EXCUSE ME, but is it any secret that the economy of Anderson Valley runs on dual intoxicants called marijuana and wine? Why, then, would the local school board and its feckless (and wildly overpaid) attorneys suddenly begin a terminally foolish discussion about the “appropriateness” of gym banners sponsored by local wine interests? Any discussion of “appropriateness” and young people is obviously pointless in the endlessly dissolute society the young grow up in. Winery-sponsored gym banners are non-existant hazards in the minefield of American life.
WE BECAME interested in this silly contretemps when we received this anonymous note: “Some of the sports boosters have heard a rumor that the school board is going to make us pull all of the banners from wineries out of the gym saying it's ‘Ed Code.’ Just wondering the validity of the rumor and if it's true, I don't think they realize the financial impact that would be on our sports program and how ridiculous it is. I think there are gymnasiums and football fields named after wineries in Napa Valley. Banner sponsorship is the only way the wineries contribute. What about the banner for the Catholic Church? Separation of Church/State? I hope this isn't true. Our Booster Club will fold and do you think the school can pony up the $60k plus that they raise each year?”
SCHOOL TRUSTEE ERICA LEMONS steered me to Leigh Kreienhop at the District office, and the next call was from Superintendent Collins who explained the discussion had begun at a recent school board meeting about new school board policies from the state, one of which warns against advertising alcohol in the schools. Collins said it was clear that the Boonville gym banners did not advertise alcohol and the policy was unlikely to apply to us. Collins said he “certainly did not want to vilify the local businesses that do so much to support school programs.” The banners merely acknowledge the contributions from local businesses, among them wineries. He said he planned to talk with the Booster Club about the matter. Asked if he hoped the issue just fades away, Collins replied with a laugh, “Yes, I hope so.”
ELEVEN PERCENT (count 'em) of California's registered voters, according to a recent Field Poll, think Congress is doing a good job. Sen. Dianne Feinstein — who has long been one of the more popular pols in California — isn’t so highly thought of anymore. Her approval rating sank to an all-time low (for her) of 43%. The poll found that 36% disapprove of the way she’s doing her job and 21% have no opinion of … someone who has been in the Senate for 20 years and on the state’s political scene for four decades. Feinstein’s approval rating is now similar to that of fellow Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. That’s a surprise: As the Fieldsters put it, “Throughout most of her tenure, Boxer has typically received somewhat lower job approval ratings than her Democratic colleague Feinstein. That is no longer the case.” Boxer's approval rating is up to 44% from 39% in 2011. What’s up with DiFi? Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo thinks it could be her defense of the National Security Agency surveillance earlier this year in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. But Feinstein has also expressed annoyance that even congressional intelligence committees — like the Senate one she chairs — have been kept in the dark about some of the NSA’s activities. Obama’s approval dipped in California shortly after the Snowden leaks began; Feinstein may be suffering the same fate. The good news for Feinstein: She isn’t up for re-election until 2018, not that it's likely anyone more or less mainstream will take her on.
If it's OK for the government to collect this “megadata,” why isn't this information in the public domain? The public's acceptance of this crime might be palatable to a lot more citizens (and especially Corporations. which are, we are told, also citizens) if they, too, could mine this data for there own purposes? The outcome of this is too terrible to imagine, so let's just cut out the collection process — anything to prevent the march toward becoming a police state.
Bruce Hering, Boonville
COUNTY CEO “ALL EMPLOYEE MESSAGE”
I hope this letter finds you well. The year 2013 is rapidly drawing to a close and next week, December 23rd to December 27th, will be the official Winter Break Closure week for the County. Many departments have chosen to close to the public and offer an expanded opportunity for employees to take time off to be with their families. If you do choose to take time off during the designated Winter Break, I hope you have a wonderful week away from work spending time with loved ones.
December is a natural time for reflection on the accomplishments of the previous year. My office reached out to Department Heads throughout the County to get their take on what they felt their departments had accomplished over this year, and I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the responses we received. I know one thing my office and Board Chair Dan Hamburg was proud about was successfully advocating for Senate Bill 740, a bill that added an additional $90 Million to a special fund within the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to deploy broadband infrastructure in rural areas of California. The bill passed and was signed into law by Governor Brown in early October, and Mendocino County can claim a large portion of credit for helping to get that bill to the finish line. Also, the County’s new Leadership Philosophy was put into place through long hours and collaboration by Department Heads, managers and the Executive Office. This Leadership Philosophy will guide the County for years to come as a model that will help us strive for a standard of excellence in public service.
