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SEASONABLE WEATHER will occur across Northwest California through late week. Heat will then build across the interior Monday through Thursday. In addition, thunderstorms will be possible during the middle of next week. (NWS)
POISONED TANOAK TREES found bordering the Rancho Navarro subdivision (photos by Mike Kalantarian, taken August 11, 2022)
TRANSPARENCY REIGNS IN MENDOCINO COUNTY!
Supevisors Agenda notes for Tuesday, August 16, 2022.
The Supervisors have been asked to approve more than $18 million in new mystery refinancing for… for… for…?
“Item 4c): Discussion and Possible Action Including Adoption of Resolutions (1) the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and (2) the Mendocino County Public Facilities Corporation, Providing for the Execution and Delivery of a Site Lease, Facilities Lease, Purchase Contract, Trust Agreement, and the Execution and Delivery of County of Mendocino Certificates of Participation, Series 2022 and Certain Additional Documents Relating Thereto, in the estimated Amount of $18,145,000.”
“WHEREAS, the County desires to achieve debt service savings with respect to the Series 2012 Certificates and reduce the annual rental payable by the County under the Facility Lease, dated as of May 1, 2012 (the “Series 2012 Facility Lease”), by and between the County and the Corporation…” … “WHEREAS, the County has also determined to finance various Projects set forth in the Facilities Lease hereinafter referred to…” “WHEREAS, in order to effect such prepayment and to finance the Project, the Corporation and the County have determined that it would be in the best interests of the Corporation, the County and the citizens of the County to authorize the sale, execution and delivery of Certificates of Participation, Series 2022, in one or more series (with such other or additional series designations as may be approved by the County) on a tax-exempt or taxable basis in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed $27,000,000 (the “Series 2022 Certificates”), pursuant to the terms of the Trust Agreement (the “Trust Agreement”), by and among the County, the Corporation and U.S. Bank Trust Company, National Association, as trustee (the “Trustee”)…”
There are lots more similar whereases in six or so attachments to this item. We waded through the financial attachments and still have no idea what facility(ies) or sites this refers to or what financial instruments are being refinanced or what savings are expected. Otherwise these items are typical of the gobbledegook that passes for “transparency” in Mendo’s official documents.)
* * *
Elsewhere in the agenda packet for next Tuesday we found this item in Supervisor Glenn McGourty’s Supervisors report for August 16 which may or may not relate to the refinancing item:
“Budget Ad Hoc: Supervisor Williams and I are working with CEO Darcie Antle and her Finance Team and Auditor- Controller-Tax Collector-Treasurer Chamise Cubbison to prepare for a new Certificate of Participation (tax exempt bonds) as part of the refinancing of Mendocino County’s long term dept. We are working with KNN Public Finance as our consultants. This process happens about every 10 years. Presently Mendocino County has a quite good financial rating (A+). The BOS must make decisions on possible future debt to augment funding for the new jail construction and other capital improvements.”
(Despite the ongoing controversy regarding the Board’s disputed claims about inadequate budget and finance reports and unknown or unaccounted for reserves, and the employees union formal complaint about the County’s failure to provide basic budget documents, all we get is McGourty’s muddled info about refinancing.)
THE LORAX and PG&E
by Ellen Taylor
Griff Griffith, Natural and Cultural Resources Interpreter for Humboldt Redwoods State Park, NCJ-elected “Best Activist of the Year,” is a jolly version of Dr. Seuss’s Lorax. He Speaks for the Trees. As principal host at HRSP’s 101st birthday party last week, he, and other helper-Loraxes, regaled visitors with his reverence for the Park, and the story of the woman who saved a large part of it.
Laura Mahan, born in Loleta in 1861, and recently selected as “Humboldt County Woman of the Year” by state Assemblyman Jim Wood, was the child of a prosperous ranching family. Most of Humboldt’s native redwood forest was still standing. She was propelled into action when Carson Woods, south of Fortuna, got logged. She had played there as a child. In response, she mobilized the timber barons’ wives to save the Park through civil disobedience. Griff made his presentation in front of the stump on which Laura had stood, in 1924, to stop the logging.
Laura did this, so that “unborn generations” could see these trees. And, although of the beloved forests of her youth, only 4.6% remain, it is apparent, as you meet the people walking on the fern paths in the Park today, that, breathing the bright air, and gazing, awestruck at the largest grove of the tallest trees on earth, their spirits are expanding, enraptured.
Laura, noted Griff, was the first person to “stand in the middle of a logging plan and stop it”. Although women were not even allowed to vote at the time, Laura leveraged her privilege as a wealthy white woman. She had the ear of people in power.
He went on to say that we’re “still working through a lot of the stuff that Laura was working through”. Indeed. There are many people, in Humboldt’s still-dwindling forests, who continue to practice non-violent civil disobedience, to save what’s left. However, far from being treated as heroines, they are roughed up and prosecuted.
Their concerns are identical to Griff’s and Laura’s: the unborn, but, with a modern corollary: the fate of all life on the planet.
The Park is still threatened. The floods of 1955 and 1964 swept giant debris masses, generated by upstream logging on Bull Creek, down, through the Grove, to the Eel, tearing out hundreds of giant trees and destroying the huge salmon runs. To remedy this, the Park purchased a large upstream area for a buffer and spent millions to stabilize it. However, it remains fragile.
