- Warming Ahead
- Diane Herron
- Hopland Shakes
- Vehicle Warmth
- Mental Health
- Boonville ATM
- Pumpkin Festival
- New Homes
- Adventist Kickbacks
- Drunk Tank
- Outage Mismanagement
- Dog Adoptions
- Trump California
- Birth Certificate
- Yesterday's Catch
- Pharma Death
- Soil Spoil
- Bottled Water
- Loach Film
- No Difference
- Hillary Rotten
- Tax Rich
- Marco Radio
- Found Object
ANOTHER ROUND OF SHOWERS will move through the area today, mainly north of Cape Mendocino. Only minimal rainfall is expected. Otherwise, a sharp warming and drying trend can be expected Monday through the end of the week, with gusty ridgetop winds and elevated fire weather possible Wednesday and Thursday. (National Weather Service)
DIANE I. HERRON
Diane, a long-time resident of Boonville, passed away at her home in Oregon. Her many Valley friends will gather to remember her at the Anderson Valley Senior Center at 5pm on Saturday, October 26th. Food will be provided, but bring your beverage of choice.
HOPLAND SHAKE: The USGS reported two earthquakes on Saturday near Hopland. The first, a 2.8 magnitude, occurred at 7:43 am and had an epicenter located 6.8 miles NNE of Hopland, 9.8 miles SE of Ukiah - near Panther Ridge just over the Lake County line. That initial quake was 3.6 miles deep and generated 49 responses (so far) of "feeling it:" 29 from Lakeport, 13 from Ukiah, 3 each from Hopland & Nice & 1 report from Upper Lake.
Second Quake: The USGS reported a minor 2.2 magnitude quake @ 7:46 am located in the same area as the first. This quake was 3.8 miles deep and only generated one response of "feeling it" — from a big fat liar living in Oakland - 96.3 miles south of the epicenter.
MENDO’S CONFUSED, REDUNDANT SCRAMBLE FOR MENTAL HEALTH PRIMACY
by Mark Scaramella
Last month we asked the County for the paper trail on the County's buyback of a vacant parcel on Ukiah's Orchard Avenue. The property has been under consideration for a Crisis Residential Treatment facility for several years, a consideration pre-dating passage of Measure B whose revenues would do the same thing and probably more. According to several county officials we’ve spoken to, the payment of $423,000 to Redwood Community Services to buy the parcel was approved on condition that the money only covered RCS’s out of pocket expenses for the property and nothing more.
But how did Redwood Community Services, aka Timothy and Camille Schraeder, become owners of the property in the first place?
On its face, the sale looked fishy because the property was purchased by Redwood Community Services back in 2016 as part of a grant project approved and funded by the State Treasurer and Mental Health officials.
But that project collapsed before the proposed crisis facility could be built. So why did RCS deserve to be paid back for a lot presumably purchased with state grant funds?
In response to our formal request for a clarification and supporting documents, the County provided literal reams of property acquisition paperwork and correspondence between the County and Redwood Children's Services.
The picture that emerges from our review of the paperwork is that 1) the County didn’t give Redwood Children's Services any more money than Redwood Children's spent on the property. And 2) the grant application and award process, a complicated procedure to begin with, was delayed on into bungling by the County, and the state grant was lost after almost three years of stop and start work on it.
The original grant application began in the summer of 2015 when Ortner Management Group of Sutter County still owned Mendocino County's privatized mental health contract for adult mental health services. Redwood Community Services wasn’t involved until July of 2016 when they picked up the adult mental health services after Ortner's contract wasn’t renewed because of complaints from cops and hospitals and some Supervisors about high administrative costs and underperformance of services. In other words, Ortner, a private business, was charging the County literal millions for mostly invisible services.
While Ortner was still responsible for Mendocino County's mental health services, the state approved a grant for up to $5.2 million to buy the Orchard Street land on which a 10-bed Crisis Residential Treatment (CRT) facility would be built. (Mendocino County annually spends more than it can afford on out of conty placement of its most volatile mentally ill citiens.)
After Ortner departed with a tidy profit to Sutter County for services mostly not rendered, Redwood Community Services, also a private business but one based in Mendocino County, bought the Orchard Street property with the County’s approval and got a loan from the Savings Bank of Mendocino for over $2 million to cover initial construction costs.
It wasn’t to be.
By the time Redwood Community Services got involved, more than a year had gone by because of the shift from out-of-county Ortner to in-county Redwood Community Services. The County had to re-group, re-plan, and "partner" with Redwood Community Services to re-apply for the state grant, which was duly re-approved with a new project schedule.
In June of 2017 Redwood Community Services bought the Orchard Street property as the intended site of the grant-funded Crisis Residential Treatment facility. The purchase was complicated by the fact that “the property” was actually three separate parcels, the back two of which contained an existing building.
