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A GRADUAL WARMING TREND will kick off tomorrow for interior areas, while mostly seasonal conditions persist at the coast. (NWS)
LEARN HOW TO SAVE WATER, Friday, August 19, at Rotary Park in Mendocino
Is your well running low, or are you struggling with water use restrictions in your neighborhood? Are you worried about keeping your garden alive, about fire safety, or meeting the water needs of your business? Join the GrassRoots Institute’s Water Coalition at Rotary Park in Mendocino on Friday, August 19 from 11AM to 3PM for information and demonstrations. Learn about some of the practical solutions we can implement to conserve water during the dry season, harvest and store rainwater during the winter months, and manage runoff to replenish the groundwater that sustains our aquifers and streams. Sign up for a property assessment, ask questions, learn from other’s experience. We need to stop letting water just run down the drain, and start building drought resilient solutions for our visitor serving businesses, our homes, neighborhoods, and farms.
Pioneers relied on huckleberries too.
Check out the Little River Museum Facebook page today. It's a public site and it has a great blurb about huckleberries on it. They were a primary source of fruit for the early pioneers as well as birds and native wildlife, and there's an excerpt from a local diary mentioning them.
MARY PAT PALMER:
PROGRAM ON SEA LEVEL RISE
Donne Brownsey, Chair of the California Coastal Commission, will give a presentation on sea level rise on Tuesday, August 23, at 6pm. Brownsey will discuss the Commission's efforts to prepare for sea level rise and the multi-faceted way the rising ocean waters will impact the state's coast. Special emphasis will be given to Mendocino County. Rising sea levels affect transportation systems, Public Trust boundaries, water sources and much more.
This important program is sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Mendocino County and the GrassRoots Institute. It will be held via Zoom; find the link at the League's website under the calendar tab. Other sponsoring organizations are Mendocino County Youth for Climate, Jughandle Creek Nature Center, Climate Action Mendocino, Noyo Center for Marine Science, Mendocino County Climate Action Advisory Committee, and Mendocino Land Trust.
For more information, call 707-937-4952.
Pat Dunbar, Publicity, email@example.com
VFW BREAKFAST FUNDRAISERS
Ukiah area Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1900 (VFW) have been sponsoring a monthly breakfast fundraiser for decades. Thanks to the faithful service of Veterans, still serving their community and country — as well as a few “good women” (and some men) — the breakfasts have been a great way to feed a family and meet with friends.
Experiencing a hiatus during COVID, they are opening up for the VFW Breakfasts starting Saturday, August 13, 2022. Breakfasts will be quarterly Aug, Nov, Feb. and May…always the second Saturday.
Hours of operation are 8 a.m.-12 noon. Veterans Memorial Hall is located at 293 Seminary Avenue, Ukiah.
In the past, the VFW has sponsored a Flea Market in the main hall, but for now, breakfasts only, since the eating will be in the main hall so folks can spread out (giving everyone some space).
The price is still a bargain $7! The menu is: Eggs, Bacon and/or Sausage, Biscuits with gravy, Pancakes with syrup and or mixed fruit. (Bonus benefit: You can have both biscuits and pancakes if you wish.)
Funds raised go to the many worthwhile projects the VFW supports, flowing back into the community a variety of ways, including student scholarships.
WILL LUCY PULL THE FOOTBALL AGAIN?
by Mark Scaramella
The Consent Calendar for the July 26 Supervisors meeting which was approved without comment included the draft sales tax ballot measure language to be sent to the County Clerk for the November ballot:
“Ballot Measure Language (Draft) — Measure ___ (County Clerk to fill in the blank). Shall Ordinance No. ____ be adopted to impose as a general tax, an additional transactions (sales) and use tax of one quarter cent (0.25%) within Mendocino County to fund essential services, including fire protection and prevention? Such tax is estimated to raise $4,000,000 annually for ten (10) years, after which it will expire.”
At the prior Board meeting on July 12 the Supervisors passed a non-binding “resolution of intent” saying:
“It is the intent of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to use any new revenues from the proposed sales tax to fund fire protection and prevention, with 90% of the new revenue to be spent on direct aid to those agencies providing direct fire protection services and 10% to assist in fire prevention, resiliency and readiness efforts.
