ONE MAN’S PLUMBER: AN HOMAGE TO BRIAN BLUMBERG
by Thom Elkjer
Economists use the phrase “essential utility” to describe something so important to a community that it must be owned or regulated by the community. For Anderson Valley, Brian Blumberg was an essential utility who regulated himself. An expert plumber in a valley short on plumbers, he knew that if he did not respond to a water emergency at someone’s home or business, they were probably up a creek without a paddle. So he would respond, even when he didn’t want to.
Even when he really didn’t want to.
But Brian won’t be responding any more. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack on December 18th. He was home alone at the time, on his Clow Mountain property, just weeks shy of his 60th birthday.
The first time I met Brian, he rolled his rig onto the property my wife Antoinette and I had bought on Anderson Valley Way. We had every plumbing problem you could imagine. Everyone we knew recommended Brian. A few people added that he didn’t need us nearly as much as we needed him. In the big city, you can open the yellow pages and take your pick of a dozen plumbers any time of day or night. But that’s not the way it works in Anderson Valley. Here, the contractors hold the cards and the rest of us better play nice.
So when the white plumber’s truck came in the driveway, I dropped what I was doing and made haste to greet the man behind the wheel.
He turned out to be a jovial-looking guy sporting a San Francisco Giants baseball cap and biker’s leather jacket. I immediately relaxed. We obviously had a couple of things in common, and he was also around my age. We exchanged pleasantries, and then he asked about the work I had in mind. When I rattled off a list of routine household plumbing items, Brian stayed pleasant but didn’t mince words. “I’m not really into that kind of plumbing anymore,” he said. “Got anything else?”
It was the only time in my life I was ever grateful for crumbling infrastructure.
“Oh, sure,” I told him. “Our whole water system is falling apart. Are you into that?” He was, and that was the beginning of our relationship.
After touring the grounds, Brian informed me that our crummy water system was even worse than we thought. I invited him into the house for a beer to discuss the situation. Of course he spotted a new sink and fixtures sitting in the corner waiting to be installed, but he did not say anything about them. Instead he promised to come back the next day and take a closer look at the water system.
That night, after supper, Antoinette and I installed the kitchen sink ourselves. We had almost no experience with household plumbing, but we were strangely happy to do it. We knew we had Brian Blumberg coming to tackle our water system, so we were coming out a mile ahead.
When he arrived the next morning, we started with a cup of coffee in the kitchen. While I got out the cream and sugar, he ran his hands round the edges of the sink where it met the countertop, and then opened the cabinet under the sink to check out the water lines.
Undoubtedly he could have pointed out flaws in our work, but he did not. Instead he said, “Nice install.” Only later would I realize that this was Brian in a nutshell: thoughtfully generous, but so low-key and casual that you almost didn’t notice it. “Let’s get that water system sorted out,” he continued, “then we’ll tackle the house.”
Over the next dozen years we did a lot of projects together, both inside and out. Antoinette is an exacting artist, and I like to think I’m precise with language, but we agreed that Brian’s work – even inside the walls where you can’t see it – is some of the best work on our property. One man’s plumber is another man’s artist.
When we built a new pump house a few years ago, Brian plumbed it in one day so that our garden would not be deprived of water in the middle of summer. I have never seen an artisan work so fast with so many different types of technology – pumps, electrical, filters, softeners – and produce such a technically impressive and visually attractive result. For months after he finished that project, we would bring visitors out to the pump house to show them his work. It never failed to elicit awe.
Whenever we heard stories about him doing projects for people without pay, or working long hours on weekends, we were not surprised. He was always hungry to stay home and work on his own place, but he was not about to leave others in the lurch.
After a while we understood why. Brian had high standards for himself not just in his craft, but in his hobbies and friendships and everything else. If he let you in, he let you all the way in. If he played music, he played the hell out of it. If he grew something in his garden, it was blue ribbon material. And if he was going to have a girlfriend, it was going to be one of the highest-quality ladies in this valley.
If his customers, friends or neighbors needed him, he was not going to let them down.
I started going up to his place after he laid his Harley down on Highway 20 between Ukiah and the coast a few years back. It messed up his shoulder pretty bad, and during the rehab he was happy to have help on the property or company in the evening -- preferably both. I got to notice how meticulous he was as a caretaker and a small business owner.
But more than anything, I got to know his inimitable sense of humor. It could be raucous, devilish, or bemused. Sometimes it was all of those at once. Often Brian turned jokes on himself, inviting the rest of us to share in the laughter with his broad grin and artfully angled eyebrows. It was pretty much impossible not to laugh along with him. Somewhere along the line, one man’s plumber had become another man’s friend.
