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Mendocino County Today: Sunday, Jan 24, 2016

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A KIND OF RECOLLECTION of the origins of the pension fund fiasco: Former 4th District supervisor John Pinches once said that when he left office after his first term the County was in good financial condition and that it was three "conservatives" who drove it into the ground. From Jan '97 to Dec '04 the BOS majority consisted of Michael Delbar (Potter Valley), Tom Lucier (Willits) and Patty Campbell (Fort Bragg), the three so-called conservatives. But there is enough blame to go around. There was a lot of "doing things the way we've always done them." And even when problems began to surface, no one wanted to deal with them.

IN 1974 the BOS approved the so-called excess earnings that allowed for the diversion of money from the retirement fund to pay for retiree health insurance. That worked fine when health care costs were reasonably low and the stock market was on an upward trajectory.

BUT THE STOCK MARKET began stumbling when the bubble burst, continued with 911 and tanked in 2008. The excess earnings charade probably cost the retirement fund a minimum of $50 million. This damaging series of events was topped off with Treasurer Tim Knudsen and Auditor Dennis Huey illegally diverting a final $9.6 million to pay for retiree healthcare.

BY 1998, when it became clear, even before the wheels came off the economy, that funding retiree healthcare out of the retirement fund's "excess earnings" was not sustainable. So in '98 the Supes decided no new employee would be eligible for retiree health insurance. But they did nothing to fix the problem, which was a lack of any sustainable means of paying for retiree health insurance for anyone.

THEN THE disastrous findings of the errant Slavin Study in 2000 pushed most employee wages up, so that people were able to retire at a higher level than they had been paying in for. The BOS also agreed to grant "safety" retirement to 55 probation employees who thereby became eligible for a much more lucrative retirement than what they had paid in for. And here we are, broker than broke.

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IN A MESSAGE to local friends, Jim Martin, formerly of Fort Bragg, writing from Alaska says, "I have to go over to Sarah’s porch to see Russia, but we’re close! I’m in Palmer, AK. Gotta go, there’s a gun show in Wasilla today, and I’m shopping for a Mossberg Mariners shotgun. The Gun Show? It’s at Wasilla High School. Gotta love Alaska!"

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I was in court on Friday, Jan. 23rd regarding my Willits Bypass protest case. Judge David Nelson presided this time, since Judge Behnke — who had been with me through it all — is now assigned to another courtroom.

It was, by far, the most friendly judicial proceeding I've ever participated in.

Judge Nelson opened by confirming with my lawyer, Omar Figueroa, a few particularities of my appearance in His Honor's court. In Jan. 2014, Omar and I had negotiated a “deferred entry of judgment” with Assistant DA Paul Sequiera whereby I would receive two misdemeanors, with those counts of “unlawful entry” reduced to infractions after a period of two years — provided I didn't commit any other misdemeanor offenses in that time, such as conducting another aerial blockade of Willits highway construction.

After confirming the essentials of this history, Judge Nelson promptly dismissed all charges against me. It happened so fast, and was so anti-climactic — this being after 20 court appearances spanning two and-a-half years, and hundreds of hours of contemplation on my part — that I didn't even understand what happened until Omar explained it to me after the fact.

Judge Nelson then converted the restitution Judge Behnke had ordered me to pay a year ago — $9,460.45 — from a criminal to a civil matter. Frankly, I am not sure what the implications of this ruling are yet.

Judge Nelson then picked up a binder on his desk containing the voluminous files from my case, held it aloft, looked at me and said something to the effect of “This has been a big part of the history of your life. I'll bet you're glad to have it over. Good luck.”

I muttered a thanks.

I'd entered the courtroom not five minutes before, and I was already headed outside to pose for photos with about 25 people who had showed up to support me in the courtroom.

The Press Democrat incorrectly reported that I have paid the restitution. I have not. Honest mistake on their part, I'm sure, since a press release had implied that would happen.

I did receive about $12,000 from 60 donations to cover my restitution, which I've maintained in a credit union savings account. I decided to accept the donations and fundraising support, which several people had offered, because the restitution is supposed to start accruing 10% interest per year as per Judge Behnke's ruling, and I figure it best to be prepared to pay it off — if I do end up doing so — before the interest kicks in.

If Nelson's ruling somehow gives me a new form of legal recourse, which provides me with a viable option for not paying the restitution, I will send everyone a refund and donate the proceeds from my New Year's Eve Little Lake Grange fundraiser to a kindred cause.

When I accepted a plea bargain with the DA's office in January 2014, the crux of the deal was that I got a reduction of charges from 16 misdemeanors to, essentially, two infractions and revocation of the "stay-away order" that forbid me from going near the Bypass. In exchange, I acquiesced to a restitution hearing. All along, the restitution had been the sticking point in the case.

When the DA first offered me a plea, in July 2013, the stipulations were three infractions with a requirement that I pay restitution. There was no cap on how much the restitution might be. I turned down that offer and requested that the DA elevate my charges to misdemeanors so I could receive a jury trial. If I beat all the charges, the restitution would be dropped. Otherwise, I would have to face a restitution hearing, with no limit on what Judge Behnke — actually, I didn't even know who my judge was at that point — might award CalTrans.

