Weekend Haze | 56 New Cases | August Surging | Coyote Fire | Author Event | Petty Fees | Edu Fundraiser | Rally Canceled | Garage Sale | Night Lights | School Starts | Foodsharing | Gowans Festival | Young Vaughn | Tan Barking | Ed Notes | Freedumb | 1983 Appearance | Bigfoot Sighting | Health Survey | Madam Walker | Thirsty Mendocino | Empty Buildings | Streetscape Update | Yesterday's Catch | Greedy Greenrushing | Recall Newsom | Rough Translation | Smoke Assist | War Biz | American Impatience | Pablo & Frida | Photoshop Class | 1918 Masquerade | Mask Info | Doghouse | Barack Slimeball
AREAS OF SMOKE AND HAZE along with hot interior temperatures will continue through the weekend, with high pressure aloft persisting. There will be a slight chance of thunderstorms around portions of Trinity County this afternoon and evening, otherwise expect dry weather to prevail. (NWS)
56 NEW COVID CASES reported in Mendocino County yesterday afternoon.
OVER THE PAST FOURTEEN DAYS Mendocino County has reported 557 new cases of Covid, an average of nearly 40 per day. At that pace August would surpass 1200 cases, breaking the previous high of 964 way back in December 2020.
Covid Monthly Cases/Deaths (Mendocino County)
229 / 9 (Jul)
392 / 8 (Aug)
260 / 2 (Sep)
210 / 2 (Oct)
420 / 2 (Nov)
964 / 4 (Dec)
876 / 11 (Jan)
382 / 5 (Feb)
131 / 3 (Mar)
82 / 2 (Apr)
194 / 1 (May)
164 / 1 (Jun)
323 / 2 (Jul)
VEHICLE CRASH LEADS TO WILDLAND FIRE NEAR HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE
LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — State and local firefighters and law enforcement are at the scene of a wildland fire near Hidden Valley Lake. The Coyote fire is believed to have begun as the result of a vehicle crash, according to early reports from the California Highway Patrol. The CHP said there was a vehicle rollover just after 5 p.m. Friday near the Coyote Grade on Highway 29 north of Hidden Valley Lake that resulted in a vehicle fire. The fire was reported to have gotten into the brush and then jumped to the other side of the highway.
KATY TAJHA: I will be doing a presentation on my book "An Eclectic History of Mendocino County" at the Greenwood/Elk Community Center this Sunday Aug. 15th at noon. The event is outdoors and it is free. If you like weird bits of history and old photos and really want to know what Winston Churchill was doing in the county in 1929 join us.
MENDO’S NICKEL & DIMING OF EMERGENCY SERVICES
by Mark Scaramella
There are a number of County-inflicted financial annoyances the local Community Services District suffers every year. The County goes out of its way to charge “special districts” for lots of relatively small things, but over which the districts have no control. This despite the County’s frequent pronouncements and studies showing how important the County’s fire and emergency services are and how underfunded they are.
Yet every time the CSD turns around, there’s the County hitting the districts up for another fee or fee increase, or refusing to offer any subsidies or financial support.
It’s not like the County is broke — they recently voted unanimously to pay a Sonoma County consultant well over $75,000 to help them prepare a strategic plan. Nobody wondered where that money would come from. They also magically came up with an as yet unspecified big pile of cash to subsidize water deliveries for the drought-stricken Mendo Coast. (Not that we’re complaining, but nobody has asked where that money’s coming from either.) And don’t forget the overgenerous pay and benefits for the Board and CEO who alone (excluding staff) amount to about $1 million per year just for those six people.
What are those fees and increases?
The County charges the districts whatever they spend to conduct elections whenever more than the number of candidates exceeds vacancies. Last November the CSD was hit for around $5k because a Boonville man with no chance of winning threw his hat in. The Local Agency Formation Commission also charge special districts a “LAFCO” fee for no tangible service other than an infrequent “service review” which is mostly done by the District itself. This year the Anderson Valley LAFCO fee has jumped way up to over $2500 for no apparent reason. Other districts have experienced comparable jumps.
The County also charges the District thousands of dollars for property tax administration, an automated County process that shouldn’t cost the District anything. This year the County advised the AV District that their property tax administration fee would jump up from an already high $4k to almost $6k because the County got a new property tax computer system. Nobody asked the Districts for their opinion on this. Although the County’s property tax system upgrade was overdue, a percentage of the cost was passed along to the small districts without a moment’s thought or consideration. The County did that all on their own.
On top of that the District has to now pay over $60k per year for insurance, over $21k of which is workers comp for the volunteers. Of course, that one is not imposed by the County. But the County has never even considered lobbying the state to get them to exempt volunteers from this cost or to cover this ever increasing cost out of state funds since you’d think that the state’s essential rural volunteer fire departments should not have to pay workers comp for their volunteers; it discourages recruitment. The County could also offer to subsidize those insurance or workers comp costs.
On the plus side, sort of, the County finally grudgingly agreed to give fire departments their long-overdue small percentage of the Prop 172 sales tax revenues a few years ago after years of being the only county in the state to not do that. This was after years of pointing out the obvious problem, and years of resistance from the County. The County also recently put on the ballot (which the voters easily approved) a measure to give fire departments the new revenues from the bed tax on campgrounds. But together the new Prop 172 money and the campground bed tax increment don’t even cover the local District’s insurance bill.
Special districts don’t get any of the County’s millions of non-campground bed tax revenues either, even though tourists account for a large percentage of the emergency calls. Instead the County either keeps the bed tax money for itself, or doles it out to the tourism industry itself where it’s wasted on demonstrably ineffectual marketing exercises.
Then you have the patchwork of small County ambulance operations which range from private businesses like Ukiah Valley’s Medstar, to hospitals, to clinics, to fire departments. The funding for these disparate essential services is marginal at best, mostly from limited (pennies on the dollar from Medi-Cal and Medic-Aid) and grotesquely overcomplicated insurance billing and the occasional private donation. The County provides no subsidies to rural ambulances, again while praising them for their mostly volunteer services, especially during emergencies and public health disasters. But the County pays hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a Sonoma County emergency services administrative agency which charges whatever they want, year after year.
The Anderson Valley Ambulance benefits from a popular local membership program that was in place prior to the ambulance being merged with the fire department, otherwise the insurance billing wouldn’t come close to covering its modest costs. Laytonville operates another small but essential ambulance service as part of their fire department, but they don’t have a membership program and are losing money every month, money that has to be made up by donations and their already cash-starved fire department.
The Fifth District has a supervisor who until being elected to his $84k plus benefits Supervisors job in 2018, was the Fire Chief for the Albion-Little River volunteer fire department and who is quite aware of these lop-sided fiscal arrangements. But so far that Supervisor hasn’t done much at the County level to address them or correct them.
Why do essential volunteer fire departments and emergency services have to pay for all these extraneous and ever-increasing non-operational costs when the County could easily afford to cover them or waive them?
What do you want to bet that the consultant’s $75k-plus “strategic plan” won’t even mention funding for ambulance services?
UKIAH RALLY TO SAVE JACKSON STATE FOREST CANCELED
Because of the Delta Variant Spike in covid cases. Stay tuned.
GARAGE SALE, ELK. Saturday, August 14
Household, miscellaneous tools and electrical equipment. 9 am to 3 pm, 35920 Elk Meadow Road, Elk.
