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LARRY PARSONS: Why I hate Halloween

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Mini-dachshund in bow-tieThe biographical note on the Monterey Bay Partisan home page says I’ve been known to act like a grump or curmudgeon. The grump in me says that’s redundant. The curmudgeon grumps, “Just deal with it.”

I admit there are times when I behave like an old man shouting at kids, “Hey, get off the drought-starved patch of seared weeds and withered sprouts that used to be my lawn.”

It’s also true I don’t coo at every cute picture of a local otter. They’re really belligerent, bewhiskered water weasels who crack open and devour abalones with cruel abandon. “Put yourself in an abalone’s shoes, for pity sakes,” I argue. Alas, to no avail.

Most otter apologists dismiss me silently as a crank. Others, who are earnest and hopeful that they can pry open my sunny side, will smile and shake their heads. “Abalones don’t have shoes,” they’ll counsel. As if stating this obvious fact would sway me into the pro-otter camp.

Hey, it’s figurative language. I’m well aware abalone in the wild go barefoot. But why beat myself against the brick wall that is Big Otter? Other things rile me, and I pour drought-rationed cold water on them as well.

Take Halloween, which falls this Saturday, for instance. Halloween is my least favorite holiday, rating much lower than Take Your Adorable Otter to Work Day. I shift my curmudgeon car into overdrive as Oct. 31 approaches.

No, I haven’t got my Captain Buzzkill costume ready. Hear me out. Try to understand why this holiday, with its promise of free candy for kids and masked revelry for adults, hits me like a mummy allergic to adhesive tape.

Consider the bookends of my long, failed relationship with the holiday that reverses Socrates’ advice for being a wise human from “Know thyself” to the duplicitous “Know thy blood-stained zombie.”

My earliest Halloween memory is when my two older sisters dressed me as a little girl — makeup, skirt and wig with flowing curls — and dragged their trusting, little doll on the trick-or-treat circuit. I learned two things that night. People seem to think little girls are cuter than little boys. And little girls, on average, receive only 78 percent as much candy as little boys while demonstrating equal childish glee while trick-or-treating. Congress should do something.

If I had older brothers, perhaps my earliest Halloween memories would have been more golden. We would have done what bands of boys traditionally do — shake down small children for their good candy while leaving them with candy corn, fruit and walnuts. Yes, I recall being given unshelled walnuts by supposedly responsible adults. Oh, the horror. It really stings when you’re hit on the back of the head by a violently rejected walnut.

For the past two years, I’ve hurried to the store at the last moment to buy not one but two bags of candy from the massive Halloween displays that go up shortly after Labor Day. We had only a single visitor to the door last year, and he was dressed as a salesman trying to interest me in a deal on solar panels.

Needless to say, we had bowlfuls of leftover candy that lasted into the new year. I didn’t get the Milk Duds unstuck from my molars until Groundhog Day. I’ll probably make a similar last-minute run this year because of the threat of tricks, the malevolent part of the Halloween choice offered by strangers seeking handouts.

Talk about too many Americans wanting free stuff. When is Bill O’Reilly — patron saint of angry old geezers everywhere — going to forget his phony war on Christmas and launch a real war on Halloween? He’s got the scary costume.

I have plenty of Halloween horror stories from the intervening years. There was the time I was chased by a mob of deranged Trekkies when they discovered, despite my perfect costume as Klingon warrior Worf, that I didn’t speak a word of Klingon. Of course, there was the failed, last-minute ghost costume I made with a fitted sheet. And the brief stay for observation I earned one year after running amok in a particularly confusing and claustrophobic corn maze.

Truth be told, I just can’t do Halloween costumes.

As the last day of October approaches, I worry so much — about a. getting a costume; b. assembling the costume; and c. avoiding falling over a cliff while trying to see out of my costume — that I’m a frazzled ball of nervous indecision.

One year in college, my costume brain-freeze led me into the most shameful decision ever. I simply cut two eye holes in a brown paper grocery bag and went to a party being thrown by a nice music major I was going with and her house mates.

Her roommates were all art majors, and their costumes were works of Halloween art. My girlfriend was decked out as some sort of goddess, princess or temptress. When the fellow who opened the door  — a graying wizard with sceptered wand and pointy, purple velvet hat — saw me in the clunky grocery bag, he shouted, “Get thee away from here! Oh vile Safeway creature!”

I took the bag off so quickly I suffered a fairly deep paper cut on the end of my nose. “Hey, it’s me. Can I come in? Where’s the keg?”

The wizard replied, “Go away. It’s a costume party.” The next time I saw my music major, some other guy was blissfully carrying her piano to and from class.

This Halloween, I was going to make an abalone costume. But I gave up, knowing full well I’d never get the shoes right.

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CORRECTION ADDED BELOW, IN BOLD

I didn’t have any strong opinions on the proposed canine sports center that the Monterey County Board of Supervisors rejected this week. Ultimately I guess I think it was a cool idea that would have worked better in a more discrete location.

I was bothered, however, by some of the speechifying by two of the supervisors who voted against the project. Dave Potter and Fernando Armenta.

Potter was critical of his longtime friend and political supporter Keith Vandevere, a member of the county Planning Committee that had endorsed the project. Vandevere recused himself from the proceedings because of his longtime friendship with project principal Martha Diehl, who also serves on the Planning Commission. Potter said he thought Vandevere should have set his conflict aside and found a way to be impartial.

Vandevere got it right. People are influenced by their friendships. Even if Vandevere didn’t consciously favor Diehl, he almost assuredly would have granted her more credibility than project opponents. And if had voted against her, might it have been a case of bending over too far to prove his impartiality?

