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Off the Record (October 16, 2019)

JEFF COSTELLO — We were saddened to learn that Jeff Costello has died. Jeff had contributed to the AVA almost from its beginnings in the early 1980s. His account of the Redlegs Band, popular in the San Francisco Bay Area beginning in 1970, has become something of a collector's item, if you can find a copy of that special AVA edition written by this multi-talented man. “The Redlegs band began in 1970 at Sausalito, California, in the Waldo Point houseboat scene. The place was described variously as an artists’ colony, a commune, a dangerous anarchy and the lair of pirates, and the Redlegs’ music reflected and gave expression to these aspects of life on the waterfront. Oh yeah, and it was a lot of fun, too.”

Joe Tate writes: "Jeff Costello, our beloved Redlegs brother, has died. He gave his all to our music, risked his life to save our community and was the explainer of all that is cynical about life. He was also a fantastic chef, parent and prescient musical arranger. He played a few weeks with me at the Sausalito Cruising Club when I started Blue Monday back in 2009. He left to spend more time with his family."

ANDERSON VALLEY DID NOT LOSE POWER during last week’s PG&E blackout, but several communities in east Mendo did lose power last Thursday and Friday, as the entire county suffered under contradictory information from PG&E throughout the shutdown.

AS ITS MANY CRITICS have suggested, PG&E should be broken up into regional, not-for-profit power companies. As is, and as has been from its consolidated beginnings, PG&E has flouted the Public Utilities Commission, weak and as company-oriented as it is, to ensure its shareholders a steady blue chip return. Prioritizing private interests over the public interest has meant that instead of investing in infrastructure safety, shareholders (and outrageous executive pay) come first, hence, count on it, annual power shut-downs.

SPARE US: “The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event. We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire,” Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of electric operations.

I'D PREFER, "Gitchy goo, you bastards. Try and stop us!"

POTENTIAL DISASTERS always bring out the wit in the citizen body. We liked "PG&E: Portable Generators & Extra Fuel." And from the PG&E insert with our latest bill, "Safety is our highest priority" becomes, "Shareholder and Executive Safety is our highest priority." 

ANOTHER JOKE MAKING THE ROUNDS: “We may or may not turn off your power tomorrow, and if we do turn off your power, it may or may not be off for several days. Here is our website where you can get more information, but it doesn’t work. Good luck. — PG&E”

ROUGH ESTIMATE of cost of the NorCal outage is pegged at a cool billion by the SF Chron.

GIVEN THE ANGER AT PG&E, there may at last be real movement to make it a genuine public utility rather than the profit-driven mess it is.

NOTHING FLAMMABLE happened in Mendo during the blackout Tuesday into Wednesday into Thursday other than mass confusion at the often contradictory information raining down on the Northcoast via PG&E. The County's info flow was reliable if hours behind events. MSP was consistently on the ball with timely, accurate updates. Didn't hear KZYX but was told they were accurate and timely. There was mild panic in Ukiah as people crowded stores for last minute supplies. Ditto for filling stations in Willits, Ukiah and Fort Bragg. 

PG&E DOESN’T HELP ITSELF by trotting out ill-informed, evasive PR people who conspicuously avoid giving direct answers while mouthing empty canned phrases like “we understand,” “we appreciate,” “we know it’s frustrating,” “safety, safety, safety is important to us.” Followed by “we can’t say exactly when…” “Our people are closely monitoring…” “We take lots of factors into account…” “We have our own assessments…” Etc. 

But that’s what they’ve been doing with all their public appearances and statements in Bay Area media. It is consistent with the statements made previously by their rep who made the two presentations to Mendo’s Board of Supervisors.

Yes, there were some gusty winds on a few hilltops in the East Bay. Yes, there was a real fire danger. But the maps of the outages that PG&E put forward looked more like the scribblings of a five year old with a crude map doing a kindergarten art project. What rhyme or reason process could have produced such diagrams? Power’s out here, power’s on across the street… out a couple blocks over… PG&E certainly made no attempt to explain. 

PG&E also compounded the problem by starting the shut down too soon in some areas, by issuing statements that they later withdrew, by not being clear about areas that would NOT be shut off, by dodging questions about the large monetary damages that people and businesses are clearly suffering, by not offering to do any more than “help identify” people with medical issues, by trying to minimize the impact by counting “customers” affected instead of people affected, by having their lousy website crash due to the high number of “customers” trying to get info. And on and on. 

Which brings us to some cynical speculation.

Was the hazard/risk exaggerated in terms of the timing, area or the weather/wind for some reason?

Was PG&E punishing the public for blaming PG&E for fires that they don’t feel responsible for?

Was this more of a dry-run than an actual safety issue?

Was PG&E afraid that the fire season might pass without a shutoff so all their bogus “planning” and public posturing about “safety” shutoffs would go for nothing?

