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Off the Record (August 25, 2021)

RICHARD HARGREAVES died last Thursday morning in Redding. Old timers around the county will remember this modest, shy man as a union business agent for the IWA out of Fort Bragg when Fort Bragg was a one-industry timber town plus fishing, and not particularly welcoming to a liberal Democrat like Mr. H., as skeptical of modern Democrats as he was of Georgia-Pacific. He always described himself as “an old union bum,” but he was a bum who always worked, married to one woman he outlived and raised daughters who took care of him when he was unable to care for himself. I'll miss Richard's calls, his many anecdotes about his life in Mendocino County, his wryly humorous reactions to contemporary events.

ANNUAL BILLIONS fund how many intelligence agencies besides the arch blunderers at the FBI and CIA? Sixteen? And, like 911 that got us to Afghanistan in the first place, this week's collapse of the Afghan army went unpredicted, so far as we know. Remember that we learned way after the fact that an FBI agent had expressed alarm at the dozen Arabs taking a unique version of pilot training in Florida that skipped the lessons in how to land. She was apparently regarded as a crackpot and ignored, which is ironic given that the FBI was founded by a crackpot who stayed in office by blackmailing politicians and spent his evenings in a cocktail dress. 

AND the alleged super-cops under-estimated the yobbos' January 6th assault on Congress, probably because like most rational Americans they thought they were like their leader — ignorant blowhards too cowardly to attempt, let alone carry out, a true insurrection. It was a riot, not an insurrection, and no way that mob should have penetrated Corporate Headquarters.

THE DEATH of my old friend Hargreaves, and recent events in Afghanistan, reminded me of the Redwood Summer demo in Fort Bragg. Unlike the annual billions wasted on national intelligence, then-Sheriff Tuso was ready for it. There were cops on top of cops in Fort Bragg, and cops on the rooftops for that one, cops from as far away as Alameda County standing between the eco-gang and several hundred bellering counter-demonstrators, among them a young guy I'd coached in Little League denouncing me as a muthafugga. In that one, there was a dramatic moment when a Fort Bragg man, Duane Potter, a local man with a well-earned reputation as a tough guy, looked out at the braying mob of his friends and neighbors to tell them that Earth First! was right, the forests had been cashed in by G-P. Nobody dared call Duane a muthafugga. And both mobs parted, peacefully. Things were tense on the Northcoast in 1990, and if Sheriff Tuso hadn't been prepared for the worst, there could have been the worst. Contrast Tuso's tactical sagacity to preclude local violence with the billions frittered away on federal prognosticators tasked with heading off national and international disasters. No contest.

WHEN poor old doddering Joe totters up to the teleprompter to read his scripted words I find myself pitying the grasping hack, twinges of sympathy for him. Apart from his (his handler's) lame attempt to put the blame elsewhere for the Afghan fiasco, and not that the blame he placed was off-target, but it's the command structure that's the prob, at least that's where the blame should be placed according to the Boonville tactical manual. Biden did inherit a mess and an inevitable exit both he and his predecessor wanted. The CIA and the generals on the ground should have foreseen the collapse of the Afghan army, and should have had hurry-up contingency plans for a hasty exit, including a perimeter defense of both the Kabul airport and Bagram, only a few miles away. Flying in Marines after widespread panic to secure the airport? Really? So there it is, another disaster that leaves us wondering at the stupefying incompetence of the people in charge. 

WHEN I READ that New Zealand reported panic buying and empty supermarket shelves after the country went into a nationwide lockdown, I worried that Peewee the Kiwi, and former American resident of Ukiah, and former Mendo trash czar, and author and sole actor of the local best seller, “How to Car Bomb Your Ex-Wife and Get Away With It” had enough to eat far, far away from, so to speak, the scene of the crime, and wondered if Mike Sweeney had second thoughts about leaving his furtive life on the Westside, not to mention abandoning his old girlfriend, journalist Glenda Anderson, who faithfully promoted the diminutive psychopath's recycling prowess on the front page of the Ukiah Daily Journal, and later ran interference for him at the Press Democrat where epistolary evidence related to the car bombing has conveniently disappeared, and was then dumped by PeeWee when he left the scene of his many crimes for a new life next door to Down Under.

