Wednesday, October 29, 2014

No MAS, please

Poor Morro Bay.  It's like a rather lackadaisical family who lets the nickles and dimes fall out of their pockets and accumulate under the couch cushions, until Momma needs a new pair of shoes and then the family roars into the living room and starts tearing the couch apart in a fury looking for those dimes, shrieking, "SHOW ME THE MONEY!" and terrifying the children.

Apparently, Morro Bay has been pretty lax over the years when it came to making sure all businesses are up to date on their business licenses.  Then, months ago, since they're cash-strapped (aren't we all?), they passed a consent agenda item without really understanding what they were getting themselves in for.  They held no public hearings, did no research, got no feedback before they signed a contract with Municipal Auditing Services (MAS) to do a thorough audit of the town in order to shake loose all those missing business licenses.

So MAS roared into town like wild-eyed Momma with a huge pair of giant scissors in her hands heading for the couch cushions and those dimes hidden underneath.  Rather alarming and confusing  letters filled with muddled but unmistakeable menace went out to businesses.  The letters can best be summed up as, "You're gonna pay up big time, you scofflawing low-life, or we're gonna dynamite your store and hang your dog!"  Soon, complaints were coming in about the "rude, intimidating" follow- up phone calls. And before you know it, fear and fury roared through the business community, which is the lifeblood of the town, and all kinds of dark, dire imagining rose into the air like a terrifying miasma. It was like a spooky, scary Halloween before Halloween.

The Chamber and other business folk soon called a "workshop" to try to figure out what the hell was going on.  At the meeting they were able to make clear some of what MAS was going to do -- collect four years of back license fees plus taxes plus penalties, with a possible total cost of $1,200 or more -- and require that all "vendors" that sell anything to anybody in Morro Bay cough up a $135-a-year license.  That information caused a good many jaws to drop and eyeballs to pop out and tempers rose accordingly.

Worse, was what that $135-a-year would mean to  "artists, artisans, home crafters" who eke out a modest living occasionally selling their work to galleries and consignment stores, with the concern being that Morro Bay's lively arts community would go kaput.  After all, what artist, who may do one or two shows a year, often selling very little, would exhibit in Morro Bay if they had to cough up $135 smackaroonies for the "privilege" of doing so.

And, nobody seem to know what the hell the term "vendors" meant.  Like was MAS going to post blockades on every road into town and stop any vehicle coming in with anything intended to be sold in the town's stores, and check them for their "vendor's" licenses?   Or take the names of every product sold in the town then write a little note to the manufacturer of that product demanding they cough up the dough for a business license  since they are a "vendor" selling a product in the town?

In short, things were in a mess, but the staff and Council listened to the concerns and last night the Council came up with a few modifications: A 90 day amnesty for everyone not in compliance -- no back taxes, no back penalties, just pay the previous 4 years license fees which will bring your business current and you'll be good to go.  And small art crafters/artist "vendors" who sell $2,500 or less per year, would only need to get themselves current then would need a $10 license. And they promised to revisit the municipal business codes to see what needed updating and fixing so they could end up with a more level playing field and make sure that all businesses are paying their fair share, without killing off the golden geese  (small business) that keep Morro Bay a thriving community.

As an example of how poorly this whole things was handled, I had to ask whether that $2,500 for art/crafters/vendors was gross or net.  The council didn't know.  And there was the reason why this whole mess went sideways from day one.  The municipal codes, the MAS implementation, all of it was ass-backwards and not ready for prime time.  Worse, City Manager, David Buckingham, stated that "outside vendors" (which nobody bothered to define) would not be tracked down if they lived and worked out of the city or , as Mr. Buckinham put it, they were not worth the juice (i.e. the cost of pursuing costs more than what they would owe.).  Which means you've got a law on the books that will be selectively enforced at the whim of MAS or Mr. Buckingham, which means it's a bad law.

And there the problem lies.  The city needed to first re-consider and re-define the code and decide what various parameters should be, define the terms, outline categories with fee amounts and etc.  Then do an education/outreach effort, and only then bring in something like MAS for enforcement.

But that didn't happen because, as the Council made clear, they had hired MAS without doing their homework/due diligence, without thinking through some of the unintended consequences, and were now very sorry but they had already signed the contracts and were stuck for the next three years.

And then something extraordinary happened.  One by one (Jamie Irons had recused himself for possible conflict of interest since he was already officially appealing a MAS ruling on his license requirements)  the Council members APOLOGIZED to the community for screwing up and causing such distress.

Apologized to the community!  It was a breathtaking thing to see.

And certainly a hopeful sign that they will be working hard to ensure this cockamamie mess gets fixed, will be open to community input, will work to get the codes tweaked and improved to ensure fairness and common sense.  And they'll likely put a muzzle on the MAS enforcers, maybe school them in the Morro Bay Way.


Ron Crawford, over at www.   
 is wondering why a handful of people got a refund check from the bankruptcy proceedings while others didn't.  Hmmm, more ancient history to unwind. Ron is just having too much fun.

Fair warning to my fanboy/girl Sewer Trolls, don't come on this comment section to chew on my ankles.  You will be dumped.  If you got a crank, go chew on Ron's ankles on his website.  And if you know any of the folks listed, ask them to give Ron a call or post on his website so he can finish his story on this little wrinkle. Thanks.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lessons Unlearned

Calhoun's Cannons for Oct 27, 2014

"You get the most flak when you're right above the target."
                                                                   Kill the Messenger

The late investigative reporter, Gary Webb, should have been the wake-up call, a warning bell that a new era had arrived.  But the real meaning of his life and death got lost among the din.  And remains lost to this day.  Which was the point.

