Rain Ahead | Noyo Rocks | 2022 Deaths | Guardrail Repair | Downed Powerlines | Vulture Commute | Utility Profits | Ed Notes | Vincent van Shred | Widow Altieri | FB Murals | Under Cardboard | Platt House | Year's End | Crab Feed | Flood Chat | Delia Nixon | Project Limbo | Coast Dumping | Yesterday's Catch | Yule Fire | Warning Cut | Blue Lake | Border Scramble | I Explain | Janitorial Objectivity | Trinidad Bridge | Great Illusion | Shasta Lake | Best Films | Caterpillars | Ukraine | 2042 | Deadlocked | Class Struggle | Tiktok Control | Find Cat
A WEAK SYSTEM will continue to bring some rain and snow to the area this morning with a break for a portion of the midday. Tonight an atmospheric river is expected to bring heavy rain and possible flooding through Saturday. After a break in the rain Sunday, more rain and mountain snow is expected next week.
Excessive runoff may result in flooding of rivers, creeks, streams, and other low-lying and flood-prone locations. Storm drains and ditches may become clogged with debris. Area creeks and streams are elevated and could flood with more heavy rain. This may include Highway 1 just north of Point Arena.
Another round of rain is expected to bring an additional 2 to 4 inches of rain to low elevation locations with total amounts approaching 6 inches at higher elevations. Already saturated soils will increase the risk of flooding.
(National Weather Service)
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN, 2022
OUR BOONVILLE MAINTENANCE and South Area Guardrail crew on Thursday replaced a section of guardrail on Route 128 that was damaged from trees that fell during a recent storm. The location of the work was south of Boonville in Mendocino County. (Mendocino Department of Transportation)
HIGHWAY 1 CLOSED Wednesday Morning [MCN-Announce, December 28, 2022 2:02 pm]
Elise King: CalTrans site says Hwy 1 is full closure now Wed. Dec. 28 south of Big river and town of Mendocino, and may not reopen until 5:00 pm. Can anyone verify and what is going on?
Nicholas Wilson: According to state highway conditions website just now: [in the Northern California area] is closed 2.3 mi north of Mendocino (Mendocino Co) at 0859 hrs on 12/28/22 - due to downed powerlines - motorists are advised to use an alternate route https://roads.dot.ca.gov/
ON MY WAY TO WORK WEDNESDAY MORNING…
photos by Renee Lee, the beauty of whose Boonville commute is the envy of many
LOOKS TO ME....
The President of the California Public Utilities Commission justified a reduction in solar subsidies saying “we are using ratepayer funds” for the subsidies. I don’t see any mention of reducing rates for those who do not have rooftop solar. It looks to me like PG&E, as usual, is simply trying to increase its profits. PG&E compensated its CEO to the tune of $51.2 million in 2021 for keeping profits high. Utility companies, which have a monopoly, should be nonprofit.
THE NAVARRO SWIMMING HOLE is, according to my informant, about 4.5 billion years old… that's the “Stump Hole” on the North Branch of the North Fork of the Navarro, near the old Scout Camp. That big fir tree fell across the river about five years ago.
SAME INFORMANT tells me “it's been a bumper crop year for mushrooms thus far. Day before yesterday I found a patch of yellow chanterelles more numerous than I've ever seen.”
AS A ROBITUSSIN GUY from way back when my mother introduced me to the magic elixir, I was mildly alarmed Sunday when a clerk at Healdsburg Safeway told me, “We're out of it, and don't know when we'll get more. There's been quite a run on it.” I'm reminded that when I was in Borneo, circa '63, the elderly were allowed a certain amount of opium as an all-purpose cure-all and sleep aid, and I'm further reminded that I often saw elderly Chinese women whose feet had been bound when they were children. As adults, the poor things hobbled around on the stumps of what had been their natural feet. Foot-binding was, of course, a male innovation. Men thought hobbling women sexually fetching.
FOUR PEOPLE were killed and several others were injured in a massive, 50-car pileup on the Ohio Turnpike last Friday where “whiteout conditions” prevailed. Over the weekend, in the teeth of a hundred-year blizzard, police had to go on television to urge people to stay home. Roughly a hundred didn't stay home and froze to death, many of them dying in their vehicles beneath concealing snow drifts. As a kid in the Marines we spent a month in winter at a place called Pickle Meadows on the Eastern flank of the Sierras near Bridgeport where, under the general heading of “cold weather training” we learned how to survive outdoors in snow storms. I think I can still remember how to make a snow cave, instruction few people have ever had to resort to, I daresay. Beautiful country, even in the dead of winter. A friend of mine, Manuel Salangsalang, was quite put out when he couldn't buy beer in Bridgeport. “Those puckers, they said they couldn't sell liquor to Indians. I'm not a pucking Indian, I'm a pucking Pilipino.”
NOT THE BIGGEST DEAL, but I wish the Lost Animal People would take down their plaintive Lost Animal posters they invariably leave up months after the animals have either been found or remain lost. After a month, say, fate has usually decided one way or the other, and the poster becomes unsightly in an otherwise unspoiled rural vista. Like on Anderson Valley Way where I walked past this one every day for many months.
BUT THEN, elementary sleuthing told us the rest of the story:
Cate White, Albion, Facebook, December 22, 2022:
“BILLY IS ALIVE!! He has been living with a family near Cloverdale since July. I got a call from the vet (microchip record) that he was brought in with a broken pelvis today by this family. He had been hit by a car and they spent a week trying to trap him and get him into the vet. They paid his $650 bill. I told the vet I wanted to talk to them to repay them the money and thank them for rescuing him. The husband called me and told me the story--that they found him in July and took him in. He has become part of their family. He said my wife and I love him very much. We named him Frijolito. After much agonizing, my heart told me that Billy is now Frijolito and should go back home to the people he is bonded with now, and they with him. He will need familiar surroundings and lots of love and care from his people to heal from his injuries. I am so grateful that he has been safe and loved for all this time. I've been heartsick every day since June 10th imagining him lost and alone, suffering out in the woods. They said I could come by their place and check in on him and say goodbye. Grief and gratitude, relief and loss, all mixed together. I have hope that Lester, too, has had a similar fate. I will resume my efforts to spread the word in Cloverdale to be on the lookout for him.”
THE FBI shows up to drink beer with a bunch of gun guys dressed in camo who do a lot of fantasy talk about overthrowing the government. The FBI agent buys the beer and, when they trust him mainly because he keeps buying the beer, suggests, “I got it, guys. Let's kidnap the governor!” The big talking camo boys start imagining the details when the FBI swoops in and arrests all of them on inflated charges of sedition. The governor cries on camera about how scared she and all Nice People everywhere are of “these deplorables,” and the alleged Mastermind, a remedial reader called Barry Croft Jr., gets 19 years in prison.
