Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hopes and Fears of a Vote for Hillary

Posted By on Wed, Oct 26, 2016 at 8:55 AM

I don't expect Clinton to be as cool as Obama, but her Veep is a big fan of the Replacements, and that's something - WIKIPEDIA
  • wikipedia
  • I don't expect Clinton to be as cool as Obama, but her Veep is a big fan of the Replacements, and that's something

As these things go, people generally have either a good faith or bad faith view of government and public life. You either think public officials are basically decent people trying their darnedest to enact good public policy on behalf of the people, or you think they're all a bunch of cynical crooks who manipulate a rigged system to selfish ends and cast votes based on the imperative of political self-survival. Foolish me, I tend to take the good-faith view of public officials, up to and including Hillary Clinton, which may not be the greatest trait for a journalist, but does help in the department of how to be a better human.

I'll be both proud and wary to cast my vote for Clinton in a couple of weeks (is it over yet)? Proud because she has earned it and because I have high hopes that she will deliver, that she will extend and improve on the best of the Obama years, bring peace and justice where such things are absent, both here and abroad. Yes, she can. Let’s hope she does.

But I’m wary because of the Iraq war vote Clinton cast in the Senate, and the bad jingoism, the Cheney-like parroting of the Saddam-Qaeda link that went along with the 2002 vote. So I’m taking a deliberate but reluctant journey around that moral road-block and voting for Clinton anyway, despite a vote that reeked of bad faith. She has owned up to the colossal error of that vote and while I remain skeptical about Clinton I'm not cynical about her. My hopes are tempered by fears that range along a line of seriousness and gravity:

1. I fear that Hillary will start WWIII or some hapless proxy version thereof, that she will accelerate chaos with overly robust responses to faraway disasters, and she will be subsequently drowned in the Sea of Man as it rises to the electoral challenge in 2020. I hope she will have learned the lesson of that indefensible Iraq War vote and earn the Nobel Peace Prize that was prematurely given to Obama, through a foreign policy that emphasizes peace through restraint—with strength on the horizon as needed, and humanitarian boots on the ground.

2. I fear that in her zeal to “jump-start the economy” that she will capitulate to the lords of capital while failing to “save the middle class” and destroy the best of Obamacare in the process of cutting bad deals with Republicans in the service of a false bipartisanship of surface civility. I hope she gets along with reasonable Republicans and that there is some sort of genuine public rapprochement among moderates, and whoever else wants to come along, that delivers results and not just fleeting moments of happy-pants posturing on TV. Along the way I hope she enacts the best of the Bernie platform along with a Clinton Fixit on Obamacare that improves it, and its standing, with The People.

3. I fear that given the ample history and current obsession with emails, that she and her administration will become embroiled in scandals of such a distracting nature that “wag the dog” will look like “swing the DINO” by the time she turns outer Raqqa into a sheet of glass, to use the Cruzian construct. So I’ll vote for Hillary but with a zero tolerance policy for Clintonian shenanigans, and especially after eight years of no-whack Barack leading the way with cool dignity. I don't expect Clinton to reach for Obama levels of coolness, but I do expect Tim Kaine to give her the Replacements' Pleased to Meet Me for Christmas, and for her to enjoy it.

And on that cheerful note, I hope the Obamas invite the Clintons for Christmas and an early move-in to the White House, to ease the transition, and so that they can have The Talk with Bill one morning, in their bathrobes over coffee and cakes and Michelle with the stern-friendliest face of all. The ankle bracelet is presented, wrapped in a blue bow. “You were a mediocre commander-in-chief who talked a big game but squandered your presidency with the drama. Don’t blow it for her, Bubba.”

Yes, he can. Let’s hope he doesn’t.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Bunker Mentalities: Norman Lear celebrated at upcoming Stinson Beach Doc Fest

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 1:13 PM

Archie was a sympathetic bigot, not an irreedemable racist
  • Archie was a sympathetic bigot, not an irreedemable racist

The Stinson Beach Doc Fest is coming up on Nov. 4-6, with proceeds to benefit the Stinson Beach Community Center. I’ve been seeing lots of big signage around West Marin about the festival, now in its third year, and which this year features docs about Yo-Yo Ma, Iranian centrifuges, Maya Angelou, ranching in Marin—and Norman Lear, the 1970s TV legend responsible for such classics as Maude, All in the Family and Good Times. It’s impossible to overstate the impact those comedies had on the culture at large, and by extension the “culture wars” that emerged in the 1970s, tackling, as they did, hot-button issues that ranged from abortion rights to racial justice to sexual assault.

Lear is 93 and maybe more relevant than ever this year. There was a moment during the third presidential debate between Clinton and Trump the other night where Hillary highlighted the fact that the horrible person who shot up that Orlando gay nightclub earlier this year, was a Queens guy. Just like Donald, she noted—perhaps nastily.

And just like All in the Family's Archie Bunker, who has practically morphed into an archetype for the particularly American strain of ignoramus posturing that is animating a lot of the Trumpian fury these days. “Archie Bunker for President” made the rounds back in the day as a bumper sticker and sew-on patches and stickers. My old man had the patch and loved Archie as much as he loved "pro"-wrestling icon Andre the Giant, speaking of battles that are rigged to exploit their maximal entertainment value.

If you don’t understand or don’t care to understand the “typical” Trump supporter—who may be kind of obnoxiously obtuse, but who isn’t an actual manifestation of pure evil—that person may be embodied in the figure of Archie Bunker. That person is not completely irredeemable, especially in the face of his own humanizing encounters with The Other–in this case, the black neighbor George Jefferson. It was funny when Archie talked conspiratorially about “The Blaaaacks” because he was presented by Lear as a sympathetic bigot instead of an irredeemable racist. It’s not funny when Trump does the same because he is an unsympathetic bigot who has presented himself as the candidate of choice for irredeemable racists. Plus he's a real person, I get that.

The press materials accompanying Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You do a better job than I can of boiling down the essence of Norman Lear’s genius: His iconic shows “cracked open dialogue and shifted the national consciousness, injecting enlightened humanism into sociopolitical debates on race, class, creed, and feminism.”

All in the Family first aired in 1971, in the midst of one of most convulsively violent periods in American political history, and remains a potent reminder of the power of comedy to bridge violently divergent viewpoints with some much-needed laffs. It harkened back to “simpler” times—didn’t need no welfare state/everybody pulled his weight—while goosing the simple-minded for buying into the nostalgia ride in the first place. Archie may have been the original, ur-deplorable, but every once in a while he scored a moral victory over the liberal excesses of freeloading Meatheadism, as embodied in the character of Mike Stivic, played by Rob Reiner. And Lear was brutally non-partisan in his portrayal of Archie’s educated Marxian son-in-law as something less than a proto-feminist icon. Meathead was no Alan Alda. Indeed, he may have been the original mansplainer.  

Which of course brings us to the annual Al Smith Dinner, held last night in New York during the last desperate weeks of one of the most convulsively violent election seasons in recent American history. Trump’s nasty turn at the dinner-roast last night served only to underscore how this has been one heck of an abjectly off-key presidential season in dire need of a spasm of hilarious release. Trump's obvious inability to have a few sincere laughs at his own expense betrayed the whole point of the dinner, which is to let comedy do its healing, leveling magic. He totally blew it. 

So if you think Trump TV might be airing re-runs of All in the Family, think again. Triumph of the Swill is a more likely ratings grab these days.

For more info on the festival, go to

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How To Survive Tonight's Debate: A Loser's Guide

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2016 at 3:39 PM

The headband that shook a nation to its core
  • The headband that shook a nation to its core

The Politico ticker says the deal goes down in less than three hours from now and so I thought it might be helpful to prepare a checklist for how to survive tonight’s presidential debate in Las Vegas.

1. Strap on the Hillary Headband 

Millennials can be a little in the dark when it comes to some of the more nuanced outbursts of stupid that characterized reactions to Hillary before and through the first Clinton presidency, a fact highlighted in a long Paula Jones piece on the Daily Beast this week that noted how journos were feverishly cranking out Jones “explainers” to give the kids some context on what on Earth is Trump doing now? Even as we’re reminded of Bubba’s numerous indiscretions, hardly anyone seems to remember the Hillary Headband anymore, even as it, too, was a jump-off point for the relentlessly scandalous outrage that popped up as the Clintons oozed into the national consciousness, circa ’92: “Why is that woman wearing a headband!??!?!” No, really, people were really upset about this back then, in the same way people trashed Barack Obama for wearing a tan suit that one time. Sad. Naïve. Give me a break.