As far as I knew, the DA was asking me to submit to a lifetime of indentured servitude whereby CalTrans levies money from my bank account and garnishes whatever paltry wages I'm likely to earn in the years to come as part of my present profession.

The DA didn't like that I turned down his offer, though, so he piled on 16 misdemeanor charges against me, including various counts of trespassing and unlawful entry. Each individual charge entailed a maximum jail sentence of 180 days, which added up to nearly eight years in jail at maximum.

The DA probably figured he'd given me something to think about at that point, so he offered me another plea deal soon after that, but it still included the uncapped restitution stip. Again, I turned it down.

In September 2013, CalTrans filed for a specific amount of restitution — $490,002. That's the cost to taxpayers Caltrans claimed my occupation of construction equipment caused. Caltrans also started making numerous claims in the media that "protesters" had cost taxpayers $6 million or $12 million in delays in 2013 alone.

At the same time, various apologists for CalTrans and the DA were promoting theories with the intention of discrediting me: I wanted a jury trial because I was desperate for the attention, or I wanted to use this experience as a basis for a book that would help me generate speaking fees from New Age environmental groups — silly things like that.

Mike Geniella, the PD reporter-turned-DA public relations officer, even fed a doggy treat to the apologists when he told KMUD News in fall 2013 that the DA had offered to drop CalTrans' restitution claim as part of one of the plea bargains he floated my way, but that I had turned it down because my goal was to get attention for myself and my cause.

Which never happened.

Meanwhile, the court conducted numerous preliminary hearings, including a memorable one wherein Omar put the cops who had arrested me on the stand. Omar tied up the CHP witnesses in so many knots of fallacy and inconsistency that Judge Behnke dropped one of the charges against me, citing one of the cops' contradictory accounts of my April 2nd, 2013 arrest. Bruce McEwen did a great job covering this one in the AVA at the time.

Omar, by the way, was familiar with me via my work in the AVA, which he regularly reads. He seems to juggle a handful of pro bono activism cases at any given time, with one that ran concurrent to mine being on behalf of an alleged San Jose-based member of the hacker group Anonymous who stood accused of taking down the PayPal, Inc. web site in retaliation for the freeze it imposed on Wikileaks' account following publication of US diplomatic cables in 2011.

I consulted with numerous lawyers, most notably Omar, about strategy at the impending trial. The attorneys' consensus: odds were good I would be convicted on at least some of the unlawful entry charges, thereupon sentenced to some period of jail time, and have a separate restitution hearing regarding CalTrans' $490,002 claim against me on top of it.

I figured my best chance to beat the charges was to convince Behnke to allow me to defend myself on the basis of my action's moral necessity — though it was unlikely the reconstructed ex-Pacific Lumber attorney would go for it, even if he didn't show any indication of particularly having it in for me. I tried a handful of times to recruit the inimitable Tony Serra to my pro-bono legal team, and he gave me some favorable indications but never quite committed. Omar did talk to Serra a handful of times, and the latter related that a trial would be “fraught with peril” — meaning, again, I was probably going to end up doing some time.

The trial date was pushed back three times.

At the final pre-trial hearing, in Jan. 2014, three business days before the trial was scheduled to kick off, Assistant DA Paul Sequeira made his first appearance on behalf of the prosecution team.

Whereas Eyster's courtroom psychology and persona had reminded me of Vito Corleone having a bad day, Sequeira was an enthusiastic Good Cop. Following the hearing, Sequeira escorted Omar and I into a conference room in the DA's office.

"Look, we all know these charges are as inflated as hell" — those were some of Sequeira's initial words as he attempted to establish some rapport with me as I sat within the conference room. He told me he didn't mind if I wrote about the conversation for the AVA, since "just about everything that can be said about this case has already been on the front page of the AVA anyway."

Sequeira recounted his long-standing sympathy for non-violent protesters, alluding to some undefined involvement he'd had in protests against Concord Naval Weapons Depot shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras in the '80s. Then he offered to settle the case with a "deferred entry of judgment," similar to probation but without a requirement that I plead guilty or report to a probation officer. At the end of two years, I'd walk away with two infractions.

Sequeira also agreed to my request to restore my right to congregate wherever everyone else in the public can in relation to the Bypass. At that point, I had a "stay-away order," which put a crimp in my ability to continue reporting on the Willits highway boondoggle and were a violation of my civil rights besides, which had already led CHP Lt. Elrod to order me arrested while I was standing on private property, at least 300 feet away from the Bypass' nominal construction, on a certain day in Sept. 2013.

The sticking point remained the restitution. Unnamed other parties became involved in the negotiation. I was obliged to stand in the hallway at this point. The prosecution managed to provide a credible assurance that the restitution would almost certainly be under $10 grand (this was not really a secret, since Omar Figueroa mentioned it to the Ukiah Daily Journal at the time.)