To clean up the paperwork for the front parcel, there ensued a complicated “lot line adjustment” so that the front (vacant) parcel could be designated for the Crisis Residential Treatment facility.
It looks like the rear parcel with the existing building to the rear of the front parcel purchased by Redwood Community Services has the County’s Employment offices.
Complicating things further, there were now several more people and organizations involved, including at least three state agencies, the County Mental Health department with new management, the Planning Department, the County CEO's office, the Supervisors… The addition of each agency added a new layer of confusion.
Meanwhile, and also in 2017, Measure B was passed with facilities objectives which overlapped or competed with the Crisis Residential Treatment plans begun in the 2015 Orchard Avenue grant application. The slo-mo Measure B “Oversight Committee” was appointed with little to no knowledge of the still pending Orchard Avenue project, a Crisis Residential Treatment facility similar to one of the three facilities the Measure B committee was considering — the others being a “crisis stabilization unit” and a “psychiatric health facility” or PHF.
Nevertheless, in May of 2018 more Orchard Avenue delays were encountered. With all the grant turmoil, Redwood Community Services was unable to secure funding from the original grant source due to the delays, so they applied for Community Development Block Grant funds. Bear in mind here that we now had two County entities apparently unaware that they were aimed at accomplishing similar things — some form of in-County facilities for deranged persons presenting a danger to themselves and/or others. Providing this care is worth millions of state and federal reimbursement money.
However, in 2017, Redwood Community Services’ Community Development Block Grant application was “disqualified due to a section being missed due to reallocation of staffing resources towards fire relief.” (A lame excuse, we must say, because that should have been correctable rather than dropped, but we digress.)
At that time Redwood Community Services and their loyal partner, the County of Mendocino, identified a backup source of funds (aka a loan) that might be available from the US Department of Agriculture for $6.2 million in “alternative” funding if the block grant funding didn’t materialize. Which it didn't.
Ultimately, none of the grant funds or loan approvals for future grants funds (to pay back local loans and expenses) materialized, and the Orchard Avenue project fell apart, leaving Redwood Community Services owning the parcel they'd purchased in anticipation of the grant that never came.
As Measure B funds began to accumulate, and the Measure B Oversight Committee shifted their focus away from remodeling the old Howard Hospital in Willits into a Psychiatric Health Facility, the Orchard Avenue parcel started looking like a possible site for a Measure B-funded project involving the same “Crisis Residential Treatment” facility that had been proposed for grant funding.
A Crisis Residential Treatment facility is NOT the Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) that was supposedly the prime reason Mendo voters overwhelmingly passed Measure B. Voters, or many of them anyway, assumed Measure B would do two things (1) provide care for the street crazies who seemed to be multiplying everywhere in Mendocino County and (2) keep our homegrown mentally ill at home, thus sparing the County huge amounts of public money currently spent on distant (and apparently ineffective) lock-up facilities.
In other words, local sales taxpayers would be tapped to replace the state grant funds lost by the grant delays and bungling.
In anticipation of Measure B funding — some day — the County then took it upon itself to buy the property back from Redwood Community Services for $423k — $380k for RCS’s original purchase price plus $43k in “improvements,” most of which paid for the complicated “Lot Line Adjustment” to rejigger which parcels were which so that the back two parcels with the existing building could be combined into one parcel and the front parcel subdivided into two pieces (perhaps one for Crisis Residential and another for Crisis Stabilization, although that too remains unclear).
As far as we can tell, Redwood Community Services never asked for nor were they paid for the substantial staff time they put in applying for the various grants and property arrangements at the Orchard Avenue property. They were only reimbursed for demonstrable out of pocket expenses.
There’s much more in the County’s data download about what the plans were to operate a grant-funded 10-bed Crisis Residential Treatment facility at the Orchard Avenue site, and how much it would cost to build it and staff it, but that is a subject for another day. (We haven't seen any evidence that the Measure B Committee has paid any attention to that now-abandoned grant application with its detailed construction and staffing plans and cost estimates which could provide a lot of background information for their new-found interest in the Crisis Residential Treatment facility, and whatever else they’re looking at. Instead, the Measure B Committee is in the process of basically starting over again, hiring a project manager and architectural firm to re-plan the entire project, presumably including a possible Psychiatric Health Facility, or PHF.)
The entire failed Orchard Avenue grant project could stand as a cautionary tale for what happens when things drag out for years and years with too many players as staffers and contractors leave and new people and new organizations enter and funding comes and goes and wheels get re-invented again and again.
But as it stands, the Measure B Committee and the Supervisors seem content to drag things out for as long as possible, increasing the likelihood of the same kinds of problems that the smaller, less ambitious Orchard Avenue grant project faced, but on a larger scale.
Meanwhile, the County spends tons of public money on out of county "treatment" for our mentally ill.