A READER WRITES: “I was reading about millennials, kids born from around 1985-2000. They voluntarily read books at a rate down about 60% from past generations. And reading comprehension skills have deteriorated massively as have deficiency in English writing skills. We place 15th of 31 industrialized nations and the number of 12th graders who have never read for pleasure was 20%! Books are anathema I guess. The other obvious change (given our shallow materialistic culture) is that 45% of Baby Boomers consider wealth a very important attribute compared to the millennials in which 75% consider wealth to be a very important attribute. Obviously, moving in the wrong direction if we want to begin to deal with the rampant consumerism which feeds the global warming beast. Another survey compared interest in staying abreast of political affairs— 50% baby boomers down to 35% millennials! It also showed in a category called ‘developing a meaningful philosophy of life.’ This measure decreased from 73% boomers to 21% millennials. Millennials came of age when the internet was taking precedence. It will be interesting to see how the pandemic generation turns out… If you and I are even still around! Ha!”

THE ONLY PEOPLE I know under the age of 70 are immediate family members. I think it's obvious there's been a significant cultural falling off, but in defense of the Like Dudes and the Up Talk Girls, they've been raised on psycho-visuals, depraved tunes, and cyber-gadgetry, not to mention bad food and dope in a culture not known for its reverence for learning, and in an imploding society on top of all of it, a society flagrantly indifferent to their welfare. I doubt the poor things ever see a book after they complete their 12 years of irrelevant education. I'm surprised most of them, and the rest of us, function as well as we seem to, bombarded with lunacies all day every day. In terms of the scholarly life, the percentages of participants don't seem to have changed much, if at all.

THERE'S CHICKENBLEEP and then there's the Supervisors' refusal to extend to former Supervisor McCowen the pro forma honor of public recognition for his many years of service, which includes many hours of donated time cleaning up the banks of the Russian River after the bums, er, homeless. Every other retiring Supe has gotten the rote Whereases, even the several recent criminals and nut cases who “served.” I know from long personal experience with the garrulous Ukiah solon how excruciatingly annoying he can be, so annoying to me that I spent several years dreaming of beating him severely about the head and shoulders. The five present Supervisors should be able to collectively suck it up and ignore CEO Angelo's personal dislike of McCowen and give him the recognition he deserves.

CONTRAST nada for McCowen with this Mawk Fest for Supervisor Jim ‘The Hippies Are After Me’ Wattenburger

(From our Supes meeting coverage in December 2008): 

Supervisor Colfax recited a resolution recognizing his colleague Jim Wattenburger for his years of service. Colfax rattled off a list of the various boards, councils, commissions, districts and agencies one-term Wattenburger was on, concluding that Wattenburger had demonstrated “leadership” by showing up for all these meetings. Colfax chuckled as he congratulated Wattenburger for bringing “levity and a sense of humor — Jimisms, the creative use of the English language” to the boardroom. Wattenburger certainly did that, however unintentionally. 

Colfax then joked that it came as a “great relief” that Wattenburger had not chained himself to the Mill Creek Dam to keep the state from taking it out for the sake of the fish a couple of years ago. “This short, fat, bald guy made a lasting impression,” Colfax joked, referring to Wattenburger's self-description at a meeting last year. 

Outgoing Supervisor Delbar piled on. “It's been an honor to work with Jim Wattenburger for these four years, a joy working with somebody of Jim's caliber. His heart is with the County of Mendocino. He always had fatherly advice for me and he made the last four years enjoyable. Thanks for your service. It was remarkable.” 

All of this saccharine bonhomie was entirely self-referential, bearing no relation to county business. …

Wattenburger declared he had “hope for the future,” that he was passionate about County business, and that he had initially run because he wanted to “bring back government efficiency.” (We haven't heard a word from him since on any subject, let alone county matters.) 

When Wattenburger mentioned his wife he paused, sighed, and choked back tears between sputters, sentence fragments and occasional eye-daubings. He referred to “after-meeting regrets, ranting, and the crap that comes with the job,” then shook his head saying, “Wait a minute. … This is the passion I talked about. My wife got several death threats because of my actions,” Wattenburger claimed, patting his eyes again. “I thank her.” 