I remained opposed to paying any amount of restitution on principle, though a four-figure bill was certainly more sanguine than a half-mil. Then again, CalTrans was never going to get a judgment for anywhere near that amount. CalTrans had submitted its bogus bill to lend credence to the idea I owed them a lot of money, I figured, and knew they would actually receive less.

Nonetheless, Omar counseled me that he thought this was the best deal I could possibly hope for. Unless I beat all the charges at trial and thereby didn't have to pay any restitution, he reminded me, then Judge Behnke would be given the unilateral authority to set the restitution amount. He would probably be more sympathetic if I went along with Sequeira's offer. If I went to trial and got convicted, that likely meant he would impose higher restitution fees — or so the thinking went.

There's no straightforward legal mechanism for converting restitution to jail time, multiple lawyers have informed me, so I'd be stuck paying a restitution bill anyway. According to a Pelican Bay prison pen pal I'd been exchanging letters with, for example, the jail simply took 55% of the money his family donated to his concession fund as a means to cover his restitution fees.

I chewed over the offer for the two days I had to make my decision, including talking it out in detail with my girlfriend, and more with Omar. I got the sense Sequeira did feel some personal sympathy for me. I also figured the major part of the prosecution team's motivation was political in nature. They were going to send someone with a decent level of public sympathy and reasonably good writing ability to jail, or else they were going to lose in a highly-publicized jury trial. They wanted to avoid reaping embarrassment.

If Mendocino County's criminal justice apparatus were one of my main journalistic beats, no doubt I would have felt more welcoming of a jail sentence. Some time in jail would have given me some great writing material. It would have allowed me to catch up on lots of reading. As worthy as the Mendo judicial beat is, however, my focus largely lies elsewhere, and the prospect of time in jail was not something I really relished.

I was also greatly concerned with the kind of precedent my case would create for people who engage in similar forms of non-violent direct resistance. Time in jail could have cast a pall on similar actions people are contemplating. Or maybe not. It was hard to say.

I started to see the situation as akin to a football game. Acceptance of the DA's offer was like kicking a field goal instead of trying to execute a risky touchdown on fourth-and-goal, eleven yards from the end zone.

In other words, resolving the case with two infractions and payment of less than $10,000 in restitution struck me as somewhat favorable outcome, even if a wholly unsatisfying one.

At the same time, the backdrop for all this was that I had also pulled off a fairly improbable 11-day shut-down of a derrick-like piece of equipment, thus bottlenecking the most damaging part of the Bypass construction effort for more than 11 days. In the process, I'd gone five days without food and shivered my ass off through a two and-a-half-day early-summer rain. My action had also accomplished more than I probably could have reasonably expected, making a political impact that I won't take the space to analyze here. So, I considered my decision in terms of what I'd already been through, and accomplished, in a larger context, while also recognizing the limits of that action — the Bypass had still been built.

In the end, I took the deal. A year later, the restitution hearing took place. Behnke set the amount at $9,460.45. This past Friday, January 22nd was exactly one year from that date, now with a partial Judge Nelson presiding over my case and dismissing all charges against me.

It feels bittersweet, though I've gotten off pretty light — and I've had a lot of help along the way.

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(Photo by Elaine Kalantarian)

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YOU'RE AS YOUNG as you feel, the saying goes. Feeling young and competitive Saturday morning, I signed up for the annual free throw contest at Drake High School. Hadn't touched a basketball in fifty years, and had second thoughts as soon as I walked into the gym where men and women of all ages were throwing them up and in like free throw machines. "Well, hell," I thought. "I'm in the 'Over 60' group, which oughta be, in my case, the way over 60 group, but then....

BUT THEN I saw a wheeze who had trouble even getting the ball within several feet of the rim. He was throwing 'em up like the ball weighed fifty pounds. I sidled over to find out how old the guy was. "Excuse me, my friend, but I think I'm in your class. How the heck old are you?" He said he was 64. He looked a hundred and sixty-four. And was the oldest-looking Senior Citizen in the building.

THE TWO KIDS keeping track gave me "as many warm-up shots as you think you need. Then, two sets of ten shots each and, finally, as many as you can make in a row."

I WAS DELIGHTED (and surprised) to hit 12 of 20 but missed Shot One in the follow-up. I doubt if I smoked the Over 60's because it was an all-morning event, meaning lots of people were still arriving when I left. I'll be back next year. And in the mean time, I'm going to lobby the sponsors for an Over 70 class.

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Enjoyed the article on the Buddhist grounds. When I first arrived in Ukiah from the Bronx, via Berkeley, my then-husband and I lived on Mid Mountain in Potter Valley, on the land of old friends of the hubby. While building our own Class K abode, we shared the 40 acres with Bikshu Eric, a monk from San Francisco sent north to find a new home for the Monastery.

Eventually, after other real estate was considered unacceptable, property for sale on Mid Mountain was rejected due to bad feng shui — the old mental health grounds was selected.

I knew nothing about California, Ronald Reagan, or anything else really, back then, concentrating mostly on having a good time and trying to scrape up enough money for the next meal. The hub and I met Susan Bell, and our first (unpaid) job was painting an osprey on the facade of an old bar on Perkins street — the first home of the Ukiah Community Center.