SCHOOL STARTS TUESDAY (COVID PROTOCOLS)
Dear Anderson Valley Families,
We are delighted to welcome students back to campus on TUESDAY for every day, in-person learning!
Please remember the following safety measures are required:
Any student or staff member that is feeling ill, SHOULD STAY HOME.
Students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, MUST wear a mask at all times indoors.
Outside, students may remove their masks, but distancing is encouraged.
Masks are required on the bus.
Vaccinations are encouraged for students 12 and above!
Free testing at the fairgrounds is available on 8/20, 9/3, and 9/17. It only takes a few minutes and provides a great peace of mind! Vaccinations are also available at the Health Center--reach out if you are interested in learning more information or scheduling a vaccination.
School Voluntary Covid Testing:
We have a plan in place with the California Department of Health for VOLUNTARY, and highly encouraged, Pool testing at the schools. Permission slips for students and staff will be on-going. The kids do the test themselves, and it is a simple q-tip in the nostril, NOT a test that goes up the nose. This is called "pool testing" and a group of students are tested together and the results go to the lab. If anyone in that class or "pool" are positive, then an individual PCR test is administered to determine if anyone is a true positive. The remaining students in the pool, are able to still come to school but will operate as a co-hort. This is a GREAT way for us to ensure we won't have any flare ups, and we really encourage all parents to allow their students to participate by signing the consent form. Forms will be sent home as soon as details are finalized with the State.
New sports guidance should be received from the California Department of Public Health within the next week, so we will know more about the guidelines.
Van Driver Volunteers for Jr./Sr. High Sports:We could definitely use some support with driving our amazing teams! The requirements are few. A simple fingerprint test called a "Livescan" and a DMV print out. Contact Vero at 895-3774. Even helping with four or five games a year would be fantastic. We provide the van and the "rules" for the kids. It is a fun way to support the students and see some great games at the same time!
Attached please find a reference chart for return to school during different situations. When you call a student in for an absence, the secretarial staff will be asking for symptoms as well so we can help locate response resources for you.
Louise Simson, Superintendent
GOWANS KICKS OUT THE JAMS!
Gowans Apple Farm in Philo is hosting a one-of-a-kind cider & music festival experience! What better place to drink cider than under the very trees that grew the apples! Celebrate Gowan's 145th Gravenstein Apple Harvest at this one of a kind Festival in the Orchard. Nestled at the heart of Anderson valley, with a backdrop of redwood forests and oak-studded hillsides. See you at Gowan’s Cider Orchard! Check out the Live Music Lineup here!
Saturday August 21 11:00-7:00, Sunday August 22 11:00-5:00
ANDREW VAUGHN, upcoming star of the Chicago White Sox emerging here from the cornfield onto the Fields Of Dreams last night, is the grandson of Ronnie Vaughn and Doris Tuttle Vaughn, and were lifelong friends of mine and everybody else's in our Anderson Valley, hometown before their sad passing in 2019.
Ronnie was a great all-around athlete who could throw a football about 60 yards downfield, and did on a regular basis. Doris' mom, Beth Tuttle, was my and scores of others' first grade teacher. In high school in Santa Rosa, CA, Andrew finished with a .389 batting average and also went 17-6 and a 2.05 ERA as a pitcher. Andrew was the Pac-12 Freshman Player of the Year at Cal in 2017, Pac-12 Player of the Year, Golden Spikes Award as the top collegiate player in the country, and Rawlings National Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2018. We all asked ourselves, well, who's going to grab him in the 2019 draft? (White Sox, as the third overall pick.) And here he is on the biggest stage in baseball at first base, outfield and DH. Not bad for a kid with some family roots in a little ranching and logging community on the California North Coast.
TAN BARKING, LITTLE RIVER
NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) has announced that July was the hottest month ever recorded. The combined land/ocean-surface temperature was 1.67F above the 20th-century average, the hottest since record keeping started 142 years ago. NOAA says it is “very likely” that 2021 will rank among the world’s 10-warmest years on record.
RED BEARD STILL AT LARGE
40 year-old white male adult, 6 feet 1 inch tall, weighing 180 pounds with brown eyes, brown hair and reddish facial hair.
Skull or skulls tattoo on his right upper arm, “Demon face” tattoo on his upper left arm and unknown prominent tattoo on his chest.
Currently wanted for an active No Bail arrest warrant by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for Criminal Threats (422 PC) and should be considered ARMED AND DANGEROUS.
On Saturday, July 3, 2021 the large scale search and apprehension efforts in Elk for William Evers were concluded due to unavailability of continued mutual aid law enforcement resources.
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office will continue to have a presence and will be conducting smaller scale search and apprehension efforts. The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office will also continue to utilize mutual aid assistance and resources as they become available to increase these ongoing efforts.
At the present time William Evers is believed to be traversing and occupying an approximately 7-square mile area. This area is bordered by Highway 128 to the north, South Highway 1 to the west, Philo-Greenwood Road to the south, to approximately 5-miles east from South Highway 1.
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office wants to remind the public that William Evers should be considered armed and dangerous.
Anyone who observes suspicious activity or possible sightings of William Evers, especially those persons who are along Cameron Road, are asked to immediately notify the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office by calling 707-961-2421 for non-emergencies or 9-1-1 if it is an emergency.
UPDATE: RED BEARD, the fugitive roaming the precipitous ridge on the south end of the Navarro River, is still out there despite ongoing efforts of the Sheriff's Department to capture him. Last seen in July on a home surveillance video, Red was headed back into the woods with a wheelbarrow full of booze expropriated from a home on Cameron Road he's burglarized twice now.
OVERHEARD in the Ukiah Co-op, two men of middle years, one of them a groovy guy with neat ponytail doing the talking: “You know it's true that Mars is a cosmic warning to us. It was once an advanced society just like ours that died from greed.” The second man: “You got that right.”
GOOD NEWS FOR WHITEY: White Americans make up 57.8 percent of the country, according to the data that was released on Thursday, a decrease of over 6 percent since 2010. That is the number of people who replied “white alone, non Hispanic or Latino” to the survey. Another group who just answered “white alone” make up 61 percent of the country, according to a data map. The white population is still the largest in the country with 235 million, Asians and Hispanics coming on fast.
SHERIFF MATT KENDALL not only has been spotted pulling over speeding vehicles himself in Anderson Valley, just yesterday (Friday), detective Luis Espinoza was silently applauded by passersby when he chased down a BMW hurtling at unsafe speeds on the Ukiah-Boonville Road.
FORT BRAGG ADVOCATE, August 18, 1983: Alice Walker, a Black woman and Mendocino County resident who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her 1983 Novel “The Color Purple,” will be making her first public appearance on the coast. Walker will be appearing at a film showing on behalf of the struggle to end racial oppression in South Africa. Walker, a writer who divides her time between San Francisco and her home in Anderson Valley, became the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer for her work earlier this year. The book tells the story of a poor Black teenage bride’s fight for emotional survival in the rural South. It was written primarily at the author’s home in the hills near Philo.
THE MENDOCINO COAST HEALTH CARE DISTRICT, a public agency, is seeking inputs from community members regarding their health care experiences and needs.
During the months of August and September, the District is conducting a survey of people residing within the District's boundary, namely, these zip codes: 95488, 95456, 95427, 95445, 95437, 95410, 95459, 95460, 95432, 95468,,
Everyone is encouraged to participate in this five-minute survey by using this link: https://survey.alchemer.com/s3/6463315/New-Survey
You can also participate by completing the survey at the District's office at 775 River Drive in Fort Bragg (A.G. Grey Building) or by calling the District at 707-962-3175 to request that one be mailed to you.
