Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sunday rumination: Federal probes of leaks threaten our Constitutional rights


According to The Washington Post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the government was stepping up its efforts to crack down on unauthorized sources of sensitive information.

Presumably the announcement that the Justice Department has more than tripled the number of leak investigations compared to the number under the Obama administration was made to appease President Donald Trump who has attacked the attorney general for not doing more to clamp down on leaks and, according to the report, to scare government officials away from talking about sensitive matters.

As the Post article points out, Trump "has complained vociferously" about unauthorized disclosures of information, especially when the leaks result in stories that are unflattering to the administration. (And there have been a lot of those since he took office as we all know.)

The most disturbing part of the report in my estimation is when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein refused to rule out the possibility that journalists would be prosecuted saying, "I'm not going to comment on any hypotheticals."

The Post article goes on to state that it has long been Justice Department practice in leak probes to try to avoid investigating journalists directly to find their sources.

It's hard to imagine that in the Trump era, where the commander in chief has branded legitimate news outlets like CNN and The  New York Times as "Fake News," an appellation which is as unfair as it is inaccurate, that previous policies such as those which were in place when then Attorney General Eric Holder Jr said that as long as he was  heading the Justice Department no reporter would be jailed for doing his or her job, will remain unaltered.

Admittedly, and to be fair, attacks on the fourth estate have never been exclusive to any partisan agenda. As the Post also pointed out in their report, prosecutors in the Obama era brought nine leak cases, exceeding the total of all previous administrations combined, and in the process called a reporter a criminal "conspirator." and surreptitiously went after a journalists' phone records in an attempt to identify the reporters' sources.

When the leader of the free world embraces the phrase "Enemy of the People" to describe the American news media, there are real negative consequences and he makes it okay for the public to view journalists with more distrust than they already do and recklessly puts journalists doing important work in danger.

Don't believe me? Think this is mere hyperbole on my part? Well considered what happened to  Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs earlier this year.

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter. In other instances, Trump supporters have been photographed at rallies wearing t-shirts emblazoned with such dictatorial rhetoric like "The best journalist is a dead journalist."

Americans who support the First Amendment and its guaranteed freedom of the press and who are also supportive of journalists' role in a democracy should shudder in fear when Sessions states that the government is reviewing the entire process of how media leak investigations are conducted, adding that they don't know yet what changes are coming down the pike, because they are taking a "fresh look."

The cornerstone of a free and democratic society is a free press. In America we don't jail members of the press for doing their jobs and part of that job entails speaking to sources and not compelling reporters to reveal their sources. Doing so would undermine a process that has been in place for years and which works to the benefit of society, not the converse, which the Trump administration would have us believe.

Without insiders providing information, journalists would be hampered in conducting probes and investigating government, an essential part of the checks and balances in our democratic process. Can you imagine Woodward and Bernstein being able to break a huge story like Watergate in the Vietnam era without the protections politicians have been trying to erode ever since?

Of course, Trump has shown himself to be either ignorant of these fundamental Constitutional processes freedoms and guarantees, or worse yet, he flaunts them openly in an attempt to conduct government in a fashion that dangerously borders authoritarian practices.

 So when Rosenstein, Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, among others in the White House elite announce they will be looking at reviewing policy in regards to leaks, it makes me very nervous and concerned. You should be as well. 
    

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mental Health tax ballot measure is a step in the right direction

Source: The Willits News,  July 28, 2017

It doesn’t take a whole lot of detailed research to see that mental health facilities are still badly needed in Mendocino County. According to the county’s Behavioral Health Advisory annual report for 2015-16, the committee recognized the inadequacy of both substance abuse and disorder treatment services and urged the Board of Supervisors to prioritize financial resources.
Board members in their report supported maximizing the use of all available funding resources, locating and staffing substance abuse treatment disorder options county-wide and providing transportation support for those remote locations, among some suggestions.

On the law enforcement end, earlier in the year the MCSO announced they planned to stop responding to crisis calls and non-violent 5150s. Section 5150 of the state’s Welfare and Institutions Code authorizes a qualified law enforcement officer or clinician to section a person suspected of having a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves or others.
As reported by the Mendocino Beacon earlier this year, the costs are staggering with emergency room visits by people placed on 5150 holds.

Since the county has had no emergency facilities for mentally ill patients since the shuttering of the psychiatric health facility, known as the PHF unit in 1999, law enforcement and regional medical facilities have been burdened with a lack of resources to deal with the growing demand for services.
To address some of the issues, an ordinance was developed by Sheriff Tom Allman and a 12-member planning team which he assembled and placed on the November 2016 ballot.
The ordinance proposed to levy a half cent county sales tax limited to five years and was projected to raise $22 million towards the creation of a locked psychiatric facility in the county. The initiative also included development of a training facility for mental health and public safety professionals and citizens.

