Mendocino County Today: Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017
by AVA News Service, October 22, 2017
THAT FISH & WILDLIFE RAID on the County-legal pot farmer a few weeks ago was uglier than reported. Although the man had his paperwork in order, F&W had him in cuffs standing for hours in the sun as they cut his plants down, an added bit of sadism by the alleged guardians of wild things and a good example of the confusion, which seems deliberate, by Fish & Wildlife over local rules.
THE MAN thus “abated” lives on Highway 20 west of Willits. On October 3, Interim County Ag Commissioner, Diane Curry, said she spoke to the Fish & Wildlife's boss who told her that “he understood we had denied the application, but that’s not true.” The raid was conducted based on an allegation of illegal water diversion. “Staff was out there and working with them,” said Curry. “It was another surprise as to why that applicant was targeted.”
SEVERAL BOARD MEMBERS bemoaned the raid and wondered why F&W wouldn’t at least check with Mendo to verify the permit application status. Apparently, after the last raid, the Board had thought that F&W had promised to check with Mendo before any further raids. (It’s possible that some F&W wardens are still worried that checking with Mendo might lead to the target being tipped off and harvesting the plants before the Wardens arrive.)
CODE ENFORCEMENT CHIEF, Trent Taylor, said that as far as he knows Fish & Wildlife raids are based on calls to the state’s anonymous Cal-Tip line, so that growers with annoyed neighbors are more likely to be raided than totally illegal outback growers who are far from any neighbors.
COMMISSIONER CURRY noted that as far as she knows only three of the 734 pot cultivation applicants have suffered Fish & Wildlife raids — “which is not terrible,” she added.
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OF COURSE there's a Mendo angle: Psalm Isadora, 42, was recently featured on CNN as a "Tantric sexual healer." CNN showed Ms. Isadora instructing a young couple "how to connect through Tantric yoga touch," and then showed her leading a group sex therapy session as she chanted “Orgasm is God!”
WHO WILL BE SURPRISED to learn that Albion features heavily in Psalm's back story?
PSALM ISADORA grew up in a Christian cult called Lord’s Land in Albion on the Mendocino Coast with her parents and two younger brothers. The family lived in a log cabin without electricity or running water. The women wore long dresses and bonnets, the men walked around trying to look Old Testament. The family was given the boot when Isadora's father, Michael, principal of the commune's school, was found to have been molesting the cult's young girls including, according to Isadora, her.
SOON after the March 2017 CNN feature, Isadora was found dead at her Santa Monica headquarters. Her followers claim she was murdered, the coroner said she killed herself.
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TRUMP DOES A GOOD THING. (In addition to destroying both political parties.) Trump says he doesn't plan to block the scheduled release of thousands of government documents related to President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination. The docs number more than 3,000 that have never been seen by the public, and more than 30,000 that have been previously released, but with redactions. (Government “redactions” black out whole pages of stuff, as anyone who has gotten information via FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, will attest.)
THE MATERIAL will undoubtedly re-ignite the arguments about whether or not Oswald was, as he said, "a patsy" — an unwitting part of a conspiracy to kill the president, or simply a lone nut in the grand American tradition.
LOTS of information about the event has been sequestered for fifty years, which I believe most conspiracy people think means there's embarrassing facts of Oswald's relationships with agents of our bumbling government, all of whom are probably now safely dead, hence no objections from Trump and the “deep state,” which the conspiracy people says runs everything.
IF KENNEDY was a victim of a conspiracy, and there were certainly powerful forces, including elements of the CIA, who wanted him dead, the conspiracy-minded might want to read Libra by Don DeLillo, a brilliant guide in novel form as to how a conspiracy to murder Kennedy might have been pulled off. But what we'll probably get is interesting stuff about Oswald's movements and contacts in the months prior. The only smoking gun in this case is Oswald’s.
I'VE READ a ton of the lit on the case and, probably like lots of people, find the conspiracy bloc fairly convincing until I read the next book that makes a more convincing case (by Norman Mailer, for one) that Oswald was a politically minded megalomanic in search of fame even if it was infamy.
AS IT HAPPENS, I was in the Marines at the same time and in the same place — Camp Pendleton, 1957-58 — as Oswald. I didn’t know him, but when I learned post-Dallas that he'd gone from the Marine Corps to Russia, I was astounded. Even American communists didn't want to live in Russia, but for PFC Joe Schmoe to not only want to go there but managed to make his way to Stalin's paradise in the teeth of the Cold War…. Well, that journey at that time put Oswald in his very own class as a com-symp.