“The Board intends that the 90% used for direct aid to agencies providing direct fire protection services be allocated in the same manner as the Board has allocated Proposition 172 funds. Specifically, 40% of the 90% (36% of the total new revenue) will be distributed evenly among local agencies, with the remaining 60% (54% of total) allocated based on relative population size of those agencies. The Board intends that the 10% for fire prevention, resiliency and readiness shall be used solely to plan, finance and operate ongoing county-wide programs including but not limited to community chipping service, defensible space assistance and home hardening assistance.”
Most Mendo voters have forgotten that in 2017 the Supervisors put Measure AJ on the ballot along with their cannabis tax measure AI. “Advisory Vote Only. If Mendocino County adopts business license taxes on cannabis businesses by the adoption of the measure adopting Chapter 6.32, Measure AI, should the County use the majority of that revenue for funding enforcement of marijuana regulations, enhanced mental health services, repair of county roads, and increased fire and emergency medical services?
County Counsel Kit Elliott’s “impartial analysis” in the 2017 ballot pamphlet said:
“If the voters approve Measure AJ, it would serve to advise the Board of Supervisors that the voters want a majority of the revenue generated by the Cannabis Business Tax, Measure AI, for enforcement of marijuana regulations, enhanced mental health services, repair of county roads, and increased fire and emergency services.”
The ballot argument in favor of Measure AJ included, “Fire And Emergency Medical Services: These critical services depend on a fragile network of local departments. Most are chronically underfunded and rely on bake sales and chicken BBQs to raise money for life saving equipment. Increasing numbers of calls are directly related to the underground marijuana industry.”
That was the last we heard of Measure AJ until Monday, June 6, 2022, over $16 million dollars later, when Supervisor John Haschak said: “The Cannabis tax is supposed to go to designated specific areas. It seems like now would be the time to direct the Auditor Controller to set up that account so that people can see what's happening. Now that the cannabis income is way down it seems appropriate to do.”
Supervisor Ted Williams: “I would support that as well. It will create some problems for the budget because if we follow that advisory, which we should have all along, we will have some budget units short funds. Right now it's going into the general fund.”
Supervisor Dan Gjerde responded: “I think we are going to be fulfilling the advisory because the advisory said that the majority of the funds should be spent on enforcement.”
No. Incorrect. Measure AJ asked: “should the County use the majority of that revenue for funding enforcement of marijuana regulations, enhanced mental health services, repair of county roads, and increased fire and emergency medical services?”
Notice also that the language included the words “enhanced” mental health services, and “increased” fire and emergency medical services.” Not business as usual.
Gjerde continued: “I think that one category alone probably we are spending the majority of the revenue on law enforcement. Mental health, county roads, and fire emergency services. If you look at our general fund allocations to fire and emergency services which are outside of Proposition 172 and which are outside the Campground Transient Occupancy Tax, between fire and emergency and enforcement we are probably spending all of our cannabis tax in the coming year could be shown as going to those services.”
Gjerde’s bogus “probably” argument, without objection, without any supporting data about how much of the $16 million-plus in cannabis taxes collected so far went to where Haschak and Williams agreed it should go, was quickly accepted by his colleagues and not one nickel of those $16 million-plus cannabis taxes has ever been earmarked for the purposes the voters overwhelmingly advised them to allocate it to. Gjerde’s convenient “we’re keeping it” claim that some general fund money may be going to fire and emergency services (when the language even said “increased” fire and emergency services) shows how little this Board thinks of the voters' intent, even when the subject is what they all agree is for “public safety” and that they all agree need “increased” revenue.
But now, without even bothering to put another “advisory measure” on November’s ballot, the Board thinks Mendo voters should vote to give the Board — a board that seems convinced they’re either broke or on the verge of being broke due to unforeseen cost increases — an estimated $4 million a year more and trust them that it will be spent as their empty and non-binding “resolution of intent” promises.
The Board also expects local fire departments and supporters to actively promote the proposed sales tax measure.
Back in May, when the Board first discussed putting a sales tax measure on the ballot, Supervisor Haschak cogently noted, “We need to prove that we can do what we say we’re going to do.”
Given their Gjerde-lead subsequent flippant dismissal of their obligation to see that at least some of the cannabis tax revenues went to “increased emergency medical services,” it’s pretty clear that they have proven the reverse.
Will the Resolution of Intent’s claim that it will “promote political accountability for the Board by encouraging public scrutiny of any future efforts to repurpose these revenues” satisfy the majority of Mendo voters?
In the last couple of weeks since the Board approved the weak ballot language on the consent calendar, we have asked several local supporters of the proposed sales tax measure to do what Haschak said they had to do: prove that they can do what they say they’re going to do. So far, no takers. We’re still waiting.
