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Off the Record (July 30, 2014)

THE SAD SAGA of the Berry family, though extreme, seems to be the tip of a much larger problem, specifically the suspiciously large number of women being arrested for domestic assault. The numbers seem to rival male woman beaters, and the numbers indicate that too many County cops seem happy to haul women off for no reason at all. I talked to a woman who was arrested a good hour after she and her boy friend had argued. By the time two County officers arrived in response to her 911 call, placed by the woman in a panic after the boy friend had grabbed her, ripping her clothing, the argument was over, the boy friend fast asleep, the woman getting ready for bed. The scene was calm. The cops should have turned around and left. Obviously. But the boy friend, roused from a deep sleep, said the woman had pushed him, and off she went in handcuffs. And was treated with an entirely unnecessary harshness for the next four hours. Very few of the domestic violence cases get past the DA's office because they are so clearly bogus. It seems past time for police leadership in the County to take a look at arrest policies.

MICHAEL ITZELL BROWN-SEALS has filed a racial discrimination claim against the County of Mendocino worth $110 million. Brown-Seals is black. He says staff at the County Jail tolerate white inmates shouting racist abuse at him.

REALISTICALLY, it's difficult-to-impossible for staff to do anything about race-based verbal abuse, especially in a county jail milieu. At the higher levels of incarceration inmates confine themselves pretty much to their own tribes and are very polite to everyone regardless of race, religion or creed because shouting out ethnic insults can get you killed. Brown-Seals must not be a tough guy. Random racial abuse is non-existent when the object of it is a black or brown guy prone to direct action.

STILL AND ALL, white inmates who race-bait other inmates in the hearing of staff ought to be sanctioned. Jail is bad enough without taking a lot verbal abuse from idiots.

THE UKIAH CITY COUNCIL has been discussing “transients” and “homelessness” without mentioning alcoholism and drug addiction and the City's role as enabler of both.

THE MOST RECENT DISCUSSION was pegged to the town's recent clean-up of areas near the Russian River, an effort which has gone for naught as the cleaned-up venues have again been trashed by “transients” and the “homeless.” The Ukiah clean-ups have become a kind of open-air maid service for drunks and drug people, the two often interchangeable.

IF YOU FEED troubled people but don't house them and treat them, they will do what they now do in Ukiah — destroy the sensitive habitat around the river while the Ukiah Police Department constantly arrests them for misdemeanor offenses and the superior court blithely rotates them in and out of the Mendocino County Jail and back to the River.

FORT BRAGG has the same problems with a core group of street people that Ukiah has. Willits has less of a problem because Willits doesn't have the equivalent of Ukiah's enabling Plowshares, a free lunch program duplicated on a smaller scale by the Catholic and Methodist churches. The Methodists also provide some overnight shelter for the homeless, i.e., drunks who aren't drunk that particular night, tweekers who aren't at the moment under the influence of tweek.

IN LIEU of a state and federal reinstatement of California's state hospital program, which, thanks to Republicans, we will never again enjoy as the necessary social safety net it once was, the civic destruction caused by roaming mental cases permanently disabled by drink, drugs and untreated mental illness will only grow as our society continues to unravel.

MENDOCINO COUNTY needs to rouse our cynical superior court judges and an apparently unseeing board of supervisors to actually do something to finally address the problem. (Supervisor McCowen spends much of his free time cleaning up after the outdoor population; he has the most hands-on experience of any of the supervisors and would be the logical person to walk point on the issue. Of all our County officials, McCowen seems alone in being genuinely disturbed by the hopelessness he has directly experienced.)

WHAT IS NEEDED is a latter-day County Farm where, for instance, Scotty and Kelisha, the reigning couple of inland street people, would be judicially compelled to live for a year at a time. Ditto for poor old Hensley and the rest of the County's drop-fall drunks now permitted to commit slo-mo suicide on Ukiah’s and Fort Bragg's streets.

AND HERE'S the rub — compulsion. The phony compassionates, many of them professionally compassionate, immediately start screaming about civil rights. One more time with emphasis: Persons unable or unwilling to care for themselves have forfeited their civil rights, hopefully only until they can get themselves sober. For now, they need to be sequestered and looked after because they can't do it themselves.

