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LOCALLY BREEZY north winds will occur across exposed ridges and coastal areas this morning, followed by weakening winds this afternoon, and then the development of gusty south winds tonight through much of Monday. Otherwise, rain chances will be low through the middle of next week. Thereafter, rain will become more probable Friday and Saturday. (NWS)
6 NEW COVID CASES reported for Mendocino County yesterday.
LOGGING INDUSTRY INCLUDED IN CURRENT VACCINE TIERS (Corrected version)
Dr. Andrew Coren, Mendocino County Public Health Officer announced today that all logging industry personnel are now included in the current Agricultural Workers vaccination tier, making them immediately eligible for vaccination as vaccine events become available.
“We are hoping that all the farmers, ranchers and food producers of Mendocino County will take advantage of the upcoming vaccine events,” noted Darcie Antle, Mendocino County Vaccine Coordinator.
Additionally, a posting on Mendocino County’s Facebook page mistakenly included “Lodging” personnel as part of the current vaccination group.
“We would like to clarify that this group was erroneously included with the individuals currently eligible for vaccination,” says Dr. Coren.
“If there are lodging personnel who are directly involved in the preparation of food and/or food services, those persons are eligible for vaccinations now,” he continues.
Dates and times for vaccination events are being posted as soon as they are scheduled on the county’s website. In the coming week, two “First-Dose” clinics will be held for Phase 1A, Tiers 1 and 2 of Phase 1B, which includes Agricultural, Logging Industry Workers and those over 65 years of age.
The vaccination events are scheduled for Monday and Wednesday, March 1st and March 3rd. Both vaccine events are located at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah.
To sign up for either of these events, please visit or log on at the County's vaccine portal or mendocinocounty.org/community/novel-coronavirus/covid-19-vaccinations/vaccination-clinics.
Appointments may also be made by calling the Covid-19 Call Center at (707) 472-2663 or (707) 472-2759.
PUDDING CREEK TRESTLE BRIDGE
MENDOCINO COUNTY CLARIFIES THAT LOGGING SECTOR, NOT LODGING INDUSTRY ELIGIBLE FOR COVID VACCINE
by Bill Swindell
Mendocino County is allowing those who work in the logging industry to receive a coronavirus vaccine, clarifying that those employees are eligible after earlier mistakenly posting to its Facebook page that people in the “lodging” sector could receive such shots.
“We would like to clarify that this group (lodging) was erroneously included with the individuals currently eligible for vaccination,” said Mendocino County Public Health Officer Andrew Cohen in a news release.
The statement came as the county plans vaccination clinics Monday and Wednesday at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah. They will be held for those in groups phase 1A and the tiers 1 and 2 of phase 1B, which includes agricultural and logging workers and those over 65 years of age.
“We are hoping that all the farmers, ranchers and food producers of Mendocino County will take advantage of the upcoming vaccine events,” said Darcie Antle, the county’s vaccine coordinator, in a statement.
Cohen also clarified about those in the lodging sector who could still receive a vaccine, specifically if they are in food service, which is already allowed under tier 1 of Phase 1B. “If there are lodging personnel who are directly involved in the preparation of food and/or food services, those persons are eligible for vaccinations now,” he said in his statement.
The difference in employment in the two sectors is stark within Mendocino County, especially as logging has receded over the decades along the North Coast and tourism jobs have steadily gained ground. There were 190 people employed in logging and mining within the county in December, according the state Employment Development Department. By contrast, the leisure and hospitality sector employed 2,790.
The county as of Saturday has provided 17,550 people with at least one dose of either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, according to the county’s website. That total does not include vaccines provided directly to hospitals and pharmacies.
There are an estimated 86,749 residents of Mendocino County as of July 1, 2019, according to the Census Bureau.
(Santa Rosa Press Democrat)
26,700 vaccine doses administered in Mendocino County to 17,500 unique individuals.
Nothing like publishing data to get necessary corrections. Above numbers exclude vaccinations to out of county residents received in county.
CVS, Consolidated, LTCFs, VA unknown counts.
ANDERSON VALLEY HEALTH CENTER had a very successful vaccine day yesterday distributing around 430 total vaccines (first and second doses). At this time we are getting consistent, larger vaccine supply. We are currently vaccinating anyone living or working in Anderson Valley 65+ years old, or people working in agriculture, food, and timber. Please sign up on our quick and easy jot form, and we will call you when you are eligible. Vaccines are given by appointment only. Thanks so much for your continued support. (Leah Collins)
AVFD [Anderson Valley Fire Department] has been providing medical monitoring, transportation standby, and traffic support to AVHC's vaccination days. Yesterday they vaccinated around 400 people - a huge undertaking to organize! We're glad to be part of this effort.
UKIAH SHELTER PET OF THE WEEK
Adorable Daisy seems to be an independent dog, but she also has a very sweet side to her. She settles nicely inside and likes to plop down by your feet. Daisy is playful with toys and really enjoys going out for walks, but could use some basic obedience training, as she pulls on leash. We think a home with no other dogs would be ideal for Daisy, though a social, friendly male canine companion may work. Daisy will need to meet any potential doggie housemates. Miss Daisy is 2 years old and 54 pounds.
For more about Daisy and the shelter’s canine and feline guests, go to mendoanimalshelter.com While you’re there, read about our services, programs, events, and updates regarding covid-19, as it impacts Mendocino County Animal Shelters in Ukiah and Ft. Bragg. Visit us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mendoanimalshelter/ For information about adoptions, please call 707-467-6453.
A READER WRITES:
Brilliant summary by Mark Scaramella about the CEO picking the grant proposal that benefits her friends at RCS. Instead of one that helps with drug related violent crime in Covelo. Says she made the decision on her own and notified everyone later. Easy to believe she never asked the Sheriff. And never talked to the Board of Supes. But I bet she talked to RCS. So 1$ million in public money gets funneled to the Schraeders and Covelo gets nothing. She says RCS was just a cut above. But one of her metrics was if the organization had a proven track record. I think the Sheriff's Office has a proven record fighting crime and has solved a lot of the violent crimes in Covelo. But RCS has no track record in running a teen peer court. None. So how did RCS rate a cut above? Had to be the friend factor. What's the point of being CEO if you can't funnel public money to your friends?
PS. Anyone think there's more to the story of McCowen making off with a pile of used County equipment? Have you asked for his side of it? On the same agenda they approved another $150,000 for LCW for a total of $350,000 for the lawsuit by Harinder Grewal the former Ag Commissioner. And $50,000 for Kronik, Moskovitz, Tiedmann & Girard for the lawsuit by Meribeth Dermond, late of the Executive Office. Grewal and Dermond are just two of the people unceremoniously shown the door. Please do an analysis of all the things wrong with this picture starting with why are we hiring these high priced outside attorneys when there are 8 attorneys in the County Counsel office.
HADN'T DONE a walk-through at Indian Creek Park for a decade, at least.
Russ Clow had been managing it under County auspices, but departed recently for Willits. The County will miss him caring for our Philo beauty spot, and we all owe him for leaving it as clean and as orderly as I remember seeing it. Indian Creek is closed for now, and given management confusion at the County level may stay that way through the warm weather for lack of a manager. An unintentionally hilarious list of Don'ts, obviously drafted by some officious County milk monitor, is prominently posted in the parking lot: there are about fifty forbiddens, not one of them likely to occur to civilized campers but certain to be ignored by the wild people they're aimed at. The above photo isn't of Indian Creek but it's very much like IC on its western stretches as it flows to meet Anderson Creek and the Rancheria to form the Navarro. Old timers will remember Dr. Marsh's swimming hole not too far west of the campgrounds but beyond, in my dubious memory, of the trail's end. I believe the doctor also owned the old growth area on the north side of the stream, now owned and nicely maintained by Jim Roberts of the Madrones complex.