For now, it looks like the County and the Measure B committee are placing their bets on the pending hiring of an architectural firm and a project manager/magician for the Measure B facilities (and/or services). But whoever that person/company is, they will face a larger and even more complicated set of people, processes, financing, and staffing obstacles than the Orchard Avenue project did.
AN ATM MACHINE will soon be installed at the Live Oak Building, downtown Boonville, and brought to you by Anne Fashauer and the Redwood Credit Union.
PICS FROM PUMPKIN FESTIVAL Saturday morning on School Street in Ukiah (photos by Marilyn Davin, click to enlarge)
PLAN FOR NEW HOMES GOES BEFORE UKIAH PLANNING COMMISSION
The Ukiah Planning Commission is holding a special meeting Tuesday to consider a proposal to build eight new homes in the 200 block of West Gobbi Street.
AS THE ADVENTISTS MOVE TO MONOPOLIZE MENDO MEDICAL CARE, MENDO PEOPLE MIGHT WANT TO KNOW that the Jason Wells mentioned in the following article is the same Jason Wells who is now both the president of Adventist Health Ukiah Valley and the president of Adventist Health Howard Memorial in Willits.
Suit: CFO Feared Jail Time Over Kickbacks. He's Now Shawnee Mission Health Interim CEO
Kansas City Star - 5/9/2018
May 09--The interim CEO of Shawnee Mission Health feared he would go to jail over a kickback scheme involving doctors at his former job, according to court documents from a lawsuit brought by whistleblowers and the federal government.
Karsten Randolph was the chief financial officer of Park Ridge Health in North Carolina from 2011 to 2014. In the kickback scheme he was accused of participating in, doctors were paid exorbitant salaries and bonuses when they referred patients for expensive tests and procedures. Federal officials say the payments wasted money and undermined patient care.
The alleged scheme happened across 20 hospitals owned by Florida-based Adventist Health System, including Park Ridge and Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
In the end, nobody went to jail for it.
Instead, Adventist Health paid $118.7 million in September 2015 to settle the whistleblower lawsuit -- a record at the time for a suit of its kind. By then, Randolph had been transferred to the same job, CFO, at Shawnee Mission, which is about four times bigger than Park Ridge.
When former Shawnee Mission Health CEO Ken Bacon left last month, Randolph was tapped to lead the hospital until Sam Huenergardt arrives May 28.
Peter Chatfield, an attorney who represented the whistleblowers, said he wasn't surprised that Randolph continued to rise through the Adventist system, despite his involvement in the kickback scheme.
"It shouldn't be the kind of thing that's happening, but in reality, that's what happens a fair amount," Chatfield said.
"At the end of the day, once the noise and the outrage that some of the Adventist community had about not wanting to be associated with people who act this way, once that sort of fades away, they have these experienced execs who know how the company works and in fact made more money for the company with what they did than they ended up paying to the government."
Melanie Lawhorn, a spokeswoman in Adventist Health's corporate office, said the nonprofit hospital chain made reforms after the settlement, including centralizing physician compensation, strengthening financial auditing and improving training.
"Karsten contributed significantly to those improvements," Lawhorn said via email. "He is a man of integrity and an extremely valued leader within Adventist Health System. Our organization believes he has and will continue to have a tremendous and positive impact on Shawnee Mission Health."
Lawhorn and a Shawnee Mission Health spokeswoman didn't respond to requests to interview Randolph. Randolph didn't respond to messages left by phone and email Wednesday.
According to court documents, Randolph knew Adventist Health was running an illegal payment scheme for some time, but he didn't report it to federal officials because the amount of money the company would have to pay back was "insane."
Instead, the suit says, he tried to cover it up by asking other employees to "lose" internal documents.
The scheme alleged in the whistleblower suit started with executives like Randolph at Park Ridge and other Adventist Health hospitals paying physicians above-market rates, and in some cases, even paying off their debts or car leases.
The reward for Adventist Health came not from the direct patient care the physicians provided. The payoff instead came in the business created when those physicians referred patients for other services within the Adventist Health System.
If family practitioners ordered enough MRIs within the system, it would be worth overpaying them.
In addition to paying salaries well outside the norm, some hospitals allegedly paid bonuses to the doctors based on the total revenue they generated in direct care and the referrals.
The arrangement, according to government attorneys, violated a federal anti-kickback statute, the Medicare/Medicaid false claims act and a law called the Stark Statute that governs physician referrals.
Violations of those laws are somewhat common.
One legal expert called the Stark Statute "a tortured web of confusing standards" in 2016 congressional hearings, and a law firm called Krieg Devault compiled a list of dozens of financial penalties paid by medical providers across the country, some of them for self-reported violations and others from lawsuits.
But Adventist Health's was the largest payout for a case involving hospital kickbacks at the time, and Jill Westmoreland Rose, a U.S. attorney in North Carolina who was involved in the case, said it should send a message to other medical providers.
