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Mendocino County Today: June 29, 2012

IT TOOK TWO Press Democrat reporters to grind out the following: “About 15 acres of grasslands burned Wednesday in a wildland fire east of Ukiah, Cal Fire officials said. The blaze started at 6pm in the Cow Mountain Recreation Area about five miles east of Talmage, fire officials said. Fire crews contained the fire by about 7:30pm, Fire Capt. Jesse Torres said. No structures were threatened. Six engines and five aircraft battled the blaze. The cause of the fire was under investigation. — Julie Johnson and Glenda Anderson"

ON JUNE 26, an African-American voter, Elise Brown, of Victorville, California, filed a federal lawsuit, charging that top-two, as applied, violates the Voting Rights Act and also violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The claim is based on voting rights. Brown charges that her November 2012 ballot, in the 8th US House district, leaves her with only two Republicans, both of whom she alleges are hostile to her interests. The complaint charges that because there is no write-in space, and because she cannot in good conscience vote for either candidate who is listed on the ballot, the top-two system deprives her of a vote in November. The case is Brown v Bowen, central district, Riverside, cv12-05547. Brown is a member of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee, and an officer of the Adelanto-Victorville Democratic Club. The two candidates who placed first and second in the 8th district are Assemblyman Paul Cook, a conservative Republican, and Greg Imus, another conservative Republican. The 8th district covers the bulk of the more rural parts of San Bernardino County, plus other counties on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is the first lawsuit against California’s top-two open primary that is filed by anyone associated with either the Democratic or the Republican Party. The other three lawsuits that have been filed by California’s Proposition 14 have all been filed by independent candidates or minor political parties and their members.

ON JUNE 25, the Honorable Clay Brennan remanded Robert Stanley Sherman, 50, a resident of Point Arena, to the custody of the Mendocino County Sheriff to begin a two-year prison sentence. The sentence was based on Sherman's conviction of two felonies involving a 5,000 gallon water tank stolen from the Elk Fire Department on Feb. 28, 2009. A jury found Sherman guilty of possessing and selling the water tank knowing it was stolen. The jury also found Sherman guilty of forging a false water tank receipt from Friedman's Brothers in Ukiah to cover up the crime. Although the probation department recommended probation, the district attorney, at the time of sentencing, argued for denial of probation based on the seriousness of stealing a water tank paid for by community donations, and bought to protect the community from fire. Judge Brennan stated even though the value of the water tank was only $2,500 the total circumstances required that probation be denied. In addition, Judge Brennan stated he himself "did not find the defense at trial to be a credible one." Despite the verdicts, the probation department reported that Sherman "adamantly denies responsibility for these offenses." In response, Deputy DA Tim Stoen, who prosecuted the jury trial, argued that despite the defendant having no prior felony record, the purpose of probation is rehabilitation, and that lack of remorse totally undermines rehabilitation. Although the Court sentenced Sherman to prison, there are new sentencing rules in California that require nonviolent state prison offenses to be served in county jail. Sherman will have to serve at least half of his two years in custody. "I wish to thank Judge Brennan," said Tim Stoen, "for rendering a just sentence in this case," and for telling Sherman he was sending a very clear signal that you can't get away with it. (District Attorney’s Office Press Release)

JUDGE BRENNAN “did not find the defense to be a credible one.” Either the judge is a master at understatement or he a master of the obvious. Here’s what happened in court on the Sherman case, which probably resulted in the judge’s keen opinion of the “defense” (as reported by the AVA’s Bruce McEwen in June of 2011):

INVESTIGATING OFFICER Sgt. Greg Stefani was called to the stand and Deputy DA Tim Stoen began his direct examination. Stefani is a patrol sergeant with the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office [who has since been promoted to Lieutenant for the Coastal Sector]. He has been an officer of the law for 22 years. He interviewed Al Sjolund at S&B Market [in Manchester] during his investigation of the water tank theft in March 2009. Sjolund gave Stefani the serial number of the stolen tank, #0810473352, and on April 2nd 2009 Stefani checked it against the three tanks on Probert Ranch in Annapolis with assisting officer Charlie Carpenter. “And did any of them match?” asked Stoen. “Yes.” They questioned the caretaker and Nancy Probert. They asked Probert where the stolen tank had come from. “And did she say as to from whom she had gotten it?” Stoen asked Stefani. “She said she had bought the water tank from Bob Sherman,” said Stefani. But Sherman did not tell Probert where the tank came from. She paid Sherman $2,000 for the tank with two checks; one for $1,500, one for $500. Probert said Sherman delivered the tank to her ranch by himself in a flatbed trailer. She agreed to buy a new tank from S&B Market for the fire department to replace the stolen one. On September 10, of 2009 Stefani spoke with Robert Sherman who was in custody at the time on another matter. Deputy DA Stoen asked Stefani if he had any contact with Sherman prior to that date. “I've had various contacts with him over the past 12 years.” Sherman told Stefani that on August 26th of 2009 he sent two men that work for him, Craig Higgins and Robert Enos, to Yardbirds in Ukiah to buy the water tank to resell to Nancy Probert. Stefani told Sherman he was investigating his involvement in the stolen water tank case. Sherman said he had a receipt for the tank from Yardbirds in Ukiah, but a receipt did not materialize until a couple months later. On October 13th 2009 Stefani was pumping gas into his car at the Union 76 station in Gualala when he received a phone call from Sherman. Sherman told him he had the Yardbirds receipt. Stefani got the receipt from Sherman. It was submitted to the court as people's exhibit 4. But the receipt wasn't from Yardbirds in Ukiah. It was from Friedman's Home Improvement in Ukiah. The Friedman's logo is at the top of the receipt; the transaction date is February 28th, 2009. It is for a 6,250-gallon vertical tank. It was paid by cash, $2,295.00. The stock-keeping, invoice number is “32972174.” With receipt in hand Stefani called Friedman's in Ukiah and spoke with manager Jennifer Carson. She told Stefani they did not sell water tanks that large, not even close. “What did she say as to whether Friedman's could have sold such a water tank to Robert Sherman?” asked Stoen. “She said there was no possible way because they don't sell that size tank.” “And what did she say with respect to what the stock-keeping unit number was as indicated on that recite?” “The stock-keeping unit on this receipt is for a 20-once bottle of Aquafina-brand drinking water.” The bottle of Aquafina cost $1.33 and according to the invoice number it was purchased in August of 09, not February 28th of 09 as the receipt says. In an interview that took place in Sergeant Stefani's patrol car and recorded through the vehicle recording system, Sherman told Stefani he personally delivered the water tank to Nancy Probert. He had been working with a metal recycler at Probert Ranch. He said Nancy Probert had recently had a fire and told him she needed more water tanks.