Dubbed Measure AG, the measure was defeated by voters when it failed to reach the two-thirds super majority vote required during the November election. As reported last week, county social service employees and Allman are taking a second stab at passing a mental health tax bill.
Members of the Board of Supervisors said they hoped the new measure has enough for approval from voters. It is clear that whatever shape the proposed retooled initiative takes that services in Mendocino and Willits are still desperately needed and this has been the case for quite some time.

While doing research for an article regarding drug prevention and health, I discovered last year there are few resources available locally in the Willits area and the services that are available for mentally ill patients are scattered throughout the county. For example, Redwood Community Services offers mental health crisis support in both Ukiah and Fort Bragg.
These centers are designed to deal with treatment options such as psychiatric consultations, referrals to follow-up services and assessment and crisis intervention.

This type of facility is non-existent in Willits and Frank R. Howard Hospital does not have the capacity to deal with the mentally ill.
Although drug abuse and mental illness are often linked, qualified therapists and specialized services can best be managed at a localized facility equipped to deal with the staggering demands in psychiatric care. Currently, there are not enough services offered and there is a lack of constant outreach and support on the local level.
The Frank R. Howard Hospital Foundation has been exploring the possibility of utilizing the old Willits hospital as a locked facility for in patient psychiatric care, but according to its board of directors President Margie Handley, it will still take two to three months even after (if) the new tax measure is approved by voters, to determine what it would cost to rehab the facility. She said it could be up to an advisory committee if the ballot measure passes to decide if the envisioned facility would become reality.

If more resources and funds become available as a result of voter approval of the retooled health tax measure, that is a step in the right direction.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Bravo to Rodriguez for speaking up in favor of immigrant resolution

source: The Willits News, June 22, 2017

Earlier this month the Eureka Times Standard reported the Arcata City Council adopted an ordinance making Arcata a sanctuary city.
According to the news report, a round of applause rang out in the council chambers after the council voted 3-1, with one councilman dissenting, to pass the sanctuary ordinance.
Contrast this with Willits City Council which recently passed a resolution by a 3-2 vote championed by Councilwoman Saprina Rodriguez affirming a commitment to non-discrimination and supporting immigrants in the community. The resolution was passed by City Council late last month, but not without controversy.

Although Rodriguez said she had to fight to get the item on the council’s agenda, on the night of the May 24 meeting, Mayor Gerry Gonzalez had announced that he was pulling the item from the agenda on advice from City Attorney Jim Lance.
Gonzalez took issue with the original resolution’s wording which he felt could potentially result in the city losing federal grant funding. Although the mayor had pulled the item from the agenda, fellow council members and members of the public in attendance urged him to proceed with the discussion of the resolution. By all accounts, by the time the item was brought back for discussion, a crowd of residents seeking to give input on the matter had thinned out. Some went home in disappointment upon hearing the item had been originally pulled.

Rodriguez said she let her fellow council members know she felt pulling the item was not OK and it was also an abuse of Gonzalez’ authority.
A controversial paragraph in the resolution which in part stated the Willits Police Department would continue its long-standing practice of not participating or aiding in the enforcement of federal immigration laws was revised, taking out the phrase “long standing practice.”
Rodriguez is to be commended for her staunch determination to bring the Willits City Council in alignment with many cities in the state and the nation with regards to supporting their immigrant populations.

The councilwoman said she felt it was her obligation to bring the resolution forward, despite being shut down initially by Gonzalez. She said she gave a draft copy of the resolution to Lance and City Manager Adrienne Moore on May 10, but the item had to make its way through a process before it could make its way to the council’s agenda for the May 24 meeting.
Even though Hispanics and other minorities comprise a lower percentage of Willit’s population and demographics, as Rodriguez correctly points out, there was clearly enough interest in the issue as an immigration town hall held in late March turned out to be one of the highest attended events in recent years, despite a low attendance by the population it was intended to serve.

We can hardly blame Hispanics and immigrants for staying away from this and other forums held throughout Mendocino County, despite reassurances from Sheriff Tom Allman and other law enforcement and county officials that they will have no direct involvement in carrying out federal immigration law in the wake of a federal executive order signed by President Donald Trump this January, there has been great confusion spreading over social media regarding possible ICE raids in Lake County.
I believe Rodriguez is also correct in her assertion that the loss of federal funds is an overplayed argument in opposition to these types of resolutions.

As public sentiment throughout the nation evolves and changes, support for local resolutions has increased from cities across the nation and they continue to be approved at a rapid race.
Gonzalez and other local leaders in Willits have advocated for restraint, fearing the loss of federal funds and citing direction from organizations like the League of California Cities in regards to adopting a sanctuary city ordinance, but as Rodriguez said, the threat of federal funding should not be a critical factor in adopting a resolution when it comes to safeguarding residents and allaying mass fear or confusion.

