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Off the Record

ALEXANDER COCKBURN will appear in Fort Bragg at a “Parents for Peace” gathering and fundraiser this Saturday, April 24, at 7pm, 32820 Gibney Lane, Fort Bragg. Suggested donation $20. RSVP requested: 707-961-9603. By a very, very long way, Cockburn is the best political writer in the language, and probably the best writer in the language — period. I'm not aware of anyone better, and I keep up with these things. He talks as good as he writes, and if you don't make the effort to see him Saturday night you'll be missing an opportunity to meet the champ.

THE COUNTY’S Risk Management department is out of money, a risk the department apparently didn't anticipate although they're in the anticipation business. The County had been averaging $600k per year in settlement payoffs, the unstated policy being we'd rather pay your alleged damages than fight you in court. If the risk managers were doling out their money in claims you'd see them in court every day. The “Risk Managers” only budgeted $300k for 2010, and that's gone. Last week the Board of Supervisors agreed to add $125k to the County’s handy-dandy “General Liability Reserve Account.” The County has claims insurance, but the policy has a $150k deductible which means most claims come straight out of the General Fund. The $125k transfer appeared only on the Supervisor's consent calendar. Nobody asked why the allocated $300k disappeared so fast.

TRUE STORY of how the County handles claims. The late Judi Bari was leading a demonstration one day at Albion, circa 1990. Her daughter Lisa, 8 or 9 at the time, was with her. The Sheriff, Tony Craver, was there with a fairly large contingent of deputies to keep the Bari-ites away from the loggers; the loggers were trying to work, the Bari-ites were, you could say, magically independent of the ordinary economic imperatives. The Sheriff had hauled a portable booking trailer to the site in anticipation of the usual catch-and-release mass arrests. He'd also scratched a literal line in the logging road, announcing that anybody who stepped over the line would be arrested. Bari of course stepped over the line and, as her child howled that she was losing her mommy — probably as she'd been coached to do — Bari was gently led to the booking trailer and a released a few minutes later. Bari immediately filed a claim against the County alleging false arrest and trauma to her child. The County handed her an uncontested five grand and Bari laughed about how easy it had all been for months afterwards. Of course she hadn't been falsely arrested and her daughter had not been traumatized. If Bari had been worried about demo trauma to her kid her kid wouldn't have been hauled out into the woods to hassle honest working people in the first place. The County has always concealed its claims payouts, but you can be sure that a lot of that money is scammed simply because the jive 9-5 lawyers in the County Counsel's office prefer giving it away than fighting to protect the interests of us saps, er, taxpayers.

“THE NEW FORT BRAGG,” authored by our very own Freda Moon, is featured in the April edition of Sunset magazine. Old or new, Fort Bragg is the only destination in the County for the more discerning tourist. It is also, by far, the most coherent, attractive seaside town between San Diego and Astoria, Oregon, offering a splendid seaside trail soon to be even more splendid when the section from Noyo Harbor connects to the old Haul Road, plus an abundance of fine little restaurants, three excellent book stores, and some nice places to stay without taking out a mortgage to fund the weekend. Mendocino? Only if you like that kind of thing. Fort Bragg, though, has it all, and has it in proportion, too. Covelo is the County's second most attractive venue, and headquarters for America's least-visited wilderness area where you'll find miles and miles of nicely maintained hiking trails leading you through spectacular wild country, plus this country's most exciting rural venue for a post-trudge beer, The Buckhorn Bar. Covelo itself is a pretty little place of modest, attractive old homes, some spectacular ancient black walnut trees and nice new library. But the area suffers from an over-large population of full-time criminals who, for years now, have set the tone for the place, including Covelo's perennially troubled schools. Purists resist Supervisor Pinches' ongoing campaign to pave Highway 162 all the way into the Sacramento Valley at Willows, but if the presently remote Round Valley were more accessible to the population centers served by I-5, well, there's no place in Mendocino County more likely to benefit from new blood than Covelo.

