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Off the Record (Jan. 9, 2019)

THE TAI ABREU CASE: Nothing more than paper shuffling today in Judge Cindee Mayfield's Courtroom B at the County Courthouse in Ukiah. A petition has been filed by Abreu for a sentence modification from life without the possibility of parole to a conviction on only the robbery of the murdered man, Donald Perez of Santa Ana. (Abreu did not participate or witness or anticipate Perez's murder, if Perez was indeed murdered. The coroner could not determine a cause of death.) The smart and capable Jessica Hoagland of the revived Public Defender's Office has been appointed to represent Abreu and to arrange for paperwork to be prepared for his transfer from the state prison at Susanville for an appearance now set for February 7th, at 9am in Courtroom B. In the meantime, Ms. Hoagland, as we understand it, will file a formal legal brief on Abreu's behalf. DA Eyster himself is representing The People. Abreu is one of only a few California inmates serving life sentences to qualify for re-sentencing under the recent changes to the California Felony Murder Rule, a rule that said if you were present and even peripherally involved with a crime resulting in murder you are as guilty of the murder as the person or persons who did it. (Extensive background on the case can be found at the AVA’s website:

JIM GIBBONS WRITES: "I was watching Jeopardy last week, as I do most days I'm home at 4 pm to compare my waning brain to others, when a guy named Greg came on, and during Alex Trebek's brief intro, Greg said he once climbed 180 feet into a Redwood Tree to interview a woman who was living up there to protest and keep them from cutting it down. I remember reading about her during the Earth First! era, but can't remember her name.  I figure you'll remember...Who was that? And did she really live up there for a couple years?"

JULIA BUTTERFLY was up in the tree for, as I recall, more than a year, as rotating platoons of neo-druids assembled at its base chatting with the area's botany. Ms. Fly  managed to parlay her adventure into a lucrative career on the dingbat circuit pedaling new age nostrums to the credulous. She's very attractive, which didn't hurt her media appeal, especially when movie stars began climbing up to visit her for photo ops and, it's rumored, treetop boffs, thus solidifying their thin green credentials. Pacific Lumber, aka Charles Hurwitz, a junk bond swindler who'd stripped PL of much of its value, finally paid Miss Hill to return to earth. That deal was an agreement to fund a scholarship in, of all things, forestry, at Humboldt State. The preservation of Headwaters Forest was a massive gift of state and federal funds to Hurwitz arranged by Dianne Feinstein, whose husband, Richard Blum, occasionally did high finance deals with Hurwitz. Earth First!, in the form of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, signed off on the deal, and Hurwitz walked off with three-quarters of a billion public dollars for eight thousand acres of trees.

RECOMMENDED READING: "The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia" by Masha Gessen. Lots of interesting but often dense Russian history leavened by the author's accounts of her and her family's personal experiences from Lenin to Putin. Not for everyone, and not even of burning interest to me, although the book held my interest throughout thanks to Gessen's vivid accounts of what life was really like for even relatively privileged Russians like her family, most of them canny intellectuals who managed to survive the serial tyrannies that comprise modern Russian history.

MY SISTER handed me this book with the warning, "You won't be able to put it down." And the book jacket blurbs from famous writers like Edward Hoagland and Douglas Brinkley said the same thing. Yes, indeed, truth in advertising for once.  I couldn't put it down — "Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier" by Tom Kizzia. As a long time resident of the Northcoast, this riveting account of a vile Jesus fake calling himself Papa Pilgrim resonated with me, as it probably will many of you, as a familiar type of lunatic hippie, megalomaniacal division. Kizzia, a journalist based in Alaska, had the misfortune to be an outback neighbor of the predatory Papa and his sprawling brood of socially isolated children who their oppressive father, claiming a direct link with God and to be raising his family according to his criminal interpretations of the Bible, converted this family into a gang of thieves and parasites, roiling whole communities wherever they landed. Like Mendocino County before it gentrified, but remaining nut-friendly in the deep outback, and of course much larger, Alaska has attracted mostly harmless screwballs of the isolation-seeking type for many years. But this guy's in a class by himself, hence an entire, often startling book about him, his captive family and their adventures, and even a connection, a real one, to the JFK Assassination.

STALINIST RUSSIA did have a few attractive features, among them summary execution of economic criminals, by which standards top management and all shareholders of our pharmaceutical industry would be put up against a wall and shot. This year's prices for all drugs, including the life-saving ones, are estimated to rise an average of 6.3%. Even their pal in the White House asked them to cool it, but they've ignored him. 

