And We Will All Be Rich

In my adult life several game changing shifts have taken place in the American economy. At first glance they would appear to signal a clear step backwards in our comfortable lifestyles. In each case we were told by select think tanks, business leaders, and their employees in Congress that economic changes are always difficult but change is what made America great. We were confidently assured that after a period of adjustment this or that restructuring would make us all rich.

When the “rust bucket” industries went belly up we were told “Don’t worry about “reindustrialzation.” Heavy manufacturing will be replaced by clean, well paid “knowledge work” – computers, software, and the work-at-home jobs they make possible. We will all be rich.

The computer age came, followed by the internet sequel. However, they seemed to make only a few people rich or better off. The goodies must have gotten stuck in those boxy computer things we now all use. We just have to figure out how to get our riches out of the boxes. And all those work at home jobs? They appeared as promised…. but the homes were in India.

Another “make us rich” scheme was the replacement of “employees” by contractors, usually outsourced contractors who often made job offers to former employees at a fraction of the pay and benefits they were receiving. Apparently we have to wait until we are all replaced by contractors before we can all be rich.

NAFTA had to be a sure winner to make us all rich, right? After all, a larger free market area would be a larger area to create wealth. No one suggested that it might make a difference whether this mega free trade zone should adopt Mexico’s standards or the United States’ standards. I guess they flipped a coin and decided on Mexico’s.

Speaking of contracting, someone decided that outsourcing shouldn’t arbitrarily end at America’s border. Allowing our corporations to contract with China’s corporations to make America’s products had to be an amped up path to contracting riches. In fact, our corporations would only be too happy to share the piles of new found wealth with the rest of America.

Backtracking to the original brainstorm to make us all rich by giving a few talented visionaries political privileges, there was the 1913 decision to give a few private bankers, humorously named the Federal Reserve System, exclusive control over the money supply. This was necessary to eliminate wealth destroying boom and bust cycles. Now you know the inspiration that gave America a century of financial stability.

Slashing taxes on the wealthy and dumping those opportunity crushing wall street regulations had to be a no-brainer in making us all rich in a stable, risk free environment.

One tactic that also allowed working people to also participate in getting rich without tangible production was land speculation. This was charmingly referred to as “flipping real estate.” It works better if you put a minimum amount down on several properties and flip them before some party pooper forecloses on you. The beauty here is that those who didn’t do their part in making us all rich were penalized with higher house prices or higher property taxes.

The latest proposed installment in making-us-all-rich inventions is the Trans Pacific Partnership. This will magically bring to us all the good things to us that international corporations have by silencing those barriers to riches called American Laws and Regulations. Think of the TPP as NAFTA on steroids or maybe crank.

OK, so most people don’t feel rich after all that has been done for them by our leaders. That’s because they haven’t learned that being rich for us is more of a state of mind than a physical reality. We are all rich by definition.

No More Bus Strikes

Lake County will not have another bus strike. Say it. Now everyone in a leadership position say it. “We will not have another bus strike. We will not allow take-it-or-leave-it scorched earth positions. We will address relevant issues and not put out a management contract that is tailored for the Lake Transit Authority to hide behind.”

During the last strike the the Transit Board held up their management contract and said “See we have a contract. Our hands are tied.” Of course, they are the ones who tied their own hands when they rubber stamped Mark Wall’s provisions. These provisions gave a mere management contractor the power to force a strike. Encouraging a contentious labor environment is not in the public interest. The elected members of the Lake Transit Authority should know this.

We have a short period of time to act before this dereliction of duty is repeated in the next management contract. Tell those Supervisors and Council people on the Board that we will not tolerate an attitude that says “Gee, too bad our vulnerable citizens are caught in a labor crossfire. It’s a good thing that, even though we are in charge, we can’t do a thing about it because of a contract that we never even looked at before it went out to bid.”