I'D BEEN VISITING Greg at the Bike Hut down on the Embarcadero near the ball park. The Bike Hut rents and repairs bikes. Before my handmade job got ripped off on Haight Street, I would take it to Greg for tune-ups. Greg is one of these rare guys who tells interesting stories while he works, occasionally interrupting his work when the story requires emphasis in a few arm and hand gestures. The Bike Hut also trains “troubled youth” in the practical skill of bicycle repair. A kid, any kid, would benefit from hanging around with Greg, a smart guy with a sane world view, a rare adult in other words. Greg liked my homemade bike so much he remembers it, and when I told him it had been stolen because I'd assumed it had no value to anyone but myself, he told me he was going to make me another one. Which he is in the process of doing. The other day when I stopped by the Bike Hut, as always Greg was at work on a repair job. He's overly generous, charging about a third what most bike shops charge for labor. And his bike rents are lower than any place in town at $15 to $20 a day. Greg said, “Listen to this! The lady from Iowa or somewhere just called for me to come and get her bike because she said she's too tired to ride it back here!” Iowa is Greg's shorthand for customers of the out-of-it type, rubes. “She tells me she's going to leave the bike on the bridge.” I ask her, “Which bridge? And where on which bridge, and please don't do that because it will be stolen. For all I know she could be on a bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden or on an overpass bridge, but it turns out she's underneath the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point. I sent a kid out to get it, but what a pain some of these tourists can be. Most people are fine, but once in a while you get someone from Iowa and…”

APPROACHING the rear of the Ferry Building, I could hear the first notes of Rhapsody In Blue played by someone on a clarinet that were so clear, so perfect so mesmerizing I almost stopped walking towards them out of fear they'd stop. But there he was, the artist, a courtly old black man and his horn, and on he played, the most memorable rendition of that music I've heard. I wasn't the only passerby aware that we were listening to something special, and when the old guy wrapped it up a dozen or so of us rushed up to press folding money on him.

FIRST FIVE MENDOCINO gets a million bucks a year to..... to spend a million bucks a year on “Vision: All Mendocino County children will be born healthy, thrive in a supportive, healthy, nurturing and loving environment, enter school eager to learn, and become capable, contributing members of our community.”

TRANSLATION: To pay us, The Nice People, to drive around the County squandering the cigarette tax money on ourselves and our friends.

IF THE ANNUAL million was simply handed to the 1,200 County families who draw food stamps, each family unit would get an annual gift of $830, greatly improving their morale and enhancing, that tiny bit, the prospect of their children. Or the million could be divided among pediatricians to provide that much annual care for children who otherwise never see a doctor.

STEALTH POLITICAL MEETINGS: The Mendocino Green Party met at the Boonville Fire House last Sunday. The Greens invited the interested public to hear their Congressional candidate, Carol Wolman, talk about this, that and the other thing. Prob with the meeting? Nobody knew about it. It wasn't advertised, probably because The One True Green, Richard Johnson, prefers talking to himself. One has to wonder how serious these people are.

THE AV Elementary School really needs to re-work its “School vision and mission statement.” I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the word “vision” used un-ironically I become slightly nauseous and instantly skeptical. “Students and staff at AVES are respectful, responsible problem solvers who are motivated to learn and are able to communicate their needs.” You don't say? “The staff and parents’ goals are to improve the academic performance, social skills and resilience of all our students.” I'd settle for improved academic performance, and let mom and pop handle, for better or worse, the social skills. If teachers can instill in the little savages the ability to read and do a few primitive calculations the teachers will have done their jobs and the little savages will grow into big, resilient savages. Like the rest of us.

THE SCHOOL BOND COMMITTEE has roared into action with a personalized flier to all us locals urging a YES vote on Measure A. The money, to the tune of $15.5 mil, will be used to do a basic upgrade of the school plants, now a half-century old and beginning to seriously crumble. Part of the money will be spent on solar panels to radically reduce a monthly power bill that runs about 6 thou a month.

THE TEA PARTY-ERS seem to be mostly plump, belligerent white males between the ages of 50 and 70 who, I’m sure refuse to cash their social security checks every month and desperately want to free Gram and Gramps from the oppressions of Medicare. They think big government’s swell when it’s conducting crazy wars and would be even swell-er if Sarah Palin were running it. The only thing they're right about is no bailout money for financial swindlers, but even that stance comes long after the swindle was given free rein by their pals, the Bush Gang.