So I’m going to wear a Hillary Headband tonight, cut from the cloth of basic decency, not so much in Clinton's honor, but so that my head might not come apart at the seams, so that my brain might not start oozing out my ears as this spectacle unfolds. I suggest similar measures if you are concerned for your mental health. Rub a little lavender oil on the headband too, it’ll help calm those nerves and keep you from throwing Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits CDs at the television. And remember, tomorrow is another day. Don’t stop thinking about it!

2. Tattoo the serenity prayer on your forearm and chant it over and over in the event that Trump goes nuculur and Chris Wallace chortles about Hillary’s butt. 

The Reinhold Niebuhr prayer is quite a useful mantra in times like these, in a nation out of control with rage and bickering and death threats as the Ugly American who has come home to roost, like so many whining chicken-hawk bad losers.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

You can always change the channel, you know.

3. Break out the raincoat.

Cruising around on the internet today, I noticed that veteran political reporter and author Joe Conason, of the National Memo, had offered a similar observation to that of veteran ape-lady Jane Goodall in a September Atlantic about the debates: Trump is acting like an angry loser of an ape, or a chimpanzee—and when simmering simians get that way, they start to fling their own poo. Watch out, America.

The poo-fling politerati has spoken, but I’ve been saying all along that once you get past the Hitlers and the Mussolinis, the Berlusconis and the Caligulas, the Milosevics and the Putins, the most apt historical comparison to Trump can be found in the figure of GG Allin, who, like Trump, lived to be hated. 

Unfamiliar with the Geeg? Until his all-too-timely death in 1993, Allin was the scariest, craziest, sickest, filthiest, most depraved rock and roll performer ever. E-ver. He’d take the stage, get naked, take a crap, fling it at the audience, puke all over himself, smash beer cans in his face until he was bloody, masturbate wildly, punch the audience—to wild applause and adulation. Sort of like a Trump rally, no? For years, Allin promised to kill himself onstage on Halloween, 1998, until going out in a somewhat less dramatic fashion via a heroin overdose. But during his heyday in New York’s Lower East Side, veteran show-goers always knew that when you went to a GG Allin show—you better bring the raincoat. An umbrella couldn’t hurt either. I’d suggest that you have the full-body condom on hand, too, for tonight’s show. It could get very, very messy up there.

4. Scream, “It’s Rigged, It’s Rigged” at the television, especially because of Ohio.  
Why am I playing into this readily debunked nonsense about voter fraud? Well, it’s because of the just-released 2017 list of nominees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Yeah, there are some great and deserving bands and artists on the list this year—Bad Brains, MC5, Zombies, The Cars, Joe Tex—but let’s face it, the RRHOF isn’t so much a hall of fame as it is an “everyone gets a trophy” tourist trap designed to cater to the sensibilities of anyone who visits, no matter how lame or non-rock those sensibilities might be. Here’s a corporate institution that seriously believes that Journey and Tupac Shakur are worthy of rock and roll infamy, which is their business, of course. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner can rig this however he wants to accommodate his Hootie and the Blowfish mandate to defraud the American people of quality rock and roll, but it’s a scam. It’s rigged. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a total fraud, and has been since its inception. You'd be naive to think otherwise, or as Jeffrey Lord would say, the moon landing actually took place in New Jersey. Capricorn Dumb!

I’m ranting my way to the point here, don’t worry. The point is that while the Rock and Roll Hall of Lame has annually anointed hit-maker mediocrity into the ranks of The Greats, it has consistently—and I would argue, deliberately, maliciously, and unpatriotically, not to mention foolishly—ignored the protean 1950s rock-and-roll experience that was Link Wray.

The Link Wray was terrific. I mean how do you ignore the facts that are staring you in the face, Ohio? Just look at that face. Sad. Pathetic.

It’ll be a real Rumble in Vegas tonight. 

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fishing Report...Goes Fishing. Plus: Skitzo Roolz!

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2016 at 2:32 PM

Skitzo roolz - SKITZO
  • Skitzo
  • Skitzo roolz
The Bohemian and Pacific Sun are sharing a cover story this week about an awesome Bay Area guy named Kirk Lombard who just published his Sea Forager's Guide to the Northern California Coast—a great, fun read and I hope you'll check out my long feature on Kirk in Wednesday's paper. Had a lot of fun writing it. We did some fishing in Bolinas and he caught almost all the fish. Hilarious stuff. Check it out tomorrow. Today, who knows. The whole country's in the grip of a post-debate moment that is basically saying that Hillary Clinton demolished Trump last night but of course Rudy Giuliani says it's all Lester Holt's fault. I watched the debate but only after it ended, which is to say that I went to Youtube and fired it up and then hit the mute button whenever Trump opened his mouth so I didn't have to listen to his mindlessly hateful prattle. I've been listening to Blood on The Tracks lately and burst out into song during some of his more memorable moments that I had muted, singing, of course, the Dylan classic "Idiot Wind," which blows every-time he moves his teeth. It's a wonder Trump can even breath at all (especially given those sniffles)....

Meanwhile, there was a really great piece of mail in my box yesterday, a big box of goodies from Sonoma County heavy-metal veterans Skitzo, who sent a package that included: 

1. One CD of their Dementia Praecox record, released in 2015.
2. One DVD of Skitzo performances
3. One puke-green Skitzo 45 with a large vomiting person on the sleeve
4. One baseball card of Vixen's Share Pedersen, from 1991. 
5. One small plastic rat
6. One Skitzo button
7. A selection of Skitzo stickers
8. A big pile of Skitzo press materials, including a letter from an editor at People magazine from 1999 following a Skitzo appearance on Jerry Springer that included some vomiting. 
9. Some other weird and random stuff.

The Skitzo record is ferocious and diverse and features new and old songs that date way back to the 1980s—the shrieking, driving "Sick Son of a Bitch" was written about the Ted Bundy trial. I had the record cranked in the car headed home yesterday and then cranked it again for the drive to Santa Rosa today. Darn near blew the windows out listening to "Sick Son of A Bitch" over and over again. My ears perked up about halfway through the drive, about halfway through the song "World War 666," which features a mention of Donald Trump in there—though it's tough to suss out the context for a mention of such Satanic import, given the surrounding frenzy of metal and screaming that characterizes the record. Given the song title I'll go on a limb and say it's not an especially favorable mention of the candidate, no sir. Sniffle sniffle.

It's been pretty darn hot out there and when I pulled in to Jack's for a Coke and a burger last night, with Dementia Praecox blaring down Washington St., the car's thermometer said it was 101 degrees in Petaluma and I checked out the album sleeve waiting for the grub on the drive-through line—and saw that the guitarist from Blue Cheer, Tony Rainier, plays on Dementia Praecox. Blue Cheer, as in, there ain't no cure for the summertime blues Blue Cheer. Now let us cheer for blue states and 270 electoral votes, and cooling temperatures, and very loud metal 4eva.  

Skitzo is celebrating 35 years of vomit-drenched thrash metal with a big event at the Phoenix in Petaluma on Nov. 12—after the election and whatever that might bring, WWIII included but let's hope not. My colleague Charlie Swanson's on the case and we'll have more on the force of nature that is Skitzo in coming weeks, just as we'll have more on this American Schitzo moment that's stinking up the joint before our very sniffling noses.  

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Friday, September 9, 2016

A Bad Case of the Trump Mumps

Posted By on Fri, Sep 9, 2016 at 3:45 PM

We are now feeling an altogether different burn - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • shutterstock
  • We are now feeling an altogether different burn

This blog has been dormant for awhile as I’ve been taking the spa treatment. Nothing too serious but I’ve been sick in the head. Diseased and withered. A wicked bug settled in to my soul called the Trump Mumps, an evil illness for which the only known cure is a vote, lots of long hikes in nature, and cannabis-infused sessions in the sauna, chanting Enya lyrics at top volume. Doctor’s orders, but for many months I’ve been slumped with the feverish jitters in the healing waters, I’ve inhaled the merciful sulfuric fizz and sighed the great heaving, weeping sigh of Hillary Clinton acceptance and have also come to accept, as one accepts the inevitability of death, that it’s possible that some unthinkable lurch in the polls could lead to a Trump presidency.

Gulp, another sip of the tonic under cover of coastal turmeric visions in the fog of Marin County. Another desperate spin through to check the dreadful Ohio numbers. Can this really be happening? The anti-inflammatory-rhetoric pill has been prescribed and dutifully downed, yet again, and still the unrestrained coarseness of our times beckons at every gruesome plop of a policy position that emanates from Trump’s repulsive anus-face. Who among us can resist the occasional plunge into the Trump morass of vengeful orangutan politics, where hiring a wife-beating anti-Semite to run a campaign comes with no price in the Q-Pac poll, but where Clinton’s hacking cough is a disqualifying sign of weakness that must be analyzed from every sinister and bad-faith angle imaginable, but especially from the perspective of Rudy Giuliani’s badly yellowed teeth? Weird. Where anything that is complex must by its Clintonian nature be assumed to be corrupt—i.e., the Clinton Foundation—but where Trump won’t release his two-mile-high pile of tax returns and declares that nobody cares whether he releases them or not, and nobody cares enough to ask whether people care enough to care about asking him to release them because Trump just Tweeted something outrageous about Mika and Joe? Very weird.  