It will be interesting to see if the CPUC, the press, a whistleblower or some clever lawyers can find a way to get to the bottom of what was really behind PG&E’s crude attempt to make the public “safe.” 

For now, whatever remained of PG&E’s credibility seems to have taken yet another hit. (Mark Scaramella)

KATY TAHJA’S MENDO HISTORY BOOK. The Comptche writer is the first person to attempt a history of this odd place, and I know she’s worked long and hard at it, as you can hear for yourself at the Gallery Bookshop, Mendocino on Saturday, 6:30pm, November 9th where Mrs. Tahja will talk about “An Eclectic History of Mendocino County.”  (We’ll have a review as soon as we get our hands on a copy.)

I DON’T BELIEVE most Americans have thought through what a successful campaign to oust Donald Trump would look like. Most casual news consumers can only think of it in terms of Mike Pence becoming president. The real problem would be the precedent of a de facto intelligence community veto over elections, using the lunatic spookworld brand of politics that has dominated the last three years of anti-Trump agitation.

CIA/FBI-backed impeachment could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Donald Trump thinks he’s going to be jailed upon leaving office, he’ll sooner or later figure out that his only real move is to start acting like the “dictator” MSNBC and CNN keep insisting he is. Why give up the White House and wait to be arrested, when he still has theoretical authority to send Special Forces troops rappelling through the windows of every last Russiagate/Ukrainegate leaker? That would be the endgame in a third world country, and it’s where we’re headed, unless someone calls off this craziness. Welcome to the Permanent Power Struggle. — Matt Taibbi

MATT TAIBBI'S essay is the truest picture yet of what's happening in our own flailing state — that the dozen or so intelligence agencies allegedly keeping our restive population safe from externally-imposed disasters are also working full-time to depose Trump, the implications of which are much worse than Trump, especially, as Taibbi points out, the possibility that Trump unleashes force on them before they can unleash it on him. 

BIG PICTURE SPECULATION is beyond my Boonville-centric area of interest, but I think it's obvious that there are titanic struggles underway between Trump and the security agencies and the big time media and the DNC that serve as the propaganda arms of the security agencies. The middle-of-the-road extremists really are extremists, and they seem to feel they can't beat Trump in the 2020 election, sooooooo get rid of him by other means. Also, as Taibbi points out, if Trump won't go even if he is defeated in 2020 because his enemies are going to put him and his in jail, the USofA might go all the way Third World, complete with the civil war Trump has publicly mused about. We may find out the hard way what the armed forces and our police forces stand for in the crunch, and who's loyal to who and what.

MEANWHILE, Trump busily solidifies the majority public opinion of his unfitness, raging to the wahoos in Minnesota the other night that the attempt to purge him is all "bullshit" (yeah, it is, but not all of it) and further destabilizing the Middle East as he betrays his own policy with the Kurds. Of course as he explained his treachery, the Kurds didn't help US at Normandy.) He even found the time to take a swipe at Warrior's coach Steve Kerr! A national hysteria is being created, but not all of it is coming from Trump. It's been a slo-mo coup against him right from the day he was elected.

LOCAL GROWERS of the outlaw type tell me that pot prices are back up to about $1200 a pound, probably because storefront dope is (1) much more expensive than outlaw; and (2) lots of stoners resent the corporate move into weed. One guy told me that he knew pot prices were again on the rise when he noticed that the Ukiah Co-Op was out of cashews. "Hey, only people making money again can afford the things!"

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED VIEWING: "Chernobyl" on HBO, which I joined just so I could watch it because so many people recommended it. I'm glad I joined because this dramatized version of the '86 event is so well done it's like being there, not that the poor devils consumed by the nuclear explosion would have wished it on the rest of the world which, save the sacrificial heroism of a couple of thousand Russians, might have happened. Gorbachev said the event finished off the Soviet Union, revealing the USSR's thorough corruption at every level of its government. Apart from being the gripping drama it is, for those of us who didn't quite make it through high school physics, the film offers the clearest explanation of nuclear fission available, at least that I’m aware of. The Putin government is said to be so annoyed by ‘Chernobyl’ they're going to make their own version. It's apparently true that the filmmakers took some creative liberties, especially with the effects of radioactivity on humans. For instance, the movie shows a technician who starts bleeding all over his body as he's directly exposed to the burning reactor in the immediate aftermath of it exploding. Radioactivity kills internally. But in broad outline "Chernobyl" is accurate.