Last year (2007) Wattenburger said that he had received death threats aimed at his wife which were supposedly related to his positions on marijuana enforcement and/or the Masonite re-zone, saying that the threats, however they were expressed, included a description of his wife's daily itinerary, causing him to carry an unpermitted hand gun to Supervisor's meetings in case “the hippies” ambushed him. After several more pauses and whimpering false starts, Wattenburger changed subjects: “I didn't think I was worthy to be the chair,” he gurgled — more tears, more eye-daubing. “I apologize.” He handed out copies of his “principles of board conduct.” 

And then read them. 

“Hope, not fear. Solutions, not conflict. Education, not litigation. Science instead of emotion. I failed that one...” 

“I'll leave you with one quote which is why I did not run for re-election,” said Wattenburger. “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way. I decided to get the hell out of the way.” Wattenburger is a former Calfire firefighter. He's gone back to work for Calfire while also drawing Supervisor pay at $65k a year plus bennies. 

After Colfax read a proclamation commending Wattenburger for his four years of service, the other four Supervisors perfunctorily voted, “Aye.” 

Wattenburger, through his tears, voted “No. I don't think I deserve it,” adding, “I apologize for that show of emotion but that is my passion.”

GOT MY RECALL BALLOT TODAY, along with a note from County Clerk Ms. Bartlomei, “We encourage you to stay home, stay safe and return your ballot either through the mail or a Ballot Drop Box Location at your earliest convenience.”

LIBS MAY WANT to remain seated for what follows, but I'm indifferent to the electoral fate of the governor. He's always struck me as a sociopath — slicker than most of the breed, but not a guy you'd want to leave alone with your teenage daughter. Newsom sounds smart and like he's getting great things accomplished because he puts out a lot of words real fast in a breathless rush, furtively eyeballing the audience to check how he's going over. His personal history? I'm sure the famous lunch at the French Laundry is only the tip of a huge iceberg. Make the shmucks wear masks but we're not shmucks, are we? We run the system. Pass me another one-a-them $400 bites carved like a flower.

I'LL VOTE NO on the Recall simply because it's not a defensible expenditure of public money. A special election? For this? Of course not. The alternate candidates look like meds day at an outpatient clinic, but certainly reflect the political tenor of the times. The stark fact that Bruce Jenner gets any public attention at all is a perfect metaphor for how far we've fallen.

THE FIRST OF MANY, a reader writes: "Got this pic yesterday from a friend. I’ve been saying that the new [Ukiah] streetscape is gonna cause a lot of accidents. Here’s the first—can’t make a right turn."

31 MENDO AGENCIES are variously involved with the homeless. Although the county paid Mr. Marbut a lot of money to devise strategies for reducing the numbers of the unhoused, there seem to be more than ever out there wandering the streets of Ukiah and Fort Bragg, the only two towns providing the services that sustain life out of doors. In short, Marbut said that the lifestyle homeless should be handed a sandwich or two but no more, that the focus of agencies dealing with the homeless should be on those with roots in Mendocino County. But Marbut picked up a quick 50 grand and his suggestions, hailed at the time by the Supervisors as eminently doable and even wise, have ever since been ignored because the several hundred doers of good at the 31 agencies quickly organized to defeat them as “cruel.” We now have as many people paid to help the intractable homeless as there are intractable homeless. Only in Mendo would it be possible to have 31 agencies devoted or partly devoted to the homeless — roughly 500 people out of a total Mendo population of 91,000. 

ON PBS'S NEWS HOUR FRIDAY afternoon, two PBS-certified wise men discussed Biden's Afghanistan performance. When one of them described Biden's “steely determination” to successfully bring off the evacuation, host Judy Woodruff and the other wise man nodded assent. “Steely determination.” Who says PBS can't be funny? But there's nothing funny about a cognitively impaired old man repeatedly shoved in front of teleprompters to pretend he's president.