ON LINE COMMENT regarding retired Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Schapmire’s recent observation that the Supervisors' cheap shots at the Auditor-Controller and their claims about not knowing the County’s financial status are “irresponsible and inaccurate”: mendofever.com/2022/08/09/mendocino-countys-financial-experts-calls-claims-of-a-financial-crisis-a-deflection-and-misinformation/
“Schapmire is 100 percent correct. The reality, as shown in the County’s independent third party financial reports, (all available online) is that the County is awash in discretionary cash. Angelo did not make up the $20m figure, if ANYTHING she understated it! Why is the County Board of Supervisors crying poor?
One reason is absolutely the incompetence of the Board, their CEO and Executive Office fiscal staff. It’s simply easier to cry poor than to try and deliver services. For whatever reason the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis resulted in the executive and Board to unquestioningly prioritize the stockpiling of excessive amounts of cash. Prudent reserves are a good thing, but the County also exists to provide services. They have thrown out the challenge of delivering services to focus almost exclusively on the ever growing reserves, as if the County were a private corporation trying to boost its outlook on paper. The reality is the County Board controls over $50m in undesignated and designated reserves.
The second reason is that pulling the “crisis” card grabs headlines. It gives the management and the Board the ability to delay or prevent increases to employee compensation. The Executive Office is good at crisis. I would even say addicted to it. The reason? Incompetence. They can’t proactively manage, because that would actually involve doing their real jobs. It’s easier to cry crisis and hunker down than it is to stand up, make a decision about where money goes and then deliver on that commitment.
I’ll give you an example. The jail cost overrun. The County is currently paying down $50m in debt for their portfolio of office buildings they bought and remodeled two decades ago, including the Board chambers they decided to prioritize remodeling yet again last year. Those payments are about $6m a year. If the jail’s $6m over budget (not a surprise) all they have to do is add another $6m in debt to pay for it, or use the reserves. This is not a crisis. It is unfortunate. But it's not the end of the world. It is very common to issue debt for a capital asset like a building. In fact, you can make a good business argument to do that very thing. But that would require a CEO and fiscal staff in the Executive Office who know what they’re doing. Who build good working relationships with the Auditor and Treasurer. Has anyone in that office issued debt, refinanced or done anything even remotely technical like that? My guess is no. Again, cry poor and hope someone else comes to the rescue.
If you had a dog as sick as this Board and Executive Office, it would be time to have a difficult discussion with your veterinarian.”
WALT WATSON: Mendocino has 52,602 registered voters with only 22,248 participating in voting the past election and, as you so correctly point out, 2,857 did not vote for either Supt. of Schools. candidates. So, 19,391 voters made the decision, but how much did they really know about either candidate?
Ms. Hutchins built a solid team at the MCOE and provided leadership in the implementation of best practices for Distance Learning as mandated by the Public Health Officer(s). Refer to the Grand Jury Report on “Distance Learning” of the 2020/21 Grand Jury. She furthermore had a vision of how to use Distance Learning to provide better instructional opportunities to our rural school students (such as courses not available locally like advanced calculus or software development).
It will be interesting to see if Ms. Glentzer embraces how to use technology to improve the outcomes of Mendocino’s rural students.
EDITOR SPEAKING: Ms. Hutchins has run an honest shop. Prior admins were dominated by the Ukiah School District, the primary beneficiary of much undeserved funding. Ms. Glentzer was unavailable as a candidate, as were the “union” reps who endorsed her. As you suggest, Mr. Watson, most voters had no idea of what and whom they were voting for.
IN ANY CASE, the County Office of Education, like all the county offices of education in this mindlessly careening state, are relics of the 19th century when a central hiring office for teachers was necessary given horseback transportation and handwritten communications.
WHEN The Terminator was governor of California he looked hard at this expensive edu-layer of county offices larded on top of existing school districts, correctly concluding the obvious — county offices of education didn't do anything local school districts couldn't do themselves, and do it less expensively.
BUT THE EDU-BLOC arose as one to claim — what else? — “Eliminating these offices will hurt the kids,” slobber drool mawk, as if “the kids,” aka funding units, have been the first priority of education in this state in many years. (Raising my three children, my wife and I had to steer around a number of incompetents in the Boonville schools and also did a lot of home instructing because the schools didn't do it and were insulted when I argued that they should.)
