Well Prepared for the Trump Era

When I moved to Lake County in 2002 little did I know that I was going to undergo a rigorous conditioning to living under a fascist regime. While the 2016 Election left millions of people dazed and bewildered, I looked at the horror unfolding and could only see that the Nation had caught up with Lake County reality. There are several elements to this reality. If I thought deep down most of the Trump vote was anything more than fear and ignorant rage I would not bother writing this.

I happen to like details, check facts, and I follow thru. This made me immediately suspect to the self serving paranoids that ruled the backwater of Lake County. The first thing I learned is that “the public” does not include me. A full description for “the public” in this former frontier of Napa County is “the old landed families”, the real estate industry, right wing fundamentalists, retired police, corrupt civil servants, opportunists pitching Lake County’s low development requirements to out of County interests, and small town, small minded, mean spirited Republican business men who would never survive in a dynamic market environment.

People who find themselves stuck here, but are not members of the club, are only valued if they have brought money with them that can be siphoned off by the tight knit cabal of reactionaries to keep the black heart of the past beating on. The poorer sorts who retreated here from more expensive areas are alternately vilified as the reason progress has bypassed Lake County and exploited as State and Federal grant bait. This grant money is either used to hire more do nothing cronies and unemployable relatives or used for programs that attack people in a class war that the money was supposed to help.

Those who meet in the usual gatherings for “the right kind of people” to hatch schemes for excluding or crushing “the wrong kind of people” are found even in decent localities. Only in Lake County it is all out in the open, for all to see, with neither shame or denial – just like Donald Trump. There are no cover stories, rationalizations, or excuses. The law is not important except when it benefits the right kind of people or some fancy lawyer gets involved to muck things up. Coalitions of diverse interests and future thinking are strategies for losers.

Remember, Lake County was the scene of the Dinius trial that caused a National sensation, resulting in the ouster of both the District Attorney and the Sheriff. Fast boats, corruption, and death on the water. Its only a matter of time before Clear Lake gets their big Hollywood movie. The Chamber won’t like it.

Myself, I’ve experienced numerous instances of freedom of speech and search warrant violations. But so have many other residents. Even in the 21st Century reefer madness still justifies the most absurd and egregious assaults on our civil liberties in the land of Clear Lake. In the rare instance where someone can get a lawyer, and of course win the case, the attitude is “So what. The taxpayers will pay for it.”  No actual presence of devil weed is seen as necessary. They are on a mission from God who over rides the Supreme Court.

My first experience as the subject of civic minded mob action was when I decided to produce a video parody of local politics for the public access station. I was not considered part of “the public.” The City Manager of Clearlake was outraged. When it leaked out what I was planning the former Chamber head and a right wing minister organized a howling mob of their buddies, retired policemen running for local office, businessmen, even one of the founders of Clearlake to storm the  PEG meeting to intimidate me. The Chamber guy kept saying he wanted to punch me out. I challenged him to a chess game. He declined.

After years of attacks on the station everyone was finally driven off, leaving TV8 nothing more than a government channel with some internet filler. But all three governments still use its public forum status to extort money from cable users as a fee for public access. No shame. No shame whatsoever. And why should there be? After all, they are the right kind of people taking from the wrong kind of people, like me and you. When people like Trump aren’t born rich they are called bullies or thugs. To me, Trump is just one of these Lake County goons in a better suit with bigger guns.

As someone who has made a habit of showing up to places I’m not supposed to be at and reading documents I’m not supposed to read, I understood the Trump mindset right from the beginning. I see millions wringing their hands in disbelief that the short sighted, unapologetic arrogance I experience on a local level is now on display in the Presidency for the World to see. I had hoped that after another generation of goobers had died off Lake County would finally join the civilized world. Instead I find that the Nation has decided to become Lake County. It won’t be pretty but I’ve seen it all before.

Public Access Transition

Since the late 1970’s the principle electronic public media has been channels on cable TV. But they were an option that most cable franchisers did not ask for, according to a survey by the Alliance for Community Media. From the beginning the goal has been to allow local content from the public without social or political considerations. Other alternate media included underground newspapers, low power community radio, public broadcasting tv and Pacifica Radio.

