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Mendocino County Today: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

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BruceHeringLONG-TIME BOONVILLE RESIDENT, BRUCE HERING, HAS DIED. Bruce was perhaps best known for his portrayals as Uncle Sam at Anderson Valley's annual 4th of July celebrations.

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by Mark Scaramella


Local grape growers would have trouble finding a better spokesperson than Sean White, General Manager of the Russian River Flood Control District, an entity that controls the 8,000 acre-feet of Lake Mendocino water owned by Mendocino County. The rest of the water in Lake Mendocino is the property of the Sonoma County Water Agency where White worked before moving north to Mendocino County.

Along with White and former Supervisor Richard Shoemaker (who’s now on Sean White’s Russian River Flood Control District Board), I was a guest on a recent session of “All About the Money,” a bi-weekly KZYX talk program hosted by John Sakowicz. The topic was water/the drought.

When the subject of vineyard water consumption inevitably arose, I made a few modest observations comparing grape growing methods in France to those in California.

For example: the government of France has strict laws that limit grape yields to less than one ton per acre in many areas. This not only improves grape quality, but ensures that no irrigation is needed for the deep-rooted French vines.

By comparison, grape yields per acre in Mendocino County are over four tons per acre.

The difference?


When I pointed this out, Mr. White said that grapes use less water than some of the other Mendo crops that preceded grapes, such as hops, pears and apples.

In the past Mr. White has said that grape growers don’t need regulation because they are “self-regulating” and practice “voluntary conservation.”

We couldn’t get into much of a debate on the subject because the topic of the show was the drought, not grapes.

But there are a few points I would have raised if there had been time:

• If grapes are so water thrifty, why has the Russian River become “fully appropriated” since grapes became the primary crop in inland Mendocino County?

• And why didn't the thirstier crops of yesteryear like apples and pears (which also happen to be food, not a pricy intoxicant), need hundreds of ponds for irrigation and frost protection?

• And why did the State Water Resources Control Board propose that the Ukiah area grape growers develop and submit plans to prevent future fish strandings by excessive simultaneous pumping for frost protection?

• And if the grape growers are so committed to voluntary conservation, why did the Water Board even need to propose that such plans be developed?

Aside: The requirement that grape growers prepare their own “fish-stranding avoidance plans” (such as have existed for years in Napa County) was met with such an outcry from Mendocino County growers that an angry crowd of Grape Growers Against Regulation crowded Judge Ann Moorman’s courtroom to argue that State bureaucrats hadn’t made enough of a case that such plans were necessary. Never mind that the state wasn’t able to prepare a case because 1. Professional biologists have not been allowed on the grape growers’ property to document all the fish kills, and 2. Even if they were, there aren't enough of them to uncover all the strandings on the overtapped tributaries of the Russian River, many of which occur in a brief period of time.

New strains of thirsty, shallow rooted grape varieties are being grown on thousands of acres in Mendocino County where they could not be grown unless there was an abundance of cheap water for irrigation, frost protection and growth control.

If the local grape growers weren’t represented by the professional biologists like former Sonoma County Water Agency staffer Sean White, they’d have to settle for less polished bureaucrats like the local UC Extension office’s grape guy and vineyard owner, Glenn McGourty.

Back in 2009 McGourty, Shoemaker and County Supervisor John McCowen traveled to Sacramento where they informed the State Water Resources Control Board that any regulation of the wine bloc's water intensive irrigation and frost protection methods could retard high end booze production.

McGourty, McCowen and Shoemaker, accompanied by a hyper-indignant grape grower named Dennis Murphy, opposed water regulation — any water regulation. The three of them insisted that the wine industry has built more ponds to store water for frost protection and that an “educational” program has been devised to inform grape growers that the wise use of water is, well, wise.

Murphy was so overwrought as he spoke to the Water Board that he was trembling and nearly in tears: “I’m extremely upset that a federal agency could come up here and make direct accusations about growers and the consequences of irrigation. And then clam up claiming it’s under investigation. That’s wrong! That’s not right! These are rumors. We need to know more.”

Boo-hoo and wah-wah.

Glenn McGourty
Glenn McGourty

But it fell to McGourty, Mendo’s tax-funded grape guy, to make the single most ridiculous statement at the hearing.