LADY GAGA'S two French bulldogs, stolen by thieves who shot and wounded the dog walker, were recovered unharmed at 6pm on Friday. A woman with “no connection” to the gunmen who shot dog-walker Ryan Fischer on Wednesday handed Koji and Gustav in to cops at LAPD's Olympic Community Police Station. (No connection? Hmmm.) It is not known how the woman got hold of the French bulldogs. It's also not known whether Gaga has offered her $500,000 reward money. Her identity and the location where the dogs were found won't be disclosed for her safety and because of the ongoing investigation, the LAPD said. Sources said Gaga cried “tears of joy” when she found out the dogs had been returned unharmed. Earlier on Friday before it was learned that the woman says she found them tied to a power pole.
YES, we've reached out to former Supervisor McCowen for his version of the pending small claims action against him for allegedly leaving office with items belonging to the County.
LAST TUESDAY, After the Supervisors emerged from Closed Session:
County Counsel Christian Curtis: “The board met in closed session to consider possible legal remedies to return County property in possession of retired supervisor John McCowen. Per usual custom and practice, the county requested the return of the items at the time that Mr. McCowen left office. Despite repeated requests however, the property, including a laptop computer tablet, cell phone, printer, and building keys, was never returned and Mr. McCowen has ceased communicating with the County. Pursuant to existing authority and practices, County risk management has already initiated a small claims proceeding. The total damages to the county including the cost of rekeying the building is estimated to be between $3,000 and $4,000. At this time the Board of Supervisors unanimously indicated its support for the pending small claims matter, but decided that investing additional resources in a superior court proceeding would be premature.”
Supervisor Ted Williams: “John McCowen, I would appreciate it if you would return the keys, the laptop, the iPad, and the iPhone. I don't want to be in the position of having conflict. I appreciate that you served for 12 years with the county, even longer in public service. It's not fair to put the Board in this position that you created. We have to treat everyone, all employees, equally and we would ask any other employee to return public property upon their departure from the county.”
WHILE COUNTY COUNSEL pursues McCowen without, we assume, farming out the pursuit to a San Francisco law firm, some of us are wondering if the Grand Jury, if not District Attorney Eyster, will take a close look at CEO Angelo's unilateral decision to award a million dollar public grant to the private mental health business of Mr. and Mrs. Schraeder, a large gift of public funds if one assumes, as we do, that a million public dollars to a private party for a “teen peer court” is illegitimate, certainly more illegitimate than that same million going to the Sheriff, who also applied for the money for badly needed law enforcement augmentation.
BAY AREA ASIANS have been a target for street thugs for years. Thugs call Asians, “ATM's.” Basketball star Jeremy Lin put it well: “Being an Asian American doesn't mean we don't experience poverty and racism. Being a nine-year NBA veteran doesn't protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court. Being a man of faith doesn't mean I don't fight for justice, for myself and for others.”
FROM the thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius as Americanized by the Editor: “In the morning when you rise unwillingly, let this thought be present — I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in bed and keep myself warm? — But this is more pleasant — Do you exist then to take your pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Do you not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And are you unwilling to do the work of a human being, and do you not make haste to do that which is according to your nature?
GEORGE ORWELL, as disciplined a person as could be imagined, thought “this well-known exhortation” should be printed in large letters and hung “on the wall opposite your bed.”
Anybody who ever dreamed about a life in local politics - this.
Mendocino County Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde is no Chatty Cathy under any circumstances. His Facebook presence couldn't fill a teacup. His colleague Ted Williams (Fifth District) is all over the place - and doing a great job so why do we need two doing it? - informing people about COVID, weed (sorry, cannabis) and the spiraling county bureaucracy. I meant “aspiring”. Sorry again.
Dan Gjerde makes no bones about thinking social media is a waste of his time. Depending on how he's spending his time, that may be true or not. If he's spending his time on actual county business, which I for one would bet on, then in my eyes he would be wasting his time on the rabbit hole.
In any case, I'm not sure it's from fear of confrontation. Actually, Dan is the only local politician I know of to get thrown against a wall in Fort Bragg City Hall by a developer who shall remain nameless [Ed note: Dominic Affinito]. That takes some balls. No, not throwing someone 50 pounds lighter than you against a wall. What takes balls is getting that developer that pissed off. Because you know you are right.
And now he's married and everybody knows it. My experience with Dan is if you email him at his county email address, he emails you back, quickly. If he's not doing that now, who knows? Bet the clerk of the board knows if he's ill or skipped to Mexico. Call her. Dan's quiet. He's never seemed sneaky to me.
BTW, a lot of the more snarky comments about him, I believe, come from people who see county government as an obstacle, not a tool of the people. Like, why that developer threw him against a wall.
Not saying Dan's perfect, but if you want to know what's up with him, usually all you have to do is ask.
MENDO DA SATURDAY HISTORY
Compiled by District Attorney David Eyster
Approximately twenty-five years into California's Statehood, the Hon. Thomas Langley Carothers served as Mendocino County's 5th elected District Attorney.
The terms in office at that time were for two years and he served one term (1875-1876). He did not hold a California State Bar number because State Bar numbers had not yet been developed at that time.
The following biographical sketch is taken, in pertinent part, from Bench And Bar In California. History, Anecdotes, Reminiscences, by Oscar T. Shuck (“Scintilla Juris.”) of the San Francisco Bar. , page 801:
A Look Northward – Thomas L. Carothers of Mendocino, and Clay W. Taylor of Shasta – Men who Tower above their Fellows -- District Attorneys of their Counties – Boyhood on the Farm and in the Mines – Busy Lives at the Bar – Personal and Political Data – M.M. Estee’s Tribute to Mr. Carothers – Dr. Shorb’s Address in nominating Mr. Taylor for Governor.
“In referring to Mr. Carothers, in a recent conversation, Hon. M.M. Estee said to me: “I have known him ever since he had whiskers. He is an earnest, active, honest man; a good lawyer, has confined himself almost exclusively to his profession; has the confidence of all those who know him and he deserves that confidence. He studied law in my office and was an industrious and worthy a law student as he has since become conspicuous as an attorney. I cannot speak too kindly of him.”
“Mr. Carothers is one of that noble band of young men who went forth to fame and fortune from the old Sacramento High School, and whose successes have frequently challenged attention in this volume. I knew his manly character when it was forming. I saw him sowing, and although widely separated from him before he began to reap, I know he has a good title to his harvested stores.
“Ambitious, generous, enthusiastic, he was yet a persevering student, and controlled always by strong common sense. It was by assiduous effort that he qualified himself for the enlarged sphere which he began to adorn now a good many years ago. It only excites gratification in the breasts of his old-time fellows to see him now first in the hearts of the people of his county and leading the local bar.
“Thomas Langley Carothers is the son of James H. and Margaret Barnes Carothers, and was born at Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois, September 26, 1842. He “crossed the plains” with his father’s family in the spring of 1853. His father settled at Stony Point, Sonoma County, in the fall of that year, remaining there until 1857. Thomas in the meantime attended the neighborhood school and worked on his father’s farm.
“In 1857 the family moved into Petaluma, where they resided until the spring of 1859, Thomas attending the public schools of that place. In the spring of 1859 the family moved to Sacramento City, where the son continued his studies in the public schools until the fall of 1861.
“At the close of the regular term of the High School in Sacramento, in September of that year, the young man entered the law office of Harrison & Estee of that city. He studied law until January, 1862, when the family returned to Petaluma on account of the great flood then at Sacramento.
“On arriving at Petaluma our law student entered the office of Hon. George Pearce, where he continued his studies until October 5, 1863. He was then admitted to the bar by the Supreme Court of the State, having become of age only ten days before.