By the late 1980’s political and economic changes shifted the relevance of various alternative and public media. The financing of public broadcasting, as opposed to public access, became dominated by corporate sponsors. In the 90’s the internet gradually replaced much alternative print media. Even though video options on the internet increasingly replaced cable video the internet itself never provided much community centered media. The internet was better at dispersing media than connecting people, especially in community. Those communities that used the cable public access option still had a better source of local and public media. Cable use was declining but so was print media, which kept cable public access relevant.

From the beginning, political entities in and out of government occasionally tried to censor legal content on public access channels, which enjoy the legal status of a “designated public forum.” Over time a number of political and economic innovations sucked money away from the public sectors and transferred it to commercial entities. Local government budgets became tight and the perceived essential services were going to be fulfilled first even if other functions could survive on a pittance. At the extreme, there are several problems with this reasoning as well as a couple of solutions.

Not all public access channels were well funded. Many did not receive any general fund money or an entitled part of the cable franchise fee. Public support often consisted of free rent in an unused part of a public facility. This was the case in Lake County. TV8 was a single channel access station created by a provision in the city of Clearlake’s cable franchise. There was never any intention to turn over day to day operations to a qualified non profit. It was bounced around from one public space to another. It was financed solely by a $5400 per year Distance Learning Program fee charged to Yuba College. Even though it was never a budget burden this did not prevent the most egregious violations of civil liberties by government authorities who locked out volunteers under flimsy pretenses.

The bottom line is that there is a critical need for an independent, public, and local media if communities are going to be vibrant and inclusive. But the technology and funding are going to have to change. If public media advocates step forward to make the transition then politicians need to help the transition to the next step forward in community media. Especially since it won’t cost much.

The Alliance for Community Media has been working to make the the technical transformation of public access from a cable dependent media to internet based platforms where existing cable access channels will become “nodes” of local content. The internet is now more accessible to more people than cable tv. Many subscribers have switched to satellite tv where public access is not an option. A media platform or portal could be an upgraded blog site. The Premium version of WordPress costs $8.25 per month.

Linked videos on the public platform could be stored on YouTube, Vimeo, or Archive.org.  Each “division” of this new local media platform will have its own page on the platform. Probably these separate pages would be edited by non profits with the homepage edited by the sites overall administrator. The three public access stations in Mendocino and the one in Trinity are owned by non profits. My own non profit which is currently parked is Cache Creek Performance. I naively intended it to operateTV8. There are several low cost live streaming services that charge by the month or data use to make local media more of a real time experience.

With many production programs being usable on a good laptop, the only resource missing is space for a studio. This is where thinking outside the box is critical. Why pay rent on space that is not used most of the time? If lighting and sound equipment can be put in portable packages, a studio can be anywhere – meeting rooms, restaurant stages, coffee shops, churches, government chambers. I’ve used them all. And let’s not forget the great big outdoors. There are schools with small performance areas open to the public (Lower Lake High School) as well as non profits who might like to trade temporary shooting space for publicity.

How do you make the public aware that this is the new goto public media? First, everyone on the site needs to plug the site and everyone else on it while they still can. Second, sponsor or cosponsor events and contests. Obviously the first contest should be “The Best Name for This Platform” contest. I would be interested in sponsoring a new type of Slam Poetry competition, especially if I could get Mendocino’s Poet Laureate Michael Riedell on board. There are clubs who are always looking for speakers. We need to speak to them. When something new happens on the platform, such as its initial formation, we need to send out press releases.

What can local government do to help transition to the new public media? They can make a commitment to the future. Rather than simply let declining public access channels crash and burn a positive response would go something like: “The days of paying for centralized facilities along with technical staff are coming to an end. We will work with a broad base of media advocates by providing an insurance umbrella, offering more use of public buildings for media functions, especially for storage of valuable equipment, and establishing a jack location for existing public access channels to link to the new platform.” The future is only scary if you do not prepare for it.