I’m sure the Transit Board is not using the contract as a cover for anti union bias or general contempt for Lake County’s poor and disabled. They just got a little lazy and now that they have seen the damage their lack of oversight has caused they will diligently fix the next management contract before it goes out to bid this Summer. Otherwise we will have to suck it up for another three years or longer.

Here is what must go into the next transit management contract to avoid future disasters.

First, and this should be obvious, we need a binding arbitration clause. This involves a competent third party that examines the facts without personal agendas. People with personal agendas will not like this. But this is Lake County residents’ bus system, in case anyone needs to be reminded.

Second, we need a wage and benefits structure that encourages bus driver longevity. Note that this does not mean a higher starting wage. A structure will create an incentive to develop as drivers and mentors here in Lake County. A wage structure says, we want drivers who will stay to develop the skills and acquire the experience to serve our most challenged citizens. A low, flat wage results in Lake County training drivers for other counties. Obviously, this is a waste of our taxpayer money as well.

Having a transit team saturated with new drivers is a public safety issue. Even Paratransit’s operation manager Wanda Gray admits that Lake County Transit has more bus damage than any other Paratransit unit. Unless this is an admission that she is hiring anyone with a pulse, we have to assume that this is the result of fewer than normal experienced drivers.

Finally, we need provisions in the management contract that prohibit management contractors from pursuing personal agendas. To ensure this, we need performance clauses with teeth. The performance clause in place during the strike was completely meaningless according to the transit tzar Mark Wall himself. Then why was it even in the contract? Was it a dumbed down version of an earlier contract’s performance clause?

Insist now, that the next transit management contract have binding arbitration, a wage structure, and a meaningful performance clause to serve the public interest and not personal philosophies. Lake County residents deserve it.

Rebel Without a Drivers License

One of the newest trends in the sustainable transportation field is the bicycle moped conversion kits sold on the internet. These aren’t the electric assist versions that have been around awhile. These are 4-cycle engines, 49cc or less for California. They aren’t supposed to be able to go more than 25 mph. Originally they were marketed to skater boys without a drivers license. No insurance or registration requirement was also a plus for people in the under 25 years old bracket.

However, markets have a way of defining themselves. These kits have turned into must have items for people who have lost their licenses due to DUIs or permanent impairment. Most of these geezers buzzing down the street look like they’re making a sortie between Social Services and a meeting with their parole officer. This isn’t me. I have a Class B with Passenger and Motorcycle endorsements. As a long time motorcycle and bicycle rider I became interested in this cheap thrill because its a loop hole that pisses off authority types. The Highway Patrol will pull mopeds over then realize they can’t do anything above what they can hassle a bicyclist over. No license, registration, or insurance? No problem.

Obviously I had to add a noisy moped to my repertoire of things that I own or do that are just barely legal. I bought a bicycle with the the kit already installed. After a terrorizing the residents of Kelseyville on a round trip to the hardware store I was ready for my first double digit trip. I decided to go around the North Shore.

I left around Noon, taking Big Valley to Soda Bay to Lakeport. As I roared down Main Street at 20 miles per hour pedestrians stared warily. After all, this person must be more dangerous than a Harley rider. He has no license. He has nothing to lose. I took the Lakeshore tour all the way to the Nice Lucerne cut-off. Truly scenic views thru the Rodham Slough can be enjoyed more at slower speeds.

Unlike traveling high speed roads on a bicycle I did not have to worry about cranked out SUV drivers or red necks in pick-ups blowing their horns at me. This boorish behavior startles bicyclists but my rig was making so much noise I could barely hear them. It was like flashing a blind person. No effect whatsoever. I continued on thru Nice and Lucerne still working on my half gallon tank of gas.