My head hurts and it hope this is not a sign of a Trump Mumps relapse. But I feel the insistent tickle in my throat as the polls tighten and the Clinton-haters throw their hands aloft and say “What am I supposed to do? She’s an establishment crook and he tells it like it is,” even when Trump is characteristically telling it like it is by telling it like it isn’t—as in, Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and global warming is a hoax cooked up by the Chinese. 

Which brings us to the Sierra Club. The nation’s oldest environmental organization is trying to save the world from disastrous climate change impacts—but in its own way is equally as “establishment” as the Clintons and has similarly faced criticism over the various alliances it's gotten itself mixed up with.

Earlier this week I spoke with Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, in advance of his arrival in Santa Rosa on the 16th for a talk on climate change. He’ll be at the Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Avenue, at 7 pm, and there’s a suggested $10 donation but that’s only a suggestion—as is Sierra's suggestion, by way of their endorsement of her, that you vote for Hillary. Jill Stein: not viable.    

We’ll post the interview with Brune in the Bohemian next week. But briefly and for now, Brune has done a lot of heavy lifting to restore a sense of integrity and accountability to Sierra after it was revealed—around 2010 and before his time there—that the organization had accepted money from a corporate titan who’d been engaged in the ungodly practice of fracking. Old-guard Sierra Club members were, to say the least, not happy at the flim-frackery and Sierra subsequently turned back some $26 million in pledged moolah from the oil-and-gas sector. Nowadays it is more likely to break corporate bread with the likes of Google and Facebook, and I'll have more on that in the upcoming story.  

I got up to speed on the frack-money controversy and other issues before I spoke with Brune—spent a couple of  hours scouring around online and reading up on the recent history of Sierra. The organization has its detractors and they basically fall into two main categories, which swing to far ends of the political spectrum. On the one hand, call it the left one, the critique runs thusly: You Betrayed John Muir While I Sat In A Redwood Tree Getting Arrested, So Screw You. On the other side of the spectrum lie the false-flag pouncers of a climate-denial bent: You Are Jaguar-Driving Climate Hoax Eco-Hypocrites Who Should Be Shot Because Oil is God.

Well, you can’t make everyone happy. And as the debate rages over whether the Sierra Club is a safe-haven for eco-terrorists or a bastion of eco-fraud corporate sellouts, on shrill websites that almost nobody cares about or takes seriously except for Sean Hannity and Larry the Chemtrail Guy—Sierra Club is moving forward with its climate-change agenda and Brune is coming here to talk it.

Brune’s visit comes as Barack Obama told the New York Times this week that the climate-change trend-lines are “terrifying.” Given the tenor of our lying and venomous times, I wouldn't be surprised if Trump accuses Muslim weathermen of cheering for Hurricane Sandy from Jersey rooftops in October 2012. In fact I think I just read that on Superstormfront, or maybe Trump tweeted something to that effect, I don't know—the Trump Mumps fever is back and I may be hallucinating this whole awful spectacle.  

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Jailhouse Blues, All the Way From Sonoma County to Orleans Parish

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 2:03 PM

The Old Parish Prison in New Orleans: A Hellhole - TOM GOGOLA
  • Tom Gogola
  • The Old Parish Prison in New Orleans: A Hellhole

Sonoma County might consider a few things about criminal justice reform in how the phenomenon continues to play out in the city of New Orleans.

This week The Bohemian was one of a few news organizations from around the state to report on an investigation from a statewide disability group that laid bare Sonoma County’s problems in properly administering justice, not to mention medications, to the inmates it is charged with overseeing—and especially those with mental health issues.

This week is also noteworthy in local-level jail news as an ongoing New Orleans criminal justice reform saga finds the Orleans Parish sheriff, Marlin Gusman, fighting for his political life against an attempted full-on federal takeover of the jail complex he was elected to run.

New Orleans’ notorious local lockup, the Orleans Parish Prison, was flooded and largely destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. A new jail was built with FEMA dollars under intense local political pressure to keep historically sky-high bed-counts under control.

The post-Katrina efforts were overseen by Gusman, a former city councilman and chief administrative officer who had no experience running a jail when he was first elected in 2004. Conditions were so bad at the jail that it was put under a federal consent decree a few years ago, and Gusman was ordered to clean up the jail’s rampantly violent and unconstitutional act.

The Department of Justice now says that Gusman has failed and his time’s up—and Gusman says he’s done the best he can do under the circumstances, which is somewhat the same posture Sonoma County officials struck when the Disability Rights California report was issued last week: We’re doing the best we can under the circumstances. Everyone is dealing with an influx of mentally ill prisoners and other problems from realignment.

The problem for Sonoma County is that the DRC says everyone isn’t illegally injecting prisoners with drugs. Everyone isn't housing them in isolation-within-isolation “quiet rooms.” In fact, none of the other six jails it recently investigated are doing either of those two things.  

In both New Orleans and Sonoma County, it is fair and necessary to say that the responsible parties for failings at the respective jails are by and large decent people trying to do the right thing under enormously challenging conditions—of the budgetary and social-welfare variety.

Yet both places have offered up a public face of high concern even as they simultaneously treated a growing mental-health crisis in their midst almost as an afterthought.  

Sonoma County is almost five years away from the proposed opening of a new mental-illness focused jail building, the Behavioral Health Unit, which is scheduled to come on line at the end of 2020. 

The project is moving forward after the county did not secure available state money in two previous rounds of funding that have sent over $2 billion to other counties and cities. How did the county seal the deal this year for $40 million in state dollars (it will contribute $8 million to the $48 million BHU)?

The state made available $900 million in jail-building funds in 2012 as California’s prison bureaucrats recognized a growing county-level crisis wrought by Gov. Brown’s “realignment” scheme to de-populate state prisons by sending low-level offenders to the counties. State officials told The Bohemian recently that last year was the first time the Sonoma County proposal included a specific plan for the Behavioral Health Unit. 

Impacts of realignment in Sonoma County have played out not so much in exploding prisoner populations, but as a shift to a population with more mentally ill prisoners, as a county-paid audit from Carter Goble Lee (CGL) observed in its 2015 update to the county criminal justice master plan, which cost the county about $350,000. For that kind of money, you'd expect good advice, and Carter Goble suggested they build the BHU. The basic driver behind the changing-prisoner trend identified by Carter Goble is that while crime rates continue to go down, the mentally-ill prisoner population is expanding.

New Orleans has its own acute-care problems that often wind up in the Orleans Parish jail; the city has the extensive PTSD problems and the ragingly addicted pockets of down-at-it population; and it has all of the negative health consequences of poverty and historical racism and odious plantation politics one can imagine or experience.

Yet in New Orleans, mental health was also an afterthought when the city moved to build a new “state of the art” jail a few years ago.

In the political battle that raged locally to keep the overall bed count to below 1,500, New Orleans civic leaders left for another day—years, as it turned out—a critical part of the proposed new jail complex that would house prisoners with medical and mental health issues. It has since been built after a big fight over who should pay for it.

Privatization Pressures

There’s a tidbit I’ve been mulling over that speaks to one of the various ways that privatization in the American prison system has played out. The California Forensic Medical Group, which administers medical, but not mental health services in the Sonoma system, is a private company with contracts at jails all over California. It represents a “back-end” privatization model, providing contracted services to a public facility, for a profit. The company has been highlighted in numerous recent news investigations and lawsuits that speak of putting profits before patients.

The striking and topical tidbit is that the private equity firm that owns CFMG, H.I.G. Capital, has also been a campaign contributor to U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton.

Like Gusman and the Sonoma County jail, the youthful Republican has been in the news of late. Cotton recently commented that America doesn’t have an over-incarceration problem, no sir, it has an under-incarceration problem. Cotton flat-out wants to put more people into jail and you have to wonder what that would mean for CFMG’s bottom line.

(Meanwhile, the Democratic front-runner for president has shamelessly taken hundreds of thousands of dollars contributions from the private-prison industry and appears ready to imprison the nearest chair-hurling Bernie Bro, any minute now.)

In seriousness, Sonoma County officials obviously do not need nor want more people in its jail than need to be there. One can be skeptical about systems without holding cynical attitudes about individuals who are in charge of them.