Finally, further comments are welcome and can be submitted using this email: email@example.com
Your input is valuable and will help the District and its partners to continually improve health care on the coast. Thank you!
Board of Directors
Mendocino Coast Health Care District
MENDO’S WATER SHORTAGE
by Hailey Branson-Potts & Jay Clendenin
MENDOCINO, Calif. — The Santa Claus of water rolls through this foggy coastal hamlet in a silver and white truck, bringing joy and relief.
Wayne Jones refills water tanks for residents and businesses whose wells have gone dry. A bespectacled bald man with a majestic white goatee, he moves quickly and speaks sparingly.
Amid Mendocino’s worst drought on record, people are increasingly desperate for the private water hauler’s help.
Mendocino has no municipal water system. All businesses and homes rely upon wells — some hand-dug in the 1800s. But rain has been scant. Underwater aquifers are depleting. Wells are running dry.
“We need water. We don’t have it,” said Mendocino County Supervisor Ted Williams.
Far from the dusty, fallow fields, the record-breaking wildfires and the shrinking reservoirs that have symbolized extreme drought farther inland, towns along the Mendocino Coast are grappling with a more invisible crisis.
In this paradise where the redwoods meet the sea, mornings are still foggy and damp. Summertime temperatures dip into the 50s. Trees are green.
But homes are losing water. Businesses are closing public restrooms and directing customers to portable toilets in parking lots. Inn owners beg tourists to not take baths. Sheriff’s deputies check on water hydrants amid reports of water theft.
“Fire, pandemic and now drought — my term, it’s been one emergency to the next,” said Williams, who took office in 2019. “It highlights what climate scientists have been telling us for quite some time about abrupt changes being on the horizon.”
Eric Hillesland, whose Alegría Oceanfront Inn & Cottages stand on a bluff near where Big River spills into the Pacific Ocean, obsesses over floats that measure water levels in two big tanks in front of his business. Together, the tanks hold around 4,000 gallons. By the end of each week, they are nearly empty.
Hillesland’s well is dry, so he pays Jones, of the Mendocino Water Company, to come every Sunday.
“I look at those tanks a lot because if it’s not going to make it to Wayne Day, then I’ve got to do something more drastic. ... If we don’t have water, we’ll shut off rooms and not take as many guests,” he said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a drought emergency in 50 of California’s 58 counties, which make up about 42% of the state’s population. In April, Mendocino and Sonoma counties became the first to get emergency declarations.
Ryan Rhoades, superintendent of the Mendocino City Community Services District, which manages the town’s water, said he receives daily reports of homes with dry wells. “People are scared,” he said.
A typical water year, which begins Oct. 1, brings around 40 inches of rain to Mendocino. So far this year, the town has received just 18.42 inches, Rhoades said. Last year, the town got about 20 inches.
In this town filled with 19th century wooden water towers that have been converted to gift shops, inns and homes, Rhoades is trying to figure out how to get enough water to last through winter, when rain usually comes.
There was a proposal to haul water for coastal towns from Willits, 35 miles east, on the Skunk Train, which has been chugging through the redwoods since the 1880s. But Willits needs its own water, and officials there nixed the idea, Rhoades said.
“It’s kind of like the COVID toilet paper hoarding,” he said. “People are afraid; they’re unsure of what the future holds. Anybody who has a little bit in reserves is not really willing to give it up.”
Bringing water by barge was discussed. But there was nowhere to offload it along the cliffs of Mendocino Bay, and the vessels were too big for the harbor in nearby Fort Bragg.
Mendocino officials are even trying to persuade the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to do training exercises with water-dropping aircraft, scooping water from ponds or lakes and bringing it to Fort Bragg.
The most likely, albeit expensive, fix for now is trucking water from Ukiah — a 90-minute drive along hairpin turns in the forest.
Many are currently relying almost entirely on small private haulers like Jones, if they can afford deliveries.
“Wayne is — he’s the man,” Rhoades said, unequivocally. He added with a laugh that Jones is a little elusive, especially with national media crawling all over town reporting on the drought, and “will respond on occasion” to text messages.
As Rhoades spoke outside his office, Massimo Melani, the owner and chef at Luna Trattoria, pulled up, frantic.
“I received a warning because they said —"
"— overextraction,” Rhoades cut in.
A water meter had shown that the restaurant had used more than its allotted amount of groundwater. Melani, at risk of being fined, was perplexed. His well is dry.
“Since May, I’ve been buying water,” he explained. “I’ve not been extracting water from the ground because there is no water. I can show you my invoices!”
It was an issue with the meter, then, Rhoades said. It was measuring purchased water added to the tank, not groundwater. That was an easy fix. Good news for Melani. Bad news for Rhoades, because that was yet another dry well he’d been unaware of.
The old water infrastructure in Mendocino, which has about 855 full-time residents, was never built to keep up with tourism, the town’s main industry, which brings about 2,000 visitors a day.
Ed O’Brien, the retired chief of the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department, said that when he moved to town in 1970, it was still relying upon its original sewer system — which included redwood pipes wrapped in metal, buried about a foot underground — that poured waste right onto the beach.
A new sewer system built in the mid-1970s allowed for major commercial expansion. Many old homes were turned into inns, without much questioning of whether they had enough water to do so, said O’Brien, a former member of the Mendocino City Community Services District board.
In the 1990s, there was a movement to build a municipal water system. People who had good wells and those who didn’t want more development opposed it.
O’Brien owns the Compass Rose leather shop downtown. The cement building, which he has occupied since 1983, was built two decades earlier as a laundromat. The 1977 drought forced its closure, O’Brien said.
“The guy who owned it bought himself a little crumbly old water truck and went and got water from Big River. It didn’t have to be drinkable,” he said. “And he realized after doing it for a month or two that he was losing money every time he dropped water off. It wasn’t as much as the quarters were paying.”
When O’Brien spots his friend Jones delivering water now, he teases him about how popular he must be.
“I saw him one time on Christmas Eve delivering,” he said, marveling. “He just couldn’t say no to people when they called.”
The water shortage is coinciding with a booming summer tourism season welcomed by businesses after a year of pandemic restrictions.
“It’s stressful beyond belief,” said Hank McCusker, who owns Sweetwater Inn & Spa, which has rooms in refurbished water towers and a spa full of redwood hot tubs.
Still, McCusker said, “we’re packed.” He’s asking guests to not fill the jacuzzi baths in their rooms and cut spa capacity to 75%.
At Café Beaujolais, owner Julian Lopez said a few employees have run out of water at home and had to do sponge baths for a few days. Lopez, who has been sold out every night lately, buys water from Jones twice a week.
“If the water truck stops delivering ... there’s no clean dishes, no clean pans. There’s no possibility of surviving,” he said. “We’d just have to close the restaurant, put people on unemployment, and wait until it rains.”
Sandy Triplett has had hour-long lines outside her Mendocino Market, where she converted the front door into a takeout window. She couldn’t afford to close down, even when the pandemic brought out the worst in customers — including a death threat from a man enraged they ran out of vegan meatballs.
Triplett has a good well but worries about going over her allotment.
“I can’t afford to go over,” she said. “But I need to make sure that my dishes are clean and my floors are mopped because I’m a frickin’ restaurant.”