The last time I saw Brian, not long before the fateful day, he came over to tell me about an idea he had, related to one of his hobbies. Before he even got in the door he uttered a single made-up word that condensed all the crazy wisdom, amazing insight, and satiric joy the idea contained. I laughed so hard I literally bent over double. Then we went inside and worked on the technical details for a merry hour. It was vintage Brian Blumberg: taking care to do things right, while being brilliantly creative and outrageously funny.
Now I think about all the things Brian will never do.
The property he wooed and won, and then poured his heart and soul into, will never again know his thoughtful and thorough touch. The friendships he made and sustained will never again know his generosity and humor. The valley that has depended on him to keep its water systems safe, clean and reliable will now have to find another essential utility and pray that it regulates itself like Brian did: for the benefit of the community.
He would not have said it that way, because he usually joked about himself as a reluctant contractor who didn’t like serving other people. But that was just a tough leather jacket covering up a big heart and a gentle soul.
One man’s plumber is the whole valley’s loss. ¥¥
LOCAL CORRUPTION? Not to put too fine a point on this one, but draw your own conclusions from this set of facts: DA David Eyster worked in Duncan James' law office before being elected DA. Daniel Camara, 25, was originally charged with assault resulting in a coma due to brain injury of a child younger than 8 years old. The baby boy was 6 months old when his father almost killed him. Camara then hired Duncan James to represent him, the child “recovered,” the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office downgraded (more like plummeted) charges against Camara, who had been looking at life in prison. Camara is now looking at five years probation. Probation for a nearly fatal assault on an infant? A medically confirmed assault on an infant?
“THE MEDICAL RECORDS were voluminous. We thought this case was much more serious at the outset. The child has clearly recovered,” said Assistant District Attorney Paul Sequeira, who prosecuted the case, as he explained this miraculous series of legal and medical events to Judge Ann Moorman who, just as miraculously, suspended her powers of disbelief to listen to them.
CAMARA DULY pleaded guilty Wednesday to the new charge of It Didn't Really Happen. “Even if I had pushed for prison time, he has no prior record, and he probably would have gotten a two-year term,” Sequeira explained. Because of the way credits are awarded for time spent in jail, Sequeira said, Camara would only need to spend a year in jail to get credit for a two-year sentence. He has already spent eight months in jail, and would be released without supervision after serving the rest of that time.
SEQUEIRA proposed instead that Camara be placed on supervised probation for five years, with a term requiring him to spend a year in jail. His accumulated credits would allow him to be released because he's already served more than half of that. The probation terms would also require Camara to attend a yearlong child abuse treatment program. “That's better for the safety of the community, and it's better than putting the family through that and then having him get out of jail with no supervision,” Sequeira said in a neat non-sequitur that excludes mention of the battered child as it simultaneously awards the child's family victim status.
CAMARA'S six-month-old son was admitted at Ukiah Valley Medical Center with a high fever on the night of April 5, then flown to the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center for advanced treatment when the baby's condition continued to deteriorate. Camara's attorney, Duncan James, subsequently explained that the baby hadn't arrived at the hospital in a coma, but was given an injection to induce a comatose state at the hospital, presumably for transport to UCSF.
CONFIRMING UVMC medical personnels’ suspicions, specialists at UCSF Medical Center stated that the baby had injuries apparently caused by physical abuse, and found several older injuries that were consistent with physical abuse.
JUDGE MOORMAN, disbelief still on hold, said that if Camara violates the terms of his probation, he could go to prison for up to six years.
On his part, defense attorney James said that the child abuse charge to which Camara pleaded guilty is a “wobbler,” which can be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.
If Camara completes his five-year probation, he can apply to have it reduced to a misdemeanor on his record, James said. Camara is due back in court Jan. 28 for sentencing.
ON DECEMBER 22, 2013 at approximately 0630 hours, a male subject wearing a hooded black jacket and wearing a bandana on his face, walked into the Hidden Oaks Convenience Store in Covelo, California. The store had just opened for business. The subject walked up to the clerk as she counted money for the cash register. The subject pointed a sawed-off shotgun or rifle of some kind at her and demanded she give him the money. As the clerk leaned backwards away from him, the suspect grabbed the money from the counter-top. The subject threatened to kill the clerk if she called law enforcement and then fled on foot. Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies responded to investigate the incident and were assisted by personnel from the California Highway Patrol and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sheriff's Deputies reviewed the store's surveillance camera video footage of the incident. The Deputies were assisted by an employee of the Round Valley Tribe in reviewing the footage to see if the subject's mannerisms, scars, tattoos or other personal traits would help to identify him, despite his covered face.
