Off the Record (Feb. 13, 2019)

TAI ABREU hasn't seen Mendocino County since 2002 when he was found guilty of the murder of Donald Perez after a one day trial and a stunningly incompetent defense. Abreu was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He had just turned 19 when the Mendo legal system buried him alive. He's been in prison for 17 years. 

ABREU was in court Wednesday, shuffling in shackled with the catch of the day, although status as a convicted felon was distinguished by his bright red jumpsuit. In his prison-issued glasses, the pale, dark-haired petitioner resembled Leon Trotsky, circa 1920. Abreu is seeking a downward adjustment of his murder and robbery conviction to a conviction for only the robbery under fairly new legislation, SB 1437, which limits murder convictions to the person who did the murder, not the persons who were simply present with the killer when the murder occurred. Abreu wants his murder conviction vacated on the simple grounds that he didn't do it, and there's no evidence that he did do it, or had foreknowledge that a murder was about to be committed.

I'D NEVER SEEN the guy in person before today's whatever it was. Call the confused 9am event a hearing, I suppose, because everyone involved — DA Eyster, Judge Moorman and a stand-in lawyer from the Public Defender's office appearing for Abreu's assigned Public Defender, Jessica Hoagland, did seem to hear each other, reaching a consensus opinion that they'd all come back in two weeks when they had a clearer idea of the motion Abreu had filed, on his own, to have his case revisited.

OUT IN THE HALL, the DA and I amiably exchanged views on the case. (From here on the discussion is likely to be less amiable, but we’ll see.) The DA is clearly intent on resisting Abreu's appeal. I told the DA that there's no case to deny seeing that Abreu not only has the law on his side, SB 1437, there's no evidence he participated in a murder. DA Eyster conceded he wasn't in the county when it all happened, but he was confident he would be successful, going on to say that he thought SB 1437 was "unconstitutional."

CONSTITUTIONALITY? Groan. Here we go. Endless, Talmudic-like back and forths about what the founding aristos meant by their pre-industrial document, what words meant then and what they mean now. Meanwhile, in the real world just down the road in Contra Costa County, a fellow named Adnan Kahn, invoking 1437, has been released from prison on an original murder charge almost identical to Abreu's: Khan was convicted for helping plan a 2003 Antioch marijuana robbery during which an accomplice stabbed the victim to death. Khan successfully argued he did not know his accomplice harbored murderous intent.

ABREU did not get a fair trial in 2002. He didn't get a trial at all by any meaningful definition of the term. He got lynched, with his alleged attorney handing the mob the rope. His two accomplices — one of whom probably stabbed Perez to death — in what started out as a robbery scheme, pled out and received life sentences with the possibility of parole. One has already been released, the other will be. There's no evidence Abreu committed any part of the violent assault on the unfortunate Mr. Perez who, ironically, was a far more unsavory character than his assailants prior to his meeting with them.

SIMPLE JUSTICE, and now the law, demands that Abreu's murder conviction be vacated, his robbery conviction sustained, and he be released after serving 17 years for what is ordinarily a misdemeanor-level robbery.

THE KAFKA SHUFFLE: Board Of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, and February 5, 2019, Public Expression

Patrick Hickey, Mendo SEIU representative: “We are here this morning to share our concern about what we see as the growing use and abuse of paid administrative leaves by the County. Under the current practice, county employees are put on paid administrative leave in many cases for months on end with no explanation or time limit. Employees are required to stay at home during normal work hours subject to discipline if they are not there when the county calls while the County investigates some unnamed issue. This is a perversion of the role and purpose of paid administrative leave. They should be rare and used in those uncommon situations in which an agency believes that an employee’s continued presence in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or others, may result in the loss or damage of County property, or otherwise jeopardize legitimate County interests. Otherwise, the employee should be able to carry out their duties while any investigation is being conducted.”

A REAL LIVE VICTIM of admin leave spoke: “My name is Henry Fram. “I have been on paid administrative leave for almost seven months now. Every time I have called to ask why or if I can come back to work yet, all I get is, Still investigating, we will let you know. They just want me to stay at home, I guess. I really want to get back to work. I know my department is hurting. The bosses are running like crazy and they are very eager to get me back.”