Water haulers in Mendocino have long bought water from Fort Bragg, which has a municipal system. But on July 18, with little warning, the city shut off the tap because of its own drought emergency.
Flows in the Noyo River, the city’s main summer water source, hit record lows this year, just as outside water sales hit an all-time high, four times what they were last summer, said Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller.
In addition, she said, there has been more saltwater intrusion in the low river because of king tides, which will become more frequent as the sea level rises. The city just bought desalination equipment, expected to be installed next month, so it can keep using water from the Noyo during high tides.
On a recent Sunday — Wayne Day at the Alegría Inn — Hillesland nervously checked his tanks. They were down to about 150 gallons in each, and it was a big check-out day, which meant lots of showers and laundry.
At 9:38 a.m., Jones’ truck rolled up with its 3,500-gallon load. Jones flashed Hillesland a thumbs up, rolled out a blue hose, and got to work.
When he could get water from Fort Bragg, a 15-minute drive north, Jones was delivering 14 loads a day. Now, he has to go as far as Irish Beach, a 45-minute drive south, and can only get four loads a day. He figures he’ll have to drive farther as the drought gets worse.
“I went five months without taking a day off,” he said of his last year. “It got to Christmas, and I said, ‘I’m taking it off.’”
It took 14 minutes to fill Hillesland’s tanks and save the inn for another week. Then Jones dashed away.
“I’ll rest,” he said, “when the water runs out.”
Listening in to a CSAC Regional meeting on homelessness. Project Homekey happened so quickly and seems to be so far successful http://projecthomekeymendocino.org/
There will be more one time funding available to do more housing projects but does Mendocino County want them? I personally do. At last count we had 751 persons that are homeless with 575 of those listed as unsheltered. I believe we have a moral obligation to get people that want it a roof over their head. All types of housing in Mendocino County face some types of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). So I want to ask you, if money were no object what kind of housing/shelter would you want to build for people that are unsheltered? Please include your thoughts on locations, code of conduct and priority populations.
* * *
ms responds: Why not start by asking for an inventory of empty buildings, especially commercial ones? There’s no way the County could process permits for any significant amount of designated homeless housing, even if they tried. They can’t even process the Lover’s Lane market rate housing permit application.
UKIAH STREETSCAPE PROJECT CONSTRUCTION UPDATE - AUGUST 13
Good news—the noisy work is (almost) over! Next week, there will likely be only one spot left where the “irons need to be raised” (bringing the utilities up to grade) near Church Street. Other than that, we are done jackhammering, stamping asphalt, grinding, and everything else that created dust and noise. Whew!
Need a refresher on the project, or curious what the final striping will look like? Check out our website: www.cityofukiah.com/streetscape.
Construction Overview, Week of August 16
Monday-Friday:Construction crews will be preparing to add the pavement striping, which will finally delineate the left turn pockets, parking spaces, and more. One of the benefits of the improvements is that the travel lanes will be widened by one foot each. That, combined with the dedicated turn lanes and “buffer space” between the through lanes and the parking lanes, will make driving downtown much more comfortable!
New trash containers STILL haven’t been installed; that is now scheduled to occur on Monday, August 16th.
On the south end of the project, the remaining utility poles are being removed. The sidewalk will be patched in those locations, and brick borders added.
The remaining old light and traffic signal poles will be painted black to match the rest of the project.
Looking ahead: Striping of the entire project will occur, date uncertain, as well as the installation of new street signs. During the week of August 23rd, new holes will be bored for the American flags that are displayed during holidays.
Streetscape Celebration--Saturday, August 28th 11-4.
Have a great weekend!
Shannon Riley, Deputy City Manager, City of Ukiah, w: (707) 467-5793
CATCH OF THE DAY, August 13, 2021
JOSEPH ANGENETE, Mendocino. DUI, controlled substance for sale, pot transportation and possession for sale, paraphernalia.
MAUREEN AUSTIN, Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-intoxicating drug & alcohol.
DANIELLE BLOYD, Ukiah. Assault with deadly weapon not a gun, failure to appear.
BRODY PIRTLE, Clearlake/Ukiah. Parole violation.
TASHINA TILLMAN, Willits. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, failure to appear, probation revocation.
JOHN WALLACE, Ukiah. Pot transportation/sale.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
The only reason we have greenrush 2.0 happening during this drought is because of law enforcement. The price was 500/lb 5 years ago and sinking like a ship. People who were here only to make money from cannabis were leaving in droves. Then greedy government got involved (parasitic vultures) and started the price control operations to justify their exorbitant taxes. If cannabis was truly legal, as the great people of our state want, it would be worth about 300/lb and the greenrush would disappear. They’ve been wasting billions for decades and here is the result. Not an inch gained in the war on drugs. Blows my mind that ignorant people cheer on the continued fuckery that is cannabis enforcement and the greenrush. Seriously think about it.
And this is happening all over our watersheds and in the Oak woodlands, this has got to stop. Our environment and these sensitive habitats are being destroyed right before our eyes. The fact the creeks are being diverted during this drought with no concern to the environment from the growers tells you these people do not belong in our communities!!
HE SHOULD GO
I voted for Gavin Newsom thinking he would be good for California. I also voted on Proposition 62 to keep the death penalty, along with 53% of everyone else in California. When Newsom signed an executive order stopping the death penalty, I realized the will of the people who pay taxes isn’t his highest priority.
With the pandemic, he continued his love relationship with the teachers unions. He kept our kids out of school an entire year, while Florida kept their kids in school all year. Our kids lost out and are continuing to lose now.
Currently, Newsom has decided that taxpaying California are second class. We pay $1,000 to $2,000 a month for health care, and Newsom is spending $1.2 billion to provide free health care to undocumented immigrants over 50.
It appears that if we want a governor who puts the taxpaying people of California first, we need to get rid of the current governor who put the taxpaying people last.
Unless you like your tax dollars going to undocumented immigrants, please put someone, anyone, other than Newsom in the governor’s position.
WILDFIRE SMOKE has caused rise in Covid infections and deaths, study finds
by Oliver Milman
Pollutants in smoke billowing from huge wildfires in the west of America have probably caused an increase in Covid-19 infections and deaths across several US states, new research has found.
Last year more than 10 million acres of land were torched by wildfires, with five out of the six largest fires ever documented in California occurring within just a few months. The burning trees, shrubs and buildings gave off enormous plumes of smoke containing small particles of soot.
The spread of these tiny particles, known as PM2.5, probably caused a spike in Covid cases and deaths in parts of the US west, the new paper has discovered. The smoke helped raise the coronavirus infection rate by nearly 20% in certain counties, with half of all Covid deaths in some places attributable to the pollution, according to the study.
“In some counties the association was very strong indeed — on days with lots of wildfire smoke the Covid cases went up by a lot,” said Francesca Dominici, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health who co-authored the research, which was led by Xiaodan Zhou, a researcher at Esri. “Combining wildfires with this pandemic can have a really disastrous effect. It’s disturbing.”
Previous research, which Dominici was also involved in, found that a small rise in people’s long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with an 11% increase in deaths from Covid. Another study from last year suggests that 15% of all Covid-19 deaths around the world are attributable to dirty air.
Researchers have said more work needs to be done to fully establish the connections but there was now compelling evidence that polluted air is exacerbating outbreaks of the coronavirus. It is thought that emitted pollutants can help spread the infection, while also weakening people’s lungs before they are infected with Covid, raising the likelihood they will get severely ill or die.
