- Six Candidates
- Johnny Winter
- Yokayo Biofuels
- Jared Goldeneye
- New Reservoir
- Water Fines
- Drought Emergency
- Shelter Report
- Catch of the Day
- Growing Hazards
- Collision Report
- Reggae Fight
- Unwanted Reporting
- Government Spending
- Uncle Totalitarian
SIX PEOPLE, including incumbent Phil Baldwin, have taken out papers to run for the Ukiah City Council. Kevin Doble, Mark Hilliker, John Johns, Miranda Mott and Maureen Mulheren. Former Mendo probation chief, Jim Brown, is also telling people he may become a candidate.
THE EXPIRED TERMS of Baldwin, Mary Anne Landis and Benj Thomas expire at the end of the year. Landis and Thomas do not intend to run again. The open seats will go to the three candidates with the most votes.
CANDIDATES have until Aug. 8 to file with the county Elections Office. According to the county, no one had officially filed as of Wednesday.
KEVIN DOBLE has been on the Ukiah planning commission for several years and has a reputation for doing his homework and taking a practical and logic-based approach to decision making. Doble seems to be the consensus choice with supporters from across the political spectrum.
JIM BROWN is the retired Chief Probation Officer for Mendocino County. He has never been known to take a position on any public issue, but would likely be a strong supporter of public safety.
MAUREEN ‘MO’ MULHEREN seems to be driven more by ambition than a clear vision of what she hopes to accomplish. She will have the solid support of the business-oriented Employer's Council types. She may also be seeking family redemption by avenging her father's history of electoral defeats. James “The Ever Pleasant Jim” Mulheren ran and lost at least twice for City Council and once for County Supervisor. Although he lived in a rather palatial house with a swimming pool and a six car garage just outside the city limits, Mulheren claimed he really lived on Waugh Lane in a tiny cluttered office above his cabinet shop. He did admit that his wife lived in a nice house where he sometimes visited.
MARK HILLIKER had been a firefighter for some 30 years with the City of Ukiah. Now retired, Hilliker draws a nice pension while double dipping as the County's “safety officer.” He has been a leader among Ukiah firefighters unhappy that the public safety sales tax measure can be used for police department personnel and operations, but only for fire department's equipment — not fire department personnel and operations. The fire guys lobbied for parity but the present City Council shut them out.
MIRANDA MOTT recently participated in the Climate Ride fundraiser, pedaling her bike for five days and 250 miles from San Francisco to Sacramento, so she at least ought to be physically fit. She was joined by Ukiah couple Will Van Sant and Hannah Bird who were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary. Funds raised by their team were donated to the Solar Living Institute where Bird is employed.
PHIL ‘RED PHIL’ BALDWIN, is the only incumbent running. A jolly retired school teacher, Phil, a liberal, is widely viewed as a Bolshevik by the primitive sectors of Ukiah public opinion. He is well known to the public after 16 years in office. Phil is famously opposed to leaf blowers, medi-vac helicopters landing at the hospital, motorboats on Lake Mendocino, and developments like Costco that pay gushers of sales tax to the City of Ukiah. Phil seems to see the City of Ukiah as an Edenic preserve of the righteous, seemingly unaware that the County seat, like its squalid sister city 20 miles to the north, long ago went over to irreversible decay that has converted it to just one more identical American town destroyed by “progress.” The guy deserves high marks for looking out at State Street and seeing the Champs-Élysées. Other people see him simply as delusional.
JOHN JOHNS is an organic vegetable farmer who sells his produce at the local farmer's markets. Johns lives near the east end of Clara Avenue and may be the only candidate who does not live on Ukiah's precious west side.
FAMED BLUES guitarist, Johnny Winter, died in Switzerland on Wednesday. Winter once appeared in Navarro where Dave Evans of the Navarro Store has put Anderson Valley's wide spot in the road on the big time rock and roll map. The store features a striking wood sculpture resembling Winter in its parking lot. We understand that Winter's appearance cost Evans a cool twenty thou, in cash, handed directly to Winter before he emerged from his motor home to perform. A huge crowd turned up for the improbable event under the redwoods.