There seemed to be a lot of odd folks wandering around, stopping to talk and give me recipes for spoon bread; folks, I learned a little later, who had been "released" from the Talmage mental health facility.

The osprey bit the dust when the old bar came down, replaced by Rainbow Ag and the BBQ joint. I managed to survive doing bits of artwork, washing dishes at The Corner Store, living rent free on a mountain… the good old days. Said Buddhist Bikshu accused me of visiting him in his dreams, trying to seduce him. This was after he told me that he and I were married in several different life times. He riled Michael up to the point that Michael drove our old fifty-something chevy truck — Rackety Boom — off the road on a hairpin turn!!!!"

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What's Shakin'? January 23, 2016

Dear Friends,

Winter rains have not diminished the level of effort for recovery from last year’s fires and related disasters. The latest and most comprehensive report from the Lake County Recovery Task Force’s dedicated leader, Carol Huchingson, is available on YouTube (thanks to Maurice Taylor and Clear Lake Video): This presentation was made on January 21st at the “Thursday Morning Breakfast Group” (to request their monthly agendas, write to Dick Freeborn at “

Tomorrow on KPFZ’s “Team Lake County” hour we’ll hear from the coordinator of TLC's Construction Committee, Kevin Cox (Hope Crisis Response Network), on the status of progress and problems with mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to arrive and start building, in March of this year.

Meanwhile, WORLD RENEW ( has launched an intensive effort to contact all of the Valley Fire survivors to identify their “unmet needs” so that newly trained case management volunteers — thanks to the staff and volunteers from United Christian Parrish — can begin working to find resources for still dislocated community members.

Great support from neighbors and local organizations — see the “Northbay BIZ” January, 2016, story (with plenty of encouragement for our long-term recovery):

See you on the radio!

Betsy Cawn

PS. — Do you know anyone whose life was impacted by the 2015 Valley Fire, and who also found help from KPFZ? A filmmaker from Boston is seeking stories of those who shared our radio experience during those fateful weeks in September and October, when KPFZ was a primary source of information to survivors and supporters throughout Lake County. If you know of anyone or would like to participate in creating a dynamic picture of how our community came together through the airwaves, let me know and I’ll pass along your contact info.

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As someone who marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, three rows behind Julian Bond and John Lewis, I take great nonviolent exception with those who liken such MLK-era protests with Monday's militant blockade of the Bay Bridge. The great difference is in purposefulness.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. grew his movement by strategically targeting malefactors; if Woolworth’s had segregated lunch counters and discriminatory hiring practices, we picketed and boycotted Woolworths, inconveniencing Woolworth’s upper management while winning over great numbers of near and far onlookers. In sharpest contrast, the Bay Bridge blockers targeted everybody unlucky enough to be driving that afternoon. They established no connection whatever between the wrong to be corrected and the action they took.

Truth to tell, the "protesters" acted like undisciplined, petulant children. Exactly as with Act Up and Critical Mass protests, the upshot will be a sharp drop in support for their causes.

Jeff Zorn, Santa Clara

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CATCH OF THE DAY, January 23, 2016

Bolton, Avery, Hensley, Hiatt
Bolton, Emery, Hensley, Hiatt

JOHN BOLTON IV, Willits. Drunk in public,, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)

STACEY EMERY, Clearlake/Ukiah. Drunk in public.

CHARLES HENSLEY, Ukiah. Drunk in public. (Frequent flyer.)

TIMOTHY HIATT, Willits. Fugitive from justice.

Hockett, Kelly, Lockhart
Hockett, Kelly, Lockhart

JEFFERY HOCKETT, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.

JOSHUA KELLY, Cloverdale/Potter Valley. DUI-drugs only, under influence, DUI-suspended license.


Martin, Maynard, Shively
Martin, Maynard, Shively

RACHELLE MARTIN, Willits. DUI, controlled substance, meth for sale, suspended license, probation revocation.

ANDREW MAYNARD, Fort Bragg/Willits. Probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)

TYLER SHIVELY, Willits. Probation revocation.

Sostre, Umirov, Varney, Wolfe
Sostre, Umirov, Varney, Wolfe

RUBEN SOSTRE, Brooklyn, New York/Ukiah. Drug proceeds, evasion.

RUSLAN UMIROV, Ukiah. Drug proceeds.

JOHN VARNEY, Ukiah. Probation revocation.

WILLIAM WOLFE, Redwood Valley. Probation revocation.

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Regarding the use of Wikipedia, I have a comment: I was the sort of child that got encyclopedia sets on his birthdays, and one of the things that irritated me about them was the long list of corrections and retractions that would get published upon the arrival of a new edition. The point here is that these very respectable paper-media references were also error-prone. They were not perfect.

Now, of course I wouldn’t use a wiki-article reference in a graduate/post-graduate or professional setting — but Wikipedia material does undergo a continuous quality-control process and they do cite their sources properly. That ranks it a step above ‘hearsay’ & the ramblings of B-list ‘news’-weeklies, and therefore it can be used to begin establishing a claim of some sort.