"MURDER MOUNTAIN," the excellent documentary now appearing on NetFlix, is excellent for many reasons, particularly its stunning visuals of stunningly beautiful Humboldt County, and excellent as an honest account of the casual violence innate in the dope business, violence and dope having long been synonymous with back country life in the Emerald Triangle. Southern Humboldt is only slightly less fraught than northeast Mendocino County; if you moved Alderpoint a few miles south, it would be in Mendocino County, and leaving it where it is in all its festering glory beside the Eel, the vibe and experience of the place is much like the wildest neighborhoods of Mendocino County. I was so totally absorbed from the first few minutes of Murder Mountain, I binge-watched all six hours of it Friday afternoon.

THIS RIVETING documentary tells us that there are 230 Humboldt-based disappearances going back to 1975, and a bunch of unsolved murders. One of the disappearances discussed at the beginning of the film is that of Asha Kreimer, who was last seen near Point Arena in Mendocino County when she dashed from the restaurant where she was having breakfast with her Albion boyfriend. Asha has never been found. The police surmised she hurled herself off the bluffs west of where she was last seen, but the police will also say some bodies are claimed forever by the ocean.

POIGNANT THROUGHOUT, the film shows Asha's mother looking for her disappeared daughter in Garberville where, it was rumored, Asha may be hidden away, with or against her will, in one of the hundreds of cannabis operations dotting southern Humboldt County. (Asha's mother is an Australian who works as a nurse. She saves up money for repeat trips to the Emerald Triangle to continue the search for her daughter, now missing for three and a half years.) 


MURDER MOUNTAIN refers to the Alderpoint area, a place many of us know well, just as the film features a number of persons we know, pioneers of the Back to the Land Movement like Ed Denson, Robert "Woods" Sutherland, the redoubtable Doug Fir, who remembers that he bought 40 acres near Garberville for $11,000 in the late 1960s. A few thousand urban refugees got comparable deals in the more remote areas of the Northcoast, many of those deals brokered by an enterprising fellow named Bob McKee, who warrants a film all to himself. If a single person can be said to have made the Back to the Land Movement possible, it was McKee. He sold thousands of acres of ranch and logged-over timber land to the back to the landers for small or no down payments. McKee made it easy for the influx of, well, idealists who were simultaneously estranged from mainstream American ways of living; they thought they could live more sensible lives off the land, a notion many were soon disabused of when they actually tried to do it. But many did eke out a living from their hard scrabble acres by growing marijuana, and here we are as those old homesteads, well into their second and third generation owners, are being pushed out of the pot business by hugely capitalized corporations.

SUBSEQUENT to the pioneering hippies, much less desirable immigrants appeared in Southern Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake, and Trinity counties, settling in places like Alderpoint to grow the money crop in the nearby hills. This last influx brought with it lots of straight-up criminals, many of them wed to the outlaw life and contemptuous of the peace and love values of their neighbors. Self-appointed "community" arbiters of right and wrong, basing their ethics on "consensus," were easy pickings for predators.

THE DISTRUST, nay hatred, of the police and the contempt for conventional values arrived with the first wave hippies, many of whom had been beaten and tear gassed in Bay Area demonstrations against the War On Vietnam. The Bay Area police behaved, to put it gently, unprofessionally, beating hell out of peaceful protesters. But there was always an arrogant edge to the counterculture that put many of its most righteous soldiers in direct conflict with their neighbors, and especially the police who were automatically insulted and shunned. And, as the police — local, state and federal — raided hippie dope patches, the mutual contempt festered. And criminal predators, including child molesters and killers, not to mention every day scumbags with whom scumbaggery was and is a way of life, were tolerated by the counterculture rather than them going to "The Man" and demanding that The Man suppress bad people.

A LARGE IRONY of Murder Mountain, and much of the on-line comment about the film, are the complaints from contemporary marijuana outlaws that the police haven't done enough to get rid of the predators in outback communities. Anderson Valley's naive hippies made it possible for some world class psychopaths to do their thing, and out on the Coast in places like Albion, a nest of cho-mo's thrived because, as one ancient flower child explained it to me, "Our community takes care of itself."

I WAS PLEASED to see the filmmakers chose the talented Ryan Burns, a reporter for Hank Sims’ popular Lost Coast Outpost website, to provide neutral context for the sociology of this odd, highly balkanized place.