YOKAYO BIOFUELS of Ukiah is closing. For more than a decade, Yokayo has transformed cooking oil from local restaurants into biodiesel which it sold at its South Ukiah outlet and to other biodiesel businesses. The two-man company failed to qualify for federal matching grants and was unable to continue.
Rep. Jared Huffman Invites You To A Harvest Celebration
Please join Congressman Jared Huffman in Mendocino County for an intimate reception at the beautiful Goldeneye Winery.
9200 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466
Sunday, August 17th 4:30-6:30pm
Fine Goldeneye wines
Tickets $25.00 per person
RSVP here to secure your spot.
Please contact Kelin Backman with questions at:
This email was sent by: Huffman for Congress. P.O. Box 151563 | San Rafael | CA | 94915
ED NOTE: I bet if you bring $500 in fifties Jared would give you a great big hug.
FORT BRAGG'S NEW WATER PROJECT
A Reader reminded us that Fort Bragg has a new water project in the works to supplement their fragile water supply, suggesting we check out the permit application on the State Water Board’s website. It’s not there. But there's a description of the project on the Fort Bragg City website, which is probably what Supervisor Dan Gjerde was referring to recently when he described a project which would divert winter flows from a tributary of the Noyo into a reservoir for Fort Bragg’s late summer usage. Why it’s not on the Water Board’s list of pending permits/projects, we don’t know.
* * *
PROJECT TITLE: Grading Permit (GP) 2013-08; SUMMERS LANE RESERVOIR
APPLICATIONS: CALFIRE Timberland Conversion and Timber Harvest Plan;
SWRCB Petition for Change
NCRWQCB NPDES Permit
Air Quality Grading Permit and Burn Permit
LEAD AGENCY: City of Fort Bragg
416 North Franklin Street
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
CONTACT: Teresa R Spade, AICP Assistant Planner
Community Development Department (707) 961-2827
LOCATION: On a City of Fort Bragg owned and incorporated 35.8 acre parcel located approximately 2.5 miles inland at the north end of Summers Lane, at 19701 Summers Lane (APN 019-070-13).
OWNER/APPLICANT: City of Fort Bragg/ Summers Lane Reservoir Project
PROJECT LOCATION/DESCRIPTION: The proposed project site is located within the Noyo River Basin in western Mendocino County, 2.5 miles east of the main portion of the Fort Bragg City limits at the northeast terminus of Summers Lane as illustrated in Figure 1. The proposed reservoir site is located above Newman Gulch, approximately 200 linear feet above the existing Newman Reservoir on a 35.8- acre parcel owned by the City of Fort Bragg and within City jurisdiction (the property is separated from the main portion of the City however it is an annexed part of the City). The parcel address is 19701 Summers Lane, the Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN) is 019-070-13 and the site is located outside of the coastal zone. An associated water pipeline, proposed for replacement, is located within the Summers Lane (private portion) right of way (APN 019-690- RW and 019-070-RW) and within the Brush Creek Road (a private road1) right of way on parcels 019-700-25 and 019-700-24). The City has a licensed water right to divert water from Waterfall Gulch2, a tributary to Hare Creek, and that water is piped to the City’s Newman Reservoir property and on to the treatment plant. The point of diversion will remain the same, as will the amount of water drawn from Waterfall Gulch. The City has filed a Petition for Change with the State Water Resources Control Board to request that water right License 12171 be changed to allow for water from Waterfall Gulch to be stored in the proposed Summers Lane Reservoir. The reservoir will be constructed down the pipeline, between Waterfall Gulch (point of diversion) and the point at which the pipeline currently ties in to Newman Gulch (current point of re-diversion) and heads to the water treatment plant. Storage of Waterfall Gulch water in a reservoir (proposed new point of re-diversion) will allow the City to use the stored water in the late summer months when demands are high and supply is limited. Water supply analyses indicate that although the City has a sufficient water right to serve the projected build out of the City of Fort Bragg as currently zoned within the existing City Limits through 2040, it does not have sufficient water storage or a right that allows for storage to provide service in severe drought conditions. A new storage facility will help meet water requirements in extended drought conditions and it will help in the overall management of water quality during typical rainfall summer months. In extreme drought conditions, such as conditions in 1977, the new storage facility would allow the City to effectively serve existing development.