"This type of financial incentive is not only prohibited by law, but can undermine patients' medical care," Rose said in a news release announcing the settlement.
The whistleblower suit also accused nine Adventist Health hospitals of overbilling Medicare.
Fear of jail time
According to the whistleblower suit, the kickback scheme started to fall apart in June 2012 when Kelly Pettijohn, Adventist Health's CFO, sent an email to all of the CFOs and financial controllers at 20 Adventist hospitals.
The email indicated that while the corporate office expected certain physician practices to be money losers, it was going to start sending out internal reports that showed the "contribution margins" those practices brought in through referrals.
Pettijohn followed that up with a spreadsheet with the contribution margins.
The spreadsheet went to all of the hospital administrators, and Park Ridge's president, Jason Wells, forwarded it on "to several midlevel management employees" at his facility.
Randolph knew from the beginning that the spreadsheet was trouble, according to the lawsuit. It essentially proved that the Adventist Hospitals were buying referrals.
Randolph "told Wells to ask all employees to whom he had forwarded the spreadsheet to 'lose them'," the suit said.
Instead, several of the employees became whistleblowers and worked with the government to expose the scheme.
One of the whistleblowers was Melissa Church, the executive director of physician services for Park Ridge Health.
According to court records, she was present for a 2012 meeting with Randolph and Park Ridge chief of staff David Manly during which Randolph expressed concern that the bonuses the hospital was paying to a group of psychiatrists had gotten out of hand.
The contracts would have to be changed, Randolph said, according to the suit, or "he would be at risk of going to jail" because they were clearly "not commercially reasonable."
It was one of multiple times that Church said Randolph told her he was worried about going to jail over the physician pay.
"Despite knowing that these payments are improper, (Randolph) has said he has no intention of reporting the issue to CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) because the amount of money due to the government would be 'insane,'" the lawsuit said.
When asked about that part of the suit, Lawhorn said she had nothing more to share.
"Our organization has moved past this," Lawhorn said. "We don't believe singling (Randolph) out based on unsubstantiated comments made several years ago and pulled out of context is helpful or accurate. The most important thing I want to relay is that (Randolph) is a valued member of our leadership team, Shawnee Mission Health, and the surrounding community."
Some aspects of the suit remain current.
Under federal law, hospitals can require physicians who work for them to refer patients for services within the same health system. But they must allow exceptions when the patient wants to go elsewhere or the physician believes it's in the patient's best interest to go elsewhere.
According to the whistleblowers and the government, the Adventist Health hospitals applied "undue pressure" on their doctors to dissuade them from referring patients to facilities outside Adventist Health.
The suit specifically mentioned a policy at Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
"Defendant Shawnee Mission requires its physicians to fill out an 'exception report' every time they refer a patient to a service outside of the hospital," it said.
Lawhorn said Shawnee Mission Health still uses the exception reports, but they're meant only to gather data, not to pressure physicians to keep patients in-house.
"I am aware that Shawnee Mission Health does track referrals to see when they trend out of network, so that they can identify any gaps in specialties and ensure they are providing the services their patients need and want," Lawhorn said.
Under federal whistleblower laws, Chatfield's clients got 15 to 25 percent of the settlement. The rest went to the federal government and a couple of states that joined in the suit based on their Medicaid payments to the hospitals involved. Kansas was not one of them.
Chatfield said the payout could have been bigger, but Adventist Health did its own investigation, admitted some violations and came to the bargaining table after the suit was filed.
At the time, an Adventist Health spokeswoman characterized that as a self-disclosure, but Chatfield said that's not quite right given that the disclosure came after the suit.
"They got the benefits of self-disclosure in terms of the reduced liability and a sort of discount from the federal government," Chatfield said. "But I've never considered it a true self-disclosure."
Adventist Health, which operates 46 hospitals nationwide, was bringing in revenue of about $6 billion to $7 billion in the final years of the physician referral scheme, which began in the late 1990s, according to court records.
Based on his experience as a whistleblower attorney, Chatfield said he wasn't surprised that the fortunes of the company and the people involved in the scheme have continued to rise since the settlement.
In a previous case, he represented people who came forward to report Medicare overbilling fraud at Columbia/HCA, another large hospital chain.
That case ended in $1.7 billion in fines for the company but no punishment for its CEO, a man named Rick Scott. He's now governor of Florida.
"Being fast and loose and hyper-aggressive in white-collar crime or fraud gets treated much differently than what happens with other kinds of crime," Chatfield said. "A lot of times people end up being rewarded."
(The Kansas City Star)
DRUNK TANK, LOS ANGELES, 1949.
PG&E CEO BILL JOHNSON told a meeting with the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco that recent outages included lack of information and hardships that cannot be repeated.
California utility PG&E says to expect widespread power cuts for at least the next DECADE while it improves safety after its power lines were blamed for massive wildfires.