Other achievements were direct responses to challenges the County faced this year, including the flood in the County’s Public Health building on Dora Street. General Services Agency’s (GSA) efforts to resolve the problem were, to say the least, extraordinary. The Board and the public received constant updates about the status of the cleanup work and GSA completed the repairs in a very timely fashion. On top of this enormous task, GSA also initiated a large Request for Proposal (RFP) process to replace an outdated property tax software that most will say is increasingly putting the County at liability in case of its failure. This was a needed expenditure, and history may prove that initiating the RFP for a new property tax software could not have come a moment too soon.
Below is a compilation of the achievements that I would like to highlight, as received in the responses by our Department Heads, and in addition to those I have already mentioned above:
• Successful negotiation of two contracts for the provision of Mental Health Services (HHSA)
• Implementation of the new Affordable Care Act procedures and policies (HHSA)
• Finalization of a new electronic recruitment and job application system (HR)
• Replacement of Feliz Creek Bridge over Old Hopland-Yorkville Road 110 (DOT)
• Addition of over 8,000 new books and 52 downloadable magazines (Library)
• Implementation of California Public Employee Pension Reform Act initiatives to reduce County liability for employee pensions moving forward (Employees’ Retirement Association)
• Improvement of the County’s credit rating from a BBB+ to an AA-. Standard and Poor’s also raised its underlying rating (SPUR) on the County’s Certificates of Participation from a BBB- to an A+ (Executive Office)
These are just the items that were sent to my office by those who responded to our request for Departmental accomplishments this year. What I would like to say thank you for, most of all, is the continued quality of work by staff to keep the County running smoothly and to keep services flowing to our public. I hope you all are able to spend time with friends and family over the Winter Break, and I look forward to seeing you at the beginning of the new year!
— Carmel (Angelo, Mendocino County Chief Executive Officer)
THE EDITOR can't resist throwing his top ten out there on top of yesterday’s Top Ten from Hank Sims: Moby Dick; The Brothers Karamazov; David Copperfield; USA Trilogy; Miss Lonely Hearts and Day of the Locust; Sentimental Education; Madam Bovary; Farewell To Arms; Desperate Characters, and number 11, Updike's Rabbit trilogy. There's probably a generation gap in effect here. Sims is a lot younger. The young 'uns heads seem wired differently. The only really good contemporary fiction I've read lately has been by Roth, Edward P. Jones, Junot Diaz, Sherman Alexie, Gillian Flynn, and not just log rollin' here, but I also liked a couple of short stories from Carolyn Cooke's latest book, Amor and Psycho. With Cockburn gone, there's no first-rate political writing that manages the wit and erudition he did. I haven't read a single book on Sims' list, but a couple do sound intriguing.
MAJOR SCARAMELLA’S TOP TEN (or so) in no particular order:
1. Red Mutiny, Neal Bascomb
2. I Married A Communist, Philip Roth
3. A Civil Action, Jonathan Harr
4. Lush Life, Richard Price
5a,b,c. Shah of Shahs (Kapuscinski), All The Shah’s Men (Kinzer), Out of Control, Andrew & Leslie Cockburn
6. For Whom The Bell Tolls, Hemingway
7. The Captured, Scott Zesch
8. Legacy of Ashes, Tim Weiner
9. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
10. Benito Cerino, Herman Melville
11. In The Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick
12. American Tempest, Harlow Unger
13. Tom Paine: A Political Life, John Keane
14. The Closing Circle, Barry Commoner
15. Blue Blood, Edward Conlon
PREVIOUS: ON NOVMEMBER 13, 2013, at approximately 5pm, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a citizen who wanted to report a possible human gravesite. The citizen told deputies where to search for the possible grave. On Dec. 1, approximately 7am, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Detectives went to the location described by the citizen which was off Jewitt Ranch Road, the Harris area of Humboldt County. Detectives located a possible gravesite which they dug up and located human remains. The Humboldt County Coroner’s Office was summoned to the scene. The identity of the deceased is unknown at this time, along with the cause of death, age and sex. Detectives are treating the deceased as a homicide at this time. Further information will be released as appropriate, the investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.