The latest paper, published in Science Advances, analyzed 92 counties across California, Washington and Oregon and sought to eliminate causes of Covid increases other than nearby wildfires. It found that the wildfires had the largest impact upon Covid cases in the counties of Butte, California, and Whitman, Washington. The greatest influence on Covid deaths, meanwhile, was found in Butte county and Calaveras county, California.
Last year’s spate of wildfires may well be surpassed in 2021, with huge blazes under way such as the Bootleg fire in Oregon, which at one point was the size of Los Angeles, and the Dixie fire in northern California, which is the largest in the state’s recorded history. The town of Greenville, California, was almost completely destroyed by fire last week.
Smoke from the fires has been detected from space, sweeping as far east as New York, where it turned the skies hazy. On Saturday, the city of Denver experienced the worst air quality in the world for several hours due to smoke from western wildfires.
“We only looked at counties in the west but I’d speculate that it doesn’t matter where you are, if you are getting high levels of PM2.5 from wildfire smoke in New York, you will get the same catastrophic effect,” said Dominici. “It’s very concerning. I’d say to anyone living in a place affected by wildfires to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Longer-term, this shows us, yet again, the importance of fighting climate change.”
Kristie Ebi, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the research, said the study “adds to the weight of evidence that air pollution may increase sensitivity” to the coronavirus.
Ebi added that lockdowns and mask mandates were not fully factored into the paper, although the researchers did measure people’s mobility during the study period.
George Thurston, an expert in environmental medicine at New York University who also was not involved in the research, said: “The study findings are very plausible, in that tiny combustion particles are well known to pick up and carry other airborne toxins deep into the lung.”
OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS, we’ve heard dozens of rationales, justifications and excuses for the US occupation of Afghanistan, all of them now exposed as hollow (or worse). There’s been no “nation-building,” the status of women has not been elevated or protected, the army and security forces have not been “trained” and “modernized,” opium poppy production has not been eradicated, militant groups have not been eliminated, sectarian strife has not lessened, the influence of Pakistan’s ISI has not been blunted. But American contractors and weapons makers have made tens of billions, year after year, for two decades, on long-term, no-bid contracts, many of the companies run by retired officials from the Pentagon and CIA, with little to no oversight or accountability. The Afghan war and occupation was one of history’s longest gravy trains, feeding govt. guaranteed profits to some of the most unsavory operators in the country, as 1000s of Afghans perished, and every time someone tried to stop it, they were shouted down with one word: “terrorism.”
— Jeffrey St. Clair
AS A CLASS, Americans are extremely impatient. While they are the first to catch onto a joke, they are also the quickest to get bored. In Europe, a film producer can take his time establishing a mood. He can have dozens of dissolves of clouds. American audiences will not sit still for them, no matter how beautiful or exciting they may be. If they show the second cloud shot they expect to see an airplane in it. Then, if there’s a third, they expect to see the plane explode in mid-air.
— Billy Wilder
DIGITAL ARTS ON THE COAST
DAM 110 Digital Image Manipulation In Adobe Photoshop
Class meets from August 16th thru December 10th
Tuesdays & Thursdays 6:00 - 8:25 PM
Mendocino College Coast Campus
Instructor Markus Pfitzner
Instructor Markus Pfitzner is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop, commercial photographer, photosimulator and Lecturer Emeritus at CSU Sacramento. He has taught digital imaging, photography and video production courses at Santa Rosa Junior College, Solano Community College, Mendocino Art Center and the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
This course is a fun and informative learning experience, whether in need of learning the basics of image enhancement for output to social media networks formatting images for a website, artistic expression, PDF formatting, or postproduction printing/advertising. Example enrollees include: small business owners, social media influencers, photographers, hobbyists, graphic designers, and artists. Don't miss out!! Enroll now at: www.mendocino.edu/enroll
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE between cloth, N95 or KN95 masks?
by Emily DeLetter
Mask-wearing for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people is recommended again by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, especially in areas where there is high spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.
The new variant is nearly twice as contagious as previous variants, and the greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to contract and transmit the virus.
The CDC recommends that any mask worn should fit snugly on the face, but which are the best masks to wear, and is there a difference in the level of protection? Here's what you need to know.
With cloth masks, it's best to look for multiple layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric and a nose wire. The mask should block light when held up to bright light source.
Do not wear a cloth mask if it has an exhalation valve or vent, or if it is a single layer or made of thin fabric that doesn't block light.
Disposable masks, including surgical masks, should have multiple layers of non-woven material and a nose wire.
The CDC recommends they should not be worn if they have gaps around the sides of face or nose or are wet or dirty.
N95 vs. KN95 masks: What's the difference?
N95 masks meet U.S. standards for respirators, while KN95 masks are the Chinese standards for masks. Both types masks are rated to capture 95% of tiny particles, or about 0.3 micron particles.
At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, N95 masks were originally in high demand, but are now much easier and more available for purchase online or in home improvement stores.
What about double masking?
The CDC released research in February that said double-masking or wearing tightly fitted medical masks can reduce exposure to infectious aerosols up to 95%.
How to wear a double mask comfortably: A surgical mask should sit over your nose, mouth and under the chin with no gaps on either side. Layering with the second mask of cotton fabric will keep the first mask snugly in place and provide added protection.
CDC's mask recommendations
If you are not fully vaccinated and age 2 or older, you should wear a mask in indoor public places.
In general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings.
In areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.
People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken their immune system may NOT be protected even if they are fully vaccinated. They should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people, including wearing a well-fitted mask, until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.
Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Travelers are not required to wear a mask in outdoor areas of a conveyance (like on open deck areas of a ferry or the uncovered top deck of a bus).
THE VANISHING LEGACY OF BARACK OBAMA
by Matt Taibbi
It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.— Leo Tolstoy
On the road from stirring symbol of hope and change to the Fat Elvis of neoliberalism, birthday-partying Barack Obama sold us all out
“Even Scaled Back,” wrote Vanity Fair, “Barack Obama’s Birthday Bash Is the Event of the Season.” Not even the famed glossy Bible of the unapologetic rich seemed sure of whether to write Obama’s Birthday bash straight or as an Onion headline: what did the “Event of the Season” mean during a pandemic?
A former president flying half the world’s celebrities to spend three days in a maskless ring-kissing romp at a $12 million Martha’s Vineyard mansion, at a moment when only a federal eviction ban prevented the outbreak of a national homelessness crisis, was already an all-time “Fuck the Optics” news event, and that was before the curveball. Because of what even the New York Times called “growing concerns” over how gross the mega-party looked, not least for the Joe Biden administration burdened with asking the nation for sober sacrifice while his ex-boss raised the roof with movie stars in tropical shirts, advisers prevailed upon the 44th president to reconsider the bacchanal. But characteristically, hilariously, Obama didn’t cancel his party, he merely uninvited those he considered less important, who happened to be almost entirely his most trusted former aides.
Cast out, the Times said, were “the majority of former Obama administration officials… who generally credit themselves with helping create the Obama legacy,” including former top aide David Axelrod, who’d just called Obama an “apostle of hope” in the Washington Post and sat for a three-hour HBO documentary nuzzlebum of his ex-boss. Remaining on the list were celeb couples Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, as well as Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, along with Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Questlove, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, and other Fabulous People, who drank “top shelf liquor,” puffed stogies, and hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club (membership fee: $350,000). An early report that Pearl Jam had been hired to perform was later refuted. Eddie Vedder would just be there, but not to play.