“Regulations never work. Look at marijuana. It’s illegal as heck and yet we have marijuana all over northern California and our county in particular. So people don’t necessarily go along with regulation.”

By that logic Richard Nixon would never have founded the EPA because “people don’t necessarily go along with regulation.”

The difference between the two industries, however, is considerable. The wine industry is legal, ultra-legal you might say, extra-legal perhaps, complete with its own elected representatives all the way up to Congressman Thompson (no longer Mendo’s congressman, but…), a grape grower himself who chairs Congress’s wine subcommittee. It also has fixed addresses and the names of its owners are public record.

The dope industry is not legal. It can't be regulated until it is legal. Both the wine industry and the pot biz help themselves to public streams, but according to McGourty, neither need regulation, nor would abide by it even if there was any.

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With this background in mind we were very interested in a recent report by County CEO Carmel Angelo: “On January 29th, the County’s University of California Cooperative Extension, UCCE, held a drought preparedness seminar at the Hopland Research and Extension Center for livestock and rangeland owners in both Lake and Mendocino counties.” Which just happens to be McGourty's place of employment.

(Notice the avoidance of the word “grapes” in Ms. Angelo’s announcement, as if grape growers are somehow part of “livestock and rangeland owners.”)

Angelo's press release continues: “The UCCE’s Glenn McGourty has reached out to his colleagues in Australia and specialists from the Australian Wine Research Institute to see how grape growers there have been dealing with their own severe drought. Glenn will use this information to give a short presentation to the Lake County Winegrape Commission and the Lake County Farm Bureau on February 26th. Glenn is also sharing this presentation with local agricultural associations including Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc."

So what did Mr. McGourty learn — and pass along more or less unthinkingly — from his Australian counterparts about grape growing in a drought?

“Although wine grapes are considered more drought-tolerant than most horticulture crops [our emphasis], insufficient water can lead to a reduction in vine growth, fruit yield and quality.”

In other words, less water = less yield (or more water = more yield] as previously noted.

“In order to manage wine grapes under limited water supply it is important to understand the annual growth cycle of a grapevine. There are five main growth stages: budburst to flowering, flowering to fruit set, fruit set to veraison [the onset of ripening], veraison to harvest, and harvest to leaf fall. The amount of water required at different growth stages will depend on variety, rootstock:scion combination, climate (rainfall and evaporation), soil type and depth, and crop load [i.e., density of grapes and planting]. The growth stages also vary in their sensitivity to moisture stress.”

Note here the importance of grape and rootstock variety. Mendo grapes, especially those planted this the 21st century, are not the drought-tolerant type, as apparently they are in Australia where drought has long been a major factor in agricultural enterprise.

“The following outlines some general concepts to consider when budgeting or prioritizing irrigation.

• “No irrigation. Abandoning the block or patch of vines, after one season without irrigation it may [our emphasis] be possible to revive the vines the following season. Survival will depend on variety and rootstock. Pests and diseases still need to be managed as these may carry over to the next season.”

It’s not likely that Mendo grape growers will voluntarily “abandon” any of their grapes — unless they literally have no water for them.

• “Irrigation for survival. To maximize the potential for a crop next season, it is important to maintain bud fruitfulness and the vine’s carbohydrate reserves. This could be achieved by winter pruning to reduce bud numbers for this season and maintain a smaller canopy.”

Winter pruning is already common in local vineyards, but not as a water shortage tool. If it was, they’d use pruning to deal with frost damage, not huge applications of overhead sprinkler water.

“Shoot thinning and reducing crop load by removing bunches shortly after berry set will reduce transpiration demand and the amount of water needed to ripen the crop. Limit shoots growth to maintain eight healthy leaves per shoot by withholding irrigation or summer hedging. Avoid large amounts of leaf loss during veraison to harvest. Carefully observe vines for signs of early water stress in conjunction with soil moisture monitoring to maintain functioning vines.”

These are useful ideas for any grape crop, not just in a drought. Trouble is, they require extra labor, something that even the $40 a bottle and up growers are loathe to employ.

