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Public Eye

Lost in Space

Conspiracy writer Bill Kaysing kindly sent Eye a copy of his planned legal interrogation of astronaut James Lovell this week, whom Kaysing is suing for libel. Eye watchers may recall that Lovell described Kaysing, author of We Never Went to the Moon, as "wacky" in the pages of Metro last year. Kaysing, acting as his own attorney, begins his written interrogatories with a dramatic historical anecdote about a man hanged for forgery despite an eloquent appeal to King George to spare his life. "It is apparent that English law was not sympathetic to those who tell lies in print." ... Some of Kaysing's more intriguing queries: "Are you familiar with CIA expertise in inducing heart attacks and strokes and their proficiency in torture as recently reported in the Baltimore Sun?" "Are you familiar with the term 'shadow government'?" "Are you familiar with what is known as the Nuremberg defense?" ... The 74-year-old Kaysing is waging a more down-to-earth battle against his landlord, Peggy Matsuda, whom Kaysing calls "the dragon lady," to stop her from raising his rent by $100. Matsuda apparently owns the Soquel mobile home park where Kaysing and his wife, Ruth, reside. While sympathizing with his desire to hang onto his homestead, Eye can only blush at Wild Bill's open letter to Matsuda on "behalf of the helpless and the suffering," which ends with this puzzling postscript: "During WWII, a friend of mine on another destroyer was machine-gunned by a Jap sub after his ship sank. I am sure that, as a Japanese person, you would not want to be classified as being as merciless as that Jap sub captain." (Memo to Bill "Grasshopper" Kaysing: This isn't 1945.)

Ducking the Issue

Rumor has it that state insurance chief Chuck Quackenbush has muzzled mouthpiece Richard Wiebe and stripped his deputy of his role as Quack's spokesman. Why? Sacramento News & Review reporter Nick Budnick thinks maybe because Wiebe was a little too honest. Last fall, Quack, previously an assemblyman from Saratoga, subpoenaed Budnick to reveal his sources for an article highly critical of the insurance commissioner, "What's Up, Chuck?" The damning Sept. 12 exposé suggested that Quackenbush was a puppet of his campaign benefactors in the insurance biz. During the court battle, Wiebe was repeatedly quoted as saying that "we" want to find out who leaked the internal documents so they could be punished (at least that's Budnick's translation). Wiebe's on-the-record candor was contradicted by the insurance department's lawyer, who said she wasn't interested in the source of the leaks but in the documents themselves. Eye is more inclined to believe Wiebe. It's a time-honored tradition among public agencies to respond to damning news stories with inside info: Plug up the leak, teach a lesson and ignore the issues raised by the story. ... The News & Review, by the way, prevailed and didn't have to reveal its sources. A federal judge agreed to quash the subpoena last month. Budnick modestly observes: "We stomped them, and the judge laughed them out of court."

B.S. of America

Witness the two following exercises in corporate double-talk endured by Eye over the few weeks: First, a reader called Bank of America to complain about missing payments he made from his electronic home-banking system. A friendly service rep explained there were a flood of similar complaints--nearly 8,700--in December and told our reader to be patient. When Eye called B of A flack Jeff Hirshberger, he insisted there were no problems with the home-banking system and that complaints were "rare." ... The second case involves our same faithful reader, this time unable to find parts for his Panasonic fax machine. Panasonic's customer service supervisor Debbie Wright kindly explained that a new inventory-control software package being used at the company's supply warehouse in Kent, Wash., was on the fritz. "The thing is we just can't make it work," Wright admitted. But when Eye then called Panasonic flack catcher Bill Pritchard, he initially told us he was unaware of any problems. "The new software was installed to speed up delivery of customer orders," he boasted. After learning of the problem, the Panasonic spinmeister's first action was to investigate Eye, checking in with Eye's boss to confirm Eye's identity. Company officials then went into full stonewall mode, declining to respond to additional questions about the identify of the maker of the malfunctioning software and whether the company will temporarily adjust its warranty policy to allow the use of replacements made by other vendors. How about replacing those malfunctioning PR tools?

The Horse's Mouth

San Jose car owner John Daley decided he wasn't going to be another silent parking-ticket victim. Daley fought back. How? By researching the city traffic code cited on his $55 parking ticket. Daley was ticketed in September for posting a "for sale" sign on his vehicle parked near the corner of Stockton and Cinnabar. After doing a little footwork, Daley found information suggesting that the code cited in his ticket applied only to car dealers or auto garages who park their cars on the street with "for sale" signs--not to private citizens. According to Daley, the hearing officer had no choice but to dismiss the ticket. "As always, people assume things that aren't true. It's in my blood to question," Daley boasts. "Most people put their thumbs in their mouths and suck on it, but I go to the source and talk to the horse." But the horses in the city tell Eye that just because Daley got his ticket dismissed, that doesn't mean the law doesn't apply to private car-owners. True, concedes city customer service manager Sheila Somers, the 17-year-old ordinance was originally meant to target repair garages and auto dealers. But because the law's language is general, the city tickets private auto-owners selling their jalopies to limit blight and discourage them from using the streets as a sales tool. Sorry, folks. Go ahead and put those thumbs back in place and suck.

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From the February 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro

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