MURDER MOUNTAIN serves nicely as a filmic history of the marijuana industry where it began, right here on the Northcoast, to what it has become, also on the Northcoast, where it now costs at least a hundred thou to get all the permits required to grow legally. The film is also a harrowing tale of an unresolved murder that seems only a couple of subpoenas away from resolution, but both sides — the vigilantes who basically solved the case only to be ignored by the police and subsequently murdered themselves still roils Southern HumCo. Murder Mountain is the goods. Don't miss it.


[The clearest statement of the overall situation we’ve seen.]

Trump is neither undermining institutions, nor is he “authoritarian”, nor is he fascistic, nor is he in the pocket of Putin, nor has he colluded with Russians in winning the election. All this is nonsense that covers in dishonor those cretins making such accusations. 

Trump’s problems are much more mundane; is Trump competent in the areas his office requires? No, not to my eyes. This means he’s like the vast majority of us, he hasn’t got the intellectual capacity, nor the executive experience, nor the legislative, nor the communications skills. 

This all means he hasn’t got the ability to effectively twist arms in private and public like LBJ, nor the ability to make hideously tough decisions like Truman, nor the combination of character and intellect and experience to take on a world gone mad like Roosevelt did in his time. 

IMO Trump falls short in all these critical areas. There’s no objective yard-stick you can use, just your own eyes and ears to take the measure of the man and make the call. 

Having said all this, he did openly talk about issues that the others refused to acknowledge and act on – for decades. This is to the others’ discredit. But has Trump thought things through? 

But Trump’s most dire need is in having “bench strength” i.e. a body of competent, cabinet-level executives that he can call on, that are on board with his broad agenda, as well as support in the embedded and non-elected institutions we call the “Deep State”. This is the source of the ludicrous Mueller investigation, the preposterous Comey cover-up of Clinton malfeasance, the tooth-and-nail Pentagon opposition to withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Middle-East where day-in and day-out American presence solves nothing and wastes lives and money. 

And it’ll be a while before we see extraction of the monumentally incompetent foreign affairs establishment from positions of influence. And it will similarly take some time before Wall Street’s slithery, vampire squid-like grip on organizations like the Treasury is loosened, similarly the Fed and other agencies where regulatory “capture” makes a farce of the very notion of regulation. 

It’s like Herb Stein said, if something can’t go on forever it won’t. But you’ve also no doubt heard the saying that the market can stay irrational a lot longer than you can stay solvent. This goes too for irrationality in the bodies entrusted with governing for the commonweal. They’ve got a built-in momentum. You can point to the human tendency to group-think, institutional inertia because of size or complexity or collective laziness, the effect of money, the inherent hierarchical top-down nature of these bodies. You can theorize all you want, it isn’t going to help. If they don’t change direction, Herb’s Law will apply and they WILL go over a cliff. 

The issue is one of time. For example, Europeans and Asians had been impoverished and abused for centuries. And Marx offered a conceptual alternative. He did his writing in the mid-1800s but it wasn’t for generations that adherents to his ideas took power. And then it turned into a bloody mess i.e. in Russia, China, Cambodia etc. I would urge those looking to maintain the status quo to look to history, to take into account the interests of people currently disparaged. 

They might also look to people like the NSDAP and the paramilitary organizations allied to them. All these had a long incubation in the collective misery of ordinary people. That’s not to say that communism and fascism will re-surge. But if you don’t listen to the mass of common people, if you abuse them and call them deplorable, there will be hell to pay. Events will go pin-balling in directions nobody could foresee. This is what history teaches us. But we know they won’t listen.


  1. jgatewood January 11, 2019

    Trump is undermining our democratic institutions. I cannot understand how anyone
    listening to his egotistical and stupid babble could defend the presidency of this guy.
    Obviously he is involved in collusion with Russia. How can a investigative procedure
    by the special counsel be demonized by people unless they just don’t want it to be

  2. Pat Kittle January 12, 2019

    Whatever collusion Russia has with Trump is dwarfed by the collusion Israel has with Trump — along with the rest of our sleazy politicians on both sides of the “aisle.”

    The Terrorist Theocracy of Israel is my country’s (the US’s) only real enemy.

    Curiously, the overwhelming evidence that ISRAEL DID 9-11 doesn’t seem to bother you:

    — [ ]

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