IS IT POSSIBLE for a broke, rural county like Mendocino to institute an effective strategy for humanely coping with a relatively small population of habituals? After all, it’s been done to varying degrees in fiscally strapped rural counties. It won't happen here unless it becomes a priority of the leadership and the courts.

PROVOCATIONS EVERYWHERE, even Geyserville, on whose southern edge is some muy cool sculpture except for a recent construction that spells out 'TRUTH.' That's it. Just big block metal letters. In a country that runs on bullshit, if truth were to magically become national policy the whole show would simply collapse.

RECOMMENDED READING, sort of: “The Deserters — A Hidden History of World War Two” by Charles Glass. “The cold hard facts are that 1,825,000 men were rejected for military service because of psychiatric disorders, that almost another 600,000 had been discharged from the Army alone for neuropsychiatric reasons or their equivalent and that fully 500,000 attempted to evade the draft.” (Dr. Edward Strecker, adviser to the Secretary of War, 1943.)

THE AUTHOR uses the first-hand combat experiences of three deserters, two Americans and a Brit, to tell the story that a heckuva lotta soldiers simply, or not so simply, took off from combat, often out of simple combat fatigue so severe they just walked off. These guys walked away but, while they were away from their assigned units, after a period of rest, they fought with other units, including, the case of one of the Americans, the French Resistance. Thousands of World War Two soldiers were pushed past human capacity. Because replacements and r&r tended to be long in coming or non-existent, soldiers simply couldn't go on without some relief, which was often not forthcoming. The author emphasizes that the Army was overwhelmingly composed of draftees, civilians who, without much in the way of training, had to take on the more experienced and better-trained German army.

THE THREE MEN whose stories Glass tells didn't exactly run away. They came and went and wound up being tried for desertion. One of them was criminally oriented, hiding out in post-War Paris where a whole network of awol Americans ran lucrative criminal enterprises.

THIS BOOK is replete with information and anecdotes that puts a whole new face on America's role in the liberation of Western Europe. As I read it, it often occurred to me that the Army at that time, draftees or not, was generally drawn from a tougher population of young men, many of them unaccustomed to the soft life. Then, as America became richer and life physically easier, as it is now with millions of sedentary young lying around sipping giant Slurpies and fingering their electronic gizmos, a national draft would be impossible. Vietnam, into whose disastrous maw draftees were drawn, saw wholesale troop rebellions even by a few Marine Corps units. Our empire now depends entirely on highly motivated volunteers, among them lots of non-citizens, and elite fighters like the Navy Seals. Citizen fighters just won't do imperialism's front line work.

REGARDING last week's botched execution of that Arizona guy the State of Arizona tortured to death, I've got some ideas to make the death penalty more effective, or at least more consistent with its stated purpose, which is to stop other people from murdering. The death penalty, as we all know, doesn't work as intended, although it seems to satisfy some people's desire for abstract revenge.

I DON'T “believe” the government should have the right to kill anybody, but from the description of Arizona Man's crime I can certainly understand why lots of people would want him dead. (He was abusing his girlfriend; his girlfriend's father stood up for her as a father should do, and Arizona Man shot both of them to death, propelling the love of his life into eternity with a final “Bitch!”)

IF ARIZONA had carried out the execution of Arizona Man in Arizona State's football stadium at high noon (or maybe half time of the big game) the public could attend and the state might more plausibly defend the death penalty as in the public interest. As a deterrent. But if the state just hauls some guy out in the middle of the night (middle of the afternoon in this case) and puts him down like a stray dog, the process occurs in the name of The People but The People aren't in on it.

OF COURSE ARIZONA is a state almost as synonymous with vicious political stupidity as Texas, but at least Texas can bring off an efficient execution. Arizona couldn't even manage that last week. It took Arizona Man two hours to die. Call me naive, but I think most Americans still oppose torture, the Bush and Obama administrations notwithstanding.

I'D TAKE the death penalty one step farther. By law, an immediate family member of the victim would have to carry out the death sentence. If the victim's family consists entirely of the aged and infirm, they could designate someone to do it for them. (I'd suggest a real tough guy like Hannity or Limbaugh.) And I'd require that the execution be done in public — prime time live on national television, mandatory viewing for all Americans over the age of 12. The family member would have to do it with a handgun or a knife. Or maybe by stoning. Why not go all the way medieval? Hell, it works for the Taliban.