That is a far less than obvious reality in Louisiana and New Orleans, where a “per diem” funding system has historically provided local sheriffs and for-profit prisons with a financial incentive to lock as many people up as they could, for as long as they could. Nowadays they are more likely to just cut costs to get the most bang for the per-diem buck. This is exactly what critics of CFMG’s prison medical services have observed in lawsuits and newspaper investigations.

Tourist Dollars Above All Else

It was really stunning to read about a recent and unanimous vote by the Sonoma County Supervisors that was taken just as I was working on last week’s cover story in The Bohemian, which emphasized the 2014 death of an addict who had been jailed on drug and other charges, and asked questions about the circumstances surrounding here death. Rhonda Everson died in custody and the county says she was in a special cell for inmates undergoing withdrawal. There's a lawsuit. 

Meanwhile, there’s a businessman near Bodega who wanted to convert his hotel-spa into a treatment center for addicts, given the monstrous opiate-addiction problem this country is now facing, a problem which often winds up in a jail cell.

Just as the DRC was issuing its report and Sonoma's elected leadership was telling reporters that the real problem was realignment and the flood of mentally-ill prisoners, the supervisors were also telling the Press Democrat that they wanted the privately-owned hotel-spa to be utilized as a tourist destination, and definitely not as a place for addicts to recover. That would presumably include the likes of Rhonda Everson, an addict who died in the Sonoma jail in 2014.

The 5-0 vote really did stand out for its open embrace of tourist dollars. And it reminded me that in the tourist town of New Orleans, it is not unusual to read stories during Mardi Gras about drunk tourists running around in their socks and underwear, clutching bottles of locally-made intoxicants as they let fly with the Dionysian urges and imperatives on Bourbon Street.

Back in the not-so-old days, those sorts of tourists were arrested and sent to the Orleans jail for a multi-day per-diem revenue grab for the parish. As an added bonus, there might also be some terror, violence and desperate isolation during the unfortunate tourist’s stay at OPP.

Under the intense post-Katrina glare of the feds and the media, Orleans Parish has generally eased off on arresting tourists for stupid non-crime crimes—and is now more focused on making sure they don’t get shot during Mardi Gras. Since that’s pretty bad for tourism, too.

Closer to home, the DRC report urged Sonoma County to address its jailhouse mental health crisis now, even in the absence of the new BHU that won’t come on line for years. Don't wait for the unhinged citizen to do something stupid in their underwear. Creative solutions are needed, good people need to step up and do the right thing—and a rehab center would seem to be a pretty good approach to keep addicts out of jail for the crime of being addicts who commit crimes because they are addicts.

So it was really disappointing to read that outgoing Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo joined his fellow supervisors in the 5-0 vote to protect the wine-besotted tourist mecca of his 5th District from those nasty addicts. Really kind of sad, actually.  

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Equal Time: Talking with progressive 3rd District Senate Candidate Mariko Yamada

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 9:36 AM

Mariko Yamada squares off against Bill Dodd for California's 3rd District Senate Seat this year.
  • Mariko Yamada squares off against Bill Dodd for California's 3rd District Senate Seat this year.

Mariko Yamada was termed-out of her Napa Assembly seat in 2014 and returns to politics this year running for State Senate in the Third District, which comprises most of Napa County and parts of Sonoma County.
The longtime social worker will face off against Bill Dodd in the California state Democratic primary on June 7; Dodd was interviewed in this space two weeks ago. Yamada, who speaks proudly of her 42 years of public service, lives in Yolo County and is the child of Japanese-American parents who were interned during WWII. This interview with Yamada has been lightly edited for clarity and space. I met with Yamada last week at the Bohemian's office and asked her many of the same questions I put to Dodd, the first of which was whether or not Napa and the North Bay in general had reached a point of "peak wine," where there's just no more space for another vineyard.

Mariko Yamada: Yolo County, which is where I live and have lived for 22 years, was one of my first experiences immersing myself in rural and agricultural issues. I was pretty much a city kid all my life, and I consider the last 22 years of my 42 years in public service really important, a change of direction, because that's part of the issue: what's the understanding of the rural and urban issues as they relate to wine and the wine industry, which of course is a key part of our agricultural district and heritage?

There are significant debates going on right now about land use as it relates to water and the sustainability issues—not just related to wine issues, but all agriculture. The questions are being asked: are we the victims of our own success? You posed the question of just how much more can be done, and I think the issues of climate change and water resources and land resources are going to be self-defining—is there a tipping point over which we can't go?

And then of course there are the ‘urban growth limits’ and ‘growing up, not out’—and there are be some changes in future if we’re going to look forward to a time when there’s going to be 50 million people in this state and not 39, 40 million. We’ll adding ten more million residents to our state, and so, how we grow and how we can balance the needs of the kinds of housing that we are going to need—we’re gong to have to de a better job in terms of process. We frequently see that developments are more dense, or higher than 4, 5, 6 stories high instead of one or two stories, there’s always a tension between the existing neighbors and neighborhoods, and the need to address how are we going to grow. We’re going to have to grow a little bit [laughs]. No growth is not an option.

Bohemian: What's your view of the Fight for $15 minimum-wage push?

Yamada: There are two tenets that I think of. Nothing is getting any cheaper, and none of us is getting any younger. . . . I support an increase in the minimum wage. It has to be in a partnership at the federal level, which doesn't look too hopeful anytime soon, but there should be a federal commitment to it. But we can’t wait for other levels of government to lead the way. I do support an increase to $15 over a period of time, but I also support a need for small business—there’s got to be something in it for them, and I'd point to the costs of healthcare and the costs of workers’ compensation which are crushing middle class families, even with the advent of the affordable care act, which I fully support, but—it wasn’t what we all really wanted. We all wanted the public option. And for me, I’m single payer, universal health care.

Take the worker’s compensation system, which is almost like a double tax on small businesses. If they’re able to contribute anything to their workers to enroll, if they are trying to help them as well as paying these really exorbitant premiums to worker’s compensation—it’s all interrelated. Some people only look at the fight for $15, and it’s a righteous fight. It’s a statement that anyone working full-time in our country, or in our state, should not be living in poverty. Anybody who is now working two or three jobs just to make ends meet, it’s not an investment in the future of our society so there’s got to be some balances in this fight for $15, but clearly we cannot continue as a nation—there’s a moral bankruptcy in our nation that we’re paying seven dollars and fifty cents, an it’s ridiculous—how can anyone live on that income?

Bohemian: The $15 issue isn’t going away, it’s a big fight—

Yamada: My other hat in the legislature was to chair the committee on aging and long-term care, I was the senior member and served six years. The shift in demographics, with 20 percent of our state by 2035, one in five Californians will be 65 years in age or over. And this is an unmistakable and undeniable social and demographic shift, that’s going to have implication s for so many others systems, and that’s what all the retirement fights are about. Nobody really puts it in the context of an aging society but that’s what’s driving it, and how we could do a much better job at helping plan for this—it’s kind of too late, because it’s happening. I got my Medicare card last October and I’m very proud of it [laughs], and I hope that Medicare will remain! Let’s make sure that at the federal level we are supporting people who are not going to destroy it!

Bohemian: Who would you describe as the main base of support for your Senate run?

Yamada: I want to make sure that people don't try to typecast anybody in the race, because while I have a track record of 42 years of public service, I think our support comes from a pretty diverse group of people. Certainly, I'm a lifelong Democrat, unlike my principal opponent who recently became a Democrat, just around the time, I think, that he was deciding to possibly run for the Assembly.

My support has traditionally come from what I would call “everyday people.” You need only look at our finance reports to tell. I think Mr. Dodd has, maybe, a little over 400 donors or donations, but he's managed to raise about a million dollars. And we have more than twice that number of donations, but we've raised a quarter of a million dollars. We have over 800 donations.

You might say that we are more traditional democrats in that sense, with our core values really focused on the most vulnerable in our state and our country as well as programs that support people to help them out of their circumstances. Not just to hand something to somebody, but remember that part of the social work mission is empowerment. I have both Democratic and Republican support, I have Green support, and I have support from independents. I think we appeal most to what I would call a pragmatic approach to solving some of our state's most difficult problems.

In Sonoma County, Susan Gorin was a sole supporter of mine but she’s since chosen to do a dual endorsement with Mr. Dodd. I wish that weren’t true, but you have to respect everyone’s situations and, I like to think that when a person gives a dual endorsement, that suggest that they really believe that the two candidates could do the job equally well. And of course, this is a campaign, we have to believe that we can do a better job, certainly by virtue of our values and our experience. But one of my earliest and strongest supporters has always been the California Association of Nurses and also have support of California Federation of Teachers, and, as it relates to some of our local issues with the developmental centers, I have the support of the California Department of Psychiatric Technicians.

