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Mendocino County Today: June 3, 2013

GRATIFYING to see Point Arena squeeze by visiting powerhouse Ferndale in a North Coast Section playoff game at Point Arena two Saturdays ago. Justin Sundstrom slid across home plate with the winning run for a dramatic 10th inning victory for PA, 4-3. Point Arena then played Tomales for the regional small school championship but fell to their Marin County hosts, 5-3. Point Arena is coached by Trevor Sanders.

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RAN INTO an old gyppo logger the other day who had a few things to say about the Mendocino Redwood Company. MRC now owns what used to be L-P's vast Mendocino holdings. "G-P was a lot harder on the land than L-P," the logger commented, "and MRC's Habitat Conservation Plan they just got for 80 years is way too long.  But there's not enough inventory information in an HCP to seriously review so they can cut at whatever rate they want, and they will to get their money back from their investment."

MENDOCINO REDWOOD is owned by the Fisher family of San Francisco where various of them are often found on the society pages. The Fishers also own The Gap clothing chain.

"PEOPLE are being bamboozled by MRC’s public relations. MRC is very good at PR, with lots of nice words about sustainability and habitat, but on individual THPs, they’re cutting more percentagewise than L-P did, which was under stricter CDF review back then," he said. "MRC controls the mills and thereby the price they pay and thereby the timber yield tax which has not increased much because the tax is based on the (lower) price at the mill. Also, MRC pays on net; whereas L-P paid on ‘adjusted gross,’ which means more trees are cut but fewer are counted as millable after deducting for flaws, fire damage and breakage. There’s less forestland available to cut now because of set-asides, setbacks and formerly blitzed areas. But on the areas they do cut, they’re hitting them very hard. Certification is a joke. The Fisher family has connections with the certification outfits from their National Resources Defense Council days.” (As Will Parrish has also pointed out.)

THE LOGGER added, “CDF is understaffed and is doing fairly light review both before and after Mendocino Redwood's THPs (timber harvest plans) because they believe the hype and they are focusing more on smaller landowner THPs. MRC (and their sister company HRC in Humboldt County) controls most of the major milling capacity on the north coast and they can set their own prices and acceptability standards."

MRC OWNS 229,000 Mendo acres. They certainly are good at public relations. The company invites interested persons onto any area of their holdings for a first-hand look. Our overall impression is that they are backing up their pr with sound practices on the ground, but an operation as large as MRC is bound to be under-regulated, and government agencies anymore are much more likely to back off the big guys while holding the little guys to strict account.

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LATELY, even our first class mail is taking three days to get from Boonville to Frisco. Most weeks, the AVAs dispatched Wednesdays in Boonville get to San Francisco the following Monday or Tuesday. The rest of the country? Like, whenever dude, maybe a week, maybe a month. No, I don't think we're being singled out for deficient service. It's both a sign of the times — mass, relentless incompetence at all levels of American life — and the deliberate strangulation of all government services by elected loons who don't think the government should do anything for anybody, including mail delivery. The same government gets a blank check for knocking off Arabs, however, and whoever else gets in the way of corporate imperialism.

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THE PRESS DEMOCRAT announced Saturday that they'd "won a dozen awards, including five first-place plaques, in an annual journalism contest held Saturday in Foster City by the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club."

THE NARCOLEPTIC DAILY reported in April they'd won ten awards, one of them for "general excellence," from the California Newspaper Publisher's Association.

THAT'S TWO MONTHS in a row their Santa Rosa excellencies have returned to the Rose City with a trunkload of journalo trophies. Over the years, the paper has amassed thousands of plaques and recycled golf trophies re-inscribed “Press Democrat.” Where do they put them all?

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Villagomez
Villagomez

LUHE ‘OTTER’ VILLAGOMEZ, 19, of Ukiah and Windsor, famously survived a 2011 leap off the Golden Gate Bridge with minor injuries. Now a student at Santa Rosa JC, last week Villagomez was interview by college classmates: “I was on a field trip with my class. We were going to walk across the bridge as a kind of end of year thing. When we got to the beginning of the bridge it was like, you know what, that would be cool to jump off the bridge. I used to jump off bridges every day of the summer when I lived in Folsom. At the little rest stop I talked to my friend. I think I’m going to jump off the bridge. I’m like, alright, here. Hold my stuff. Climbing on the rail they’re like freaking out, grabbing me but not really. I climb down onto this I-beam, standing there holding onto the cable, looking back and it’s like, ‘Just go for it.’ Once I started going over the railing, it was like, ‘Alright, yeah, I’ve got this.’ It definitely (felt) like forever, even though it was like 6 or 7 seconds. You jump and are just floating there for a second looking at the horizon. Halfway down you just start going way faster. It wasn’t painful, like getting hit by a truck, but it didn’t hurt.”