Potter’s criticism makes one wonder if the supervisor really believes what he said or if he was  trying to justify some of his own actions. At the moment, for instance, Potter is taking an active role in the Pebble Beach controversy over disputed plans to tear down an architecturally significant house and replace it with a much larger structure. The next-door neighbor and most vigorous opponent or the larger house is cotton tycoon Sam Reeves, who has made campaign contributions to Potter on several occasions. Reeves is represented by lawyer Tony Lombardo, who represented many of those opposing the canine sports center. By the way, a couple of decades ago Potter bought a house from Lombardo’s mother, a purchase that was partly financed by Lombardo.

CORRECTION ADDED NOV. 2, 2015: In an email to the Partisan, Lombardo said he was not involved in financing the purchase. Based on previous accounts in the Monterey Herald, it appears that Potter borrowed money for the down payment from Lombardo’s mother, not Lombardo himself. According to those accounts, Potter was to mail payments on the Lombardo loan to Lombardo’s law office. He soon got behind on his payments on the first mortgage, held by Bank of America initially, but Lombardo said at the time that the supervisor remained current on the smaller loan. Potter later lost the property to foreclosure. The Partisan apologizes for the error.

Over the years, Potter has had numerous opportunities to find a way to be impartial while considering developments promoted by Lombardo, who specializes in land use issues. I’ve been looking for an example of any times when Potter was impartial enough to vote against Lombardo’s interest. I’ll let you know if I find one.

As for Armenta, he said he was upset with the Planning Commission, which supported the dog park project. He said some of the commissioners had unanswered questions about the project but voted for it anyway. He said after reviewing a video of the commission hearing on the project, he wondered “what was the decision based on.”

Armenta may be onto something. Perhaps some of the commissioners believed as commissioners often do that it is their job to approve controversial projects so the decision is left up to the politicians, the supervisors. But for Armenta to question whether the facts supported the commission’s recommendation might create the severe misimpression that Armenta has ever let the facts stand in the way of his votes on development projects.

Armenta has proudly declared that he has never opposed a development proposal. The dog park doesn’t count because it isn’t really a development. In other words, Armenta has boasted that he has voted for every subdivision, every construction project that has come along no matter whether it was a sound project or a dud, no matter what the Planning Commission or planning staff recommended. And here he is questioning whether the planning commissioners had done their homework before supporting a project.

In the end, the canine sports center will not be remembered as one of the great land-use controversies of our time, but students of government and process should take note of it and the proclamations of Potter and Armenta for consideration when future controversies arise. If Potter persists on voting on issues involving friends and supporters, someone should ask him at what point is he able to recognize a conflict. And when Armenta votes for another leapfrog development, someone should ask him “what was the decision based on.”

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Important piece in the Weekly today about efforts by the Monterey Diocese to protect itself rather than its young adherents.

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People are always coming up to me and asking “What’s the hardest part of being the proprietor of the Monterey Bay Partisan? Is it the challenge of finding the truth that others are trying to hide? Is it the responsibility of always needing to be the first and best with the important news and/or analysis of the day?  Is it the knowledge that there are dark powers out there that would delight in snuffing the Partisan’s flame?”

My response, of course,  is to express my humble appreciation for the kind words implicit in such questions.

A person drawing and pointing at a Thank you for your support Chalk Illustration

Then I ask if they really would like to know, and almost invariably they say, “We do! We do!”

So I level with them. The two biggest issues are the paper cuts and the need to remind Partisan supporters that this modern marvel cannot stay afloat on its own, that it needs a money stream to prevent it from running aground on the rocky bottom of  the Sea of Indifference.

“Oh my goodness, Proprietor,” they are likely to respond. “You have expenses! Forgive us for not remembering that! So much pressure you must face every day, what with the cost of web hosting and those cool pieces of art you use to adorn most Partisan articles. And there must be equipment repairs, and the money you so generously provide to some of your contributors such as that wonderful Larry Parsons. Hard to believe he’s from Bakersfield.”

“Well put,” I reply. “But haven’t you forgotten something?”

“Oh, yes,” they declare in something approaching true harmony. “You need a camera, at least a simple little digital affair because your cell phone, well, it doesn’t have what it takes if you’re going to try to create an illusion of semi-professionalism on your awesome website.”

“And isn’t there an important county election coming right up?” they go on, as if on cue. “Jeepers, we don’t even want to think about what might happen if the Partisan isn’t around to help keep those candidates honest.”

“Wow,” I go on, “What alert and thoughtful readers you are.”

“Wait a minute,” they say next. “We’re working people like you but, come to think of it,  with that nice Mr. Obama in office, we’re getting along OK for now. We could help. What can we do?

“Glad you asked,” I reply, explaining that I truly am glad because asking for help of any sort is worse that watching the Dodgers win. “Here’s what you can do:”

On the top right hand corner of this page is a Pay Pal button. If you have a Pay Pal account, you can click on it and very quickly send serious money, or whatever amount feels right, directly to the Partisan. No muss, no fuss but Meg Whitman’s company does get a small cut. No Pay Pay account? It’s easy to start one.

Or you can send checks to the Partisan’s official new address that is, in reality, a mail-processing facility that forwards important mail to us here at home.  That address is:

Monterey Bay Partisan
20633 Gas Point Road
Suite A2 #500
Cottonwood, Calif., 96022.

Yes, that’ the real address. We could  have used a Beverly Hills address like others do but we went with Cottonwood because it suits us and there was nothing closer.

Cheers

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Trey Gowdy, destined to become the answer to a difficult trivia question

I’m a huge fan of high-stakes hearings in our nation’s capital.

Like millions who watched the daily unraveling of President Richard Nixon’s paranoiac rule, I binge-watched the Watergate hearings in the spring of 1973 on a grainy, black-and-white TV. I recall exactly where I was the day the committee learned of the Oval Office taping system that, in the end, doomed the president.

By the summer of 1987, I had a nice color TV for the Iran-Contra hearings, though the partisan divide clearly was black and white between Democrats and Republicans on the panel investigating the illegal, off-the-books White House covert action agency. It took years for the “scandal” to fade to black with indictments, convictions, reversals, pardons and, ultimately, Marine Col. Ollie North ascending to the modern heaven of talk radio and Fox News.