HELP THE WIDOW OF WRITER DAN ALTIERI
This is a call for help for the widow of my dear friend and erstwhile coauthor Daniel Altieri. He and I wrote three internationally bestselling novels set in T’ang China back in the late 80s and early 90s.
A little over two years ago, on September 10, 2020, Dan died, four months after radical emergency open-heart surgery. He had struggled to recover, and his wife put every ounce of her strength and will into caring for him. Alas, he went from believing he’d made it and was on the road to full health to knowing his days were down to just a few. He’d been flown by helicopter from his home in northern California to a hospital in San Francisco, where they at first thought they could perform another surgery on him and implant an L-VAD (Left Ventricular Assistance Device). But he went into kidney failure shortly after he arrived, and they deemed him too frail to undergo the procedure. He died a couple of days later. He was 74, had always been athletic and healthy, an exerciser and a non-smoker, and came from long-lived stock. His death was a shock and a tragedy, to me and to his widow.
The writer’s life can be fickle. Despite the great success of the China novels, that was a while ago, and Dan was pretty much destitute when he died. His widow gets his extremely modest Social Security benefits. She struggles to pay her rent, eat and just survive. She wants very much to work, but doesn’t drive, due to vision problems, and their home is in a rural place with no real public transportation.
Here's what your donation will be used for: To help her pay her rent, and if possible, get much-deferred and acutely needed dental work, for her health and so that she can get a job. She also wants to honor Dan’s writing and get to a point where she can organize his unpublished work and perhaps even publish some of it posthumously. She has a strong social conscience, and wants to be of service to humanity in these troubled times. Any amount would help. Every cent will go to Dan's widow, and you will have my great gratitude.
You can learn more about Dan and his work here: www.courtofthelion.com
ascendant, climactic, crepuscular;
social and solitary,
fun and fabulous Birthday, Bojh!!
BURGLAR ARRESTED INSIDE COMMERCIAL BUILDING
On Tuesday, December 27, 2022 at approximately 7:45 AM, an officer was dispatched to an alarm call at a commercial building in the 500 block of S Main St. When the officer arrived, he checked the building and discovered a small window on the side of the building not easily visible had been broken. He noticed a unique backpack sitting behind a nearby tree. He recognized the backpack as he had just contacted Peter Rose, 29, of Fort Bragg on an earlier call who was wearing the backpack.
The officer requested additional units and waited for the building’s owner to arrive with the keys. Officers searched the interior of the building and located ROSE hiding under cardboard in a closet. He was taken into custody without incident.
Officers located several items stacked by the back door and foreign coins in ROSE’s pocket which the building’s owner reported were taken from desks inside the office.
Chief Neil Cervenka said, “I commend the officers for doing a thorough building check and locating the point of entry. Most often, alarms are determined to be false and that fact can create complacency. These officers did their jobs 100%, which resulted in the arrest of a suspect.”
Anyone with information on these incidents are encourage to contact Sergeant McLaughlin of the Fort Bragg Police Department at (707)961-2800 ext 123.
This information was released by Fort Bragg Police Chief Neil Cervenka. All media inquiries should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TWO VIEWS OF THE PLATT HOUSE (Dick Whetstone)
IT’S RAINING CATS AND DOGS
by Jim Shields
What a way to put an exclamation mark on the year’s end!
I’m talking about the winter deluge, of course, that left 5.15 inches in its stormy wake following Monday and Tuesday’s almost non-stop rain in Laytonville’s Long Valley. Couple that total with the quarter-inch of rain that fell a few days earlier and the total precipitation for the week was 5.38 inches. That raised our season-accumulated rain to 16.95 inches, which is a comparatively healthy two-thirds of our historical annual rainfall of 25.91 by this date.
With rain currently soaking much of Northern California, more atmospheric rivers are expected to spread across the county and state throughout the next week with a hope that much-needed snow will stick around in mountains, especially the Sierra Nevadas.
One of the meteorologists that I probably pay the most attention to is Dr. Daniel Swain. He’s a young guy who holds a PhD in Earth System Science from Stanford University and a B.S. in Atmospheric Science from the University of California, and is a climate scientist in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. He said on Twitter (Tuesday, Dec. 27) that a “classic mid-latitude cyclone” is making its way toward the Pacific coast, and dragging a strong atmospheric river into Northern California. He said that we can expect at least 10 days of active winter storms, so it might be time to batten down the hatches.
* * *
Can’t believe that 2022 is almost finis. Where the hell did it go?
As far as years go, 2022 is best forgotten, a true bummer: Run-away inflation, historic gas gouging, a do-nothing Congress, a do-nothing state Legislature, a broke Mendocino County that didn’t know it was broke, a once thriving local weed industry undone by unworkable legalization, and the calamities appear inexhaustible.
Anyway, we’ll be flipping the calendar shortly, so start practicing writing 2023 on a scratch pad so you’re prepared to write that first check of the New Year.
Here are a couple of year-end updates for you.
I’ve always said that Consumer Watchdog (CW) is the unparalleled organization in the state looking out for citizens.
Jamie Court is CW’s executive director and he just sent me his wrap-up of accomplishments for the year:
“In my three decades as a consumer activist in California, I have never seen a year like this.
• Our decades-long patient safety campaign finally leveraged the medical insurance complex to agree to raise California’s cap on medical malpractice damages by as much as 12 times. This will give injured patients access to attorneys and justice again.
• Our campaign to hold oil companies accountable for overcharging drivers finally hit pay dirt. We passed Senate Bill 1322 (Allen), which requires oil refiners to post monthly their profits made from California gasoline. Convinced by our research about price gouging, Governor Newsom answered our call for a special session of the legislature, which convened two weeks ago, to enact a price gouging penalty and windfall profits cap on oil refiners.
• Since 2019, Consumer Watchdog has been railing against the broken recycling and bottle deposit system in California. This year the legislature and Governor finally enacted an overhaul that could right the ship.
• Thanks to our watchdogging in 2022 landmark privacy rights enacted under Prop 24, to allow consumers to say no to the sharing of their personal information and stop the use of sensitive personal information such as precise geolocation, will go into effect in 2023. This is the strongest privacy rights law in America.
• Landmark insurance reform Prop 103 survived more challenges to its strict regulatory regime and our interventions alone against proposed rate hikes stopped $70 million in unnecessary premium increases in recent years.
• Our litigation team scored key victories against Zoom over its deception about its security protocols during the pandemic, in defense of the rights of HIV patients to be seen by doctors, and a critical victory in the US Supreme Court to protect the rights of the disabled to have equal access to federal health care benefits.
• We won passage of legislation amending the Political Reform Act to require consultants paid to influence an insurance company merger to register as lobbyists. The loophole was exposed when consultants sought a $2 million success fee from the insurer at the heart of Commissioner Lara’s pay-to-play scandal.
Thanks for all you do, Jim, and happy new year!