“Mr. Carothers began the practice of law in Petaluma. He filled the position of deputy district attorney of Sonoma County, for two years, under Hon. William Ross.
“In May, 1866, he removed to Ukiah City, Mendocino County, where he has practiced his profession ever since.
“In December, 1866, he was married to Miss Lucy Pierson, daughter of the late Dr. E.M. and Harriet Pierson.
“Since his admission to the Supreme Court he has been admitted as an attorney of the United States Court and District Courts at San Francisco. In 1867 he was appointed a notary public by Governor Low, which position he has held ever since. He has been district attorney of Mendocino County for two years, and has been for several years a United States Commissioner.
“In 1884 Mr. Carothers was the nominee of the Republican party for congress in the 1st Congressional District of this State. The district had been giving about two thousand Democractic majority, and yet he came within one hundred and forty-five votes of election, his Democratic competitor being Hon. Barclay Henley.
“In 1888 he was one of the Republican nominees for Presidential Elector for the State of California, and General Harrison carrying the State, Mr. Carothers was elected and discharged the duties of the position.
“He was a trustee of Ukiah City for ten years, and during that time was president of the Board of Trustees. For several years he was the law partner of Hon. R. McGarvey, now Superior Judge.
“He has acquired a large and lucrative practice; and, particularly as a criminal lawyer, he has won great reputation.
“In 1880 he was employed by the county to assist in the prosecution of the famous “Mendocino Outlaws,” and he convicted every one of them.
“The Honorable Superior Judge of Monterey County (who is noticed in Chapter XVII) in a pleasant conversation in March, 1889, informed me that when he held court for the Superior Judge of Mendocino several years before, he found Mr. Carothers even then employed on one side or the other of every case of any importance; that he was the legal adviser of the bank, the railroad company, and all the influential business men of his county and all the corporations.
“In his prosperous practice,” says an editorial writer, “he has made a large connection, that extends beyond the county’s limits; his excellent reputation as a lawyer and an honorable citizen has gone farther. His splendid office contain as complete and as handsome a library as can be found in any town.
“His pretty residence on Main street is a gem of cottage architecture. In his happy home, surrounded by loving family, Mr. Carothers finds the content and peace which are the reward of the honest and upright endeavors of his life.”
Added in a subsequent edition of Bench And Bar In California. History, Anecdotes, Reminiscences, was the follow:
“In the case of Albion River Railroad Company vs. William Heeser, reported in the 84th volume of our State Supreme Court Reports, at page 435, the court, following the argument of Mr. Carothers on his brief for respondent, decided (and it was then so held for the first time in this State), that a railroad company could first go on and take land for railroad purposes, and have the land condemned afterwards, with no other liability for damages than such as the company would have incurred if it had secured condemnation before taking possession.
“In January, 1896, Mr. Carothers lost his wife. He afterwards married Mrs. Lydia I. Reeves, a widow, a most estimable and intelligent lady, who had been one of his best clients. He remarked to his friends at the time that he had “lost a good client but gained an excellent wife.”
“Mr. Carothers is now referee in bankruptcy for Mendocino and Lake counties. He is also mayor of Ukiah, elected as a Republican in a strong Democratic town.”
DA Note: Thomas Langley Carothers was born September 26, 1842 in Illinois and passed away on November 30, 1915. The son of James Halliday and Margaret Anna (Barnes) Carothers, Mr. Carothers and his second wife, Lydia Isabelle (Church)(Reeves) [1845-1926] were laid to rest in the Russian River Cemetery in Ukiah.
The reference above that Mr. Carothers provided legal assistance to the criminal prosecution of “The “Mendocino Outlaws” gives rise to a long-forgotten but interesting piece of Mendocino County real crime history. The posting of a new biographical sketches of a former elected Mendocino County DA will be paused next Saturday (March 6th) in order to post that old West cops-and-robbers story.
As always, additional historical information regarding the Office of the Mendocino County District Attorney can be viewed at mendocinocounty.org/government/district-attorney/office-history.
KEEPING CELEBRITIES SAFE
Need a Problem Fixed? Wait For It To Affect Someone Famous.
(Kevin Drum, Mother Jones)
JOB ALERT: Mendocino County Cannabis Program Manager
John and I have reached out to a contact at University of California for assistance in recruiting. Unstated job perk: the right person can look forward to a daily call with me until the program is a success.
PUBLIC’S HELP SOUGHT IN UKIAH CAR THEFTS
The Sheriff’s Office in coordination with the Ukiah Police Department have been investigating several incidents of prowling, vehicle burglaries and vehicle thefts over the last few weeks in the Ukiah Valley.
These incidents have been occurring during the late evening hours and early morning hours (11:00 PM to 4:00 AM).
Many of these incidents have been captured on surveillance video cameras attached to homes in the following areas since 02-11-2021:
- Crestview Drive in Ukiah (behind Grace Hudson School)
- Tehuacan Road in Ukiah (Vichy Springs Subdivision)
- Pomo Drive in Ukiah (Oak Manor Subdivision)
- Madrone Drive in Ukiah (Regina Heights Subdivision)
The Sheriff’s Office has learned during this investigation that some prowling situations, attempted vehicle burglaries and vehicle burglaries have gone unreported by residents in these areas.
The Sheriff’s Office is asking that residents that have been victims of these situations and/or who have surveillance video camera footage of these situations to contact Sheriff’s Captain Gregory L. Van Patten at email@example.com or by calling 707-463-4083.
More photographs of the vehicle of interest involved in this specific investigation and a video of the same vehicle can be found at on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page for 02-13-2021.
It is vital for the Sheriff’s Office and Ukiah Police Department to work directly with the community during this investigation to safeguard property and to hold those accountable for their illegal activities.
WRONG WAY, JOSE
On Tuesday, February 23, 2021 at around 2:20 PM, a Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputy was on patrol when he observed a Honda sedan stopped at the intersection of North Highway 1 and Oak Street in Fort Bragg.
The Deputy observed the vehicle was displaying expired registration. After a records check of the license plate through Sheriff’s Office Dispatch, the Deputy learned the vehicle was an active stolen vehicle reported out of Glenn County.
The Deputy briefly lost sight of the vehicle, but regained visual of the vehicle in the 400 block of South McPherson Street, at which time the Deputy attempted a traffic stop of the vehicle.
The driver (Jose Alfredo Huerta) refused to yield and quickly accelerated in an attempt to evade the Deputy, resulting in the Deputy initiating a vehicular pursuit.
During the pursuit, Huerta drove down a cul-de-sac with the Deputy following behind him. Huerta then conducted a U-turn and accelerated directly towards the Deputy’s vehicle, which was now stopped.
Huerta continued forward, without stopping, and struck the Deputy’s patrol vehicle. Both vehicles sustained moderate damage as a result of the impact.
Huerta continued past the Deputy with the pursuit continuing and an additional Deputy assisting in the pursuit.
In the area of the 800 block of South Franklin Street, Huerta drove onto a vacant lot and stopped. Huerta exited the vehicle and fled on foot.
Fort Bragg Police Officers were in the area at this time and also pursued Huerta on foot after he exited the vehicle.
Deputies and Fort Bragg Police Officers were able to apprehend Huerta a short distance away without further incident.
During the pursuit, Huerta drove the vehicle left of center into the opposing lane of travel to pass vehicles, and failed to stop at controlled intersections, with no due regard for the safety of others.
No persons were injured during the pursuit.
Huerta was arrested and transported to the Mendocino County Jail where he was booked for Felony Reckless Evading, Felony Reckless Evading – Wrong Way Driving, Possession of a Stolen Vehicle), and Commit Felony while on Pre-Trial Release.
Huerta was determined to be on pre-trial release for a pending felony matter out of Glenn County.