The best book, “A Very Thin Line,” detailing the facts and fundamental issues at the heart of Iran-Contra — featuring then-Wyoming Rep. Dick Cheney laying out his dodgy president-is-emperor theory of the “unitary executive” in the committee’s Republican minority report — was published way back in 1991 by historian Theodore Draper.

Unfortunately, it’s all ancient and largely forgotten history. My most vivid memories of those televised hearings were National Security Advisor John Poindexter tersely sucking on his pipe, and North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, testifying how she hid unshredded documents beneath her clothes to get them out of the White House before nosy investigators descended.

I watched big moments in the 1998-1999 sex farce that was the impeachment and acquittal of President Bill Clinton. The big takeaway: sometimes a cigar is just an exploding cigar in the face of a bunch of hypocrites.

I caught a few key witnesses in the 2003 hearings before the 9/11 Commission. Blood rushed to my face as National Security Advisor Condeleezza Rice steadfastly dismissed the famous, then still-classified Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily brief headlined “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” as mere historical stuff.

I would have stayed glued to the set if President George W. Bush, who strongly opposed creating the 9/11 Commission, deigned testify in public. But no, he and Vice President Cheney only agreed to meet commissioners in private — not under oath and with no transcription — for an hour together. True, their two-man show went for a whole three hours and 10 minutes, and President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore also spoke to the commission in private. But Clinton and Gore didn’t have to appear together like Bush-Cheney.

Needless to say, I greatly anticipated last week’s showdown between the Republican-led Benghazi Select Committee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The stakes were as high as they get in Washington. Clinton’s 2016’s run for president hung in the balance.

By now everyone knows Clinton — insert favorite triumphant sports cliche here — bowled a perfect 300, ran the table, tossed a no-hitter. Even dismayed conservative commentators admitted Chairman Trey Gowdy and his ill-prepared Republican colleagues failed big when it came to doing what they set out to do — deal a devastating political blow to Clinton.

She demonstrated stamina, cool and professionalism in her 11-hour appearance, while GOP committee members demonstrated abilities to rip in half several pieces of paper, stack copies of emails and find Benghazi on a map of Libya. They forgot that even for a show trial you have to show up.

By the midpoint, I was vowing to never again tune in one of these five-star congressional hearings. Simple matters were getting lost in the fog of partisan war. Committee costs were stated as being anywhere from $4.6 million to $5 million. The number of previous Benghazi investigations ranged from six to nine, depending on the speaker.

Sure, it’s Washington and only $400,000, but couldn’t these bozos stipulate to one simple fact — money they’ve spent to date? And each member has 10 fingers and thumbs, surely enough to accurately count previous Benghazi investigations

My mind was beyond wandering by the 10th hour. I imagined how GOP candidates would fare if they were in Hillary’s chair for so many hours.

Donald Trump, by the third hour, would have declared the proceedings pathetic and taken his gold cufflinks from the room. Marco Rubio, who developed cotton-mouth midway through a 15-minute State of the Union rebuttal, would have been hidden behind a wall of empty water bottles. Chris Christie … I shuddered to think of the possible destruction.

Still it dragged, deliriously toward the 11th hour. An image of Clinton as the cartoon Roadrunner, blithely chirping “beep beep,” came to mind. Gowdy and his Republican colleagues kept dropping Acme-brand anvils on their heads from dizzying heights.

The committee majority, as the night drew nigh, plowed into Clinton emails pulled from a private server. Yes, Gowdy said, these precious documents were never seen by previous Benghazi investigators. They hold the key to the truth.

Hundreds of the emails have been made public in recent weeks, including one that revealed Clinton followed the television shows “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Wife.” In another she asked an aide to explain what the slang acronym “fubar” means. The polite definition of the term, which G.I.s used in World War II, is “fouled up beyond all recognition.”

The impolite, literal translation would aptly to what happened in the House hearing room.

Somewhere far above, the ghost of Sen. Sam Ervin, the folksy, Constitution-loving chairman of the Watergate committee, was burying his bushy eyebrows into his palms and weeping.

Then came the highest point all day: The committee, Gowdy said, is in adjournment.

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Howard Gustafson

UPDATED 10 A.M. MONDAY

For a time, the antics of Howard Gustafson were almost amusing. He was everybody’s screwy uncle, the guy who popped off whatever happened to be on his mind, whether or not it was pertinent to the conversation.

Even so, he has been a board member at the Marina Coast Water District for years now, and even though he has called one of his colleagues a “reject,” another a “moron” and yet another a “liar,” he’s currently the board president.

Here’s the latest:

Because of his position, the Surfrider Foundation’s Monterey Chapter on Friday sent Gustafson an invitation to the screening of a documentary film, “Sand Wars,” which highlights the environmental impact of sand mining. The Nov. 4 screening is to be followed by a panel discussion involving several local experts on the topic.

The invitation went out to numerous local officials, and was sent to the email addresses listed on their agencies’ websites. Gustafson’s went to the email address on the Marina Coast website and the response was from that address. It is possible, of course, that someone else with access to his computer might have sent it, or that someone hacked him or who knows what else. But of late Sunday, he had not responded to an email or voice mail seeking comment, so here’s his response to the invitation:

 from: <hgustafson@sbcglobal.net>

Date: October 23, 2015, 5:26:27 PM PDT

To: Ximena Waissbluth <xw@surfrider.org>

Subject:Re: Sand Wars Special Event Invitation

Be serious, go fuck yourselves.  GO TRUMP! We’re coming…

Waissbluh, who sent the invitation, said she was stunned by the response.
“My jaw dropped.  It was an invitation to a movie screening and panel discussion at MIIS- not so horrible really.  I double checked the email address, thinking it may have been some kind of hoax or spam because how can someone in such a public position write something like that.  Email address is correct, according the the MCWD website.”