* * *
Bad Idea: Decriminalizing Hallucinogens
Prosecutors in California are strongly objecting to a proposed law — SB 58 authored by state Senator Scott Wiener — which seeks the wholesale decriminalization of many dangerous hallucinogenic drugs.
I can’t say I disagree with their position, although I’m not sure about their concern with acid freaks committing violent crimes. I just don’t think it’s a great idea to either legalize or decriminalize drugs in general, given all the problems we have with so many dually diagnosed folks already (those with mental health problems coupled with addiction issues).
According to Greg Totten, head of the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), “This proposal recklessly puts policy before science for numerous psychedelic drugs that have proven to be highly unpredictable and have even been connected to violent crimes.”
I think CDAA is on the mark when they point out, “The authors of this bill are charting a path that would allow these dangerous hallucinogenic drugs to be legalized before they have been fully understood by the scientific and medical communities.”
Totten also adds, “If the proponents want more research, that’s one thing. And if they are advocating for therapeutic use under medical supervision, that is also worth considering. But science does not fully understand these drugs and that’s why this bill is so reckless, because it advocates for skipping that scientific scrutiny altogether.”
Totten makes a good argument about real life on the streets and in the courts, explaining, “As for dealing with drug cases involving users of hallucinogens, as prosecutors our focus has long been to seek treatment, not jail. We know that we can help people get on the right track by compelling them into treatment for drug addiction, and that is only possible if there are laws that govern these controlled substances.”
Hopefully this proposed law will be deep-sixed early in the legislative process.
If not, Gov-Gav should declare it DOA as soon as he pulls it from his in-basket.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, email@example.com, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org)
FLOOD CHAT [MCN-Announce]
RJ: I wonder what level the road floods. 14 feet? Appears according to the NWS we can expect it to flood again this Saturday.
Nicholas Wilson: The official flood stage is 23 ft. I think that's where it floods the Navarro up around Dimmick campground, where the North Fork Navarro joins the main river.
I don't really know any definitive answer. When you say NWS says to expect flooding 128 Saturday, are you referring to the hydrograph forecast chart, or did NWS actually mention 128 somewhere?
NWS is predicting an 18.9 ft. crest at 6 PM 12/31. Lots of rain starting tonight and continuing for a few days. 4 inches! https://www.wunderground.com/forecast/us/ca/little-river/KCALITTL10
If the river flow stays high enough between now and Saturday the Navarro sandbar won't close in, and the lower Navarro flood by the Hwy. 1 bridge won't flood.
Caltrans closed 128 for about an hour yesterday but reopened after the bar breached and let the level drop a foot or two. Yesterday's crest came in at 15 ft., which was 2 ft. higher than predicted. I spent the day watching the river mouth and shooting drone footage as the breach developed. https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=eka&gage=nvrc1
THE UNCERTAINTY OF POTTER VALLEY PROJECT’S LICENSE Leaves Salmon, Rate Payers, Environmentalists in Limbo
The license for the Potter Valley Project is undergoing a variety of considerations.
As PG&E prepares its plan for decommissioning the inter-basin water transfer hydropower project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, announced that it is considering reopening the license. That means that, although it granted PG&E an annual license in April, it’s thinking about adding requirements for a number of wildlife protection and habitat monitoring measures that were proposed in March by the National Marine Fisheries Service, another federal regulatory agency. PG&E argues that the decommissioning process will provide plenty of opportunity to review protective measures, and that there’s no evidence of harm to embattled salmon. But FERC appears to have taken notice of legal threats by environmental groups claiming the project violates the Endangered Species Act.
FERC has accepted comments for and against the proposed reopening of the license, and PG&E has pledged to submit its decommissioning documents by January of 2025. By that time, the project may technically be under new ownership.…
A BRIEF HISTORY OF GLASS BEACH and the Caspar Dump
by former Fifth District Supervisor Joe Scaramella (1993)
Some people used to think that Fort Bragg came up with the idea of moving the Coast Dump at what is now known as Glass Beach to Caspar was Fort Bragg’s idea. But Hell no. I’m the so-and-so who put that there. What we had to deal with was that you could no longer simply do like everybody did — including the city of Fort Bragg. They were dumping everything up there at Glass Beach. The whole damn thing. The sewer was running wide open into the ocean at that time. And Fort Bragg was not doing a damn thing about it. I was Board chair and I had the problem down on this end on the South Coast around Point Arena. And Mendocino was dumping right over the bluff. Right over it! All the stuff was going down there.
In one case they were using the storm drain as a sewer, they were dumping down there. You know, people can be a problem. You get a million people in a square area and hell... I would tell people, “I can go behind a stump and relieve myself, but I can't do it on Fifth Avenue in New York. Why? Because the people are there. That's why you can't do it. So the idea that these people were coming down here and just dumping sewage and trash… We had to do something about it. In Point Arena, I got the County to fix it up. We put up a garbage dump so you couldn't back up into the ocean. The lady that owned that dump area, the Stornetta Family, said that we had to cut it out. So we had to find a place. And I was stuck with the responsibility. Well, to be frank, I willingly assumed it. I wanted to find some places where people could get rid of their trash. From down here in Point Arena and on up to Fort Bragg. Mendocino was a perfect case in point. Hell, I tried. I looked over heaven and earth. I went all over. Naturally nobody wanted it near them. Who wants a garbage dump nearby?
So in 1961 I got the Health Department, they were the ones involved obviously, I got the person there, I can't remember her name, with me and we went out there where the Caspar dump is now. We bought these acres. I bought them. I went down to the Caspar Lumber Company in San Francisco -- I made two trips down there -- they were going to hold me up on the price. I said, “Ok, fellas, we'll pay it, but the assessor will be involved and it will end up costing you more in the long run.” So I got it and I got the 20 acres out there at a good price. It was thought to be huge. Much more than we’d ever need. Naturally Fort Bragg got into it. They had their trash problem at Glass Beach. I said, “Well, this ought to be a joint enterprise.” So they created a joint venture and therefore Fort Bragg got into it. But I started the gol-darn thing. Fort Bragg hadn't done a thing. So that “cultural center” on the Coast in Fort Bragg was just dumping everything into the ocean.
And you know something? They still have that attitude up there. It's just the same now. If we hadn’t forced it, they might still be dumping their trash into the ocean.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Wednesday, December 28, 2022
RODNEY AITON JR., Blue Lake/Ukiah. Vandalism, resisting.
CESAR DELCAMPO, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol. (Frequent flyer.)
RACHEL HUNT, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.
JACOB JOHNSON, Gasky/Ukiah. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, ammo possession by prohibited person.
TRAVIS PARSONS, Ukiah. DUI, resisting.
PRESILLA RONCO, Ukiah. Registration of arson offender upon discharge from parole.
FABIAN ROSALES-REYES, Ukiah. Parole violation.
DANIEL SANCHEZ, Fort Bragg. County parole violation.