Bohemian: Do you think the Governor and the state as a whole is doing right by the Sonoma Developmental Center? They’re sending a lot of money to re-house long term residents there, but there are concerns about the continuity of care and services, not to mention some of these new residential homes that are more ‘prisonlike’ than what the long-term residents at the SDC are used to.

Yamada. Yes. Absolutely. The state has, I would say, these three large principal models for serving some of our most vulnerable citizens. Certainly the developmental system, which in the case of Sonoma Developmental Center goes back to the late 1800s. . . . Can these models exist into the 21st century? Probably not in the way that the were originally designed over a hundred years ago. But should we just completely throw out these systems—and I think my answer to that is no. We need to—well, in the case of the developmental center system, it’s done. The decision has been made a both by what I consider death by a thousand cuts. The administration chose, with the concurrence of the legislature—it’s a budget item—to eliminate new admissions. So when you get the budget documents and it shows that the cost per resident at any given residential center is something like $400 thousand a year, obviously the alarm bells go off. Well, that’s because if you don’t have any new admissions, the fewer number of residents there are, the higher the costs, because there are fixed costs at these institutions that cannot be reduced. So, that was the first signal that all of these models were going to undergo significant change. I did fight for a seat on that Governor’s Task Force, the special committee set up to address the future of this system, in California. I was not selected and perhaps it was a matter of being a little too outspoken about it. I was disappointed but remained active the discussion. I think now, what the residents of Sonoma in particular are facing is that there are residents there that that’s all they have known for 50 years. I think it’s particularly cruel sentence for them to be at this juncture moved out. ‘Transfer trauma’ is very real and the people that are still there now are those that would be the least likely to survive and thrive in a community setting. . . .

Bohemian: Given the limits of the Affordable Care Act related to providing healthcare to the undocumented, and the heated rhetoric around immigration, what more can the state do to help the undocumented?

Yamada: If you look at this in a historical context, our country was really built on taking advantage of labor. . . . This is not a new phenomenon in our country. We've had varying levels of success partly due to the rise of the labor movement and other activists that pointed out the problems in how our capitalist system, frankly, operates. We've taken incremental steps to bring people out of the shadows, given that we don't have a partnership with the federal government, which is exactly where comprehensive reform resides.

We are going to have to continue to make these incremental steps towards ensuring that people who come here, live here, work here, really pay taxes in their own way but don't get certain benefits out of it. No-one’s justifying people who misbehave— we don’t want to reward illegal behavior or criminal activity. I had had long track record working with farm workers, many of whom remain uncommented and even in my own family history, my father—who became the proverbial Japanese gardener after they were released from the interment camps—I’m sure had workers who were presumably undocumented. So, for people who are hear really to make a better life for themselves, we have to take all of that into consideration. I was a coauthor of the Dream Act and AB 60, the driver’s license bill. We have supported pathways to college, when we’ve done cash for college workshops there is a group of students who, because of why they are undocumented, have to be processed a little bit different than others.

As it relates to a general contractor and his or her ability to meet a bottom line, I would hope that the business community would join us and make a business case for immigration reform. It shouldn't be either/or, because both sides are benefiting from each other's existence. To a certain extent in the ag community there is a glimmer of hope for a partnership. There is a kind of characterization of some in the ag community as more conservative, as opposed to more liberal. If I am to be labeled a self-styled liberal or a social worker, which I am, we need to do a better job of enjoining the non-traditional allies – there’s a business case for this and we need to stop demonizing and typecasting one another. We need each other. This same holds true for housing and healthcare. If you don’t have a workforce that has access to health care at a reasonable rate, you’re going to have people who are sick. And you don’t want people to come to work because they are sick. The same holds true for housing—if your workers have to be on a car or a bus for two or three hours a day each way, you’re not going to have the most productive workers in your employment.

So why we don’t have a business case for all these thing that we want? We all want pretty similar things. Safe communities, clean water, clean air, a decent place to live, good schools, safe neighborhoods, all that—it seems like we need to engage the business community in more of this discussion. Because maybe that is what people view as the difference, the principal differences between myself an Mr. Dodd. He likes to tout his twenty years as a businessman versus my 42 years—I’m a career public servant. All things being equal, I have always been or the underdog and I will continue to be.

Bohemian: As a child of parents interned during WWII, when you hear rhetoric about deporting Muslims, camps for Muslims, all of that kind of stuff, all justified because of the so-called war on terror, from your personal experience, what’s your response?

Yamada: Last time I checked the Constitution is still intact although we know that in the case of the Japanese Americans that our Constitutional rights were suspended. We have to be constantly vigilant about these issues. It happens that February 19 is a significant date in Japanese-American history, it’s the day when one of our greatest Democratic presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, signed Executive Order 9066, which paved the way for the internment. Clearly what’s going on at the highest levels of our national demagoguery is designed to ignite the anger that the right feels. Donald Trump has successfully ignited the anger that has been pent up and has maybe not been given a voice as much on the national and international stage as he’s been able to do.

And on the left, Bernie has given voice to the discontent on the left. I don’t think the left is angry, although maybe we should be. The left is more discontent. But as it relates to calls for registries, or no Muslims can come in or we are going to deport them all, perhaps a few months a go I felt it more amusing to hear this, but now there is a level of concern that could it be that someone like Donald Trump, who of course has been compared to Hitler, there’s been all sorts of historical comparison, could is possibly be that he would have a chance? And the answer to that is that it is possible if we don’t give people a reason to exercise what I consider a sacred covenant, which is to vote.

Bohemian: You've said you didn't run for office to be a bill-writing machine. So let's say you're elected to the Senate as a non–bill writing machine, what do you see as the biggest traps that are out there for the state in general?

Yamada: I have three primary areas; I call them three legs on my policy stool. I will continue to make aging and longer-term care a top policy priority. . . . Secondly, not only because of the district itself but the future of the state, my focus on natural resources and land use and water resources will also be a very clear sort of policy area, with particularly attention to the Delta.

Bohemian: What's your take on Gov. Brown's twin Delta Tunnel proposal?

Yamada: I oppose them. I have opposed them since the beginning and will continue to oppose them.

Bohemian: Since there are two of them, you and Dodd can each oppose one!

Yamada: [Laughs] Right. I think the fact that the Senate District 3 is four or five of the Delta counties, we clearly have to be defenders of the Delta.

And the third leg on my policy stool and born out of my personal view of the world, growing up in a household where my parents had been interned and in a fairly hardscrabble part of town in Denver called the Five Points—about a 95 percent African-American community in the 1950s and '60s. That was the lens through which my view of the world developed [and] my belief in the fundamental values of our society that we must continue to work for social, economic, educational and environmental justice.

And so whatever issue that might be, whether it’s rights of the undocumented in balance with their responsibilities, the rights of vulnerable populations, the gamut of racial, gender, social, religious, economic—all of those issues have been thematic in my career.

Bohemian: How does this commitment to civil rights translate into reforming so-called ‘environmental racism,’ or into any other reforms, criminal justice, for example, that you might pursue as Senator?

Yamada: My good friend Luis Alejo chairs the committee that addresses these issues. We know that. . . .racism and environmental issues can play out into siting [industry] in neighborhoods that have been traditionally impacted by other social ills, that’s sometimes where environmental hazards are found, where those kinds of industries have been located—or in impoverished communities. In my own district or the Senate district, there isn’t so much of that in my mind, these real hot spots, but a little closer to home here, less so on the environmental issue is the Roseland area of Sonoma, which has traditionally been an under-served area, it’s part of the county area. It’s not in the third, it’s Mike McGuire’s district, but there are always going to be pockets of this sort in any community, any district, and we need to be aware of that and call it out when these issues arise. At the same time when there are new developments being proposed, part of the environmental review should include and environmental justice component or ‘element,’ so maybe we could do better by defining that. What are the impacts to existing communities, or if a project comes in, what is the responsibility of that project to make sure that environmental impacts are either reduced or mitigated or to the point where they would be able to pass those levels of review.

Then of course you have the opposite situation with Porter Ranch. It’s a planned development there, and they certainly have been impacted and nobody imagined or thought about that. As a state, we need to assist local communities in looking ahead and anticipating problems that could arise. Who knew that not requiring a safety shut-off valve to that methane bank underneath would have led to this? We’re a very kind of here-and-now society and we need to start looking ahead to what the impacts are to what is frankly sometimes irresponsible planning.

Bohemian: Isn’t that part of the problem with addressing global warming, that it has been an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem until very recently, and then there’s just people who deny it outright?

Yamada: Well, the Iroquois Nation is one of the first nations that always talked about seven generations ahead, and we are barely thinking of our own generation. So we have to have people in policymaking positions who would have the courage to vote, sometimes, against the interests of the people who sent you there for the greater good. To me there are two kinds of tests in leadership. Sometimes we are tested as representatives, to represent the people in your district. Then sometimes there is a trustee responsibility in leadership, and that’s tougher because sometimes you have to say, ‘I know this is what you’d like me to do, but I’m looking at a different set of circumstances that maybe you don’t agree with, don’t see the same way.’ And sometimes with that, you lose your seat [Laughs]. But I think there are times where you have to be willing to do that for the greater good.