Then I discovered the weak link in the conversion system. Power is transferred from a belt drive by several shafts and bushings to a chain and sprocket. Apparently this arrangement got a little loose and the belt and fittings went flying thru their cover at Bruner Road. Oh well, that’s why you still have bicycle peddles on a moped. Being a bicyclist in good condition helps. The problem is that the engine and conversion hardware tripled the weight of this one speed bicycle. Peddling was like running a 50 yard dash with a fat lady on your back. Any grade at all required me to get off and push. I stopped and had a smoothie at the Catfish in Clearlake Oaks then began the long push over Sulfer Banks Road but it was fun going down.

I road into the Clearlake Catfish at 4:45. The usual freaks there dug the whole idea even though the moped beast was injured. It was great to have a plan B when the motorized power train system failed. Part of that Plan B is to not live a sedentary life. Of course it would have been better to know what needed regular adjustment and having the right tool on me to make the adjustment on the spot. But now I am wiser.

A future area to explore of rebel sustainable transport, that’s just outside the long arm of the law, is taking short, single hull boats to the middle of the lake at night. “Single hull” means no registration or mussel inspection sticker is necessary. A deputy confirmed that there is one deputy on call at night for the whole lake. So no one will be cruising on the water looking for suspicious people. No neighbors will be complaining about an after 10 pm party on their street because there is no street and no neighbors. Lash your small boats together and have a party. Or stick a trolling motor on a piece of floating dock and push out far enough from shore to do the Cleopatra barge thing. Just one more precious gap in the closing net of big brother.

The Homeless Count – Shimmering Shades of Grey

The official number of homeless in Lake County is 180. What does this number mean? It means that North Coast Opportunities can apply for various grants related to serving the homeless based on the existence of 180 homeless. Is this one day “point-in-time” count anywhere near the number of homeless in this County? No. But because it used an established method and brought in other agencies as part of the count, the number can be considered “official” and used as grant bait. No problem. This is how the grant game is played.

Those who want to wrap their mind around the whole homeless problem are going to have to do more thinking and less counting. This is because the homeless are not some sub category of human with their own language, culture, and distinctly altered DNA that can be tagged on sight. They can’t be pin pointed. Homelessness is a continuum, blending from one category to another and even in and out of the general condition of homelessness. Some of our other housing problems could be considered borderline homelessness.

Assuming that the extreme forms of “living outside” should be the easiest to count, could 180 at least be a rough estimate of those in the most dire straits? No, not if you know the condition of the seriously desperate. Many of these people have had numerous bad experiences with people in authority. Some avoid institutional types altogether because they are paranoid. If you seek them out on their turf they will feel vulnerable. Probably most of these numbers are people coming in to get some kind of no-strings, no-names help. The one day count is more of a cross section with some categories filtered out entirely.

A dividing line can be drawn anywhere on the spectrum of homelessness between outside homeless and having some kind of a housing problem. It largely depends on society’s comfort zones. The middle classes can accept a homeless concept that includes substance abusers, the mentally ill, or even people having a temporary problem getting on disability but the assumption is that most homeless problems are either temporary, the homeless’s own fault, or a fabrication by social workers or political opportunists.

What our society cannot accept are conditions created by an economic system that prevents people who have had a setback from putting together some type of housing situation. We justify our callousness with the belief they must deserve it because they’re drunks, they take drugs, or they have a prison record. But it wasn’t always like this. Even in my lifetime, people could hit bottom and start putting their life back together. There were always minimal housing options that did not require an immaculate paper trail. And families breaking up was rarely a fast track to living out of a shopping cart. There was a plan B with fewer legal barriers.

As safety nets continue to unravel, the middle class is starting to get nervous. One big medical expense combined with fraying family support (I’d like to help but my kids with worthless college degrees and tons of debt can’t get a job.) and anyone could become homeless. The lower middle class has realized with horror that not only are they unlikely to move up but they could easily end up in the despised homeless class. Rather than searching for causes of long term chronic homeless they react against the homeless by supporting more and increasingly punitive anti homeless ordinances – almost as if homelessness was a disease that they could catch. Eliminate the homeless people from sight and I won’t catch the disease myself.