One attendee called it the “party of all parties,” while another added, “Y’all never seen Obama like this,” by which he might have meant Obama reportedly dancing as Trap Beckham, performing live, substituted “Prez” for “Bitch” in this classic:
It's all about you
Girl tonight it's about you…
Fuck it up if it's your birthday bitch!
There’s a glorious moment in the life of a certain kind of politician, when either because their careers are over, or because they’re so untouchable politically that it doesn’t matter anymore, that they finally get to remove the public mask, no pun intended. This Covid bash was Barack Obama’s “Fuck it!” moment.
He extended middle fingers in all directions: to his Vineyard neighbors, the rest of America, Biden, the hanger-on ex-staffers who’d stacked years of hundred-hour work weeks to build his ballyhooed career, the not quite A-listers bounced at the last minute for being not famous enough (sorry, Larry David and Conan O’Brien!), and so on. It’d be hard not to laugh imagining Axelrod reading that even “Real Housewife of Atlanta” Kim Fields got on the party list over him, except that Obama giving the shove-off to his most devoted (if also scummy and greedy) aides is also such a perfect metaphor for the way he slammed the door in the faces of the millions of ordinary voters who once so desperately believed in him.
Obviously, getting rich and not giving a shit anymore is the birthright of every American. But this wasn’t supposed to be in the script for Obama, whose remarkable heel turn has been obscured by the Trump years, which incidentally were at least partly his fault. The history books and the still-starstruck press will let him skate on this, but they shouldn’t.
Obama was set up to be the greatest of American heroes, but proved to be a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time — he fooled us all. Moreover, his remarkably vacuous post-presidency is proving true everything Trump said in 2016 about the grasping Washington politicians whose only motives are personal enrichment, and who’d do anything, even attend his wedding, for a buck. Trump’s point was that he, Trump, was already swinishly rich, while politicians have only one thing to sell to get the upper class status they crave: us.
Obama did that. He sold us out, and it’s time to start talking about the role he played in bringing about the hopeless cynical mess that is modern America.
I fell for it. In 2007 and 2008, as Obama crisscrossed the country organizing a bold palace coup to snatch away the Democratic Party from the Clintons, I took the bait. Sent to trail him for Rolling Stone, I recognized I was witnessing a brilliant marketing campaign, a political magic trick, but talked myself into believing the illusion was for the good of the country, and the world.
Reader, I was skeptical. Though his increasingly lovesick crowds believed they were finally witnessing the arrival of the long-awaited agent of real fundamental change, I was careful at every stop to note this was “not necessarily a reflection of who or what Obama really is.” Obama’s appeal, I wrote, was “a mood thing, not an issue thing.” I refused to describe his speeches as idealistic, because “Obama isn’t selling idealism so much as a kind of reinvigorated, feel-good pragmatism.” In interviews with awed supporters, I always pushed for specifics, as in this scene in Portsmouth, New Hampshire:
“There’s just something about him,” says one middle-aged gentleman.
When I suggest that his comment was vague, he shrugs.
“Yeah, but it’s good vague.”
Again, history books will not recognize it, but Obama previewed Donald Trump’s campaign, or at least a version of it, selling himself as an untainted outsider challenging a failing and mistrusted political establishment. Campaign reporters initially ripped him for his “lack of experience” and “rookie mistakes,” not realizing these descriptors were pluses for an electorate that had soured on both traditionally “electable” politicians and the media gatekeepers who puffed them up. As with Trump, when Obama defied early pundit predictions to surge toward the lead, he won over voters desperate for a sign that “not everything in our politics is rigged,” as I wrote back then, referencing a word that the candidate himself occasionally used.
2008 Obama from the jump hammered the Trumpian theme of a payola system that froze out the regular person:
“They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government…”
Already in 2008, I wrote, “no crisis is more desperate than the spiraling level of general disbelief of our political system.”
Debacles in Iraq and New Orleans and passage of grotesqueries like the Bankruptcy Bill and the Medicare Modernization Act left voters believing Congress and the Cabinet were little more than “a low-rent crime family hired to collect protection money for the likes of Halliburton and Pfizer.” The post-WMD press tried early on to hype the 2008 race as a profound clash of opposites, but a stunning 56% of likely voters agreed with the phrase, “The presidential election is annoying and a waste of time.”
Voters were approaching the upcoming election “with the enthusiasm of a two-time loser offered a selection of plea deals.”
Obama answered this malaise with stump speeches carefully crafted to cast Hillary Clinton as the standard-bearer for a Washington political class hopelessly out of touch, and sick with its own sense of entitlement. “I’m not running for president because I think this is somehow owed to me,” Obama would say coyly, never mentioning Clinton by name.
John Edwards served as an unofficial running mate, lurking as a “crucial character in a Hillary death drama,” a passionate Cassius to Obama’s calculating Brutus. Playing the role of the small-town favorite son returned from Rome with tales of unspeakable aristocratic treachery, he tore at Hillary’s flank with heavy doses of class resentment, describing her as an elitist indistinguishable from George W. Bush, while imploring voters not to “trade corporate Republicans for corporate Democrats.” Hillary was unable to contain her disgust at this treachery, often coming across in the presence of either man like “an angry drag queen, enraged that some other tramp has been allowed to sing Danke Schoen” on what should have been her Vegas stage.
Hillary knew what most voters did not, that Obama was vacuuming mountains of cash from the same places she was, with future bailout recipients Citigroup and Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley all among his top donors. Previewing his current career as a uniquely gifted post-presidential profiteer, Obama in 2008 was a spectacular fundraiser, quietly setting the stage to become the ultimate defender of the status quo, even as he publicly ran against it.
He was so skilled at selling the appearance of a course change from payola and partisan gridlock that I recorded Democratic voters in his crowds comparing him in a complimentary way to Ronald Reagan, while another of his supporters told me with a straight face she couldn’t vote for Hillary because she represented the “old boys’ network” in Washington.
I saw that Obama was really just “a typical middle-of-the-road Democrat with a lot of money and a well-run campaign,” but by November of 2008 I’d convinced myself that the mere fact of his campaign was a great historical triumph. He’d restored the public’s confidence just as our international reputation was disappearing down the sinkhole of the Iraq disaster. Moreover, at the exact moment the Katrina disaster had put the “two Americas” narrative on television, graphically demonstrating how little real progress we’d made since the sixties in desegregating the country, the sweeping nature of Obama’s victory provided hope that the country could finally conquer its racial demons.
On Election Night in 2008, which I spent at John McCain’s “victory” party in Arizona, I spent an hour sitting next to the mostly ignored hors d'oeuvres table, talking myself out of cynicism. Watching the ecstatic crowds at Grant Park on TV, I decided it didn’t matter who Obama was, underneath. As a symbol alone, he was an awesome success who’d brilliantly re-energized the American experiment, expunging the feeling of inevitable imperial decline that hung over the country, while offering a future that seemed more full of possibility. All he had to do, to win a place in history books as a great unifier, was not make a mockery of two words he’d all but copyrighted in that campaign, hope and change.
Many Democrats remember vaguely that the early Obama years were a disappointment, but the disappointment has been glazed over by a propaganda point: it wasn’t his fault. Tilting at the windmill of a corrupt Washington establishment, his talk about learning to “disagree without being disagreeable” shattered by viciously obstructionist Republicans and race-baiting Fox audiences, Obama accomplished what he could, which wasn’t much.