Following Huerta’s arrest, Deputies contacted a Mendocino County Superior Court Judge for a request in bail enhancement and the Judge granted and ordered that Huerta be held on a “No Bail” status.
CATCH OF THE DAY, February 27, 2021
BASILIO ANGUIANO, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation.
JESUS GARCIA-SANDOVAL, Ukiah. Domestic battery.
TORREN HEBEL, Willits. DUI-alcohol&drugs, controlled substance, parole violation.
NIKOLAUS MCNEIL, Clearlake/Ukiah. Evasion-reckless driving.
WHAT LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI (1919-2021) MEANS TO ME
by Jonah Raskin
The anarchist, pacifist poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whom I knew for forty years was shy and introverted, even while he was a public figure who wanted to be recognized and appreciated as an artist. We performed together on the stage at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma. Ferlinghetti was accompanied by singer/songwriter Sarah Baker on piano. I was accompanied by artist and musician, Claude Smith, on stand-up bass. I gave dramatic readings of my own satirical poems which have titles like “I’m More Important Than You” and “I’m Cooler than You.” Ferlinngetti totally got my sense of humor. He read his own works, though by then his voice wasn’t as strong as it once was. It is no exaggeration to say that the audience of about 700 people went wild. I still have the poster for the event. Naturally, Ferlinghetti’s name is in bigger letters than my own name. Not a problem.
A decade older than me, he cared deeply about his friends in the city, in Bolinas and in Big Sur. He also valued his own privacy. At events at the San Francisco public library, where he stood out from the crowd, he often meant to be witty, but his one liners would fall flat. He took many of the changes in San Francisco—the arrival of the dot comers, the Google buses, the influx of wealth, the soaring price of real estate—personally and spoke out, and so I admired his candor.
Brave and yet cautious, he often wore a Cheshire cat grin and went out of his way to be supportive, not only to me, but also to other writers much younger than him, including Stephen Kessler. My own connections to Ferlinghetti are tied to my connections to San Francisco, as a literary place and as a cultural outpost of bohemian Paris, where he went to school. He was influenced by George Whitman’s Left Bank bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, which opened in 1919, the same year Ferlinghetti was born.
On KQED, two days after Ferlinghetti’s death, Elaine Katzenberger, the executive director at City Lights, noted that he was shy and that it wasn’t easy to get to know him. Indeed, he wasn’t outgoing the way Allen Ginsberg was, but it was worthwhile to get to know him.
What connected Ferlinghetti and me, more than anything else, was Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem, Howl, which Ferlinghetti published in 1956 and which landed him in big legal trouble and made him world famous. I first read Howl as a boy and when I was a beatnik. I loved lines like, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” though I didn’t understand much of the poem.
After our reading in Petaluma, Ferlinghetti told me that the more difficult a poem—the more resistant to the reader—the more meaning it would have. His own poetry in A Coney Island of the Mind, for example, was much more easily accessible than Howl, though one had to be attuned to the poet’s ironic tone of voice to appreciate his work.
Every time I went from Sonoma County, where I lived, to “the City,” as we all called San Francisco, I went to City Lights to browse, buy books, hang out and soak up the literary vibes. I usually went with friends and with my younger brother, Adam, a San Francisco detective and Sam Spade fan, who knows North Beach, the legendary literary district that has provided a nurturing home for City Lights.
Years ago, when I wrote an essay about the 50th anniversary of City Lights, I spent a day at the store, mostly in the basement, talking to book lovers who came from all over the country and all over the world. For them, I realized, City Lights was a destination and a kind of Mecca. Once, I rendezvoused there with Tom Hayden and spent an evening sharing memories of the Sixties. “I carried a copy of Kerouac’s On the Road when I went to the South for the Civil Rights Movement,” Hayden told me.
For the 50th anniversary story, I interviewed the people who helped run City Lights, including Nancy Peters, who became a co-owner, but who remained mostly behind the scenes. I got to know Paul Yamazaki, the book buyer, Peter Maravelis, the events coordinator, and Stacey Lewis, one of the publicists, who sent me books to review.
Ferlinghetti co-founded City Lights with Peter Martin, who is now largely a footnote in the cultural history of San Francisco. Martin soon picked up stakes and moved back to New York. Ferlinghetti hired Shig Murao, a genial, bookish Japanese-American who had worked for the U.S. military intelligence in World War II. I remember Shig at the front desk where he served as a kind of gatekeeper who let everyone into the store. City Lights’ openness was part of its charm. The fact that it only carried paperback books and helped usher in the paperback revolution won my heart and mind.
For years the openness was also an issue. Ferlinghetti told me that thieves stole books left and right, until the store installed a device at the front door that set off alarms and helped deter the nimble fingered. One of the worst thieves was Beat poet Gregory Corso. Caught red handed and rebuked, City Lights declined to prosecute him. It wouldn’t do for a bohemian, anarchist bookstore to go to the police.
I knew about City Lights and Ferlinghetti long before I arrived in San Francisco. As a teenager, I read about the obscenity trial that took place in San Francisco in 1957 and that received national attention. Shig sold two copies of Howl to San Francisco police officers, though Ferlinghetti, as the publisher of record, was the only person to go on trial. The D.A. reasoned that Shig, as the seller, might not have known the contents of the book, but Ferlinghetti as the publisher had to have known.
In many ways the trial was Ferlinghetti's finest moment. He turned the tables on the prosecution and defended the poem as a work of art and argued that it wasn’t obscene. The society that Ginsberg depicted was the real obscenity, Ferlinghetti argued. From that day on, I regarded him as a courageous publisher and bookseller who stood up to the cops, the prosecuting attorney, the Catholic Church, and the powers-that-be in San Francisco, which was more conservative than it seemed on first impression.
While Howl made City Lights and Ferlinghetti famous, City Lights and Ferlinghetti also made Ginsberg and his poem internationally renowned. I don’t know of any other publisher in 1955-56 who would have put Howl in print, not even James Laughlin at New Directions. Ferlinghetti recognized Ginsberg’s genius. He also understood that the poem captured the zeitgeist, which took a certain genius.
Fast forward to the 1980s, when I was a published author and began to have a correspondence and a literary friendship with Ferlinghetti. City Lights carried and sold my books, including My Search for B. Traven, which Ferlinghetti had asked me to send him. One could also find on the shelves in the poetry section, American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s 'Howl' and the Birth of the Beat Generation, which was published by the University of California Press in 2004. To write that book I did not interview Ferlinghetti, but I read his extensive correspondence with Ginsberg which was housed at the Bancroft Library on the campus of UC Berkeley.
What surprised me most of all was that, while Ferlinghetti was on trial for obscenity, Ginsberg was out and about gallivanting, which prompted Ferlinghetti to say to me, “Someone had to stay at home and mind the store.” Though Ferlinghetti published many of his own books of poetry with New Direction, including A Coney Island of the Mind, and though he exhibited many of his paintings in galleries and museums, which I made a point to see, he tended to be self-deprecating. It didn’t help his ego that Ginsberg often thought of him as his publisher and as a mere bookstore owner, not as a fellow writer and artist in his own right.
Ferlinghetti wrote a savvy blurb for American Scream that was featured on the back cover. It reads, “Jonah Raskin’s American Scream adds to the ever-growing fact and fiction of the Allen Ginsberg persona. All Ginsberg addicts will have to have this book for adulation and reassessment.”
City Lights sponsored a launch for the book soon after it was published. So many people attended that they couldn’t all fit into the upstairs room. Ferlinghetti himself showed up and greeted me and the audience. I couldn’t have asked for a warmer reception. About a decade after that launch, I interviewed Ferlinghetti for the San Francisco Chronicle. I asked him if he read the newspaper. He said he did. I asked him if he followed the San Francisco Giants. Yes, he said. And I asked if he still went to work at City Lights. “I stay at home and let others do the work,” he said. That was largely true.