THE STATE Water Resources Control Board has approved unprecedented emergency regulations that allow local law enforcement and water agencies to impose a maximum $500-a-day fine on water wasters.
THE REGS take effect August 1st. State regulators will also be able to fine urban water agencies $10,000 a day if they fail to implement water conservation plans, such as limiting the number of days people can water outdoor landscaping. The state board will require water agencies to track and report water use based on gallons per person per day beginning in October.
THE PROPOSED restrictions target only outdoor watering — versus indoor showering and toilet flushing — since most Californians use more water outdoors than indoors and it's easier to enforce and detect.
THE HUMBOLDT COUNTY Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously to declare a drought state of emergency.
JAN MARNELL of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services said 49 other local government entities in the state have issued their own declarations.
THE US DROUGHT MONITOR says much of Humboldt County is in an exceptional drought.
SEVEN TRIBAL water systems and three municipal water systems in HumCo are described as vulnerable, a designation meaning that they are likely to run out of water in the next 61 to 120 days, according to Marnell.
“The tribes are vulnerable, very vulnerable,” Marnell said. “We're talking about really low levels, levels they normally see at the end of August. A lot of that is being contributed by the illegal diversions from illegal marijuana grows.”
STATE WATER RESOURCES has also issued a water diversion curtailment to some junior water holders, including the city of Rio Dell and the Alderpoint County Water District. Marnell said the Scotia Community Services District has had its water rights curtailed, but that it is currently arguing it holds senior rights.
A RESPONSE TO THE RECENT GRAND JURY REPORT about Mendocino Animal Care Services:
Having been a volunteer at the Mendocino County Animal Care Services Shelter in Ukiah for the past 8 years, I feel an obligation to correct several misstatements and add a few points, in regards to the Mendocino County Grand Jury's report on, and a Ukiah Daily Journal opinion piece about, the shelter.
While I appreciate the time, energy and concern the grand jury afforded the ongoing operation of the shelter, and recognize that most institutions, etc, can always be improved, I feel several facts from the report were unfair, untrue, and inflammatory.
The report states that the shelter is overcrowded, and this comment is, unfortunately, correct. The shelter was designed and built with 46 double-sided dog kennels in 2003; a better time, perhaps, in our county's care and concern of pets. According to the report, "The Shelter attempts to house 100 to 150 dogs and 70 to 80 cats per day. The grand jury observed there is insufficient housing for this number of animals. Overflow animals are housed in various animal crates."
At times when the shelter is crowded, several kennels are doubled up; but with only 46 kennels, dogs would need to be tripled up in every kennel to allow for 150 guests, which is simply not the case. (As I write this, Sunday, July 6, there were 55 dogs at the shelter.) There are various stand-alone crates in several staff rooms, used to house small and timid dogs who need special attention and care.
The report continues: "Overcrowding is so severe that the facility cannot do its core job (finding homes or disposing of animals) with respect to animals placed in its care." This statement is particularly vexing, because in reality, whatever the faults at the shelter, the adoption rate is pretty astounding -- with the average being 40-45 dogs a month; that number has gotten as high as 65. (This figure does not include dogs transferred to rescues, foster care homes, or found by their owners and returned home. If that number of adoptions doesn't impress, try thinking of it as two to three adoptions a day.
While I cannot speak for all the staff and volunteers at the shelter, I believe most of them would disagree with the report's finding that the overcrowding has a "very serious effect on staff morale and is severely detrimental to the well-being of the animals." Instead, the overcrowding usually has the effect of making an already admirable, hard-working, dedicated staff work harder; calls are made to rescues and foster homes, advertising in print and social media is increased.