Northern Californians can expect widespread power cuts aimed at preventing wildfires for a decade while Pacific Gas & Electric upgrades wire systems, cuts back trees and takes other safety measures, the utility's chief executive said on Friday.
But the day when preemptive power outages would no longer be necessary is still years away, he said.
“Eventually the technology will get us to a point where we don't need to be doing it,” he said.
“This is probably a ten-year timeline to get to a point where it's really ratcheted down significantly.”
The state utilities regulator called the emergency meeting with senior PG&E executives after ordering the utility to take corrective actions related to its handling of the power outages, which have been criticized for being conducted on too large a scale with insufficient communication with customers.
“This is not hard,” PUC President Marybel Batjer said during the meeting to the panel of PG&E executives assembled. “You guys failed on so many levels on pretty simple stuff.”
PG&E cut off electricity to more than 730,000 homes and workplaces in northern California last week in a bid to reduce wildfire risks posed by extremely windy and dry weather.
The drastic measure caused long lines at supermarkets and hardware stores as people rushed to buy ice, coolers, flashlights and batteries.
After the power was cut on October 9, cars backed up at traffic lights that had gone dark. Schools and universities canceled classes.
Many businesses closed, only accepted cash or had to guide customers with flashlights.
Customers complained of PG&E’s overloaded call centers and a website that kept crashing.
Power was fully restored on October 12.
The shutdown was unprecedented in its scope, and PG&E's website and call center were overwhelmed by customer traffic.
“I apologize for the hardship and the lack of information. This cannot happen again,” Johnson said.
He said he expected the precautionary outages would decrease in size and scope each year.
To reduce the need for them, the utility will create smaller sections of wires so that shutoffs can be more targeted, increase vegetation management and use new materials to cover power lines, Johnson said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday urged the company to provide credits or rebates to affected customers.
The outage is the latest in a string of events for which PG&E has received widespread public criticism.
The utility filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing potential civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from major wildfires linked to its transmission wires and other equipment.
TRUMP'S BIG IN CA
California is a deep blue state, but the 2020 presidential candidate who raised the most money in the state over the last three months is none other than Republican President Donald J. Trump.
According to a recent analysis from the Los Angeles Times, Trump raised $10.78 million from California donors donating $200 or more from July-September.
This is more than the top four Democrats combined — as California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden raised a combined $9.94 million. Harris led the Dems with $2.84 million on donations exceeding $200, and was followed by Sanders at $2.42 million, Buttigieg at $2.35 million and Biden at $2.33 million.
The Times found that the bulk of Trump's donations are coming from Southern California, but he's also drawing from urban and rural areas across the state.
CATCH OF THE DAY, OCTOBER 19, 2019
IVY BODWIN, Willits. Failure to appear. (Frequent flyer.)
JASON DUNN, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
SCOTT FABER, Ukiah. Burglary, petty theft with priors, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
DENA MORRIS, Ukiah. Parole violation, resisting. (Frequent flyer.)
LUIS OLIVER, Covelo. Controlled substance.
SHANE ROORK, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
JONATAN SASTRE-CORDOVA, Fort Bragg. Aggravated sexual assault of child, continuous sexual abuse of child, oral copulation of child under 14 by force with injury, sodomy of victim under ten years of age, lewd/lascivious action upon child under 14.
MICHEAL TINAJERO, Ukiah. Concealed dirk-dagger, paraphernalia, disobeying court order, probation revocation.
RONALD VALENTINE JR., Ukiah. Robbery, petty theft with priors. (Frequent flyer.)
DON WILTSE JR., Laytonville. Parole violation.
CHARLES ZUBIA, Leggett. Failure to appear.
DIABETIC, 27, DIES AFTER TAKING CHEAPER INSULIN AS HE LOST PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE
Josh Wilkerson was alone, in the sleeping quarters above the northern Virginia dog kennel where he worked, when he suffered a series of strokes that would prove fatal.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Here in Iowa, the tech giants get to do some serious greenwashing, since they can run their data centers on renewable energy–wind-generated electric power. I discussed here recently the damage that windmills do to land. Each wind generator takes about two acres of land.
The areas being taken for data centers are large. Apple recently announced plans to purchase 2000 acres near Des Moines, Iowa’s capital, to construct a $1.4 billion, 400,000 square foot data center. Facebook and Microsoft are also major players in the rush to convert the best farmland on earth to data “farms”.
A story from the 1961-62 school year at Merrill Junior high, now middle school. It was the fall semester, as I recall, and our 7th grade geography teacher told the class, “The richest square mile on earth is just north of Des Moines.” Our teacher was not talking about gold, or silver, or diamonds, or oil. He was talking about rich farmland.
The richest farmland and the most greedy destroyers of that land. Now you can understand why I call Des Moines the Sprawl Capital of the world.
