The Year of Oh Lord 2008

Posted December 24, 2008 in Feature Story

As we near the end of our annual trek around the sun, it’s looking like the best we can say about 2008 is it’s almost over. 


Well, to be fair, it hasn’t been a total wash. We did, after all, put a brother in the White House and got to see Bush duck a pair of shoes. But those were only good things if you’re a Democrat, and even the Dems will say that, by and large, it’s been a pretty crappy 12 months. 


Times were especially hard in the IE, with unemployment and mortgage defaults exceeding national averages and city treasuries emptier than O.J. Simpson’s Day Planner. Here, the year was all about scandal, acrimony, more scandal, tears, fears, layoffs and more scandal still. The following is a quick and decidedly incomplete look back on 2008:


Chino’s bovine Abu Ghraib

The year began with a story so bloody awful that comparisons to Dick Cheney were made: Animal abuse at the Hallmark Meat Packing plant. The Chino slaughterhouse was thrown in the national limelight after the Humane Society of the United States in January released a secretly taped video of Hallmark employees mistreating cows to the point of outright torture.  


The images shocked America: Workers were shown dragging and tumbling cows with forklifts, shocking them in the eyes with electric prods, and—in scenes reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal—blasting water into the animals’ noses. At least as horrifying as the abuse was the apparent motive behind it: The animals were sick, and the workers were trying to get them on their feet in order to be slaughtered for public consumption. That revelation, combined with the fact some of Hallmark’s meat funneled straight into the bellies of human children through the National School Lunch Program, led to the recall of 143 million pounds of beef. 


American Beef Packers Inc., which took over the plant after Hallmark was forced to shut down, has promised to treat the cows much more humanely than its predecessor. We’ll believe it when we see the next undercover video with our own eyes. 

Chambers of horror

Two IE business groups had a bad, bad go of it this year for reasons unrelated to the economic recession. The Colton and Norco chambers of commerce both wound up mired in the muck of staff shake-ups, bad blood and bad press.  


Of the two, the more dysfunctional appears to be the Colton Chamber, which in February commenced a restructuring process in the wake of the resignation of its president-elect and the firing of its executive director. The executive director, Eufemia Reyes, was shown the door after it was revealed she had served time for embezzlement while working at UC Riverside. 


Perhaps more embarrassing than that bit of news was then-chamber President Paul Bracci’s insistence Reyes was terminated, not because she was found to be a convicted felon, but because the organization was short on money. That ballsy claim served only to draw further attention to the fact the chamber was $50,000 in the red. Bracci should have saved his breath to explain then-president-elect Frank Navarro’s announcement that he was resigning from the chamber. Instead, both Bracci and Navarro said nothing to shine line on the departure.


Not to be outdone, the Norco Chamber of Commerce saw three of its board members—including the president and treasurer—up and resign in July. The members cited unprofessional conduct and long-running animosities between board members as reasons for their departures, with the president, Tim Nordby, describing the group as “the Hatfields and the McCoys.” The IE Weekly’s own intrepid Allen David, however, couldn’t help but note in “The Rundown” that the resignations came right around the time the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department searched the chamber’s computers in search of pornographic materials. The search reportedly turned up nothing. 


Where’s Erin Brockovich when you need her?

Rubidoux residents went purely—and understandably—bananas in April when it was revealed that the TXI Riverside Cement plant just north of the unincorporated city had for years generated dust containing high levels of a cancer-causing chemical into the air. 


The chemical, hexavalent chromium (otherwise known as the “the same evil shit that killed those people in the film, Erin Brockovich”) was originally detected by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in a 2004-2006 study, but the district didn’t get around to looking into it seriously until January 2008 or publicly disclosing its findings until April. 


Not to worry, district officials said: Levels of the carcinogen weren’t high enough to pose “an immediate risk.”


Chill out, the officials said: Tests showed only trace amounts of the chemical in groundwater near the plant. 


F*ck you, replied Rubidoux-area residents in filing four class-action lawsuits against the plant. Representing the plaintiffs in at least one of the suits is the Westlake Village firm of Masry & Vititoe: There’s Erin Brockovich when you need her. According to press reports, Brockovich (now Brockovich-Ellis) is working with Masry & Vititoe on the lawsuit. 


Bill Postmus is a big dick . . . 

No question about it: Bill Postmus is one of the biggest dicks to plague the IE in quite a while. Despite his excesses, the San Bernardino County assessor might easily have sidestepped that sorry label if he’d just go away. 


But despite the April spectacle of investigators raiding Postmus’ office; despite his top assistant and longtime friend being charged with six felony counts of falsifying and destroying evidence in an effort to throw off a grand-jury investigation; despite a report from that investigation showing Postmus used his office as a fundraising vehicle for the Republican Party and spent $1.2 million on filling the office with political cronies who knew crap about taxes; despite all those rumors of Postmus’ past drug use; and despite being so coated with stink that he’s incapable of doing the job we pay him for . . . he simply refuses to do the honorable thing and resign. 


The man is such a tool that he even incurred the wrath of the ordinarily mild-mannered Riverside Press-Enterprise columnist Cassie MacDuff, who in a July 28 column worthy of the most cynical alt newspaper, called Postmus a chicken, coward and wimp before going on to question his manhood. Lay on, MacDuff!


We just call Postmus the second biggest dick in the IE. We’d call him the first . . . 


