’ was built in 1974. By the Equitable Equipment Company in Madisonville, Louisiana. She was christened the ‘Amelia Candies’ as a supply boat to offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. From there, she went to Alaska, and was renamed the ‘Pacific Empire.’ In 1988, she was sold to legendary Alaskan fisherman Gunnar Gudjonsson. Who renamed her the ‘Pacific Star.’ An Icelandic-American, Gudjonsson was a pioneer in the modern Alaskan crab fishery.
RON STOKKE runs a yacht brokerage in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was a deck hand on the ‘Pacific Star’ for a decade. Then captain for a short time. First as a mud boat in the Gulf. Then as a crabber in the Bering Sea. ‘She was reliable,’ he said. ‘And the number one crab boat in Alaska for years.’ Crabbing is dangerous work up there. But according to Stokke, she never lost a crew member. Ron Stokke has fond memories of the ‘Pacific Star.’ And recalled looking for her on his last trip to Seattle, without success. ‘There’s no such thing as a bad boat,’ he told me.
A CRABBER by the name of Sam Hjelle bought the ‘Pacific Star’ for $3.8 million in 1997. But Hjelle died at sea the same year. Alaskan crab quotas are precious. And when the ‘Pacific Star’ left Bering Sea waters that year to fish brown crab in the Aleutians, she lost hers. Sam’s widow tried to recover it. Under an ‘unavoidable circumstance’ exception that prevented the boat from crabbing. In 2001, the Feds ruled that Hjelle’s death didn’t qualify. So the ‘Pacific Star’ lost her license for good. Sam’s widow Teresa appealed the decision, but lost that in 2004. Eugene Asicksik purchased the ‘Pacific Star’ next. Under the name Pacific Star Fisheries, LLC in Juneau. From there, title passed to Seattle Ocean Pioneer Holding, LLC in Seattle. And then onto two more owners. For one purpose — to make money.
THE ‘PACIFIC STAR’S KEEL plunges ten feet, six inches into the Pacific. Making her useless for near-shore surveys. Especially in a heavy sea. So Stabbert Maritime in Seattle equipped her with two 29’ launches. Each drawing six feet of seawater. Meaning they can’t handle the surf zone. And like the ‘Pacific Star,’ they had no propeller guards. Even though Fugro had promised to map the entire three-mile limit, none of California’s surf-zone ever got surveyed. You can see that on Google Maps. Prompting me to ask Sullivan if he’d ever done a near-shore survey. ‘Sure,’ he answered. ‘I did one at MacKerricher State Park. The multibeam survey charts are on my website.’ He even sent me the link. Then I asked him what vessel he used for the survey. ‘It was the ‘Lightning’, he told me. ‘With one echoesounder. The Reson Seabat 8101.’ So I asked him about the surf zone. He could’ve handled that too. With a fifteen-foot Zodiac called the ‘Firefly.’ But didn’t have it with him at the time.
THE ‘LIGHTNING’ is a 72’ trawler and draws just four and a half feet of water. She’s also fitted with propeller guards. Not only to prevent injury to marine mammals. But to protect her twin rudders. ‘They came with the boat,’ Sullivan said. ‘They’re standard equipment on trawlers.’ Sullivan had driven her up from Benicia. Under the Golden Gate Bridge. Out to the Farallons, then north to Mendocino. ‘We saw a hundred whales at once,’ Sullivan told me. ‘They were everywhere. All humpbacks and grey whales.’ Sullivan has spent thousands of hours on the Pacific. But he’s only seen a Blue Whale once. And only one whale that ever looked him in the eye. The one off Point Conception in 2002. ‘It was no accident,’ Sullivan told me. ‘That whale was trying to tell me something.’
I COULDN’T RESIST. With my own little litmus test for storytellers. ‘Do you think that ships have souls,’ I asked. Sullivan didn’t hesitate. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I named the ‘Betty Jo’ for my mother. Not out of superstition. But out of respect.’ Check.
THE ‘PACIFIC STAR’S DROP KEEL was fitted with two multibeam echoesounders. Ranging from 100 to 400 kHz. Her twin launches were equipped with two more. From 200 to 455 kHz. The nine-man echoesounding team lived and worked out of two forty foot shipping containers on the ‘Pacific Star’s afterdeck. Which were stuffed with racks of expensive computer gear. But no windows. Not that it mattered. With that much technology, windows were unnecessary. And at 3,000 horsepower, the ‘Pacific Star’s propellers can turn problems into sashimi.
BY DECEMBER OF 2005, the fix was in. Fugro had gotten themselves invited to a ‘Strategic Planning Workshop for California Marine Habitat Mapping’ at CSU Monterey Bay. Where ‘stakeholders’ all sang Kumbaya except Sullivan. Who never made the ‘A’ list. Some of the discussion was led by a naive CSUMB professor from the University of Michigan named Rikk Kvitek. Who was easily outmaneuvered by a Fugro salesman named Jerry Wilson. By February of 2007, Kvitek and Wilson had gotten pretty cozy. Even co-authoring a plan titled, ‘Mapping California’s Statewide Waters.’
IT WAS A RUSH JOB, to say the least. Complicated by the fact that many Marine Protected Areas had been mapped out before the survey even started. Making the seafloor survey more of a formality. And the same for working group meetings. Critics called it ‘Kabuki Theater.’ But Fugro saw it as a golden opportunity. Because there was no time for competitive bidding.
THE ACTUAL SURVEY WORK started in November of that year — without Sullivan. It was a five-year program, so he figured he could still catch up. When his three-year permit came up for renewal on September 30, 2008, Sullivan sent in a $5,000 check. Just like he’d done for the past twenty years. Two months ahead of schedule. That’s when the California State Lands Commission tried shaking him down. Reducing the permit term to one year. And asking for additional — but unspecified — costs. Sullivan wouldn’t play ball. Instead he reported Fugro for not playing by the rules. And CSUMB for excluding him from bidding on the project.
FUGRO had been cutting corners. Big ones. By doing surveys without telling the State. Their first permit ran from October 1, 2005 through September 30, 2008. Their renewal application was considered on April 9, 2009. But not approved until later that year. Leaving a one-year gap for Fugro to do surveys however they wanted. At the lowest possible cost.
MARINE LIFE OBSERVERS aren’t expensive. They make little more than minimum wage. But they can slow the operation down. Even stopping it when a whale gets within 500 meters. That’s not how Fugro rolls. Even when they have a permit. So in August of 2008, Sullivan’s attorney sent the CSLC a letter. But deep into Fugro’s pocket, they ignored him.
BY THEN, the California Coastal Conservancy had hired a blue ribbon panelist of their own. As coordinator for the mapping project. An out-of-towner named Sheila Semans — with a P.O. box in Mendocino. A clever piece of greenwash, since Mendocino had been home to the Whale War of 1976. Over the next year-and-a-half, Sullivan contacted Semans a dozen times. To sound the alarm. In August of 2009, he sent her a two-page letter pleading for relief. But well into a ‘Continued Partnership’ with Fugro, she ignored him too.
BY SEPTEMBER OF 2009, Semans had worked her way to the top. Becoming the program manager of the entire mapping project. Then for the California Ocean Protection Council. But with little in the way of qualifications. So on September 17, Sullivan attended a public hearing. To speak his mind. And warn the commissioners about the danger. Fortunately, the meeting was recorded on video. At 2:26:47, Sullivan can be seen testifying for three minutes. It’s not the only segment worth watching. At 1:39:01, a male speaker is visibly expressing his views. While Sheila Semans stands at the back of the room. Buttonholing a constituent. Ignoring the testimony. As a white-haired Sullivan sits in the front row. Listening.
THE CHAIRMAN of that hearing was California Resource Secretary Mike Chrisman. Who’d been telling all his blue ribbon panelists ‘to give your own notes verbally and throw them away after.’ Contrary to the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, Chrisman had been orchestrating closed-door meetings for MLPA proceedings all along. Even into a second phase. Where ‘a transparent and open public process’ was promised. One of Chrisman’s blue ribbon panelists was Catherine Reheis-Boyd, Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff for the Western States Petroleum Association. The biggest lobbyist in California today. Chrisman was appointed to the position by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.
BEFORE SULLIVAN SPOKE, Fugro’s Jerry Wilson approached him. Asking what he was going to say. Sullivan leveled with him. Saying that he was outing Fugro for not playing by the rules. ‘Give it your best shot,’ Wilson said. And Sullivan did. Even leaving Wilson a voicemail after the hearing. ‘I told him that I gave it my best shot,’ Sullivan recalled.
THE ‘PACIFIC STAR’ was busy that week. According to NOAA’s Form 76-35A, she’d been at it for nearly a year. With a ‘CHIEF OF PARTY’ named Dean Moyles and eight others. Including hydrographers David Briggs and Dale Reynolds. Moyles and Reynolds attended a conference with Jerry Wilson in Alaska later on. Selling Fugro there. They were mapping the stretch of coast from Point Arena to Humboldt in 2009. Loaded for bear. Including some firepower they’d need to get rid of.