The Daily Journal's opinion piece stated throwing money at a problem is not a solution, and though I can agree at times with that statement, in the case of the shelter, I think increased funding would be the start of a solution. Yes, the shelter is run down, has a rat "problem," and apparently has a headache-inducing computer software issue with Animal Control. But these are not new problems or a result of current management as much as administrative short-sightedness. And though I cannot speak to the assertions that Animal Care and Animal Control have an acrimonious relationship, I can say that in eight years I have not witnessed people being turned away when attempting to surrender a dog, as the grand jury reports.
As I mentioned, the shelter contains 46 kennels, a small number when seen in light of the county and city's growth. Current financial strain has forced countless individuals to surrender their pets. And for every dog adopted, you can bet two or three enter the shelter system. It's a continuous, daunting, tough environment to be in, and that makes the staff and volunteer's dedication more impressive. For those of us who have watched the shelter change from a place where animals were sold for medical experiments, then held and euthanized in several days, to the current setup, going back in time would be heartbreaking. While not perfect, the current shelter is a place that attracts people from near and far because of the variety of the dogs and the concern and assistance of the staff. (Again, as I write this, yesterday three adoptions were made to folks from Walnut Creek, Oakland, and Oregon.)
So, what is the answer? Right now there's a good amount of finger-pointing but not much in the way of solutions. Can the shelter improve? Of course: in the past half a year, the rat problem has been addressed; much-needed and often-requested updates and weatherization to the kennel areas have been installed, which will keep the dogs warmer during the winter. (Volunteers dream of air conditioners or fans for the outside kennel areas.)
We wish people would recognize their obligations towards their animal friends, neuter their pets, and make sure they are safe. But unfortunately, man's best friend is treated as so much disposable entertainment. Until people become responsible, pet overpopulation resulting in over-burdened shelters will continue to be an issue and problem. Our shelter is just one of thousands across the country, but with all it's shortcomings, we do a pretty amazing job.
I've watched the shelter go through several organizational changes over the past eight years, and as such, I don't believe a transfer to another county department is the answer. The concept may sound good on paper, but I would like to know the consequences and repercussions of such an action.
In the meantime, volunteers are always needed at the shelter, and folks are invited to attend a one-hour orientation every first Wednesday of the month. If you are unable to observe the shelter first hand, please keep in mind that every day, dedicated staff and faithful volunteers are trying their best to aid and comfort our pets. Please spay or neuter yours, get your dog microchipped and make sure the information is up to date. Keep your pets safe, but if for some reason your dog or cat is lost, visit or contact the shelter immediately.
Kathy Shearn, Ukiah
CATCH OF THE DAY, July 17, 2014
MARK BRANDT, Willits. Felony Probation revoked.
FRANCISCO CORONA, Ukiah. Under the influence of a controlled substance, driving unlicensed upon highway.
RONALD DUKE, Redwood Valley. Violations of court order (two counts).
JAMES GALLUP, Fort Bragg. Parole violation.
KURT IVERSEN, Point Arena. Violation of court order.
KINDALL KICE, Ukiah. Harbors/helps a felon, possession of meth for sale.
KENNETH MCCARTY, Covelo. DUI (drugs only).
DANIEL MCPHERSON, Laytonville. Under the influence of a controlled substance, providing false ID to a police officer, parole violation.
JOSE MEJIA, Ukiah. Felony possession of methamphetamine for sale, felony ex-felon with a firearm (two counts), resisting an officer, violation of court order, and “offense code not in table.”
NAOMI NOTMAN, Ukiah. Second degree burglary, probation revoked.
BRISA RICHARDSON, Eureka. Under the influence of a controlled substance.
ERNEST SALO, Fort Bragg. Felony domestic violence, false imprisonment, damaging wireless equipment to prevent calling for help.
JOHN TANNING, Redwood Valley. Drunk in public, probation revoked.
RICHARD ANTJUAN EZELL, 25, of Laytonville has pleaded guilty to co-responsibility for the death of William Sapp, 32, of Oakland during a 2011 marijuana robbery.