That’s the long and short of it. When we hear from Howard, we’ll let you know what else he has to say. But in case you’re interested in the screening, here are the details:

Sand Wars Film Screening and Panel Discussion – November 4, 2015

Join us for a special screening of the award-winning film “Sand Wars”, a documentary film followed by a panel discussion of local experts to explore the issues surrounding the widely unknown practice of sand mining, it’s impact on the environment, and its consequences on neighboring populations. 
 
On Wednesday evening at 6pm, we invite you to a wine and cheese reception followed by the movie screening.  Directly after the movie, the expert panel members will discuss the global and local issues of sand mining, as well as potential solutions. The esteemed panel includes Dr Gary Griggs, UC Santa Cruz, Dr Jason Scorse, MIIS, Dr Ed Thornton, NPS retired, and will be moderated by Bob Battalio with CA Shore and Beach Preservation Association. 
 
Tickets are $10 adults and $8 for students, faculty and seniors.  This event is open to the public and tickets can be purchased online at www.oceanfilmfest.org or at the door.
 
WHAT:  Screening of Sand Wars film, reception and panel discussion – Monterey 


WHEN:  Wednesday November 4th, 6pm-9pm
WHERE:  Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) at Monterey, 499 Pierce Street, Monterey, CA 93940.  Event will be held in the Irvine Auditorium, McCone Bldg 


WHO:  The general public is invited 

 
HOSTS:   The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, The Surfrider Foundation Monterey Chapter, The San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, The CA Shore and Beach Preservation Association
For tickets and more information, please visit: www.oceanfilmfest.org or contact Kayley Kim at kayley@oceanfilmfest.org

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Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal

If there is an uptick in crime in the unincorporated territory around Carmel, it won’t be a result of Sheriff Steve Bernal taking 18 deputies off the streets, or at least not in the sheriff’s opinion. Nope. It will be the fault of Carmel city administrator Doug Schmitz for alerting the criminal element, or at least that’s what the sheriff is suggesting.

That’s what the young sheriff had to say in an email (see below) responding to an email (see below) in which Schmitz raised his concerns about how the sheriff’s redeployment of resources could leave parts of the Carmel area unprotected, requiring Carmel police officers to drive into county territory at times in the wee hours. Some 18 deputies were reassigned to jail duty, largely to reduce overtime expenses in the crowded facility, leaving an early morning void in unincorporated Carmel as well as Pebble Beach and Carmel Highlands.

The exchange between Schmitz and Bernal was first reported in the Carmel Pine Cone but it bears repeating here because it provides a fresh clue about how Bernal responds to criticism. He has had a bit of a honeymoon since taking office at the start of the year but criticism comes with the job and it’s worrisome to consider how he might react when the going gets tougher.

The dust-up with Carmel comes as Bernal is still under the spotlight for inviting immigration officials to set up shop at the jail in August. He provided assurances that his office is interested only in assisting in the deportation of serious criminals but other officials say there are signs that minor offenders have been turned over to the feds in violation of state law.

As for the email exchange, if Bernal was hoping to find common ground with the Carmel administrator, he got off to a shaky start: “After receiving your correspondence dated October 15, 2015, I felt I should respond in order to educate you on common police procedure and protocol.” He then went on to tell the veteran city official nothing he didn’t already know about how police agencies routinely assist one another when their jurisdictions abut.

“When we instituted the current staffing reductions (or new scheme in your words) my office did not at ANY TIME ask your agency to backfill any of our gaps in patrol coverage,” Bernal wrote, forgetting for the moment that his office had not even notified Peninsula officials about the change.

After that weak start, Bernal stumbled some more.

“On another note, I would like to thank you for getting word out to the entire peninsula that we were deploying reduced resources in the area on a temporary basis.  What this managed to do was spread rumor based half-truths, which in turn has caused trepidation for many people. We tried to minimize publicity about the staffing changes so the criminal element would not be tempted to concentrate their efforts in areas with reduced patrol coverage.  Unfortunately, that plan has now been thwarted since you chose to address this issue by sending out your correspondence, rather than picking up the phone and calling me.”

HERE ARE THE EMAILS. FIRST, SCHMITZ’S:

15 October 2015

Sheriff Bernal,

It has come to my attention that earlier this month a new deputy allocation plan was put in place, moving eighteen (18) officers from patrol to jail duty. I have heard from my Police managers that the impact from this plan is that unincorporated areas in the Carmel region usually have no patrolling Sheriff Deputies between approximately 2 am to 7 am. Any responding deputies to the Carmel unincorporated region originate from either Salinas or Castroville. Thus, as has happened three times during early mornings since the new plan became operative, the Sheriff’s Office is relying on the Carmel by the Sea Police Department to be the first responder to calls for service in unincorporated areas. There have also been several calls for the City Police to respond during afternoon hours because Sheriff Deputies were not in the area. Thus, City resources have been allocated to respond outside of our jurisdiction because of an insufficient Sheriff’s patrol presence in these areas.

Early on the morning of 9 October, the Carmel by the Sea dispatch center was asked to send an officer to a reported prowler on Rio Vista, located off Carmel Valley Road. This is outside of our jurisdiction. Carmel by the Sea deploys two Police officers during those early morning hours. For officer safety, both of our on-duty personnel were sent to the Rio Vista residence, leaving our community without law enforcement coverage.

We are not staffed to handle our city AND the unincorporated areas around Carmel by the Sea. I am convinced that our residents would be outraged if they knew they and their properties were not protected because we were having to cover for your Department’s new scheme regarding patrol reduction.

Do not expect or count on the Carmel by the Sea Police Department to backfill for your Department in calls to the unincorporated areas.

Douglas J. Schmitz

City Administrator

Carmel by the Sea

 

HERE IS BERNAL’S REPLY:

After receiving your correspondence dated October 15, 2015, I felt I should respond in order to educate you on common police procedure and protocol.