THE DEMOCRATS said that Trump had to go because not only he but everyone around him was not only incompetent but a bunch of them were nuts. Re-install us, the Democrats said, and we'll run things correctly. I'd say the election of Biden and his team has been your basic lateral move.

SOME 570 rioters have been arrested since the January mob took over the capitol January, but the FBI has found no evidence that the riot was an organized plot to overturn Donald Trump’s election defeat. Citing four unnamed current and former law enforcement officials said to be familiar with the investigation, Reuters reports that the FBI has so far found scant evidence to suggest that the riot was centrally coordinated by far-right groups, the former president himself, or his close allies. “Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” one former law enforcement official said of the hundreds of riot-related arrests. “You have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.” The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, which are leading prosecutions related to Jan. 6, refused to comment on the Reuters report.

BIDEN appeared on television Sunday afternoon to say he is “working hard” and “as fast as we can” to get Americans and US allies out of Afghanistan, noting that 33,000 people have been evacuated from the country since July. Biden had set an evacuation deadline of August 31 but implied it may take some time before everyone's out. He said some 11,000 people were lifted out of Kabul in less than 36 hours, describing the evacuation as “hard and painful” and admitting “a lot could still go wrong.” “Let me be clear — the evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful. No matter when it started, when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television. It's just a fact.”

WHEN the histories are written of the Afghan fiasco, it will be even more obvious that the intelligence-military nexus will be found wanting. It was clear all the way to Boonville that the Afghan army could collapse any time, and when Biden announced a date for withdrawal, collapse was inevitable and, as it's turned out, rapid. Shoulda been enough troops left in-country to at least secure the airfields. Trillions frittered away on these old boys with chests full of medals… Etc.

ON JONAH RASKIN'S recommendation, I bought a copy of “By the Light of Burning Dreams — The Triumph and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution,” by David Talbot and Margaret Talbot. To a guy like me who was merely a foot soldier in the great civil rights and peace offensives of the 1960s, a foot soldier who found the leadership of opportunistic figures like Tom Hayden and that treacherous little weasel Rennie Davis highly suspect. Where did they get the money to fly around everywhere talking big talk about revolution? (O yea, Tom, Rennie. I'll talk my friends into going out there to commit major felonies. I know you guys will be right behind us all the way.” Way behind as it turned out. Hayden's rich friends funded him into an elected state sinecure and Davis hit the mystic trail for a second life as cosmic advice man.

THE TALBOTS’ book, despite a few too many hagiographic riffs on the clay-foots profiled for my taste, contains a lot of interesting stuff about “movement” people I haven't seen anywhere else. (The sixties movement is the only movement in the history of movements to march mostly backwards, but without even attempting to enumerate them I'd say the Women's and the Environmental movements were the only positive “movement” developments I can think of off hand. And America finally got good bread. (cf the Healdsburg Bakery and Henry Miller's essay, “Bread.”)

THERE'S this startling passage in an interesting section on John Lennon, a figure I knew nothing about beyond his being a key Beatle. I certainly didn't know anything about his murky assassin — Mark David Chapman — who, the Talbots suggest, may have been a kind of Manchurian Candidate programmed to murder Lennon by the Nixonians. J. Edgar, predictably, viewed the singer-songwriter as a major threat to The American Way of Life: 

“AS NIXON'S offensive against Lennon had grown more aggressive, John's paranoia deepened. When the Lennons were visiting with Paul Krassner during their 1972 California trip, the underground publisher recalled, ‘I remember John said to me at one point, “If anything happens to me or Yoko, it was not an accident.” But writing in his journal in 1978, Lennon mocked the rampant fears of Krassner, who even warned John that his fellow Yippies, Rubin and Hoffman, were CIA double agents. Lennon also wrote dismissively of Mae ‘They're Coming Through the Windows’ Brussell — one of the commentators who later alleged that the musician was assassinated because he was a ‘threat’ to the forces of war and repression within the incoming Reagan administration.”

THAT WAS THEN and now is now, with daily warnings that we've irremediably over-cooked the planet, but darned if I sense any urgency from the leadership urging specific strategies of the painfully austere type that might get us off low boil.