FRED LE COUTURIUER, 55, to the rescue. He was surfing under the Bridge when he saw Villagomez jump.

VILLAGOMEZ: “The dude pulled up cussing at me. ‘Why the hell did you do that?’ ‘Just for kicks,’ (I said), trying to like keep afloat.”

Interviewer: “Would you have made it if the surfer wasn’t there?”

Villagomez: “No, probably not. They say the surfer saved me, but really I was like, on there. He told me to climb up, and I’ve always wanted to surf so I was like trying to catch the wave. I don’t know what I was thinking. He’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ Then he starts taking off my shoes and lets them float away. ‘Alright, get off, swim to the left,’ he said. I get tired, don’t think I can make it. ‘Swim to the left,’ he says, so I go to my backstroke. Then I’m being lifted up into the ambulance. I got a broken tailbone. They say I got a punctured lung, but I didn’t really feel that. It cleared up in like two days.”

Interviewer: “Did you have high medical bills? What were the consequences through the school?”

Villagomez: “Definitely lots of zeros, and just a five-day suspension. I don’t think they even have anything in the books for that, except disobeying, not being with the group.”

Interviewer: “What would you say to others?”

Villagomez: “Naw, Don’t even try it. If they asked me and then they got hurt, I would feel like I was responsible.”

VILLAGOMEZ MAY HAVE BEEN SAVED by a series of coincidences that weakened his impact, according to physics professor James Kakalios of the Univ. of Minnesota. Professor Kakalios calculated that the teenager would have been travelling at 80mph when he hit the water. However, air resistance could have cut that to 40 or 50mph. The boy was described by the surfer who rescued him a being “built like a wrester,” which would help increase air resistance, Professor Kakalios added, especially if he had managed to twist his body in the air. “Instead of falling feet first, you rotate your body by 90 degrees so you’re prone to the water,” he said. “Then, at the last minute, you want to rotate yourself back up so you slice the water, lessening its resistance.” Reports of strong winds and San Francisco’s famous fog could also have slowed his descent by creating more resistance. And the presence of a surfer suggests that the water was choppy and so less solid, another lucky factor.

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MENDOCINO SPRING POETRY CELEBRATION

"Whitman said, "To have great poetry, there must be great audiences."

All friends of the lively word are invited to the Mendocino Spring Poetry Celebration at the Hill House in Mendocino, Sunday, June 9.

There will be two open readings. Sign up at noon for the reading at 1:00 PM. Sign up at 6:00 for the reading at 7:00 PM. Prepare four minutes for each round---of your own work, or of others.

Refreshments and fellowship, open book displays. Contributions requested. Music: Richard Cooper, bass.

This will be the 38th Anniversary celebration of Spring marathon readings here, and the eight consecutive revival. The event attracts the best work from the north counties and beyond, typically with forty and more poets and writers. It's also an encouraging opportunity for new voices.

All poems read at the Spring celebration will be considered by Dan Roberts for broadcast on KZYX&Z.

For information contact Gordon Black at (707) 937-4107 or gblack@mcn.org.

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HOUSE PANEL: REPORT FINDS $50 Million FOR IRS CONFERENCES

By Alan Fram

A government watchdog has found that the Internal Revenue Service spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012, a House committee said Sunday.

The chairman of that committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also released excerpts of congressional investigators' interviews with employees of the IRS office in Cincinnati. Issa said the interviews indicated the employees were directed by Washington to subject tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to tough scrutiny.

The excerpts provided no direct evidence that Washington had ordered that screening. The top Democrat on that panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said none of the employees interviewed have so far identified any IRS officials in Washington as ordering that targeting.

The conference spending included $4 million for an August 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites that normally cost $1,500 to $3,500 per night. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about "leadership through art," the House committee said.

The report by the Treasury Department's inspector general, set to be released Tuesday, comes as the IRS already is facing bipartisan criticism after agency officials disclosed they had targeted tea party and other conservative groups.