FOR SURE the 1958 Marine Corps was home to some strange and embittered dudes who’d grown up in unkind circumstances, but in '58 a child of the damned would have had to make an unprecedented intellectual journey to get to where Oswald got. But he got there, apparently through his own reading in Marxist text applied to his own experience. That part of the guy always made some sense.
WHAT ALSO MADE SENSE is Oswald’s marksmanship. By Marine Corps standards he was an average shot, but from from his perch in the Book Depository, looking almost straight down on Kennedy’s motorcade, and with a scoped rifle, even the falsely maligned Mannlicher-Carcano, Kennedy was a can’t miss target.
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LAUGH OUT LOUD HEADLINE of the week from Gualala's Independent Coast Observer, where optimism never sleeps:
"Mendocino County goes forward on cannabis front."
Yes, one step forward, three backwards, and when the County takes a break from its forward march, it mills around in circles. The County's Rube Goldbbergian pot rules are objectively nuts. Only a small percentage of growers are even trying to sign up, and week after week, the Supes listen to a litany of complaints from growers about the insanely complicated process. (In fact marijuana advocate and AVA contributor Jane Futcher summed them up nicely last month: "The Price of a Pot Permit".)
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AN APPELLATE COURT RULING last week may have moved legal prostitution a little closer. Three former peddlers of their own flesh, organized as "Erotic Service Providers Legal, Educational and Research Project,” argued, basically that why is it illegal to sell something that's legal if you give it away?
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IN OTHER LEGAL NEWS, the State Supreme Court has refused to lower passing scores on the State Bar Exam. Would-be lawyers have complained the test is too hard. Judging from some of the performances we've seen in Mendo's courts, the test ought to be set about 500 points higher. Only 43% of California's aspiring legal eagles who took the July 2016 test passed it, the lowest rate of success in 32 years and lower than the success rates in most other states.
REDWOOD VALLEY FIRE (MENDOCINO LAKE COMPLEX) INCIDENT INFORMATION
Last Updated: October 22, 2017, 8:03 am
Acres Burned: 36,523 acres
Structures Damaged: 43
Structures Destroyed: 545
Conditions: Fire personnel will remain at scene today working to extinguish internal hots spots and support residence returning to their homes. Fire suppression repair continues to minimize the effects of the fires damage.
Phone Number: (707) 459-7419 (Fire Information Line)
CHP: SILVER BMW GOES OFF HWY-128 DOWN EMBANKMENT HITS TREE
(Click to enlarge)
To the Editor:
There are people who are not victims of the fire nor do they live in Redwood Valley or Potter Valley that are going to the Grange Hall in Redwood Valley and taking donations meant for fire victims, and taking advantage of kind hearted people who want to help fire victims. There are, sad to say, a lot of leaches/scammers out there and this should be brought to the public’s attention to be careful of people like this, if someone can not prove they live in Redwood Valley or Potter Valley then they most likely are scamming you.
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “The back forty are beautiful for sure, but when I tried to tell these people to get me a fire extinguisher just in case a fire came up outta there, they told me, ‘Relax, Little Dog. That inch of rain we got put it to rest’."
“A. REEDER WRIGHTS...”
Some of us were cheered by the early rumor that the Ledson Castle, erected on a foundation of cocaine and the most grotesque monstrosity ever erected by man, had been levelled by the fire, but no… Its unsurpassable ugliness continues to ruin the face of Hood Mountain. Death to the fascist architects that prey on the views of the people!
PROTECTION AGAINST MOUNTAIN LIONS
Re Mountain Lions: I received a good idea from a forester yesterday: Bear spray. Amazon has a whole assortment of products, and the local hardwares probably also carry it. The best appears to be "Counter Assault" which will spray 30-35 feet, but it's expensive. The important thing is that it sprays at least 25 feet. You can also find those canister style boat horns or alarm horns on Amazon. People often ask about pepper spray--but it only sprays about 3-4 feet and you really don't want to be that close. But any of these products will make people who are out jogging or bicycling, or have seen mountain lions in their front yards feel a lot more secure--but you have to carry them with you.