Bohemian: How will your experiences in elected office translate to the Senate?

Yamada: Having served in Yolo County—that was my first elected position as a supervisor—there were certain models that were developed. My principal area was in aging and long-term care, so there were a lot of what I would consider to be models of collaboration or integrated services that we attempted to implement in Yolo County that could potentially go statewide. This is a way to reduce inefficiencies in our aging and long-term care system that pits the social model versus the medical model, which leads to a lot of confusion for everyday people—somebody who wants some help with their immediate crisis but doesn't know where to go to get their needs met.

Bohemian: So, Hillary or Bernie?

Yamada: My heart's with Bernie, my head is with Hillary. And I have not, I have honestly not decided. . . . My first election as a voter was George McGovern . . . and we saw what happened there. And honestly, that's really where I am right now.

I know that Mr. Dodd has already participated in headlining fundraisers for Hillary, but I have honestly not made up my mind. Having said that, your primary vote should go to the person who you most believe reflects your values, and that's where my heart is. But I'm just going to watch it a little bit more and see.

Bohemian: It's interesting that the vernacular of "socialism" around Sanders is lost on a lot of younger voters, who don't really care about the label as much as older voters do.

Yamada: He certainly is contributing to one of the liveliest debates that I have remembered, and very substantive. He is saying exactly what this country needs to hear, and I think he's worrying a lot of people, he is worrying Wall Street, certainly the Clinton campaign has to pay attention. I understand that [Hillary] is well-prepared. She has an experience level that cannot be matched, and, honestly, Bernie comes from a state that has 600,000 or 700,000 people. My Senate district has more people than Vermont has as a state. That's a consideration.

Bohemian: But they still have all the crystal meth labs and big-state problems that other states have to—everything that happens in Vermont happens elsewhere else, too.

Yamada: Laughs. That’s true, they’re not immune to the vagaries of 21st century life. I was also a Howard Dean supporter. There must be something in the water in Vermont that gives us really great progressive candidates—but that’s a label. Is it progressive? Yes, but it seems like it’s just common sense. Same with universal health care, it’s just common sense.

Bohemian: During the debate over Obamacare a lot of people who support single payer were saying, why are we even letting the insurance industry at the table here, have anything to do with this. Did people really see through the actual consequences of what a single payer system would look like, to the extent that what do you do with all the employees of the insurance industry, and not just the CEOs making all the money but the people in the mailroom. What happens to those people? What happens to the private healthcare industry in America, and all those jobs?

Yamada: It would have to be phased in, it would not be ‘one day we have this system, and then it’s gone.’ There will be jobs in a new health care frontier, but wouldn’t we rather have people spend their time actually delivering health care or helping with prevention, rather than spending hours and hours on decoding a bill? Yes, that’s work too but we have plenty of other work to do and if we were able to reduce this—it’s one of the most common causes of bankruptcy in our country, medical bankruptcies. And I honestly think—I can think of lots of other jobs for people to undertake, and this is no disrespect to people who are in medical billing, it requires lots of thought and training to decode a bill. I agree that there are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs in the health care industry but wouldn’t they be better deployed in actually delivering health care than being administrative?

Of course the counterargument is rationing. But do you think our care isn’t rationed now? It’s just rationed in a different sort of way. We could do much better. I just don’t think there should be a profit motive in health care. You can make a living, of course. But we have a few things sort of mixed up in our society. We’ll just keep chipping away at it. Without the ACA I think this industry may have imploded earlier. It’s still trying to make it, but it’s still largely an unsustainable model because there still are lots of people who are uninsured. It’s a step in the right direction but we have a long way to go.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dodd and Country: Talking with Senate Candidate and Assembly Ag Committee Chair Bill Dodd

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 10:57 AM

Bill Dodd in Napa - TOM GOGOLA
  • Tom Gogola
  • Bill Dodd in Napa

Napa State Assemblyman Bill Dodd served as a Napa County Supervisor for 14 years before winning his Assembly seat in 2014. He was named to the Assembly agriculture committee upon his election, and in December was picked to be its chairman. Dodd, a former Republican (he switched parties in 2013 and has said the tipping point was gay marriage) is running for State Senate in the Fifth District against former Napa Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada. I’ll post an interview with Yamada in coming weeks. I met with Dodd at the bustling Oxbow Market in Napa on a recent rainy afternoon; what follows is a lightly edited transcript of the interview; I’ve boiled down some of my more mush-mouthed questions for clarity’s sake. The first question to him was about his rapid rise in state politics—and that he’s the first-ever Committee on Agriculture chairman who doesn’t hail from the Central Valley. Why him, and why now?

Bill Dodd: It’s probably better stated that I’m probably the first guy from Northern California maybe north of the Delta to be the chairman of the ag committee. I think that…I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it but…I think that they’ve seen in my year in the Assembly that I’m pretty balanced. I have a pretty good ability to balance business interests and environmental interests and my experience in Napa County just along those veins is that I reject the notion that agriculture and the environment are mutually exclusive items, or entities. I really believe that we’re in big trouble if you can’t if the environmental community and the agricultural community can’t come together, we’re in big trouble. Because of environmental interests, we have sustainable farming, which has completely taken off. I’m also chair man of the Select Committee on wine, we held a hearing at Sonoma State University, Lois Wolk and I. Normally what those committee hearings try to do is bring out what an industry is lacking, and what we try to emphasize is what the agricultural or the viticulture industry in northern California is really doing well. And that’s organic farming, that’s those are operations that have put sustainability plans into practice and even ones that have gone to dry farming. What we should do is celebrate those environmental farmers for the great job that they’ve done and use them as examples of best practices to farmers that have not yet seen the light in some of those areas.

Bohemian: What is your view on this notion of “peak wine,” that we’ve got too many vineyards in Napa County and the North Bay?

Dodd: When I was working as a county supervisor here, we had our general plan, and we worked really hard on this general plan to try and identify what was left, and have some goals, not only on acreage of grapes that could be planted, but also, how many more wineries do we really need, or want, you know, in this day and age. And, in addition to that we’ve had big community discussions even when I was first in office, in the early 2000s, on grape-growing, and frankly, Napa County’s got the most stringent agricultural rules of any agricultural region in the world, and my guess is that Sonoma county is a close second—and I think I think it was somewhere around 45,000 acres of grapes, that Napa has about 45,000 acres of grapes and the conventional wisdom says that we’d be lucky—not lucky, that’s not the word I want to use—the industry would be lucky to increase that by 10 percent or another 5,000 acres or so. Now there’s some people who wouldn’t want that at all. But my standpoint is that I think that the erosion control plans that are required, the careful scrutiny of large projects having to have full environmental impact reports, are important to the discussion. Nowhere else are they making them do the full environmental impact reports.

Bohemian: How do you translate the dynamics on the ground in Napa now that you have statewide authority as chairman of the Committee on Agriculture?

Dodd: I think there’s a realization with climate change being such an important policy discussion in the state of California, that many farmers see the writing on the wall and are already working with technology to become more sustainable. Case a point, irrigation: the day and age where we are going to flood-irrigate our crops I think should have come and gone by now. But it is a huge investment to change this, it doesn’t happen overnight but I believe that it’s incumbent upon the industry and the market to move them towards solutions to these problems. You understand what I mean about the market? Because you know what? The cost of water is not going to be the same. I mean, people want more and more regulation but the reality is there is going to be a statewide market for water that is going to be priced on availability and demand. In fact I’m writing a bill this year that seeks to get information for all water transactions in the state of California. It would be a public record, and the idea here is that many of these water transaction are done in the shadows, nobody knows about it, nobody knows how much they are paying, but if there were a clearinghouse that all water sales would have to be recorded, recorded with a state agency, that helps us establish the market, so we understand the prices that are being paid.

Bohemian: What kind of transfers are we talking about here?

Dodd: A rice farmer, for example, who finds a way to sell his water to a water agency somewhere in the central valley or Southern California and leave his field fallow for a year or two, or ten, because he can make more money on that water. If everyone knows the price that’s being paid, that market becomes a public market. And it also gives decision-makers, based on that information, some opportunity to maybe understand some of these other proposals that are being put forward on water issues.

Bohemian: You worked for the water company Culligan, and there’s a big controversy in California and elsewhere over the Nestlé CEO saying that water is not a human right, that it’s a commodity first, you should have to pay for water. Where do you fall on this idea—accept that water is a commodity, sell it, but at the end of the day do people die of thirst because of that? How much of a say should the market have on people’s ability to access fresh water?