UKIAH MAYOR Mary Ann Landis nicely demonstrates her priorities in a time of paycuts and layoffs: “Here's a little more than you asked for related to Ukiah's budget vote on Tuesday. Sorry for the delay, I needed some balancing time to hike, complete a tooth implant and preserve some stone fruit.”

THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT is a huge present to the privately-owned insurance industry, and a huge fraud on the public. NPR's jubilant reporting Thursday morning made it seem as if there were no downsides. It's almost all downside, beginning with the grotesque fact that private insurance combines will establish how much it will cost. A presently uninsured-because-they-can't-afford-it family making — if they're lucky — $50,000 to $70,000 a year — will now be required to pay a minimum of $500 to $700 a month for the basics, money they don't have. The indigent will be herded into MedicAid, for which money to pay for millions of them will come from some magic place yet to be named. If you're presently uninsured, like millions of Americans are uninsured, and don't join up, the IRS will fine you when you pay your taxes every year. You're in whether or not you can afford it, and you're in whether or not you want to be in.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY BIG WIGS like Nancy Pelosi, a multi-millionaire, said the Affordable Care Act was a great day for America. She was wearing purple good luck shoes that the NPR was gushing about as the news readers and “political analysts” celebrated along with her this morning. Congressman Mike “Corktop” Thompson (D-Napa Valley), a mere millionaire, released the following lockstep party statement today, ghost written for him by party headquarters because it's identical to party statements issued simultaneously everywhere in the land. —

“TODAY'S RULING by the Supreme Court is a victory for all Americans. The historic health care reform legislation passed by Democrats in Congress is saving money and saving lives. Seniors are paying less at the pharmacy counter; insurance companies can no longer discriminate against people with preexisting conditions or women who become pregnant; millions of Americans can rest assured that if they get sick, they won't have their health coverage dropped. By 2014, virtually all of the law will go into effect, making even more improvements to our health care system. More than 32 million people who are currently uninsured will gain access to affordable coverage. It will put an end to the hidden taxes that all insured individuals currently pay for emergency room visits by people without insurance. Women will no longer be charged substantially higher premiums than men for the same coverage, and being a woman can no longer be treated as a pre-existing condition' by insurance companies. "Reforming our health care system is an ongoing process that began with the passage of this bill. It is an important first step towards making quality, affordable health care a reality for all Americans. In the months and years ahead, we need to put politics aside, focus on the facts and work together to further improve our nation's health care system. By building on the reforms made in the Affordable Care Act, we can make sure every American can afford to go to the doctor.”

WRITING ON COUNTERPUNCH today John Stauber had this simple and spot on analysis of what the Supreme Court and Obama did:

ROBERTS & DEMS Deliver a Grand Slam for the Right; Obamacare Wins, We Lose — It was a brilliant move by far Right (but oh so likable) Chief Justice Roberts to side with the Dem-appointed Justices and uphold ObamaCare. After all, this is a massive victory for corporate power, forcing citizens to buy an expensive insurance product that won’t serve our needs very well but will profit industry, in lieu of receiving real healthcare. Obamacare and its corporate mandate were born on the Right (as in Heritage Foundation) as a way to destroy the political prospects of any single payer system that would cover all Americans with a tax-funded system of guaranteed medical care. This is the way all other industrial societies protect the right to health care, by taking it out of the hands of the giant insurance industry. The right to healthcare is like the right to not be enslaved — there are no half measures, and the insurance industry is the slave master. Roberts may have brilliantly scored a “4-fer” victory: 1.) He now has an interesting historic legacy. 2.) He and his Dem-appointed colleagues have given huge new powers to corporations, and further reduced the rights of citizens. 3.) Any real reform — call it single payer, or Medicare for all — is doomed in bipartisan fashion. The “pragmatists” who are for Obamacare are duped if they think it is going to be expanded to single payer. From this point on, it will only be picked over and further reinvented to empower the insurance and drug industries. 4.) Roberts siding with Dems has probably bounced Obama right out of office. The public overwhelmingly hates Obamacare, and this pours gas on the electoral fire. No wonder Roberts delivered the goods! What a great Right Wing Justice he is. (John Stauber is an independent author and activist. He founded the Center for Media and Democracy in 1993, retiring in 2009. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.)

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