FROM THE ANIMAL SHELTER
To our friends and neighbors
Please come to the shelter to ID your pet and speak to staff about help or possible solutions for your pet's housing and care. There are many unclaimed dogs and cats at the Ukiah Shelter. If your pet is missing but you are afraid to look for him or her because you don't have housing, or you don't have the funds to care for your pet, come to the shelter anyway! Many people have made financial and other donations to help pets displaced by the fire. The shelter has a list of people who have offered foster care while pet owners get resettled. If your neighbors are missing pets but do not have web and/or Facebook access, urge them to visit the shelter and check local animal hospitals, as there are still unidentified pets in those facilities.
You can fill out a lost animal report on the county website: https://www.mendocinocounty.org/government/animal-care-services/lost-animal-report-1801
If you have found a pet or a new pet has shown up, even if you can keep him/her at your house, please fill out a Found Pet Report by visiting the shelter at 298 Plant Road, Ukiah, or call 463-4427. The shelter's website address: mendoanimalshelter.com
Thank you from the Ukiah Animal Shelter.
CLOVERDALE OFFICERS SHOOT AND KILL SUSPECTED PROWLER
by Kevin McCallum
Cloverdale police officers shot and killed a suspected prowler behind a home early Saturday morning.
A resident on Garden Circle Way, across the street from the Cloverdale Fire Department on South Cloverdale Boulevard, reported seeing a prowler in the area at 1:46 a.m., police said in a news release.
When officers arrived, they found the suspect in the backyard of a home on the 100 block of the street holding an unidentified weapon, police said. The person “advanced at the officers wielding the weapon” and they “discharged their weapons to protect themselves,” police said.
Petaluma police, with help from Rohnert Park Public Safety, are investigating the shooting under the county’s officer-involved fatal incident protocol that calls for other departments to independently investigate such cases.
Normally the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office is the lead agency in these investigations, but the department is busy assisting with the ongoing response to the devastating wildfires in the area, Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons said.
On Saturday afternoon, eight detectives from Petaluma police, three Petaluma crime scene investigators and five detectives from Rohnert Park worked within the yellow line of police tape in front of a tan two-story house where the shooting took place.
Around 2:50 p.m., the sheriff’s “Henry 1” helicopter circled the area taking aerial photos.
Details about the suspect — identity, age and even gender — will be not be released until Monday, Petaluma Police Sgt. Paul Gilman said.
Gilman also would not reveal what type of weapon was recovered after the shooting, only saying one had been found. Police would not say if the suspect lived in the area or at the address where the shooting happened.
At least two Cloverdale patrol cars responded to the early morning call, Gilman said, but he would not release the number of officers involved in the shooting. The sergeant did confirm reports from neighbors that at least six shots were fired by Cloverdale police officers.
The names and ages of the officers involved in the shooting will not be released until their interviews are completed Monday, Gilman said. He would also not comment on whether or not the officers had identified themselves as police before they fired on the suspect.
“This is a pretty straightforward case,” Gilman said. “We’re not trying to hide anything, we just need to follow procedure.”
Edgar Medina, 19, who lives on the opposite side of the small residential circle from where the shooting took place, said he heard yelling before a rapid succession of roughly six shots.
Another neighbor, Jose Luis Salas, 60, said he woke up to the sound of six or seven shots. Salas said knew the family that lives in the house where the suspect was shot, and that there are no longer any children who live there.
Gilman confirmed there were no children in the house at the time of the police shooting.
“This is a really peaceful neighborhood with no crime,” Salas said in Spanish. “This is a surprise.”
Petaluma officers are interviewing witnesses, reviewing area surveillance video and obtaining search warrants for the property, Lyons said. They asked anyone with information about the incident to call Petaluma police at 707-849-1229.
(Santa Rosa Press Democrat)
FIREFIGHTER KILLED IN NAPA CO. WATER TENDER CRASH IDENTIFIED
by Stephanie Hull
Napa County emergency officials identified the volunteer firefighter killed in a water tender crash Monday as Garrett Paiz, 38, of Missouri.
Paiz was in a water tender privately owned by Red Bluff-based Tehama Transport. The truck crashed on the Oakville Grade, a steep road in the area around the Nuns Fire.
His death marked the first firefighter death in the series of fires that started in Northern California the week of October 8. Forty civilians have been confirmed killed by the fires, with most being in Sonoma County because of the Tubbs Fire.