SEIU’S HICKEY: “This is not a paid vacation but a form of psychological torture, something out of Franz Kafka. Imagine having to wait for months to even know what the county is investigating or potentially accusing you of. Employees who are placed on administrative leave regularly report anxiety, stress and sleeplessness. This also has a detrimental effect on an employee's reputation at work. Coworkers assume he must have done something really bad to justify having your phone and key card confiscated and being escorted out of the building. Staff is then directed to have no contact with that individual. This is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars. Numerous county employees are sitting at home collecting paychecks on paid admin leave. The board is expected to be wise stewards of our hard earned money, not fritter it away as you slow walk investigations on employees who could easily be at work doing their jobs. Surely there is productive work that these employees could be doing while the county conducts any interviews or investigations that need to be done. Mr. Fram has been paid for six months to sit at home doing nothing. His department continues to work short-staffed. If, after the excessive paid leave, the county decides to impose some sort of discipline the employee is at a distinct disadvantage, long after whatever incident is being reviewed to try to remember what happened. If I asked you what you did on a particular day last August, how much do you think you would remember? So we call on the Board to direct Human Resources to treat employees better, to cease their excessive use of paid administrative leave, to notify employees what they are being put on administrative leave for, and to give an expected return date from leave. Under no circumstances should employees be out for months on end.”

RESPONSE from the Supervisors was suitably Kafka-esque: “Thank you Mr. Hickey. We will move on. Any more public expression?”

Fram & Hickey

I KEEP thinking of the bewildered schlub who appeared last week to ask the supervisors why he's been placed on paid leave for what, six months now? For his impertinence the guy got the patented Mendo Stare Back in lieu of an answer. Paid leave, as applied in Mendo, is a form of house arrest, with some spiritual Stalinist calling the man's home at random intervals during work hours to make sure he hasn't snuck off to do what? What he's paid to do? Is this expensive, humiliating, shameful practice of suspending county employees with pay common anywhere else? 

THERE MIGHT BE other places where you can get well-written accounts of life in obscure places, but give me the London Review of Books every time. The current issue has a Diary piece on North Korea by Richard Lloyd Parry that gives the reader a real feel for what the neo-Hermit Kingdom is like right now. Little Rocket Man has loosened things up considerably, not that the place is loose in anything approaching the libertine West. There's also a long article by the great reporter, Seymour Hersh called "Bush the First," a chilling account of ol' Poppy's imperial plotting that couldn't appear anywhere in the U.S. (Except the AVA, I can't help adding.) I remember an evisceration of Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens that was turned down by American media, the most timid media there are. The British Guardian newspaper is also very good on current events, much better than appears here in Liberty Land.

WHERE ELSE BUT LRB could you read a joke current in North Korea: "An ant fell in love with an elephant. She told the elephant, 'I want to enjoy love with you.' The elephant said: 'No. You are so small I can hardly see you.' But the ant followed the elephant everywhere. In the end the elephant said: 'OK.' So they got married and enjoyed their wedding night. The next night they came together again, but the ant said: 'No! I cannot share love with you anymore.' 'But why?' asked the elephant. The ant said: 'I'm pregnant.'"

AS PARRY points out, the dirty jokes he was told "were not of the highest caliber but, in a land little known for comedy, they were remarkable in themselves.”

HOSPITAL BLUES, A READER WRITES:

Personal experience as MCDH Patient - Mendocino TV

After almost four years of videoing, reporting and editorializing on Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) Board of Directors meetings as a community service, I have developed concerns regarding hospital. Recently, I had a personal medical crisis that was impacted by these concerns, which you can read about in the following link. 

To watch the video Mendocino TV recorded at the January 31 BOD meeting, where I talked about my circumstances and requested that the new MCDH Board also request that personnel, including doctors, stop spreading the false narrative that a handful of unnamed people are spreading unnamed rumors, which is really the only problem MCDH has in their opinions. Be sure to also watch Dr. Bella follow my concerns with the same false narrative that I have just objected to!! 

The good news is that I'm feeling hopeful about this newly elected Board of Directors. They have daunting tasks in front of them and will need all of us to pull together to save our hospital.

HAD TO LAUGH when I read that Congressmen Huffman and Thompson, Dull and Duller, have been persuaded by rookie Congresslady, Ocasio-Cortez, to support basic environmental survival sense. The whole lib-lab apparatus seems to be lurching left, hence the utter panic of the plump capons of Fox News and the rest of the oligarchical stoogery that America is going commie. (Jeez, next thing you know Democracy Now will be mandatory listening!) It's too boring to keep pointing out that through the 1950s the big fortunes were taxed more than 90 percent, and free enterprise never worked better. 