Over the years the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office has enjoyed a very professional and cooperative relationship with the Carmel by the Sea Police Department. Once in a while, a call for service is received and units are dispatched and the responding agency may not have an available unit, or the responding unit has an extended response time.   A watch commander may ask a neighboring agency to send a unit to assist until a unit is free to respond. This is common practice throughout the county.  There is no expectation assistance will be rendered.  The decision to respond rests solely with the respective agency.  Again, we do not expect, nor rely on your officers to respond to our calls for service.

When we instituted the current staffing reductions (or new scheme in your words) my office did not at ANY TIME ask your agency to backfill any of our gaps in patrol coverage. The two agencies continue to assist each other as we have always done, no more, no less.

Considering that the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office operates countywide, we are asked to assist other agencies within the county on a daily basis, which we continue to do. It is disturbing, for example, that you are not aware or fail to acknowledge that my deputies have assisted your department approximately 28 times over the last several months. In April of this year, we had a sergeant and several deputies on standby (on overtime) to assist your agency with an anticipated protest at the Carmel Mission. My Sheriff’s Emergency Assistance Team (S.E.A.T) assists your agency many times throughout the year.  Our K-9 units, Bomb Squad, Search and Rescue and SWAT teams are available to assist your agency at a moment’s notice.

I have a very good working relationship with your Police Chief, Mike Calhoun.  My Coastal Station Commander, Keith Wingo, has a healthy working relationship with Commander Tomasi. I believe members from both agencies from the top to bottom enjoy a very professional working relationship.

On another note, I would like to thank you for getting word out to the entire peninsula that we were deploying reduced resources in the area on a temporary basis.  What this managed to do was spread rumor based half-truths, which in turn has caused trepidation for many people. We tried to minimize publicityabout the staffing changes so the criminal element would not be tempted to concentrate their efforts in areas with reduced patrol coverage.  Unfortunately, that plan has now been thwarted since you chose to address this issue by sending out your correspondence, rather than picking up the phone and calling me.

In closing, I would like to thank members of your police department for their continued professional conduct and cooperation.

Sincerely,

Steve Bernal

Sheriff-Coroner

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023As a native of Bakersfield, I find solace in knowing that though we will never have House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-My Hometown, we’ll forever have the “Bakersfield Sound” of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

A few weeks ago, we were neck deep in a warm pool of fawning profiles of McCarthy, the man anointed the next GOP House leader, and think pieces cooing over the prospects of having a Californian in what is still laughingly called the third most powerful position in Washington, D.C.

Then things took an abrupt turn for the worse for Kern County’s favorite son. The 40-member House Freedom Caucus, the my-way-or-the-highway crew who are the impacted molar in the toothy grin of congressional Republican rule, chomped down hard on McCarthy. He dropped his run for speaker faster than a horned toad scats across pavement on an August day in Arvin.

Adding salt to the Bakersfield wound, I saw a story out of Greenville, S.C., where Tea Party activists whooped it up at McCarthy’s humiliation. One told the Washington Post, “He’s from California, and they’re all RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] out there.”

Ouch.

That’s some flat-out Dixie disdain for California Republicans, who not only gave the nation two pillars of the modern GOP in Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, but have never taken a back seat on the crazy train for anyone when it comes to colorful right-wing extremists. (Google former two-term state schools superintendent Max Rafferty, for instance.)

True, things haven’t been going swimmingly for the GOP on the state scene. With Gov. Jerry Brown in his fourth term, Democrats occupy all eight of the state’s constitutional offices. In the Legislature, the only real drama every two years is whether Democrats will squeak out super-majorities in both houses.

Last year, Republican candidate for governor Neel Kashkari dropped from sight for a week while living with the homeless on the mean streets of Fresno. It was either a sincere effort to shine a light on lives too easily forgotten or a very strange campaign stunt. The drawback was almost no one noticed that Kashkari wasn’t around for a few days.

State Republicans have noticed the ER monitors nearing the flat line and are doing some modest rebranding in hopes of recovery. Six months ago, they officially recognized the state chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group founded a few …  well, actually in 1977.

These mighty winds of change kept breezing along at the state GOP convention in September, where delegates dropped tough language against undocumented immigrants in favor of blandly saying state Republicans hold diverse opinions on undocumented immigrants.

The two very modest stands on gay rights and immigration by the state GOP certainly run against the national Republican tide. The party’s current presidential front runner favors forcibly deporting 11 million immigrants. Two other candidates, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, fell over each other trying to stand before the cameras with the Kentucky county clerk defying the Supreme Court over same-sex marriage licenses.

It’s no wonder conservatives in other states look at California Republicans as nothing but darn Kevin McCarthy-loving RINO dunderheads. Bakersfield, Berkeley, they figure, they’re all the same.

That they’re wrong was evident a couple days after McCarthy’s public shaming. Gov. Brown signed a bill to automatically register drivers to vote through DMV offices and potentially expand access to the polls to millions. Republican state lawmakers uniformly opposed the new law.

Of course, their main objection was the potential for voter fraud. The trumped-up bogeyman of voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent, has been used in 21-GOP controlled states to enact laws making it harder for people to vote, especially people who may lean Democratic. It is the biggest rollback of voting rights in 50 years.

The conservative commentariat greeted California’s new motor voter law with the usual level-headed analysis. They figure the state is doomed to be controlled by immigrants who love corruption — who knows, it must be the genes — and Democrats.

The first notice I saw about this latest California-falls-into-the-sea threat came via an Oct. 10 Twitter post by Brandon Gesicki, local Republican political consultant. “Is this true? Time to move!” he wrote.

Poor fellow. He must really believe all the dystopian stuff conservative Republicans wallow in these days. He could move to Alabama, Texas or any number of safe Republican strongholds across the country. Bakersfield won’t be going blue any day soon.

Whatever happened to the spirit of sunny optimism exemplified by Ronald Reagan?  He told the story about the kid joyfully shoveling a small mountain of manure because he knew there was a pony under it.