The reality is much more grotesque. Obama sold out the instant he moved into the White House, before the likes of Mitch McConnell even had a chance to figure in the picture.
Example: as mentioned here before, Obama as a candidate had run an ad denouncing Louisiana’s Democratic congressman Billy Tauzin for taking a $2 million job at the the drug lobby firm PhRMA right after passing a monster prescription drug handout bill. “That’s an example of the same old game-playing in Washington,” Obama said, in an ad called, Billy. “I don’t want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game-playing.”
Immediately after Obama took office — between February 4th and July 22nd of 2009, to be exact — “Billy” became a regular visitor to the White House, visiting an average of once every 15 days. Those meetings culminated in a deal struck between the Obama White House and PhRMA, in which the trade group would donate $150 million to lobby for the passage of Obamacare, and Obama in return would abandon two of his key campaign pledges (among other things): allowing Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices in bulk, and allowing citizens to import cheaper drugs from Canada.
Right out of the gate, Obama’s signature bill was built atop the exact slimeball game-playing, with the exact slimeball players he pledged to avoid.
Every politician breaks promises, but the issue with many of Obama’s long list of reversals was not failure but betrayal, in the most profound and devastating sense of the word. I was relatively a booster of Obama in 2008, but once assigned to cover the financial crisis found myself stunned at choices he made, beginning with the appalling decision to invite still-employed Citigroup officials to run his economic transition. This move led to one of the more breathtakingly corrupt deals in modern presidential history, one the press gave almost a complete pass to. I heard about it from a senior Democratic Party official, a great believer in Obama who was flabbergasted by the lack of press attention and still I think hopeful on some level that the King simply didn’t know what was going on at his court.
Obama hired his close friend and Harvard law classmate Michael Froman, a protege of former Bill Clinton Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, to run his economic transition team. Froman was a Citigroup executive who made $7.4 million at the company in 2008 and did not resign when he joined the transition team. This is significant because less than a month after Obama’s election, on November 23rd, 2008, a deal was struck to give a $306 billion bailout to Citigroup, a deal negotiated in significant part by Timothy Geithner, another former deputy to Rubin.
Some background is required to understand the full depth of the betrayal. Rubin, along with Clinton and former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, had been instrumental in repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, a 1930s law which prohibited the merger of commercial banks, investment banks, and insurance companies. In the 1990s, that law ostensibly stood in the way of the Citigroup merger, which united Salomon Brothers, Citibank, and Travelers.
I say ostensibly because the Citi CEO Sanford Weill simply concluded the merger extralegally, thanks to what was essentially a Papal indulgence from Greenspan, who temporarily blessed the deal in 1998 pending congressional action. With a big push from Clinton, Rubin, and Froman (who was Rubin’s chief of staff from 1997-1999), and tangentially Geithner (who also worked under Rubin in the Clinton Treasury), the Glass-Steagall Act was finally repealed via the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which legalized the Citigroup merger post-factum.
Once the Citi merger went through, Rubin and Froman immediately went to work at the new super-bank. Rubin was paid CEO wages at $115 million per year for a job Citi itself described as having “no line responsibilities.” Nonetheless, Rubin did have a senior position at the bank, which by 2007 had accrued $43 billion in toxic mortgage assets, a major part of the reason the company eventually needed a bailout.
Follow the bouncing ball: it’s November of 2008, and Citigroup, Rubin, and Froman are headed down the drain of history. The company is rescued when Froman is hired by the incoming president, an old college buddy, and another former protege of Rubin’s, Geithner, negotiates aggressive intervention by the Federal Reserve bank to flood the essentially bankrupt company with cash.
Now for the good part: before the Citi bailout was even announced, Timothy Geithner was hired by still-employed Citigroup executive Michael Froman to be Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary. Citigroup then turned around and — after the bailout — gave Froman a $2.25 million year-end bonus. Another Citi official who’d gone to work for Obama, future Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, got a $940,000 bonus after the negotiated bailout. When news of this got out, it was finally a bridge too far, optics-wise, and Froman at least pledged to give the last bonus check to charity “related to homelessness and cancer.”
I reported on all of this with some disappointment — I still liked Obama and was in a state of disillusionment — in a much-criticized Rolling Stone piece called Obama’s Big Sellout. I mention this only because this sequence of events later offered me an unfortunate window into the personality of the president. Years later, Obama gave an interview to Rolling Stone in which he gently castigated the magazine (read: me) for its coverage of his Wall Street policy. The relevant portion:
Q: Forget for a moment about obstruction by Wall Street lobbyists and Republicans in Congress. If you could single-handedly enact one piece of regulation on the financial industry, what would it be?
OBAMA: “The story of Dodd-Frank is not yet complete… I’ve looked at some of Rolling Stone’s articles that say, “This didn’t go far enough, we didn’t institute Glass-Steagall” and so forth, and I pushed my economic team very hard on some of those questions. But there is not evidence that having Glass-Steagall in place would somehow change the dynamic. Lehman Brothers wasn’t a commercial bank, it was an investment bank. AIG wasn’t an FDIC-insured bank… So the problem in today’s financial sector can’t be solved simply by re-imposing models that were created in the 1930s.”
This was classic Obama: he said he pushed for Glass-Steagall “very hard,” then in the same breath said it wasn’t important or needed, before proceeding to name a few key companies Glass-Steagall would not have impacted (like AIG and Lehman Brothers) while ignoring the many big crash actors it would have, especially Citigroup.
One of the most shameful transactions of his presidency, the backdoor rescue of Bob Rubin and Citi, flowed from the bribe-laden repeal of Glass-Steagall, but this politician was so certain of the hold he had over liberal audiences — he was correct in this — that he never feared to bring up the topic in conversation. That he chose instead to grouse over an extraordinarily rare instance of serious criticism of him from the blue side of the aisle showed the weirdly petty side of his character.
I could go on about Obama’s betrayals and broken promises, which included the expansion by the gentle constitutional lawyer of both a brutal drone murder program and a vast illegal surveillance operation, the instantly violated pledge to have no registered lobbyists in the White House (Obama brought former Goldman lobbyist Mark Patterson in to serve as Deputy to Tim Geithner right after inauguration), the ignored promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, the waived plan to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk with union members in a picket line (he never did this), the decision to make the Bush tax cuts permanent while blowing off promises to lift the payroll tax cap above $250,000 or end the carried interest tax break, the repeated use of the Espionage Act to bully non-compliant reporters and their sources, and so on, and so on.
Just yesterday the Washington Post published an excerpt from a new book about the “baldfaced” deception of December 28, 2014, when Obama furled the green flag of coalition forces in Afghanistan to mark the supposed end of our “combat mission” there, in what he called a “milestone for our country.” This was despite the fact that the Administration never had any intention of leaving Afghanistan, and didn’t, and systematically covered up our failures there.
Obama’s handling of the aftermath of the financial crash proved to be a prolonged textbook case of what Trump in 2016 would later denounce as “insiders fighting for insiders.” Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, a bank lawyer whose corporate defense firm Covington & Burling represented nearly every one of the worst actors in the financial crisis, and which literally kept an office open for him during his entire temporary assignment as the nation’s top law enforcement official, did not successfully prosecute a single senior finance official connected with the 2008 crash.