• “Irrigation to minimize loss of yield. Avoid severe water stress during flowering and fruit set as this will reduce fruiting potential in the current and subsequent season. Water stress after fruit set has less impact on fruiting potential but may reduce berry size and yield. The least sensitive period to deficit irrigation is after fruit set to veraison. Applying deficit irrigation below the vine’s water requirement during this period has been shown as a successful strategy to conserve water. However, avoid excessive water stress.”

In other words, don’t overwater.


• Varieties and wine styles. The water requirements for different varieties and wine styles can vary considerably. Red grape varieties usually require less water than whites. Grapes for aromatic and lighter wine styles require more water to minimize stress than do grapes produced for more full bodied wine styles. Excessive exposure in smaller canopies due to water stress increases the risk of sunburn and deleterious effect on flavors and quality, particularly on many white varieties.”

But the large majority of grapes in inland Mendocino County are white, mostly chardonnay.

“Methods to reduce moisture stress and conserve water supply:”

• “Apply mulch. Applying mulch along vine rows will reduce evaporation losses from the soil. Studies have shown that mulch can significantly increase soil moisture content at harvest. Mulch also reduces the competition for moisture from weeds.”

• Suppress growth of cover crops. Mow or spray off cover crops early in the season so they do not compete for moisture with vines.”

“Spray off”? What could that possibly mean? Even more herbicide, apparently, than is now used.

• “Control weeds. Weeds compete with the vines for moisture. Good weed control will mean more water for the vines.”

• Ditto: More herbicides, more poison. (Bet you’re surprised to learn that additional pesticides are one way of dealing with a drought.)

• Water at night. Watering at night can reduce evaporation losses by up to 10%. It also allows you to take advantage of off-peak power.

Most local grape growers already do this.

• “Maintain irrigation systems. Fix leaks in irrigation systems. Ensure irrigation system is working efficiently.”

• “Consider planting new vines on rootstocks. Rootstocks such as Ramsey, K51-32, Paulsen 1103 and Richter 99 and 110 are more drought tolerant than Schwarzmann and 34EM which are similar to own-rooted vines. Drought tolerant vines have a greater ability than own-rooted vines to explore deeper into the soil to extract water. This is a longer term option. Some rootstocks may cause vigor problems in years with average or above rainfall.”

This suggestion flies in the face of standard UC Ag Extension advice to use less “vigorous” shallow rootstocks to maintain more control over ripening and harvest times.

• “Pruning level, shoot and fruit thinning. Insufficient irrigation may result in fruit on heavily cropped vines not being able to ripen fully and having poor color and flavor. Set the vines up to best handle the likely shortage of water. This can be done using a combination of heavier winter pruning to reduce bud numbers, shoot thinning and summer hedging to reduce canopy size, and bunch thinning to reduce crop load.”

This is a good idea, but will substantially reduce tonnage per acre and thus significantly reduce revenue.

• “Reduce evaporation and leakage losses from dams. Evaporation can be reduced from several dams (aka, “ponds”) by pumping into one dam. This reduces the total surface area exposed to the elements and increases water depth.

“Applying protective films (e.g., Aquatain®) to the surface of water in storage dams or establishing wind breaks can reduce evaporation losses by up to 30%).”

According to the Aquatain website: “WaterGuard is produced from polymers which repel each other very strongly when they come in contact with the water. The components of WaterGuard are safe chemicals, and many of them are used in food and pharmaceutical applications.” (Wikipedia: Synthetic Polymers are made from familiar synthetic plastics such as polystyrene (or styrofoam).)

• “Irrigation scheduling strategies. Regulated Deficit Irrigation (RDI), Partial Rootzone Drying (PDI) and Sustained Deficit Irrigation (SDI) have been developed to improve water use efficiency and reduce the amount of water needed for wine grape production. These techniques could be considered in a season when water is limiting. Good soil water content monitoring is essential to determine how much water to apply and when in order to avoid excessive water stress.”

The Aussies’ “strategies” may work in reducing water usage, but they will produce significantly fewer tons of grapes per acre, will probably cost more to implement, will involve application of additional pesticide and herbicide, and most won’t be practical to employ for this year’s harvest if at all.

Thanks Mr. McGourty. You can go back to sleep now.

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Given the historical resistance to change exhibited by Mendocino grape growers almost all of whom began growing wine grapes in the last 40 years, even the modest Aussie conservation suggestions will be ignored — with the exception of increased use of pesticides which many local grape growers will go along with.