"LIVING UNDOCUMENTED" is a Netflix production that tells the stories of eight undocumented families whose lives are either destroyed or otherwise made precarious by the cruelly arbitrary policies of the INS and ICE. Prior to Orange Man, deportation efforts were pretty much confined to criminals. Now, even persons who've lived here so long they know no other country are subject to peremptory removal. Watching this painful series I thought, "Yeah, there are a lot of mean, stupid bastards among my fellow citizens, but when did we start putting them in charge?" Well, from the beginning, actually, but these ICE people are a true gestapo-like bureaucracy. You'd have to be a nazi-oriented individual to jerk the husbands and wives out of their long-time American homes, leaving their families to fend for themselves. The film is certainly pertinent to Mendocino County where several thousand undocumented persons do the grunt work of this self-certified progressive jurisdiction. Here in Anderson Valley, over the recent past, rumors that ICE was about to raid us meant children kept out of school and people forced into hiding until the scare passed, not that it ever does, especially under the present regime. 

A SUNDAY PRESS DEMOCRAT EDITORIAL has called for Sonoma County to adopt whistleblower protection rules. Among the reasons cited by the PD, “The state auditor releases an annual report of whistleblower investigations. In just the first half of 2018, the state auditor received nearly 1,100 calls or inquiries from whistleblowers. Thanks to such reports, investigators identified $427,000 in inappropriate expenditures.”

$427,000 divided by 1100 is less than $400 per “inappropriate expenditure.” The PD said that the whistles were blown on “improper hiring and promotions” and “several state employees who routinely used state vehicles for personal trips.”

THE PD's whistles are silent on its own derelictions and don’t  bother to report whistleblower episodes north of the Sonoma County line including, for instance, former Mendo Supervisor Kendall Smith's more than $3,000 in “inappropriate expenditures” for personal travel that she never traveled, as uncovered by the County Grand Jury. Nor any mention of the Grand Jury’s repeated finding that former Supervisor David Colfax was paid for personal travel that he couldn’t justify as County business, but the Grand Jury was unable to quantify the amount.

THESE THEFTS of public money were defended by Official Mendocino County in the face of four (4!) successive Grand Jury reports. Nothing was done about Smith’s (or Colfax's) “inappropriate expenditures” until DA David Eyster threatened to prosecute Smith, who quickly ponied up a refund. 

THE PD might offer a whistleblower award to any of its employees who can explain how the paper managed to "lose" a key piece of local history when its editors claimed they couldn’t find the famous Lord's Avenge Letter, which took credit for the car bombing of enviro activist, Judi Bari in 1990. The PD worked hand-in-slimy hand with the FBI during the Bari interlude, and the “disappearance” of the LA Letter feels like one more instance of that cooperation. Old timers will recall that the paper didn't protect its own whistleblowing reporting by Mike Geniella when it removed him from the Northcoast timber beat, probably at the behest of Harry Merlo, the late boss at Louisiana-Pacific. And it'll be a cold day in Haiti when the Press Democrat says Word One in defense of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Ms. Manning. 


 [1] Being what would probably considered a semi urban-rural dweller I see it all around me. My apples might have a worm but it is chemical free. There is an old Polish lady up the road 90 years plus and built like a truck with a heavy accent. . She comes by and picks up all the drops and makes pies, perogies, and sauce. She went through WWII in the homeland. She knows about hardship. On the other hand I can’t even give the good fruit away because it has “spots”, no bugs just spots. I see the local supermarket throwing away lots of produce because of “spots”. People are gonna get a good “smack upside the head” when hard times come.

[2] Presidential now means something different. No longer will we be fooled by the slick shysters in suits or the Harvard grad hustlers. Or the hand shakers holding a hidden dagger. Or the smooth talking backslappers or those phony politicians who, “when they’re not out kissing babies, they’re stealing their lollipops.”

To hell with regal raiment, abhorrent, empty articulation, and pompous, pretentious prevarication.

Hail the Golden Gadfly of Gotham!! Hail the Mighty Trump!!

[3] One of our illustrious commenters, one that apparently supports the untenable status quo, one that seemingly respects authority such as it is, asks, “In as few words as possible, answer the question, why do I think I’m smarter than 95% of the world’s scientists?”

Speaking for myself, the answer is straight-forward; because I am. 

That’s as few words as I can muster. Why this unseemly expression of self-confidence? Because I’m not subject to the scientific community’s particular brand of “group-think”, and I’m not in thrall to campus politics, and a big-money funder hasn’t got me by the balls. And because I’ve accomplished enough in life and in a demanding line of work. Pride goes before the fall? Maybe, but I’ve seen enough howling misjudgments by people that ought to have known better such that I’ve concluded that I can’t do worse.

Don’t underestimate the common sense of the common man. If people draw themselves to a great height and talk down to you, tell them to go fuck themselves. Facility in some brand of logic or knowledge doesn’t confer facility in all of them and it doesn’t preclude blindness to the blindingly obvious. 

Take responsibility. Have confidence in yourself. Trust your own eye-balls. Especially trust your own common sense. If something looks crazy, it is. And don’t let some perfesser tell you otherwise. 

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