Dodd: I think, the market can give us a good indication of future, in terms of where we can go with this. I think, the idea that water plants like Nestlé—the reality is that they should be subject to the same rules and regulations as any other land use, you know, and in today’s day and age, they shouldn’t get any better breaks more than anybody else—whether it’s agriculture or business coming into a community. That one was a little bit dicey because [Nestlé’s bottling plant] is located at the headwaters of the Sacramento River…. Let me put it a different way. If you look at how Israel has dealt with this situation, and they have a similar situation—let’s face it, that was a desert too. They had a lot of arid conditions all over the Middle East, and for sure Israel. And in a span of about 10 to 15 years, they went from a 30 percent deficit to a 20 percent surplus and now they are actually exporting water to other areas of the Middle East and getting paid for it. I think there’s an order to which you do these things, but I think first and foremost we need more water storage both above-ground and underground storage, I think we need to get more adroit on how we are doing water reclamation and you know, I gotta tell you, there’s probably no better agency than the Sonoma county water agency at doing that. They have done a phenomenal job, really before it was fashionable. In Napa County I led the charge supervisor Keith Caldwell to do the purple pipe [water reclamation pipes] on vineyards and golf courses on the east part of Napa. To tell you how long it took, I started working on this in 2001, 15 years later, it’s just about completed. It’s not something that comes easy, but we need to multiply the number of times we are able to use our water and that needs to be used in those types of practices, throughout the state of California. Finally I know the environmental community doesn’t appreciate desalination—very expensive, not a long of bang for the buck—yes, but if the market determines that it is very expensive, water is already very expensive and with new technology, and particularly more renewable energy being used, we might find that like Israel that could be something that we could duplicate, but first things first.

Bohemian: What’s the driver behind your opposition to Gov. Brown’s Delta Tunnels proposals?

Dodd: First and foremost the Delta is already environmentally fragile, it’s an environmentally sensitive area and you know, anything that goes wrong there could jeopardize the whole ecosystem of the delta, and that would be devastating. Secondly, I don’t understand the cost structure because the cost per acre-foot would eclipse those costs for desalination, so.... And at least they say they’re not going to take any new water but if they’re going to build two tunnels that are so large and have so much capacity, that makes one a little suspect to what their true motives are.

Bohemian: which is to sell more water to the Central Valley—

Dodd: Yeah. Southern California, populated area.

Bohemian: The Democratic Party highlights social issues, immigration reform, environmental issues—do you think that if you were to have remained in the GOP, you might perhaps have been a more effective advocate for a more sort of reasonable-Republican push on some of these issues?

Dodd: No. Their tent is not big enough for people who have strong social values who really believe in immigration reform, who really believe that it’s our responsibility for future generations to impact change on climate.

Bohemian: Well, here you are, a Democrat who is “pro-business,” but on the other hand, you could still be a Republican who is pro-immigration reform, pro-environment. If that was national model…

Dodd: Yeah, that would be a lot better, wouldn’t it! If you look at that kind of national model, our congressmen, Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, would be able to do the kind of great things that they are in Washington, D.C., to do, but the environment out there doesn’t make it conducive to advance the great things that they want to advance.

Bohemian: Your predecessor on the ag committee [former Assemblyman Henry Perea] was part of the moderate caucus of the state Democratic Party, and when he left the Assembly, he almost immediately took a job with the pharmaceutical lobby. You’re moving very quickly through governance here—what are your ambitions beyond elective office?

Dodd: It is very, very simple: I intend to serve my eight years, two terms in the state Senate and advance policies that will—we haven’t even talked about education—that will make California a better place for future generations. I have five kids and five grandkids, and I just think that the next generation or two of Californians, if we don’t advance these important policies, in the state, we will not have anywhere near the California that my parents and grandparents left me.

Bohemian: You’ve been a supporter of charter schools—

Dodd: I’m talking about public schools. We’re forty-seventh in the nation in per-pupil spending, and we’re the seventh largest economy in the world. You tell me how those two things make any sense. I believe we have, going forward, we have some really ambitious goals for carbon reduction in our atmosphere. I would like use that model to place some really serious goals on increasing our funding for public education in the state of California and I do believe that investments in our future, in Pre-K, and selected, targeted investments in career technical education, will pay for itself in one generation in reduced prison costs and reduced social services costs. In fact, Sen. [Mike] McGuire and I have—we had a budget bill last year and we were able to get $400 million for career technical education, and we’re very proud of that. [McGuire] has been an outstanding partner, and I’m looking forward to working with him.

Bohemian: What’s your view on the “Fight for $15” minimum wage and how it has played out in the state, locally and nationally?

Dodd: I see advancement in the state toward a higher minimum wage. We have to be careful. We represent the entire state of California. And it’s kind of like there’s a tale of two cities, if you will. You have the interior part of the state of California where the economy has not come back anywhere near as strongly as it has from Sonoma Count to San Diego County on the coast. But if you look at the interior counties—from San Bernadino to Modoc County—unemployment is high, business are not back and people are suffering. So, I think what we’ll see is cities take this on, on a regional basis for the foreseeable future.

Bohemian: It sounds like what you are saying is it would be great to have a $15 minimum wage but what’s the point of having it if there isn’t a job to pay that wage?

Dodd: I guess I’d say that. But the fact of the matter is that with the increased cost of living, and the cost of housing and all of that throughout my district and future Senate district, demands that people get more than the minimum wage that’s there today. And that’s not lost on me. I will tell you that as a former businessperson for 25 years, that when the unemployment rate goes down, as it is in the stronger counties, I would full expect that wages will go up because the demand for high quality workers and the lack of supply.… One thing I want to bring up—you brought up Hendy Perea, he was a moderate. The two people that picked me in concert was the Speaker right now, Toni Atkins, and the new one that’s coming in, gave his approval. too, Anthony Rendon. They’re both progressive, strong-democratic-value leaders that know me and work well with me and know that I have the balance to balance these real important issues. And I’m really appreciative of their confidence.

Bohemian: Do you think there’s anything to the idea that undocumented workers are taking jobs from American workers?

Dodd: I reject that notion. I don’t think there’s a significant workforce willing to do the type of jobs that our immigrant—legal or illegal—provides for our economies.

Bohemian: We’re not seeing a lot of white high school kids going and working in the fields for their summer jobs…

Dodd: Let me tell you, I picked grapes—I was with a group and we were making wine, going through the whole process. And the deal was, you couldn’t just make the wine. You couldn’t just pick the grapes. You had to go through everything, from A-to-Z, and let me tell you, after two days of picking, I thank my lucky stars that I wasn’t a farm worker. It’s back-breaking, and I’m sure nobody put me through the paces that [the workers] are being put through. I think that a lot of the workforce that we have today, their kids are getting a great opportunity. And that’s what they are doing it for. They are advancing the economy, our local economies, which are renowned worldwide, their kids are going to our schools and in many cases excelling, and many times are the first generation in their families to go to college, and they’re not looking to be farm workers in the future. So this issue is not going to go away, we’ve got to have programs that are going to satisfy our need for labor in these agricultural areas.

Bohemian: What’s the biggest complaint you hear from constituents?

Dodd: You know, I don’t hear a lot of complaints specifically about state government, and clearly, I’ve seen the polls, the closer you get to the people, the local and city and county governments poll very well—maybe not Sonoma County this year, or at least if the SEIU has any say—but generally, that’s the case. The state does well. But right now the federal government is polling really, really low. I think that’s the example, and unfortunately we all get painted with that same, broad brush, just because of the fact that there’s gridlock in Washington D.C. But I’m honored to work in Sacramento where it’s not like that at all, where you can have a civil discussion or a dinner or coffee or whatever with people you agree with, people you disagree with, regardless of political parties. That’s the one thing that I think people, that sometimes the easy way out with me is, ‘Oh, the impression with him is that he’s pro-business, so I’m not going to go see him.’ I learn things every day. And my office is always open, to everybody. I’m interested in learning and understanding more and more about all positions.

Bohemian: In your 2014 Assembly run, you had lots of local endorsements from elected officials, where your opponent had lots of support from organized labor. You seem to have more of the precinct-level, committee-level of support from the Democratic Party…

Dodd: I’m a firm believer that particularly in this case, right now I have the Sonoma Valley and Rohnert Park in my district. This [Senate] district will add Petaluma, Cotati and Sonoma. So in communities where I’m not a household name, I really do believe that if the majority of the local elected officials are supporting a district or statewide candidate, that resonates with voters. And I’ve got over 70 percent of the city councils, the boards of supervisors and the school boards that have endorsed in this race. That’s what I did in the Assembly race and that’s what I’ve done again in this race. This time I do have some pretty incredible statewide figures, some strong women, like [U.S.] Sen. Dianne Feinstein, [State] Sen. Lois Wolk, just to name a couple. That’s helpful. Because they’ve seen how I operate, they trust me and they know that I’ll represent their communities well.