JACK HIRSCHMAN, former San Francisco poet laureate, activist, and famed proponent of the Beat Generation, died at his home in the city on Sunday, said the organization in which he served as a co-founder and director. He was 87 years old.

GOOD GUY GONE. Volcanic, I'd say, to describe Hirschman, and smart, very funny, a great mimic, easy to work with considering his personality. I won't be the only person missing him.

MS NOTES: Voter turnout is expected to be low. Veteran Democratic strategist Katie Merrill of Berkeley said last week, “I think if the election were held today, we’d probably have a 30% turnout. That’s problematic. When such a small percent of the electorate is turning out, that means that most of the voters are the ones that are most engaged in that particular campaign or that particular race. And every poll has shown that the voters that are most engaged in the race right now are the ones who want to recall Gavin Newsom. It may sound silly to some people, but there is probably a large portion of the electorate that is quite uninterested in this election,

THE SECOND QUESTION on the recall ballot is this: “If he’s recalled, who should replace him?” Data shows that in past recall elections some people who voted “No” on the first question don’t cast any vote on the second, perhaps thinking their choice won’t count. Activists say one of the most common questions they’re hearing from voters is whether they have to weigh in on both questions, or if a vote on one question cancels the other out. The answer to both of those questions is no, but the questions keep popping up.


[1] If the Afghan citizenry is not ready and willing to take up arms and defend their own country, then what is the point? The USA cannot prop up puppet governments for all of eternity. We need to get out of the worldwide policing game and at least start to try and look after our own turf here at home. I know, I know… this will ever be the case given everything going on at the Homefront, but one can hope. I take a strict isolationist stance and think we should just hunker down and enjoy our final years and let the rest of the world simply fall apart however it wants.

[2] Thousands of American citizens, thousands more Afghani translators/helpers that have been trying for years to get out, all of them stranded with the US impotent, its massive military and civil service bureaucracy with its legions of workers unable to cope. 

Contrast the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and its orderly columns which looked a model of efficiency in comparison to this fiasco. This after 20 years and all those many billions? A handful of illiterate turbaned farmers in sandals did this? 

What does it mean? Maybe this, it means that for the people that purported to be our superiors the disgrace and discrediting is complete, their right to rule based on merit and ability a complete lie. For decades they’ve been but empty suits, a parasitic over-class governing by intimidation and bluff and bluster, self-enrichment their only motive. 

So, what follows? That’s the hard part. History can be instructive in these matters but every place is different as is each succeeding era. So we can talk about “regime change” but regimes don’t change according to pre-set trajectories and time-lines. There’s talk about societal “resets” pushed on us by individuals on high, and I think the time is nigh for exactly that, but I think the re-set won’t be one determined by a few magnificently wealthy men in opulent quarters. 

The Afghanistan debacle may be the precipitating incident for a cascade that follows but I don’t think that Washington will be at the center of it. As in Afghanistan, the US government and America’s governing elite will be bystanders, overwhelmed by events. And they will find something out as did previous regimes in other countries, that people have power if other people listen and obey. But without that, there’s no power.

[3] I am old enough to have seen the country suffer through numerous crises, political, economic, and natural disaster, but to me they always were of the “this too shall pass” variety. Of course the chaos in Afghanistan will pass as well; we just don’t know the timeframe or what the body count will be, but before it is over most of the media will lose interest, just as the border crisis has faded from awareness for most. 

What is different with this crisis is just how in your face it is as to the facade of American power projection and as concerns the almost incomprehensible incompetence of our military and government leadership. Hundreds of billions a year for the military and intelligence agencies, yet they didn’t see this coming. How could they not have any plans for the evacuation of Americans and our Afghan allies? How could they not even know how many Americans are there? Being they assumed the Taliban would eventually take over, where was the plan to disable American planes and other equipment left behind when they did? Why weren’t they working 24/7 on the Visa’s for our allies in the months leading up to the troop withdrawal, and at least quietly getting their families out of the country in anticipation of a collapse? None of this is rocket scientist stuff. 

What all this tells me is that the rot from within is pretty far along. We may have more weapons and more advanced technology than anyone else, but it is all smoke and mirrors when it comes to real power. No doubt the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, and other bad actors see all this, and they likely know more than us common folk can possibly know. 