Leaders don’t always make a decision based on funding, and Willits is not out on an island, nor would it be alone in supporting its immigrant population - joining cities like Santa Rosa and Windsor which have passed similar resolutions or declared themselves as sanctuary cities, despite threats from the federal government.
I add myself to the list of those whom Rodriguez said have overwhelmingly thanked her for her moral leadership.


Sunday, June 11, 2017



I spent part of Saturday visiting the Brooktrails Township and covered the Brooktrails Fire Department Open House for TWN.

In partnership with CAL FIRE, the department put together an open house/preparedness event this weekend for residents. With hot summer temperatures and fire season right around the corner, the Fire Department wants residents to be ready for any contingency or emergency.

There were tables full of pamphlets, information about preventing and dealing with emergency situations, as well as T-shirts and raffle items and baseballs with "Smokey The Bear" logos emblazoned on them.

I actually felt badly for the volunteer firefighters that were assembled there. There was only one thing missing: the Brooktrails Township residents.

Where were the residents?
Except for one lone straggler toward the end of the allocated time for the event, most of the Brooktrails residents were no shows. Now you can argue that there were a lot of events going on this weekend and that the forecast called for rain, but it still seemed like a shame to me that the FD would go to the trouble of advertising the event and it ended up being sparsely attended.

The same story was true for a tour of the Brooktrails Community Garden in which resident Anthony Ward was scheduled to read excerpts from his book on gardening and spirituality. 
The pending threat of rain and cold weather in June seemed to deter residents from stopping by.

But for the other events, is it a lack of marketing to blame? I can't be sure.
This isn't the first event in North Mendocino County I have covered which suffered from a lack of participation from the very people it is intending to serve.

A couple of months back I attended a workshop of the Mendocino County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Committee aimed at educating community members, particularly cultural groups such as native Americans and Hispanics, about the services available to them in terms of counseling, mental health and other areas.

Once again that workshop was missing members of the community, despite the fact I was told that there is a staff member employed by the county whose job description includes driving around the county promoting such events. Sadly, the counselors and presenters may as well have been talking to themselves because there was zero community input.

I have not attended other workshops, though I am told others have been better attended. Later this month on June 29 in Redwood Valley, another event, this time a cross cultural training, the byproduct of a collaboration between the Consolidated Tribal Health Project and the County's Behavioral Health and Recovery Services will feature a couple of speakers and discuss topics such as sharing of local practices.

I hope this workshop will see better community attendance and participation. The event is scheduled from 9 to 4 p.m. and lunch will be provided. Those interested in attending should contact Dustin Thompson at thompsondu@mendocinocounty.org

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cue in the Rocky theme song




Through no fault of my own, I am mostly left to complete this latest edition of TWN virtually without any extra help.

When I was in college at Mt. San Antonio in Walnut CA, I will never forget how my good friend at the time, page and layout designer extraordinaire James Choy would psyche himself when he felt tired or every time we were up against the tight deadlines by playing "Eye of the Tiger" or the Rocky theme song for that 11th hour stretch of work or for that extra burst of needed inspiration.

You know what? I never thought that would stick in my mind, but it's those types of moments that really stick out from person's background  and you remember them when it's least expected, or when you most need to reflect on them I suppose.

Just today I have completed two news stories, including a 35 inch budget piece, prepared a brief history retrospective, an opinion piece and I am getting ready to complete a movie review for my entertainment page. Oh and then there's the police log.

It would not be appropriate to discuss in a public thread on my blog the circumstances why I am a reporter short this week, suffice it to say I won't talk about any H.R. issues or specifics, but at least some relief is on the way.

The freelancer budget has been increased and I can assign my freelancers (I really only have two, one main one doing some soft pieces and profiles and one specializing in sports) a few more assignments to get me through. Although it is still me doing the bulk of the work, including updating our website.

I am getting ready to plan out the rest of the content and to look for some region and state stories to round out Friday's edition. Was it Billy Ocean that sang that old tune, "When the going gets tough...?" You know the rest. I am not going to lie, the going's been VERY rough of late, and although I wish I had a lot more help, at least I remember back on the old days.

I swear I can still see good 'ole James Choy gearing up and psyching himself up for another round.

Cue up "Eye of the Tiger"

P.S. I just looked at this image carefully, WTH? Why is this boxer dude wearing a suit with his gloves? Or am I just that tired. LOL



Saturday, April 08, 2017

Net neutrality under seige in wake of Trump's internet bill

source: The Willits News
 April 7, 2017

Have you ever logged on to a website and been surprised that the ads were targeted to suit your needs? Perhaps the first time you experienced the phenomenon of targeted advertising you wondered how it was the web programmers knew of your predilection for Nike sneakers or your secret love of Grease the musical? You were either horrified at the prospect of your web privacy being invaded or marveled at the technical wizardry behind the technology. Whatever your reaction, get ready for the next phase.