ONE MONTH LATER, it was Fugro’s turn for a surprise. On October 19, 2009 the ‘Pacific Star’ was painting the seafloor 1.6 miles west of Fort Bragg. At a speed of five knots, her Haely Marine 4.21:1 reduction gear was turning 6-7 foot twin screws at 200 rpm. Right around noon, something stopped a propeller. Soon after, the crew found out what it was. The ship had severed the spine of a seventy-foot female Blue Whale. All they could do is to watch her bleed out. Because no wildlife observer was on board, the incident didn’t get reported that day. And since most whales sink after dying, it might not have to be reported at all.
FUGRO WASN’T THAT LUCKY. Within a few hours, the dying whale had somehow made her way to a beach near the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. So by nightfall, the word was out. And by the following morning, it’d hit the local papers. That’s when Fugro first reported it. On October 20, 2009.
SEMANS had bigger fish to fry that day. She was attending a meeting of the California Coastal Ocean Observing System in Oakland. As a big shot. Introducing dignitaries with a ‘Welcome from the State of California’ speech. All blue ribbon panelists just like her. None of the attendees knew what’d happened the day before. But it was impossible to miss at the event. By then it was all over the news. And all over Sheila.
DAMAGE CONTROL isn’t easy with seventy tons of rotting whale on your hands. But Semans did her level best. Recruiting another blue ribbon panelist named Ron LeValley. Who raised cash and volunteers for a monumental effort. To remove the dead whale, bury it in a secret location, and then dig it up years later. To be exhibited in a local museum that didn’t exist. LeValley was the treasurer of a nonprofit called MRB Research at the time. Documenting endangered seabirds. The whale recovery went so well that he was recruited to be vice-chair of the MLPA Initiative. So he started backfilling for Fugro. ‘The Pacific Star was equipped with a Reson Seabat 7125 multi beam echoesounder system used for bathymetric surveys,’ LeValley stated in a November 2009 press release. Which is halfway true. She was also equipped with a Reson Seabat 8111. Operating at 100 kHz. ’There is little or no evidence that these higher frequency sonar affect the behavior of baleen whales,’ LeValley insisted. ‘The system was operating at 400 kHz.’ At one point comparing the Seabat to an off-the-shelf fish finder. So I asked Sullivan about the cost of his system. ‘They run about half a million dollars,’ he said. Fish finders start at $100. But LeValley’s statements pacified the local press. And since he was leading such a noble effort to preserve the remains of an endangered Blue Whale, few people challenged him. Then it was passed off as a blameless accident. ‘Nobody was at any kind of fault,’ Semans later chimed in. Even the spoon-fed California State Lands Commission didn’t see it that way. In December, they fined Fugro $13,000 for two violations of its permit. One for not having any. And another for not having a marine life observer on board.
THE AXE FELL ON SEMANS within weeks. Landing a desk job as a project specialist. With no more keynote speeches. LeValley got arrested two years later. Then served time in Federal Prison for conspiring to embezzle $900,000 from the Yurok Tribe. With — get this — phony Spotted Owl surveys. He’s currently serving as an advisor to the board of directors at the Noyo Marine Science Center. Where Ms. Semans works as its executive director. The remains of the Blue Whale are now locked up in a forty-foot shipping container just south of the Fort Bragg sewage treatment plant. Right next to a visitor center managed by Semans. Promising a full scale display of the Blue Whale skeleton as soon as $6 million is raised. Which is about as likely as Osama Bin Laden building a 9/11 museum in New York City. Semans lost her job with the State in 2013. So she went to work as a blue ribbon panelist with the City of Fort Bragg. Earning $66,335 in 2014. But only $49,005 in 2015.
SEMANS’ CAREER PATH hadn’t been so hot in Sacramento either. According to Transparent California, her salary dropped by half over the three-year period ending in 2013. Finally bottoming out at $28,805. While at least six of her female colleagues earned $80,000 plus for the same position.
THE ‘PACIFIC STAR’ wound up in dry dock after the collision. According to Fugro spokesperson James Hailstones, it was because she was done with the job. But there’s a problem with that account. The latitude at Fort Bragg is 39.44° North. A NOAA Seafloor Mapping Program video at that location shows that the project was still going on two years later. At 39.41° North on November 23, 2012. Right where the Blue Whale was killed. Smack in the middle of the annual Grey Whale migration. In all likelihood, the job was done with the ‘Pacific Star’ when she went into dry dock. Each of her twin 12 cylinder EMD-567-c Detroit Diesel engines generates 8,239 foot pounds of torque. So when one of her propellers hit the Blue Whale’s backbone, it probably bent a drive shaft. Making an immediate — and expensive — haul-out necessary.
PACIFIC STAR FISHERIES, LLC was the ‘Pacific Star’s fifty-percent owner then. Putting Eugene Asicksik’s firm halfway on the hook for the repair bill. Shaktoolik is a seaside town near Nome, Alaska. Population 251. Elevation 22.97 feet — and dropping. It’s Asicksik’s home town. In fact, he’s the mayor. As CEO of the LLC, he’d earned $175,000 in salary during 2008. He was also Vice Chair of the Shaktoolik Native Corporation that year. Shaktoolik already had to be relocated once in 1967. And in 2009, was already facing problems. In a report stating that Shaktoolik was one of eight communities in Alaska ‘in greatest peril due to climate change.’ So the ‘Pacific Star’s situation wasn’t exactly good news for Asicksik.
SULLIVAN WAS IN SEATTLE for two months in early 2010. Refitting a 200 foot survey ship at Stabbert Maritime. He saw the ‘Pacific Star’ just floating there the entire time. Burning daylight. Nobody would answer questions about who the skipper was when the Blue Whale was killed. Ditto for anybody else on the ship that day. Fugro never said boo about anyone associated with that survey.
THE SMOKING GUN is on page twenty-five of the NOAA report dated April 16, 2010. Where David Briggs put his name on the dotted line as lead hydrographer. And then on page thirty-six. Showing that the Reson Seabat 8111 was mounted on the ‘Pacific Star’s keel. Compare that with the ‘Pacific Star’s equipment inventory for 2012. Revealing the sudden absence of that echoesounder. Then look at Briggs’ online resume. Showing that he was gone within a year. The spelling of Briggs’ current employer is just as telling. The ‘Advanced Research and Technology Corperation [sic].’
DRUNKEN SAILORS are a problem. And the bigger the ship, the bigger the problem. Like Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the Exxon Valdez. A 900 foot oil tanker that tore her steel bottom out on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989. Dumping half a million barrels of crude oil into the sea. Trashing one of the most productive fishing grounds in the U.S. Putting hundreds of fishermen out of work for decades. Hazelwood had been drinking that day — ‘moderately’ according to his testimony. A Coast Guard investigator named Mark Delozier disagreed. When he spoke with Hazelwood that night, the smell of alcohol ‘was strong enough to smell at a distance of a few feet.’ In 1991, the Coast Guard suspended his license for nine months. Putting Hazelwood back at the wheel by 1993.
ACCORDING TO STATE RECORDS, the ‘Pacific Star’ was the pride of a two ship fleet. Operated by Stabbert Maritime. The other is the ‘M/V Bluefin.’ Another 176’ foot survey vessel. Skippered in 2010 by Mark C. Fenner. A man with a drug problem. Fenner had two officers at the time. One of them was Ronald Lewis Thierfelder. Who’d gotten caught taking painkillers from the ship’s cook. After Fenner ordered a reasonable cause drug test, Thierfelder refused. When the Coast Guard prosecuted Fenner’s complaint on June 11, 2012, Thierfelder didn’t even bother to show up. Neither did his attorney. He faced two charges that day. One for insubordination. The other for refusing a drug test. Thierfelder skated on the second charge. And got his license suspended for thirty days on the first. Giving new meaning to an old expression — the high seas.
THOSE WERE BETTER DAYS for the ‘Pacific Star.’ She was thirty-five years old in 2009. Which is old for a working vessel in these waters. Where salt, rust and metal fatigue take a toll on every moving part. As do cost-conscious multinational corporations. Who’d never own a ship of that age. But lease her instead. That’s reflected in Coast Guard records. Showing that Fugro never owned the ‘Pacific Star.’ They only rented her. So in dry dock, the pressure was on. To get her back to work ASAP. And they did.
PLENTY OF CASH had gone into the ‘Pacific Star’ by then. But nobody remembers much about the crew. Asicksik told me, ‘We might have had a few people on the boat.’ But distances himself from any involvement. ‘I sent my resignation letter in 2007,’ he said. Which lines up with a newspaper article in the Nome Nugget. But according to the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation’s 2008 annual report, ‘In 2008, Eugene Asicksik received $175,000 in compensation for his position as Chief Executive Officer.’ It also says that the ‘Pacific Star’ ‘was chartered for coastal survey work off California during the last half of 2008.’ The balance sheet tells all. Asicksik’s ‘investment’ in her had grown by half a million during that year. Plus an equal amount in ‘goodwill’ — which didn’t appear to come back. During our phone conversation, Asicksik repeatedly referred to the ‘Pacific Star’ as ‘it.’ And seemed unconcerned with her fate. Equally so for that of the Blue Whale. Which makes sense. Because Asicksik and his fellow villagers hunt Beluga Whales. Something prohibited by the 1994 Marine Mammal Protection Act.