Years ago the attack was on the private sector’s last chance options for otherwise homeless. There used to be drop-in dormitories – YMCA and “flop houses” in skid rows. More respectable, were boarding houses where someone could rent a room or a shared room by the week. Finally we had trailer parks, not mobile home parks, trailer parks. These were perfect for seasonal and construction workers. As property became more valuable, combined with Redevelopment Agency plans that did not include mobile living, trailer parks became scarce where needed most. A few churches trying to make a last ditch effort with below the radar “warming centers” are shut down by the police.

Without legal places to exist most homeless shimmer in and out of view in even more improvised situations, depending on age and personal functioning. The chronic homeless are the stereotype homeless that we see and make up most of the numbers in official counts. At the other end of the spectrum are people who rise out of homelessness but never very far, dropping back into being homeless after the next setback. People who try hardest to not be tagged as homeless are people with jobs or families, living in vehicles, storage sheds, and garages – all illegal as hell. The people in government would just love to turn their class war machine on another target. Then we have the young people, hopping from couch to couch, crash pad to crash pad. There’s still some official drop zones for them but always with deadlines that fall far short of their problems, or are they society’s problems?

The liberal dream of replacing dumpy and marginal types of housing with sprawling government financed ghettos have always fallen short of the need and still excluded many. In my own city of Clearlake there is never any money or expertise to help anyone who can’t write a check to pay building fees. But there is always enough for police, code enforcement, and community development to pursue people trying to survive. No one asks, “How many slices will be cut from the middle class cheese block before its my turn?”

The Clearlake Disease

Any healthy organism exudes characteristics of vigor. A city is a type of organism. Like any organism, it can become diseased. It may show symptoms that never get better. In which case it has a chronic disease.

The city of Clearlake goes beyond even chronic disease. What few resources it has goes into attacking its own cells (citizens), mostly for the benefit of short term thinkers and people living in a past that never was. The nature of the malady has elements of autoimmune and parasitic diseases.

But where is the healthy body that this disease is attacking? There was never a town here before there was a city. A strip of resorts and support businesses called Clearlake Highlands served a declining tourist trade rolling off highway 53. There never was a center, heart, or soul to this largely seasonal population.

This promise of something that was never quite here was the basis of Clearlake’s only ongoing industry – selling trash lots in the hills with no services, roads, or clear idea when and how to get them. The Clear Lake area became a poster child for the California State Map Act, which put some limits on creating paper developments. We are still stuck with the old real estate schemes.

On closer inspection, Clearlake seems to not “have” a disease at all. It appears to actually be the disease – like a cancer growth, incorporating as a city to ward off outside defense mechanisms.

The perfect example of the Clearlake Disease is the challenged “no grow” ordinance for pot. Never mind that Clearlake has one of the poorest and sickest populations in the State. All attempts at a compromise were rejected by the goobertocracy. This is class war and those with power have the high ground. High IQ not necessary.

Since this issue is about naked power and not reason, the Council’s arguments do not have to make sense. The police said that every complaint they investigated had a grow in non compliance, implying that all medical growers were in non compliance.

It appears that because City resources are too thin to investigate all complaints, they would just abolish an activity necessary for some people. Of course this is an ad hoc reaction and not a reasoned response. I’m certain that if I pointed out that some roads in Clearlake are not drivable and unfixable, therefore we should ban driving on all roads, I would be thought mad. But the logic is identical.

A target class must toe the line on different and higher standards than their political betters. Our part time City Council members get paid $300 per month yet suck up a $2,000 per month medical plan for themselves. Critics who say some Council Members are just warming seats for a cadillac medical plan are accused of being cynical. But that same Council is indifferent to those who have to fall back on alternative therapies. They imply all of those kind of people are just growing pot to get high.

Shameless hypocrisy knows no limits in the ruling class.

Jefferson State Representation Argument

The Jefferson State movement began long before the Reynolds v. Sims case abolished California’s “federal” representation in its Senate as well as requiring regular redistricting based on population. Nevertheless, better representation is promoted as one of the major reasons for splitting off from California.