Just to be clear: I’m not elevating it to the level of the ‘scholastic’, but I am saying it has it’s place in the realm of informal online work-groups and presentations.

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Oh, the pure, unadulterated joy. A Great Gray Owl has been seen in Humboldt County for the first time in 34 years…And, the handsome bird isn’t shy…to put it mildly. Some visitors report the owl has landed within ten feet of them!


The owl was first seen on Wednesday near the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Several of the photos below show this feathered predator stalking prey near Elk Creek Meadow in the park. (If you do go up to see this rare treat, consider trying to carpool as parking is limited.)

Alan Peterson of Redwood Planet Media (his work was recently featured on a PBS Nature show) was out at Elk Prairie yesterday. The fields there, he said, “are riddled with the runways and tunnels of the California vole.” The meadow there has been a favorite hunting ground.

Alan Peterson provided the top photos. (You can see more of his photos of the owl here.)


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by Mike Whitney

Everyone take a deep breath. This isn’t 2007 again. The banks aren’t loaded with $10 trillion in “toxic” mortgage-backed securities, the housing market hasn’t fallen off a cliff wiping out $8 trillion in home equity, and the world is not on the brink of another excruciating financial meltdown. The reason the markets have been gyrating so furiously for the last couple weeks is because stocks are vastly overpriced, corporate earnings are shrinking, and the Fed is threatening to take away the punch bowl. And to top it all off, a sizable number of investors have more skin in the game than they can afford, so they had to dump shares pronto to rebalance their portfolios.

What does that mean?

It means that a lot of investors are in debt up to their eyeballs, so when the market tumbles they have to sell whatever they can to stay in the game. It’s called a “margin call” and on Wednesday we saw a real doozy. Investors dumped everything but the kitchen sink in a frenzied firesale that sent the Dow Jones bunge-jumping 565-points before clawing its way back to a 249-point loss. The reason we know it was a margin call as opposed to a panic selloff is because there was no noticeable rotation into US Treasuries. Typically, when investors think the world is coming to an end, they ditch their stocks and make the so called “flight to safety” into US debt. That didn’t happen this time. Benchmark 10-year Treasuries barely budged during the trading day, although they did stay under 2 percent which suggests that bondholders think the US economy is going to remain in the toilet for the foreseeable future. But that’s another story altogether. The fact is, investors aren’t “rotating”, they’re “liquidating” because they’ve hawked everything but the family farm and they need to sell something fast to cover their bets. Now if they thought that stocks were going to rebound sometime soon, then they’d try to hang on a bit longer. But the fact that the Fed has stayed on the sidelines not uttering a peep of encouragement has everyone pretty nervous, which is why they’re getting out now while they still can.


Here’s how CNBC’s Rick Santelli summed it up on Wednesday afternoon:

“We basically have a global rolling margin call that’s been going on since the 3rd Quarter of last year. It’s gotten a bit more intense since the Fed announced it was ‘normalizing’ because, in essence, a quarter point (rate hike) doesn’t mean anything, but the mentality that we are about to turn the corner on the ‘Grand Experiment’ means a lot.” (Closing Bell Exchange, CNBC)

In other words, investors are starting to believe the Fed will continue its rate-hike cycle which will put more downward pressure on stocks, so they’re calling it quits now.

Santelli makes a good point about “normalization” too, which means the Fed is going to attempt to lift rates to their normal range of 4 percent. No one expects that to happen mainly because the wailing and gnashing of teeth on Wall Street would be too much to bear. Besides, the Fed just spent the last seven years inflating stock prices with its zero rates and QE. It’s certainly not going to burst that bubble now by raising rates and sending equities into freefall. Even so, many investors think the Fed could continue to jack-up rates incrementally to 1 percent or higher. And while that’s still below the current rate of inflation, the shifting perception of “easy money” to “tightening” makes a huge difference in investors expectations. And as every economist knows, expectations shape investment decisions. No one is going to load up on stocks if they think things are going to get worse. That’s the long-and-short of it.

So is the recent extreme volatility a precursor to “The Big One”?

Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that stocks won’t drift lower. They probably will, after all, conditions have changed dramatically. We had been in an environment where hefty profits, low rates and ample liquidity were more-or-less guaranteed. That’s not the case anymore. Stocks are no longer priced for perfection, in fact, valuations are gradually dipping to a point where they reflect underlying fundamentals. Also, for whatever reason, the Fed seems eager to convince people that the hikes are going to persist. So here’s the question: If you take away the punch bowl at the same time that earnings are start to tank, what happens?

Stocks fall, that’s what. The only question is “how far”? And since the S&P has more than tripled since it hit its lowest level in March 2009, the bottom could be a long way off, which is why investors are taking more chips off the table.

It’s also worth noting that one of the main drivers of stock prices has been AWOL lately. We’re talking about stock buybacks, that is, when corporate bosses repurchase their own company’s shares to reward shareholders while boosting their “windfall” executive compensation. Here’s the scoop from FT Alphaville:

“China is slowing, the oil price is getting hammered, the Fed hiked too soon: all reasons for the ignominious start to the year for the world’s stock markets. Here’s another bit of meat for the pot, courtesy of Goldman Sachs chief US equity strategist David Kostin: share buybacks.