KC STILLWELL, Covelo. Stolen property, controlled substance, paraphernalia, failure to appear.
DEVIN WILDE, Willits. Vehicle owner/driver permitting the discharge of a firearm from the vehicle.
MCKENZIE WILSON, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
BILL KIMBERLIN: At my North Berkeley hills house there is a no fireplace fires rule, even when it is pouring rain. OK, I agree. So for Christmas, I retreated to Boonville. To paraphrase a line from, “Back to the Future”, 'Where I'm going, we won't need rules.” Of course we have no burn days etc. But, you can have a fireplace fire on Christmas when it is raining.
ON-LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Here’s the thing, people. There ain’t nobody responsible for you but you. All else is delusion. I had an uncle, who came home drunk one time and beat up his wife. He was 6’2′ and about 250 pounds. She was 5’2″ and weighed about 130 pounds. So after he beat the crap out of her, he went to bed and passed out. About three hours later, he woke up with something really cold against his neck. His petite wife was sitting on the bed with her biggest and sharpest butcher knife. She said to him, "I hope you really enjoyed that because it’s the last time it’s ever gonna happen. You gotta sleep sometime you son of a bitch and if there is another time I will make sure you never wake up." And then this little sweet woman left a very light cut from his left ear to his Adam’s apple. And you know, I knew them both until they both died and he never got violent with her again.
BORDER SCRAMBLE: Why California Isn’t Financially Ready For Title 42 To End
by Wendy Fry
The Supreme Court’s latest move allows a short-term reprieve to an anticipated increase in asylum seekers trying to cross from Mexico into California and other states, but recent confusion at the border is a preview of what may soon come should a pandemic-era measure known as Title 42 be lifted in 2023.
The situation, and its use as a political backdrop, has prompted local officials to ask what state resources will be available next year with California facing a potential budget shortfall and the possibility that Title 42 will end.
Title 42 is a Trump-era immigration policy that has continued under President Joe Biden. It allows border agents to rapidly expel migrants at official ports of entry during public health emergencies. The policy has resulted in the expulsion of tens of thousands of people seeking asylum and has discouraged many others from crossing the border.
The policy states that if the U.S. surgeon general determines there is a communicable disease in another country, health officials have the authority, with the approval of the president, to prohibit “the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places” for as long as health officials determine that action is necessary.
The measure had been set to lift last week by order of a federal court, which would have allowed many asylum-seekers waiting in limbo at the border to go ahead and cross into the United States. Some experts say that because smugglers in Mexico use any shift in U.S. immigration policy to exploit migrants, mere conversation about the possibility of lifting Title 42 triggered even more people to try to cross into the U.S. in recent weeks.
The Supreme Court’s brief order Tuesday stayed — meaning delayed — the trial judge’s ruling that would have lifted Title 42 until the high court hears arguments in the case in February. The political and legal ping-pong in the case is hard enough for U.S. audiences to follow, making it nearly impossible to explain south of the border.
The Supreme Court’s order is a response to a request filed by 19 Republican-led states that they be heard in the case. It does not overrule the lower court’s decision that Title 42 is illegal; it merely leaves the measure in place while the legal challenges play out in court.
The federal court order that was supposed to lift Title 42 came as a result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of asylum-seeking families. Asylum is a protection codified in international law for foreign nationals who meet the legal definition of “refugee.” The United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol define refugees as people unable or unwilling to return to their home country, and who cannot obtain protection in that country, due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Congress incorporated this definition into U.S. immigration law in the Refugee Act of 1980.
For those stuck in Mexico because of Title 42, waiting can be perilous. Human Rights First has documented more than 13,000 attacks on asylum seekers waiting in Mexico during the Biden administration.
Because it takes time for news of shifts in U.S. immigration policy to reach areas in rural Mexico and Central America, the numbers of migrants arriving in Tijuana and San Diego this week in anticipation of the end of Title 42 could be elevated right now — and it may take some time before those numbers drop-off as news travels, experts said. Migration numbers typically increase through the first half of the year before dropping off in the summer.
San Diego County Supervisor Joel Anderson, a former Republican state senator, was among a group of political leaders who recently complained that the state and federal governments have not provided the funds local leaders have requested to handle the expected influx of asylum seekers and other migrants.
“We’re not even talking about whether these are good policies or not,” he said. “But whatever the policy is, we become the targets of it. We’re willing to step up, but they have to step up, too, by giving us the resources we need to deal with it.”
He joined several local Republican and Democratic leaders in San Diego in urging in letters and news conferences that the state and the feds should provide more support ahead of the expected end of Title 42.
Local officials pointed to needing more funding for schools, hospitals, and police services, among other resources, if Title 42 eventually lifts. The near constant legal back-and-forth has also provided a convenient conversation starter for politicians wanting to debate larger immigration policy issues.
“With the state budget projecting a $25 billion deficit, I’d like to know what the plan is for our schools and to help lift all of our students,” said Andrew Hayes, board president of the Lakeside school district in rural eastern San Diego. Hayes said increases in immigration causes strains to the local educational systems because students fleeing persecution in other countries often have increased mental health needs and sometimes require special instruction.
San Diego County Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Supervisor Nora Vargas, both Democrats, wrote to Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. homeland security secretary, on Dec. 19, also requesting federal resources and “a comprehensive plan to ensure humane entry into the United States for those seeking asylum into our country.”
“When Title 42 is lifted, we will need additional resources and personnel on the ground to process and arrange for the onward travel of asylum seekers to their final destination,” they wrote. “We will also need the federal government to set up temporary shelters on federal property to ensure access to needed social and health services. Our hospitals, our public health department, our social services, and our homeless service providers are already at maximum capacity serving vulnerable residents in San Diego.”
El Cajon, not “the governor’s neighborhood”
Title 42 policy’s end “will likely increase” migration flows, the Department of Homeland Security officially said last week.
The burden will unfairly fall on a few border cities, Anderson said.
“They’re not talking about releasing people into Sacramento or putting people in the governor’s neighborhood,” said Anderson. “No, they’re talking about releasing people right here in El Cajon, where the median household income is just over $58,000 per year.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office responded that the state has done what it can to support local jurisdictions.
“While the federal government is responsible for immigration, California has invested more than any other state to ensure the safety and dignity of asylum seekers. Roughly $1 billion has been invested to provide critical services to migrants, including medical screenings, vaccinations, temporary shelter, food, clothes, and other aid. However, with looming budget deficits, the state cannot continue to fund these efforts at scale without significant support from Congress,” said Daniel Lopez, the deputy communications director for Newsom.
“The state has advocated for additional resources to help communities like San Diego provide services to recently arrived migrants,” Lopez added.
Anderson wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom Dec 14 complaining that a plan that San Diego County officials proposed to the state was rejected. Though he declined to discuss the plan’s specifics, he said it included opening a temporary emergency shelter, providing food, clothing, healthcare and wrap-around services.