PG&E has been decimating this buffer. While Southern California Edison cuts 2 trees per mile, PG&E cuts 152 and only to address its own liability. By removing large trees, which shaded out brush and retained moisture, PG&E increases fire risk to the forest. The soil is disrupted. Many of the trees are far from the lines. The large tree trunks will rot, and further destabilize the precipitous slopes. The wildlife corridor is destroyed.
As Federal Judge Alsup observed when he was forced to terminate PG&E’s probation last January, “One systemic cause, in my view, is that for decades, PG&E has been outsourcing to independent contractors its statutory responsibility for finding and removing hazard trees and for maintaining vegetation clearances. A large part of the wildfire problem has been sloppy inspection and clearance”.
But, it is cheaper than undergrounding or insulating the wires.
PG&E, a convicted criminal is unrepentant. As Judge Alsup remarked, “Rehabilitation of a criminal offender remains the paramount goal of probation. During these five years of criminal probation, we have tried hard to rehabilitate PG&E. As the supervising District Judge however I must acknowledge failure…In these five years of probation, PG&E has gone on a crime spree and will emerge from probation as a continuing menace to California.”
Laura Mahan-style forest defenders patrolled the wild and rugged Bull Creek road for four months last winter, protecting the Park. But anxious letters to Victor Bjelajac, Park Superintendent, Amber Transou, ecologist, and State Secretary Armando Quintero, have not been answered.
The Park is curiously silent.
PG&E has power in Sacramento.
And now it is being given carte blanche. SB 396, already passed by the Assembly, is approaching the Senate. The bill allows PG&E to cut trees on private property against the will of the property owner, and to take legal action if obstructed.
In the name of Humboldt’s Woman of the Year, Senator McGuire must vote against this bill. Calls will help him thwart this misguided bill. (916) 651-4002
A NEW DOCUMENTARY looks at the effects of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, in Wine Country. Evelyn Nieves talks with the filmmaker, Brian Lilla, about what he found. (Esther Mobley)
“GLYPHOSATE is everywhere throughout our food chain. We know Roundup contains many other chemicals, which when mixed together are 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate on its own.” (Dr. Robin Mesnage, Dept. of Medical & Molecular Genetics, Kings College)
U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL Merrick Garland is indignant: “Let me address recent unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors. I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked. Men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants. Every day, they protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism and other threats to their safety while safeguarding our civil rights. They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves.”
BOO HOO, Garland. Let's see the documents and we'll assess the integrity quotient for ourselves. All this preliminary whining indicates the raid on Mar O Shlocko — “Gosh, it even has gold bathroom fixtures!” — is one more failed attempt to bring down the Orange Blimp.
THE FBI, from its inception, has been a national political police force founded by one of the great American fruitcakes, J. Edgar Hoover, who clung to power by threatening generations of political figures, all the way up to president, by threatening to release the sordid-soaked files he kept on them. (“Fruitcake” is not deployed here as a homophobic slur but as a synonym for nut case. So long as this dangerous crackpot's name is still on FBI headquarters, the “integrity” of the agency will be questionable.)
CLOSE TO HOME, the FBI demonstrated its “integrity” by not arresting the man who bombed Judi Bari. We'll pause here for the groans that name unfailingly elicits. “No, gawd, not that subject again. Please, spare us.” The FBI knew who did it, as did Bari herself, but the perp skated, and the fact that he did is all you need to know about the political “integrity” of the FBI.
JONAH RASKIN noted this fatuous statement beneath one of the great Diego Rivera's paintings on display at SF MOMA: “Today, we should be more critical of Rivera’s eroticization of these indigenous figures, part of a broader cultural tradition in which women from so-called exotic locales—Andalusia, Algeria—were objectified by white European artists, writers and intellectuals, almost invariably men.”
I WANT to see these Riveras, even at the extortionate price of admission MOMA charges, although every time I go there I risk death by apoplexy because there's always so much visual fraud displayed as “art” that I, I… I feel like lashing out! The above statement perfectly illustrates the fascist mentality calling the shots these days at SF MOMA. Remember the days, my fellow lib-labs, when liberals laughed at this kind of blue nosed idiocy?
THE LAST SUPERMOON of the year, also known as the Sturgeon Moon, happens tonight (Thursday) and coincides with the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Happy star gazing, Mendo!
HAD to look twice when I saw a CHP cruiser chasing down a speeding motorist near the Philo Grange this morning, and what a welcome sight it was, given the interchangeability of Highway 128 and the Daytona 500, especially through Boonville. Hadn't seen the CHP over here in many moons. Of course I had to fasten my own seatbelt at the sudden appearance of law enforcement, remembering a previous seatbelt occasion when my wife had just reminded me to fasten my seatbelt as I replied, “The SFPD hasn't written a seatbelt ticket in the history of seatbelts.” That very instant the red light appeared behind me and a Frisco motorcycle cop wrote me the first SF seatbelt ticket in the history of seatbelts.
JUST IN: FBI agents who raided Donald Trump's Florida resort on Monday were hunting for classified documents relating to nuclear weapons, sources said on Thursday evening. Details emerged soon after Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared before cameras to defend the search and reveal that he had approved the operation at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. Fall-out from the unprecedented search of a former president's residence has dominated the political world ever since Monday and the Justice Department is under increasing pressure to explain its decision. Garland said he could not reveal further details of what prompted the hunt, but sources told the Washington Post it was to do with nuclear weapons. But they did not say whether it was to do with the U.S. nuclear program or that of another nation. Moments before Garland's brief remarks the Justice Department petitioned a judge to unseal the search warrant - putting the ball in the former president's court as to whether he wants to try and stop it. He said the DOJ moved to make the search warrant public 'in light of the former president's public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances, and the substantial public interest in this matter.' Garland took no questions but went out of his way to criticize the recent verbal attacks and threats against law enforcement in the wake of the 'raid.' (Daily Mail)
SUPERVISOR MAUREEN MULHEREN responds to AVA homeless items from a few days ago.