The tribal employee watching the video saw the subject's stature and distinct walk and told Deputies they believed the suspect to be Daniel Lucas Bowes, 29, a local parolee wanted on a parole warrant. Based on that information, a search was conducted of a residence Bowes had provided to his parole agent. At the residence on Little Lake Way in Covelo, Daniel Bowes was found inside a closet hiding under a pile of clothing on the floor. An undisclosed amount of stolen money was located in the house, most of it under the pile of clothing where Bowes had been hiding. A 20 gauge break-action shotgun was found between a mattress and box spring. It had been illegally sawed-off to a length of approximately 15 inches. Bowes was arrested for the parole warrant, armed robbery, possession of a weapon and ammunition by a felon, possession of a prohibited weapon (a short barreled shotgun) and being armed while in commission of a felony. Deputies interviewed Bowes and established further information to show he was the person who had committed the robbery as shown on the store’s surveillance footage. Bowes was booked into the Mendocino County Jail where he was to be being held in lieu of a no bail status. (Sheriff’s Press Release)
STATEMENT OF THE DAY: I know there is a lot of confusion “out there” about what constitutes inflation — is it a so-called “monetary phenomenon” or just shit costing more? — but that’s probably too fine a distinction for “folks” (to use the president’s favorite term) who can’t pay five bucks for a jar of peanut butter. The price of everything except the yellow junk called gold, seems to be shooting up. Pretty soon, they’ll be using that worthless gold to solder the drain pipes on bathroom fixtures out where the housing starts roam. (James Kunstler)
THE LAST OF THE EMERALD CUP COVERAGE
by Emily Hobelmann
The Emerald Cup is so over, but all the dabs I did are still wearing off. So your second round of my coverage is coming to you a bit late. I figured you wouldn’t mind, since Lost Coast Outpost readers (where this column first appears) are so damn chill. Totes.
Right, so between judging concentrates and smoking hella dabs at the event last weekend, I got my fill of the Emerald Cup festivities and then some.
But thankfully, I had Bobarazzi with me, and he was coherent enough to get some killer photos on Sunday (Dec. 15th). Please, get your scroll on and check out that which was so stoney.
If you don’t know, Bobarazzi is Bob Doran, Humboldt County’s legendarily ultrahip writer/photographer. Now you know. Last Sunday’s LoCO On The Pot column featured Bobarazzi’s photos from Saturday (Dec. 14th) at the Cup. You can check out more of Bobarazzi’s pics on his Facebook page.
The second day of the Cup’s main event was packed. Awards were given, panels were held, dabs were done. It was a success. Canna-business people networked and showcased, and plain old lovers of all-that-is-marijuana were out-and-proud.
David Downs at the Smell the Truth blog was there and he paid attention. His coverage features a list of the top ten flowers in his Emerald Cup competition. Check it out here.
Top three flowers: Some dude from Monterey won first place with his Lemon Skunk weed. Sonoma County Collective took second place with their Cherry Cola. And a strain called Mean Gene Cherry Limeade took third. Congrats!
As for the hash, a crew called Boo Boo’s Bubble took both first and second place for their killer product. The first-place hash was made from Eddy Lepp OG Kush and the second place hash was made from Girl Scout Cookies. (Personally, I think the Girl Scout Cookies hash was the best.)
I managed to catch two panels — one on curing and drying with Kevin Jodrey and Ed Rosenthal. That was legit. However, the Better Business Practices panel was comprised of only men. That’s super weak sauce, in my opinion. This panel was disappointing not only for the fact that there were zero women, but also because the men seemed arrogant and unconcerned with the topic at hand. Three of five of them just spewed what I perceived to be politicized talking points and only one spoke to creating better businesses. I was not impressed.
Seriously though, the Cup was pretty much a brodeo (that’s like “rodeo,” but brodeo). Plus there was a maj cliche factor going on — this awkward collision of stereotypical stoners and normalish business people. But that’s how it’s gonna be in this era of quasi-almost-legalization.
Overall though, as far as I can tell, the event went off without any major probs and it was pretty damn fun until I did two too many dab rips. (I blame the “nectar collector.”) Kudos to the Em Cup crew for their success last weekend.