BTW, HUFFMAN'S carefully choreographed "town halls" — one’s coming up in Ukiah — feature screened questions and a hall packed with middle of the road Democrats of the active party type, hence the pre-meeting sign-ups with seating dibs going to party parrots. You'll never catch our people's tribunes walking around Ukiah WalMart pressing the flesh.

THE VIRGINIA BLACKFACE AFFAIR, and not to go all moralistic on you, is shocking even by today's daily jolts to one's intake receptors. The child is father to the man, we've always heard, but these adult guys, unlike most children, never got out of emotional grammar school. Doing stupid things as a young person is one thing, but young persons born in the fifties and sixties, even in the South, ought to have known better. And what's ever been funny about blackface anyway? The first movie I ever saw was called, I think, "Bill and Coo," featuring talking parakeets. The mostly adult audience laughed like it was the most hilarious thing they'd ever seen. Looking back, I think it was my first inkling that I did not share the prevalent reality.

HAPPENED ON a sports talk show with Dave Zirin. Never felt older. I had no idea who they were talking about in any sport except the biggest names, names like Lebron, Steph, Brady.

THIS HEADLINE from the Chron: “ 'Combat shopping': Mayhem at Seattle stores as shoppers clear shelves pre-snow storm." There was a wonderful accompanying photo of empty shelves, long lines of shoppers, heaping carts, not enough checkout clerks, barely controlled hysteria I'm sure, and among all of it one serene-looking man holding his single purchase, a bouquet. The panic was inspired by weather forecasts predicting a snowbound city. Meanwhile, in Thursday afternoon Marin, concrete began falling from the top deck of the Richmond Bridge, some of it large enough to kill eastbound drivers. The television news showed one guy, probably in his forties, stomping his foot and yelling at a CalTrans worker at the bridge closure, as if the temporary closure was aimed solely at him. I want to be in Boonville when a truly large catastrophe occurs.

SO FAR, SO GOOD. Off their first two meetings our new supervisors, Haschak and Williams, have done well, Haschak even boldly arguing against the plump contract for the new assistant DA and finding himself on the short end of a 4-1 approval. Haschak simply pointed out the obvious — the county's line workers are so poorly paid there are about 290 unfilled job openings out of almost 1400 funded positions, and many county workers, cops for instance, as soon as they're trained and have a little experience leave Mendo for better pay. Williams just as boldly and just as futilely tried to get specific answers to the county's bumbled pot program. Meanwhile, the supervisors give themselves and top management hefty raises based on what? Poor performance? If that's the standard I think they deserved another raise. But nothing new about poor leadership when we're talking the County of Mendocino. 

AS ANOTHER of our many public services, Boonville's beloved weekly will try to explain the Brexit you've heard so much about as it relates to England, the home of the Beatles and Masterpiece Theater and other entertainments, a cozy, quaint little country where people drive on the wrong side of the road. The English have voted to leave the European Union. (Like here, a lot of people don't vote.) The English who voted to leave are a lot like Trumpers here, suspicious of furriners, unhappy with what they see as too much immigration, especially of darker people, and disgusted with their government, which they view as not only doing nothing for them but actively conspiring against them. In fact, the Brits have a range of social programs Americans can only dream of, but historically speaking the English don't care much for the peoples east of them. (Americans tend not to like the people next door to them, but we're a special case.) Anyway, the problem with Brexit is what is shaping up as the sudden, unplanned abrogation of zillions of trade relationships and the general neo-isolation of England even from much of Ireland. Apparently, English people are stockpiling goods in anticipation of who knows what when the curtain comes down about three weeks into March.

AT SOME POINT, the County of Mendo will erect a new structure, or re-model an existing one, to house mental patients. County voters have voted to fund it via Measure B and something like seven million has already been accumulated to do it. Like the Sheriff, whose campaign for Measure B almost singlehandedly got Measure B passed, we're partial to a rehab of the old Willits hospital which, a re-do, as we recall, the Sheriff has said will cost about $14 mil. 