BIDEN TUESDAY MORNING: “We face an inflection point in our nation and around the world. Fundamental changes are taking place today, politically, economically and technologically, change that can either strengthen our sense of control and security, of dignity and pride in our lives in our nation or change that weakens us.” Come again, Joe?
MATT TAIBBI nails it. The Democrats better have the goods on the Orange Monster or they will have managed the impossible — Trump as victim. If the warrant was issued for political reasons, and I would say there’s at least half a chance it was, the Democrats have handed Trump another four years. But I don’t think the Demos would dare pull a Banana Republic move like this with its multitude of risks up to and including civil war, if they didn't have plausible cause, not that Trumpers have ever been persuaded by the evidence.
BE HERE NOW!
Watching the Cursor Blink…
Warmest spiritual greetings, Since the early 1970s the dictum has been BE HERE NOW. Alright, I am sitting here at the Ukiah, California Public Library on Tuesday August 9th, 2022 A.D. at precisely 4:32 PM PDT, watching the hp computer cursor blink on the Gmail account page. If you believe that this is everything, you have a very huge problem.
Otherwise, I am doing absolutely nothing of any crucial importance in Mendocino county, and you may contact me for the purpose of forming a spiritually focused direct action group for the purpose of intervening in history. As ever, we are "that which is prior to consciousness", Jivan Muktas all, mind anchored in the heart chakra, following the path of Divine Anarchy on the planet earth, here and now. 😊
Craig Louis Stehr
CATCH OF THE DAY, August 9, 2022
JAMES CARTE, Ukiah. Failure to appear.
DAVID CHURCHILL, Fort Bragg. County parole violation.
SHAWN LANE, Ukiah. County parole violation, failure to appear, probation revocation.
RICHARD MCCORMICK JR., Ukiah. Burglary, conspiracy, failure to appear.
MICHAEL MCGEE, Ukiah. Burglary, grand theft.
TYLER MCGEE, Union Grove, Alabama/Ukiah. Battery, petty theft.
ROBERT NUTT III, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol. (Frequent flyer.)
PATRICK REDMILL, Ukiah. Parole violation.
ANNA ROQUE, Napa/Ukiah. Failure to appear.
DAVID SHERMAN, Ukiah. DUI, no license, failure to appear.
ANTONIO THOMAS, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
LYLE VINCENT III, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
Speaking about global climate change, Herschel Walker, a U.S. Senate candidate in Georgia, said, “When China gets our good air, their bad air’s got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then we got to clean that back up.” I thought that was idiotic. Then I read quotes from some congressmen and senators and realized Walker’s quote fit right in with those who want to delay phasing out coal, gas and oil. Welcome to the club, senator. But if you lose the election, “Saturday Night Live” has a role as host for you.
“I HAVE A FOREBODING of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites, lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”
— Carl Sagan, who died in 1996, long before the advent of social media.
UKRAINE, TUESDAY, AUGUST 9TH
Aug 9 (Reuters) - Ukraine's president called on the West to impose a blanket travel ban on Russians, an idea that has found support among some EU member states but angered Moscow which pressed on with a fierce military offensive in eastern Ukraine.
* One person was killed when a Russian air base in the annexed Crimean peninsula was rocked by blasts that Moscow said were detonations of stored ammunition, not the result of any attack.
The Kremlin dismissed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's call for a Western travel ban on all Russians as irrational.
* Anti-aircraft defences around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant will be strengthened following days of reported shelling, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted a Russian-installed separatist official as saying. The head of Ukraine's state nuclear power firm said it was vital Kyiv regains control over the facility in time for winter.
* Russia's defence ministry said that Russian forces had destroyed an ammunition depot near the central Ukrainian city of Uman storing U.S.-made HIMARS missiles and M777 howitzers.
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.
* U.S. President Joe Biden signed documents endorsing Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO, the most significant expansion of the military alliance since the 1990s as it responds to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. read more * French President Emmanuel Macron and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaffirmed their commitment to support Ukraine as long as necessary, the French presidential palace said. * The U.S. State Department has approved $89 million worth of assistance to help Ukraine equip and train 100 teams to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance for a year.
* Germany's network regulator, which would be in charge of gas rationing in the event of a supply emergency, has received scores of exemption requests from across industry, reflecting fears of potential production cuts and subsequent losses. read more * Ukraine has suspended Russian oil pipeline flows to parts of central Europe since early this month because Western sanctions prevented it from accepting transit fees from Moscow, Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft said.
