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Are the reporters all on vacation, or what?


White wall texture with a chairLast Thursday, March 19, shortly before 10 p.m., I was channel surfing and stopped for a few minutes to watch the live broadcast of the Seaside city council meeting. I came in at the end of a presentation about the library, and after a minute or so they invited public comments. I probably would have moved on to better entertainment, but the first person to speak happened to be someone I knew, so I stuck around.

As she was speaking, someone in the council chambers began moaning very loudly. The woman stopped speaking, turned around and said “We need an EMT.” The video cut to a wide shot of the dais where I saw Councilman Dennis Alexander’s chair turned around and his right arm was moving erratically. Men in police or fire uniforms were rushing to his aid as Councilman Jason Campbell jumped out of their way. The mayor called a recess and the screen went dark. It was such a disturbing scene that I was shaking for the next 10 minutes.

I tuned into the 11 o’clock news to see what had happened. KSBW didn’t mention it all, but KION had a reporter at the meeting and she said it had been cut short because a City Council member had a medical emergency and was taken away in an ambulance. She said he looked OK, but had no further details. She didn’t even say which council member fell ill.

I fully expected to hear more about the incident on Friday when, presumably, more information would come to light. But again, KSBW had nothing. KION briefly repeated the same vague information from the night before, but only as a footnote to a story about the council’s activities. The Monterey Herald and Monterey County Weekly newspapers also missed the story entirely, especially odd for the Weekly,  which covers Seaside pretty closely and posts stories daily on its website. We have to wait a couple more days to see if the Carmel Pine Cone mentions it.

It’s a mystery to me how an elected official being hauled away from a public meeting in an ambulance, with dozens of witnesses, can almost completely escape the notice of the local news media. I certainly hope he’s OK. The news folks should be keeping us informed so we don’t have to guess.

By a strange coincidence, the reason KION was at Thursday’s council meeting was that the city is thinking of dropping out of Monterey County’s emergency 911 dispatch service and taking the city’s business elsewhere, either to a new agency of its own making or possibly to Santa Cruz County’s call center. A couple days earlier it was reported that Salinas and Pacific Grove were planning to do the same, and as of this week it looks like Del Rey Oaks will join them. What in blazes is going on?

I follow local news pretty closely, but until last week I can’t recall hearing a single complaint about emergency dispatch services. Not a peep. Now all of a sudden it’s a major problem. If reports are accurate, the cities say they’re paying a lot for the county to provide 911 service but the cities don’t have much say in how it’s run. OK, I can see why that might be a problem, but not one of sufficient severity to jump up and say, “We’re outta here.”

Perhaps this is some sort of political ploy to get the county’s attention, but I can think of less alarming ways to accomplish that. The appropriate thing for these cities to do is pass resolutions asking for greater influence on call center management, or ask to renegotiate the arrangements, and see how the county responds. Instead, four cities have abruptly said they want a divorce, and have done so with almost no public discussion. Until last week the issue wasn’t even on the public radar.

The idea that cities in Monterey County could afford to start a 911 system from scratch, or successfully move their 911 services to a neighboring county is difficult to believe in the absence of any formal studies. KSBW reported that Santa Cruz County’s facilities would require a major and costly expansion to accommodate our cities. Worse, by having separate dispatch services, local cities would isolate themselves from neighboring police and fire districts, which could hamper mutual aid calls. And what will happen to Monterey County’s emergency call center if it loses a major source of funding? It doesn’t look like local cities have thought through their position very well. So why are they so eager to bail out? That’s the second emergency mystery this week.

James Toy is a native of Carmel, currently living in Seaside, who occasionally gets involved in local political matters. He is the creator of a community-oriented website called The Monterey Peninsula Toy Box at www.montereypeninsula.info. This commentary also appears on that site.



A Jan. 19 article in the Monterey Herald focused on the Salinas church appearance of a well-traveled lecturer who says he became a Christian after 20 years as an Islamic terrorist. I figured the piece would not land with a thud. The good-vs.-evil story had some rough edges, to say the least.

I knew, as did the Herald reporter, there is long-running controversy about the sensational autobiography of the speaker, Kalam Saleem, who appeared at the First Presbyterian Church as a former “jihad terrorist, raised an Islamic radical, taught to hate Jews & Christians by his parents.”