Ezell and Christopher Donaldson Jr., 25, of Alameda committed the crime together in an Oakland apartment complex. Ezell, in exchange for a second degree murder plea and a 15-years-to-life sentence, testified against Donaldson, who has been found guilty of first degree murder and faces a minimum 26-years-to-life sentence at his August sentencing.
A third conspirator, Charles Kimbrough, 32, of Hercules, pleaded guilty earlier this year but refused to testify at Donaldson's trial in June. His case is now pending.
Sapp grew marijuana for several medical marijuana clubs and listed marijuana for sale on Craig's List. According to prosecutors, Donaldson set up a pot buy, with Ezell posing as the buyer and Kimbrough functioning as the muscle in a crude scheme to rob Sapp.
But Sapp was no patsy. He quickly subdued Kimbrough and began pistol whipping him at which point Ezell told prosecutors he shot Sapp when Sapp pointed a pistol at him.
Kimbrough was caught by police near the murder scene, bleeding from the head. Ezell and Donaldson were caught later in the day at a nearby motel.
Prosecutors at Donaldson's trial portrayed him as the mastermind of the Craig's List cannabis ripoff plot. Prior to the murder, Donaldson robbed a Berkeley man who advertised pot for sale on Craig's List, using a fake buyer and “muscle” to conduct the rip off. The jury also convicted Donaldson of the Berkeley robbery at his murder trial.
Ezell was still on probation from Mendocino County when he murdered Sapp. Ezell was convicted of drunk driving resulting in an injury and recklessly evading police following a February 2009 crash in Willits. In that incident, Ezell was driving a silver BMW at high speed south on Highway 101 at 1 a.m. before running the red light at Commercial Street. He careened down East Commercial Street before crashing into a tree in Recreation Grove Park. After a brief foot chase, Willits police officers arrested Ezell.
On 07-17-2014, at Approximately 2315 hours, CHP Dispatch advised of traffic collision involving a vehicle vs a pedestrian on S. State St. Upon CHP arrival this collision was determined to be on private property, located at 2221 S. State St. According to statements, the subject vehicle backed over the victim, a 1 year old girl, and left the scene. The subject vehicle returned to the scene a short time later. The driver stated he did not realize he had run over the child. The child was transported by Calstar to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. The driver was subsequently arrested for driving under the influence, causing injury, and was booked into the Mendocino County Jail. (News Release, CHP)
Witnesses told officers they saw a 1997 Ford Thunderbird driven by Luis Valdezbardo, 24, run over the girl at about 11:15 p.m. Thursday as he backed out of a stall at an apartment complex on South State Street, Adams said. The girl had been with family near a common grassy area of the apartment complex where people had gathered, the CHP said.
EXPLANATION OF THE NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT
THANKS FOR WRITING
With all due respect I believe that Steve Heilig ('The Sounds of Sierra Fest,” July 2,2014) is projecting his own politically correct beliefs into his presentation of reggae and Jamaican music vis a vis the SNWMF Boonville Music/Reggae Festival. First of all, the definition of “conscious” which he presents in his review entails something of not portraying anything that we the enlightened people of Northern California would consider sexist or anti-gay. Well that is a broadly ignorant statement for someone who has covered Jamaican music for so many years in Beat Magazine.
Perhaps with your medical background Steve, conscious would entail something to do with breathing and being awake? I don't know, I'm not the professional. In the Rastafarian/African/Christian/Jamaican world view portrayed through much of the Jamaican music and artists we are talking about, any “conscious” or positive statement to be made by someone would by definition be traditional, conservative, and yes many times anti-gay. As far as Jamaican dancehall goes, well it can be downright rude, slack and disrespectful entertainment that mostly working class people in Jamaica and worldwide thoroughly and energetically enjoy. So one portrayal of the antics of the controversial Shaggy performance at SNWMF on Saturday night is that from his background he was coming here and saying “Hey all you fagged out hippies should get off your ass, show some energy to some uptempo edgy entertainment, knock the dust off your libido, have a real adult party and put your damn kids to bed instead of getting high with them.”