“It is irresponsible to ask the City of El Cajon to shoulder the burden and costs necessary to address the needs of these individuals without assistance from the State and federal government,” wrote Anderson in the letter.
For his part, Newsom has been complaining of a lack of federal support for asylum seekers and immigrants.
Newsom said earlier this month that, because of the federal government’s lackluster support, the state has had to spend nearly $1 billion in the last three years, working with nonprofits to provide immigrants released from federal detention with health screenings, temporary shelter and help connecting with sponsors. The immigrants had been held at nine facilities in Imperial, San Diego and Riverside counties.
“With the respect to the federal government, we’ve been doing their job for the last few years at scale,” Newsom said. “But we cannot continue to absorb that responsibility.”
The state Legislative Analyst’s Office recently said in its annual forecast that Newsom and the Democratic Party-controlled Legislature are facing a $24 billion projected budget deficit for the next fiscal year.
If the state enters a recession the outlook is even worse, with revenues predicted to fall short by $30 billion to $50 billion. The governor signed a record-breaking $308 billion budget in June.
Advocates say that while migrants sometimes require services when they first enter the country, research shows they ultimately contribute to the larger economy. In California undocumented immigrants collectively pay $3.1 billion a year in state and local taxes, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Meanwhile, some migrants in Mexico last week expressed disappointment, concern and confusion about the delay in lifting Title 42.
Several people said they had left shelters with the expectation that the order would be released last week and now they had no place to go.
However, the scene outside El Chaparral, a pedestrian border crossing between San Ysidro and Tijuana that has been closed since the pandemic began, looked far different than images coming out of Texas. There, members of the National Guard, armed with rifles, have put up razor wire and are blocking migrants from entering the United States.
Waiting patiently, but getting desperate
Here in Baja California, just south of San Diego, migrants wearing masks stood patiently in lines last week waiting for services or to receive news about any policy changes that may impact their ability to cross the border. The flow of people in the area was orderly, mirroring any other normal mid-week day during the lunch hour.
A migrant from Michoacán said being out on the streets in Tijuana was extremely uncomfortable for his wife, who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He asked not to be named because people in Tijuana were looking for him, putting him in danger.
“We haven’t been able to receive any help from anywhere,” he said. “We’re getting desperate.”
Anderson said that the county was willing to welcome asylum seekers “with open arms,” but it needs more funds to do it.
“Even if it’s only 10 more people coming in, that’s 10 people too many without additional funding because we already have so many people living on our streets needing services,” he said.
Newsom toured a state-funded migrant center that provides services to asylum seekers near the Imperial County border with Mexico on Dec. 12. There the governor criticized Republicans in Congress for politicizing immigration while failing to support comprehensive reforms.
The Department of Homeland Security said it plans to boost resources at the border, “increasing processing efficiency, imposing consequences for unlawful entry, bolstering nonprofit capacity, targeting smugglers and working with international partners,” a DHS spokesperson said Thursday.
If Title 42 is ultimately lifted, the process for processing migrants at the border would return to the way it was before the start of the pandemic.
Asylum seekers who don’t have prior permission to be in the country would have to pass what’s called a “credible fear” test. They would have to prove to a processing agent or asylum officer that they have a well-founded fear that if they are deported home, they would face persecution.
After that test, migrants would either be removed from the country, detained in immigration custody or released into the U.S. to wait while their asylum cases make their way through immigration court – a process that can take years.
That spring, when I had a great deal of potential and no money at all, I took a job as a janitor. That was when I was still very young and spent money very freely, and when, almost every night, I drifted off to sleep lulled by sweet anticipation of that time when my potential would suddenly be realized and there would be capsule biographies of my life on dust jackets of many books, all proclaiming “…He knew life on many levels. From shoeshine boy, free-lance waiter, 3rd cook, janitor, he rose to…” I had never been a janitor before, and I did not really have to be one, and that is why I did it. But now, much later, I think it might have been because it is possible to be a janitor without becoming one, and at parties or at mixers, when asked what it was I did for a living, it was pretty good to hook my thumbs in my vest pockets and say comfortably: “Why, I am an apprentice janitor.” The hippies would think it degenerate and really dig me and people in Philosophy and Law and Business would feel uncomfortable trying to make me feel better about my station while wondering how the hell I had managed to crash the party.
“What's an apprentice janitor?” they would ask.
“I haven't got my card yet,” I would reply. “Right now I'm just taking lessons. There's lots of complicated stuff you have to learn before you get your own card and your own building.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Human nature, for one thing. Race nature, for another.”
“Because,” I would say in a low voice, looking around lest someone else should overhear, “you have to be able to spot Jews and Negroes who are passing.”
“That's terrible,” would surely be said then with a hint of indignation.
“It's an art,” I would add masterfully.
After a good pause I would invariably be asked: “But you're a Negro yourself, how can you keep your own people out?”
At which point I would look terribly disappointed and say: “I don't keep them out. But if they get in it's my job to make their stay as miserable as possible. Things are changing.”
Now the speaker would just look at me in disbelief.
“It's Janitorial Objectivity,” I would say to finish the thing as the speaker began to edge away. “Don't hate me,” I would call after him to considerable embarrassment. “Somebody has to do it.”
(from ‘Gold Coast’ by James Alan McPherson)
MOST PEOPLE are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.
— Erich Fromm
CINEMA BEYOND CINEMAS: THE BEST FILMS OF 2022
by Jeffrey St. Clair
For me, the year in cinema was defined by two events: the death of Jean-Luc Godard and the release of Sight and Sound’s new list of the 100 “best” films ever made. Both distinctly unsatisfying.
I came to Godard late, at least for him. By the time I saw Band of Outsiders (in a double-bill with Breathless) in 1977, JLG had already proclaimed the death of cinema in the closing frames of Week-End. I had watched a lot of movies by then and was smug enough to think I could discern the difference between a “movie” and a “film.” Watching Band of Outsiders, which came out 13 years before I saw it for the first time, was like getting an electric shock to the eyeballs. It had all the elements of a familiar Hollywood movie, chopped apart, sped up, slowed down and reassembled in a new, exhilarating order. Godard opened the door to Renoir, Bergman, Fassbinder, Rivette, Fellini, Kurosawa, Fuller, Wajda, Varda, Nick Ray and Lang. (Still my own Pantheon, along with Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges.)
I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to watch every film these directors made and all the films by the directors who influenced and were influenced by them. From 1977 to 1981, I watched 10 to 12 films a week (while carrying a heavy reading load in my lit and history classes). I raced from theater to theater, from DC to Baltimore. I snuck into screenings for film studies classes at AU, Georgetown, GW and Hopkins. I was obsessed. These weren’t date nights–or when they were, there usually wasn’t a second. Certainly not after sitting through 7.5 hours of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Hitler: a Film From Germany or the 5-hour version of Bertolucci’s 1900. Who could blame them, really?