* Two more grain-carrying ships left Ukraine's Chornomorsk port on Tuesday, Turkey's defence ministry said bringing the total to leave the country under a safe passage deal to 12.
* Russian airlines, including state-controlled Aeroflot (AFLT.MM), are stripping jetliners to secure spare parts they can no longer buy abroad because of Western sanctions, four industry sources told Reuters.
— Compiled by Cynthia Osterman (Reuters)
BILL KIMBERLIN: Law enforcement at the entrance to Mar-a-Lago Donald Trump’s home in Florida.
Andrew Weissmann, a former federal prosecutor explains why this was necessary.
"…in order to issue a search warrant—unlike a subpoena, where you don’t need any factual predication—there has to be a determination by a judge that there is probable cause of a crime, and that the evidence of that crime will be in the location that you seek to search.”
"You would think that there has to be at least one source who gave the F.B.I. information about what was there fairly recently, and that whatever they were looking for was in that location.”
Andrew Weissmann, a former federal prosecutor and F.B.I. general counsel who worked on the Mueller investigation.
THE US EMPIRE USES "freedom and democracy" as a pretext to conquer and kill in exactly the same way European colonialists used the pretext of spreading Christianity and civilization to save the godless savages. And it does so for the exact same reasons.
— Caitlin Johnstone
MEGAN MCCAIN: What was done Monday sails America into uncharted waters. The FBI is forcing us all to question them and, by recourse, defend Trump. And I really don't want to because, quite frankly, I hate the man. I believe he and his disciples are an existential threat to both America and the Republican party. Unfortunately, right now, the bar is set extremely high for the FBI. They must justify raiding an ex-president's home. If they don't have the goods, if they haven't absolutely nailed it, they have made one of the most disastrous mistakes of all. What I fear is that if this raid turns out to be a red herring, it rallies Republicans across the party to defend Trump. It makes Trump a martyr. Once again, he will be seen as such a threat to the Deep State and the Swamp that the career bureaucrats who run our institutions will stop at nothing to try and destroy him. And that, ladies and gentlemen, will be President Trump's next stump speech.
IF FBI GOONS can crucify a former president, no-one is safe
by Richard Littlejohn
This is how democracy ends. Or maybe, just maybe, how civil war starts.
After the surgically-embalmed octogenarian Nancy Pelosi jetted into Taiwan to proclaim America's enduring commitment to freedom, back home FBI goons were staging a politically-motivated, prime-time raid on the home of her sworn enemy Donald Trump.
As events unfolded on live television, it was like watching one of those old conspiracy-theory movies, starring Robert Redford or Gene Hackman.
In the latest Hollywood-inspired version, Trump is this year's Enemy of the State.
The FBI's stormtrooper tactics at Bad Orange Man's gaudy Mar-a-Lago compound in Palm Beach, Florida, could have come straight from the playbook of the Chinese Communist Party.
Their risible excuse for this outrageous abuse of Trump's privacy and civil rights was a warrant issued by a federal judge in search of classified documents allegedly taken by the former President when he was evicted from the White House, screaming and kicking about a stolen election.
But then again, that makes it sound like a big deal, rather than a technical breach of protocol.
And a warrant from a federal judge is easier to obtain than a rubbery 99-cent cheeseburger from a 24-hour gas station fast food outlet.
Whenever the Feds fancy kicking someone's door down on the most spurious of grounds, there is always a tame judge happy to oblige.
These days, they don't have to rouse some drunken jurist from his Jack Daniels-soaked pit in Gopher's Gulch, somewhere in Middle America. They've got a judge in Washington D.C on speed dial, eager to do their bidding.
The Clintonian Democrats pull all the strings in Washington. The Feds, and the Justice Department, are their own private army. So it was no real surprise when shock troops from the nation's capital swarmed into the reclaimed Mar-a-Lago swamp.
Missing documents were merely the pretext for a high-profile embarrassment of the ex-Commander-in-Chief.
After all, the FBI couldn't have cared less when the ghastly Hillary Clinton - then Secretary of State and Democrat Presidential candidate - took a Black and Decker drill to 33,000 allegedly confidential emails on her own laptop.
If the Feds wanted sight of whatever The Donald kept on his iPad they could always have asked his lawyers.
Not that I imagine Trump has many secrets. He suffers from serious social media incontinence. Too much information, rather than too little. Lets it all hang out.
Nope, this was another shocking example of the process becoming the punishment. The intention was to portray Trump as guilty of something, anything - and divert attention away from Creepy Uncle Joe and his dodgy business dealings with nefarious foreign actors, via his druggy, whoring son Hunter.