Agency officials and the Obama administration have said that treatment was inappropriate, but the political tempest is showing no signs of ebbing and has put the White House on the defensive.

Three congressional committees are investigating, a Justice Department criminal investigation is under way, President Barack Obama has replaced the IRS' acting commissioner and two other top officials have stepped aside.

The Treasury Department released a statement Sunday saying the administration "has already taken aggressive and dramatic action to reduce conference spending."

IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge said Sunday that spending on large agency conferences with 50 or more participants fell from $37.6 million in the 2010 budget year to $4.9 million in 2012. The government's fiscal year begins Oct. 1 the previous calendar year.

On Friday, the new acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, released a statement on the forthcoming report criticizing the Anaheim meeting.

"This conference is an unfortunate vestige from a prior era," Werfel said. "While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred."

Issa's committee also released excerpts from interviews congressional investigators conducted last week with two IRS employees from the agency's Cincinnati office. The excerpts omitted the names of those interviewed and provided no specifics about individuals in Washington who may have been involved.

One of the IRS employees said in an excerpt that they were told by a supervisor that the need to collect the reports came from Washington, and said that in early 2010 the Cincinnati office had sent copies of seven of the cases to Washington.

The other said "all my direction" came from an official the transcript said was in Washington.

One of the workers also expressed skepticism that the Cincinnati office originated the screening without direction from Washington, according to the excerpts.

Appearing Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," Issa said this conflicted with White House comments that have referred to misconduct by IRS workers in Cincinnati. Without naming White House spokesman Jay Carney, Issa said the administration's "paid liar, their spokesperson" is "still making up things about what happens in calling this local rogue."

He added, "This is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters and we're getting to proving it."

In briefings with reporters, Carney has not referred to the Cincinnati IRS office as "rogue."

"He's good at throwing out outlandish charges but it's unclear what he's saying he lied about," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said of Issa's remark.

Cummings said Issa's comments conflicted with a Treasury inspector general's report that provided no evidence that the Cincinnati office received orders on targeting from anyone else.

"Rather than lobbing unsubstantiated conclusions on national television for political reasons, we need to work in a bipartisan way to follow the facts where they lead," Cummings said.

The interviews with IRS employees were conducted by Republican and Democratic aides on Issa's committee and also involved aides from both parties from the House Ways and Means Committee.

One of the employees was a lower-level worker while the other was higher-ranked, said one congressional aide, but the committee did not release their names or titles.

The IRS Cincinnati office handles applications from around the country for tax-exempt status. A Treasury inspector general's report in May said employees there began searching for applications from tea party and conservative groups in their hunt for organizations that primarily do work related to election campaigns.

That May report blamed "ineffective management" for letting that screening occur for more than 18 months between 2010 and 2012. But that report - and three hearings by congressional committees - have produced no specific evidence that the Cincinnati workers were ordered by anyone in Washington to target conservatives.

The latest report on IRS conferences will be the subject of a hearing Thursday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Werfel is scheduled to make his first congressional appearance as acting commissioner Monday when he appears before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

According to congressional aides briefed by the inspector general's office, the IRS did not formally seek competitive bids for the city where the agency's 2010 conference was held, for the event planner who assisted the agency, or for the speakers.

The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a confidential congressional briefing, said other benefits given to some attendees at the Anaheim IRS conference included vouchers for free drinks and some tickets to attend Angels baseball games.

Two videos produced by the IRS were shown at the Anaheim conference. In one, agency employees did a parody of "Star Trek" while dressed like the TV show's characters; the second shows more than a dozen IRS workers dancing on a stage. The two videos cost the agency more than $50,000 to make, aides said.

The lecturer who spoke about leadership through art produced six paintings of subjects that included Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, the rock singer Bono and the Statue of Liberty, the aides said. (Courtesy, the Associated Press)

3 Comments

  1. John Sakowicz June 3, 2013

    Today, June 3, is my birthday, and I’m giving myself a present — a subscription to the AVA.

    I usually buy my weekly edition of the AVA at the Mendocino Book Company or the Ukiah Natural Foods Coop, but getting the subscriptions means home delivery and saving some gas.

    • Eric Sunswheat June 3, 2013

      Subscription AVA home delivery is usually delayed mail delivery. See blog column entry above and good luck with that!

  2. june June 3, 2013

    mr. villagomez needs to get a vasectomy, today!

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