AVA: IN A RECENT FACEBOOK VIDEO, Supervisor Maureen Mulheren, says it’s a “myth” that Mendo’s homeless came to Mendo for freebies, free meals, cold weather rooms in Ukiah’s tweeker motels, readily available dope, easy panhandled booze. Ms. Mulheren, bless her all her days for her many volunteer hours of community clean-up, but the Marbut breakdown concludes that upwards of 40% of the “homeless” are “travelers” who landed in Mendo for whatever “services” they may get.
MM – *Marbut’s report was issued in 2017. I am getting my information from the Building Bridges reporting to the City of Ukiah Planning Commission on whom they are serving which reports that 83% of the people receiving services are deeply rooted in Mendocino County. As well as speaking to the Homeless Outreach Teams that are serving today’s homeless on the streets in the Ukiah area (currently, 2022). Frankly being born and raised here I recognize many of the people on the streets from school and of course as I’m working to keep our creeks clean I’m talking to folks about where they’ve come from but in my every day life I run across people that are homeless for various reasons or have conversations with service providers. One of the outcomes of Marbut’s reports was to have all of our service providers steering in the same direction and providing a robust data collection system which we now have. Marbut’s study was pretty anecdotal, the people that are providing the services have been forthcoming with the information that they have. We still have people traveling through I’m sure, and I have heard that they are the ones that utilize the Public Safety services the most but I think we are going to get to that in a minute. *
AVA: YOU CAN SPEND a lot of time poring over the Continuum of Care’s statistics and walk away confused by their exaggerated numbers about how many people they “help.” Like the Mental Health “data dashboards,” the reader is left with a pile of out-of-context figures, color-coded and charted and percentage-ized by the people whose jobs depend on the numbers they’re generating. In other areas of American life this is called fraud, but Mendo isn’t exactly known for public policy clarity.
THE “Continuum” people have never made an attempt to explain the large disparity between their numbers — more than 2500 house-less —and Marbut’s fewer than 300 unsheltered.
MM – *The data includes everyone that accesses services, some of those statistics include CDC vouchers, Hotel Vouchers, Emergency Shelters Inland and on the Coast, Transitional Housing Case Management etc. The number does look large when you are looking at all of the people that receive some type of homeless/housing service in Mendocino County but that isn’t the same as what Marbut “counted”. Even the Point in Time Counts (in every community not just Mendo) are constantly challenged because its not exactly scientific. Organizing everyone in a data base and accounting for the services they were provided seems like a much more data driven way to provide outcomes of homelessness. *
AVA: And that’s probably why Supervisor Mulheren and her friends at the Continuum (31 “helping” agencies) prefer to ignore the Marbut report and choose instead to insist that their pile of meaningless “data” demonstrates that they’re “helping.”
MM – * I don’t think Marbuts report was ignored at all, actually I sat in on some of the Strategic Plan Planning meetings and know it was actively involved in their work process. I wasn’t on the BOS when it was adopted but as a Councilmember I saw that the Service Providers were taking and incorporating that feedback in to the Strategic Plan. The role out of the Strategic Plan happened during SIP so there weren’t many community meetings but at least one of the Stakeholders on the current COC Strategic Plan Update Committee is willing to participate in community meetings so we can talk about where we were and where we can go from here. Their next meeting should be in September and if I don’t have a meeting already scheduled I will plan on attending. *
(I GET to Ukiah once a week most weeks. In a couple of hours I invariably see a half dozen or so people who, in 1950, would have been humanely confined to a state hospital. But there they are, shuffling aimlessly up and down State Street, people who are clearly unable or unwilling to care for themselves. Despite all the “care” money annually lavished on Mendocino County there are, as Marbut confirmed, a couple of hundred people whose dysfunction destroys the quality of life for many people, especially the vulnerable, in Ukiah and Fort Bragg.)