The Dems are desperate to stop Trump running again, after polls showed him trouncing not just Biden but any other opponent. They want to shoo-in California 'liberal' Gavin Newsom, a toothy, vacuous left-wing poster boy who has let crime and illegal immigration rip in the once 'Golden State'.
For the record, this isn't a pro-Trump column. More than a year ago, I wrote that he should stand aside and give Florida's impressive 42-year old Republican governor Ron DeSantis a free run at the White House.
Trump's greatest quality was that he managed to annoy all the right people. Otherwise, he's a megalomaniac fantasist.
The terrifying fact here is that if the Deep State can crucify a former President, then no-one is safe.
Curiously, if this ham-fisted raid was intended to destroy what was left of Trump's credibility, it has backfired spectacularly.
As of today, it looks like Trump stands more chance of getting re-elected, not less.
Even those who are by no means Trump fans have been horrified by the over-reach of the FBI, the Justice Department and the Democrat Establishment.
Within about half an hour of the news breaking, the usual Make America Great Again suspects were picketing Mar-a-Lago.
Yet apart from Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel, currently in the throes of distancing themselves from Trump, the mainstream American media went out of their way to downplay the raid.
Hilariously, the absurdly left-wing CNN network yesterday led their main morning bulletin not on the Trump story, but on the news that prices in the shops were falling. Allegedly.
You couldn't make it up.
Still, it helps the fantasy being peddled by the White House that America isn't in recession, despite the economy going into freefall for the past two quarters.
The Democrats have adopted Meghan Markle's interpretation of what amounts to the 'truth'.
WELCOME TO THE THIRD WORLD
The FBI really better have something “pulverizing” on Trump, because otherwise we've just witnessed one of the dumbest moves in the history of politics
by Matt Taibbi
[The Justice Department] must immediately explain the reason for its raid and it must be more than a search for inconsequential archives, or it will be viewed as a political tactic and undermine any future credible investigation and legitimacy of January 6 investigations.— Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Headline from Politics Insider this morning: "Feds likely obtained ‘pulverizing’ amount of evidence ahead of searching Trump's Mar-a-Lago home, legal experts say."
Pulverizing! Hold that thought.
We’ve reached the stage of American history where everything we see on the news must first be understood as political theater. In other words, the messaging layer of news now almost always dominates the factual narrative, with the latter often reported so unreliably as to be meaningless anyway. Yesterday’s sensational tale of the FBI raiding the Mar-a-Lago home of former president Donald Trump is no different.
As of now, it’s impossible to say if Trump’s alleged offense was great, small, or in between. But this for sure is a huge story, and its hugeness extends in multiple directions, including the extraordinary political risk inherent in the decision to execute the raid. If it backfires, if underlying this action there isn’t a very substantial there there, the Biden administration just took the world’s most reputable police force and turned it into the American version of the Tonton Macoute on national television. We may be looking at simultaneously the dumbest and most inadvertently destructive political gambit in the recent history of this country.
The top story today in the New York Times, bylined by its top White House reporter, speculates this is about “delayed returning” of “15 boxes of material requested by officials with the National Archives.” If that’s true, and it’s not tied to January 6th or some other far more serious offense, then the Justice Department just committed institutional suicide and moved the country many steps closer to once far-out eventualities like national revolt or martial law. This is true no matter what you think of Trump. Despite the early reports of “cheers” in the West Wing, the mood in center-left media has already drifted markedly from the overnight celebration. The Times story today added a line missing from most early reports: “The search, however, does not mean prosecutors have determined that Mr. Trump committed a crime.” There are whispers throughout the business that editors are striking down certain jubilant language, and we can even see this playing out on cable, where the most craven of the networks’ on-air ex-spooks are crab-crawling backward from last night’s buzz-words:
MSNBC’S Frank Figliuzzi says “FBI agents do not like the term ‘raid’.” Moments later MSNBC updates their lower third to ‘executes search warrant’.”Kayvon Afsari
The hugeness of the story has become part of its explanation. An action so extreme, we’re told by expert after expert, could only be based upon “pulverizing” evidence.
Throughout the Trump years we’ve seen a numbing pattern of rhetorical slippage in coverage of investigations. The aforementioned Politics Insider story is no different. “Likely” evidence in the headline becomes more profound in the text. An amazing five bylined writers explain:
Regardless of the raid’s focus legal experts quickly reached a consensus about it: A pile of evidence must have backed up the warrant authorizing the search.