HER FINAL GIG was for Fugro. In the waters near San Luis Obispo. Doing seafloor mapping surveys until November of 2012. At age thirty-eight. Which is like being 75 years old for you and me. She was working with a younger counterpart. A vessel named ‘R/V Julie Anne’ — specifically designed for survey work. But after all the hubbub in Fort Bragg, the ‘Pacific Star’ couldn’t catch a break. A fisherman named Mark Hamerdinger — owner of two fishing vessels — ratted her out for running over his black cod traps. Costing him all of his gear. Something that might have been avoided if the ‘Pacific Star’ had propeller guards.
BLACK COD TRAPS are impossible to miss. They’re 30 inches square and 4 feet deep. Connected by rope to a brightly colored float. Fairly expensive too. According to Hamerdinger’s estimate, he lost $12,000 in traps alone. Plus another $100 grand or so in wages. Putting him in the hole so bad he lost one of his boats. Then went to truck driving school to stay afloat. Until he realized he couldn’t afford that. Hamerdinger wasn’t the only casualty. Fisherman Johnny Smith lost all his gear too. He even watched as the ‘Pacific Star’ ran right over it. Charter boat operator Michelle Rowley was fishing then as well. A third-generation sport fisherman, she was a vocal opponent of the MLPA in that area. Posing the question, ‘Why are the areas with all the fish being closed?’ According to Hamerdinger, the ‘Pacific Star’ ran her off a prime fishing spot. Rowley passed away on May 30, 2012. Making her unavailable for comment. But Johnny Smith was.
‘THEY WERE COMPLETE ASSHOLES,’ Smith recalls. ‘They were racing to run over my gear.’ He got some of it back. But only after looking. Eventually finding it ten miles from where he’d dropped it. So he got the ‘Pacific Star’s skipper on the radio. ‘There was a delay,’ he told me. ‘Like the mic was being handed off to someone who wasn’t in the wheelhouse.’ So I asked if he remembered anything unusual about the person he spoke with. ‘Yeah,’ Smith said. ‘He had a German accent.’ Hamerdinger vouched for Smith’s account.’No part of that has changed over the years,’ he told me. ‘Commercial fisherman experience enough that they don’t need to exaggerate stories.’
HAMERDINGER’S COMPLAINT wound up in a three-hundred plus page stack of letters written in opposition to a project proposal by PG&E. Something that Fugro had been licking its chops over. But on November 15, 2012, the Coastal Commission unanimously voted to turn it down. By 2015, the ‘Julie Anne’ was still working for Fugro. And the ‘Pacific Star’ wasn’t. Today she’s is moored in Seattle. Her status now is listed as ‘laid up.’ FCC records show that her compulsory license expired on July 18, 2015.
THE ‘PACIFIC STAR’S CURRENT OWNER is a factory ship named ‘S.B.S Provider.’ About the same size as the ‘Pacific Star.’ But ten years older. The Provider’s owner is Stikine Holdings LLC out of Sitka. Who’s undoubtedly scavenging the ‘Pacific Star’ for parts. Marking the end of her life.
FUGRO’S WRIST SLAP didn’t slow them down. On August 21, 2013, Surfrider Foundation reported another violation. On behalf of fishermen in San Luis Obispo. Claiming that Fugro still wasn’t using wildlife monitors on its survey vessels. State officials ignored the complaint. So Karma intervened. On October 31, 2014, Fugro’s stock price fell to a fifteen-year low of €11.02 on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. Forcing the resignation of its thirty-year veteran CEO. Thanks in part to a ‘strongly deteriorating oil and gas market.’
‘OPERATION CARWASH’ was more bad news for Fugro this year. The investigation was named for a service station in Brazil where bribes from private contractors to quasi-government officials — through oil giant Petrobras — were allegedly laundered. Although it began two years ago in Brazil, the U.S. Justice Department expanded the investigation this year into more than a dozen companies doing business there. One of them might be Fugro. In 2011, Petrobras awarded a five-year contract worth $180 million to them. And according to Fugro’s website, it signed another contract with Petrobras in February of this year. Although Fugro’s online Code of Conduct prohibits bribery and corruption, company executives may be hard pressed to explain why Fugro is the only private contractor listed on the California Seafloor Mapping Program website. How 840 miles of surf zone never got surveyed. And why there was no investigation into the death of that Blue Whale.
EUGENE ASICKSIK was the ‘Pacific Star’s CEO when the Blue Whale died. And many of his fellow Shaktoolik villagers were co-owners. But with sea level rise, they have no place to go. ‘It’s so scary — too scary — to live here in Shaktoolik,’ said Asicksik earlier this year. ‘Because we have virtually no way of escape.’
CHRISMAN’S SHENANIGANS fooled many — but not all. Journalist Dave Gurney of the Noyo News tried videotaping local MLPA meetings and was arrested for it on April 21, 2010. Gurney was never charged. But public outcry sparked a lawsuit under the Public Records Act a year later. Filed by Robert C. Fletcher. A former California Fish and Game official. On March 10, 2011, a California Superior Court ruled in Fletcher’s favor. Opening years of closed-door meetings to the public. And putting the kibosh on blue ribbon panels. By that time Chrisman had been replaced. By a fellow named John Laird on January 5, 2011. Who — unlike Chrisman — has an actual resume. After that, Chrisman disappeared.
DEAN MOYLES is still working for Fugro. As project manager for a multibeam survey in Penobscot Bay, Maine. He even wrote a press release about it. Saying that something called LiDAR would be used. But he was kind enough to publish his email address and cel phone number on that press release. Just in case anybody’d like to contact him. About what happened here. And why the Reson Seabat 8111 echoesounder got taken off the ‘Pacific Star’s keel. I know his email works. Because I tried it out. Asking him for comment on the report he’d filed with NOAA. His only response was, ‘We have no comment at this time.’
A BOATLOAD of Rikk Kvitek’s funding dried up. After Sullivan exposed CSUMB for doing surveys without permits, they had to apply for one. Through another entity. Bumping them from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ short list. And moving Sullivan up. Kvitek and Sullivan were on speaking terms before. But not anymore.
THE PRINCE of blue ribbon panelists left office on January 3, 2011. That was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Right after that, his trophy wife left him — Maria Shriver. Who split upon learning that Schwarzenegger had cheated on her with a Guatemalan housekeeper named Mildred Patricia ‘Patty’ Baena in 1997. Fathering a child who looked just like him.
LIKE JONAH, the painting of California’s seafloor cursed nearly everyone who profited from it. Fugro stock traded at nearly €80 before they got the contract. Today it’s hovering at €14. The Pacific Star has dropped anchor for good. Her native owners in Shaktoolik are losing their entire village. Jerry Wilson isn’t pitching LiDAR at Fugro anymore. Rikk Kvitek hasn’t got much seafloor mapping work these days. Dean Moyles has been inconveniently outed. Ron LeValley — once esteemed — is now reviled. And Sheila Semans lost more than a chunk of her paycheck. On July 7, 2012 her spouse died of cancer. At age 50.
THE ONLY ONE to dodge a bullet seems to have been Eric Poncelet and his PR firm. Who apparently have no shortage of work these days. Billing themselves out at up to $250 an hour. Tending organizations like the Marine Shipping Working Group. Who’ve been dealing with deadly Blue Whale strikes in the Channel Islands since 2007. Poncelet — who recently published a 106-page report on the subject — isn’t too keen on using the name ‘Blue Whale’ in his reports. Or the word ‘MLPA’ on his resume. So I called him up.
PONCELET’S MEMORY is pretty good about what happened here. Especially on the subject of working group stakeholders. Including the selection process and what it was modeled on. So I asked him about the ‘Delphi Method.’ Developed by the Rand Corporation in the 1950s. Where blue ribbon panels began. He’d never heard of it. I asked him what kind of result could be expected out of a process run by a public relations firm. ‘We’re not just a public relations firm,’ he insisted. ‘We do third party neutral mediation too.’ Then I reminded him of his firm’s website and their GSA Professional Service Schedule. That lists ‘Public Relations Services’ — but not mediation. ‘I’m a mediator,’ he told me. ‘That’s my role.’ Huh. Just before, he’d said that his billing category was as a ‘Senior Facilitator.’ So I looked it up. At a website called mediate.com. It lists 232 mediators in California. None of them with the name Poncelet. Kearns & West. Or CONCUR. Next I asked why the Fort Bragg whale strike wasn’t mentioned in his Channel Islands report. And vice versa. He had no answer. Which is strange. Because five minutes earlier, he’d told me there was an exchange of information between MPA regions.