. . . but Andy Dick is the biggest dick of them all

What do you do when you’ve wasted so many brain cells on a starvation diet of drugs and shock humor that the world finally catches on to your lack of talent? You drive to Murrieta and attack a 17-year-old girl outside a chicken restaurant. Just ask “comic” Andy Dick, arrested July 16 in a parking lot near Buffalo Wild Wings in Murrieta on suspicion of all the above, plus public urination and pot possession, to boot. 


Police say Dick, who has appeared in numerous TV sitcoms and big-screen films but is best known for his ability to make an ass of himself in public, was “extremely intoxicated and belligerent” when he ran up the girl and pulled down her tank top and bra, exposing her breasts. Nice going, Andy. Cops later found some marijuana and Xanax in Dick’s pockets. Xanax, if you don’t know, is a prescription anti-anxiety medication—something the belligerence-prone Dick should never leave home without. 


The incident was just the latest example of Dick’s endless quest to hit bottom. Last year, he was arrested in Columbus, Ohio, for urinating in public, and was dragged off the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live for groping Ivanka Trump. He’s been busted for exposing himself at a McDonald’s Restaurant—what is it with this guy and food?)—and for wrapping his car around a telephone pole while high on cocaine. Two years ago, he got it in his head to shout, “You’re all a bunch of niggers!” while performing at L.A.’s Improv. 


Years from now, someone’s going to look up the definition of the word “Dick” in a dictionary and read, “A pejorative coined in honor of ‘comic’ Andy Dick.”


‘Shutting off a fire alarm while the fire’s still going’

The above is a sentence fragment from a work by writer David Foster Wallace. And what more evidence do we need that 2008 was a crappy year in the IE than Wallace’s death, by suicide, in Claremont? 


Author of Infinite Jest, a complex novel considered one of the great literary works of the 20th Century, Wallace was himself a great and complex thinker. He seemed to care nothing at all about the rules of form, style and genre—preferring instead to bombard the reader’s sensibilities with detail: Long and seemingly stream-of-conscious sentence construction, acronyms, words invented on the fly, long footnotes and indented parenthetical clauses. The effect was to disassociate readers from the comfortable and the known and instead immerse them in the realm of pure ideas. Wallace was a literary magician.


As we learned after his death, Wallace was plagued by clinical depression for more than 20 years. In 2007, he tried upon the advice of his doctor to wean himself off an anti-depressant that was causing severe side effects. The attempt apparently killed him: On Sept. 12, his wife returned to the couple’s Claremont home—Wallace had been working as a professor at Pomona College—to find he had hanged himself. 


Will the last reporter leaving please turn out the lights?

You may have noticed that we at the Weekly have pulled back a little on our gentle (and, occasionally, not so gentle) chiding of the folks over at the IE’s other newspapers—the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the San Bernardino Sun. That’s only partly because we’ve realized our shit can stink, too. The other part is there are so fewer folks at the papers left to chide. 


The year has been a disastrous one for newspapers, and the P-E, Bulletin and Sun didn’t escape the overall bloodletting. The P-E cut 150 employees loose in September and October through buyouts and layoffs. The less forthcoming MediaNews Group, which owns the Sun and the Daily Bulletin, let go of an unspecified number of staffers—the L.A. Weekly described what’s happened at the papers as “a slow-motion implosion of hiring freezes, budget cuts, positions eliminated through attrition, firings and layoffs.” MediaGroup owner Dean Singleton recently hinted at eventually outsourcing reporting jobs oversees. 


Here at the IE Weekly, we’re both cursed and blessed with having very little fat to trim and have thus far escaped the fates of so many in the industry. Which isn’t to say that we’re gloating over any of this, or that the other papers were in need of trimming. Make no mistake: The cuts at the P-E, Bulletin and Sun were a perfectly horrible development for the journalism community and for the citizens of the IE overall. 


To our brothers and sisters no longer with us, you’ll be sorely missed.


Diane Fedele’s Travelin’ Blackface Minstrel Show

Meet Diane Fedele, the (now) former president of an IE Republican women’s group who single-handedly ripped aside the GOP’s mask of racial tolerance and revealed the banjo-strummin’, “Dixie”-hummin’ bigot that lay beneath.


Fedele mailed a newsletter containing a patently racist cartoon of Barack Obama to about 200 members of her Upland-based group, the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated. The image, titled “Obama Bucks,” depicted a fake government food stamp bearing the face of America’s next president surrounded by a watermelon, a buck of chicken and ribs and Kool-Aid.  


Reporter Michelle DeArmond of the Press-Enterprise broke the story of Fedele’s handiwork Oct. 16, and before the day was up gasps of horror registered around the world. If Fedele was looking for attention, she got it: MSNBC talking head Keith Olbermann labeled her America’s “Worst Person in the World” and even KFC, whose corporate symbol was plainly visible on the “Obama Buck,” denounced the cartoon. The controversy sent Republican leaders scrambling so fast you’d have thought someone was handing out corporate bailouts. 


Fedele told reporters she had no idea the image might be perceived as racist, a claim that called into question not only her judgment, but also her sanity. Another Chaffey club member’s assertion was far more believable: An African-American, she said she opened the newsletter and burst into tears. Fedele soon resigned as president of the group, sparing its members the task of chasing her out of town with sticks. 



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