The target area for Jefferson is 20 counties in Northern California. Presumably this new State will have a Senate where every county will have its own Senator, from tiny Sierra with 3,000 people to Placer with 367,000 residents. The result will be that the 5 counties in Jefferson over 100,000 may have some representation issues with Jefferson as rural counties do with California.

It’s true that excessive geography in a district compromises democracy and that is probably the strongest basis for revisiting Reynolds v. Sims in the future. But the argument that tiny counties should be able to cancel out the vote of the largest across the board is weak. In fact, California’s federal system never quite existed. There are 58 counties and 40 State Senators. The smallest counties always had to share a rep while Los Angeles got more than one.

Back before local government became a vast network of functions and programs connected with State and Federal governments, counties were basically the courthouse and the sheriff and not much else. It made sense that any fully functional county should send its representative to the Senate as sort of a “House of Counties.” Unfortunately, the expense of being a fully functional county at the bare bones level has skyrocketed. Many services that residents take for granted have regional boundaries spreading over several counties for economies of scale. Counties too small to pay their bills should not have their own representative as if they were independent in local functions and services.

The best example of what happens when local functioning isn’t a criteria for representation is our own U.S. Senate. The most populous 9 States make up over half the Country’s population. The bottom ten pop States scrape up a mere 8.7 million that out vote Senators backed by 162 million Americans. They are more like holding companies for local interests than self supporting States, offering the whole range of State services. Like the typical Jefferson backer, these micro States feel put upon, even with super representation. That doesn’t stop them from demanding bigger subsidies from the common till.

What most people don’t know is that the U.S. House of Representatives isn’t always “one person one vote” either. Due to population rounding, States with one or two Congressional Districts represent anywhere from 526,000 people per representative (Rhode Island, District 1) to 994,000 people (Montana). The average number of people in a Congressional District is 710,000. Simply because of mathematics, small districts of any kind are likely to be over or under represented. People who are under represented complain. People who get more representation than their share think of some reason why they deserve it.

If getting a federal style State Senate was a serious priority for new state advocates they should shift their movement to changing the structure of California counties, a far easier objective to achieve. This will also create a new legal theory for the Supreme Court to revisit Reynolds v. Sims. Paper counties need to merge with functional neighbors or break themselves up, attaching the pieces to other counties. Lake County is one pretend county that should split between the Putah and Cache Creek watersheds. The South half would return to Napa and Clear Lake would go to Mendocino, if they will have us.

Assuming some modern operations requires a minor metro city of at least 50,000 people. If a county doesn’t have one for the new federal Senate they must merge or split. Remember, this is also to support a new theory to overturn Reynolds v. Sims. If the State Senate is to be a House of Counties then all counties must be modern stand alone entities with a power center and not just a bump on the highway.

One wonders if the current Jefferson flare up is also a rebellion against popular representation, due to rural counties ending up unpopular on many hot propositions. This is reflected in vote totals for Proposition 215 in 1996 which passed in the State of California. But the Jefferson counties may be sore losers. Fourteen out of 20 of the coveted counties, which total 1,763,000 people, voted against Medical Marijuana. Could Jefferson be a new “reefer madness” state? Does the Jefferson crowd know how much a drug war costs? The rebels may have a rebellion within their own ranks in Mendocino and Humboldt, which smoked in with 64.5% and 57.1% of the vote. And just how would the State of Jefferson deal with the Emerald State movement?

King Cobb

By Dante DeAmcis

Cobb Mountain is the tallest mountain in Lake County this side of the Northern wilderness area.  Konocti gets all the press and photos but its a lowland compared to the mighty Cobb at about 4700 feet.   I’ve worked on the ridge below the peak where the view of Sonoma and Lake Counties is awesome.  I decided I would find a way to reach this flattened high point of Lower Gooberstan.