HIS VOCABULARY is considerable. But I noticed the name ‘Blue Whale’ is never mentioned. So I asked him to direct me to anything he’d ever written that mentions it. A single web page would do. He promised to get back to me on that. Jim Martin noticed it too. ‘He facilitated all the meetings,’ Martin told me. ‘But he definitely avoided it.’ Then I asked Martin if Dr. Poncelet had ever mentioned the five Channel Island Blue Whale ship strike deaths from 2007. ‘No,’ Martin told me. ‘He didn’t.’
MY FINAL QUESTION was a zinger. ‘What happens when a public relations firm gets bad publicity?’ I asked. ‘Who do they turn to?’ Poncelet was stumped. But he wouldn’t let me off the phone without telling me that he’d already been sued by an unnamed party in Fort Bragg over this. ‘This has all been very painful for me,’ he insisted. Contradicting an earlier statement that he was satisfied with the outcome. Then he added, ‘I’m concerned with the direction of some of your questions.’ Imagine that. He asked if I’d be kind enough to send him a copy of my article before it was published. No dice. But I assured him that when it was published, there’d be a comment section where he could correct anything I’d gotten wrong. And that I’d run a fact check by him before filing it. He accepted.
THE BIG WINNER turned out to be the State of California. Back in 2002-03 — before implementation of the MLPA — funding for its Fish & Wildlife Department was $271.3 million. By 2014/15 that amount more than doubled to $550 million. Thanks to a category titled ‘Other Funds.’ That nearly quintupled over the same time period. ‘It was a public/private partnership,’ Poncelet told me. ‘The first of its kind.’ Most of that money came from the Resource Legacy Fund. A nonprofit operated by a blue ribbon panel of its very own. As indicated by a twenty-member board of directors. Not a single one of them with letters after their name.
RATIONAL THOUGHT took a U-turn turn after 2000. Starting with the inauguration of Dubbya back in ’01. Intelligence trumped policy before then. But not after. The Downing Street Memo of 2002 shows that. Revealing that ‘the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.’ That concept came west to California in ’03. When ‘The Terminator’ took office in Sacramento. It’s obvious in all of his appointments. Including the Department of Fish & Wildlife. Where commissioners — at this writing — show no Ph.D.s. And that trickled all the way down to MLPA’s Science Advisory Team. Where members with Doctorates were also stripped of their letters. To this day, nobody in the entire food chain has gotten them back. Including Dr. Poncelet at Kearns & West.
THE DELPHI METHOD creates the appearance of public participation — while actually dampening it. Which is probably why Dr. Poncelet’s memory wasn’t so good. In fact, it was used by Kearns & West for the Southern California MPA region in 2011. Where Poncelet was the lead facilitator. And again for the FDA in 2015. With multiple K&W facilitators. A citizens action group in Marin County shows how to fight back in a YouTube video titled, ‘Derailing the Delphi Technique.’ Even academics agree that bad information can undermine the Delphi Method. Finding that, ‘if panelists are misinformed about a topic, the use of Delphi may only add confidence to their ignorance.’
SO I CALLED Dr. Poncelet again. To confirm what’d he’d told me about that. ‘Maybe I’ve heard of it,’ he said. ‘But only because I Googled it.’ He went on to explain that it probably first came as an unfounded accusation. From someone in my area. ‘But I’ve never practiced it,’ he continued. ‘Whatever it is.’ He went on to clarify that the outcome of the local MPA wasn’t actually satisfactory. But ‘complex’ and ‘yet to be seen.’ The satisfactory part was actually the agreement of the stakeholders. ‘We were really pleased with that,’ Dr. Poncelet explained.
HE ALSO CAUGHT A GOOF. That the MLPA wasn’t the first public/private partnership between the government and the private sector. So I looked it up. Sure enough, he was right. In fact, it was actually preceded by the Manhattan Project. Whose nuclear waste is now poisoning the fishing grounds off San Francisco. Which paved the way for my last two questions. I asked, ’Did you ever feel the State was setting you and your company up to do a shitty job they didn’t want?’ He answered no. And for my closing question — ‘Do you think that ships have souls?’ He didn’t know. Note to self — How can you not know that?
PONCELET CLOSED with a question of his own. ‘I’m just a facilitator,’ he said. ‘Why are you talking to me?’ Then I reminded him of what he’d said earlier. About being the co-designer of the MLPAI process. My interest was understanding its origin. Which is what I told him at the beginning of our first interview. Then he referred me to a lady named Melissa Miller-Henson. Who he claimed was equally responsible. But according to her resume, she didn’t head the program until 2007. Poncelet was involved much earlier. In 2005 — when Missy wasn’t around.
THE STATE is bad at lots of things. With one possible exception — paperwork. Most of which can be found through Google. So I looked Dr. Poncelet up there. And got a bingo.
‘On day one, CONCUR introduced a draft set of proposed ground rules, which had been heavily informed by the stakeholder interview process. CONCUR characterized the ground rules as both a set of mutual commitments and a first opportunity for the RSG to make an agreement. Ground rules pertaining to the role of alternates and relations with the media, in particular, drew heavy attention.’
CONCUR prepared that memo on June 17, 2005. Poncelet’s name sticks out like a sore thumb. The ‘stakeholder interview process’ that had so heavily informed the MLPAI is shrouded in mystery. A ‘complete list’ of members is supposedly available at the Fish & Game website. But the link doesn’t go anywhere. Neither does CONCUR. Their website is up-to-date. But not their license. The Secretary of State has suspended CONCUR, Inc. for some reason. Leaving Dr. Poncelet twisting in the wind.
JEFF TEATHER is a stand-up guy. Literally. He tried joining the U.S. Army in 1967. In the heat of the Vietnam War. But was rejected for being a quarter-inch too tall. Teather’s a forty-year veteran of the construction industry. Fifteen of which were as labor relations manager for the Western United States. He’s familiar with mediation. So I called him up. To ask when mediators are normally called in. Telling him about Dr. Poncelet’s process. ‘I’d be suspicious of a process like that,’ Teather replied. ‘Mediators usually show up when there’s a problem.’ Then I asked if he’d ever heard of a public relations firm doing mediation.
AFTER HE STOPPED LAUGHING, I asked him one more question. About the description ‘third party neutral mediation.’ And whether or not that term is customary. ‘Mediators had better be neutral,’ Teather added. ‘That’s like starting a sentence with ‘To tell you the truth.’’ Which is exactly what I thought. Just about that time an email showed up. Linked to a news article. Revealing that Dr. Poncelet is involved with offshore energy development. And has been for years. Duh.
PONCELET made two more requests for a copy of my article before publication. For quality control, of course. Then sent me an email ‘strongly requesting’ that I not quote him. Suggesting that I focus instead on ‘other more senior officials.’ So I went straight to the top. At the Fish & Game website. Run by director Charlton ‘Chuck’ Bonham. He’s got reams of documents there. Including the memo identifying Dr. Poncelet as architect of the MLPAI process. In terms of not quoting him, I told him it was up to my editor. Who had a great idea. To make that decision with Dr. Poncelet’s process. Complete with a facilitator. Stakeholders. A Science Advisory Team. And a Blue Ribbon Task Force. With the same level of transparency that California taxpayers got from Dr. Poncelet. On the same schedule. Meanwhile, it can be run as a preliminary article. To be finalized as soon as the Blue Ribbon Task Force gets around to it.
PHOTOGRAPHS of the Blue Whale’s remains show what happens when blue ribbon panelists take over. Semans trotted one out during a PowerPoint presentation at Fort Bragg City Hall recently. Showing how two of the whale’s vertebrae had been pulverized by the ‘Pacific Star’s propeller. In another, less than two hundred bones can be seen. All of them bearing telltale stains from the dirt they’d been buried in for three years. Two of those vertebrae sit on the floor of the guest center. Both showing obvious rodent damage. Any full-blown skeleton display is bound to look more like a crime scene than a museum exhibit. Minus the yellow tape. Embarrassing the folks in charge. So it’s not likely to leave that shipping container anytime soon.
HOW IT GOT THERE is another story. The beach where the whale landed is State property. The remains were transported from there to an undisclosed location fifteen miles away — near the town of Mendocino — where they were hidden. Only then did the City of Fort Bragg get permission to have them. From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Even though the whale died in State waters. The permit authorizes the City of Fort Bragg to possess the remains for ‘educational’ purposes. To be ‘permanently labeled’ with a fourteen-digit permit number. A complete Blue Whale skeleton is made up of 356 individual bones. The only identification on those bones today are one-inch aluminum disks. Like dog tags, only cheaper. Fastened to two giant vertebrae by piano wire. Stamped with the numbers 15 and 16. In a tiny visitor center oddly named the ‘Crow’s Nest.’
LEVALLEY’S PRISON SENTENCE was three years. Then it was reduced to ten months. On condition that he pay $852,000 in restitution to the Yurok. His partner in crime was a tweaker named Roland Raymond. Neither have the resources to foot that bill. Unless you consider the contents of the shipping container. And LeValley’s uncanny ability to find donors.