The point is that other religions, cultures and classes view and present things in radically different ways than we do. I see joy and more of an intellectual challenge in the diversity and seeing how people see and present things in such radically different ways, even if it can somehow be perceived as offensive to me personally. I grew up in Chicago where the Nation of Islam was historically strong. From a young age, instead of being personally offended by their statements, I strove to understand what would make them say the things they did and what was the true nature of their grievances. Why being poor and black made someone look at the world so differently from someone who was middle class and 'white'. I didn't learn anything by projecting my middle class values and sensibilities onto people and ideas that I met that were coming from a different place than I.
The progressive/liberal western cultural agenda of promoting all things gay and feminist seems to be going a long way toward trying to homogenize all opinion, art and culture. To say that some art is not, could not or should not be anti gay is not only blatanly untrue, it is eerily Orwellian. So Steve if by your journalism you are intending to promote ideas and debate, as the soul of the AVA seems to me, then perhaps you should attempt to portray your subjects with less personal cultural bias or you just come off as the type of cultural baby boomer generation hack that are assailed on a weekly basis in the great AVA.
Nate Collins, Oakland
* * *
So a reader who wasn't even at the festival writes of taking “joy” in music celebrating misogyny, gay-bashing, and so forth? To be consistent, would he also celebrate “diversity” featuring white rednecks lynching people and beating women? Reggae music was originally “conscious” about uplifting a race, equal rights, and spiritual messages. But as the great reggae singer Alton Ellis once told me, “Brother Bob (Marley) is lucky to have passed on before all this shameful (dancehall) rubbish happen.” I want to assume that Mr. Collins' garbled missive is sent in jest; no dedicated reader of the AVA could be so clueless about reality, morality, and yes, reggae music, and so desperate to appear “multiculturally correct.” Right? But please thank him for writing anyway.
Steve Heilig, San Francisco
NBC NEWS PULLS VETERAN REPORTER FROM GAZA AFTER WITNESSING ISRAELI ATTACK ON CHILDREN
Ayman Mohyeldin, the NBC News correspondent who personally witnessed yesterday’s killing by Israel of four Palestinian boys on a Gazan beach and who has received widespread praise for his brave and innovative coverage of the conflict, has been told by NBC executives to leave Gaza immediately. According to an NBC source upset at his treatment, the executives claimed the decision was motivated by “security concerns” as Israel prepares a ground invasion, a claim repeated to me by an NBC executive. But late yesterday, NBC sent another correspondent, Richard Engel, along with an American producer who has never been to Gaza and speaks no Arabic, into Gaza to cover the ongoing Israeli assault (both Mohyeldin and Engel speak Arabic).
Mohyeldin is an Egyptian-American with extensive experience reporting on that region. He has covered dozens of major Middle East events in the last decade for CNN, NBC and Al Jazeera English, where his reporting on the 2008 Israeli assault on Gaza made him a star of the network. NBC aggressively pursued him to leave Al Jazeera, paying him far more than the standard salary for its on-air correspondents.
Yesterday, Mohyeldin witnessed and then reported on the brutal killing by Israeli gunboats of four young boys as they played soccer on a beach in Gaza City. He was instrumental, both in social media and on the air, in conveying to the world the visceral horror of the attack.
Mohyeldin recounted how, moments before their death, he was kicking a soccer ball with the four boys, who were between the ages of 9 and 11 and all from the same family. He posted numerous chilling details on his Twitter and Instagram accounts, including the victims’ names and ages, photographs he took of their anguished parents, and video of one of their mothers as she learned about the death of her young son. He interviewed one of the wounded boys at the hospital shortly before being operated on. He then appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, where he dramatically recounted what he saw.
FIND OUT WHAT YOU’RE BUYING
Where is the Roar of the People?
by Ralph Nader
The issue of government procurement is one that may not rouse the public into mass outrage such as much other pressing political and social problems — but continue reading and perhaps it will rouse you intellectually.