AVA: IT WOULD BE HELPFUL if Supervisor Mulheren, who says she has more first-hand experience with the Ukiah area homeless than her Board colleagues via her well-meaning trash-pickup projects, would explain the data gaps and why they can’t do more to address that 60% of the Ukiah area 200 who have Mendo connections. If Marbut is right (and we believe he is based on anecdotal reports, crisis van contacts and sheriff’s log info), the chronic homeless, many of whom appear regularly in the Sheriff’s Log, should be a manageable number; getting those “frequent flyers” off the streets would do a lot more for them and improve the credibility of the helpers and the Measure B mental health/substance abuse overlap population. (Mark Scaramella contributed to these paragraphs)
MM – * I would say there are many things that are different since the Marbut report in 2017. First and foremost we have a functioning Continuum of Care, a homeless strategic plan and we have all of our service providers using the HMIS system. During COVID fortunately there were funds to get our families, Veterans and vulnerable elderly in to some type of housing. We have several different outreach teams including the County, Adventist Health and MCAVHN that are out weekly and trying to actively engage homeless individuals in services. We have also had a lot of housing come online including Live Oak on Orchard, Senior Housing on Oak, Crisis Residential Treatment on Gobbi and Orr Creek Commons I on Brush Street. RCS and RCHDC just housed 18 individuals at Orr Creek Commons II and Cupples Construction has started phase 2 of Live Oak. The Crisis Residential Treatment Center is open, RCS is adding the MHRC so there are more opportunities to get people off of our streets. The RCS building on Orchard would house the Mental Health Rehabilitation Center, according to a recent news article this would provide “time-limited, secure, transitional housing and intensive Rehabilitation and Medication Support services to Medi-Cal beneficiaries who are 18 years or older and require placement in an adult residential setting. Residents of the MHRC are persons who have serious mental health symptoms and impairments and need 24-hour support and assistance while regaining their ability to safely function on their own. This housing and treatment resource is a critical part of the Mendocino County Continuum of Care that is currently missing in the local efforts to address mental health needs and homelessness.” The County is moving forward with utilizing Measure B funds to build the PHF on Whitmore Lane which will serve severely mentally ill with either MediCal or private insurance. Our service providers have housing navigators and are working with landlords and motel owners to be able to house those that are ready to follow through with services, you can see the success of that with the current data on the Hand Up Not Hand Out Mendo website. If you look at the number of units that have come online we can see that we are able to get people a roof over their heads and off the streets. Again, can you believe its been 5 years since the Marbut report happened? Now that we have a Strategic Plan (which again happened at the beginning of Covid) and its being updated, next committee meeting should be in September we can take a “real” look at our numbers. I think you’re right, we are down to those “frequent flyers”. The people we have on the streets now (at least in Ukiah, estimated to be a few dozen) are not “ready” to access services whether that be because of their current substance use challenges or other barriers that they are not willing to work with the outreach team or service providers on. We’ve come a long way in Ukiah we have an encampment disbandment template, a way to dispose of trash and better communication between service providers but at the end of the day it’s not illegal to be homeless and we will always have some level of people that aren’t able to maintain themselves well enough to stay in housing so how do we minimize the impact to Mendocino County business owners and continue to offer services to those that are ready to use them? That’s what we need to handle next and I’m open to suggestions, what can we do within social services, public safety and the corrections system to ensure success of the individuals that find themselves homeless and the businesses that are impacted. We know that there are many laws in the State of California that have worked to decriminalize addiction and homelessness so what are we legally capable of? I think reducing trash, raising awareness that camping near waterways is illegal and about not using fire during fire season are good starts, but what’s next. These conversations need to be ongoing but I think even more importantly that we are strategizing for tomorrow and looking upstream 5-10 years from now and what are we doing to prevent drug addiction, to help youth mental health and to continue to find ways to bring additional housing online for everyone. This isn’t really a bullet point conversation there is so much to it. I think that the Marbut report served its purpose in bringing awareness to the service providers about the frustrations being expressed by the community and helped them form an alliance that can work on a clear path, but I don’t think that data from 5 years ago from a not very scientific study provides us an accurate measurement of where we are.
M-BLOB WITH ANOTHER POINTLESS STUDY
MCOG Launches Mobility Solutions Study for Covelo, Laytonville, Brooktrails, Potter Valley and Hopland
The Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG) is undertaking a study of transportation needs and solutions for the communities of Covelo, Laytonville, Brooktrails, Potter Valley and Hopland – five inland rural communities with no public transit services.
According to MCOG, the project will focus on working closely with community residents and stakeholders to identify transportation needs and explore innovative mobility solutions that can connect residents with the places they need to go.
An initial round of community outreach is scheduled for the week of August 22-26. The project team will be holding listening sessions in each of the five communities. Residents are invited to attend the sessions to talk with the planning team about their own mobility needs or those of their families, employees or neighbors. Please drop in anytime during the meeting to tell us your story.
Anyone who is unable to attend a listening session can visit the project website to submit a description of their transportation challenges or to use an interactive map to indicate the destinations they have trouble getting to. The public engagement website is at bit.ly/MCOGMobility.
For further information, contact project manager Loretta Ellard at email@example.com or 707-234-3434.
CATCH OF THE DAY, August 11, 2022
RICO ACOSTA, Rio Londa/Ukiah. Controlled substance, concealed firearm in vehicle with prior, suspended license for DUI, failure to appear.
ALFREDO AGUILAR, Willits. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, ammo possession by prohibited person, felon-addict with firearm, controlled substance while armed with loaded firearm, bringing controlled substance into jail.
SEAN AMBROSE, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
JORDAN BRIGHT, Calpella. County parole violation.
SHELBY DAVIS, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
SUMALEE FOLGER, Ukiah. Failure to appear, resisting.
AMANDA GARCIA, Covelo. Controlled substance, under influence.
MATTHEW MATUSHENKO, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation.
JUSTICE MENEAR, Clearlake Oaks/Willits. Trespassing.
ALEXANDER NEE, Seaside Park, New Jersey/Laytonville. DUI-alcohol&drugs.
RICHARD NICHOLS, Concord/Ukiah. DUI.
AARON PAYNE, Willits. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
CARLOS SILVA, Clearlake/Ukiah. DUI, leaving scene of accident with property damage, resisting.
UKRAINE, THURSDAY, AUGUST 11
The head of the UN's nuclear watchdog told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Thursday that fighting close to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine had caused some damage to the facility and called for an immediate inspection mission to be allowed to visit the plant.
However, Russia and Ukraine have been unwilling to agree to such a mission and thus the plant ends up caught in the crossfire.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi outlined the parts of the plant that have been knocked out due to attacks.