Along with Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema, the Sight and Sound 100 list became my guide. I needed to see every film on it. Later I located old copies of Cahiers du Cinema at Second Story books and used their end of the year lists to discover films, especially European and Japanese, from the 50s and 60s. My circle of film-mad friends learned how to dress, strut, smoke, flirt and screw from the movies, at least in a kind of hip early sixties French style. It was a while before we (most of us, anyway) realized we were being sold ways to behave, that what felt like liberation was in fact the manufacturing of a kind of mass cultural conformity.
But that youthful ardor gradually cooled. These days if Godard isn’t my favorite director, he remains the one whose movies taught me new ways of looking at films and at popular culture in general. I doubt Godard’s entire oeuvre–which includes at least five of the great films ever made–cost as much as the latest Marvel spectacular. But most of them still look sharper and more vibrant–especially the ones shot by Raoul Coutard–than anything filmed by Cameron, Nolan or the AI machines that spat out Wakanda Forever and Top Gun: Maverick.
Sight and Sound’s decadal lists should be contentious, something to fight about over drinks late into the night. But the new offering left me flat. It seemed more of a perfunctory re-ordering than the frontal assault on the canon that cinema needs to reinvigorate itself. Chantal Ackerman was a fabulous and innovative filmmaker and Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles a masterpiece of a certain kind of sedate, slowing moving European cinema of the late 60s and early 70s. But it is really much different in kind or quality than the films of Rivette, Resnais, Rohmer or Varda? If the editors of Sight and Sound really wanted to shake things up, they would have dethroned Vertigo with another visually-disorienting reworking of film genres like Park Chan-Wook’s Old Boy or War Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels (much superior in my mind to the favored In the Mood for Love). The best narrative films have been coming out of Asia for the last 20 years at least.
Still it’s getting harder and harder to define what cinema is these days, when most people watch movies on flatscreen TVs, tablet computers or phones. With a few notable holdouts (Nolan, Tarantino and Iñárritu), films aren’t shot on film anymore and the year’s most watched movie, Avatar: The Way of the Water (only 8 minutes shorter than Jeanne Dielman but feeling a lot longer I hear from those who sat through it), wasn’t even shot using a camera, a fact James Cameron brags about incessantly. The relationship between camera, light, film, projector and screen used to be sacrosanct. But we’re rapidly approaching the point where all of these once essential elements of cinema might become historical artifacts, like the doomed theme park in Nope.
And perhaps this won’t be such a bad transition, for the planet, as well as our minds. Godard was thrilled by the possibilities of the iPhone’s camera, where one could film, edit and mass-distribute a “movie” in one simple, relatively cheap handheld device. Godard predicted that phone cameras would give rise to a new generation of film-makers. It didn’t take long to prove him right. The footage shot on the streets of Minneapolis, Gaza City, Kenosha and Portland was more harrowing than anything Scorsese ever filmed.
We seem to have reached a point of cinematic exhaustion–at least I’m exhausted–where all of the stories have been told, as well as all of the ways of telling them. If movies have a future, it’s almost certainly in the documentary format and Sight and Sound could have really shook things up by putting a documentary at the top of the heap, like Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, Barbara Koppel’s Harlan County, USA, Peter Davis’ Hearts & Minds, Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, Peter Watkins’ The War Game or the Maysles brothers’ Salesman. A case in point this year is Rory Kennedy’s Downfall: the Case Against Boeing, which is probably the greatest contribution any Kennedy has made to American culture.
Only one film tempted me to return to an actual cinema this year: Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling. But by the time I’d recovered from being flattened by Covid, it had been chased out of the theaters by an inexplicably hostile critical reaction, characterized by a kind of collective misogyny, reiterating in real-time one of the key themes of the picture.. And that’s really too bad, because not only does Don’t Worry Darling deliciously dissect the fantasies of our current Brotopia (here’s another clue for you all, the chief walrus is Jordan Peterson), it’s also an intensely sensual film, lusciously shot and propelled by one of the best, some might say seductive, soundtracks in years. Still the critical fury generated enough interest that Wilde’s movie made its money back and then some, which is more than can be said for the critical yawn that sank the subtle film She Said, a more exacting exploration of how investigative journalism works than either All the President’s Men or The Paper. (One is tempted to speculate that it was precisely this kind of sustained critical indifference–or outright rancor–to her own films that drove Chantal Ackerman to suicide at the age of 65, which can hardly be ameliorated by the belated recognition of Jeanne Dielman.)
Then there’s Nope, a film that excoriates the violence of visual exploitation, where the key to survival is the ability to resist the impulse to gaze at the spectacle that is being projected toward you. Like Don’t Worry Darling and Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, Nope encourages the viewer to break free from the visual fantasy worlds that confine, exploit and haunt us.
Perhaps my favorite film of the year, certainly the most radical in concept and technique, is Expedition Content, a film that takes the warning that visual framing corrupts our perception to heart by removing images all together, blacking out the screen as if it were a redacted document from the vaults of the CIA, forcing the viewer to listen, to see through the sounds recorded by a famous anthropological expedition to New Guinea led by Robert Gardiner and Michael Rockefeller and in doing so turn the focus back on the anthropologists themselves, instead of the cultures they endeavored to interpret and capture through images.
Here are the films that I found the most intriguing this year.
Ahed’s Knee, Director: Nadov Lapid
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Director: Laura Poitras
Benediction, Director: Terence Davies
Both Sides of the Blade, Director: Claire Denis
Decision to Leave, Director: Park Chan-Wook
Descendant, Director: Margaret Brown
Don’t Worry Darling, Director: Olivia Wilde
Downfall: the Case Against Boeing, Director: Rory Kennedy
Expedition Content, Directors: Ernst Karel and Veronika Kusumaryati
Farha, Director: Darin J. Sallam
In Front of Your Face, Director: Hang Sang-soo
Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues, Director: Sacha Jenkins
Neptune Frost, Directors: Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman
Nope, Director: Jordan Peele
She Said, Director: Maria Schrader
Tantura, Director: Alon Schwartz
The Territory, Director: Alex Priti
(Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3.)
UKRAINE, WEDNESDAY, 28 DECEMBER
Russian forces have stepped up mortar and artillery attacks on Kherson city in southern Ukraine. Russian troops fired 33 rockets at civilian targets in a series of aerial and artillery bombardments in Kherson over the course of 24 hours, Ukraine’s armed forces said Wednesday morning.
A maternity wing of a hospital in Kherson city was shelled by Russian forces late on Tuesday, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the president’s office. No one was hurt and the staff and patients had been moved to a shelter, he added. Ukraine’s healthcare minister, Viktor Liashko, said Russian forces bombed the hospital just moments after a baby was born.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy said “only a few” civilians remain in the embattled frontline city of Bakhmut in the eastern province of Donetsk. In a Telegram post, Ukraine’s leader said “there is no place that is not covered with blood” in the Ukrainian-held city, where his troops are waging a battle that has come to symbolise the grinding brutality of the war.