THE HIGH COST OF NO ON B
Letter to the Editor
Expanded Thinking on Measure B
We need a place on the Coast and Inland to help people in early stage crisis. People could come voluntarily for the necessary days to receive support for recovery and avoid hospitalization. Many people can receive help in Crisis Residential Treatment and return quickly to their home, family and community life.
We need a place where people can voluntarily go to receive support to overcome addictions/cravings, to recover and resume family and community life with community support for the person and their family members. Community supports can include multiple treatments such as: counseling, acudetox, support groups for wellness recovery, mindfulness, and more.
We need one local hospital where people in advanced stage crisis can receive support and various treatments to recover from a psychiatric break. From here, a person might move to Crisis Residential Treatment, or return home with plans to manage their own health using various community supports.
And, you might give some thought to the high costs of not voting YES on Measure B.
CATCH OF THE DAY, October 21, 2017
Dellinger, Evert, Flores
MERCEDES DELLINGER, Glendale/Laytonville. DUI.
NATHAN EVERT, Fort Bragg. Domestic battery.
LETICIA FLORES, Fort Bragg. DUI.
Hensley, Knight, Miller
CHARLES HENSLEY, Ukiah. Failure to appear. (Frequent flyer.)
KEEGAN KNIGHT, Willits. Under influence, controlled substance, paraphernalia, possession of controlled substance while armed with loaded firearm, person convicted of certain misdemeanors within ten years owning, possession or receiving a firearm, carrying loaded firearm in a vehicle or public place, carrying concealed weapon in vehicle.
GERALD MILLER, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
Olmstead, Palmer, Parks, Ramirez
BRIANNA OLMSTEAD, Ukiah. DUI.
TIMMOTHY PALMER, Willits. DUI, reckless driving, contempt of court, resisting, probation revocation.
JEREMY PARKS, Laytonville. DUI.
ALEXANDER RAMIREZ, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation, resisting.
Saldana, Sanchez, Simpson, Smith
NOE SALDANA, Ukiah. DUI.
JOSE SANCHEZ-FLORES, Willits. Under influence.
GERALD SIMPSON, Willits. County parole violation.
BRENTON SMITH, Redwood Valley. Domestic abuse.
I was in Vietnam in 1966-67. Every week, the Stars and Stripes newspaper would arrive. The first thing we did was look on the back page at the names of those killed the previous week. There was too often someone we knew listed among the dead.
In 1967, 11,363 kids were killed in that war. You can bet that LBJ didn’t call too many grieving parents, wives, brothers and sisters. And you can bet that every one of us over there knew “what we’d signed up for,” and what was at stake, and we all knew that at any time our luck could run out.
Disrespected? What the heck is that? Donald Trump is disrespected every waking hour of every day, 24/7.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
In the words of “The Who”
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again, no no
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
The allure of money and power in government will always lead back to corruption. Christianity teaches that this world is corrupt beyond repair. So the hope that we will somehow “learn this time” and not make this mistake again is quixotic. The next world will be incorruptible, but not this one.
50 YEARS AGO TODAY
The March on the Pentagon.
A reader writes: Where is the anti-war movement today?
REPORT FROM PETIT TETON, September 2017
Hi everyone -
It's becoming harder and harder to write to you in an up beat manner. The upheaval and chaos and obscenity and stupidity in the world keeps intruding on our idyllic farm life, which, given the contrast, makes everything surreal. The fires that are still burning are within a few miles of us. Although we breathe them when the wind is from the south, we are not in them. But knowing of people displaced and property that is burning weighs as heavily on one's psyche as the air does in one's lungs. The plants, animals and people are all feeling low. And since we were already down about what's happening on earth and especially in this country with a wrecking ball for a leader (we refuse to call him president), that makes for some major unhappiness. We believe that people who can't create and only destroy are amoral and evil. This one can't be long for the office and our hope is that it's all coming to a head soon. That's not to say the pain will be over...far from it...but it's a first tentative step. The cliffs are rising on both sides, the river is dropping precipitously, and the rocks are proliferating; our over inflated and over populated craft is no longer maneuverable; a crash is inevitable. We are heading into very difficult times for which there is probably little preparation possible - hang on and carry a life jacket and hard hat.
Take care of yourselves and your neighbors and take time to enjoy the changing season. The farm looks beautiful after the first significant rain the other night which we all, from the ground up, were relieved to receive.