“One reason for the recent poor market performance is that corporate buybacks are precluded during the month before earnings are released. Any destabilizing macro news that occurs during the blackout window amplifies volatility because the largest source of demand for shares is absent.”

Share buybacks in the US are on pace for their biggest year since 2007, he adds, estimating $561bn for full-year 2015 (net of share issuance) and a decline to $400bn in full-year 2016.”

(“Share buybacks, the markets miss you“, FT Alphaville)

By some estimates, buybacks represent 20 percent of all share purchases, so obviously the current drought has contributed to the recent equities-plunge. All the same, G-Sax Kostin expects a robust rebound in 2016 to $400 billion. As long as cash is priced below the rate of inflation, corporations will continue to borrow as much as they can to ramp their own stock prices and rake in more dough. Greed trumps prudent investment decision-making every time.

As for the trouble in China: While it’s true that China’s woes could have been the trigger for the current ructions on Wall Street, it’s certainly not the cause which is the Fed’s failed monetary policy. Besides, the whole China thing is vastly overdone. As Ed Lazear told CNBC on Wednesday:

“A major recession in China that lasted ten years would cost would costs the US 2 % points in GDP. So you’re not going to get a market fall like we’re observing right now based on that.”

Economist Dean Baker basically agrees with Lazear and says:

“Even a sharp downturn in China would not send the U.S. economy plummeting, our total exports to China are only about 0.7 percent of GDP. China’s weakness will have a major impact on other trading partners, especially those heavily dependent on commodity exports. But even in a worst case scenario we are looking at a major drag on the U.S. economy, not the sort of falloff in demand that puts the economy into a recession.” (“Wall Street Rocks!“, Dean Baker, Smirking Chimp)

As for the plunging oil prices, there’s not much there either. Yes, quite a few high-paying oil sector jobs have been lost, capital investment has completely dried up, and many of the domestic suppliers are probably going to default on their debts sometime in the next six months or so. But are these defaults a significant risk to Wall Street in the same way that trillions of dollars in worthless Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) and CDOs were in 2007-2008?

Heck, no. Not even close. There’s going to be a fair amount of blood on the street by the time this all shakes out, but the financial system will muddle through without collapsing, that’s for sure. The real danger is that falling oil prices signal a buildup of deflationary pressures in the economy that isn’t being countered with additional fiscal stimulus. That’s the real problem because it means slower growth, fewer jobs, flatter wages, falling incomes, more strain on social services and a more generalized stagnant, crappy economy. But as we’ve said before, Obama and the Republican-led Congress have done everything in their power to keep things just the way they are by slashing government spending to make sure the economy stays weak as possible, so inflation is suppressed, the Fed isn’t forced to raise rates, and the cheap money continues to flow to Wall Street. That’s the whole scam in a nutshell: Starve the workersbees while providing more welfare to the slobs at the big investment banks and brokerage houses. It’s a system that policymakers have nearly perfected as a new Oxfam report shows. According to Oxfam: “the 62 richest billionaires now own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.” (Guardian)

Wealth like that “ain’t no accident”, brother. It’s the policy.

(Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at (Courtesy,

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by Ralph Nader

Corporatized and commercialized elections reach a point where they stand outside and erode our democracy. Every four years the presidential and Congressional elections become more of a marketplace where the wealthy paymasters turn a civic process into a spectacle of vacuous rhetorical contests, distraction and stupefaction.

The civic minds of the people are sidelined by the monetized minds of a corrupted commercial media, political consultants, pundits and the purveyors of an ever-more dictatorial corporate state.

The dominance of influence money by the plutocracy and now big business PACs, such as that of the super-rich Koch brothers is just the beginning. The monetized minds don’t just rely on their “quid pro quo” checkbooks. They foster gerrymandering electoral districts so that politicians indentured to them pick the voters instead of a legitimate congressional district’s voters picking a candidate. And the debates now are more ratings inventory for Big Media than a discussion of major issues which remain off the table.

Presidential debates are controlled by a Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) — a private corporation — created by the Republican and Democratic parties and funded by beer, auto, telephone and other corporations whose patronage includes lavish hospitality suites. Thus, through the cover of CPD, the two big parties control the number of debates, who is invited to participate and which reporters ask the questions before an approved audience.

This year, the monetized minds went further. Now a commercial cable or network television company decides the formats and who is in tier one, tier two or not included at all. The Big Media sponsors (Fox, CNN, NBC and others) decided that Mark Everson, who dropped out in November, was the first candidate to go to all of Iowa’s 99 counties, and he was excluded from the competition because he does not have a PAC sponsor and hasn’t raised enough money. Yet he is the only Republican presidential candidate with executive experience. Under George W. Bush, he was head of the IRS and Deputy Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Monetizing elections has predictable consequences. The ditto-head reporters, obsessed with tactics and gaffes, never ask about corporate crime, corporate welfare, the American Empire with its un-auditable Defense Department, the over $300 billion a year in computerized billing fraud in the health care industry, or why corporations are given free exploitation of our public property — such as gold and silver mines on public land, the public airwaves and the trillions of dollars of federal research given away to big business in such industries as the drug, aerospace, computer, biotech and information companies.