Bohemian: I met with Mariko Yamada when she was the outgoing Assemblyperson. We really liked here dogs-in-restaurants bill. As Senator, will you pledge to not try to repeal that law?

Dodd: I have a great deal of respect for the former Assembly member and I would never undo her most important bill.

Bohemian: That was a good one. She’s a supporter of capital punishment. You?

Dodd: She is? Yeah, you know I am torn between the families of victims and how they would feel about this, particularly violent, violent murders, rape, etc., but I also understand the almost barbaric nature of the death penalty, certainly that is going to be an issue that I am going to have to work hard on the policy moving forward. I think the other thing is, the cost of our prison systems—we used to be the fifth, top five in nation in spending for pupil, and at the bottom five in per-prisoner spending. Today, we’re at the top five in prisoner spending and the bottom five in education spending. So that balance has got to be there as well.

Bohemian: What did you think of Gov. Brown recently flip-flopping on his previously held support for mandatory minimum sentences? He is now saying that it has really backfired.

Dodd: You know, I’m not an expert in that area but as I’ve gone around the district I’ve had judges tell me that it has been an absolute problem for them, and I think the Governor is probably right. We need to take another look at that.

Bohemian: The Napa Register quoted you a couple of years ago as basically saying that just because you were “pro-business” didn’t mean you turned a blind eye to labor or environmental issues. Can you expand on that?

Dodd: If you look at my voting record the first year, there’s a number of people in the business community that are very unhappy with me. And, I just think that my responsibility is not to represent business, it’s not to represent labor, it’s not to represent the environment, but to represent people by keeping the focus on—the environment, look, this is what we’re going to leave the next generation—policies that promote a cleaner, less carbon-intensive environment need to be advanced. Our shrinking middle class and labor force is important to, frankly, business and the economy moving forward and I just think it’s our responsibility to balance those things and make sure that we make good decisions for the future of the state of California. It’s pretty straightforward to me. I look at the issues, and I care about who is on what side, that’s part of the debate, but at the end of the day I have to look at my district and the state of California overall and make a nuanced, balanced decision that’s best for the people.

Bohemian: Last question. Hillary or Bernie?

Dodd: You’ve just spent like 45 minutes turning your readers on about me, I hope, and now I’m going to piss ’em off in one breath [Laughs]. No, I am all in with Hillary. I am all in with Hillary. Matter of fact, she’s called me, I talked with her while she was in Napa Valley, I had dinner with her in a very small group. And she’s talking about the same things that I am talking about, and our Congressman is talking about—schools, the education of our kids, jobs and the economy, the environment—and the one thing that I was really impressed with was her wanting to change the status quo on mental health in the United States. As Patrick Kennedy has said—he’s become kind of a friend, he comes to the mental health thing at the Staglin winery every year—you know, it really makes you wonder about our society that when you need a ‘check-up from the neck up’” that all of a sudden you can’t get it and, or they don’t take you seriously. We need to do a better job. We talked about that, and about gun control issues—we haven’t even ventured down the line when it comes to suicides in California and our country, and just the veterans and what they are going through, the post-traumatic syndrome. I’m telling you, this is a real challenge to our system today and people are not being taken care of and that’s what I heard her tell me. And that got me. Number one, it was fun being with potentially the first woman president of the United States, but somebody that if she never got there would have had a career as Secretary of State, as First Lady, as Senator, with distinction. I really enjoyed it.

Bohemian: I think about that famous line from Mario Cuomo that you campaign in poetry but govern in prose. Are Democrats basking in the poetry of the Sanders campaign but will eventually accept the prose of Clinton?

Dodd: I think so. That’s not to say, if you go back and listen to Bernie’s stuff, go back to 2000, 1990s, I don’t know how early he was making those predictions about income inequality—or what was going to happen in Iraq. He may not be the next president of the United States but you’ve got to give him some props for being a very smart public servant.

Bohemian: I will make sure that comment makes it into the story.

Dodd: [Laughs]. I’ll tell you. I’ve been going up and down to Democratic clubs, they’re going to do an endorsement, and here I am—actually I’m not getting a lot of that “former Republican” stuff this time around, but still there’s that underlying with real progressives. There’s a lot of the grassroots that I see every day, lots of Bernie Sanders support by Democratic activists…

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Brown Says Dungeness Shutdown a Disaster In Letter to Commerce Department; Could Open door to Cash Assistance to Crabbers

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2016 at 12:59 PM


I just heard from Jordan Traverso at the state Fish and Wildlife agency who informs the Fishing Report that today, Gov. Jerry Brown sent a letter U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, that "requested federal declarations of a fishery disaster and a commercial fishery failure in response to the continued presence of unsafe levels of domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin, in Dungeness and rock crab fisheries across California and the corresponding closures of those fisheries."

Brown's move follows on the feds declaring a de facto disaster last week, at Brown's request, which opened the door to low-interest Small Business Administration loans for out-of-work crabbers in the state. But the crabbers don't want loans, they want and need cash assistance to deal with the immensely bad fallout from a crabbing season that is all but canceled. There's still no word on if, or when, the fishery shutdown will end; the state moved to delay the Nov. 15 season opener until the domoic levels dropped to a safe level. They haven't. Now, this direct state push for a disaster declaration from California's chief executive opens the door to cash assistance in over a dozen counties affected by the closure.  "Economic assistance will be critical for the well-being of our fishing industry and our state," Brown wrote Pritzker. The move by Brown comes one day before a big fisheries hearing in Sacramento is to commence, with the Dungeness fishery-closure atop the agenda. 

Beyond the SBA loan offering, "the federal declaration of a commercial fishery failure will help hardworking Californians who have lost their livelihood to this natural disaster to receive vital economic assistance," Charlton H. Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, says in the CDFW statement. "We remain committed to doing everything we can for the affected fishing families and businesses—and communities that depend upon them—across every sector of the crab industry."

In the release, Traverso notes that "the Governor's request to the Secretary of Commerce initiates the evaluation of a federal fishery resource disaster under the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act of 1986 and a commercial fishery failure under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. Should a determination be made to declare a disaster and failure, this enables state and federal agencies to work together to determine the full economic impact of the disaster and to provide economic relief to affected crabbers and related businesses." The Dungeness economy generates between $60 and $90 million a year in California. This year: $0. 

Healdsburg Sen. Mike McGuire, a leading voice in Sacramento on the crippling impacts wrought by the Dungeness shutdown—and who co-convened Thursday's big fisheries meeting—was quick to heap praise upon Gov. Brown for advancing the disaster declaration to the feds. McGuire was one of about 11 lawmakers who sent Brown a letter in late January that implored him to push for the disaster declaration. McGuire noted in a statement that today's move "will provide desperately needed assistance to the crab industry and local businesses who are struggling. Fishermen are losing homes, racking up debt they can’t afford, and selling off assets, and the impacts are even greater in coastal towns that depend on a healthy crab harvest for their livelihood.”  

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

SBA loans for California crabbers as feds declare Dungeness season a disaster

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 3:31 PM

Dungeness disaster declaration drags on at state level, as Feds take cue from Gov Brown and offer low-interest declaring the Dungeness fishery shutdown a federal disaster.
  • Dungeness disaster declaration drags on at state level, as Feds take cue from Gov Brown and offer low-interest declaring the Dungeness fishery shutdown a federal disaster.

The state Office of Emergency Services posted the news on Feb. 3, yesterday, that "the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering low-interest federal disaster loans to California small businesses that have suffered financial losses due to the ocean conditions resulting in the delayed Commercial Dungeness Crab Season that was set to open on November 15, 2015, and the November 6 closure of the Commercial Rock Crab Fishery that is normally open year-round." The announcement was made by SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet.

The news comes as Brown has yet to declare the all-but-canceled Dungeness season a disaster, which would free up federal and state cash assistance—not loans—for the affected crabbers. At his request, the Feds went ahead and declared it a disaster in the meanwhile. "By declaring a disaster, Administrator Contreras-Sweet’s action makes low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) available immediately to help meet financial needs caused by the Commercial Dungeness Crab Season delay and the closure of the Commercial Rock Crab Fishery.

The government agency says it "acted under its own authority to declare a disaster following a request SBA received on January 27, 2016, from Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr.’s designated representative, Mark S. Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services." That move came a day after a group of coastal lawmakers wrote to Brown urging that he declare the Dungeness closure a state disaster. Check out the OES posting, there's lots of great information from the SBA on how and where affected crabbers can apply for the loans. 

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