THE REAL PROB with the Tea Party-ers is, of course, our black president solely because of his race and a generalized dislike for smarty-pants libs who have always sneered at the Tea Party types as dummies and rednecks. Right-wing demagogues have cashed in big time on the smug arrogance of liberals (cf. Mendolib). At another less judgmental level the Tea Party people share the same unease we all feel that multiple, rolling catastrophes are not only going unaddressed, the Obama government is making them worse. That basic perception that Obama and Democrats are making things worse is, it seems to me, irrefutably correct. The Tea Party Boys, though, are correct for all the wrong reasons, deriving most of the their information about the world from Fox News. At election time they can be depended on to vote for idiots and nuts. On the other hand, as the libs would say, the libs think things can be fine-tuned into workability if everyone will just be nicer to everyone else. It's all going to get a lot worse, count on it.

LEAVE IT TO Mendocino County to propel an odd crime deep into the grotesque. Aaron Vargas 32, shot Darrell McNeill, 63, at McNeill's Fort Bragg trailer in the presence of Mrs. McNeill. The fatal shooting occurred early in February of 2009. Judge Ron Brown has turned down prosecutor Beth Norman’s request that the Vargas defense return the evidence they’d received during the discovery phase of the legal proceedings against Vargas. That evidence includes the antique gun that Vargas wielded to shoot his alleged molester, Mr. McNeill. It also includes autopsy photos. This stuff has either been sold or turned over to NBC for the titillation of the mass viewing audience, and Vargas's sister, Mindy Galliani, will appear soon on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Vargas will be back in court in the middle of June for sentencing. His family wants probation but he could get as much as ten years, although a stiff sentence is unlikely. Vargas alleges that McNeill had molested him as a child and had threatened to harm Vargas’ child. The antique gun fired into McNeill’s chest did not immediately kill McNeill. As McNeill lay dying for the half hour or so after taking a round in the chest, Vargas refused Mrs. McNeill permission to call the police. Mrs. McNeill immediately affiliated with Vargas although she has since said she thinks Vargas should do some prison time. Vargas pled no contest to voluntarily manslaughter on April 6th.

SURELY NONE of you will be so silly as to vote Yes on propositions 16 and 17? PG&E will spend about $35 mil on Prop 16, money that PG&E will recover from you and me brothers and sisters because we have no alternative to the alleged public utility, a monopoly public utility that pays its executives way too much money and spends millions every year lobbying our pliable lawmakers to keep rates higher than they ought to be. PG&E is terrified that counties and municipalities will form their own power companies to lower rates, hence PG&E’s Prop 16. The mammoth power company is specifically trying to stop Marin County and San Francisco from going independent. NO on 16.

PROP 17 is even more of a howler. It’s being funded by Mercury Insurance Company, a very large and very crooked insurer recently found in violation of more than 50 California insurance laws and is presently looking at millions in fines for bilking its customers. If voters are as dumb as the insurance companies seem to think they are, Prop 17, if it becomes law, would permit insurance companies to raise their own rates via an array of phony balony “surcharges.” NO on 17

MR. SUNKETT, PLEASE NOTE: “Perhaps the major source of false convictions is an identification of the accused by the victim of a crime of violence. juries seem disposed more readily to credit the veracity and reliability of the victims of an outrage than any amount of contrary evidence by or on behalf of the accused, whether by way of alibi, character witnesses, or other testimony. These cases illustrate the fact that the emotional balance of the victim or eyewitnesses is so disturbed by his extraordinary experience that his powers of perception become distorted and his identification is frequently most untrustworthy. Into the identification enter other motives, not necessarily stimulated originally by the accused personally — the desire to requite a crime, to exact vengeance upon the person believed to be guilty, to find a scapegoat, to support, consciously or unconsciously, an identification made by another. Thus doubts are resolved against the accused. How valueless are these identifications by the victim of a crime is indicated by the fact that in eight of these cases the wrongfully accused person and the really guilty criminal bore not the slightest resemblance to each other, whereas in twelve other cases, the resemblance, while fair, was not at all close. In only two cases can the resemblance be called striking. — Edwin M. Borchard, Convicting the Innocent

One Comment

  1. Mindy April 21, 2010

    In regards to the Aaron Vargas case, the media has not paid for any interviews or for the usage of any photos or videos. The autopsy photos were never handed over to the media, only photos of the gun. It has not yet been determined if Aaron shot McNeill or if the gun went off accidentally during a struggle.

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