THE HUMBOLDT COUNTY CORONER has identified the human remains located in a gravesite off of Jewitt Ranch Road, Harris area of Humboldt County as that of missing person Garret Rodriguez, 29 years old from San Diego, California. Rodriguez was reported missing by his father to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office on April 25, 2013. His father told the investigating deputy that Garret told him he was coming to Humboldt County to work on a ranch growing medical marijuana. Garret told his father the ranch was located in an area known as “Murder Mountain.” A Forensic Pathologist has also confirmed that Rodriguez is the victim of a homicide. Anyone with information about this case is requested to contact lead Humboldt County Sheriff’s Detective Jennifer Turner at Ph. 707-268-3642 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation ( F.B.I.) is assisting the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office with this investigation.
THE REAL INEQUALITIES
The Wild and Cruel Gap Between Debtors and Creditors
By Ralph Nader
The word “inequality” is much in vogue these days. We hear almost daily about the inequality of wealth, income and wages between the richest top 2 or 3 percent of people and the majority of the country’s wage earners. But not much attention is given and not many marches and other protests are addressing the huge inequalities between creditors and debtors.
Of course the aforementioned inequalities, especially of wages and income, worsen the plight of individual debtors. One more distinction needs to be made – that between corporate debtors who receive many favored legal entitlements (even in bankruptcy) and individual debtors who are slammed and harassed by debt collectors.
Start with the Federal Reserve’s low-interest policy of the last five years with no end in sight. Savers who used to get interest of 4 to 5 percent from their bank or money market now get, if they are lucky, ¼ of one percent on their savings. This Fed policy is supposed to stimulate the economy but doesn’t work very well if there is not enough consumer demand in a recession to attract new investment. Meanwhile, the hundreds of billions of dollars held by small, middle to low income savers are generating no interest to help pay their living expenses.
The situation is bad and getting worse. These savers are being turned into “lockbox customers” in peril of having to actually pay the banks to hold their money. The Financial Times reports that “leading US banks have warned that they could start charging companies and consumers for deposits” if the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates further.
Why don’t all those bellowing Congressional deregulators of health and safety standards ever object, except for the pure Ron Paul libertarians, to the overreaching Federal Reserve, the biggest market regulator of them all?
Look at how the U.S. government has treated students borrowing for their education. When the government was not guaranteeing the gouging interest rates and fine-print traps of Sallie Mae and other corporate lenders that still have the iron collar around millions of college graduates, Uncle Sam was directly making money from students with interest rates around 6 percent. Other western nations offer tuition-free higher education as a great investment for their societies.
Skyrocketing student loans now exceed credit card loans outstanding – $1.2 trillion in student loans compared to $1 trillion in credit card loans. With her proposed “Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act,” Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to reduce the student interest rate to the same rate paid by large banks borrowing from the Federal Reserve Bank, less than one percent.
It is stunning how shortsighted this policy of gouging student borrowers is for the health of the economy. Their loan burden after graduation is such that they are less able to buy homes and cars in their twenties and thirties.
In his fine new book Debtors’ Prison, Robert Kuttner recounts the history of debt, including the centuries when under Anglo-American law debtors were imprisoned or executed. He also describes how large corporate debtors today get bailed out or go through bankruptcy proceedings that save the company under a sweetheart rebirth process, complete with allowing executive compensations past and present.
The individual debtors, however, are driven deeper into debt with fiendishly high interest rates (as high as 30% on unpaid credit card balances to over 400% on rolled over payday loans and rent-to-own rackets). Then there are the hundreds of different fees, penalties and costly fine-print impositions that ravage consumer borrowers.
The profits from the credit industry were illustrated this week by MasterCard’s announcement. Its stock is up twentyfold to nearly $800 per share since it went public in 2006. Its profits are enormous, its dividends are surging, stock buybacks robust and there is no end in sight for its upward spiral. For a supposedly staid banking function, MasterCard acts like Apple.
The sheer complexity of borrowing, paying, and getting some so-called relief or refinancing camouflages its own kind of costly exploitation.
If the debtors object, particularly in a persistent manner, over such obvious greed, their credit scores – the new serfdom – can go down and put more burdens on their pocketbooks and future livelihood.
A split US Supreme Court endorsed the compulsory arbitration clause in these fine-print contracts that attaches more shackles. A report by Public Justice (“Wake Up!” can be seen here) found compulsory arbitration allowed predatory lenders to violate federal and state laws that protect consumers and blocked vulnerable elderly patients who had been abused in nursing homes from adequate access to the courts.