They then quoted a “former top official in the Justice Department’s National Security Division” — you’ll quickly lose track if you try to count the named and unnamed intel spooks appearing in coverage today — who said, “There’s every reason to think that there’s a plus factor in the quantum and quantity of evidence that the government already had to support probable cause in this case.”
Politico insisted such an action must have required a magistrate’s assent “based upon evidence of a potential crime.” CNN wrote how authorities necessarily “had probable grounds to believe a crime had been committed,” while the New York Times formulation was that “the F.B.I. would have needed to convince a judge that it had probable cause that a crime had been committed.” Social media was full of credentialed observers explaining what must be true. “The affidavit in support of the MAL search warrant must be something else,” said Harvard-trained former Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Signorelli, one among a heap of hyperventilating names.
It’s amazing how short our cultural memory has become. Apparently few remember all the other times this exact rhetoric was deployed in the interminable list of other Trump investigations, only to backfire later. Does anyone remember this doozy?
Applications for FISA warrants, Comey said, are often thicker than his wrists, and that thickness represents all the work Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents have to do to convince a judge that such surveillance is appropriate in an investigation.
That Washington Post story from April 11, 2017, “FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor former Trump advisor Carter Page,” by Devlin Barrett, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous, was one of the key moments in the Trump-Russia scandal. It repeatedly stressed the illustrious credentials of all involved, noting, “any FISA application has to be approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI,” before dismounting to the crucial conclusion:
The government’s application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said.
The next day, the New York Times kicked the story forward by citing “a government official” who confirmed that the FISA court had obtained a warrant against Page “based on evidence that he was operating as a Russian agent.”
Within a few days after that, Politics Insider — the same outlet telling us today about the import of the warrant — ran a piece by intel community spokescritter Natasha Bertrand called, “We just got a huge sign that the US intelligence community believes the Trump dossier is legitimate.” The article deployed the circular logic that drove years of Trump-probe stories. We have evidence of an investigation, therefore the investigation must have evidence:
The FBI reportedly used the explosive, unverified dossier detailing President Donald Trump's alleged ties to Russia to bolster its case for a warrant that would allow it to surveil Carter Page, an early foreign-policy adviser to Trump’s campaign. It’s a key signal that the FBI had enough confidence in the validity of the document to work to corroborate it and present it in court.
It’s impossible to overstate how much mischief and inaccuracy was spread by one Washington Post report about the FISA court approval, which makes it all the more incredible that the paper won the Pulitzer Prize for its Russia coverage. The Entous/Nakashima/Barrett piece not only gave reporters license to tie Trump to an “agent of a foreign power,” it soon enough became a key element of one of the most egregious press errors of the period, i.e. that the Steele dossier had been verified.
Former CIA officer John Sipher, another of the dozens of former intelligence officers who magically became press regulars in the last 6-8 years, took issue with real journalist Bob Woodward’s assessment of the Steele reports as “garbage.” Writing in Just Security in a piece republished for Slate, Sipher said “the fact that the FBI reportedly sought to work with him and to pay him to develop additional information on the sources suggest that at least some of them were worth taking seriously.” He quoted another retired “senior intelligence officer” who said, “From my experience, there is nobody more miserly than the FBI. If they were willing to pay Mr. Steele, they must have seen something of real value.”
This trick of talking about what evidence must have existed was used over and over. When Devin Nunes, then the House Intelligence Committee chief, came out with a memo suggesting the FISA process in the Page case had been corrupted, critics piled on, explaining that the process precluded such a possibility. Denouncing the “desperate, devious, dishonest Nunes memo” as having offended “reason,” the Daily News thundered that “though the FISA court operates in strict secrecy, the standards for a successful surveillance application are known to be extraordinarily stringent.”
Unnamed government sources and news outlets kept arguing that because the FBI would have had to corroborate information from the Steele dossier before using it in something as consequential as a FISA application, it must have done so. Therefore, Nunes was wrong and a dick. The Daily Beast used this logic to argue the FBI would have been “derelict“ to not use the Steele material, because verification is “a technical requirement in a FISA application.”