Instead, if the drought continues as expected, the grape growers will be forced to take their losses. Then they’ll go to Sacramento and Washington DC hat-in-hand for a drought-emergency bail-out from Congressman Thompson and his fellow wine lovers.

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THAT ODD ATTACK on Fort Bragg's PG&E substation back on October 19th has apparently been resolved, thanks, at least in part, to some excellent police work by Fort Bragg's finest. A 47-year-old fisherman named Brian Clay Stacy, who lived in Fort Bragg at the time, has been arrested in Arkansas by Homeland Security agents. The Fort Bragg episode occurred just before two gunmen shot up a PG&E substation near San Jose. The two events were regarded by the feds as “the most significant attack” on the country since 911, an opinion so clearly inflated out of all proportion to the events that it was of course immediately disseminated by Fox News and kindred hysterics.

WHAT EXACTLY STACY was up to in Fort Bragg is not known, but local cops soon had a line on him and knew that he had a prior for vandalism and that he'd lived in Morro Bay before moving north to Fort Bragg. The feds have been looking for him ever since.

IT WAS LATE the night of October 19th when Stacy was observed blasting away at the Fort Bragg substation with a 12-gauge shotgun before disappearing into nearby woods. The substation sustained what was subsequently described as “significant damage.” Taken together, the Fort Bragg and San Jose events have led to calls to amp up security measures around substations.

PREDICTION: Stacy will turn out to be a drop-fall drunk with a propensity to wreck stuff when he's loaded. Or, he's an MCN ListServe-type nutball inspired by some lunatic theory derived from tinfoil hat-think. “I've got to kill these transmitters before their vibes kill me.” That kind of thing. The internet, natch, is replete with aberrant thought processes. But coupled to revelations that the government now has the ability to keep us all under total surveillance, and the Obama Gang has dispatched drones to murder American citizens, every paranoid's darkest nightmares seem to have been realized.

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DROUGHT TIPS — A Public Service Announcement Series from Mendocino County Public Health

What you can do to stay healthy, conserve water and thrive when it is dry? Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating. No detergent is necessary. You can fill a bowl or tub with water, wash several different items by rubbing them by hand or scrubbing items with rinds, grooves or waxy skin, such as cucumbers, squash, citrus and potatoes with a brush to remove pathogens. Then use the water to mop the floor, flush the toilet or water non-food plants.

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SALAD UNIVERSITY. The secrets of Floodgate Farm Salad Mix. Redwood Valley Winter--Spring Salads: Sun. Feb. 23, 2014, 12:45-4 PM Meet at east side of West Road exit 557 off US 101. We will caravan/carpool up to the mountain farm on Bakers Creek Rd. This class will include ideas for growing in a dry season Bringing vitality to people and the land through healthy food. The right foods provide an energized feeling combined with a stronger constitution with which to fight off disease. Sustainable harvesting means future harvest and a healthy garden ecosystem to limit pests and plant diseases. You will learn 40+ common cultivated & wild plants with diverse flavors, textures, & healing properties. Spend 3 hours with these plants, giving you access to using them and sharing them with others. Class will include how to grow and work with each plant while creating a biodiverse garden ecosystem able to better withstand variations in weather conditions. These foods are for the adventurous spirit, yet they can be crafted to please many palates. Logistical details: Class Tuition ($20 or 2 hrs work trade per session). Seeds available. Please bring something for a small potluck meal at the end. All students expected and encouraged to share what they have learned with others. Salad Heals! Call or email: Bill Taylor at 707-272-1688 or Visit or for future class announcements