It is no secret that the US government is a very big spender. Much like its citizens, the government regularly buys products such as vehicles, appliances, furniture, fuel, clothing, cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals and much more. Government procurement is used to purchase telephone and Internet services, other utilities, health insurance services and more. Government-sponsored research and development has led to advancements in aviation, medicine, electronics, and even the development of the Internet. The U.S. federal government is one of the world’s biggest consumers. These hundreds of billions of dollars in purchases and investments are a driving force of the American economy — procurement creates jobs, promotes innovation and even has socially beneficial effects. It also is often associated with outsourcing waste and fraud and crony capitalism.
It took a federal procurement of automobiles with driver-side airbags in 1985 for the use of government employees to press the big auto manufacturers to finally acknowledge the life-saving protection of airbags. And we owe the civilian market for cheaper, generic drugs to purchases first pioneered by the US Army.
The other side of government spending, however, is the waste, fraud and abuse that occur without proper comprehensive oversight. A perfect example is the troubled F-35 joint strike fighter program which has lifetime cost estimates of over $1 trillion and is rife with technical problems. (The test F-35 fleet is currently grounded after one caught on fire on the runway last month.)
One example of comprehensive oversight that we have long fought for is free access to the full text of government contracts online. It only makes sense — shouldn’t taxpayers have the right to see how their dollars are being spent? Comprehensive oversight is only possible when information is available to the public eye. Such access would inevitably encourage fiscal responsibility and hinder corruption. The Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act, which was signed into law earlier this year by President Obama, will address some of the challenges in documenting government spending, although it does not mandate the full text of contracts online. Considering the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual federal government contracts, grants, leaseholds and licenses that are awarded to corporations each year, much work is left to be done in adequately informing the public of how their dollars are spent.
One promising development recently came from the U.S. Navy.
Last month, The Washington Post reported that the Navy, in a small news conference, publicly announced a ranking of the best contractors that they do business with. The top 30 contractors, broken into individual work units within their larger corporations, were separated into three tiers based on their performance. (Notably, only the top nine were shared with reporters at the briefing. See the full list here.)
To my knowledge, this is the first time that any federal agency has done such a public ranking. But it should not be the last, given the massive amount of taxpayer dollars for government purchases and outsourcing every year.
Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics said at the media briefing that the Navy’s method of ranking and categorizing its contractors would be expanding to the Army and Air Force, as well.
This pioneering method could serve as a modest template for other government departments and agencies. A publicly visible ranking system with publicly explicit standards promotes competition and keeps corporations accountable for the services they are paid to provide. And making the public keenly aware of the quality of the contractors the government chooses to hire is a critical first step in taxpayers seeing a better return for their spent dollars. It’s an issue that both the left and right can and should align on — who besides the corporatists, with their hand in the cookie jar, would oppose spending taxpayer dollars wisely?
Just this week I wrote a letter to the heads of many of the government’s top contracting departments and agencies inquiring into whether their agency would follow the Navy’s lead and consider doing their own ranking of contractors and the criteria used. Perhaps an inter-agency conference between departments would significantly increase accountability and efficiency in government spending. Where is the roar of the people?
(Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.)
DOES UNCLE SAM HAVE A GOD COMPLEX?
by Norman Solomon
As a matter of faith, some people believe that God can see and hear everything. But as a matter of fact, the U.S. government now has the kind of surveillance powers formerly attributed only to a supreme being.
Top “national security” officials in Washington now have the determination and tech prowess to keep tabs on billions of people. No one elected Uncle Sam to play God. But a dire shortage of democratic constraints has enabled the U.S. surveillance state to keep expanding with steely resolve.
By the time Edward Snowden used NSA documents to expose — beyond any doubt — a global surveillance dragnet, the situation had deteriorated so badly because the Bush and Obama administrations were able to dismiss earlier warnings to the public as little more than heresy.