Like that pony, there are plenty of Republican voters out there among millions of unregistered Californians or those who register but don’t vote. Lots of people from different backgrounds would be attracted to traditional Republican virtues — low taxes, entrepreneurial spirit and individual liberty.

The challenge for GOP candidates and their consultants is to retool the party’s package for citizens of 21st century California. That would be smarter than whining about the possibility of more people voting. Or continually seeking new ways to rig the system so they can’t vote.

After all, Ronald Reagan won the biggest victory in presidential history in 1984 with the Voting Rights Act in full effect. Two years later, he signed a comprehensive immigration law that provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

If anyone had suggested moving from California, Reagan probably would have flashed his Hollywood smile and quipped, “What the heck are they smoking?”

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Advancing age makes all of us wiser, said no one ever

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Happy BirthdayI am not aware of any songs about turning 65. There was that Beatles’ song about being 64, and it seems to me it would have been better if it had been about being 65.

Perhaps they used 64 for rhyming reasons, but the results were pedestrian, bringing just “door,” “more” and “evermore” into the song, not the most enticing words in anyone’s dictionary. Had it been about 65, they might have rhymed it with “alive” and “thrive” and “survive,” more meaningful choices all around. The next time the Beatles pop in, I will ask what they were thinking.

If it seems I am slow to get to the point, give yourself credit for perception and then do your best to forgive me. It has, after all, taken me all of 65 years to become qualified to write about turning 65, so what are a few moments of reflection and hopeful recalculation?

Moving along. Given that you also are older today than previously, I understand that your attention span is not what It was, so once I have limbered up enough to start, I will try to make what remains of this effort relatively snappy. No one has asked for this, but age creates a sense of entitlement and, as my mother demonstrates daily, a dissolution of filters. So here, finally, an inventory of most of what I have learned, in no particular order.

  1. Do not complain about your age. Doing so only irritates those older than you.
  2. Always drain the gas out of your chainsaw or any other power tool that you don’t expect to use within a couple of months. If you don’t, it won’t start. Period.
  3. People should be nice to everyone. Even if you are nice to everyone, the slightest hesitation in your delivery may give you a reputation for being not so nice, and reputation often trumps reality. And what’s the point of being nice if people don’t think you are nice, right?
  4. Speaking of Trump, if you meet anyone who says they plan to vote for him, do not try to talk them out of it. Just back away from them slowly. Try not to make eye contact.
  5. You should spend as much time as you can around young people and let them do the talking.
  6. You should spend as much time as you can around old people, and let them do the talking.
  7. Ours is an economic system more than a political system. The president is not in charge. The people who buy and pay for our congressional representatives are in charge.
  8. If there is ever going to be a desalination plant on the Central Coast, it won’t be built by Cal Am. The process of sort of trying to build a desal plant is more lucrative than the process of actually building one.
  9. Sports teams from Los Angeles are made up with athletes with serious character flaws.
  10. If you don’t put things where they are supposed to go, they are lost.
  11. Better golf clubs don’t help your game.
  12. In most circumstances, campaign contributions are bribes.
  13. Nonetheless, progressives should make more contributions.
  14. Newspapers did not go into decline because they are “liberal.” They went into decline because they strived for artificial balance instead of depth, because they covered the obvious rather than the important and because the owners put too much money into their pockets rather than into the product.
  15. Ry Cooder is this country’s best living musician. John Hartford is this country’s best dead musician.
  16. No one will agree with me on No. 16.
  17. Los Lobos is the best band.
  18. Joe Livernois and Larry Parsons agree with me on that one.
  19. One of the very best things you can do, ever, is to sit in a small boat on a quiet lake and stare at a red and white bobber connected to a worm on a hook.
  20. You cannot learn to play the banjo unless you practice. A lot.
  21. KRML is the best local radio station. I say that only partly because I want them to call me up and do one of those commercials “Hi, I’m Royal Calkins with the Monterey Bay Partisan and whenever I’m anywhere near the Peninsula I listen to KRML.”
  22. The Partisan partially fills the void in local news and commentary but it needs more readers and, even more importantly, more writers. Several people have said they plan to write something, but apparently they are busy meditating or jetting off to Italy or whatever. All one needs to do send an email to calkinsroyal@gmail and tell us what you’re thinking about writing. I’m pretty sure we’ll be interested, especially if you are Reg Henry.
  23. The public has done a fine job of supporting the Partisan financially. (Our needs are small.) But donations drop off dramatically between pitches, so let me suggest that a lovely birthday present might be a visit to the Paypal button atop this page or a check sent off to 84 Harper Canyon, Salinas, 93908.
  24. While there are those who accuse the Coastal Commission of overreaching, there are those who forget that the commission’s entire annual budget is less than $20 million, or less than the cost of a single oceanfront home.
  25. The odds against Monterey Downs ever happening are 30-1 and rising.
  26. Cassette tapes sound pretty darned good on a decent stereo system.
  27. The best way to improve the education system would be to hire many more teachers.
  28. If the plants are drought tolerant, you really don’t need to water them.
  29. Some cats are OK but dogs are better.
  30. When it comes to friends and family, I’ve had more luck than I deserve.

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Crime SceneIt apparently has become standard procedure following fatal shootings by police on the Peninsula: Even before the crime scene tape comes down, the police department involved turns the investigation over to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and, just as importantly, refers all questions there as well.

It happened a couple of weeks ago when Sand City police shot and killed a young couple in the Target parking lot. It happened last week when a Monterey police officer shot and killed a vagrant who was brandishing a non-functioning handgun near Custom House Plaza and again this week when Seaside police shot and killed a former mental patient who reportedly shot at them as they responded to a disturbance at a car dealership.

At first blush, it seems logical and appropriate. An outside agency will assure objectivity, right? So the appropriate police chief immediately tells reporters that the investigation has been turned over to prosecutors and that, therefore, there’s nothing else to be said. DA Dean Flippo tells reporters he has several investigators at the scene and when he has information to share, he’ll hold a news conference.