Years ago, Elaine Katzenberger took over the running of the publishing company and the bookstore and made City Lights more overtly political, with more women authors and people of color. I think that was, to a large extent, a natural and organic evolution of the project that Ferlinghetti started in the early 1950s. I think it's also worth saying that while Ferlinghetti promoted Ginsberg, he was also one of Ginsberg's sharpest critics. He pointed out, rightly so, that while Ginsberg continued to be a marvelous performer on stage, his writing declined, and his language became clunky and repetitive.
When I interviewed Ferlinghetti I also asked him about Gregory Corso’s theft. “People saw him break in and they called the police,” he told me. “We went to where he was living and told him he’d better leave town before the cops arrived. Gregory went to Italy and didn’t come back for ages. We took the amount of money he stole from us from his royalties. I think that was very Buddhist of us. We never called the police on any thief. But sometimes we humiliated thieves.”
Unlike Ginsberg and Kerouac, Ferlinghetti was never a Buddhist. The comment, “That was very Buddhist of us,” is a prime example of his sense of humor.
He always insisted that he was pre-Beat and post-Beat, though he also published and promoted most of the Beat writers. He published the work of outlaws and criminals, exiles, fugitives and expats. Long after American Scream was published, I continued to have a productive relationship with City Lights which sponsored the launch for my book A Terrible Beauty: The Wilderness of American Literature. The last piece I wrote about Ferlinghetti was published in 2018 when he was on the cusp of 100. I met Peter Munks, a Yale graduate, who washed the windows at City Lights for decades and who had a unique view of the store and its founder.
“The personnel has changed over the past four decades,” Munks told me. “Lawrence has lost much of his hearing and his eyesight, and he doesn’t come into the office as often as he used to, but from my perspective, City Lights hasn’t changed all that much.” Indeed, at the end of days, Ferlinghetti lost all his vision.
I will remember him as editor, publisher, poet and painter who invigorated the literary scene in San Francisco and who connected the city and its citizens to the cultures of the world. Perhaps Ferlinghetti had no single finest moment, but rather many of them spread across a lifetime. Perhaps, too, it’s his longevity that matters as much as anything else about him. 101 years is a long time. The publisher who gave birth to the Beats, by giving their books to the word, outlived the Beat Generation writers he promoted, and yet never joined their circle. That's part of the paradox of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was more complicated than he seemed to be.
LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI - A VETERAN FOR PEACE
by Nadya Williams
In 1962 a group of San Francisco veterans of World War II and Korea - knowing the Viet Nam war was looming - marched unofficially at the end of the annual Veterans Day Parade under the banner of “Veterans For Peace.” The principle organizer was world-renowned poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti who died on February 22nd at 101 years old in his home in North Beach, the literary heart of San Francisco.
The turning point in Ferlinghetti's life came in late September, 1945 as he walked the streets of Nagasaki, Japan six weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped there by his country. He was a 26-year-old lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, having already seen combat in the Invasion of Normandy the year before. Among the 40,000 Japanese that were incinerated on the day of August 9th was one who was drinking a cup tea. Ferlinghetti picked up that tea cup; it had flesh and bone fused into it. The cup has now sat on the mantelpiece of his home for 75 1/2 years.
These stories have been recounted by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in many of the countless newspaper, TV and radio interviews, poems, essays and books by him, plus at least two documentary films. The 1962 group was not formally established, and in 1985 the national organization of Veterans For Peace was created by American veterans of the Viet Nam War. VFP now has over 100 chapters nationally and internationally, Ferlinghetti being an Honorary Member of San Francisco Chapter 69.
A true Renaissance man, he co-established City Lights Bookstore in 1953, which grew to be a major publishing house of so-called “Beat” literature - but so much more. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a lifelong poet, publisher, author and activist, who eventually found his love of painting. In all his prodigious creative works, he never missed the opportunity to chastise the absurdity of materialism, the obscenity of war and the soullessness of profit-driven destruction.
(Nadya Williams is an active associate member and Director of Communications of Veterans For Peace, San Francisco Chapter 69.)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti died apparently in his sleep in the early morning hours of Tuesday, a day and a month short of his 102nd birthday, a living legend who had been in failing health for some time but who finally passed on in the North Beach apartment where he had lived for years, in walking distance from City Lights Books, which he founded and the San Francisco waterfront. In WW2, he became a Lt. Commander in the US Navy, in charge of a sub chaser during the Normandie invasion which gave him the opportunity to take photos of his shipmates and the area before the landings which were only discovered a few years ago and in 2019 were enlarged and featured in an exhibit at SF’s Harvey Milk Photo Center.
Ferlinghetti was a person of many talents and in his later years became a very accomplished artist. The bookstore he created, City Lights, became a major attraction for travelers to San Francisco from throughout the world where he is better known than in the USA.
BASICALLY, my style was always my own. I pressed. Once you get a guy in the corner, he has nowhere to go.
— Rocky Marciano
SEX, DRUGS & POETRY? 1969-70
by Jim Gibbons
I was working at the Tides Bookstore in Sausalito in the spring of 1970 when my book came out. I had been a Milwaukee Poet, and with my friend Chuck put out a little poetry magazine we called Pretty Mama, using the English department’s version of a copy machine. The best part was probably the cover, always eye-catching art done by my wife Lois. It was through the magazine I met Ed Burton.
Ed had obtained an old letter-press that he planned to restore in his basement, and invited me over to check it out. He had seen Pretty Mama and asked if he could print a future issue once he got his press working. When he did, he named it Morgan Press, after his 6-year old daughter, and Pretty Mama was the first thing he printed.
It was such an improvement we thought about selling it at the local Head Shop, but Lois and I had gone to Europe that summer (1968), and when we returned I sort of dropped out of the poetry scene, though I was still writing and visiting Ed occasionally. Since I didn’t want to do Pretty Mama any more, and Chuck had graduated and moved back home to Upper Michigan, Ed continued with some of the same poets, but changed the name to Hey Lady.
My brief marriage to Lois broke up — in retrospect I blame myself — and after refusing to go to class at the beginning of the spring semester to finish my BA in English, I finally decided to head for California. There were numerous reasons, but I liked telling people it was because of a popular ad on TV for an allergy medicine that gave the viewer two choices to relieve the suffering: I) Take an ocean voyage, or 2) Take Allerest. I chose a version of the first one.
The waterfront was heaven for my sinuses. I could breathe through both nostrils most of the time, and since I’d quit sneezing and coughing up phlegm, I would forget about my allergies until I returned to Wisconsin for visits. I remember once driving over the Mississippi River from Iowa to Wisconsin and sneezing for the first time in months…”ACHOO!!!” Oh yeah, I have hay fever.
I missed my friends and family back in Wisconsin, but Becker and I were not the only ones from Milwaukee. Besides Becker there was Ed Hantke, known as Ebbie, one of the earlier anchor-outs who loved working on anything mechanical, but mostly seemed to like doing nothing. We often did nothing together. I’d stop over for coffee in the morning, then we’d hop in his outrigger canoe and paddle to shore, maybe go for a bike ride along Gate 5 Road, stopping to chat with people he knew, which seemed to be everybody.
When I needed a bicycle, Ebb took an old frame, turned it upside down, welded on support pieces, and extended the seat and handle bars. Whenever I would ride into Sausalito tourists would snap photos of this hippie on his weirdly tall bicycle. (see photo and poem)
My book, “Prime the Pump,” was mostly poems I had written in Milwaukee, some of which embarrassed me, but others I still like, especially the ones I wrote on my boat. I was really pleased to have my own book, and since Ed did it as a Labor of Love, I just gave it away to my new friends on the waterfront. I did, however, give the Tides some copies to sell. I still remember coming to work a few days later and there in the window was a display of my books. It certainly was a pleasant surprise, made all the more surprising because they didn’t tell me they were planning to do that.