TV8 – One Channel Ghetto

Most PEG stations are communities where public, education, and government entities enjoy equal access to the public without interference with each other.  One-channel public access stations usually exist for a brief start up period while most go on the air for the first time with three channels.  When different interests are forced to share the limited broadcast time of one channel the government interest always dominates, resulting in their routine meetings getting first choice of air time and the public getting the leftovers.  Censorship of the cramped public ghetto is never far behind.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  When California ceased renewing new local franchises in favor of a State franchise system I assumed the option to demand extra channel space from cable companies by local PEG stations ended.  I was wrong.  Beth, the sole surviving volunteer at TV8, told me she checked State franchise law P.U.C. 5870 and found the new channel provision was still in place.  Our PEG Board is dominated by government representatives.  I wonder why they didn’t know about this valuable free opportunity for local media.

Before the State franchise law took effect, we were told (accurately) that a station had to fill each channel they had with a minimum of 8 hours of local programming per day.  Everyone assumed that “local programming” meant 8 hours of “locally produced”  programming.  Since I knew our neighboring 3-channel PEG stations were not powerhouses of local production I decided to conduct a survey of how they met the 8 hour per day per channel.  The most bewildering was Willits that operates on no money except for City Council videoing and airing fees.  They were a one channel station like Clearlake until about five years ago.

Willits PEG operates on Channels 3, 64, 65.  I interviewed their main programmer, Andy, about their station content as well as his take on what I learned from other PEG station content.

Channel 65 is the scrolling community bulletin board.  It is just as easy to fill one hour as 24 hours per day this way.  One channel worth of 8-hour requirement met.

Channel 64 is the government channel.  Since Willits is a small town they only have their Council meetings on video.  The public would rebel if one channel was showing the same meeting over and over, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. They import as many nearby government and government partner meetings as they can get.  This type of  programming is an aquired taste but it knocks out another channel for legal purposes.

Channel 3 is the true public access channel.  In addition to video produced by local citizens, they have imported copywrite free programs from universities, PEG Media, and Archive.org.  Clearly, local programming means “put on by a local person” and not as the PEG Board interpreted, “produced by a local person.”  Most of their local programming is imported.

Other PEG stations are sometimes one channel short of a programming requirement due to not having the time to sort through all the free imports.  They will fill this gap with an internet site created for this purpose.  Examples are The Classic Arts Showcase and the NASA channels.  When something more compelling comes along I’m sure they will make the switch.

TV 8 in Lake County is in a much better position to start a 3-channel line up than many PEG stations.  We have an arrangement with Yuba College to air their Distance Learning Program classes.  We could air all of them if it were not for the Board of Supervisors hogging up so much free time on our solitary channel.  Unlike the County deadbeats, Yuba pays us but they’re getting tired of settling for half a loaf of time.

I believe the long time hamstringing of channels by the PEG Board is in the context of ongoing content censorship and acquiesence to illegal station shut-downs by City Managers   (The station is in Clearlake’s old City Hall vending room).  They have rebuffed ever effort by the public for their policies to become compliant with designated public forum law.  So the channel upgrade could not have been merely an oversight by a dedicated but overworked PEG Board.

My suspicion is that their insistance on a one-channel PEG station is yet another strategy to strangle TV8 without showing any blood on their hands during its death throes.

The current Board chair is ED Robey.  He was originally the County’s rep on the Board.  After he quit his Supervisor’s gig he became a “Public Representative” on the Board, just in time for the December 9th, 2009 attack on the station.  When no one else from the Board of Supervisors would consent to sit on this powder keg, Robey switched hats again to fill the County slot, even though he was no longer a Supervisor.

I have a better title for Mr. Robey.  How about “ex PEG Board Member.”  Officially, I am demanding that the BOS ask for Ed Robey’s resignation so TV8 can finally move forward toward independence and functionality.  It would be a good idea if the free loading County butted out as well.  There are non profits waiting in the wings to run TV8 right.