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"SERENGETI" Opens International Wildlife Film Festival's Post-Festival Tour The 8th Annual International Wildlife Film Festival's Post-Festival Tour begins in Ukiah at 7 pm on Friday, February 21, with an amazing look at one of Africa's most famous national parks, "Serengeti." "Endless plains" -- that's what Serengeti, 30,000 square kilometers of African savannah shared between Tanzania and Kenya, means in the Maasai language. Wildlife filmmaker Reinhard Radke spent two years in this wilderness in the hunt for spectacular images of Serengeti animal life. Using the most recent cinematographic technology, Reinhard documents the longest and largest overland migration in the world -- a wild and moving spectacle of gnus, zebras, wildebeest, gazelles and the predators that shadow them. "Serengeti" will be shown at the Ukiah Civic Center at 300 Seminary Avenue. Doors open at 6:20 pm with snacks and live music by Julian and the Upside Down. The film begins at 7 pm. Tickets are available at the Mendocino Book Company and at the door for a suggested donation of $10 for adults and $5 for children. A series ticket for all six evenings is $50. Proceeds from the film festival are an important funding source for the Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Project (RVOEP), a special program of the Ukiah Unified School District that provides outdoor environmental education programs to over 2,000 students a year. For a full program of the film series and more information about the RVOEP visit its website, or call 472-5258.

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ON FEBRUARY 14, 2014, at 10:41am the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office dispatch center received a telephone call from a motorist in Calpella, California. The motorist reported seeing an adult male laying on the ground in a clearing beside the roadway in the 5000 block of North State Street. The motorist noticed what appeared to be two dogs attacking the adult male’s body. A Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Animal Control Officer arrived on scene and witnessed the two dogs, a Rottweiler and Pitbull, standing over the adult male's body. The Animal Control Officer yelled to the dogs to gain their attention and the Rottweiler aggressively charged at the Officer. The Officer discharged his duty weapon two times hitting the Rottweiler at least once. The Rottweiler fled a short distance away and died as a result of being shot by the Officer. The Pitbull, described as being white in color, fled the area and was not located after an exhaustive search of the area. The Animal Control Officer approached the adult male and noticed he was deceased. Sheriff's Detectives and investigators from the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office were summoned to the scene. The investigation into the cause of the adult male’s death is ongoing. At this time investigators do not believe the adult male died as a result of an animal attack although evidence of animal activity on the adult male's body was evident. Sheriff's Detectives have yet to identify the adult male and a forensic autopsy has been scheduled for 02-18-2014. Animal Control Officers took possession of the Rottweiler with the intention of having an autopsy preformed on the animal. The owner(s) of the Rottweiler and Pitbull have yet to be determined. Anyone with information in regards to this incident is urged to call the Sheriff's Office Tip-line at 707-234-2100.

UPDATE: On 02-18-2014 an autopsy was conducted on the adult male, identified as being Pedro Tepale, 51, from Calpella, California. The results of the autopsy are pending BA/Toxicology analysis and no preliminary findings are available at this time. Sheriff's Detectives have identified the Rottweiler and Pitbull associated with this incident as belonging to Tepale. Sheriff's Detectives discovered the Pitbull associated with this incident was given to the Mendocino County Animal Care Facility on 02-14-2014 by an unknown person. (Sheriff’s Press Release)

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Editor: In your rant against KZYX (2/12/2014), you have uncritically repeated false statements made by others, and added some rather odd conclusions of your own. Such as the claim that the station is dominated by “Anderson Valley people,” despite the following facts: none of the Board of Directors live in the Valley ; neither do the General Manager or the Underwriting Manager; the Operations Manager lives part-time in the Valley but can hardly be called a “Valley person” by anyone who knows him; most of the Programmers and Membership live outside the Valley.

Next, you claim the current management is “incompetent” and “unfit,” apparently on the basis of remarks made by John Sakowicz and some of his current allies. There are two problems here:

One, there is evidence that the current management is in fact the best the station has ever had. If he had done nothing else, John Coate should be lauded for not only keeping the station from going bankrupt, but actually paying off the debts it accrued during the 2008 financial crisis. Of course he has done much else, and some of his decisions have been unpopular with a vocal fraction of listeners. Popularity, however, is no measure of competence.

Two, John Sakowicz is an unreliable source. Have you read Yale professor Harry G. Frankfurt's delightful little book, "On Bullshit?" (If not, you should. It is really great.) In it, Prof. Frankfurt distinguishes between the liar, who recognizes truth and rejects its authority; versus the bullshitter, who simply does not care about truth. John Sakowicz quite clearly belongs to this latter category. He is not really a liar, even though he says many things that are not true; it is just that he does not care much whether they are true or not, only that they give the appearance of supporting his positions.