Here’s the article.

In the online version of his story, Herald reporter Phillip Molnar provided links to several of the articles questioning Saleem’s personal story, articles that I found in about 45 minutes of Googling. I also found plenty of links to conservative Christian and patriot sites trumpeting Saleem’s message and videos of his anti-Islam lectures.

Unfortunately the documentary links in the Herald online story — because of the disparate nature of the media — disappeared in the print version in the next day’s paper.

Still, I thought there would be a strong reaction to the front-page story, which hit the issue about Saleem’s unusual credentials very hard. But the online story attracted only a half dozen comments, and I couldn’t find many more than that on the church’s Facebook page. I didn’t see any letters to the editor, either.


Go figure, I thought.

Then on Sunday, the Herald ran an opinion piece by Mike Ladra, senior pastor at the Salinas church, that ripped the story as one-sided, inaccurate and focused more on “various unproven accusations” against Saleem than what he and Saleem had to say to the congregants about “radical Islam.”

Here’s Ladra’s piece.

As far as I can tell, the “accusations” remain unrefuted by Saleem, other than his blaming them on the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a 20-year-old Muslim advocacy group that critics view as extreme.

Like Ladra, I would have liked to read more of what Saleem had to say in Salinas, because one quote in the Herald story cried out for more context. Or it was spoken in a context devoid of reason.

“Islam is the only religion today that asks for a blood sacrifice before Allah. You cannot worship Allah without blood,” (Saleem) said. “… You must offer yourself by killing yourself, or killing others.”

It’s obvious that all 1.6 billion Muslims living in 49 countries don’t follow that recipe to live their faith. Or there would be millions of murders and suicides going uncounted among adherents of the world’s second-largest religion, to whom Saleem broadly ascribes staggering barbarity.

Ladra also wields a broad brush in his piece, which accuses the Herald story of giving readers an impression the church program on “radical Islam” bad-mouthed “Muslims in general.”

He says he spent three summers studying in Jerusalem and sipped Arabic tea with Muslims — he calls them “my new friends — while discussing America, Europe, Jews, Christians and jihad.

“Without exception,” Ladra says, “I was told that I am an infidel and that the world must worship Allah voluntarily or involuntarily. I heard repeatedly from my new friends, “’Today Islam is our religion; tomorrow it will be your religion.’” Radical Islam up close and personal.”

In closing, Ladra suggests Islam can’t be a peaceful religion because the prophet Muhammad, late in life, taught jihad. (The Arabic noun, translated as “struggle”or “striving,” has various spiritual and historical interpretations for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  Today it is used by Muslim extremists to mean armed aggression against enemies.)

Ladra credits TV stations KION and KSBW with covering Saleem’s appearance “very positively.” The KION story identifies Saleem just as he portrays himself without a hint of the controversy about his credentials as a born-again ex-terrorist.  That’s nice, but it’s not as informative as the Herald story, which actually pulled its punches on one of Saleem’s associates on the conservative speaker circuit.

Saleem recently co-wrote a novel, “The Coalition,” about a battle against global jihad with retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a controversial former Delta Force commander and undersecretary for defense for President George W. Bush. Today, Boykin is a conservative Christian activist and executive vice president of the Family Research Council. Like Saleem, he provides frequent fodder for liberal groups like Media Matters and Right Wing Watch.

A Boykin sampling: He was rebuked twice by President Bush in 2003 for saying Muslims worship an idol and false god. He has said Islam shouldn’t be a constitutionally protected religion because it is a “totalitarian way of life.” He has said President Obama is leading the country like a Marxist revolutionary and has called for his impeachment for the Benghazi consulate attack. He also accused Gov. Chris Christie of appointing a Muslim man linked to Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, as a New Jersey judge.

Of course, there is a need to understand radical Islam and to challenge it savagery, as this writer in the New York Times says:

Or as former basketball star and scholar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in Time:

But reliance on dubious, if not false voices — Saleem last year reputedly claimed President Obama worshipped at a Washington, D.C., mosque on a Christmas Day when he was in Hawaii — is a poor way to muster the informed resolve to meet the challenge.

(Full disclosure: I worked with Molnar at the Herald for nearly two years. I consider him a scrupulous reporter and a friend.)