This year's contract talks between the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle and the union representing nine hundred newsroom, advertising, and circulation proles never took a turn for the nasty as negotiations have in years past. Even unionistas had to acknowledge that the reporting staff is bloated after the Chron merged with the old Examiner. Last month, members of the Northern California Media Workers Guild, which represents nine hundred Chron workers including reporters, overwhelmingly ratified a new five-year deal that cut vacation time, imposed pay cuts on some employees, and prohibited future strikes. Even though discussions proceeded politely and concluded limply, Chron management was braced for a bitter affair. Last December, the paper hired publisher Frank Vega, best known for his union-busting prowess in Detroit. Feeder has discovered that more recently -- back in June, when contract negotiations were still ongoing -- Hearst Corp. paid to register some peculiar Internet domain addresses to make sure no one else could use them. Here are a few turned up by Feeder and his minions:
SFFreePress.com: This was the short-lived newspaper produced by striking writers from the Chron and Examiner in 1994.
DarthVega.com: Frank Vega's Star Wars-inspired nickname coined by his enemies.
SFComical.com: Everyone's sarcastic moniker for the beloved West Bay newspaper.
Given the timing of the domain-name purchases, it seems obvious that management wanted to prevent any potential union shenanigans if things got testy. (Someone on the other side beat Hearst to the punch on FrankVega.com, which automatically redirects Internet browsers to the union's Web site.) Chronicle spokeswoman Esther Ingrao wouldn't confirm that the paper had exercised any preemptive strike, but did say, "We'll reserve any [domain name] that can be used derogatorily against the company."
Actually, Hearst execs have missed a few prospective Web site names: ScoopedAgain, Chronilingus, and PhilBronstein WorshipsSeanPenn are still available.
Murder: She Wrote
The upcoming murder trial of Orinda housewife Susan Polk took a drama-killing turn this week when Polk, who had planned to act as her own lawyer, asked the court to appoint Oakland criminal-defense attorney Dan Horowitz as her legal counsel. The cable-ready murder case has caught the attention of the national media with its sensational subplots, such as the fact that she met her much-older psychologist husband, Felix Polk, when she was a troubled fifteen-year-old who'd been sent to him for counseling. At the time, Felix was forty and married. But if Polk gets a real lawyer, the other sensational subplot fades away because she will no longer be personally cross-examining the prosecution's star witness, her eighteen-year-old son Gabriel. The teenager found his dad's dead body three years ago in a guesthouse on their $2 million Orinda estate and told police his mother had threatened to kill Felix with a shotgun in the recent past.
While the defendant's hiring of a real lawyer may suck for us newshounds, it's a good move for Polk, who has no legal background, although she has lectured judges on the law during her courtroom appearances. Earlier this year, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge David Flinn ruled that Polk was mentally competent to defend herself in court. Feeder, however, has obtained a copy of a previously unreported letter -- allegedly containing Polk's journal entries from shortly before her husband's death -- that supports Gabriel's contention that his mom is "delusional."
In October 2002, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Maria Rivera received a mysterious letter suggesting that Felix, an Austrian-born Jew, was an Israeli spy and Susan was a psychic medium who had predicted the attacks on 9/11. The letter began, "Thought you might be interested in this journal excerpt about a Mossad agent's failure to provide a warning to US intel. re. terrorist attack on US targets ..." When Feeder contacted Deputy District Attorney Tom O'Connor about the letter, Polk's prosecutor confirmed that investigators found the same writings -- which they turned over to the defense earlier in the case -- on her computer. "I think the letter was authored by Susan Polk," O'Connor told Feeder.
The letter contains a rambling entry in which the author lambastes Israel in general and "F." -- presumably Felix -- in particular. "After the 9/11 attacks," the entry reads at one point, "F. bragged to the kids that one of his patients had known that it was going to happen before it did. He was talking about me. I am a medium." The author goes on to say that she had correctly predicted the date of the attack and that Felix' cousin, who had an office in the Twin Towers, stayed home that day. However, it accuses Felix and the Israeli spy agency Mossad of not informing the US government of the impending attack so as "to send a warning to the Pentagon: 'Support us or else.'
"I am not happy about being a medium," the author laments. "First of all, I am only partly conscious of what is happening when I do what I do, and sometimes I am not conscious at all until later when I get flashbacks. I don't know whether this is because F. hypnotized me so frequently when I saw him as a patient ... and instructed me not to remember, or whether it is a function of being a medium." In an earlier interview, Polk said her late husband seduced her by drugging and hypnotizing her when she was his teenage patient.
Near the end of the journal entry, it quotes Saddam Hussein as saying that the US attack on Iraq "will be opening the gates of Hell."
"He has a way with words," the letter-writer says of Hussein. "I think he is right. ... In one of my dreams, Colin Powell was the anti-Christ and we were all getting in line in the US marching towards Armageddon."
Polk, who is in custody in Richmond, could not be reached for comment by press time.
Soccer Moms? Try Poker Pops
Yes, sports fans and East Bay political geeks, that was former El Cerrito Mayor Mark Friedman on ESPN recently for coverage of the World Series of Poker circuit event in San Diego. Friedman was in the audience rooting for his 27-year-old son, Internet poker phenom Prahlad Friedman. Prahlad went heads up against poker legend Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and lost shortly after Ferguson caught an incredible four aces to beat Friedman's full house. Still, Friedman walked away with $361,365 for his second-place finish.
Although Daddy Friedman now supports his son at poker tourneys, he didn't always love the idea of his boy being a professional gambler. Friedman says that Prahlad dropped out of UC Berkeley five years ago to play poker full-time -- a move that worried dad at first. "I felt it was very unlikely he'd be able to support himself doing that," Friedman says. While his concerns may have been understandable, he could easily have asked the same question had Prahlad gone ahead and graduated from Cal -- as an ethnic studies major.