Rays of help are coming from the enforcement of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 by the young Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Over-limit fees and repricing actions are mostly eliminated and the dollar amount of late fees is down. Bait-and-switch to higher pricing once the borrower has signed on the dotted line has been diminished.
In its latest report on the law (The CARD Act Report can be seen here), the CFPB recognizes other areas that “may warrant further scrutiny.” These include “add-on products” to credit card users, “fee harvester cards,” “deferred interest products,” and other problems stemming from the relentless ability of corporate lawyers to game and obfuscate the regulatory process and escape prohibitions with new avaricious coercions.
Credit unions, with their ninety million members who are allegedly the owners, should be taking the aggressive lead in denouncing bad practices and thereby bringing even more consumer cooperators into their organizations. Less imitation of commercial banks and more dedication to cooperative service principles should be what members demand from this potentially large reform institution in our country.
(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.)
CRAIG STEHR REPORTS FROM NEW ORLEANS
Christmastime in New Orleans — Got a call in Cali from anarchist "Bork" Said she needed some help for a number of reasons I jumped on a bus and rode for three days Arrived travel lagged with no map in the haze Took a ferry boat ride across the Mississippi River Nobody knew of her or my destination, but then A bartender recalled the location of the health clinic That Bork co-founded, and sent me off in the general direction All the locals knew the place and I walked and walked Found her place next to a mosque, the word MAGIC Appeared in a window, flowering plants on the steps And lots of Mardi Gras beads hanging from the iron railing One block from the railroad tracks just before the Huge bridge linking The Big Easy with the west bank Algiers, established 1719, where slaves were brought to Be prepared for servitude, and we're just four blocks From Gretna, where a statue of the founder of the Ku Klux Klan Stands in front of the court house! Algiers got Annexed because politicians needed more votes The last eleven mayors won due to supportive West bank voters, and Algiers has paved streets now I met Swamp Rat Jack who told me the whole history His house was burned down by neighborhood drug dealers So he's rebuilding and chatty with all who pass by And Bork's friend Nellie invited ne to a Thanksgiving Dinner at her compound of three houses while some Of the extended family removed a truck engine in the Yard and talked about the Saints football team and Nellie and Jack and Bork are organizing the Neutral Ground Social Centre to benefit youth who need a serious political Education and so they talked and talked about the details Of establishing such a place in Algiers and how they must Prevent it being fundamentally changed, like the health Clinic which went from serving anybody who walked in the door To now requiring appropriate insurance and it just received Federal designation and a three quarter of a million dollar grant But the poorest of the poor are once again living at risk and Bork herself is no longer welcome even though she co-founded it! Bork has a smashed spinal column and no top frontal teeth, because The police beat her because she was attempting to prevent the demolition of the 1940s public housing units after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina...certain forces did not want the poor to return Here, after shipping them out of state, and bulldozed the units so That they would have no place to return to. This is called "racism". Bork is nearly crippled, walking with a cane, is in constant pain, had Her I.D. stolen, does not receive significant social benefits such as food stamps, because the insurance provider and the caseworker like Many others here are praying that she move somewhere else, her doctor Says that she needs one more risky operation which might leave her in a Wheel chair, and Bork refuses to consent to having her spine severed to Qualify for assisted living. Meanwhile, she throws up all of the time, Drinks a lot of soda pop to remain conscious while fighting the nausea Which is resultant because the insurance company does not provide Adequate medication for nausea, to offset the painkillers. And she Cannot get the broken teeth removed and replaced with dentures because the insurance provider, etcetera. The other night, I came back and Found her on the floor, where she had been for two hours unable to get Up; she said do not call 911, because they send an ambulance which Takes her to Tulane's emergency room where she is refused medication Because the staff perceives her to be a homeless woman trying to get Drugs to get high. So, she argues all night with the staff and police, And then they drive her back. She said that she might as well stay Home and save herself an unnecessary trip; her next doctor's Appointment is January 3rd to discuss all of this. Extremely Frustrated with her overall situation, she cries and then I help her get into the eleven thousand dollar massage chair that her doctor got For her. She once again begins to speak of the emerging Neutral Ground Social Centre, as I make dinner which she will not keep down, and wait For when she collapses in her bed, and I will light incense, sit on the Couch fingering my neem meditation beads from India, and quietly and Elegantly watch everything fade away.
Craig Louis Stehr, c/o Jamie "Bork" Loughner
333 Socrates Street, New Orleans, LA 70114