Speaking from Istanbul by video link, Grossi said the situation at Zaporizhzhia had recently been “deteriorating rapidly to the point of being very alarming.” Grossi said right now, ”IAEA experts believe that there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety,” but “that could change at any moment.” He warned of a potential nuclear radiation leak and said that would be “unacceptable.”
“Any military action jeopardizing nuclear safety, nuclear security, must stop immediately,” Grossi said. ”These military actions near to such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences.”
Grossi said the situation at the nuclear plant had reached a ”grave hour” and insisted that the “IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission to Zaporizhzhia as soon as possible.”
The plant — which is the largest nuclear power facility in Europe — was taken over by Russian forces in early March, along with the town of Enerhodar, where the complex is located.
Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the plant. Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Thursday blamed Ukraine for the shelling of the plant and urged supporters of Kyiv to stop attacks and prevent a disastrous radiation leak.
Bonnie Jenkins, US under-secretary for arms control and international affairs, said Russia is the country responsible for the nuclear dilemma now. She warned the Security Council “the many consequences of this conflict, including the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, will only end when Russia ends its war. Today the United States demands particularly urgent action to address the nuclear risks posed by Russia’s latest moves. This must be done through the work of the IAEA and a return of full control of the Zaporizhzhia facility to Ukraine.”
The Security Council is not expected to issue any statement Thursday.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Well, the war in Ukraine is spreading, folks. Today a Russian Airbase in Crimea was taken out with missiles fired by the Ukrainian Army — but provided by the USA. Yesterday an active nuclear power plant inside Ukraine, but controlled by the Russia Army, was hit with rocket artillery. This is getting out of control and there is no telling where it’s going.
JEAN-JACQUES SEMPÉ, Cartoonist Of Droll Whimsy, Dies At 89
CHILDREN BEAR BRUNT OF ISRAEL’S SAVAGERY IN GAZA
by Tamara Nassar
A ceasefire between Israel and the Islamic Jihad resistance group took effect before midnight Sunday, ending a deadly Israeli assault on Gaza.
In the hours before the Egyptian-mediated truce took hold, Israel ramped up its killing and assassination spree for the third consecutive day.
By late evening on Sunday, the Gaza health ministry said 44 Palestinians had been killed in the territory, including 15 children, since Israel started the bloodshed by assassinating a senior leader of Islamic Jihad on Friday afternoon.
More than 300 Palestinians have been injured, almost a third of them children.
No one was killed in Israel and there were no reports of serious injuries.
Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, said Sunday that Israel had “indiscriminately targeted civilians and non-military structures” and that the attack constituted “a grave breach of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
For six consecutive days, Israel closed Gaza’s only commercial crossing as well as the only crossing for people between Gaza and Israel.…
AMERICA THIS WEEK
by Matt Taibbi
In conjunction with celebrated author and longtime news vet Walter Kirn, we'll run down the week's biggest, most important, and also most ridiculous stories.
Nearly a month into the “America This Week” feature, I kept having the same two thoughts. One is that it’s fun (and informative!) to put together. The other is that at week’s end, I find myself wishing I could review the material with a colleague with an appropriate sense of the absurd.
Problem solved, we hope: author Walter Kirn and I have decided to finish each week with something like a parody of a newscast, in which (cue clacking typewriter sounds) we recap the week’s biggest stories with an ear out for subtleties in coverage that only those cursed with experience in this wretched business might spot. Walter paid a lot of his dues at Time, while I put in the better part of two decades at Rolling Stone, and we share a lot of the same sensibilities about how news gets made, why only some stories are highlighted, and how dulled to insanity our bombarded modern audiences have become.
This will be an audio feature, posted on TK To Go. We’ll experiment with a few parody approaches to the podcast genre as time goes on, but we want it to be a utilitarian offering, too, a way to get the week’s news during a drive home without having to submit to the knife-to-the-ear that is Fresh Air or some other straight-news product.
We know this is a massive week in news, in which one story dominates. We’ll spend appropriate time on The Raid, but part of the point of the show is to make sure the rest of the world gets a hearing. As always, if you think there’s a story that’s under-covered, or a crazy tweet, article, or video that’s gone unnoticed, we’d love to hear from you. Walter can be found on Twitter here, and has a Substack called Unbound here, though the author of Up in the Air, The Unbinding, and Lost in the Meritocracy is hard at work on a new book at the moment. A reader unfamiliar with Walter’s views on the business would find a good primer in this hilarious and sadly on-point article, a passage from which we can take to wrap up:
“The bullshit. It resembles, in its use of phrases such as “knowledgeable sources” and “experts differ,” what I used to think of as the news, but it isn’t the news and it hasn’t been for ages. It consists of its decomposed remains in a news-shaped coffin… The press used to maintain certain boundaries in the relationship, observing the incest taboo. It kept its pants zipped, at least in public. It didn’t hire ex-CIA directors, top FBI men, NSA brass, or other past and future sources to sit beside its anchors at spot-lit news-desks that blocked our view of their lower extremities. But it gave in.”
IT'S THEIR CALL
What is the big deal with wrestlers at the fair using the term “Midget Wrestling Warriors”? Being referred to as midgets doesn’t seem to offend them. It is their prerogative to be called what they are comfortable with and what brings in the crowds. They are entertainers. They are athletes. The “rasslers” have trained many hours to learn a variety of moves, holds, falls and how to avoid serious injuries. They develop a character the fans like (heroes) or despise (heels). It is a job and obviously one that they enjoy.
Robert Broom said calling them midgets was denigrating. He can call them “little people,” “people of small stature,” etc. But, at the end of the day, it is their call.