Take, for example, his claim that the GM refuses to share financial information. Anyone with Web access can go to the Website and find every General Manager's Report dating back to Fall 2008 (i.e., every one that John Coate has prepared for the Board of Directors), and find therein detailed summaries of the budgets and balance sheet - specifically including the Line of Credit balance. Those reports also contain candid discussions of the station's technical and financial situations, forecasts for the immediate future, and plans for managing through the crisis.

I won't bother to go through the rest of Sakowicz's calumnies; that is an exercise you might undertake, in your capacity as a journalist. If you find something true in there, be sure to let us know.

As for M. Kathryn Massey's bizarre letter to the FCC, it is salacious enough that I can see how you could hardly resist printing bits of it. I did notice you elided all the nasty personal attacks on Diane Hering, a Valley person if ever there was one, and can only speculate why you chose to leave those out while printing the smears on Rich Culbertson. Other parts of her letter read as if they were dictated by Mr. Sakowicz; I wonder, for example, how Ms. Massey ( who arrived here in 2011) would be so familiar with the financial situation six years ago.

By joining McKenty's petty campaign to revoke the station's FCC license, Sacowicz has betrayed his fiduciary duty to MCPB and should be removed from its Board. He has since threatened to sue KZYX if he loses his Board seat — which tells me all I need to know about his priorities.

Tim Bray, Albion

ED REPLY: This may come as a surprise to you, Mr. Bray, but I've arrived at my opinions of the Coate-Aigner team all on my lonesome. Those opinions happen to coincide, even pre-date those of Mr. Sakowicz. As for Anderson Valley people, and it's always difficult explaining the basics to literalists, so I'll try to be as clear as I can: I've argued many times over the years, the dominance of station affairs by Valley people has had a baleful effect on KZYX. That's another opinion, by the way. The station was founded by a Boonville hustler, the station's directors have often been Boonville people, lots of Boonters play music on the station, Aig is from Boonville-Philo. That dominance has occurred because the station is located in the Anderson Valley. Comprende? PS. Have all these Moonie-like paens to Coate's mastery arise out of some kind of stoner's letter-writing party?

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MENDOCINO COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY ANIMAL CARE SERVICES WILL BE HOLDING A SILENT AUCTION of the livestock rescued last month from a McNab Ranch Road home where they were found allegedly neglected.

The silent bids are due by 4 p.m. Feb. 28. Pictures of some of the animals and the required forms and applications are available at

The animals up for bid include three adult cows, one calf, one steer, 21 goats and 33 sheep. The HHSA emphasized that purchases of the animals are "as-is."

The cows, calf and steer will be sold individually and the goats and sheep will be sold in lots. Successful bidders will be notified by March 5, and must pay and take possession of their livestock within three days after they are notified, according to the HHSA.

All interested bidders will be required to complete an application indicating their ability to care for the animals' needs, including veterinarian care and sufficient food, water and shelter. Applications must be submitted in a separate envelope from the bid. Mendocino County HHSA Animal Care Services reserves the right to reject any application for any reason.

The bidder will be required to sign a statement indicating their awareness of the "as-is" condition of the livestock with no oral or written warranty. Bidders will also allow Animal Care Services reasonable access for the first year following the auction to assure the well-being of the animals concerned.

Interested buyers may contact the Mendocino County Animal Care Services at 463-4654 for more information regarding the auction. Applications can be mailed, faxed or e-mailed on request. The required forms and applications can be found at, or picked up at Animal Care Services, located at 298 Plant Road, Ukiah.

The animals' previous owner, Patrice Phillips, is due in court next week to face charges of animal neglect and others.

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RACISM IS EVERYWHERE. People are pissed off. Black people yelling racism. White people yelling reverse racism. Chinese people yelling sideways racism. And the Indians ain't yelling shit because they're dead! Everybody's bitching about how bad their people got it. But nobody's got it worse than the Americans Indians. Everybody should calm the fuck down. Indians got it bad. The Indians got it the worst! You know how bad the Indians got it? When was the last time you met two Indians? You ain't never met two Indians! Shit, I've seen a polar bear ride a little tricycle in my lifetime, but I have never seen an Indian family just chilling out at Red Lobster! Never seen it! Everybody wants to save the environment. Shit, I see trees every day. I've never seen no Indians. I went to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year. They didn't even have enough Indians for that. They had a bunch of pilgrims. But when it came time for the Indians, they had three real Indians and the rest was a bunch of Puerto Ricans with feathers in their hair. I know Puerto Ricans when I see them! You can't slip a Puerto Rican by me! That's not Pocahontas! That's Jennifer Lopez!