VICTIMS OF CAPITALISM’S SUCCESS
Ken Loach's newest film, Sorry We Missed You, is a devastating indictment of our economy and its infinite capacity to generate misery for average people.
by Luke Thibault
Bleak, dignified, patient, angry — Sorry We Missed You is one of Ken Loach’s finest contributions to working-class fiction. Turning his lens on the gig economy, the film portrays a Newcastle family battered into crisis by the inexorable logic of the market, struggling with zero-hours contracts. Thanks to a meticulously researched script and the authentic performances of non-actors, Sorry We Missed You is a devastating indictment of our economy.
The film opens with a bit of black humor as Ricky (Kris Hitchen) interviews for a zero-hours contract driver position at a fictional company called Parcels Delivered Fast. Watching Ricky sell his labor to the callous manager, Maloney (Ross Brewster), we are introduced to the gig economy’s most mystifying promise: you get to be your own boss. This enticing offer comes with impossible expectations designed to “sort the fucking losers from the warriors.”
A former construction worker, Ricky rattles off a seemingly endless list of skills that he has honed through a lifetime of craft. We learn later in the film that he was laid off during the 2008 financial crisis, losing his home and becoming a renter. At the root of his isolation is pride: “I’ve never been on the dole. I’d rather starve first.” For Loach, Ricky is a particular example of a more universal experience: the loss of secure, skilled work. We follow his fourteen-hour routes, six days a week, as determination erodes into exhaustion under the invasive discipline of big data.
Ricky’s wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), also has a route and a zero-hours contract. She’s an in-home caregiver who goes from house to house visiting dozens of disabled and elderly people every day to provide meals, baths, and, most important, intimacy. Grief for her late mother deepens Abbie’s commitment to her work: “I’ve got one rule: treat them like your mum. Look after them.” She works unpaid overtime to fulfill this commitment after selling her car so that Ricky can afford to buy a van. With both parents hustling from gig to gig, they are increasingly deprived of time with their children.
Like many gig workers, Ricky has no designated bathroom breaks. In the film’s final chapter, he has to urinate in a bottle behind his van. If this wasn’t humiliating enough, he’s suddenly beaten, robbed, and doused with his own piss. While waiting for x-ray results in a crowded NHS hospital, his boss demands a replacement driver and lists the charges for stolen items and a destroyed scanner, totaling £1,500 (in addition to the money he already owes for missing shifts). With snowballing debt, Ricky has no choice but to go back to work. The film’s simmering tensions boil over as his family desperately struggles and fails to block his van. Trapped and alone, bloody and fatigued, we contemplate Ricky’s destiny as the final close-up slowly fades to black.
In a scene where Abbie vents about her relentless schedule, Loach punctuates the story with her patient’s loaded response: “What happened to the eight-hour day?” The question locates the narrative within a history of increasingly casual work at the expense of secure union jobs.
This UK’s growing gig economy is dominated by zero-hours contracts, which offer no guaranteed hours of work. Since the financial crisis of 2008, they have risen to cover more than 1 million workers. For in-home carers like Abbie, more than 60 percent work under under zero-hours contracts.
One of the closest real-life parallels to Ricky’s company is also one of the largest gig employers: Amazon. Their package delivery program, Amazon Flex, advertises on their website the opportunity to “be your own boss.” These drivers have been involved in hundreds of crashes over the last five years, and they testify to reporters that “we are treated like animals.”
The fact that gig work allows for flexible schedules is promoted as a win-win deal for both the worker and the employer. For a minority, this is true, but Sorry We Missed You exposes the fact that, for most workers, it’s a one-sided and exploitative relationship. The “choice” of when to work is nonexistent when you can be punished for taking time off or face the constant threat of being fired. Employers gain maximum flexibility without having to provide a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, overtime, family and medical leave, disability insurance, collective bargaining rights, or any compensation for injuries or expenses accrued during a day’s work.
Reflecting on this, screenwriter Paul Laverty asks: “Is it any surprise that Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world? Does Jeff Bezos ever piss in a bottle because a meeting goes too long in his headquarters?”
As a Marxist filmmaker, Loach is never content to simply dramatize an individual’s hardship. He always presents us with arguments about how social forces define the lives and relationships of his characters. Convincingly pulling this off in a complex and coherent work of art can be a balancing act and often draws criticism from conservatives (including MPs). There’s always the risk of didacticism, turning characters into mouthpieces, undermining realism as a result. But Loach’s films are only given the pejorative label “political filmmaking” because they cut against the ruling ideology.
The most instructive example of this in Sorry We Missed You occurs when Ricky’s boss explains how he runs the business. “Do you want to know why I’m number one? Because I keep this happy.” Maloney holds up the parcel scanner. “This box competes with other boxes. That decides the contract. This box decides who lives and who dies.” Loach includes this dialogue to suggest that the Turners are not victims of capitalism’s failure — they’re victims of capitalism’s success.