Nikki Auschnitt & Steve Kreig
WHITESBORO GRANGE PANCAKE B'FAST SUNDAY FUNDRAISER for three Grange families who lost their homes in Mendocino County fire last week. A traditional pancake breakfast will be served at the Whitesboro Grange on Sunday, October 22nd. Breakfast includes orange juice, pancakes with maple and homemade berry syrups, ham, eggs your way, and coffee, tea or hot cocoa. The public and visitors are invited to join neighbors and community for a hearty pancake breakfast. Adults $8, ages 6-12 half price, children under 6 eat FREE. Breakfast is served from 8 to 11:30am. Whitesboro Grange is 1.5 miles east on Navarro Ridge Road. Watch for signs just south of the Albion Bridge.
WHY IS NOBELIST ECONOMIST RICHARD THALER SO JOVIAL?
by Ralph Nader
When Professor Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago received the news that he had won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for “contributions to behavioral economics,” he faced an eager press with unusual mirth. What’s the story behind Professor Thaler’s jovial response?
Maybe he is laughing because the joke is finally on the empirically-starved economists whose dominance of the field is finally being challenged by a handful of increasingly noticed ‘behavioral economists.’ In turning the tide of mainstream economic thought, Thaler and his colleagues reject the myth of the hyper-rational consumer – “homo economicus” – who are primarily motivated to maximize utility. It has been a struggle for these less dogmatic economists who for almost three decades have incurred ridicule and condescension by the mathematical economists of the Chicago School of Economics, before people started questioning theories of consumer behavior that are absurd on their face.
Years ago, I asked my Econ 101 professor after class whether the basis of economics is psychology. He gave me an incredulous look and asserted that economics was far too precise a discipline to be so vaguely rooted.
Perhaps Professor Thaler had a similar inquiry as a student watching his economics professors mark up the blackboard with intricate models of how markets and consumers work. Perhaps he was struck by a clear contradiction; He would ask, “Really?” Repeatedly, he would ask “Really?” because this was not how consumers he knew, including himself, operated when they bought or didn’t buy goods and services.
Thaler’s skepticism helped him produce books and articles showing an obvious but powerful truth: that people are consistently and predictably irrational and will act in a way that undermines their own self-interest. And contrary to the dogma of mainstream economics, the market overall doesn’t filter out such irrationality to avoid messy realities.
It’s a small wonder Dr. Thaler is jovial. He has reproduced what the much deprecated Home Economists and later the leading consumer advocates have documented ad infinitum. He built with more bracing analyses concise narratives involving many examples taken directly from consumer protection studies, together with his own common sense observations and candid descriptions of his own irrational behavior. For this he receives his profession’s most coveted prize, while home economists and consumer advocates keep toiling away, their heroism unsung to the majority of consumers who would benefit from this consumer-based wisdom regarding buying and saving smarter than they have been doing (e.g., avoiding frauds and harmful irrational choices) so as to protect their health, safety and pocketbooks.
The Nobel Committee praised Thaler as “a pioneer on integrating economics and psychology.” Maybe this is true in the case of the ‘dismal science’ of economics, but it does not account for the thousands of people who have worked to advise people to buy more nutritious foods, choose safer cars and medicines, be more savvy in buying insurance and borrowing and reject the deceptive ads from avaricious vendors flooding the airwaves.
Many mainstream economists got their kicks, promotions and consultantships by playing with complex numbers having concern for human experience, whether manipulated, gouged or drawn from ignorance, despair, fear, lack of time or gullibility. No matter their irrelevance to the real world, these economists were remarkably arrogant toward any of their “soft-headed” colleagues who worked in what was once called the ‘political economy’ or in the field of ‘consumer economics.’
I recall sharing a dinner table in the late nineties with Federal Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook (an adherent of the Chicago School of Economics), who sneeringly described Derek Bok of Harvard as someone who wouldn’t recognize a regression analysis if it hit him between the eyes.
Getting closer to reality, to on-the-ground evidence of the many human behavioral variables that cannot be quantified by computers so smugly, is the real challenge of social science. Thaler et al. now have the ‘prestige’ to press these other corporate economists to jettison their myths, climb down from their abstraction ladders and face the facts, urgencies and injustices of their time. Getting a grip on the way things really are may deny them some riches from their corporate patrons, for whom they so often shill. But it may encourage economists to embrace what their profession should be about: independent thinking, expanding knowledge and service to the public.