I’ve long been a believer in the “long emergency” concept, and we’ve been in the midst of it no doubt, but now I can see a rapidly unfolding general collapse when some innocuous event begins to spin out of control. No different than a majestic tree that has stood for centuries falls suddenly. The bark we see on the outside looks healthy but the inside has slowly been rotting for decades.

[4] Back at the time of Katrina, I was vacationing in Canada and can recall sitting in my hotel in Quebec City just staring at the TV incredulous at the profound ineptness of the federal govts response, or lack thereof. How could a country of 300 million people be unable to muster a cohesive response for days on end? How could we be unable to evacuate hospitals or at a minimum bring in adequate supplies to them? How could we not muster enough helicopters and boats to rescue people off of the roofs of their homes? Get enough food and water into that convention center, and maybe some portapotties too? Big as Katrina was, it was just a regional event. I knew then the federal govt could in no way manage a national emergency.

During the Obama years the corruption in the upper echelons of the FBI, Justice Dept, State Dept, and more became increasingly evident and since then we’ve come to the point that they barely pretend otherwise. 

Then comes along the pandemic and we learn the hard way that despite all the money thrown at pandemic planning in years prior, there weren’t any plans at the federal level, or at least none that made any sense. And we saw that States and cities also didn’t have anything one might call a plan either. They didn’t even know how many working ventilators we had, let alone where they were, nor what was available for stockpiled supplies. That it came as a surprise to them that the just-in-time production system could not magically give them everything they wanted spoke volumes concerning their incompetencies. How could it have been a surprise to public health officials that most of what they use everyday was produced overseas? 

Now we have the debacle in Afghanistan. I have absolute respect and admiration for the troops, but the lack of leadership and the lack of even the most basic competencies will now needlessly cost many lives of the ones we leave behind. The same goes for the intelligence agencies and the administration. It is painfully apparent there weren’t any plans for dealing with the fall of the Afghan govt. No plans for evacuating Americans or our allies & their families., No plans to disable the Blackhawks and other high value military hardware before the Taliban seized it. No plans on where to take those that do get evacuated. No plans to rapid process the exits of our Afghan allies & their families. No plans for anything of consequence.

As much as I might wish it weren’t so, I have no faith in any branch of our govt. to protect the interests of the American people or our allies. It is as if the US has become a shell of a country that has rotted from within. Our institutions have failed us, and they don’t seem to care. We are truly on our own.

[5] Not everybody uses cannabis, not everybody drinks alcohol, not everybody takes pills, not everybody uses heroin, not everybody gambles, not everybody sucks the glass D, pick your poison. But this fake idea that if you're affiliated with cannabis you're going to be rich beyond your flat billed cap is a pipe dream at best. Show me the successful cannabis farmer and I will show you a lot of money that goes to the feds and their counterparts below. The struggling folks at flophouse farms tell the true tale. Running into the woods as the LEOs show up. Hungry, exploited, lost, no education or real skills, wasted time, wasted youth, when the game's over that is their truth.

One Comment

  1. Douglas Coulter September 1, 2021

    All That Fake News

    Close your eyes let us lead you tomorrow we bleed you
    Pretend that our words may be true
    And while we’re here to stay civil rights fade away
    As we spin propaganda for you

    Propaganda we will share with you
    All that fake news censored by our crew
    All that fake news all that fake news
    Propaganda is easier to chew

    Guys like Manning and Snowden with Wikileaks exploding
    Exposing a war crime or two
    Can’t allow a free press to block corporate success
    When our propaganda’s better for you

    Propaganda we will feed to you
    All that fake news censored by our crew
    All that fake news all that fake new
    Propaganda covers up the clues

    It may seem kind of funny how our leaders all have money
    They promise to care for the poor
    But once your destitute in a bright orange jump suit
    Behind several locked iron doors

    Propaganda we’ve prepared for you
    Public conscience silenced by the few
    All that fake news all that fake news
    Propaganda is easier to chew

    Douglas Wayne Coulter
    Stolen from The Beatles “All My Loving”

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