The precious parcel scanner (menacingly nicknamed a “gun”) becomes the surrogate for general capital. In capitalism, competition takes place not merely between classes — it also takes place within classes. Workers compete with one another for a living while capitalists compete with one another for profits. The drive for profits is the drive to cut prices, cut wages, bust unions, make work precarious, and weaken the working class. Sorry We Missed You brings to life the abstract logic of the market and concludes that what we need to do in response is to cut back the power of capital.
Recently, there’s been hope that demands to reclassify gig workers will be met. In a much-needed and historic victory for the California Federation of Labor, Democratic lawmakers passed AB 5, a bill that correctly classifiesmany of these workers as employees. For the first time, millions of California workers will receive labor rights. Amazon workers in Minneapolis are going on strike. And in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn has called for a ban on zero-hours contracts in the Labour Party manifesto.
In his opening interview, Ricky concludes his extensive verbal résumé with a subtle nod to The Communist Manifesto: “I’ve done it all. I’ve even dug graves.” That role must return. Viewers of Sorry We Missed You should be outraged, and then channel that outrage into organizing. If our resolve is anything close to Loach’s, we can win a world for the many, not the few.
HILLARY GOES ALL THE WAY OFF HER ROCKER
The Democratic Party Should Suspend Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton has gone mad:
Hillary Clinton appeared to suggest that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is the “favorite of the Russians” to win the 2020 presidential election and is being groomed by Moscow to run as a third-party candidate against the eventual Democratic nominee.
The Russians already have their “eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” she said, in an apparent reference to Gabbard.
“She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her, so far,” Clinton told David Plouffe, the podcast’s host and the campaign manager for former President Obama’s 2008 campaign.
“And that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset,” Clinton added, referring to the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate.
TULSI GABBARD RESPONDS:
Hillary Clinton — the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long — finally came out from behind the curtain yesterday, accusing me of being a Russian asset, asserting I was being “groomed” by Russian interests.
If this a fight she wants to have, one that has implications for all of us and the future of our democracy, then I challenge her to come out from behind her proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media, and face me directly.
From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it, and now we know.
She’s waging this campaign against our movement because she’s afraid of the threat we pose. Afraid of our growing momentum that threatens to unravel the American war machine and all those who profit from it.
We will not let them win.
Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein - 20:30 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
In light of the latest slanderous allegations from @HillaryClinton, I challenge her to a debate. It's past time to give the American people the real debate they deserved in 2016, but were denied by the phony DNC/RNC-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates.
Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein - 20:51 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
It's a shame HRC is peddling conspiracy theories to justify her failure instead of reflecting on real reasons Dems lost in 2016. You can slander progressives as “Russian assets”, but you can't hide the fact that the DNC sabotaged Sanders & elevated Trump to set the stage for HRC.
Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein - 21:12 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
HRC's rant is exhibit A for how the establishment is using the new Cold War to crack down on dissent and feed the war machine. Instead of addressing the crises working people face, they're painting progressives as the enemy. It's as if they're trying to lose to Trump again.
Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein - 21:43 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
If HRC really believes all independent campaigns are Russian plots, why isn't she calling for #RankedChoiceVoting to make it impossible for evil foreigners to "split the vote"? Until she does, all this Russia hysteria just looks like cynical McCarthyist left-punching.
The Streisand effect of Clinton's shoddy remark will help Tulsi Gabbard with regards to name recognition. It will increase her poll results. With Joe Biden faltering and Elizabeth Warren increasingly exposed as a phony Clinton copy, Bernie Sanders could become the Democrats leading candidate. Then the “favorite of the Russians” smear will be applied to him.
Clinton should be suspended from the Democratic Party for damaging it's chances to regain the White House. But the Democratic establishment would rather sabotage the election than to let one of the more progressive candidates take the lead.
Voters do not like such internal squabble and shenanigans. The phony Ukrainegate “impeachment inquiry” is already a gift for Trump. Messing with the candidate field on top of that will inevitably end with another Trump presidency.
The People’s Republic of China had its 70th birthday on October 1. “Sheng ri kuai le” to the world’s biggest and most populous example of … of … Well, actually, that sentence is hard to finish. There’s no off-the-shelf description for China’s political and economic system. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the Chinese Communist Party’s preferred term, but the s-word makes an odd fit with a country that is the world’s most important market for luxury goods, has the second largest number of billionaires, stages the world’s biggest one-day shopping event, “Singles’ Day,” and is home to the world’s biggest, fastest-expanding, spendiest, most materially aspirational middle class. Look at the UN’s Human Development Index: after 70 years of communist rule, China’s inequality figures are dramatically worse than those of the UK and even the US. Can we call that “socialism”?