One last noteworthy item: A dabs user was made to look fairly glamorous on the front cover of last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Press-Democrat print edition. Read the article online here. Will the Em Cup keep dabs out of the competition next year…? They certainly couldn’t keep dabs out of the main event.
TIME TO MAKE THE FED A PUBLIC UTILITY
100 Years is Enough
by Ellen Brown
December 23rd, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve, warranting a review of its performance. Has it achieved the purposes for which it was designed?
The answer depends on whose purposes we are talking about. For the banks, the Fed has served quite well. For the laboring masses whose populist movement prompted it, not much has changed in a century.
Thwarting Populist Demands
The Federal Reserve Act was passed in 1913 in response to a wave of bank crises, which had hit on average every six years over a period of 80 years. The resulting economic depressions triggered a populist movement for monetary reform in the 1890s. Mary Ellen Lease, an early populist leader, said in a fiery speech that could have been written today:
Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master. … Money rules … Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us…
We want money, land and transportation. We want the abolition of the National Banks, and we want the power to make loans direct from the government. We want the foreclosure system wiped out.
That was what they wanted, but the Federal Reserve Act that they got was not what the populists had fought for, or what their leader William Jennings Bryan thought he was approving when he voted for it in 1913. In the stirring speech that won him the Democratic presidential nomination in 1896, Bryan insisted:
[We] believe that the right to coin money and issue money is a function of government. … Those who are opposed to this proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank and that the government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand with Jefferson . . . and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a function of the government and that the banks should go out of the governing business.
He concluded with this famous outcry against the restrictive gold standard:
You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
What Bryan and the populists sought was a national currency issued debt-free and interest-free by the government, on the model of Lincoln’s Greenbacks. What the American people got was a money supply created by private banks as credit (or debt) lent to the government and the people at interest. Although the national money supply would be printed by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, it would be issued by the “bankers’ bank,” the Federal Reserve. The Fed is composed of twelve branches, all of which are 100% owned by the banks in their districts. Until 1935, these branches could each independently issue paper dollars for the cost of printing them, and could lend them at interest.
1929: The Fed Triggers the Worst Bank Run in History
The new system was supposed to prevent bank runs, but it clearly failed in that endeavor. In 1929, the United States experienced the worst bank run in its history.
The New York Fed had been pouring newly-created money into New York banks, which then lent it to stock speculators. When the New York Fed heard that the Federal Reserve Board of Governors had held an all-night meeting discussing this risky situation, the flood of speculative funding was retracted, precipitating the 1929 stock market crash.
At that time, paper dollars were freely redeemable in gold; but banks were required to keep sufficient gold to cover only 40 percent of their deposits. When panicked bank customers rushed to cash in their dollars, gold reserves shrank. Loans then had to be recalled to maintain the 40 percent requirement, collapsing the money supply.
The result was widespread unemployment and loss of homes and savings, similar to that seen today. In a scathing indictment before Congress in 1934, Representative Louis McFadden blamed the Federal Reserve. He said:
Mr. Chairman, we have in this Country one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever known. I refer to the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Banks…
The depredations and iniquities of the Fed has cost enough money to pay the National debt several times over…
Some people think that the Federal Reserve Banks are United States Government institutions. They are private monopolies which prey upon the people of these United States for the benefit of themselves and their foreign customers; foreign and domestic speculators and swindlers; and rich and predatory money lenders.
These twelve private credit monopolies were deceitfully and disloyally foisted upon this Country by the bankers who came here from Europe and repaid us our hospitality by undermining our American institutions.
Freed from the Bankers’ “Cross of Gold”
To stop the collapse of the money supply, in 1933 Roosevelt took the dollar off the gold standard within the United States. The gold standard had prevailed since the founding of the country, and the move was highly controversial. Critics viewed it as a crime. But proponents saw it as finally allowing the country to be economically sovereign.
This more benign view was taken by Beardsley Ruml, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in a presentation before the American Bar Association in 1945. He said the government was now at liberty to spend as needed to meet its budget, drawing on credit issued by its own central bank. It could do this until price inflation indicated a weakened purchasing power of the currency. Then, and only then, would the government need to levy taxes—not to fund the budget but to counteract inflation by contracting the money supply. The principal purpose of taxes, said Ruml, was “the maintenance of a dollar which has stable purchasing power over the years. Sometimes this purpose is stated as ‘the avoidance of inflation.’”