MEN, and the few women who kill, should simply be locked away, but even they should have opportunities to redeem themselves. Since most murderers do their dirty work when they are young or fairly young, by the time all the lawyers and judges are through pretending the justice system is just, the killers, at execution time, are seldom the same people they were when they did it.

I USED TO THINK that only about ten percent of any prison population was hopelessly, irremediably dangerous until a good friend of mine, who did twenty years for second degree murder, told me that most convicts would put the hopeless percentage at around twenty percent, and that's from prisoners themselves. That twenty percent should be locked away forever. Prison staff and inmates know who should spend forever in the Big Time Out Room, but...

ONE OF JERRY BROWN'S forgotten crimes is his abolition of indeterminate sentences. Mr. Talk Left, Act Right naturally justified his move as “fair and just.” The result of Jer's humanity is that now the true psycho can spend his sentenced years in an iso cell (also a form of torture) without doing a single thing in prison to retool himself into a human being. He does his twenty years and emerges a madder mad dog than he was when he went in.

SURE, indeterminate sentences were tough, but the idea was a good one — people who'd done bad things had to improve themselves in lock-up, had to get with the program, as they say. Who better to judge them than the people who worked with them every day? The old way, the pre-Jerry Brown way, was a more effective way of both protecting the public from the truly dangerous dudes while helping the rest with education and trade skills.

MOST of the County's newspapers are now owned a hedge fund called Alden Global. All of the County's papers, into the 1960s, were owned by identifiable individuals, none of them at all what might be called "progressive," but at least in a limited way you always knew who to complain to. Or about.

WITH HEDGE FUND vampires now owning the Advocate/Beacon, The Willits News, The Lake County Record-Bee, and the Ukiah Daily Journal, it was only a matter of time before the papers would be stripped of their remaining assets. The process had already begun locally under the Denver-based conglomerate that owned our "community" beacons and journals and advocates. Denver laid off staff and grabbed every possible penny, and now the hedge fund bandits are selling the buildings housing the papers. Except for the building housing The Willits News, owned by former supervisor Tom "The Jolly Reaper" Lucier, who also owns the town's mortuary where he enjoys first dibs on North County corpses, a bunch of local newspaper buildings are for sale.

THE UDJ PREMISES are going for $485,000, the Fort Bragg Advocate for $275,000, and Lake County's Record-Bee can be yours for $575,000. You can see these structures on something called LoopNet — a website for commercial real estate sales. The block-long wreck housing the Eureka Times-Standard, as reported earlier, has been for sale for some time. It's listed at $2 million, and harkens back to the golden age of newspapers when papers were America's primary source of information with the whole show, from reporters to the presses housed under one roof.

A NEWSPAPER COMRADE asks and answers his own inquiry: "One question that comes up: Who will ‘own’ the archives if/when all these newspapers shut down? Libraries I hope, will get microfilm archives, but I wouldn’t rely on corporate owners allowing time to pack things up properly."

LEAD SENTENCE OF THE WEEK: "There are no American politicians whose views on politics merit serious consideration for any reason other than the power they wield. With only minor exceptions (from long ago), it has been this way since the founders’ generation passed." (Andrew Levine)

DEPARTMENT OF UNREALITY: Listening to enemy radio — NPR — one afternoon last week, the “analysis” of Brooks and Dionne comes on. They agree that the Israeli-Palestinian “clash” is the fault of both sides, with Palestinians more at fault. B&D assure the NPR audience of securely middleclass people averse to bad news and even the hint of hopelessness, that the Obama administration “is doing everything it can to stop the fighting," an untrue statement. The two oracles moved on to a discussion of a proposal by the lunatic Republican, Paul Ryan, to end poverty. Paul's plan? Federal block grants to the individual states, including the food stamp program. Republicans have been agitating for block grants for years as an effective way to starve federal programs to death. Brooks says, “No one really knows what causes poverty. It's very complicated.” That's funny. I've always thought poverty was uncomplicated, that the poor were poor because they didn't have any money. Brooks seemed to suggest that poverty was the fault of the poor themselves, a version of original sin, a mystery, that education, fair opportunity, secure food and housing was apportioned equally at birth but somehow the poor screw things up for themselves. Listening to these two oblivious characters I had to wonder how many people, even among an insensate NPR audience, understood how far from reality almost everything NPR presents is?

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