One thing I learned was giving my book away rather than trying to sell it was the best way to connect with people and get positive feedback. One woman told me she read my book on LSD while soaking in the tub and laughed so hard the book got all wet, so she hung it up to dry.
Now I was known around the waterfront as a poet, and among the people who gave me positive feedback was Shel Silverstein. I didn’t really know Shel, but one day I was leaving work with a few books in my hand when I ran into Shel on his way to the No Name Bar. I stopped him, introduced myself, told him how much I liked “A Boy Named Sue,” the hit song he wrote for Johnny Cash, and gave him my book. A week or so later I saw him again and he told me how much he enjoyed it, and invited me over to his boat for a get together with a few other local writers.
This was a chance for me to meet other writers and perhaps advance my literary career, but on the way over that afternoon I ran into Sparky, a frizzy blond with Keene-like eyes and perky breasts under a see-through blouse that mesmerized me and made me forget where I was going.
She said she had some really good mescaline, and a few hours later we were in a cabin on Mt. Tam making waves on a water bed. Yeah, I know, I missed out on a rare opportunity to meet other writers, but what was I supposed to do? I just couldn’t turn down this sweet flower child’s kind offer to share a tab of mescaline? That’s just not the way I rolled.
Then a few days later, I really don’t remember if it was days or weeks, I saw Shel walking toward his boat with Bill Cosby. I’m not saying Cosby would have been there the day I was invited to join the group, but just that I can’t believe I turned down a genuine invite by Shel Silverstein because of a hippie chick. Yeah, sure, Sparky and I had fun, but that kind of fun was becoming commonplace, and to this day, not going to Shel’s boat is still way up on my long list of regrets. If I had a regret-o-meter, it would be right up there with…oh, there’s so many. Forget I mentioned it.
I should mention that Bill was friends with another Milwaukeean named Bill Olsen aka Ole. Ole also knew Ed Burton, and one of his hobbies was photography. He and his girlfriend Meryl came out to visit during Christmas vacation. His photos of the waterfront scene were in my book, and Ed chose one of Greg Baker for the cover. Greg liked to dress like a 19th Century Navy Captain, and he wore his military outfit for that photo.
Greg became my self-appointed mentor. Besides helping me get that job at Varda’s when I was down to my last dollar, he lent me books to read, helped me in the shop, and sold me an 8-foot dory he built himself for just $50. One of my favorite books of Greg’s was SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD by Joshua Slocum. When I mentioned the book to Becker, he said, “I want to sail around the world and NOT write a book about it. Haha.” I recall telling Becker I wanted to write a book called SAILING ALONE AROUND ANGEL ISLAND.
It was Christmas Day of 1969 when I first sailed the Cowpie. Here’s a quote from my journal: “Well, I told myself I’d sail by Xmas & sure enough it happened. I found a 9 X 12 tarp in a vacated Xmas tree lot and used it as a square sail. Ole and Meryl , Bill and I sailed away in a perfect west wind under a beautiful blue sky…only problem was I couldn’t come about, so I threw my new Danforth mud anchor overboard and now I’m anchored out near Clipper Harbor. Only problem is I don’t know how I’ll get back to the dock.”
Bay Morning Bicycle
It’s morning. Ebbie built this bicycle.
I toss open my hatch cover
I thank Heather for the fine paint job.
Breathe thru both nostrils and yell
People smile & point when I ride by.
It’s twice the height of a normal bike
Seagulls continue their usual noise.
With a view those short bikes lack.
Fog rolls thru the Golden Gate.
Some think it takes special skill to ride
Cloud halo over Mt. Tam.
Or figure there’s a trick up my handlebars.
Blue ski straight up. They often stop me & ask.
Think I’ll visit Ebbie for breakfast.
“How do you get up there?”
He’ll smile and say, not usually being in a hurry,
“Climb aboard and have some cawfee.” I show them.
One of my favorite visitors was Sue Wilson, an 18-year-old ex student of Lois’ who graduated from high school at sixteen and was taking classes at UC Berkeley. Sue would show up in her mini-dress sans underwear and smile seductively as she climbed on board, so to speak. One time she spent the night with me out on the Cowpie, and in the morning while I was making coffee, she lounged on the deck naked picking at her crotch. Finally I said, “What are you doing?”
She replied nonchalantly, “Picking crabs, but don’t worry, they’re organic.”
TO: Robert Gitlin, Medical Director, Redwood Valley Health Clinic:
Dear Dr. Gitlin,
I read your letter about your AT&T service issue in the February 3 Anderson Valley Advertiser. I had a problem last summer with AT&T as a residential customer and although not nearly as serious as yours, I figured I would share it with you.
I have been a residential customer with AT&T since 1993. I had landline and Internet service with them.
My Internet and phone connection started going out regularly in July and then completely went out within five days. I could see a red light flashing on my modem when there was a problem.
I called AT&T and spoke to a female agent. I told her the problem. She put me on hold for three or four minutes and came back on and told me basically, “I'm making a note of it (my problem).” Then she tried to sell me some “bundle” package that I had no interest in. So basically she blew me off.
A few days later I saw an AT&T service truck on a side street next to my apartment complex and I approached the service worker and told him of my service issue. I told him that I had called AT&T and spoken to an agent. He asked if she had offered to send a worker to my apartment. I said no and he replied, “She should have.”
I decided to drop by AT&T service. I now have a cell phone with a different provider which I use instead of the landline. I had the Internet connection went AT&T so I could watch Youtube on my TV through my BlueRay player, but I was getting tired of Youtube so that was not hard to give up. I have not had a computer since 2017 as I feel having one is bad for my peace of mind.
My guess is that when the agent put me on hold she spoke to a supervisor during which time the agent gave him or her a quick customer profile of me and then the supervisor told the agent to blow me off and try to force me to sign up for the “bundle” crap which would have greatly increased my monthly bill.
Good luck with your service issue. I guess AT&T has no concern about your patients.
WHEN, NOT IF
The recent ice storm in Texas should be a wake-up call to all those who have buried their heads in the sand and not prepared to address survival necessities. “When” is the answer, not “if,” as to the timing of the next life-threatening natural or human-caused event in our community.
The wealthy among us can afford elaborate backup power systems that will likely function in blackouts and earthquake-caused disruptions of natural gas distribution, but until we reconfigure our power grid to function independently in community microgrids, the majority of us are essentially on our own until the cavalry arrives.
Most of us can afford a camp stove and propane tank, a tent and/or a tarp and a gravity water filter plus a 3-6 gallon jug. If you are reliant on refrigerated medicines, then you also need a generator that can keep them cold. Almost all have enough blankets, sweaters and sleeping bags to survive freezing temperatures. Survival in a disaster isn’t about staying cozy, it’s about staying alive.
‘ABORTION ATTACKS HURT THE POOR’
One thing was true in 1956 when I scrabbled together money for a back-alley abortion, and true in 2013 when I listened to dozens of wrenching stories while researching a book on abortion: If you have money, you can access abortion care and other reproductive health needs. If you’re poor, in much of the United States, you can’t.
The stories women told me about being forced to bear a sixth or seventh unplanned and unaffordable child, or about dangerous and desperate efforts to self-abort, would break your heart.
Add to these the suffering of women and men alike denied other services provided by Planned Parenthood — birth control, critically needed medicines, treatment for sexually transmitted disease and cancer screenings — and the cruelty of Republican policies becomes clear.
How much suffering and death will it take for Dr. Dickman’s final sentence to be heard? “In these difficult times, we need to make medical care more available, not less.”