A LOOK AT THE TALENT IN THE ROOM
by David Macaray
The case can be made that there are five—and only five—reasons why anyone runs for U.S. president. In ascending order, going from most frivolous to least frivolous, here are those reasons:
1. Nothing more than a glorified, masturbatory “stunt” to get your name in the news and, later, when you’re dead, have it mentioned in your obituary. So instead of saying something like, “former Eagle Scout,” or “once bowled perfect 300 game,” your obit will include, “once ran for U.S. president.” (“Look, kids…grandpa was almost president.”)
2. Realizing you have no chance of winning, you nonetheless hang in there for as long as possible, milking it for everything you can, convinced that the exposure itself—even with zero viability as a candidate—could lead to future political office or lucrative job offers. (“Hey, aren’t you that guy who ran for president?”)
3. Because you take yourself seriously, it’s the one platform that allows your ideas or personal manifesto to see the light of day. Also, now that your opponents have you to contend with in the debates, you’re in a position to force your political party further toward or away from the center. (“I wish to remind my esteemed colleagues that we are the Party of FDR, the Party of JFK, and as Democrats we must…blah, blah, blah”)
4. Ever since you were labeled an early “front-runner,” the money has dried up, and media attention shifted. But that’s fine. You can’t admit it, but you were never in it to win. What you wanted all along was a spot on the ticket. As Nixon, Bush and Johnson showed, VP can be a stepping stone. (Reporter: “If so-and-so asked you to be his/her running mate, would you accept?” Candidate: “Absolutely not. I didn’t come here to be second best. I came here to win.”)
5. You genuinely believe you would make a good president, maybe even a great one. You want it so bad, you can taste it. Also, the media, the public, friends, associates, your coterie of advisors and speech writers all seem to think you have a reasonable chance of winning. So you begin visualizing yourself as president. (“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”)
By last count, there were a whopping 21 Democratic candidates in the race. Two Republicans have also filed so far, bringing the total to 23. The Republicans are William Weld, ex-governor of Massachusetts, and Donald Trump himself, who, in classic Trump fashion, filed for re-election on January 20, 2017, his first day in office.
While some people think that 23 is already way too many—that a group that size is silly, that all it does is make a mockery of the primary process—we’re not even close to a final number. Candidates continue to pour in. Arguably, we can’t be certain we’ve reached the bottom until Stormy Davis throws her hat (or other garment) in the ring.
Actually, this deal is weirder than that. Infinitely weirder. Those 23 candidates we keep hearing about are, well…simply the ones we keep hearing about. Visit the FEC (Federal Election Commission) website, and you’ll find that 683 people have already filed. It’s true. Apparently, anyone with $5,000 can register as an official presidential candidate. (Man to wife: “Should we buy that used Chevy SUV, or should I run for president?”)
Not to be dismissive or mean, but for our purposes, we need to thin out the herd. Although we’re not going to try to psychoanalyze the Democratic candidates and place them in one of our five categories, we are going to boldly pass judgement on their chances of winning.
Which is to say, Seth Moulton, Marianne Williamson, Eric Swalwell, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Tim Ryan, Andrew Yang, John Hickenlooper, Wayne Massam, and Mike Gravel need to quit. Not only won’t they win, they won’t be chosen as running mates. (Note: It’s possible that Biden or Sanders will donate cash to keep Mike Gravel in the race for as long as possible. Let’s be honest. The 88-year old Gravel makes the two of them look young and energetic.)
People have scolded me for writing off these candidates so arbitrarily, arguing that they are all intelligent, thoughtful, engaging, and articulate people. My response: So what? How does any of that matter? Donald Trump, a truculent, narcissistic jackass and pathological liar, has none of those qualities, and yet he won the election. This ain’t about virtue. It’s about politics.
So with our list having been pared down, we are left with Sanders, Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigeg, Cory Booker, Amy Klobucher, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Other than Bernie and Joe, who would never accept the offer, any of the others could conceivably, if the stars were in alignment, be offered a VP spot.
My personal pick for VP? Kamala Harris. In addition to being all the above—intelligent, thoughtful, engaging, and articulate—she is ambitious enough to see the job as a stepping stone, and therefore will have no reservations about shamelessly presenting herself as the ideal running mate, once she sees she can’t win.
As for winning the nomination, if I had to bet $1,000 on who would win, even though I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, I’d have to say Joe Biden. Not that my past predictions have been accurate. I predicted that a young LeBron James would struggle in the NBA because he wasn’t ready yet. From what I’ve heard, he’s made a smooth transition.
(David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Courtesy, CounterPunch.org.)
THE CASE AGAINST NEWSGUARD – Project Censored Notebook
In January 2022, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest labor union for teachers in the U.S., announced that it “launched a national partnership with a leading anti-misinformation tool NewsGuard (AFT, 2022).” NewsGuard was created in response to the moral panic over fake news, or disinformation, which began during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and was magnified during Donald Trump’s presidency and the COVID-19 global pandemic (Higdon, 2020). The fear over fake news has led teacher unions like the AFT, as well as schools and universities, to adopt NewsGuard’s tools for the purpose of training students to identify mis- and disinformation (NewsGuard, 2022).