THANKS TO SCIENCE, the State finally changed its policy on survey permits. Over a 2014 scientific study titled ‘200 kHz Commercial Sonar Systems Generate Lower Frequency Side Lobes Audible to Some Marine Mammals.’ The report didn’t specifically identify Blue Whales — but it didn’t exclude them either. Tending to confirm Sullivan’s nagging suspicion about Reson Seabat echoesounders. That they may actually may hurt Blue Whales. Today the State requires permit holders to use ‘soft start’ procedures on the equipment. Herding marine mammals out of the survey area before the echoesounders get turned up.
THE MAPPING PROJECT can be seen at the U.S. Geological Survey’s website. Showing surveys from Salt Point in Sonoma County to the Mexican border. But nothing North of that. A peek at Google Maps shows the complete absence of surf-zone surveys for the entire California coastline. Including the one off MacKerricher State Park that’s on Sullivan’s website. A potentially tragic omission for local mariners.
ONE USGS MAP is of particular interest. It’s the one for Salt Point. Showing amazing detail deeper than thirty feet — but nothing shallower. The oddest thing appears in the fine print. Stating that Fugro used a Reson Seabat 8101 multibeam echoesounder at 200 kHz to do that survey. Instead of the Reson Seabat 8111 kHz echoesounder it used off Fort Bragg. At 100 kHz. The 2015 map is co-authored by Rikk Kvitek. Yet there’s no mention of Fugro salesman Jerry Wilson, Kvitek’s previous co-author.
THE ABSENCE of those maps was confirmed. By a USGS bigwig named Guy Cochrane. Via email. With the kind of explanation you might expect. Now that the MPAs have been established, maps aren’t a priority. And since they’re not a priority, there’s no money for them.
THE GENIUS of Jerry Wilson’s sales pitch can be found in a presentation from 2009. At a conference in Cape Town, South Africa. Where he describes the wonders of LiDAR — pronounced LIE-dar — bathymetry. Showing beaucoup images of near-shore and surf zone surveys done by Fugro. With non-invasive airplanes. One can just imagine how Dr. Kvitek fell in love with this high-tech idea. Only to have it swapped out with a low-tech solution like the ‘Pacific Star’ at the last moment. Wilson set the hook by name dropping. As vice president of something called the Marine Technical Society. An organization governed by people bearing no letters after their names. With only one exception. Two officers with the suffix ‘P.E.’ Or professional engineer. A degree far from marine science.
THE ENTIRE PURPOSE of the California Seafloor Mapping Program was giving blue ribbon panelists the tools to create Marine Protected Areas. With detailed maps. One of those areas is at MacKerricher State Park. Where Sullivan did his multibeam survey. The one posted on his website. That map doesn’t appear on any State website. Or any Federal website. Nor do any multibeam surveys from the Sonoma County to the Oregon border. Nonetheless, those panelists managed to create thirty-four MPAs in this region out of whole cloth. Leaving Kvitek with the maps. California taxpayers to pick up an annual $38 million tab. And a seventy-two foot endangered female Blue Whale to die for nothing.
COUNTERPOINTS can be always be argued. And they should be. Including the following:
- It was an accident that nobody cares about. People in Mendocino care about whales. It was home to the Whale War of 1976. The 2009 Blue Whale strike here was covered up. By a public/private partnership that’s been covering up Blue Whale strikes since 2007. With help from a convicted felon. Now the remains are being covered up. In a locked forty-foot shipping container. People can’t care about something they’re not allowed to see.
- The ‘Pacific Star’ launches were doing Fugro’s near-shore surveys. It wasn’t when that Blue Whale was killed. It happened in 90 feet of water. Look at Sullivan’s MacKerricher survey. It reached depths of 110 feet with a 72’ boat. Then look at his survey off Point Conception from 2002. At depths of up to 900 feet. With a 26’ boat. Certainly the ‘Pacific Star’s 28.9’ launches could have done surveys. Just as sure as she should have done them. But that whale was chopped up by a six-foot propeller. Powered by a 3,000 horse power engine. At a speed of five knots. The ‘Pacific Star’ was surveying that day.
- Propeller guards aren’t practical for larger boats. Check out the ones on Sullivan’s 72’ trawler. They came with the boat. And there’s not a lot of engineering involved. They’re just steel braces welded to a steel bottom. Fugro has claimed that propeller guards are unsafe. That crab pot ropes can get caught in them. Causing propellers to jam. Look at the area Sullivan surveyed at MacKerricher. It includes the entire stretch of Ten Mile Beach all the way to Westport. That region is loaded with crab pot gear. Then ask Sullivan if his propellers ever got jammed there. They didn’t. Because he had propeller guards.
- Blue Whales can’t hear certain echoesounders. There’s little evidence that Blue Whales can hear echoesounders. There aren’t many Blue Whales around to test that theory on. Because they’re endangered. Then consider the new regulations for a ‘soft start’ on echoesounders. And the scientific study it references. Which weakens that argument.
- The ‘Pacific Star’s echoesounder could only be heard by toothed whales. Even if that’s true, they’re still marine mammals. And all subject to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Yet another reason to have a marine life observer on board. A rule that Fugro ignored.
- Nobody was at any kind of fault. Several people were at fault here. Including Fugro. Who paid $13,000 in fines. A marine life observer should have been on the Pacific Star. Making the Blue Whale’s death preventable.
- A marine life observer on the ‘Pacific Star’ wouldn’t have seen the Blue Whale. Blue Whales are the largest mammals in the world. Their spouts are unmistakeable. The fact that Fugro repeatedly failed to have marine life observers on board their survey vessels for years on end undermines that argument. Violating the terms of their permit. Over and over again. Denying themselves any data to support that argument.
- USGS maps weren’t necessary to delineate the MPAs. Look at the dates on those maps. They range from 2012 in Southern California. To 2015 in Northern California. With three counties missing. Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte. There are over thirty Marine Protected Areas in these counties alone. All of them done without USGS maps. Maybe it could done with raw survey data. But if so, what’s the point of making USGS maps? Even so, why create those maps after the MPAs have been laid out?
- Alcohol and/or drug use wasn’t a factor. Then why did no officer report the incident directly to the Coast Guard? The ‘Pacific Star’ had an FCC license. Surely she had a radio. Why not call the authorities right away? Unless an officer was under the influence. Then there’s the fact that Fugro has never released the name of any of the ‘Pacific Star’s crew. Which supports the idea that something was a factor.
ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT, this was arguably the worst maritime disaster in Mendocino history. There’s no excuse for what happened. The people responsible — blue ribbon panelists and all — will be remembered for what they did. What they should have done. And the distance between the two.
I FIRST CONTACTED Sullivan a few days ago. Nearly seven years after the incident that killed the Blue Whale off Fort Bragg. He’d already gone public with his warnings to State officials by then. But he told me that no investigator had ever contacted him about it. I’d only reached him after seeing his testimony. That’s when he told me what was behind it all — the encounter off Point Conception in 2002. And since he thought that Phil Torres didn’t see what happened that day, he’d never mentioned it. Nonetheless, he gave me Phil’s phone number. So at least his position and activity that day could be corroborated. Not that it mattered anymore. Sullivan says that State officials ‘blackballed’ him for embarrassing them. Then rewarded Fugro with two permits. Putting Sullivan’s survey company out of business.
SURE ENOUGH, Sullivan was right. The current list of State offshore survey permits shows seventeen permit holders. None of them are Sea Surveyor, Inc. One of them is Fugro Pelagos, Inc. Another is Fugro West, Inc. Both in California. A search at the Secretary of State shows fifteen corporations bearing the name Fugro. Nine of which are inactive. Including Fugro West, which has been dissolved — but somehow still holds a permit. Nearly half of the firms on the State list today hold permits into 2018. Indicating ‘special treatment’ for Sullivan.
LIKE FUGRO, eight of the other permit holders on that list are corporations. Sullivan thinks that’s wrong. ‘Ships do surveys, not corporations,’ says Sullivan. ‘The ‘Pacific Star’ shouldn’t have been doing any multibeam surveys in California waters,’ he insisted. ‘Not without propeller guards.’
SULLIVAN is retired today. Having finally given up his battle with the State of California. ‘All I want is for things to get better,’ he said. ‘But I think that Blue Whale skeleton should be put together so everyone can see what all those blue ribbon panelists did to her.’ Finally, I gave Phil Torres a ring. To see what he remembered that day off Point Conception.
‘I saw it,’ he said. ‘It’s hard to miss a Blue Whale.’