It’s equally hard to claim China as a triumph of capitalism, given the completeness of state control over most areas of life and the extent of its open interventions in the national economy — capital controls, for instance, are a huge no-no in free-market economics, but are central to the way the CCP runs the biggest economy in the world. This system-with-no-name has been extraordinarily successful, with more than 800 million people raised out of absolute poverty since the 1980s. Growth hasn’t slowed down since the global financial crisis – or, as those cheeky scamps at the CCP tend to call it, the Western financial crisis. While the developed world has been struggling with low to no growth, China has grown by more than 6% a year and a further 80 million mainly rural citizens have been raised out of absolute poverty since 2012. There is a strong claim that this scale of growth, sustained for such an unprecedented number of people over such a number of years, is the greatest economic achievement in human history.
Since Deng Xiaoping instituted the policy of “reform and opening” in the early 1980s, there has been a general view in the West that the gradual encroachment of capitalism in China would lead to a turn towards democratic government. This reflected a deeply held, largely unexamined belief that capitalism and democracy are interlinked. The collapse of the Soviet Union confirmed the West’s victory; an equivalent process would inevitably result in political change coming to China. The “butchers of Beijing,” as Bill Clinton described them in 1992, would be swept away by history. The arrival of the internet made this inevitability seem even more inevitable. “Liberty will be spread by cell phone and cable modem,” Clinton said. “We know how much the internet has changed America, and we are already an open society. Imagine how much it could change China.”
As James Griffiths tells us in The Great Firewall of China, his detailed and compelling account of Chinese online censorship, this was an applause line for Clinton in 2000. “Now there’s no question China has been trying to crack down on the internet,” Clinton went on. “Good luck. That’s sort of like trying to nail jello to the wall.” This perspective on the internet sees it as an informational form of manifest destiny. In the words of the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the internet is a “nutcracker to open societies.”
This view has adherents in China too. Liu Xiaobo – the first Nobel laureate to die in prison since Carl von Ossietzky in Nazi Germany – said the internet was “God’s gift” to a democratic China. The celebrity dissident artist Ai Weiwei says: “The internet cannot be controlled. And if it is uncontrollable, freedom will win. It is that simple.”
The CCP doesn’t agree. Its position is the diametric opposite of the Western received wisdom that the internet is necessarily and in its essence a threat to the authoritarian state. The Chinese government favors the doctrine of “cyber-sovereignty,” in which countries have control over their own versions of the internet. Kai Strittmatter was for many years the Beijing correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and his excellent We Have Been Harmonized is an eye-opening account of this issue. (“Harmonized” is a euphemism for “censored.”)
The days when the Chinese Community party eyed the internet with fear and anxiety are long gone. The regime has not only lost its fear; it has learned to love new technologies. The CCP believes it can use big data and artificial intelligence to create steering mechanisms that will catapult its economy into the future and make its apparatus crisis-proof. At the same time, it intends to create the most perfect surveillance state the world has ever seen.
(John Lanchester, London Review of Books)
WHISTLING IN JAPANESE.
"You can’t fix democracy by turning it off and on again." —Phil Foglio
The recording of last night's (2019-10-18) Memo of the Air: Good Night Radio show on KNYO-LP Fort Bragg and KMEC-LP Ukiah is available by one or two clicks, depending on whether you want to listen to it now or download it and keep it for later and, speaking of which, it's right here:
The Gloriana Opera Company Really Rosie producer and director and a couple of stars showed up to talk about theater in general and their Really Rosie show in particular. A brief appearance by amazing but shy-when-offstage Sandy Glickfeld to drop off a tape of a show she and Jack Leung, among others, did in 1988. Ken, who five years ago simplified and robusticated KNYO's electronic plant, was in town so he sat down to reveal some subtle intricacies of the Ghost Ship disaster you might have heard about in the news. Alex Bosworth called, and for a change, and for a wonder, we set a reasonable time limit on our conversation and stuck to it. It might have been the subject matter: Dean Martin's execrable Matt Helm movies. Two poetry sections in the show, one early, one late. And all of it with my lower back giving me the kind of trouble nobody can help with, though there are plenty of gurus and practitioners around who will take your money to pretend to, pain that you know will go away soon by itself like it always does, but in the moment, wincing makes you warble somewhat, and pause once in awhile, and say, Oh, goddammit, ow. Jeez. All things considered, a busy and edutaining and not too torturous adventure, accompanied by genuine Japanese honking bluesmasters and 1940s big-hat cowboys whistling for their supper. It's the next day now and the back is a lot better, thank you, except I just got a twinge when I carried all the video equipment to the car in one basket like an idiot, so, tch. ‘Besides all that, at http://MemoOfTheAir.wordpress.com you can find a fresh batch of dozens of links to not necessarily radio-useful but nonetheless worthwhile educational items I set aside for you while gathering the show together. Such as:
The Scottish backward blancmange.
Ze Frank presents the sand bubbler crab.
And literally superhuman fiddle skills.
Marco McClean, email@example.com,