Educators and educational organizations and institutions would be wise to refuse any endorsement of the NewsGuard browser extension. The extension, branded as the “Internet Trust Tool,” distracts from the ways in which NewsGuard’s leadership and mission operate counter to the principles of democratic education and interests of organized labor. At best, NewsGuard is a questionable tool for information seeking, research, and literacy, and is at odds with the long-term interests of students and faculty.…
by Walter Kirn (July 16, 2021)
I used to like to read the news, the middlebrow mass-market weekly news. I also used to like to write it. Some. This was back in the 90s at Time magazine, a publication which still exists in name but whose original, defining mission – grounding the American mind in a moderate, shared reality – is dead. The whole concept seems strange now – the American mind; a cloud of ideas, opinions, and sentiments floating somewhere above the Mississippi – but at Time, in the 90s, before the internet made its approach seem sluggish and slashed its readership, it was still possible to regard our product as unifying and, in its way, definitive. Sometimes I covered tangible events such as drug epidemics and forest fires, but much of the time I stitched together interviews conducted by local stringers and reporters into feature stories on such topics as “The New Science of Happiness” and “Children of Divorce.” It was an article of faith at Time that the findings of social scientists, simplified for popular consumption, ranked with hard news as a source of public enlightenment. Until business began to suffer, requiring cut-backs, the magazine kept an in-house research library, the better for checking even the smallest facts. The burden of accuracy lay heavy on Time. Its mighty name required nothing less.
Things are different now.
Every morning, there it is, waiting for me on my phone. The bullshit. It resembles, in its use of phrases such as “knowledgeable sources” and “experts differ,” what I used to think of as the news, but it isn’t the news and it hasn’t been for ages. It consists of its decomposed remains in a news-shaped coffin. It does impart information, strictly speaking, but not always information about our world. Or not good information, because it’s so often wrong, particularly on matters of great import and invariably to the advantage of the same interests, which suggests it should be presumed wrong as a rule. The information it imparts, if one bothers to sift through it, is information about itself; about the purposes, beliefs, and loyalties of those who produce it: the informing class. They’re not the ruling class — not quite — but often they’re married to it or share therapists or drink with it at Yale Bowl football games. They’re cozy, these tribal cousins. They cavort. They always have. What has changed is that the press used to maintain certain boundaries in the relationship, observing the incest taboo. It kept its pants zipped, at least in public. It didn’t hire ex-CIA directors, top FBI men, NSA brass, or other past and future sources to sit beside its anchors at spot-lit news-desks that blocked our view of their lower extremities. But it gave in.
I’m stipulating these points, I’m not debating them, so log off if you find them too extreme. Go read more bullshit. Immerse yourself in news of Russian plots to counterfeit presidential children’s laptops, viruses spawned in Wuhan market stalls, vast secret legions of domestic terrorists flashing one another the OK sign in shadowy parking lots behind Bass Pro Shops experiencing “temporary” inflation, and patriotic tech conglomerates purging the commons of untruths. Comfort yourself with the thoughts that the same fortunes engaged in the building of amusement parks, the production and distribution of TV comedies, and the provision of computing services to the defense and intelligence establishments, have allied to protect your family’s health, advance the causes of equity and justice, and safeguard our democratic institutions. Dismiss as cynical the notion that you, the reader, are not their client but their product. Your data for their bullshit, that’s the deal. And Build Back Better. That’s the sermon.
Pious bullshit, unceasing. But what to do?
One option, more popular each day, is to retreat to the anti-bullshit universe of alternative media sources. These are the podcasts, videos, Twitter threads, newsletters, and Facebook pages that regularly vanish from circulation for violating “community standards” and other ineffable codes of conduct, oft-times after failing “fact-checks” by the friendly people at Good Thoughtkeeping. Some of these rebel outfits are engrossing, some dull and churchy, many quite bizarre, and some, despite small staffs and tiny budgets, remarkably good and getting better. Some are Substack pages owned by writers who severed ties with established publications, drawing charges of being Russian agents, crypto-anarchists, or free-speech “absolutists.” I won’t bother to give a list. Readers who hunt and choose among such sources have their own lists, which they fiercely curate, loudly pushing their favorites on the world while accusing those they disagree with of being “controlled opposition” and running cons. It resembles the old punk-rock scene, but after it was discovered, not early on. Some of the upstart outlets earn serious money, garnering higher ratings and more page-views than the regime-approved brands Apple features on the News screen of my iPhone. (A screen I’ve disabled and don’t miss.) This wilderness of “contrarianism” – a designation easily earned these days; you merely have to mention Orwell or reside in Florida -- requires a measure of vigilance and effort from those who seek the truth there. As opposed to those who go there to relax, because they prefer alt-bullshit to mainstream bullshit. They can just kick their shoes off and wade in.
One reason to stick with the premium name-brand bullshit is to deconstruct it. What lines are the propagandists pushing now? Where will they lead? How blatant will they get? Why are the authors so weirdly fearless? The other day when Cuba erupted in protests, numerous stories explained the riots, confidently, instantly, as demands for COVID vaccines. The accompanying photos didn’t support this claim; they featured ragged American flags and homemade signs demanding freedom. One wire-service headline used the protests to raise concerns about viral spread in crowds. A puzzling message. It wasn’t meant for the defiant Cubans, who weren’t at liberty to read it and whose anger at their rulers clearly outweighed their concerns about contagion. It had to be aimed at English-speaking Americans. But to what end? American protests of the previous summer hadn’t raised such cautions from the press. To the contrary. Our riots, if one could call them that (and one could not at many companies) were framed as transcendent cries for justice whose risks to public health were negligible, almost as though moral passion enhances immunity. And maybe it does, but why not in Cuba, too? To me, the headline only made sense in the context of the offensive against domestic “vaccine hesitancy” and its alleged fascist-bumpkin leaders. The Reuters writer had seen in Cuba’s revolt a chance to glancingly editorialize against rebelliousness of another type. The type its staff abhors day in, day out, no matter what’s happening in Cuba, or, for that matter, in America. The bullshit is consistent in this way, reducing stories of every kind into nitrogen-rich soil for the same views. These views feel unusually ferocious now, reflecting the convictions of those on high that they should determine the fates of those on low with minimal backtalk and no laughter. Because science. Because Putin. Democracy. Because we’re inside your phones and know your names.