In a backhanded slam against his pompous or indentured (take your choice) brethren, Professor Thaler made a key point (quoted in the New York Times) in a presidential address at the American Economic Association in January 2016: “I think it is time to stop thinking about behavioral economics as some kind of revolution,” adding that, “all economics will be as behavioral as the topic requires.”
In an important sense, however, behavioral economics is a revolution – a revolution against the pitiless abstractions that have shaped the phony cost-benefit equations of corporatist economists who still work to undermine regulatory law and order in the fight against serious corporate misbehavior.
(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!)
SMALL THINGS BURN UP, BIG THINGS BURN DOWN.
The recording of last night's (2017-10-20) KNYO Memo of the Air: Good Night Radio show is ready to download for free and enjoy at any time of the day or night, via http://MemoOfTheAir.wordpress.com
An unusually large number of locally written stories in this show. Alex Bosworth returned from the dead again. There's Mitch Clogg, Jay Frankston, Todd Walton, Scott Peterson, Ezekiel Krahlin, Major Mark Scaramella, Charlie Engel, John Passyka, Rex Gressett, Flynne Washburne, Bret Bengston, Louis Bedrock, Skip Taube, and more, and dammitall, look at that, they’re all of the oppressive patriarchy. I didn't notice that when it was happening. How did that happen? Wait, no: Mary Cesario, Alice Chouteau... hmm. Knowing is half the battle; I'll put out some more bait. Chocolate, women like chocolate, that’s the ticket, I saw it in Star Trek.
Besides that, also at http://MemoOfTheAir.wordpress.com you'll find a fresh batch of links to other interesting and educational goods I collected for you while putting the show together, that might not necessarily work on the radio because of being mostly visual or requiring interaction to enjoy- a game, for example. Such as:
The mad doctor.
Theater sets 100 years ago.
How we get saxophones.
And a fun elaborate soundboard of Halloween sounds to set running by the candy door.
NEW BOOK SHOWS POPE FRANCIS IS A SMART BUSINESSMAN
But the Vatican is a mess. (Could Mendo be far behind?)
by Shawn Tully
In announcing the arrest of two prominent economic advisors for leaking confidential information, the Vatican asserted last year that the accused were guilty of a “grave betrayal” of the Pope’s trust. It may prove true that the pair violated the Vatican’s newly enacted secrecy laws. But for the 1.3 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, the revelations have finally lifted the veil on the rampant mismanagement that the old Vatican hierarchy long concealed from the faithful. It now appears that much of the cash that Catholics send to Rome that’s supposed to be helping the poor is being clandestinely misused to run the bloated Vatican bureaucracy.
In the first days of November 2015, Vatican gendarmes detained two members of a group called the Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA), formed by Pope Francis in mid-2013 to perform a full examination of the Vatican’s finances and make proposals for reforms. The Vatican charged that the pair—Monsignor Lucio Balda, handpicked by the Pontiff as COSEA’s second in command, and Francesca Chaouqui, a glamorous, 33-year old PR specialist—had delivered highly confidential recordings and documents to two investigative reporters whose books charging rampant corruption were just published. Chaouqui was released after agreeing to cooperate with the investigation. Balda remains under arrest.
As a writer who’s been following, and sometimes chronicling, the Vatican’s finances for three decades, I expect the kind of muckraking, sensationalist, fact-lite reporting the Italian press routinely produces on the Vatican. But with one of those new books mentioned above, Gianluigi Nuzzi’s Merchants at the Temple, I’m absolutely impressed. The account is packed with excerpts from confidential documents that are no doubt authentic. Even the Vatican tacitly admits as much.
The author’s analysis of the numbers and account of the byzantine internal politics are thoroughly convincing. In fact, the figures he reveals both confirm my own reporting about the Vatican but fill in many facts I was unable to obtain. Most of all, Merchants at the Temple shows that a lot of the money isn’t being spent where the Vatican claimed.
Nuzzi already has strong credentials. He’s the author of His Holiness, the 2012 bestseller based on the private letters to Pope Benedict XVI from close advisers—leaked to Nuzzi by the former Pontiff’s butler—that warned Benedict of how Italian suppliers were wildly overcharging the Vatican and how officials were helping them do it. In Merchants in the Temple, Nuzzi draws an admiring but startling portrait of Pope Francis. I had learned from conversations with his advisors that Pope Francis believes in lean, efficient government for a basic reason: The less the Vatican spends on administration, the more it can lavish on what the Pope cares most about, helping the poor.