— Chris Rock

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by Norman Solomon

President Obama is now considering whether to order the Central Intelligence Agency to kill a U.S. citizen in Pakistan. That’s big news this week. But hidden in plain sight is the fact that Amazon would be an accessory to the assassination.

Amazon has a $600 million contract with the CIA to provide the agency with “cloud” computing services. After final confirmation of the deal several months ago, Amazon declared: “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”

The relationship means that Amazon -- logoed with a smiley-face arrow from A to Z, selling products to millions of people every week -- is responsible for keeping the CIA’s secrets and aggregating data to help the agency do its work. Including drone strikes.

Drone attacks in Pakistan are “an entirely CIA operation,” New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti said Tuesday night in an interview on the PBS NewsHour. He added that “the Pakistani government will not allow the [U.S.] military to take over the mission because they want to still have the sort of veneer of secrecy that the CIA provides.”

The sinister implications of Amazon’s new CIA role have received scant public attention so far.

As the largest Web retailer in the world, Amazon has built its business model on the secure accumulation and analysis of massive personal data. The firm’s Amazon Web Services division gained the CIA contract amid fervent hopes that the collaboration will open up vast new vistas for the further melding of surveillance and warfare.

Notably, Amazon did not submit the low bid for the $600 million contract. The firm won the deal after persuading the CIA of its superior technical capacities in digital realms.

Amazon is now integral to the U.S. government’s foreign policy of threatening and killing.

Any presidential decision to take the life of an American citizen is a subset of a much larger grave problem. Whatever the nationality of those who hear the menacing buzz of a drone overhead, the hijacking of skies to threaten and kill those below is unconscionable. And, as presently implemented, unconstitutional.

On Feb. 11 the Times reported that the Obama administration “is debating whether to authorize a lethal strike against an American citizen living in Pakistan who some believe is actively plotting terrorist attacks.” In effect, at issue is whether the president should order a summary execution -- an assassination -- on his say-so.

The American way isn’t supposed to be that way. The “due process of law” required by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is not supposed to be whatever the president decides to do.

A free and independent press is crucial for confronting such dire trends. But structural factors of corporate power continue to undermine the potential of journalism. The Washington Post is a grim case in point.

Six months ago, Jeff Bezos -- the CEO and main stakeholder of Amazon -- bought the Post. But the newspaper’s ongoing CIA-related coverage does not inform readers that the CIA’s big contract with Amazon is adding to the personal wealth of the Post’s sole owner.

This refusal to make such conflict-of-interest disclosures is much more than journalistic evasion for the sake of appearances. It’s a marker for more consolidation of corporate mega-media power with government power. The leverage from such convergence is becoming ever-less acknowledged or conspicuous as it becomes ever-more routine and dominant.

After e-mail correspondence with me about the non-disclosure issue in early January, the executive editor of the Washington Post, Martin Baron, declined to answer questions from media outlets on the subject. On Jan. 15 -- when I delivered a petition under the heading “Washington Post: Readers Deserve Full Disclosure in Coverage of CIA,” signed by 30,000 people, to the newspaper’s headquarters -- Baron declined to meet with me or designate any employee to receive the petition. Clearly the Post management wants this issue to go away.

But, as I wrote to Baron last month, it’s all too convenient -- and implausible -- for the Washington Post to claim that there would be “no direct relevance of the [Amazon-CIA] cloud services contract to coverage of such matters as CIA involvement in rendition of prisoners to regimes for torture; or in targeting for drone strikes; or in data aggregation for counterinsurgency.”

The surveillance state and the warfare state continue to converge. The Washington Post does not want us to insist on journalistic disclosure. Amazon does not want us to insist on moral accountability. President Obama does not want us to insist on basic constitutionality. It would be a shame to oblige any of them.

[Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at]

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by Craig Harrington & Brian Powell

Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- between the U.S., Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. The nations involved in the talks account for nearly 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of the world's trade, but weekday evening television news broadcasts have largely ignored the topic.