Ukraine has bought 1,400 drones, mostly for reconnaissance, and plans to develop combat models that can attack the exploding drones Russia has used during its invasion, according to the Ukrainian government minister in charge of technology. To date, Ukraine has been coy about claiming that explosions reported within the borders of the Russian Federation have been down to military and drone activity.
The Kremlin has insisted any proposals to end the conflict in Ukraine must take into account what it calls “today’s realities” of four Ukrainian regions Moscow has unilaterally declared part of Russia. In a regular briefing with reporters, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov,dismissed President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s 10-point peace plan, which includes the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and security guarantees for Ukraine.
One of President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin aides has visited the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in a part of southern Ukraine that Russia claims to have annexed. Sergei Kiriyenko, a Kremlin official responsible for overseeing Russia’s domestic politics and a former head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation, discussed the safety of the plant, according to a Russian-installed “official”.
Authorities in the city of Odesa have begun dismantling a monument to Catherine the Great, the Russian empress who founded the city in the late 18th century. Last month, the local parliament voted to dismantle the statue, as well as another to the Tsarist general Alexander Suvorov.
Russian soldiers mobilised to fight in Ukraine will be able to store their frozen sperm in a cryobank for free, a leading Russian lawyer has said.Demographers have warned that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and its “partial” military mobilisation could further deepen Russia’s demographic crisis.
The mother of an Australian man from Victoria killed fighting in Ukraine has remembered her son as a defender of freedom who was driven by empathy. The Australian department of foreign affairs and Trade (Dfat) confirmed on Wednesday that Sage O’Donnell from Melbourne had died.
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) has released a count of the number of civilian casualties in Russia’s war on Ukraine so far, saying that 6,884 people are known to have died in Ukraine, including 429 children, between 24 February 2022 to 26 December 2022. The actual figure is likely to be “considerably higher”, it added.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has signed a decree that bans the supply of oil and oil products to nations participating in an imposed cap from 1 February 2023 for five months. The Group of Seven major powers, the European Union and Australia agreed this month to a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil effective from 5 December.
UKRAINE FIGHTING IS DEADLOCKED, spy chief Kyrylo Budanov tells BBC
Fighting in Ukraine is currently at a deadlock as neither Ukraine nor Russia can make significant advances, the head of the Ukrainian military intelligence agency has said, while Kyiv waits for more advanced weapons from Western allies.…
REFLECTING NEW U.S. CONTROL OF TIKTOK'S CENSORSHIP, Our Report Criticizing Zelensky Was Deleted
For years, U.S. officials and their media allies accused Russia, China and Iran of tyranny for demanding censorship as a condition for Big Tech access. Now, the U.S. is doing the same to TikTok.
by Glenn Greenwald
Accusations of Chinese tyranny are often based on demands from Beijing that Google and Facebook comply with their censorship orders as a condition for remaining in China. Reports over the years suggested that these firms typically comply: Google was building a censored search engine suited to Chinese demands; The New York Times has claimed Facebook developed a censorship app as its entrance requirement to the Chinese market, and Vox accused Apple of succumbing to Chinese censorship demands by banning an app from its store that had been used by protesters in Hong Kong demanding liberation from control by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
But now the tables appeared to be turning when it comes to U.S. censorship demands and TikTok. Threats to ban or severely limit the Chinese-owned-and-controlled platform from the U.S. have been hovering over TikTok's head through both the Trump and Biden years. The most common justification offered for the threat is that TikTok's presence in the U.S. empowers China to propagandize Americans, a concern that escalated along with the platform's massive explosion among Americans. Since early 2021, TikTok has been the most-downloaded app both worldwide and in the U.S. In August, Pew Research conducted a “survey of American teenagers ages 13 to 17” and found that “TikTok has rocketed in popularity since its North American debut several years ago and now is a top social media platform for teens among the platforms covered in this survey.”
Concerns over China's ability to manipulate U.S. public opinion were based on claims that China was banning content on TikTok that was contrary to Beijing's interests. Western media outlets were specifically alleging that the Chinese government itself was censoring TikTok to ban any content that the CCP regarded as threatening to its national security and internal order. “TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned social network, instructs its moderators to censor videos that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or the banned religious group Falun Gong,” warned The Guardian in late 2019.
Rather than ban TikTok from the U.S., the U.S. Security State is now doing exactly that which China does to U.S. tech companies: namely, requiring that, as a condition to maintaining access to the American market, TikTok must now censor content that undermines what these agencies view as American national security interests. TikTok, desperate not to lose access to hundreds of millions of Americans, has been making a series of significant concessions to appease the Pentagon, CIA and FBI, the agencies most opposed to deals to allow TikTok to stay in the U.S.
Among those concessions is that TikTok is now outsourcing what the U.S. Government calls “content moderation” — a pleasant-sounding euphemism for political censorship — to groups controlled by the U.S. Government:
TikTok has already unveiled several measures aimed at appeasing the U.S. government, including an agreement for Oracle Corp to store the data of the app's users in the United States and a United States Data Security (USDS) division to oversee data protection and content moderation decisions. It has spent $1.5 billion on hiring and reorganization costs to build up that unit, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Perhaps one might view as reasonable U.S. concerns that China can weaponize TikTok to propagandize Americans and destabilize the U.S. through its power to censor the platform. Note, however, that this is precisely the same concern that countries like China, Iran and Russia all invoke to justify censorship compliance as a condition for U.S. internet companies to remain active in their country. Those countries fear that American tech companies — whose close partnership with U.S. security agencies has long been well-documented — will be used to propagandize and destabilize their populations and countries exactly the way that the U.S. Security State is apparently concerned that China can do to the U.S. via TikTok.
Of course, when all of these governments claim to be worried about “destabilization” and “propaganda,” what they mean is that they want to retain the power to propagandize their own citizenries. By “national security” and “national interests,” they do not mean they want to protect the welfare of their citizens but rather seek to preserve their foreign meddling in other countries and their ability to quash criticism of national leaders. If that was not what they meant, they would simply ban all censorship from these platforms, rather than demand the right to control what is prohibited.
These moves by the U.S. Security State to commandeer censorship decisions on TikTok, accompanied by the hovering threat to ban TikTok entirely from the U.S., appear to be having the desired effect already. When we launched our new live nightly show on Rumble, System Update, our social media manager created new social accounts for the program on major social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok, etc. Each day, she posts identical excerpts from the prior night's shows on each social media account.
For Monday night's show, I devoted my opening monologue to documenting how reporting by mainstream Western media outlets on Ukraine and President Zelensky completely reversed itself as soon as Russia invaded in February. When one reviews the trajectory of how these media outlets radically reversed everything they had been saying about Ukraine and Zelensky, one can see the Orwellian newspeak — we have always been at war with Eastasia — happening in real time.