Engaging with the bullshit news-stream for defensive, deconstructive reasons has been my personal program for a while now. The game can be intellectually amusing and it confers a sense of brave revulsion. I was conditioned to seek this feeling in school, during units on “current events,” when my classmates and I were invited to deplore poverty, pollution, and prejudice. Behind these exercises was the notion that our little lives were isolated, vulnerable affairs loomed over by colossal, distant “trends.” Like bad weather, these trends might sneak up on us and harm us, especially if we ignored them, but unlike bad weather, which came from nature, these grim enormities were human-made and therefore partly our responsibility. This idea promoted magical thinking. Take our sixth-grade war on “smog,” which worsened children’s asthma and killed trees. Smog didn’t bother our Minnesota town but it smothered Los Angeles and other cities, as we learned from mock-newspapers and film strips. We cast spells against it from our desks by drawing pictures of smoky traffic jams. Our teacher called this “showing awareness” and implied it helped. I must have bought this. It explains why I thought being conscious of the bullshit actually accomplished something.
The idea of ignoring it entirely raised superstitious fears in me. Unnoticed bad trends might whack me from behind. Also, dropping out seemed immature. Well-adjusted grown-up read the news, if only to curse the news. They read it because other grown-ups read it, creating a common model of the world that might be bullshit but forms a frame of reference for public debate. Then I considered the state of public debate. Judging by Twitter, it wasn’t high. One problem was no matter how well you argued, no matter how strong your evidence and logic, your foes almost never recognized they’d lost. No judges to arbitrate the matches, no rules to guide them, and no trusted sources of facts to balance them. Mostly you just called bullshit on each other, and sometimes you wondered if both of you were right. Such arguments were sink holes. They never advanced past their own premises.
At times in my life, by happenstance, I’ve dwelled in oblivion, thoroughly news-free. In college in the early 80s I went four years without turning on TV or opening a paper. I learned that President Reagan had been shot from a pilot’s announcement on a plane, then gathered more details when I landed, from a stranger in a cowboy hat. My sense of the wider world derived from classes, books, conversations, works of art, and glimpses of newsstands and magazine racks. I don’t remember feeling deprived. Then, last year, at the height of the pandemic, when everyone else was merging with their screens, I turned my back on the bullshit for two whole months.
My father was dying of ALS in his retirement cabin in Montana, out of range of cell-phone towers. It was an overwhelming situation. Disregarding all the latest rules, friends had brought him there in a motorhome from his seniors’ community near Tucson. I needed help lifting him, so I hired a health aid who flew in from Miami, another breach of quarantine. This hazard required the local hospice workers to visit wearing full protective gear and stay outside the cabin in the driveway when passing me my father’s meds and pamphlets on the stages of death. They stuck to this protocol for the first week, then abandoned it so they could see their patient’s face. I lost track of the rules, the days, the virus. I sat at his bedside before his big TV watching reruns of Murder She Wrote, his favorite show, he told me, “Because there’s never any blood.” A former patent attorney with a degree in chemical engineering, a Republican who’d ofted voted Democrat, he’d tuned out the news a few years ago, he said, because it gave him stomach aches. He forbade me to handle the remote lest I land for a moment on CNN while changing channels. He talked about family history, old friends, and had me place phone calls to banks and credit card firms, which he seemed to take pleasure in informing of his any-minute-now demise. I turned on my computer exactly once, to research a narcotic he’d been prescribed, and I peeked at a rundown of election news that curdled my brain with its lazy tropes and buzzwords. To think that people wore out their precious lives consuming and reacting to such bullshit, cycling through the emotions it unleashed, sweating out its bulletins and updates, believing, disputing, and decrying it. And ultimately, in my father’s case, avoiding it.
Maybe he should have ignored it all along. Once time grew short, he didn’t mention a bit of it, with one exception: the day John F. Kennedy was shot. He spoke of it three days before he died. He said he was in Washington DC then, working as a law clerk in the same building that housed the Associated Press. He ran to its offices when he heard the news and watched paper spill from the teletype machines and pile on the floor. He told me he regretted not snatching some; those first dispatches might be worth a lot now. I thought about this. One-of-a-kind original paper documents, not identical, infinitely reproducible electronic files. No wonder there was so much bullshit now. It was content. Mere content. Ones and zeros. Lots of zeros, not so many ones.
“I’ve always wondered who killed him,” my father said. “It wasn’t Oswald. Not Oswald on his own.”
“Who do you think?” It seemed he’d studied the matter. New side of him. Should have spent more time together.
“Maybe the Mafia, maybe LBJ. There may have been certain Cubans in the mix. All I know is we didn’t get the truth.”
I’m fairly sure we often don’t. Still, it’s hard to give up hope, and today I blew half an hour on the bullshit, under which the truth lies buried. Maybe. Maybe it’s bullshit the whole way down. How much time do you have for finding out?
Less than you had this morning.