HERE'S WHERE we probably depart from prevailing opinion. In a county (and a country) whose architecture took an abrupt rearward turn after World War Two, and hasn't erected an attractive or even interesting building since 1910 with the graceful buildings and grounds of the old state hospital at Talmage, the old Willits hospital at least has a kind of ramshackle charm. Any new building planned by Mendo.... and no insult intended.... by architectural savages!... is one more eyesore for Ukiah, another assault on what's left of our sensibilities, more visual oppression for all of us! Dare we hope.... dare we ask.... dare we demand.... nothing grand, not the goddam Tuileries.... just something pleasing, something to lift the spirits of both the unconfined mentally ill, and the certified insane? Might the design of this thing at least consider, he begged as if for his very life, and choking back a sob, beauty?

A WILLITS READER WRITES:

“The collective noun for a group of anti-vaccinators is ‘a murder of Karens’” – hah! This clever post by a “Dusty Giebel” was re-posted on Twitter by one of my favorite GOP never-Trumpers, Rick Wilson.

You may have seen the protest photo around, it’s a good one. 

Did these women even think twice about the risk of injury or even death by highway accident the last time they loaded their precious children into the SUV to take them to school or on vacation? No, I expect they didn’t. It would be much too inconvenient for their own daily lives to stop accepting THAT risk! 

We’ve got more “inches” of snow over here in Willits this morning – I hear there’s a little snow sticking even in Fort Bragg! 

Rick Wilson writes like lava, I love it. Maybe most suitable for small bursts on Twitter? But his book “Everything Trump Touches Dies” was great, and his longer columns, too. He’s been getting op/eds in a variety of print outlets, but most regularly writes for the Daily Beast. 

SOME AUSTRALIAN TEENS are rebelling against their anti-vaccine parents by secretly getting immunizations against potentially fatal infections, according to the Courier Mail. Youth in Queensland who are age 15 and older can use a state law to get medical care without their parents’ consent or knowledge. This includes getting vaccinations. Physicians have referred to these teenagers as “Generation V,” the newspaper notes. The immunization rate in the region is a mere 88.93%, dramatically lower than Australian health officials’ desired national rate of 95%. Reports of these teens defying their parents’ anti-vaccine beliefs come amid a measles outbreak in Portland, Oregon, attributed to low immunization rates. Some anti-vaxxer parents believe that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is linked to autism, a claim that has been widely debunked. Attention Northcoast Youth: Don’t let your parents kill you. Get vaccinated. 

ON LINE COMMENTS OF THE WEEK

 [1] Or, if we insist on having corporate personhood, institute the corporate death penalty for misbehavior. That means revocation of the articles of incorporation, disbandment of the organization, sale of the assets, repayment of debt with the proceeds, any left-over going into government coffers as opposed to shareholder pockets.

On the environmental front, what we have is the substitution of talk for action. There is no way in hell that the bi-coastal glitterati have got any intention of inconveniencing themselves or those of their class with ANY measures that would reduce their carbon foot-print. Ain’t gonna happen. As in never ever.

We’ll get a lot of posturing, a lot of talk of green this and green that, maybe some taxes on gasoline, but the multi-thousand pound, mammoth SUVs that could give a WW2 armored vehicle a run for its money will stay on the roads, the gasoline tax offset by cuts in income taxes on the wealthy, because as we all know, the rich need to pay less tax. And heaven forfend that private jets be mothballed. Those are a dire necessity, Hollywood types otherwise expiring, dying of jetlessness.

[2] Universities are now profit centers and diploma mills resulting in a credential society, where lack of a degree – worthless as it almost always is – is used solely as means to whittle down employment pools. I am continually pissed off as my current employer hires new people in my career field and starts them at levels commensurate with the meaningless outside credentials they carry on their resume, rather than actual relevant work experience, which is the only thing that matters in my line of work. Then the staff (including me), gets the pleasure of carrying these losers for a year or three while they come up to speed, all while the new hire makes more money than the experienced staff who’s carrying them. A recent hire included on her resume that she’s currently pursuing a PhD in Business Administration of all things (a classic “basket weaving” degree, the only use for which is to become a University Professor). Fortunately I won’t be working with her, as I doubt seriously I would be able to contain my contempt. Business these days is a dog eat dog charnel house and the only way to break even and maintain your self-respect is to be the most ruthless and duplicitous motherfucker on the block. Don’t remember them covering THAT in any of my MBA seminars, although we students certainly shared horror stories amongst ourselves.

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