There are no public roads or right of ways going up to Cobb even though there are antennas and a chunk of state owned land at the top.  The internet revealed the location of the old right-of-way formerly used to service the antennas.  ATT and Mediacom now go through gated Calpine roads which are very well maintained.

The internet site revealed the old road has been abandoned to fallen trees, erosion, rockfalls, and is overgrown in places.  In the best of times the road was cardiac steep for hikers.  But the owners were used to the road being used by outsiders and don’t seem to be reasserting their property rights at this late date, in spite of the gate and scary signs.  We’re told its two and a half miles to the summit.

I decided I would discover the mysteries of Cobb after my October 28th grave shift on Bottle Rock.  So off I went walking to Whispering Pines, following the sparse directions from internet bloggers.  Through the gate at the end of Pinewood I went until I reached the still used dirt road that went left and the broken has-been of a road went up and right.  My first decision.  Yes, that had to be the one true way – upward and onward.

Soon the old road passes between a row of large boulders.  Sometime in the past someone created this passage through these silent sentries.  The road winds around the face of the great old one which is sporting an edgy new growth of pine stubble in the former clean shaven road, another symptom of unemployment.  One positive effect of neglect and harshness is I haven’t seen a single piece of trash.

Whiners on the web site complained of fallen trees but someone has been cutting away limbs and notching through the big trees.  The trail disappears but I decide since it was originally a fire trail I would continue in the same direction. Sure enough, the road reappears as if by divine intervention.  Finally I come to the first switch back around a monolithic boulder.  Another half mile and the now trail widens out to a crater filled with broken rock.  A tall dead tree over hangs.  New tenants have moved in.

The trail gets steeper and the feeling of hiking up the side of a canyon is gone.  The rocks have all morphed from spotted gray to dusty white.  Even though the trail is clear it is clearly a trail.  All traces of this being a former road have vanished.  In addition to the rounding of erosion and the absence of tire tracks there are thousands of seedlings and Christmas Tree size trees probing and prodding from both sides.  The trail seems to be consenting.  It is as if nature decided to landscape the trail for hikers and serious bikers at the expense of the unused road space.

There is little indication of much more mountain to climb.  A large tree that has fallen across the path has been cut through with a chain saw.  Laying on one side of the log passage is a woman’s lacy top.  I notice it is size XXL.  A woman from a “Robert Crumb” comix has passed this way.  This ain’t no ordinary nature trail.

Sure enough, another half mile later I reach a junction on the top ridge.  The old fire trail resumes to the left.  A hundred yards I hit the current, well maintained road coming up from Calpine controlled leases.  In front of me are two side by side cyclone fenced compounds for the ATT and Mediacom antennas, suggesting segregated playgrounds for machines.  The mountain top is surrounded by tall trees obscuring what would be a fantastic view.  A narrow wedge next to the ATT erection gives the sole aerial view of planet Earth below.  I hear voices but no one appears.  A sign.  I commune with the sacrament I thought to bring.  After taking some pictures I pick up a rock for a souvenir, slightly reducing the mountain’s sky reach.

I start my decent, a refreshed pilgrim.  Nature, exertion, and Rasputin have shown me the way.  But the way is unsteady going down hill on loose rocks and pine needles.  I weave my way down the mountain, carrying on a friendly argument with gravity.  I emerge off the mountain bearing not the word of God on tablets but four dead martyrs for Jesus.

The entrance gate nears.  Two young men in a new truck and cargo trailer await.  Are they Roman oppressors attempting to enforce some Philistine private property edict on me?  No, they are contractor seekers for ATT looking for the one true way up to service the cell phone towers.  I assume my new role as the guru of Cobb mountain and address the bewildered.  “No, this the old road for chariots of Mammon.  It has been reclaimed by the Great Mother. You must take the Road of Bottle Rock and pass through the gates of Calpine.”  They rejoice for having met one of wisdom coming down the trail.