It was a remarkable realization. The government could be funded without taxes, by drawing on credit from its own central bank. Since there was no longer a need for gold to cover the loan, the central bank would not have to borrow. It could just create the money on its books. Only when prices rose across the board, signaling an excess of money in the money supply, would the government need to tax—not to fund the government but simply to keep supply (goods and services) in balance with demand (money).
Ruml’s vision is echoed today in the school of economic thought called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). But after Roosevelt’s demise, it was not pursued. The U.S. government continued to fund itself with taxes; and when it failed to recover enough to pay its bills, it continued to borrow, putting itself in debt.
The Fed Agrees to Return the Interest
For its first half century, the Federal Reserve continued to pocket the interest on the money it issued and lent to the government. But in the 1960s, Wright Patman, Chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee, pushed to have the Fed nationalized. To avoid that result, the Fed quietly agreed to rebate its profits to the U.S. Treasury.
In The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon, published in 1973, Congressman Jerry Voorhis wrote of this concession:
It was done, quite obviously, as acknowledgment that the Federal Reserve Banks were acting on the one hand as a national bank of issue, creating the nation’s money, but on the other hand charging the nation interest on its own credit—which no true national bank of issue could conceivably, or with any show of justice, dare to do.
Rebating the interest to the Treasury was clearly a step in the right direction. But the central bank funded very little of the federal debt. Commercial banks held a large chunk of it; and as Voorhis observed, “[w]here the commercial banks are concerned, there is no such repayment of the people’s money.” Commercial banks did not rebate the interest they collected to the government, said Voorhis, although they also “‘buy’ the bonds with newly created demand deposit entries on their books—nothing more.”
Today the proportion of the federal debt held by the Federal Reserve has shot up, due to repeated rounds of “quantitative easing.” But the majority of the debt is still funded privately at interest, and most of the dollars funding it originated as “bank credit” created on the books of private banks.
Time for a New Populist Movement?
The Treasury’s website reports the amount of interest paid on the national debt each year, going back 26 years. At the end of 2013, the total for the previous 26 years came to about $9 trillion on a federal debt of $17.25 trillion. If the government had been borrowing from its own central bank interest-free during that period, the debt would have been reduced by more than half. And that was just the interest for 26 years. The federal debt has been accumulating ever since 1835, when Andrew Jackson paid it off and vetoed the Second U.S. Bank’s renewal; and all that time it has been accruing interest. If the government had been borrowing from its central bank all along, it might have had no federal debt at all today.
In 1977, Congress gave the Fed a dual mandate, not only to maintain the stability of the currency but to promote full employment. The Fed got the mandate but not the tools, as discussed in my earlier article here.
It may be time for a new populist movement, one that demands that the power to issue money be returned to the government and the people it represents; and that the Federal Reserve be made a public utility, owned by the people and serving them. The firehose of cheap credit lavished on Wall Street needs to be re-directed to Main Street.
(Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the bestselling Web of Debt. In The Public Bank Solution, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her blog articles are at EllenBrown.com. She is currently running for California State Treasurer on the Green Party ticket.)
22ND ANNUAL PROFESSIONAL PIANIST CONCERT January 11 & 12 — On Saturday, January 11th at 7 p.m and Sunday, January 12 at 2 p.m., the 22nd annual Professional Pianist Concert will be held at the Mendocino College Center Theatre. Featured performers are Spencer Brewer, Elena Casanova, Tom Ganoung, Elizabeth MacDougall, John Simon and Ed Reinhart. Tickets are on sale at Mendocino Book Co. in Ukiah, Mazahar in Willits and Watershed Books in Lakeport. Tickets are the same they have been for 15 years, $10/students and seniors; $15 general and $25 "I 'Wanna' See the Hands" limited seating. For more information call (707) 391-8374. This concert features all six pianists on stage in a living room environment throughout the concert trading stories and songs with two pianos on stage to accommodate impromptu collaborations. This popular event is an annual sellout because of the diversity and quality of all the diverse music and humor that takes place throughout the evening. The musical selections can range from classical to jazz, boogie woogie to Cuban and.....who knows till that evening! The Ukiah concert benefits the Ukiah Educational Foundation and the Allegro Scholarship Program. Sponsors are Sparetime Supply in Willits, Savings Bank of Mendocino, Ukiah Valley Medical Center, Ukiah Civic Light Opera, Willits Furniture Center, Waterman Plants, K-WINE/MAX, KOZT-The Coast and KZYX/Z. There will be autographed CDs by the artists for sale in lobby. Refreshments will be provided by Ukiah Civic Light Opera.