Holder, who as a young lawyer in the Clinton Justice Department had invented the “Collateral Consequences” theory that government should find non-prosecutorial solutions for large employers, told the Senate in 2013 that the systemic importance of companies like HSBC (which had just been caught laundering nearly a billion dollars for drug lords) had “an inhibiting impact” on his ability to conduct prosecutions. As a result, the Obama Justice Department moved instead to pioneer numerous new forms of soft-touch relief for the super-rich, including multi-billion-dollar settlements that did not require the signature of a judge, a kind of formalized back-room deal.
In 2008, Obama uplifted centrist Democrats and leftists alike. After that, when he became most of the things he promised never to be, he retained admiration from progressives because he was still a winner who kept hated Republicans out of the White House. Books like Double Down: Game Change 2012 by high priests of conventional wisdom like John Heilemann and Mark Halperin cut a new style of heroic dress for the former Captain Hope-and-Change.
No longer an inspirational icon, he was now a cold-blooded assassin — literally. “Turns out I’m really good at killing people,” he said, about his drone program. “Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.” On a more metaphorical level, he was now said to be a great political infighter who “in every instance,” under “ungodly pressure,” would drain “the three pointer at the buzzer,” as the authors said. They described Obama’s comeback after a disastrous first debate performance against Mitt Romney as a masterwork. When Romney charged that America’s navy had fewer ships than in 1916, Obama countered that the army had fewer horses, too. Another three pointer! “You know,” Obama said backstage, “I really do have this figured this out.”
The problem with this version of events is that in a broader sense, Obama’s post-2008 transformation back into the ultimate Washington insider was a major factor in Donald Trump’s election.
So much attention was paid to the xenophobic angles of Trump’s stump speeches in 2016 that almost no one noticed how heavily he borrowed from Obama. Both men stressed the American dream slipping away, both promised a stop to endless war, both stressed talking to traditional enemies rather than shutting them out (“Doesn’t make us look tough, it makes us look arrogant,” said Obama), both played at being economic populists. Obama dominated at the ballot in part because with these appeals he won white middle-to-working class voters in districts that had mostly been lost to the Democratic Party since the Reagan years. He lost them all over again in his eight years. Nine percent of Obama’s 2012 voters switched to Trump in 2016, and another 7% stayed home.
Obama himself recognized what Trump had done. After Trump won, Obama from Greece lashed out at Hillary Clinton for failing to compete in “lost” territory, and for not recognizing the “powerful stuff” Trump was bringing to people who were “feeling deeply disaffected.” He chided Hillary for not realizing that “we have to deal with issues like inequality… and economic dislocation,” and that winning means going to “every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall” in order to lose in some places by “20 points instead of 50 points,” as he’d done.
In Obama’s telling, it was Hillary’s nose-in-the-air campaign strategy that was at fault, and he was right about that, to a degree. On another level, Obama lost those districts for Hillary, through his countless betrayals and nakedly patrician policies, though it was Hillary’s own voracious speech-profiteering for banks like Goldman, Sachs that made the more obvious political target.
Despite all of this, when Trump was elected I again talked myself into the idea that the Obama would end up looking pretty good someday, especially compared to his successor. I reasoned that one of the president’s most important jobs was to be a model in personal comportment, and Obama, for all of his profound political disappointments, had managed an extraordinary trick as the nation’s first black president. Forced to walk a constant media tightrope, in which it was demanded that he show the patriotism and strength to lead troops on the one hand, but also had to head off stereotypes about angry black men by never rising to the bait over monster provocations like Trump’s birther rants, Obama showed immense public discipline:
From a personality standpoint, Obama is everything Trump isn't. He's in control of his emotions, thick-skinned, self-aware, ingratiating, strategic, and temperamentally (if not politically) consistent. A striking quality of Obama as president is that he did his job without seeming to need to take credit for things all of the time, which kept the political price down on many of his decisions… To use a hokey sports metaphor, he did his job in the manner of an offensive lineman: the less you heard about him, the better he was probably doing.
Yes, I thought, he was a sellout and opportunist just a slick version of a typically amoral Washington machine pol, but as a behavioral model for young people, and particularly for young black people, there were still things to admire about Obama. In hindsight I was still remembering the young, trim, handsome pol, so different from “the bloated hairy shitbags we usually elect,” whose cool, rational manner had once taken me in.
Tolstoy was right, we never stop falling for a pretty face. As he left office I was sure even his mixed legacy would age well, in the light of what was sure to be a chaotic Trumpian reign.
This was before I knew that Obama would immediately start monetizing his name with a battery of $400,000-per-hour speeches to Wall Street, and also before I knew the incredible details of his May, 2016 trip to Flint, Michigan. The city had been plagued by outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease and lead poisoning, with children sickened with neurological and behavioral problems, after years of drinking and bathing in poisoned water in as pure an example of sociopathic negligence as we’ve seen in American governance. Flint was true Evremonde politics, the kind of gross mistreatment that inspires revolutions, leaving people with nothing but rage for their injured children.
When Obama came to town, residents of the predominantly black city expected him to ride to the rescue by declaring a federal disaster and sending in FEMA for a cleanup. Instead, he told a story about how he was sure he ate lead paint as a kid (and turned out fine!), then took a micro-sip of Flint water, as if to show how safe it was. When the assembled gasped in horror, he chuckled with annoyance, “This is a feisty crowd tonight!”
After, he held a quick presser where he repeated the sipping trick and zipped back to Air Force One in his limo. The scene is as close to pure political evil as you’ll ever see on stage.
It’s absolutely true that Obama was on the business end of outrageous abuse throughout his tenure as president, surrounded by jackals and media hacks and right-wing trolls who in thinly-veiled racial caricatures did things like deride him as a “Santa Claus” who won elections because he promised free stuff to his layabout followers. One could understand turning cynical in the face of enough of this, shutting the door on those parts of the country that rejected him in order to collect checks and throw parties.
But Obama didn’t eventually turn to the dark side. He sold us out on policy immediately after taking office, began personally cashing in the instant he was out the door, then essentially vanished, remaining involved in public life in only the pettiest, most limited way possible. To wit, he picked up the phone at the 11th hour of a contentious 2020 Democratic primary and brokered a serpentine deal to make sure his dummy veep got the nomination instead of a Vermont socialist whose entire platform was an implicit criticism of his, Obama’s, presidency.
Otherwise, Obama has been ostentatious in his near-total disinterest in the country he left behind, showing almost no public leadership in five of the most difficult years of its history, holstering his legendary communications skills during years of spiraling acrimony and division.
Worse, Obama has now displaced the Clintons as the ultimate example of the modern political profiteer. We now automatically assume Senators and presidents will spend their retirements pursuing every conceivable moneymaking opportunity while living lives of hoggish exclusivity. No more Jimmy Carters living in $167,000 homes, driving a 1983 Mercury Capri and volunteering to build houses in between negotiating African peace treaties. The White House is now first and foremost a seat of financial power, its occupant by design an apprentice member of the 1%, who’s expected to accept full entrance into the wealth archipelago upon exit.
Trump won in 2016 because America preferred someone who was already a pig to someone merely on the way to being one. The country didn’t reach that level of cynicism on its own. Disillusionment has a cost, and Barack Obama transforming from symbol of hope and possibility to whatever he is now — to a shallow, conceited, Fat Elvis version of a neoliberal washout — has been a hell of a blow, whether America’s ready to admit it or not.