COMMERCIAL MEDICAL CANNABIS ACTIVITY FOR RECREATIONAL USE
by Jonathan Middlebrook
Back to the future of cannabis cultivation in Mendocino County. I was writing about a Big Issue on Thursday: What should we voters decide, yea or nay, on cannabis & other matters, and what should our Supervisors, with their access to County staff and obligation to consider overall public good, enact in painstaking, nigh-indecipherable detail? Posed that way probably most voters will agree that the citizenry should vote for particular candidates and for occasional large, guiding principles. That is, Vote for Supervisor X because s/he crafted a law which made practicable the voter's “desire to establish a local regulatory framework, including heritage appellations, to make medical cannabis available to qualified patients and their caregivers and to avoid the reported negative impacts that may arise from unregulated cultivation, processing and distribution activities, including but not limited to offensive odors, illegal sales and distribution of cannabis, trespassing, theft, violent robberies and robbery attempts, fire hazards, and problems associated with mold, fungus, and pests.” Probably most of us (though not all) would vote for Candidate X, if his/her claim seemed true. The long quotation (with its suggestion of toking caregivers) is from the Whereas-es section of the “Mendocino Heritage Act” & is about as far as voters should go. Leave the rest to Supervisors & staff, which the MHA will preclude. Among other reasons for such wise voter behavior would be that many of the regulatory details (and absence of same) of the MHA seem to contradict that high-minded Whereas. Where, in the details of the MHA, is application of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act)? Where, in the operative portions of the proposed MHA, is direction for avoiding the long list of “reported negative impacts”?--Understandably, nowhere. Understandably, because the MHA was not written by Supervisors, with their allegiance to the public at large, but by lobbyists for the emerging industry which will “engage in commercial medical cannabis activity for recreational use” (Sec. 6.22.170). That's odd language on its face (“commercial medical . activity” for “recreational use”?) I won't write the jokey slogan that's at my fingertips.
In general lobbyists try to externalize the social costs of their clients' behavior: Standing, poisoned tanoak? Not MRC's problem. Global warming? Not Mr. Peabody's problem, not even a Chinese problem with coal-fired plants coming on line. Similarly, despite the lofty Whereas I've quoted, the MHA does not detail provisions to deal with “trespassing, theft, violent robberies and robbery attempts” etc. Police, law enforcement's problems, not growers'. And, btw, remove commercial cannabis activities (which for the foreseeable future will attract criminal interest at a local, intimate level) from direct law enforcement oversight.
I remain a fan of the MHA's Whereas-es, which the provisions of MHA pretty much subvert. I particularly like, “WHEREAS, a significant part of Mendocino County’s culture and economy is founded on cannabis cultivation on small family farms with a heritage of decades of specialized agricultural cultivation and skilled cultivation practices, and the local culture and economy will thrive if famers [sic] are encouraged to work with the plant and ecosystem in a regenerative and sustainable way.”
Despite shaky syntax & proof-reading error, I agree. And therefore I worry.
I worry because, as I've written before, I think this new wave of grabbit & run cannabis cultivation leads to absentee ownership and share-cropping behavior which together add up to poor environmental stewardship and other “reported negative impacts.”
So, with decorous affection I watch two young neighbor families—one with a good well—work to make a go of small, resident farming. I also wave to the day laborers, whose drive-bys help me train Nick. In that supportive mood I propose an additional pair of regulatory provisions: (a) each day laborer employed in cannabis production, etc. be paid at the CA minimum wage or above, and (b) there be an exemption to that rule for the immediate family of owner-residents. O brave new world, that hath such people in it!
(On the ridge between Redwood & Potter valleys & elsewhere, California labor law defines “immediate family” as “spouse, domestic partner, cohabitant, child, stepchild, grandchild, parent, stepparent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandparent, great grandparent, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepsibling, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or first cousin (that is, a child of an aunt or uncle).” Large-family farming? firstname.lastname@example.org.)
CATCH OF THE DAY, September 9, 2016
Dean, Dirksen, Furline
THOMAS DEAN, Chico/Ukiah. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, parole violation.
KEVIN DIRKSEN, Santa Maria/Ukiah. Child abduction, protective order violation, failure to appear.
CODY FURLINE, Fort Bragg. Battery with serious injury.
Hoy, Johns, Kochie
MICHAEL HOY, Placerville/Fort Bragg. Refusal to provide ID to peace officer.
CHRISTOPHER JOHNS, Upper Lake/Ukiah. Suspended license, probation revocation.
ANTHONY KOCHIE JR., Ukiah. Failure to appear.
Shepherd, Shi, Taylor
RUBY SHEPHERD, Willits. DUI, child endangerment.
WEI SHI, Redwood Valley. DUI-alcohol&drugs..
THERON TAYLOR, Willits. Parole violation.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HALTS WORK ON PART OF PIPELINE PROJECT
by Dave Kolpack & James MacPherson
Near The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, N.D. (AP) — The federal government stepped into the fight over the Dakota Access oil pipeline Friday, ordering work to stop on one segment of the project in North Dakota and asking the Texas-based company building it to "voluntarily pause" action on a wider span that an American Indian tribe says holds sacred artifacts.
The government's order came minutes after a judge rejected a request by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt construction of the $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline.
The tribe, whose cause has drawn thousands to join their protest, has challenged the Army Corps of Engineers' decision to grant permits for the pipeline at more than 200 water crossings. Tribal leaders allege that the project violates several federal laws and will harm water supplies. The tribe also says ancient sites have been disturbed during construction.
The tribe's chairman, Dave Archambault II, spoke at the state Capitol in front of several hundred people, some carrying signs that read "Respect Our Water" and "Water Is Sacred." He called the federal announcement "a beautiful start" and told reporters that the dispute is a long way from over.
"A public policy win is a lot stronger than a judicial win," he said. "Our message is heard."
A joint statement from the Army and the Departments of Justice and the Interior said construction bordering or under Lake Oahe would not go forward and asked the Texas-based pipeline builder, Energy Transfer Partners, to stop work 20 miles to the east and west of the lake while the government reconsiders "any of its previous decisions."
The statement also said the case "highlighted the need for a serious discussion" about nationwide reforms "with respect to considering tribes' views on these types of infrastructure projects."
Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for the company, said it had no comment.
The president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council said he was disappointed with the government's decision to intervene and called it "flagrant overreach" that will result in more oil being moved by trucks and trains.
The 1,172-mile project will carry nearly a half-million barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota's oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois.
In denying the tribe's request for a temporary injunction, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington said that the court "does not lightly countenance any depredation of lands that hold significance" to the tribe and that, given the federal government's history with the tribe, the court scrutinized the permitting process "with particular care."
Nonetheless, the judge wrote, the tribe "has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted here."
Attorney Jan Hasselman with the environmental group Earthjustice, who filed the lawsuit on the tribe's behalf, said earlier this week any such decision would be challenged. "We will have to pursue our options with an appeal and hope that construction isn't completed while that (appeal) process is going forward," he said.
Tribal historian LaDonna Brave Bull Allard said Boasberg's ruling gave her "a great amount of grief. My heart is hurting, but we will continue to stand, and we will look for other legal recourses."
Earlier in the day, thousands of protesters, many from tribes around the country, gathered near the reservation that straddles the North and South Dakota border.
"There's never been a coming together of tribes like this," according to Judith LeBlanc, a member of the Caddo Nation in Oklahoma and director of the New York-based Native Organizers Alliance. People came from as far as New York and Alaska, some bringing their families and children, and hundreds of tribal flags dotted the camp, along with American flags flown upside-down in protest.
The judge's order was announced over a loudspeaker there. John Nelson of Portland, Oregon, came to the camp to support his grandson, Archambault. The 82-year-old says he was not surprised by the ruling, "but it still hurts."
State authorities announced this week that law enforcement officers from across the state were being mobilized at the protest site. They said some National Guard members will work security at traffic checkpoints and another 100 would be on standby. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association asked the Justice Department to send monitors to the site because it said racial profiling is occurring.
Nearly 40 people have been arrested since the protest began in April, including Archambault.
A week ago, protesters and construction workers were injured when, according to tribal officials, workers bulldozed sites on private land that the tribe says in court documents are "of great historic and cultural significance." Energy Transfer Partners denied the allegations.
The state's Private Investigation and Security Board received complaints about the use of dogs and will look into whether the private security teams at the site are properly registered and licensed, board attorney Monte Rogneby said Friday, adding that he would not name the firms.
On Thursday, North Dakota's archaeologist said a piece of private land that was not previously surveyed by the state would be surveyed for artifacts next week.
The company plans to complete the pipeline this year, and said in court papers that stopping the project would cost $1.4 billion the first year, mostly due to lost revenue in hauling crude.
A status conference in the tribe's lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 16.
(Courtesy, the Associated Press)
DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE PROTESTORS TARGET U.S. COURTHOUSE, U.S. ARMY OF ENGINEERS IN SACRAMENTO ON FRIDAY
by Dan Bacher
SACRAMENTO – The U.S. Courthouse (11:15 a.m.) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (12 Noon) in Sacramento are being targeted for protests Friday in support of Native Americans and others who are attempting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline – a battle turned violent when security personnel at the site used dogs to attack protestors.
The courthouse protest begins at 11:15 a.m. Friday/Sept. 9 at 501 I Street - Friday U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg is expected to make a decision regarding the Tribe's requested preliminary injunction. The preliminary injunction is a request to the Court to preserve the status quo until the issues can be fully resolved
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers protest begins at 12Noon Friday/Sept. 9 at 1325 J St. – the USACE is the primary federal agency that granted permits needed for the pipeline to be constructed. The USACE decides who grants permits for projects - the protest is to encourage them to deny the permit for the pipeline.