Many outlets, like Vox, noted that only the accusers had seen all the evidence, and the mere proles among us had not: “Law enforcement officials and Democrats who’ve seen the underlying intelligence,” they wrote, “emphasize that the dossier allegations were only part of the justification for the Page surveillance.” Callum Borchers in the Washington Post went the “FBI must have more” route:
It is wrong to say that this “Western intelligence source,” presumably Steele, formed the foundation of an article in which at least three other sources featured more prominently… And it is hard to see how the article could have been a big factor in obtaining a warrant because it contained little, if any, information that the FBI did not already possess or which was not in the public domain.
Lest anyone need reminding about how all of these stories turned out, the Justice Department Inspector General found that “inaccurate information” and a host of other corrupted procedures were used to produce the “probable cause” in Page’s FISA warrant. Michael Horowitz, the IG, also found “the FBI did not have information corroborating the specific allegations against Carter Page,” and added, for the benefit of commentators like Borchers who insisted the Steele material was not, well, material, that it actually “played a central and essential role in the FBI’s… decision to seek the FISA order.”
Last night, the usual network suspects (CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, etc.) were essentially unwatchable. Nobody asked crucial questions. Reporters across the industry spent the night doing what I did, calling every name in their phone directories in an effort to find out what was going on. Following the regular press I soon realized they were getting the same answers I was: the raid was over a records issue, likely (though not definitely) unconnected to January 6th, perhaps involving a missed deadline.
Some suggested the raid was linked to Trump’s reported habit of tearing up presidential documents, and others wondered if there was a tie to a report yesterday in Axios by Times star writer Maggie Haberman, that ripped documents had been discovered clogging White House toilets after Trump’s departure.
The instant reporters got hold of that limited information (and the top outlets seemed sure enough that “Focus Said to Be on White House Files” was in the Times lead headline), they should have been asking: is there anything weird about dozens of FBI agents executing an Entebbe-style raid of the home of a former president over a records issue?
Do we recall anything so dramatic in cases involving people like Bill Clinton’s former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger (who was stuffing classified documents down his pants)? How about when Dick Cheney claimed an exemption to classification procedures and one of his aides, Leandro Aragoncillo, admitted in court to stealing classified info to pass on to coup plotters in the Philippines? For Christ’s sake, one of the core principles of the Trump-era media is that the press erred in over-covering Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information. Do these news outlets think audiences won’t notice the difference in attitude?
I am not and never will be a Donald Trump supporter. If and when he runs for president, I’ll go through the long list of reasons I have for feeling that way. But as a journalist it’s become impossible to believe that the endless investigations of Trump over the last six years have become anything but a permanent feature of his political opposition. That truth begins with the Trump-Russia scandal, which we now know was a hoax pursued as a real crime by a compromised police apparatus, after being concocted by Democrats. One of the officials involved in that mess was kind enough last night to tweet his “opinion” on the Mar-a-Lago raid:
Marc E. Elias: “The media is missing the really, really big reason the raid is a potential blockbuster in American politics.”
When Marc Elias — the former top attorney to the Hillary Clinton campaign, who oversaw another lawyer indicted for lying about his role in concocting Trump-Russia stories — tells us outright that the “bombshell” angle now is that the charge in question could result in Trump’s automatic disqualification from the 2024 elections, we should sit up and listen. It was already straight out of the Papa Doc/Mobutu playbook when Joe Biden was quoted in the New York Times saying he wanted his Attorney General Merrick Garland to hurry up and prosecute Trump, but using federal cops to disqualify the current poll leader of your opposition on a records technicality is pure fingernail-factory politics, I’m guessing scarier to many observers than the repeal of Roe v. Wade.
Of course Trump should be investigated. I doubt there are many outside his voting base who would be surprised to learn he’d committed a probably serious crime (I’ve been waiting for years for a case to emerge out of Trump University or the Trump Soho deal). However, unless yesterday’s events are tied, quickly, to an attempt by him to prevent Biden’s 2020 certification, or an effort to game the electoral system ahead of 2024, or some other devastatingly serious crime, this is absolutely going to play as the crudest harassment. I worry particularly about the reported presence of counterintelligence agents at the raid, raising the specter — which numerous sources told me is theoretically possible — of parts of this investigation remaining secret. If any of this happens, the Biden administration will have achieved the impossible, turning Donald “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy” Trump into a victim.
Moreover, they’ll have guaranteed that the next Republican who wins the White House, if such a thing is allowed again, will tug at every rein of power to prevent ever having to leave and risk this kind of prosecution. Ask anyone who grew up in autocratic societies how that dynamic works. There has to be more than what we’re hearing, or else yesterday — otherwise a beautiful summer Monday — will go down as an infamous crossroads, a day we passed a point of no return.