Eight years ago, in the book “State of War,” New York Times reporter James Risen devoted a chapter to the huge expansion of surveillance. A secret decision by President Bush “has opened up America’s domestic telecommunications network to the NSA in unprecedented and deeply troubling new ways, and represents a radical shift in the accepted policies and practices of the modern U.S. intelligence community,” Risen wrote.
Risen added: “The NSA is now tapping into the heart of the nation’s telephone network through direct access to key telecommunications switches that carry many of America’s daily phone calls and e-mail messages.”
More details on the surveillance state came in 2008 with James Bamford’s book “The Shadow Factory,” which illuminated the National Security Agency's program for “eavesdropping on America.” And in August of 2012 — nearly 10 months before Snowden’s revelations began — filmmaker Laura Poitras released a mini-documentary on the New York Times website about the NSA’s mass surveillance program.
All three journalists relied on whistleblowers who balked at the NSA’s virtual mission to see and hear everything. Both books (especially “State of War”) depended on information from unnamed sources. The short documentary focused on a public whistleblower — former NSA executive William Binney, who continues to speak out.
Testifying to a committee of the German parliament in Berlin two weeks ago, Binney — whose 30 years at the NSA included work as a high-level intelligence official — said that the NSA has a “totalitarian mentality.”
Days later, speaking at a conference in London, Binney explained: “At least 80% of fiber-optic cables globally go via the US. This is no accident and allows the US. to view all communication coming in. At least 80 percent of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”
Since last summer, a backup source of strength for the voices of Binney, Thomas Drake, Kirk Wiebe and other NSA whistleblowers — the fact that Snowden has provided the public with NSA documents — is exactly what has enraged U.S. officials who want to maintain and escalate their surveillance power. Because of those unveiled documents, clarity about what the NSA is really doing has fueled opposition.
NSA surveillance proliferates in a context that goes well beyond spying. The same mentality that claims the right to cross all borders for surveillance — using the latest technologies to snoop on the most intimate communications and private actions of people across the globe — is also insisting on the prerogative to cross borders with the latest technologies to kill.
When a drone or cruise missile implements an assumed right to snuff out a life, without a semblance of due process, the presidential emulation of divine intervention is implicit.
But, in military terms, dominating the world is a prohibitively expensive goal. In the digital age, surveillance has emerged as a cost-effective way to extend the U.S. government's global reach and put its intelligence capacities on steroids — while tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in annual revenues go to corporate contractors servicing the NSA, CIA and other agencies of the military-industrial-surveillance complex.
So the trend line continues to move in the wrong direction. Speaking last month at a news conference that launched ExposeFacts.org (part of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work), Binney said that in recent years the NSA’s surveillance activity has “only gotten worse.” He added: “I mean it’s almost in everything that you do. If you do anything electronically, they’re in it and they’re watching you.”
The information being collected is so vast that NSA operatives face a huge challenge of figuring out how to sift through it on such a large scale — “because they have to manually look at this data,” Binney said. “But the point is, they’re setting the stage for this to continue to the point where everybody could be monitored almost constantly throughout the day. That is an oppressive, suppressive state.”
Since last summer, revelations about NSA programs have been so profuse and complex that it’s difficult to gain an overview, to see the surveillance state’s toxic forest for the digital trees. But the macro picture has to do with a mind-blowing agenda for monitoring the people of the world.
“For me, the most significant revelation is the ambition of the United States government and its four English-speaking allies to literally eliminate privacy worldwide, which is not hyperbole,” journalist Glenn Greenwald said at a news conference three months ago. “The goal of the United States government is to collect and store every single form of electronic communication that human beings have with one another and give themselves the capacity to monitor and analyze those communications.”
Such a goal, formerly reserved for the more fundamentalist versions of God, is now firmly entrenched at the top of the U.S. government — and at the top of corporate America. As Greenwald pointed out, “There almost is no division between the private sector and the NSA, or the private sector and the Pentagon, when it comes to the American ‘national security’ state. They really are essentially one.”
Now that’s the kind of monotheism the world can do without.
(Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, which recently launched ExposeFacts.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.)