Courthouse protestors will march to the 12 Noon Army Corps of Engineer protest.
Organizers of both protests said "This is a gathering for ALL peoples who want to peacefully stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline ... and also send all the water & land protectors at Standing Rock a message of unified strength."
Tuesday, other protestors went to Citibank – one of the largest funders of the pipeline – in Sacramento (Alhambra branch) to deliver, inside the bank, a letter opposing the pipeline. About 2 dozen people participated.
Dakota Access Pipeline Company Attacks Native American #nodapl
Protesters with Dogs and Pepper Spray More: ow.ly/c9Jc303SkTI
DOJ DECISION ON STANDING ROCK
Joint Statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior Regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued the following statement regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
“We appreciate the District Court’s opinion on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act. However, important issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations and their members regarding the Dakota Access pipeline specifically, and pipeline-related decision-making generally, remain. Therefore, the Department of the Army, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior will take the following steps.
The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.
“Furthermore, this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects. Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.
“Finally, we fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely. We urge everyone involved in protest or pipeline activities to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. Of course, anyone who commits violent or destructive acts may face criminal sanctions from federal, tribal, state, or local authorities. The Departments of Justice and the Interior will continue to deploy resources to North Dakota to help state, local, and tribal authorities, and the communities they serve, better communicate, defuse tensions, support peaceful protest, and maintain public safety.
“In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.”
16-1034 Office of Public Affairs http://www.justice.gov/opa/ Updated September 9, 2016
THE REAL SCANDAL of this photo isn't these two wretched, feckless drug addicts - it's the criminal greed and incompetence of the US government, drug companies and doctors which enabled them.
by Piers Morgan
It's like a scene from the Walking Dead. Two crazed zombies slumped across a car, mouths open and eyes sunken. Behind them is a four-year-old boy. This is the horrifying reality of heroin-ravaged America. It would be shocking enough if this were a one-off incident. But it's not. It happens every single day all over America in myriad manifestations. The people taking it are from every walk of life; all ages, all colors, all creeds, all sections of the wealth and work status divide. In fact, many of the new breed of heroin addicts are prosperous white women with families and good jobs. So who is to blame for this devastating epidemic? The U.S. Government and U.S. medics, that's who.
The ‘zombies’ are Rhonda Pasek – the boy’s mother - and her boyfriend James Acord, both so out of their heads on smack they can’t even stay conscious let alone operate a car.
It was 3.11pm when their Ford Explorer was stopped for driving erratically before screeching to a halt near a school bus that was dropping off children.
When the officer approached the vehicle, he noticed Pasek was unconscious and the driver, Acord, appeared intoxicated with his head bobbing back and forth and his speech almost unintelligible.
He then passed out like Pasek.
They’ve both now been charged with various offences and the boy placed in the custody of children’s services.
We’d have known nothing about this if the local police department hadn’t decided enough was enough and made public the photos they took at the scene.
I’m glad they did, for it may jolt us out of our collective blinkered apathy and ignorance.
It’s hard to imagine a more unsettling, disturbing and frankly despicable set of images.
One which will cause every parent who sees it to scream ‘DISGRACE!’
And one which will cause every U.S. police officer to slowly shake their head and mutter: ‘No surprise.’
It would be shocking enough if this were a one-off incident.
But it’s not. It happens every single day all over America in myriad manifestations.
‘We are well aware that some may be offended by these images and for that we are truly sorry,’ said the City of East Liverpool’s police department, ‘but it is time the non drug using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis. The poison known as heroin has taken a strong grip on many communities not just ours, the difference is we are willing to fight this problem until it’s gone and if that means we offend a few people along the way we are prepared to deal with that.’
How big is this problem?
Well, two days ago, just 260 miles down the road in Hamilton County, Ohio, an unprecedented immunity deal was launched permitting anyone to turn in a stash of drugs without facing criminal charges.
‘There is an emergency in this community and we’ve got to do something to get it off the streets,’ explained Hamilton County District Attorney Joe Deters.
Anyone can now drop off narcotics, no questions asked.
‘We realize we’re not going to be able to arrest ourselves out of this,’ said Sheriff Jim Neil.
Think about those words for a moment.
A police force admitting that heroin addiction is now so prevalent they cannot stem it through the normal process of law.
The statistics are mind-boggling: authorities said that nearly 300 heroin overdoses were reported in the Cincinnati area since August 19 alone, 174 of them in a six-day period.
That’s more than one an hour.
In Hamilton County, the number of accidental drug overdose deaths doubled to 414 last year from 204 in 2012.
This year so far there have been 92 overdoses reported a month, more than double the monthly average for the first six months of 2015.
These horrifying numbers are being replicated right across America, a country where 435,000 people now admit taking heroin every month and where heroin-related deaths have quadrupled this century.
Even more worryingly, the strength of the heroin is accelerating at an even deadlier rate.
The New York Times recently reported that many of those deaths are being caused by the growing use of super-powerful synthetic opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil.
Fentanyl can be 50 times stronger than heroin, and carfentanil – an animal tranquilizer used on elephants - can be 100 times stronger than fentanyl.
This hideous hybrid heroin is now so potent that authorities won’t even field test it: one sniff could KILL a drug dog, an amount smaller than a snowflake could kill a human being.
The people taking it are from every walk of life; all ages, all colours, all creeds, all sections of the wealth and work status divide.
In fact, many of the new breed of heroin addicts are prosperous white women with families and good jobs.
The only common denominator is that once you’re hooked, you’re on a fast track to hell that often results in death.
So who is to blame for this devastating epidemic?
The U.S. Government and U.S. medics, that’s who.
They have conspired to make America the most pill-popping nation on earth – marketing, promoting and selling a mountainous array of prescription drugs to anyone they can cynically snare into the multi-billion-dollar business.
There’s now a clear gateway emerging from this unedifying alliance: three out of four heroin addicts in America start out using, and becoming addicted to, prescription drugs.
How did this happen?
Take just one example: in 1995, the Food and Drug Administration approved the opioid analgesic OxyContin, made predominantly from the opium-derivative oxycodone.
It grew rapidly to represent a third of America’s entire painkiller market, actively prescribed by doctors being paid large sums of cash by drugs companies to promote it.
By 2010, America, with 5% of the world’s population, was consuming 80% of the oxycodone market.
The volume of opioid-analgesic overdoses and deaths increased almost as fast as the sales of the drug.
Understandably, given this surge in demand, the world’s opium producers are clapping their filthy hands in glee.
Mexico’s opium output rose 50% in 2014 thanks, it was reported, to a ‘voracious American appetite” for heroin.
Afghanistan’s poppy fields expanded by 36% from 2012 to 2013 alone, and are now at their all-time record levels of cultivation – the majority of its end product heroin ending up in America.
So today’s appalling photographs of Rhonda Pasek and James Acord are not some weird anomaly.
They are the norm for many parts of America and the situation is worsening dramatically.
So by all means recoil in horror when you look at these pictures because they are indeed truly horrifying.
But to sit back and glibly mock and scorn these two feckless addicts for their appalling negligence is to miss the point about what caused it.
America has a terrible problem with illegal drugs, and heroin especially.
It has a far worse problem, however, with legal drugs.
The lawful pharmaceutical industry in the United States is the most insidious, vile and addiction-provoking monster of its type on the planet.
Until it is properly confronted and curtailed, the migration of addicts from legal highs to heroin hell will continue at its fast and furious rate.
So my real wrath isn’t reserved for this wretched couple collapsed at the wheel of their car.
It’s aimed squarely at every politician and doctor who has enabled this horrendous scourge on society by encouraging Americans to medicate themselves in such a disastrously excessive and unnecessary manner.
They’ve created a real life Walking Dead.
(Daily Mail On-Line)
COLIN KAEPERNICK IS WINNING
by Dave Zirin
The most common response to Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest against police violence in the corridors of the sports world has been, “I support his goal, but not his methods.” This has been “the line” from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice to quarterbacks Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. It’s a perspective that has extended to the liberal commentariat, encapsulated in cringeworthy fashion by Atlantic columnist Peter Beinart who wrote a piece on September 1st titled “How Colin Kaepernick’s Protest Misfired.”
Yes, mere days after Kaepernick went public with his stand and amidst a whirlwind of coverage, Beinart was there to preemptively judge it a failure because openly protesting the flag “opens him up to charges of disrespect.”
Beinart bends over backward to say that while he believes police violence and “racism” to be a bad thing, “tactically there is a better way.” He writes, “it’s one thing to defend Kaepernick’s right to protest and to applaud his outrage over state-sanctioned racism. It’s another to believe that his particular form of protest is wise.”