What Is The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Is A "Giant Free Trade Deal Covering Everything From Financial Services To Telecommunications To Sanitary Standards For Food." From The Washington Post's Wonkblog:

Basically, [TPP] is a giant free trade deal between the U.S., Canada, and 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region that's been under negotiation for nearly a decade now (it began as an agreement between Singapore, Chile, New Zealand and Brunei before the U.S. took the lead in 2009). It's expected to eliminate tariffs on goods and services, tear down a host of non-tariff barriers and harmonize all sorts of regulations when it's finished early next year. [...] The countries currently party to the agreement -- currently including Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, most critically Japan and potentially Korea -- are some of the U.S.' biggest and fastest-growing commercial partners, accounting for $1.5 trillion worth of trade in goods in 2012 and $242 billion worth of services in 2011. They're responsible for 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of the world's trade. [...] The treaty has 29 chapters, dealing with everything from financial services to telecommunications to sanitary standards for food. [The Washington Post, Wonkblog, 12/11/13 ]

United States Trade Representative: Trans-Pacific Partnership "Most Significant Trade Negotiation In A Generation." According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the Trans-Pacific Partnership is "the most significant trade negotiation in a generation." As of 2012, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would join twelve member states along the Pacific Rim, representing nearly 800 million citizens, and 39 percent of global GDP. [Office of the United States Trade Representative, 12/10/13 ]

Obama: Completing Trade Negotiations Is A Priority. President Obama has made the successful completion of negotiations between TPP members, as well as unrelated negotiations on a similar trade pact between the United States and European Union, a central focus of his second-term policy agenda. On January 28, the president highlighted the importance of ongoing negotiations in his State of the Union address:

THE PRESIDENT: Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other. And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped "Made in the USA." China and Europe aren't standing on the sidelines. Neither should we. [The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 1/28/14 ]

Why Does The TPP Matter Right Now?

Congress Is Currently Debating A Bill That Would Grant The President Expedited Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). According to a January 30 Reuters article, President Obama is at odds with Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both houses of Congress concerning reauthorizing a procedure called the "trade promotion authority" (TPA). The TPA is a formal legal authority granted to the president by Congress, which allows the White House to fast-track international treaty negotiations with foreign partners, bypassing most congressional review:

A bill before the House and Senate would grant the White House power to submit free trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments, something that would give trading partners peace of mind but that raises hackles among some lawmakers. Add to that the genuine mistrust among some Democrats about the impact of trade deals on local jobs and industry and environmental standards, and it's a volatile mix. With two major free trade deals hanging in the balance, the U.S. administration now faces even more pressure to win over skeptics on both sides of politics to pass trade promotion authority (TPA) as the electoral clock ticks down. [Reuters, 1/30/14 ]

Network Nightly News Has Ignored The TPP

Over The Past Six Months, Network Evening News Shows Have Completely Ignored The TPP. A Media Matters transcript search of CBS Evening News with Scott Pelly, ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer, and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams from August 1, 2013 through January 31, 2014 found no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP received one mention on PBS' Newshour, when Doug Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argued that approving the TPP would improve relations with Asian nations.

Weekday Evening Cable Programs Mostly Silent On Trade Negotiations

Cable Networks Largely Overlook Trade Negotiations. During the same six-month period, the three largest cable networks -- CNN, MSNBC, Fox News -- covered the ongoing negotiations 33 times during their evening programming. The overwhelming majority of these mentions (32) originated on MSNBC and aired during The Ed Show.


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) from August 1, 2013 through January 31, 2014. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: pacific partnership or trans-pacific or tpp or trans-pacific partnership or transpacific partnership.

The following programs were included in the data: PBS Newshour, World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Situation Room, Crossfire, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox Report with Shepard Smith, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Kelly File, The Ed Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

Media Matters included all segments that mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or "TPP") by name, regardless of the substance or tone of the commentary. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5 p.m.-11 p.m. window. (Courtesy,

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One Comment

  1. Jim Armstrong February 19, 2014

    The Major writes:

    “…the large majority of grapes in inland Mendocino County are white, mostly chardonnay.”

    Perhaps “inland” makes a difference, but red grapes comprise about 60% of the total county-wide.

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