The next day or soon after, the DA holds the promised news briefing, provides the basic details, including the police department’s explanation for why shots were fired, and answers few questions. The sole focus is on why police were dispatched and why they opened fire. Little information is provided about any interaction between the officers and the subject, previous interactions or what information, if any, the officers had as they arrived.

What is often forgotten or ignored at such times is that the District Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation, not a procedural inquiry. It is focused on determining whether the responding officer or officers, and especially the officer or officers who used a weapon, broke any law.

Such charges are filed very rarely, so there is rarely a trial that would provide a public glimpse into what occurred. If the subject’s family files a wrongful death or civil rights lawsuit, it is likely to be settled out of court, so, again, there is little chance for the facts to be aired in public.

It is not the DA’s responsibility to determine whether the Sand City police followed proper protocol by confronting the young couple in the parking lot or whether it would have been more logical, and safer, to confront them earlier or later, away from bystanders.

It is not the DA’s responsibility to determine why Monterey police had released vagrant Donald Miller from custody an hour or so before he was killed. He had been arrested earlier for trespass and causing a disturbance at the McDonald’s on Del Monte Avenue. It is not the DA’s responsibility to determine if authorities should have taken him to a mental health facility for observation. Failure to do so even if the situation demanded it would not amount to a crime and, therefore, would not be any of the DA’s business. Or, so it seems, the public’s.

It is not the DA’s responsibility to figure out if Seaside police knew or should have known that Michael D. Clark was a mental patient with a record of police confrontations before he died at a Seaside Chrysler dealership.

I am not trying to suggest any officer did anything wrong. Odds are good that all involved acted bravely and appropriately. What I am suggesting is that the system we have created for scrutinizing officer-involved shootings is a failure unless we believe that the awesome power we bestow on law enforcement exempts police departments from honest inspection of their procedures, even their interactions with the mentally ill.

Some months from now, the DA’s Office will announce that no charges will be filed against the officers in Sand City, Seaside or Monterey. KSBW will tell the world that the officers have been “cleared of any wrongdoing.” A depleted press corps won’t get around to asking for reports stemming from the DA’s investigation and even if a request is made, prosecutors will claim investigative privilege.

By then, there will have been at least three internal affairs investigations that will have looked closely at the procedures and whether any protocols were violated. If any problems are noted, they will be dealt with, or not, internally, with no public pronouncements. Even if serious problems are noted, it is unlikely that the information will ever make its way even as far as the appropriate city council.

In other words, it will be left to law enforcement and law enforcement alone to determine if there are better ways to handle such potentially tragic situations.

So what’s the alternative? Simple. Police agencies should be required to provide the public with a reasonably detailed accounting of the events leading up to a fatal encounter and a reasonably detailed accounting of the encounter itself. If the subject was armed, how was he armed? What was the weapon? After the shooting at the car dealership, there was some confusion over whether Clark had fired his weapon. Did he or didn’t he?

In the case of Donald Miller, what is department policy for determining whether someone is released from custody or placed on a mental hold? How did the release of Miller square with that policy?

In Sand City, was there a compelling reason for officers to move in when and where they did?

That is not a question the Sand City Police Department wants to see discussed in public, for two reasons, one legitimate. First, too much information swirling around could complicate a difficult investigation. But, second, there is at least some chance that someone didn’t do exactly the right thing and could be embarrassed if that was made public.

Unfortunately, Salinas police have considerably more experience with such things and, as a result, they have taken considerable heat, some justified, much of it not. At the same time,  they have done a relatively good job of providing the public with meaningful accounts of fatal encounters. There have been times when the administration was perhaps too quick to pronounce judgment on the appropriateness of the department’s actions, but the public interest was simultaneously served by a relatively open accounting of what had transpired. It is not the worst model for other departments.

Law enforcement in the 21st century is a remarkably difficult and complex operation and so is calculating the correct formula for how it intersects with the public and serves interests beyond its own. It is obvious, however, that the law enforcement establishment has used the public’s trust to wrap itself in a shell that is making it more and more difficult for the civilian community to exercise even the most basic oversight.

If the police agencies involved choose not to let the public take a look inside, the various city councils should step in. Individual council members may be reluctant for fear of being accused of being anti-law enforcement or fear of attracting litigation. The facts are that good police departments are made stronger by regular exposure to the light and that the personal-injury lawyers hardly need an invitation to become involved.

When law enforcement takes a life, police procedures should become more transparent, not less. The goal of the resulting inquiries should not be to protect those involved from scrutiny or liability but to work toward minimizing the potential for similar results in the future.

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Close up of a laughing clown at the fairgroundIn 10 years or so, there could be a great black-humor movie about the guy I nominate as America’s greatest undercover operative of 2015.

The tough casting decisions will be deciding who should play such Fox News luminaries as Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocey in interview scenes with the star, who will play the world’s toughest guy —  hard-truth-speaking, ex-CIA operative Wayne Simmons.

Simmons, who was arrested this week on charges of basically being a total fraud and a thief to boot, appeared on Fox News dozens of times since 2003 as an expert on terrorism and national security issues.

The “expertise” he shared with millions of Fox viewers, along with readers of a garden variety of conservative news outlets that carried his columns and video links, weren’t mild criticisms of spy tradecraft, such as the proper way to check a dead-drop site.

No, they played right into the world view promulgated in Fox World and devoured by Americans who fervently believe President Obama, Democrats, liberals and other members of a vast conspiracy of traitors are deliberately selling out the nation because they are gutless squishes.

Simmons also was a prominent member of a Benghazi “citizens commission” formed a couple years ago by the right-wing outfit Accuracy in Media, whose website scrubbed its links to Simmons within hours of his arrest.

Liiberal media outlets gleefully jumped over news of Simmons’ federal indictment with lists of some of the more outrageous claims he shared with his gentle interrogators over the years. My favorite was a January 2010 Simmons’ column lamenting the death of seven CIA officers and contractors in an Afghanistan suicide bombing — “my brothers,” he wrote — and calling for the head of then-CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Panetta, he argued, didn’t know beans about being a righteous CIA undercover operative, because the agency had been ruined in the mid-1970s by the Church Committee and Panetta had done nothing to change the ruination.