Commercializing elections leads to an astonishing similarity among reporters traveling with candidates or those asking questions during so-called debates.

For example, Donald Trump always brags about his business prowess as an asset for his presidential run to “make America great again” but is not pressed by reporters to voluntarily release his thousands of pages of annual tax returns to see whether his boasts are justified.

The pretentious Marco Rubio, fresh from the Florida legislature and now an absentee U.S. Senator still getting his pay, repeatedly flaunts his difficult previous experience with student loans and living paycheck to paycheck. No reporter asks why then he is opposed to raising the inflation-gutted minimum wage and has no proposal to deal with the massive yoke of $1.3 trillion in student loans, with very high interest rates.

The brazen PAC-created Senator Ted Cruz now tells his audiences that the time for rhetoric is over, and that the focus should be on a candidate’s record. Meanwhile, he gets away without having to explain one of the zaniest, hateful, corporatist, empty presences in the U.S. Senate.

The monetized minds running our elections also make sure that our civic culture and its many intelligent civic advocacy groups are sidelined when it comes to informing both the voters about important issues. This is just about the most amazing exclusion of them all. Non-partisan civic leaders and specialists, people who know the most about energy, the environment, the health industry, about militarism abroad and public budget abuses at home, about taxation and electoral reforms, about law enforcement regarding corporate crime and the prison industrial complex are rarely given voice by the media, including PBS and NPR.

Look at the Sunday morning network news shows. Pundits and politicians fill the stages. The real experts don’t get interviewed; they have trouble getting into the op-ed pages of the print media and are rarely drawn on by the candidates who are too busy dialing for commercial dollars that conflict with seeking out those who work with facts, for truth and justice.

Consequently, shorn of any participating civic culture, the political culture is ready for hijacking by the commercial interests and the corporate state.

The politicians ride merrily on a torrent of words and opinions without having to explain their record, so often different or at odds with what they are bloviating. Hillary Clinton gets away with her illegal war on Libya (against the advice of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) and the resultant chaotic bloodshed spilling over into other African countries.

None of the candidates are asked whom they would consider as their White House advisors and cabinet secretaries. This information would give voters an idea of the likelihood of broken promises.

In 2008 Barack Obama campaigned repeatedly for “hope and change.” Then after his election, he gathered for a surprise photo opportunity with Clinton retreads like the bailout, self-enrichment banker, Robert Rubin, and others known for anything but “hope and change.”

Voters, you can change all this rancid defilement of our Republic and its democratic dreams. Do your homework on the parties and the candidates, form informal groups to demand debates and agendas that you preside over, push for more choices on the ballot, make votes count over money. The internet can help speed up such efforts.

You outnumber the politicos and their entourages everywhere. You are the ones who keep paying the price for letting politics remain a deadly form of distracting entertainment with a mainstream media obsessed with the horse race rather than the human race.

(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!)

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Join MCLW Chef Instructor Sadhana Berkow in Ravens Restaurant for our super-fun, hands-on cooking classes! Sadhana will teach you incredible creations that are 100% plant-based, easy and will wow you and your friends. Plus she'll provide you with plenty of practical how-to advice! Saturday, February 6th, 2016 1:00 pm - 3:30 pm - Snacks & Appetizers at the Stanford Inn, just south of Mendocino Village; $45/person (food tastings included, children 7 and up welcome); Enrollment Limited, reservations required. Info/Reservations: email or call 707-937-5615

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A fine romance, with no kisses

A fine romance, my friend this is

We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes

But you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes


A fine romance, you won't nestle

A fine romance, you won't wrestle

I might as well play bridge with my old maid aunt

I haven't got a chance

This is a fine romance


Yes a fine romance, with no kisses

A fine romance, my friend this is

We two should be like clams in a dish of chowder

But we just fizz like parts of seidlitz powder


Yes a fine romance, with no glitches

A fine romance, with no beaches

Just as hard to land as the "Isle de France"

I haven't got a chance

This is a fine romance


A fine romance, my good fellow

You take romance, I'll take jello

You're calmer than the seals in the Arctic Ocean

At least they flap their fins to express emotion


A fine romance with no quarrels

With no insults and all morals

I've never mussed the crease

In your blue serge pants

I never get the chance

This is a fine romance


Yes, a fine romance, my dear judges

Two old fogies who need crutches

True love should have the thrills that a healthy crime does

Oh we don't have the thrills the march of time has


A fine romance, my good woman

My strong aged in the wood, woman

You never give the orchids I sent a glance

No you like cactus plants

This is a fine romance

— Dorothy Fields

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Warm spiritual greetings everybody,

I am chillin' at the Red Victorian on San Francisco's Haight Street, while sending out networking emails to America's socio-political front line. Basically, I am available! All you have to do to get me participating, is send me a real-time email, and say to me that you would value my being where you are. Otherwise, you are saying to me that you are satisfied with the way it all is on the earth plane where you are. So, I am booked into the Red Vic until Sunday January 24th at 11 A.M., and am checking emails. I am thanking you in advance for your cooperation, Craig Louis Stehr

Craig Louis Stehr




  1. Sonya Nesch January 24, 2016

    What a beautiful tapestry Elaine Kalantarian’s photo would make. I’m inspired!