One wonders if we’ll see a mea culpa from Beinart and many others, because, as the NFL season begins, Kaepernick is looking like a tactical maestro. Not only did his team the San Francisco 49ers keep him on the roster when many predicted that he would be cut, but the team pledged $1 million to organizations dedicated to “the cause of improving racial and economic inequality and fostering communication and collaboration between law enforcement and the communities they serve here in the Bay Area.”
What Goodell, Jerry Rice, and Beinart have in common is that they are 2016 textbook examples of Martin Luther King Jr.’s searing description of “the white moderate” in Letter From a Birmingham Jail, when he wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’
The season is clearly now. Kaepernick’s former college teammate, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, took a knee on national television Thursday night, in solidarity with Kaepernick, saying afterward:
“I’m not against the military. I’m not against the police or America. I’m just against social injustice,” Marshall said after the game. "I’m proud of it. I don’t regret it. I know this is right….I feel like this is the right platform. I feel like this is our only platform to be heard. A lot of time people want us to just shut up and entertain them. Shut up and play football. But we have voices as well. We’re actually educated individuals that went to college. When we have an opinion and speak it, a lot of people bash us."
Marshall then also pledged money to a variety of charities.
The linebacker has now joined volleyball players, soccer players, scores of veterans in the stands, and fellow football players who are hearing the anthem, thinking about police violence, and taking a knee.
Then there are the Seattle Seahawks. The entire team is apparently planning some form of team wide protest on Sunday, one in the words of receiver Doug Baldwin: “To express a desire to bring people together, our team will honor the country and flag in a pregame demonstration of unity.” This could be powerful or it could muddy Kaepernick’s foundational message that we have “bodies in the street and [police] getting away with murder.”
Yet while we should be wary as more and more players and teams rush to say “me too,” it is a sign that Kaepernick is winning. Maybe they will, consciously or unconsciously, blur the central motivation of Kaepernick’s protest—”police are getting away with murder”—but that always happens when people realize that you are walking with the wind. It is best to celebrate that people are rushing to Kaepernick’s side while also fighting to amplify the actual message, which is not to “honor the country” but to challenge the country to resist police violence and extrajudicial killings.
Some will continue to bash these “methods.” Others sensing its support will co-opt and commodify. But Kaepernick is giving us a textbook example of what Howard Zinn said, which is especially apt this Presidential season: “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but “who is sitting in.” In this case, it’s kneeling, not sitting, and it has been strikingly effective.
CITIES THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES have […] been deferring the maintenance, replacement and new construction of vital infrastructure for many decades. The consequences of this deferral are becoming increasingly apparent. On July 29th, 2014, a large water pipe ruptured on Sunset Boulevard near UCLA. The resultant flooding caused millions of dollars of damage to cars and campus buildings and destroyed the hardwood floor in iconic Pauley Pavilion. While seemingly an isolated incident, for the past several years work crews have been called upon to repair an average of four breaks a day in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's 6,730 mile network of water mains. The DWP estimates that its porous system loses up to eight billion gallons of water a year, likely because about a fifth of these pipes were installed before 1931 (Poston & Stevens, 2015). The DWP proposes to increase the rate at which it replaces aging pipes, provided that they can raise the revenue to do so.
Yet Los Angeles is a relatively young city. Most of its growth occurred after World War II and, consequently, its water infrastructure is actually in better shape than that of much of the rest of the country, with DWP officials estimating water losses to be about half the national average (Poston & Stevens, 2015). Many older cities have water pipes that date back to the Civil War. All told there are about a quarter million water main breaks a year. In 2014, the American Society of Civil Engineers assigned "D" grades to thousands of drinking water systems and wastewater systems in the United States. Replacing only the chosen pipes that are likely to fail will require over $1 Trillion, over the next twenty-five years (ASCE, 2013).
As is the case for physical infrastructure in general, deferred maintenance on roads and highways may save money in the short term but will likely have large negative financial repercussions in the future. Responding to poor road conditions by merely leveling bumps and filling potholes does not prevent the failure of a roadbed, a much more expensive problem to correct. Despite this, the financial backing that states and cities receive from the Highway Trust Fund and other federal agencies has steadily declined, and current levels of spending on transportation infrastructure are not sufficient to prevent conditions from worsening further.
Public school facilities, another major component of infrastructure that merited a "D" grade on the ASCE's 2013 Report Card, have also experienced a decline in expenditures on maintenance, repair, and new construction. About half of all schools were built over fifty years ago, during the enrollment surge associated with the baby boom, and as such are nearing the end of their useful life. However, investment in new facilities has long lagged behind what is required to prevent continued and worsening deterioration.
— Susan M. Wachter (ed.), 2016; from "Public Pensions and City Solvency; The City in the 21st Century"
MEC ANNUAL MEETING, SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2PM TO 5PM – INVITATION
The Mendocino Environmental Center (MEC) - KMEC Radio 105.1 FM is having its annual meeting this Saturday, September 10, from 2pm to 5pm. I invite the Anderson Valley Advertiser to attend, and I hope you report on the meeting.
We have a new Board of Directors, of which I am now proud to be part. There are a lot of exciting things happening, including a new antennae on Cow Mountain which will greatly increase the range of the station.
Additionally, I co-host and co-produce a weekly public affairs radio show, "All About Money", with Sid Cooperrider, at KMEC Radio. Our show's catchphrase is: "The truth about money is that it's all about money -- politics, ideology, religion. Everything is a business, especially war."
During the past year, our show's guests have included Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize recipients, and Emmy Award winners. Our series on national security whistleblowers included former senior whistleblowers from the NSA, CIA, FBI, DOD, and DOJ. Former FBI agent and division counsel, Coleen Rowley, was a guest -- she is a former Time Magazine "Person of the Year".
On our show, we have also interviewed members of Congress and staff from key Congressional committees.
Our show's work has been supported, in part, by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, which is dedicated to the study of violence, aggression and dominance in society.. Another application for support has been submitted to George Soros and his foundation. (I can copy you on that application.)
Our show's underwriters include Frey Vineyards and Orr Hot Springs.
The majority of our listeners pick up the show from the webstream or the internet -- we have a powerful digital platform that was built by Sid Cooperrider and Govinda Dalton. .Clips from our shows have found their way into national media.
As a verifiable measure of the size of our show's audience, please see our show's Youtube channel. We have up to 34,520 hits for a single show. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGayl9uNW4A
Other shows on our full schedule run the gamut from news and politics, kids and family, spirituality and healing, education, arts, society and culture, legal advice, government and organizations, including Mendocino County Board of Supervisors meetings (live).
KMEC Radio also broadcasts a very wide range of music, including kids doing hip hop live on-the-air. Many of our music shows have been simultaneously broadcast on Mendocino Access Television (channel 3).
Meanwhile, the MEC continues to fight for peace and social justice, including environmental justice. Especially in these times of climate change and irreversible destruction to our ecosystems and planet, nothing could be more important.
Specifically we are supporting campaigns to protect the last remaining stands of redwood forest. We are determined to end the use of herbicides in Mendocino County forests. We are equally determined to end the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides in city parks and other public places.
Our work is especially notable when you consider that we at the MEC and KMEC Radio are all volunteers. We are approximately 250-300 members strong. And we do all our work on a $20,000 budget.
The recently elected president of our board of directors is the very capable Lara Anderson, whom I am copying on this email. For more information, you may contact her directly at (707) 234-3238.
On behalf of the MEC and KMEC Radio's Board of Directors, I am yours very truly,
Mendocino Environmental Center - KMEC Radio 105.1 FM
106 W. Stanley Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
Warm spiritual greetings, I wish to clarify for the sake of further social collaborations, and particularly for the formation of a writers group. Plain and simple, what I am about is living with a trusting mind and going forth into the unknown. My friend (and caterer extraordinaire) John Reavis replied to me this morning, "That's great, but there's a lot of fear involved". He's right. And surmounting that and going forth, is what the spiritual path is all about. I have enjoyed the past 40 years of frontline radical environmental and peace & justice organizing, general activism, and writing about it. Seeing the reports published and knowing that the public would consider it has always been the big payoff, for being willing to live with minimal money and survive by my wits and a prayer and a song. Unfortunately, opposing political forces have become inured to our protestations. There is now a diminishing return with protests, demonstrations, and righteous educational campaigns. The monster just doesn't care because it's insane, and always has been. Our approach isn't working very effectively, and the monster's con game isn't fooling us anymore. Times have changed. We've reached stalemate. On September 19th at 11 A.M. I need to move out of The Emperor Norton Inn, Post & Taylor in San Francisco, because my 28 day guest stay will be over. I am right now networking to realize a writers group. Whereas I have sufficient money to maintain myself, could go to an airport with my two pieces of luggage and deboard just about anywhere, there is no hindrance. I am certain that the key to getting this civilization out of the global chaotic carnival is to press on into the unknown, as we represent the highest spiritual reality. As always, there's another road to take. As my caterer pal said jokingly to me at the Berkeley Public Library, "We could all vote Republican and bring on the revolution a little faster!" I await all replies, to define my own future and perhaps yours. Sincerely, Craig Louis Stehr (Email: CraigStehr@inbox.com)