The era Webb was writing about  was Reagan's, the War On Drugs was running full-blast, as was the CIA and their "dirty-little wars," various black-ops being run under the public's radar. Webb was what's known in the popular imagination and in Hollywood portrayals as a "dogged reporter."  One of those passionate post-Nixon, post Watergate, post Woodward and Bernstein guys who actually believed that journalism was an honorable profession.  He was working for the San Jose Mercury News, a smallish paper that had a pretty solid reputation, a paper that Hollywood would portray as "scrappy."

Until Gary stumbled on a story that seemed inconceivable at the time -- that during the '80s the U.S. government, namely the CIA knew/ had to have known/ knowingly was laundering drug money (specifically cocaine funneled into L.A. and most pointedly and politically explosively into black South Central L.A., via a major drug-dealer, "Freeway" Ricky Ross). Gary tracked the story down and in 1996 the Merc News ran it and before anyone had invented the word "going viral," the story went viral.

At the time, I remember reading the story and I watched in amazement at the growing firestorms, and headlines by the other "big papers" -- the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times -- that followed: accusations that the CIA had deliberately funneled crack cocaine into the black community in order to destroy it, that the CIA itself was selling the drugs to pay for it's secret Nicaraguan "Contra" wars, each claim more outrageous than the other and all being laid at Gary's feet.  Then came the shift in focus from denial to a growing criticism of Gary's story, and finally Gary himself, until the ultimate betrayal by his own paper, which threw him under the bus in an effort to save itself..  All of which is very well portrayed in the new film, "Kill the Messenger," staring Jeremy Renner as Webb.

However, throughout this media assault, I kept noticing one constant, repeating small point that consistently got steamrolled:  The accusations and claims making the headlines and being debunked, were NOT what Gary had written.  He never said what the news stories were reporting he said.  But instead of taking Gary's lead and running with the story, taking it further, digging deeper, the media stopped looking and just repeated the straw-man lies until that false narrative became "true." Then they ran with that.

And continued to run with it for years whenever events caused the story to be referenced again.  Fake "facts," like some Urban Myth, endlessly repeating. It was a surreal phenomenon to watch at the time and I kept thinking that surely, a big paper like the L.A. Times would discover its error and correct their own record. 

Years later, when the CIA 'fessed up that they were doing exactly what Webb reported -- looking the other way as drug money was laundered to buy guns for their "contra" operations -- the L.A. Times buried that story way back in the middle of the paper in a single column and it wasn't until 2006 that they finally acknowledge their own complicity in the falsification of that story.  But by that time, Gary was dead, his death ruled a suicide, his career destroyed, his reputation sullied; death by a thousand cuts administered, not by his enemies, but by his professional colleagues.

For a man who considered journalism to be an honorable profession, it was an unimaginable betrayal, and is perfectly represented by the film's ending: Gary, his career already in ruins, is shown accepting an "Excellence in Journalism Award."  The bitter irony was not lost on the audience.

Tragically, the public didn't pay attention to what had just happened with Gary, a dangerous change in how the media/corporate/government complex operates that continues (on steroids) to play out today: the rise of mega-corporate news organizations, the too-cozy willingness of  that media to act as a lapdog to government, not a watchdog, the willingness of both media and the public to focus on the messenger, not the message, the ease with which a narrative can be falsified by changing even one word, and the willingness of the public to "buy" that false narrative, even at their own peril.

What happened to Gary Webb was the template for how easy it is to get away with it all -- crash an economy, start wars on lies, spy on millions of Americans, you name it.  The list is endless but the M.O. is the same: Falsify the narrative, kill the messenger, distract the audience until it loses interest, then re-write history.  Simple.  


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Your Sunday Photo

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Spooky Water Woes


Drought stricken Cambria put on a brave face and her town full of scarecrows soldiered on, while thousands of visitors filled the streets and sidewalks and businesses, gawking, snapping pics, shopping and having a wonderful time.

The public restroom was closed so visitors were presented  instead with a long line of large porta-potties.  And I’m sure if anyone went into a restaurant they had to specifically ask for a glass of water and were probably lucky if they didn't get The Soup Nazi as a waiter who would yell at them, "No Water For YOU!"

Being the topic du jour, water scarcity was also on the scarecrows’ minds. And they all had suggestions on ways to conserve water.


I spoke to one shop owner who likely spoke for all the shop owners: They were delighted to see all the visitors since tourism is Cambria’s life blood, but were rather resentfully envious thinking about all those (unrestricted) visitors taking long, hot showers in their motel rooms while the rest of the town had to make do with 3- minute sluicings and dead lawns.

And so I offered a modest proposal: A Chamber of Commerce ad campaign that promised a Cambria resident would come with every motel room and would join the visitor in their nice hot, unlimited water shower stall to act as a professional soaping-up back-scrubber .

I know.  I doubt the Chamber will go for it either. 

The Scarecrow Festival continues until the end of the month so if you get a chance, go up and see all of them, including this wonderful fellow. 


Be sure to bring a bottle of water. And after scarecrowing, head up to Sebastian’s for a sandwich and a visit from a real non-scared crow.