  2. Kathy January 24, 2016

    The problems of Mendocino County’s pension program have been articulated, yet I hear no one proposing any viable solutions… (I do not think Bankruptcy would relieve the county of its obligations to its retirees).

    I attended the joint BOS & Retirement meeting expecting to hear about possible solutions. I was disappointed. Lots of Chicken Little sky-is-falling talk.

    Where are we going to go from here folks?

    • LouisBedrock January 24, 2016

      “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

      (Henry The Sixth, Part 2, Act 4, scene 2, 71–78)

    • Pam Partee January 24, 2016

      How about a cap on pension payout, which is what Social Security does? KC Meadows listed some really exorbitant pensions in today’s paper, most going to retired department heads and long-term electeds. Meredith Ford gets $180,000 per year, Dennis Huey $99,000, Tim Knudson $81,000 and so on. My guess is that line workers receive less than $2000/month.

      • james marmon January 24, 2016

        That club is extremely powerful Pam, be careful.

      • Harvey Reading January 25, 2016

        You guess is correct. Very few, excepting kiss-ass appointees and those who appointed them, elected officials, get those big pensions. That’s true throughout the land o’exceptionals.

        You people have a local problem, one shared by many localities, and you’re not doing much to solve it, excepting a lot of blabber. So much for local control being part of the solution.

  3. Lazarus January 24, 2016

    And then there is mental health…looking at the crime logs as I do… daily… tragically the “Frequent Flyer” list is not diminishing. Institutionalization of these unfortunate souls I fear is the only solution for the security of the many…Strange days are coming.
    As Always,

  4. Bill Pilgrim January 24, 2016

    re: The Big One. Mike Whitney’s wistful conclusion that everything will stay the same – only more so – doesn’t leave room for unexpected events. Something’s going to happen…something completely unforeseen…that will collapse the economic ponzi play completely, utterly. It’s a massive spring of corruption and injustice, wound way too tight. The built-up stresses and tensions – structural, sociological, psychological – will inevitably cause it to break.


  5. Harvey Reading January 24, 2016


    I agree, in part. I got to Wikipedia, because it’s quick, if the computer is turned on, that is. Mostly I use it to check to see if my memory has failed on a particular subject, like, say the myth that Vietnam veterans were spit on or otherwise treated badly by the peace movement — which they weren’t (it was right-wing vets groups that wouldn’t let them join until the press of the early 70s rubbed their noses in it). If what appears agrees with my recollection, I stop looking. If not, I try other sources, and finally reach a conclusion, which conclusion may be that I need to look further, off the Internet.

    • Whyte Owen January 24, 2016

      Thanks for the reminder. In Jesse Helms’ nemesis Chapel Hill grad school late ’60’s-’72 there was a vigil every Wednesday noon to protest the war. My understanding was that veterans were welcome to participate.

  6. LouisBedrock January 24, 2016

    Owls, like hawks, eagles, and falcons eat their prey while it’s still alive.
    Bears do too.

    A Barred Owl

    The warping night air having brought the boom
    Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
    We tell the wakened child that all she heard
    Was an odd question from a forest bird,
    Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
    “Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

    Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
    Can also thus domesticate a fear,
    And send a small child back to sleep at night
    Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
    Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
    Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

  7. Randy Burke January 24, 2016

    Will Parrish…Congratulations. Long journey of uncertainty pertaining to personal freedom is eloquently explained. Thank you for the news.

  8. james marmon January 24, 2016


    “There seemed to be a lot of odd folks wandering around, stopping to talk and give me recipes for spoon bread; folks, I learned a little later, who had been “released” from the Talmage mental health facility.”

    We had lots of mentally ill folks walking the streets of Ukiah then Kathy, many lived just around the corner at the old State Hotel.

    I really loved the “back to earth” movement of the 70’s. Too bad it all went to pot and greed took over.

    I think I met Bikshu Eric, wasn’t he the Viet Nam war vet who turned to Buddhism? A friend of mine who was a chopper pilot knew and served with him.

  9. Craig Stehr January 24, 2016

    Attended Swami Tattwamayananda’s talk this morning at the Vedanta Society in San Francisco, entitled “Going Beyond Anxiety and Fear”. The gist is that there is a way, which is to reverse the mental current inward and anchor it at its source, thereby eliminating the problem of attachment to externalities. Attempting to outwardly solve the world’s problems is compared to “throwing ghee on a fire”. Meanwhile, I have paid for one more week at the Red Victorian on Haight Street; am continuing to accept requests near and far for joining with others who have a mystical activist approach to the hopeless entanglements of postmodernism. I answer all emails. ;-)

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