But Nuzzi shows that the Pope does far more than establish a general tone of frugality. He knows precisely what disciplined and sophisticated financial management is all about. And since Francis fully understands it, unlike previous Pontiffs, he’s impossible to fool. Nuzzi obtained a recording of a meeting of financial advisors hosted by Francis on July 3, 2013, just four months after he replaced Pope Benedict. The Pope first makes a general point about waste in the Curia, the Vatican’s administrative arm:
“It is universally ascertained … that the number of employees has grown too much. This fact creates a huge waste of money that can be avoided.” He goes on to condemn a “30 percent increase in employee expenses” over the past five years.
Pope Francis goes on to demonstrate that he fully understands the importance of competitive bidding and stringent enforcement of contracts:
“We have to create a protocol for estimates and also for the last step, payments. One of the department heads told me they come to me with an invoice so we have to pay. No, we don’t. If a job was done without an estimate, without authorization, we don’t pay.” Who cares if a “poor clerk looks bad?”
Concludes the Pontiff: “God help us, but we don’t pay!”
To his credit, the Pope fully backs the COSEA commission in its battle with the entrenched hierarchy. The members are mainly distinguished financial experts from Europe, and they relentlessly expose hidden practices that conceal the true extent of the Vatican’s deficits—and most of all, how money earmarked for charity is being used to plug those shortfalls.
A shocking revelation is the alleged misuse of the money the world’s Catholics send each year to the Vatican, which is known as “Peter’s Pence.” At a single Sunday mass each year on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the cash the faithful place in the collection baskets goes directly to the Pope. In the 1980s, Peter’s Pence was routinely used to cover operating budgets, not for charity, as it was intended. Diverting Peter’s Pence to pay for computers and pensions was condemned by church leaders and led to the strong reforms of the 1990s. The Vatican has long maintained publicly that collections from Peter’s Pence aren’t used for operating expenses and go exclusively to charity. Last summer, a Vatican spokesman assured me this was the case; I’m certain that he, like the rest of the world’s Catholics, didn’t know what now appears to be the truth.
According to the documents obtained and cited by Nuzzi, dioceses collected 56.2 million euros ($67 million) in Peter’s Pence in 2012. The outside world thought that money was going to charity. In fact, COSEA, in Nuzzi’s convincing account, discovered that 35.7 million euros ($43 million) of the total, or almost two-thirds, was going to administrative expenses, including 5.5 million ($7 million) for printers. The Vatican was channeling another 6.3 million ($8 million) into reserves. Just one euro in five went to charity.
The true fate of Peter’s Pence helps clarify a mystery that’s long baffled this reporter. How does the Vatican get the cash to cover its frequent deficits? Now we know, according to Nuzzi: The funds are coming from what everyone thought were collections for the poor. The Vatican also holds an astounding 378 million euros ($484 million) in reserves, all from past Peter’s Pence contributions. That cash is parked in bank accounts generating little interest and appears to be a rainy day fund for future deficits.
Ever since his ascension, Pope Francis has demanded that the Vatican swing from deficit to surpluses, mainly by cutting costs, and dedicate the extra cash to the poor. So the Vatican is failing in two ways, first by running shortfalls, and second by using Peter’s Pence to fund them.
According to Nuzzi, Francis is furious about the abuse of Peter’s Pence. His goal of freeing funds for charity are clear. As a close advisor to Francis told me last summer, “It’s not just that Peter’s Pence has to go to charity, this has been made clear by Pope Francis. There has to be a surplus. And that too has to go to charity. The risk is that if you can’t balance the books, then you would use Peter’s Pence, and that is out of bounds.”
Pope Francis, who chose the name of the patron saint of the poor, often assails a culture obsessed with money. But he’s obsessed by money in his own way—saving it for the good it can do the poor. As Nuzzi makes clear, this Pope is a fearless reformer with a shrewd mind for business. The leaks may be illegal, but they’re not the real scandal. The scandal is the mismanagement that’s been hidden for far too long. These revelations should make the need for urgent reform obvious to the world outside the walls of the Vatican. And that’s the message Francis has been trying to send all along.