In an appearance on Fox News earlier this year, Simmons claimed there are 19 training camps in America where Muslims are learning terrorist tactics. Who could believe such nonsense?

Well, for one, the guy who got real estate mogul and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump into temporary hot water last month at a New Hampshire campaign event. Trump didn’t say boo when the man asked a question seeped in anti-Muslim vitriol that mentioned those alleged “training camps.”

So far, Fox News’ comments on its “Spy Who Came In and Sold (us a bunch of hooey”) has been limited to the narrow explanation that Simmons never received payment for appearing on the network. I won’t hold my breath for Fox to commission an independent investigation by professional journalists to determine how Simmons managed to deceive its producers for more than a decade. After all, a lot of people, including some in government, were taken in by Simmons’ fictional identity.

It would be a public service for Fox to compile a list of the assertions Simmons made on the network’s megaphone under cover of his bogus expertise. They could instruct faithful viewers to disregard them all with a blanket “Never mind.” But that won’t happen.

If you think about it, Fox already has performed the ultimate correction of its long-running error in allowing Simmons face time. In Fox World, money is the only true indicator of value. Rich people are rich because they are good people. Poor people are bad people because they want free stuff.

By saying Fox News never paid Simmons a dime for being a news source — which is standard ethical behavior — the network is really saying, “We never thought what he was saying was worth anything.”

Back to the idea about a movie about Simmons. I’ve got a nice plot twist for the ending. Recall last month that conservative news outlets fell all over themselves trying to prove the anti-Muslim questioner at the Trump town hall was a plant, an undercover liberal operative. This is now accepted fact in many circles.

My film idea: Simmons confesses, in the final scene as the requisite shells explode and jets scream, that he actually has been a liberal double-agent in a masterful long game. For 12 years, he spouted an incredible assortment of wild fables designed to make Fox News and its faithful appear as witless dupes. The proof of this perfidy is that he has been secretly PAID, all along,  by … oh, wait for it … the Clinton Foundation. Tah-dah.

It will have the suckers rolling in the aisles.

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More and more cities are taking over their water systems

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Interesting Los Angeles Times piece on the national and international trend toward publicly owned water systems.

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American Flag Painted by Roller Brush, Wining Concept of FlagMost people watching the Democratic debate this week probably were in the company of like-minded people. I suspect most Partisan readers, for example, watched with others who went into the debate supporting either Bernie Sanders or Hilary Clinton and came out of it the same way.

I, on the other hand, was fortunate enough to view the proceedings in the company of others who hold distinctly different viewpoints. It provided me with some insight into the state of the nation, or at least the state of the electorate.

In the recliner to my left was my mother, 86 years old, a retired federal employee with deeply held and sharply expressed opinions on everything. She told me while I was searching for the right channel that she could not understand why anyone would be interested in the Democratic debate.

“So who are you supporting, mother?”

“Trump,” she declared.

I should not have been surprised.

“And what is it you like about him?” I asked as I whipped out my freshest reporter’s notebook.

“Because you know what he’s going to do. He isn’t wishy-washy like the rest of them. If someone bombs us, he’s going to bomb them back.”

I asked if she thought the other candidates would not do so.

“They’d talk and talk and say, ‘Oh, let’s just see how it goes for a while.’ Not Trump.”

Next I turned my attention to the couch, and my mother’s friend, Joyce, 67, retired caregiver.

“Who would you vote for, Joyce?”

“Cooper.”

“Cooper?”

“Yes, Cooper. The doctor.”

“You mean Carson?”

“Yes, Dr. Carson.”

“What do you like about him?”

She sat quietly, thinking it over.

“His personality?” I ventured.

“Yes, that’s it,” she agreed.

My co-observers remained in character throughout the debate. The TV wasn’t turned up loud enough for my mother to hear, but that was fine with her. She knew enough about the candidates already and their appearance filled any potential gaps in their knowledge.

“Too old,” she said when the camera was on Sanders or Chafee. Each time the camera was on Sanders or Chafee.

I told her Chafee is only 62, younger than anyone in this focus group, a group I’m calling Extremely Low Information Likely Voters.

“Really? Well it looks like he’s wearing false teeth.”

I asked why she likes the Republicans better than the Democrats. She said it’s because the Republicans will protect Social Security and improve benefits. I asked where she had heard that. She changed the subject.

I asked why she doesn’t like Hillary Clinton. She answered by making that face, that scrunched up face that one makes when one smells something horrible or, in my mother’s case, when someone mentions Barack Obama.

On this evening, she made the face twice in response to the question about Hillary. Looking for an actual comment to share with Partisan readers, I pressed her. She thought about it for quite a while.

“I might vote for her husband if he was running again but I won’t vote for her because of the way she stood up for him when he was fooling around in the White House. She went on TV and stood right next to him.”

She was talking about fooling around with women. Apparently in a political context it was OK for him to fool around but the first lady should have tossed his things onto the White House lawn. I gave her the look I give her when I don’t understand her thinking. She shrugged her shoulders, shorthand for “that’s just the way I feel, OK.”

For sport, I asked if she knew that Sanders considers himself a socialist.

“Well he should be running for president in some other country then.”

I looked over at Joyce. She smiled and nodded.

I turned back to my mother. She was flipping through the channel guide on TV, looking for Wheel of Fortune.

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Brown getting more heat over veto of PUC reform bills

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Here’s what the San Jose Mercury News had to say about Gov. Brown’s “appalling” veto of the six-bill legislative package intended to fix some of what ails the California Public Utilities Commission. (Here’s what the Partisan had to say on the same subject)

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DemDebate: It’s all over now… except for your thoughts

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What are your thoughts on the Democratic debate?

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