Fran Moreland Johns
Ed Note: The writer is the author of “Perilous Times: An Inside Look at Abortion Before — and After — Roe v. Wade.”
STUDENT LOAN HORROR:
When you think you qualify for debt relief, check again. And again.
by Matt Taibbi
A pair of married science teachers were sure they qualified for student debt forgiveness. They discovered what many borrowers learned in the 2010s: not qualifying for aid is the norm.
The romance of Robin and Kevin sounds like the stuff of old ballads. She was quiet and an introvert, he was the extrovert with an elaborate social life, and on the tree-covered campus of Columbia Community College near Sonora, California, they fell in love, while barely young enough to drive.
“Our first date was a walk with friends through the forest behind our dorms,” recalls Kevin. “Our album to sit and listen to was Van Morrison’s Moondance. Robin was my very own Brown Eyed Girl.”
“He knew my weird sense of humor that nobody else would ever get, especially from someone who's quiet,” recalls Robin, who was seventeen when they met. “And I'd come up with something off the wall and think, ‘Okay that didn’t fly.’ But it would. And it was like, ‘Oh, you understand me.’”
The couple met in 1990, and married four years later. They were not rich people. Robin’s father, a contractor who’d had ups and downs financially, died when she was young. She was raised thereafter by a single mother who’d had to go back to school herself, and was wary of student debt thanks to her own experiences. “She was dead set against it,” Robin remembers.
They were at least debt-free in the early years, however, getting by with minimum-wage or seasonal jobs. Kevin worked as a ski instructor in the winter, and as a raft guide in the summer. They made a plan to get bachelors’ degrees together at Humboldt State University.
“We moved in together,” Robin remembers. “And surprise, I got pregnant.”
With a child on the way, they took out a series of federal loans, in part on the advice of Robin’s mother. “She said, ‘If you're going to take out loans, make sure that it's not a private loan, but a subsidized federal loan,’” Robin recalls. They did so and were soon on schedule to graduate and start the next stage after what Robin laughingly describes as their “hippies and Humboldt” years. They were happy, having merely switched one California vista for another.
“We spent those early years on walks in the forests of Northern California, in Columbia,” says Kevin. “Then it was through the redwoods of Redwood Park in the Arcata Community Forest with our newborn son, Gage.”
Life however has more twists and turns than straight lines, a fact that the current student loan system — premised upon timely graduation and immediate gainful employment — does not anticipate.
When the young couple was just a semester away from graduation at Humboldt, Kevin’s father, who ran a small auction house in Sacramento — “antiques, estates, and other stuff,” says Robin — fell ill with cancer. They moved, so Kevin could help maintain the family business while his father convalesced. He learned how to auction, but the couple still had hopes of finishing school.
They took classes at Sacramento State, finished credits for degrees from Humboldt, and then discovered what a lot of young people in the eighties and nineties were learning, that the implied bargain of college — get a degree, get a good job — was less than a concrete proposition. “It was a wake-up call,” Robin says. She remembers an early job selling muffins.
“The muffin route that I took over, was from a beautiful woman, who was very charismatic, bubbly, and stunning,” she recalls, laughing. “She knew her route, and gave me the list, saying, ‘Do these muffins.’ I shadowed her the first day, and she sold them all! ‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘I'll do the same thing.’ I quickly found that part of the customer attraction was seeing her. I came back with half the muffins.”
After borrowing a collective $31,000 to get Bachelor’s degrees at Humboldt, the couple realized they needed an additional qualification to have real security. “I remember looking at a headline in a newspaper that said, ‘California teacher shortage,’” Robin remembers. They ended up going to Cal-State Chico to get teaching certificates, moving in with Robin’s mother, who had a (very) small house.
“We actually put a tent up in her backyard,” she recalls. “We realized that we’d really hit bottom. I remember, in September of 2001, my mother came outside one morning and said, ‘A plane just crashed into the twin towers.’ I remember that clearly because I was sitting in a tent.”
At Chico State, they learned about new programs, designed to help alleviate student debt through public service. They went through some of the options: Americorps, a program called “Public Service Loan Forgiveness” for taking public-sector jobs, and a program called “Teacher Loan Forgiveness” that canceled up to $17,500 in debt for teachers who taught special needs, math, or science in low-income school districts.
The catch was, you had to work five years at a low-income “Title 1” school in order to qualify for the debt cancelation program. Kevin and Robin were both science teachers. They seemed like natural fits. Then, they made a mistake.
After graduation, they were offered jobs in, among other places, Oakland, Los Angeles, and… Maui. All three schools were in low-income districts. Although Hawaii is Hawaii, its public school system has many of the same problems as other states: the state just this past year qualified for $56 million in federal Title 1 support. They researched the locations and concluded, erroneously, that the Hawaii school they were looking at was a Title 1 school. “And we thought, ‘That’ll work,’” Robin recalls, and moved to the islands.
They worked for five years before finding out their error. When they went to apply for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, they were told they were at one of the only schools in the district that did not qualify for Title 1, a designation that among other things pertains to schools where “at least 75% of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.”
Essentially, Robin and Kevin misunderstood the intricacies of Title 1 designation for the district. A school administrator explained that an insufficient number of their high school’s students took advantage of the free lunch program.
So far, this sounds like a story that won’t arouse much sympathy: a couple chooses to live in Hawaii instead of Oakland, doesn’t get firm reassurance ahead of time that they qualify for a program, then works ten collective years before hearing the punchline that their debts won’t be forgiven. The joke’s on them, correct?
Not quite. The actual punchline was that even if Kevin and Robin had chosen correctly, and gone to a bona fide Title 1 school, they likely still wouldn’t have received the benefits.
“During our time at Maui High, No Child Left Behind came into effect,” Robin says.
Another requirement for Title 1 benefits is that applicants be “highly qualified.” The Bush-era law changed the definition of “highly qualified” in such a way that, Robin and Kevin were told, their California teaching credentials would not have qualified them for the designation.
Stories like Kevin’s and Robin’s are not unusual. After programs like Teacher Loan Forgiveness and especially Public Service Loan Forgiveness were instituted in the late Bush years, complaints began to trickle in that people who believed they qualified for debt forgiveness were being disqualified by idiosyncratic fine-print exceptions at extraordinary rates.
Was it a coincidence that these complaints began snowballing just as the Department of Education federalized student lending in 2010? Within just a few years after the change, the Department of Education was making $50 billion a year in profit from student loans. Today, the DOE has a portfolio of well over a trillion dollars in loans, and would be roughly the fifth-largest bank in the United States, if it were a bank.
The DOE has always had a powerful incentive to be selective in awarding relief, particularly with the popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which had been instituted in 2007 and required ten years of service. When that first ten years passed, how many people would get to take advantage of the programs?
Not many, as it turned out. In July of 2019, the American Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against Betsy Devos and the Department of Education, alleging among other things that of the roughly one million people who filled out paperwork to take advantage of the Public Service Forgiveness Program since its inception in the late 2000s, the overwhelming majority were disqualified. The suit, citing the Department of Education’s own statistics, explained:
According to the latest available data, as of March 2019, 73,554 unique borrowers had submitted 86,006 applications for PSLF, and only 864 applications had been approved for forgiveness. Only 518 borrowers—fewer than 1% of unique borrowers submitting applications—have had their loans forgiven.
A 99% claims rejection rate — later statistics would put the number closer to 98% — would make even health insurance companies drool. The lawsuit cited absurd disqualifications. One plaintiff made a required 120 payments, but was consistently told she was short the full amount, apparently because she made some payments in a forbearance period. In another case, the Education Department credited an applicant with one year of employment instead of ten, then recorded 66 payments instead of 120, then rejected a claim because a form from a servicer lacked an Employee Identification Number — and so on.
