Sunday, August 3, 2008

My 15 minutes, part 1

This is a story about right-wing Neanderthals, greedy and petty faculty, and the harm they can do.

I was hired as Irvine Valley College's sole full-time philosopher in 1986, just about when Attila the Pup died. For a long time, I stayed out of campus politics, including the politics of the district (the South Orange County Community College District). At the time, the SOCCCD had a sterling reputation.

Things changed in late 1996. In November, our corrupt faculty union had used deceptive and homophobic fliers to secure the election victories of "fiscally conservative" trustees Steve Frogue and John Williams, as well as challenger Dorothy Fortune. A fourth trustee (out of seven) was also in their pocket, but she was not then up for election. Thus it was that a group of corrupt and ruthless faculty gained control over the board of trustees, and, consequently, over the entire district.

(The following account was written in 2001. I edited it slightly:)

...During this early period [i.e., 1997], I produced and distributed several satirical newsletters at IVC. By early ’97, my chief publication was called the ‘Vine. By mid-1998, the ‘Vine had been largely replaced by Dissent, distributed unevenly, district-wide. By then, Rebel Girl (Lisa Alvarez) was my partner in crime. (An English teacher, she was and still is my office mate.)

By design, the newsletters, to which several writers contributed intermittently, emphasized one overriding district truth: that a gang of greedy and disgruntled faculty had made a pact with four opportunistic little devils—the Board [of trustees] Four—and, together, this crew was razing everything worthwhile that had been built.

It was difficult keeping up with the Dark Side’s crimes, hijinks, and peccadillos, but we gave it the old college try. Some people thought we were makin’ things up, what with tales of pants-droppings, loogie assaults, neo-Nazi rallies, gay-bashing, secret bank accounts, secret trustee discussions, Holocaust denial, and all the rest. In reality, we were tonin’ down the facts, worried no one would believe them in unmitigated form.

‘Vine/Dissent was a hit. Early on, readers sent me “thank you” notes, cash, writings, and suggestions.

In ‘97, for PIO, the district hired Pam Zanelli, who functioned as a political consultant and flack for the Four, or so said the Three [i.e., the board minority]. Zanelli was the “professional” who, only months earlier, urged her then-clients, the faculty union Old Guard, to use the “same-sex domestic partners” gambit to get Frogue, Williams, and Fortune elected and protect “life as we know it.”

She has a haystack on her head (big hair).

Naturally, what with the addition of a full-time Board Majority propagandist, some of us began talking to the press more often, givin’ ‘em the skinny. By early ’97, I (along with a few other rebels) had become adept at puttin’ local news hounds on the scent of stories that, invariably, embarrassed the Four, the union Old Guard, and Mr. Goo [IVC President Raghu Mathur, a key member of the corrupt faculty union]. Zanelli’s transparent spinnage was a weak force in this universe.

Mostly, all we had to do was point reporters in a certain direction. We didn’t have to add anything; they’d make their own sauce.

Our success with the press had nothing to do with bias. Hey, if, over time, you never lie or exaggerate or cry wolf, people start trusting you. That’s the secret, but it only works if you’re on the side of the angels. Rat Bastards need to hire people like Zanelli.

But Dark Siders naturally assume that everybody’s a lyin’, manipulatin’ piece o’ sh*t. Inevitably, to such people, if you get your side, your story, across to the public via the news media, you must be pullin’ a fast one somehow.

• • • •

“Oh, get out of here!…You couldn’t find ... more embarrassing conspiracists in America. Even among conspiracy theorists, these people represent the outer limits.”
—Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, commenting on trustee Frogue's “experts”

• • • •
Some truths really ought to be revealed, especially when they concern the fate of hundred million dollar chunks of taxpayer cash. The Board Four’s breathtaking intellectual incompetence was such a truth.

On the morning of the August 18, 1997, board meeting, a colleague alerted me to board agenda item 13. It said

Several speakers have been invited to participate in [board president Frogue’s Fall] forum on the JFK Assassination. Expenses for travel, accommodation and/or honoraria are estimated below:

Sherman Skolnick: Not to exceed $1,500.00
Dave Emory: Not to exceed $1,000.00
John Judge: Not to exceed $1,000.00
Michael Collins Piper: Not to exceed $1,000.00

“Hmmm,” thought I. “Isn’t Piper the boy reporter for Spotlight?”

I made a heads up call to the ADL’s Joyce Greenspan, telling her what I knew about Piper, namely, that he worked for Spotlight, the nation’s #1 anti-Semitic newspaper, published by the nation’s #1 anti-Semite, Willis Carto. I advised her to look into Frogue’s other speakers too.

That night, Joyce addressed the board, informing them about Carto, Spotlight, and Piper. She explained that Skolnick, another Frogueian guest, was on Spotlight’s advisory board. Joyce urged the board not to approve item 13.

Frogue responded by explaining Piper’s theory—how the CIA and the Israelis conspired to kill JFK, etc. Piper’s theory, like dozens of similar yarns, is based on poor scholarship and dreadful reasoning. That is why it is not taken seriously by scholars. That is why Frogue’s “forum” was wrong for SOCCCD. Colleges should have standards.

The anti-intellectual Four understood none of this. They happily approved item 13, thereby demonstrating their utter incompetence.

The next morning, I phoned the Times’ Michael Granberry. Two days after that, the front page of the Times roared: “O.C. College Course Claims JFK Conspiracy.” Granberry’s article, which was picked up across the country, revealed that Frogue’s “experts” were pots so cracked that they even embarrassed world crackpottery. Thus it was that, for a day or two, our board and district became a national joke, an object of fun and frettage among Arianna Huffington, George Will, and the rest of American political blabbermouthery.

For the Featherbrained Four, it was an embarrassment of Biblical proportions. They had no one to blame but themselves.

While the “JFK Assassination” fiasco—and resultant recall effort—raged, our Brown Act lawsuits (Anthro professor Wendy Phillips, now Wendy Gabriella, was one of the attorneys) moved through the courts. [The board had repeatedly violated the "open meetings" law, and we asked them to cut it out. Nothing doing.] Late in ’97, Superior Court Judge Macdonald ruled in my favor in “Bauer I,” as it was called. By late ’98, it became clear that Judge Seymour would do the same in “Bauer II.” Despite Zanelli’s endless haystack spinnage, the Four were getting slaughtered, PR-wise.

A coupla weeks after the trustee election of November 1998, I published a lengthy guest column in the Sunday OC Register, revealing anew the ugly truth about our swine and their union piglets. Despite its relatively high profile, the article probably did more to catch parakeet droppings than to win hearts and minds. Still, it must have infuriated the Four.

Maybe it was just a coincidence, but, a few days after the column appeared, without a hint of warning (contra board policy), I received a letter from Chancellor Cedric Sampson informing me that, in his opinion, I had violated the district’s “workplace violence” and “discrimination/harassment” policies.

Evidently instigated by Mathur, the letter, which (contra the contract) was already in my personnel file, claimed that I had been (a) making life miserable for faculty of the “Christian religious experience,” (b) using a racist term to refer to Mathur, and (c) publishing violent and threatening things in my newsletters.

In a follow-up letter, I was ordered to seek counseling.

“Good grief,” I said.

In part 2: my federal court battle, more Brown Act battles, students sue the district, the Prince of Darkness arrives, etc.

SEE My 15 minutes, part 2

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