In a recent 50-48 vote, the U.S. Senate approved to do away with Federal Communications Commission rules established last fall blocking internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from selling private communications to advertisers eager to get their hands on consumers’ Google search history without their authorization.

The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets reported earlier this week President Donald Trump signed a bill allowing internet Service Providers (ISPs) to track and sell users’ data.


According to The New York Times, GOP lawmakers and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said privacy rules hampered telecommunications carriers, opening the door for further deregulation and allowing the federal government to strike against net neutrality rules. Net neutrality refers to requirements that broadband providers should enable access to all content and internet applications without playing favorites to specific websites.

As pointed out by Forbes, Wired and other technology and business publications, the future of net neutrality could be jeopardized as regulatory rollbacks that would allow the sale of users’ private data to corporate tech interests become the order of the day. What’s worse, the potential abuse of internet ownership by means of censoring or biasing content for financial gain could be predicted by Trump’s selection of Pai to take over as chairman of the FCC in January. People could read the writing on the smart board.


It’s no secret that Pai, a former attorney for Verizon, has been a vocal critic of net neutrality rules and his views seem to align with an administration which berates the media and has sworn to break up what Trump called “media conglomerate oligopolies” while on the stump last fall.

That’s not to say net neutrality is not an important concept for business, or that business should not play any part in people’s internet usage. As pointed out by the non-partisan Free Press, an organization fighting to save the free internet, the ability of small businesses and startups depends on an open internet to foster economic growth and encourages more diversity and creativity. The internet has always been a marketplace of ideas, although lobbyists have been attempting to impose government regulations to for several years in attempts to maximize the profits of a select few.


Free internet protection advocates argue that the open internet is also important for racial and social justice campaigns. The loss of a free internet could have the damaging effect of demarginalizing people of color by potentially taking away platforms for free expression on the web. We are not there yet and there are those who undoubtedly would categorize these ideas as hyperbole, but the potential is a real concern.

Regardless of their ideological stance, at the very least people should be leery of ISPs having the ability to exploit their browser history, thereby acquiring access to their consumer choices and internet searches. Currently there are malware and malicious programs designed to hijack search engine queries and by now the majority of web users have experienced the frustration of being rerouted to a website or advertising page without their consent. Advertisers will not have to rely solely on these surreptitious tactics and harmful software programs if the federal government moves toward ending what an L.A. Times editorial called “The equal opportunity internet.”


Once we go down the slippery slope of rolling back rules established during the previous administration espousing internet consumer protections in favor of increased profits, we face the real danger of going back to square one when it comes to user privacy and the establishment of a fair and equal internet for everybody.
Ariel Carmona Jr is the city editor for The Willits News. He can be reached by email at acarmona@willitsnews.com or by phone at (707) 841-2123.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

six months ago...

I closed the deal with K.C. Meadows, the managing editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal to come to Willits and take over as the city editor for the Willits News.

So I recall giving my landlord notice, packing my 2013 Kia Forte and driving from Espanola New Mexico to Arizona and then to Southern California where I stayed one weekend with my parents before heading out into the unknown: Mendocino County.

I still recall that fall weekend full of promise and hope, after a brief stop in San Francisco, the 100 mile plus drive north on the 101 to Ukiah where I stayed in temporary housing for three weeks while I commuted to Willits on a daily basis.

I remember that first fall weekend with the orange leaves on the sidewalks and downtown Ukiah so picturesque and lovely full of color, charm, almost like that fictional town the Gilmore Girls inhabited on TV.

Basically I took a leap of faith and it paid off.

So much happened since!

The first big story about Board of Supervisor Tom Woodhouse getting arrested the weekend before Halloween. I still remember he came to my office and said hello and gave me his business card, told me to call him. He had been AWOL at Board of Supervisors meetings and resurfaced on the streets on Willits, often disheveled or talking nonsense according to the locals.
Little did I know he was bipolar and his subsequent brush with the law and eventual resignation from the board was the first big story.

Just before the holidays the Bypass project opened, and shortly after that the aftermath of its construction. It appears the local businesses are still feeling its effects.

This morning I was at the local coffee shop for the first of what I hope will be many "meetings with the editor" where I sit and meet readers and discuss whatever is on their mind. This will happen at Rolands Bakery at the Evergreen Shopping Center every Wednesday AM.

This Friday I am taking a well deserved day off.

I will post my opinion on the Net Neutrality issue from Friday's paper late tomorrow once it goes live on our site.