For years, for instance, mainstream news outlets in the West repeatedly warned that the Ukrainian military was dominated by a neo-Nazi group called the Azov Battalion, that the Kiev-based government was becoming increasingly repressive and anti-democratic (including ordering three opposition media outlets closed in 2021), and that Zelensky himself was not only supported by a single Ukrainian oligarch but he himself had massive off-shore accounts of hidden wealth as revealed by the Pandora Papers. And the U.S. State Department itself, in 2021, had documented a long list of severe human rights abuses carried out either with the acquiescence or even active participation of the Zelensky-led central government.
One of the video excerpts from our program that was posted to all social media sites, including TikTok, was this indisputably true and rather benign review of how media outlets, including The Guardian, had previously depicted Zelensky as surrounded by corruption and hidden wealth. To be sure, the excerpt was critical of Zelensky, but there is absolutely nothing even factually contestable, let alone untrue, given that the whole point of the clip is to show how the media had spoken of Ukraine and Zelensky prior to the invasion as opposed to the fundamentally different tone that now drives their coverage:
Shortly after posting this video, we were notified by TikTok that the video was removed by the platform. The cited ground was “integrity and authenticity,” namely that the video, for unspecified reasons, had “undermine[d] the integrity of [their] platform or the authenticity of [their users].” The warning added that TikTok "removes content and accounts that…involve misleading information that causes significant harm.” In a separate communication, TikTok notified our program that our “account is at high risk of being restricted based on [our] violation history” (the sole violation we were ever advised of was this specific video). As a result, TikTok warned, “the next violation could result in being prevented from accessing some feature.” A more ambiguous warning could scarcely be imagined.
Our first reaction, as one might expect, was confusion — for all sorts of reasons. We began with the fact that TikTok is a Chinese-run-and-operated platform. The Chinese government has been neutral to supportive of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and therefore has absolutely no interest whatsoever in prohibiting criticisms of President Zelensky. So even assuming that it was some Artificial Intelligence matrix that detected naughty content in our video — we will see what happens once the appeal we filed is decided — it struck as very strange indeed that AI “content moderation” would be geared to finding and banning derogatory claims about the Ukrainian president.
This would make far more sense from Meta and Google — whose censorship regime usually aligns with the agenda of the U.S. Security State — but the same video remains undisturbed on Facebook, Meta's Instagram site, and Google's YouTube. Indeed, Facebook has been changing its censorship rules from the start of the war to align with the CIA and Pentagon's goals, including by creating an exception to its ban on praising hate groups that allows one to lavish praise on the Azov Battalion, something that was prohibited on the social media giant prior to the invasion, due to the widespread view that Azov is a neo-Nazi group.
As we have previously reported, each time legislation is proposed in the U.S. Congress to rein in Big Tech's monopolistic powers, those who rise most vocally in opposition are operatives of the U.S. Security State. As we reported in April, a group of former U.S. intelligence officials issued a letter condemning attempts to legislatively weaken Big Tech by explicitly arguing that its censorship powers are crucial to the goals of U.S. foreign policy, especially when it comes to Russia. In other words, the CIA and Pentagon want and need Big Tech to ban any dissent to U.S. Government foreign policy. When it came to the war in Ukraine, Big Tech obeyed immediately. As Vox reported in early March, less than two weeks after Russia invaded, Big Tech had “sided” with the U.S. Government by engaging in all sorts of censorship demanded by U.S. foreign policy goals — a move which Vox predictably and explicitly applauded (let us never lose site of how twisted it is for self-proclaimed “journalists” to cheer government-directed corporate censorship). As Vox wrote:
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Big Tech has finally taken a side….One by one, Google, Meta, TikTok, and every other consumer tech company have sided with Ukraine in some way….But now that the tech giants have acknowledged that they do indeed have lines they won’t cross — in this case, a deadly incursion that raises the specter of nuclear war — the companies will be asked to explain why they’re okay with other compromises, in, say, Turkey or other authoritarian states. Those will be uncomfortable discussions, but that’s not a bad thing: Even neutrality is a stance, and it’s worth asking if you’re picking it because it’s moral, or simply convenient for your brand of capitalism.
Reports are legion of Big Tech censoring dissent on the war in Ukraine from the start of the invasion. And the EU enacted one of the most chilling censorship laws in years: it made it illegal for any platform to allow Russian-state media, including RT and Sputnik, to be heard, even if the owners and managers of those platforms wish to air them; the new EU laws and regulations also require search engines such as Google to banish any Russian-state media from search results.
So having our video that was critical of Zelensky banned by an American Big Tech platform would be unsurprising (even though the video did not really criticize Zelensky as much as it showed how Western media outlets used to criticize him before the war began and then stopped doing so). But it made no sense that a Chinese-owned platform would remove that video.
But when we began investigating how TikTok's censorship regime functions and, more importantly, who controls it, this all started to become much clearer. While the Chinese government clearly has no interest in banning criticisms of Zelensky, the U.S. Government most certainly does. The bizarre hero's welcome given to Zelensky by leaders of both parties when he appeared in Washington last week was a testament to how devoted the U.S. Government is to venerating the Ukrainian leader and fortifying the mythologies and hagiographies surrounding him.
In fact, the primary point of our Monday night monologue was that criticisms of Zelensky went from being widespread in Western media prior to the invasion to banned and prohibited after the invasion. And within hours, TikTok — whose censorship decisions are now heavily influenced if not outright controlled by the U.S. Security State — came along and provided the clearest and most compelling example proving that statement true: it banned our video based on the crime of airing criticisms of Zelensky.
What is newsworthy — and alarming — is not the specific removal of a video excerpt from our news program. It is common for AI programs or low-level moderators to err in their censorship decisions; perhaps it will be reversed on appeal.
But what is most certainly notable is that the U.S. national security state has leveraged threats to ban TikTok from the U.S. entirely into concessions that they, rather than TikTok's Chinese owners, will now make “content moderation” decisions for the platform, thus leaving TikTok now in the same bucket along with Google, Meta and Apple as massive companies subject to the censorship directives of the U.S. Government (whether Twitter remains in that group will be determined by future decisions of its new owner Elon Musk, though if the Twitter Files revealed anything, it is that Twitter's censorship decisions had, prior to Musk's acquisition, largely been driven by those same U.S. security agencies).
The irony here cannot be avoided. For years, U.S. Government officials and their media allies denounced the Russian, Chinese and Iranian governments for conditioning the presence of American Big Tech firms in their country on the willingness of those firms to censor content deemed dangerous by those governments. And now, without much debate, the U.S. Government has imposed similar censorship demands on TikTok. As a result, content that conflicts with the agenda of the U.S. Security State is clearly imperiled not only on Google, Meta and Apple platforms but also now on one of the fastest-growing social media platforms on the planet.