To this day, the National Student Legal Defense Network that helped bring that lawsuit is fighting a pitched battle just to secure simple reforms like a right to a written explanation for denials. Student loan holders currently can’t expect even this baseline minimum, as NSLDN’s president, Aaron Ament, explains.
“It’s like calling a call center at Verizon,” he says. “Very hard to get an answer.”
In another bizarre case from 2019, American Bar Association v. Department of Education, student borrowers described being told repeatedly during their initial ten-year period of public-sector employment that they qualified for relief under the PSLF, only to be told later on that, sorry, you don’t qualify.
In one instance, a lawyer who worked for the Vietnam Veterans of America was repeatedly told in writing that he qualified for PSLF funds, but after making more than 30 payments, he received a letter from his servicer saying that after “further research and after consulting with the Department,” the servicer had “reversed [his] previously approved employment period,” because they now believed VVA “does not provide a qualifying service.”
The pattern, of the Department of Education promising various relief programs only to bounce people thanks to technicalities or outright obstinacy, has continued through the pandemic. Last March, the Department of Education announced that as part of its Covid-19 relief efforts, they’d begun implementing the following programs: “suspension of loan payments, stopped collections on defaulted loans, and a 0% interest rate.”
The “pause” was full of loopholes. In a surprising number of cases, wages continued to be garnished in defiance of government promises, prompting another suit. Others who felt sure they qualified for relief discovered that they did not, thanks to an array of technicalities. An estimated six million holders of Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs) serviced by private carriers “will not receive any help with their student loans at all, despite having used a federal borrowing program,” as one student advocate put it.
The FFELs in question were mostly issued before 2010, and included Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans, FFEL PLUS Loans, and Consolidated Loans. As holders of exactly these sorts of loans from the before-time of pre-2010, Robin and Kevin didn’t qualify.
“The COVID pause on payments and interest wasn't happening on our loans,” Robin explains. “Because we had Federal Loans, we wondered, ‘Why is this not occurring? And when we looked at it, we realized, ‘Oh, no, we've got the wrong code on our loans.”
What started out as a $31,000 commitment for a Bachelor’s degree ballooned over the years, thanks in large part to interest and the high cost of living, especially with (now) two children. The couple insists they have never missed a payment, though they have occasionally taken advantage of forbearance programs. As of today, their debt sits at $126,000.
Borrowers often spend their youth fighting to get clear of the whole debt. As they move closer to middle age, and the balance either stays static or moves in the wrong direction, strategies change. Instead of trying to pay as much as possible over the long haul, they try to pay as little as possible each month. Programs like Income-Based Repayment incentivize people in particularly hopeless situations to work less rather than more.
The interest payments become so ingrained that “growing old together” becomes a promise that couples make not only to each other, but to the implied new third member of their “Til Death Do Us Part” compact, their non-dischargeable loans. For this reason, many borrowers can pinpoint the exact moment when they first gave up hope of repayment.
“It was kind of a psychological thing when it tipped over from $99,000 to $100,000,” Robin says. “It became, ‘We're never going to pay this off.’” They gave up hope, and maybe that’s the point.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
The problems in Texas are primarily caused by utility deregulation and a lack of insulation in the industrial, energy and domestic sectors. So why wouldn’t Texas’ coal and natural gas power plants — which produce by far the majority of the state’s electricity — take the simple measure of insulating the pipes that carry their process water?
They don’t want to spend the money because in the deregulated Texas utility market, the cheapest power available is what gets pumped into the wires by the obviously misnamed “Electric Reliability Council of Texas.”
GOVERNMENT BY GOVERNMENT
The Party Of Government
by Jonah Goldberg
The Democratic Party is often called the party of government. Ideologically, this is so obviously true it’s not worth belaboring. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. We have a federal government for a reason, and there are things it should do. Reasonable people can debate what those things are.
But there’s a difference between being the party of government in the ideological sense and being the party of government in the literal sense. A core constituency of the Democratic Party, both in terms of voters and donors, is people who work for the government.
Members of teachers unions regularly constitute around 10% of delegates to Democratic Party conventions. There are about 3.5 million public schoolteachers in America, comprising about 1% of the U.S. population. That means teachers union members are overrepresented among the activist base of the Democratic Party by a factor of about 1000%. In 2019-2020, according to Open Secrets, of the roughly $52 million that the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association spent on political donations, $130,000 went to Republicans or Republican groups and the rest went to Democrats or Democratic groups — a ratio of about 400 to 1.
Of course, it’s not just teachers unions. In the 2020 election cycle alone, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees dedicated 99.1% of its political spending to Democrats. The American Federation of Government Employees gave 95.6% to Democrats.
At the state and local level, public sector unions are often the biggest contributors to Democrats, not just in terms of money but also in terms of organizational effort.
No wonder that one of the first things Joe Biden did after being elected was issue an executive order repealing a Trump administration policy that restricted government employees from spending more than 25% of their time doing union business while on the job. It can now go back to 100%.
Of course, part of the Democratic Party’s preference for government unions can be explained by the central role organized labor has played in Democratic politics going back to at least the New Deal. In 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, 90% of all labor spending on federal elections ($219 million) went to Democrats. Public sector unions only comprised about a third of that ($68.5 million).
But there’s a difference between private sector and public sector unions. The former need a private sector to exist, which is why rank-and-file union members are less enthusiastic about Democrats than their unions’ political donations would suggest. Biden got only 57% of the union household vote. Leading up to the election, members of building trade unions were evenly split between Donald Trump and Biden.
The difference between public sector and private sector unions isn’t trivial. Coal miners, factory workers, etc., formed unions in response to brutal working conditions, using their collective bargaining power to force important reforms from businesses. There is no similar history justifying public sector unions. There was no tragic Department of Motor Vehicles ceiling collapse that prompted government workers to organize.
Being pro-labor doesn’t require being pro-government labor union. Franklin Roosevelt, arguably the most pro-labor president in history, believed that “the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” George Meany, the first head of the AFL-CIO, held that it was “impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”
Sure, government workers deserve some basic protections, but civil service laws were already providing those when John Kennedy lifted the ban on government unions. If they were inadequate, politicians could have passed laws to boost them without creating a permanent constituency for more government and more government spending. The crux of the problem is that government isn’t a business. It doesn’t have to run at a profit. It can keep borrowing (or printing) money almost indefinitely. Actual businesses need to keep the lights on by making a profit. That tension imposes discipline on both management and workers when it comes to private sector unions. There is no similar countervailing pressure to keep labor costs in line or work rules efficient for government union labor. Since 1960, inflation-adjusted spending on education has increased by some 280%. Have we seen the quality of education improve 280%?
The party of government, and often government itself, is dominated by a constituency that, to put it charitably, has divided loyalties between what is good for the public and what is good for them.
Victor Gotbaum, a leader in the New York City chapter of AFSCME, summed up the problem in 1975 when he boasted, “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”
(Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of the Dispatch. From Tribune News Service.)
WAVING THE BLOODY KIMONO.
“Did not the Abbe say: “Lost is that man who sees a beautiful woman descending a noble staircase', and were not both these ingredients here, and ready to her hand? What else but a staircase could so perfectly set off the jewel she had made of Elfine?”
The recording of last night's (2021-02-26) Memo of the Air: Good Night Radio show on KNYO-LP Fort Bragg is right here: https://tinyurl.com/KNYO-MOTA-0425
Besides all that, at https://MemoOfTheAir.wordpress.com you'll find a fresh batch of dozens of links to not necessarily radio-useful but nonetheless worthwhile items I set aside for you while gathering the show together. Such as:
Again with the light pillars? Yes, Sven, again.
Marco McClean, firstname.lastname@example.org