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NORTHERLY WINDS will increase today, becoming particularly gusty on the ridges. Winds ease into Tuesday. Temperatures will continue a warming trend through late next week, while dry weather persists. (NWS)
HEALTH DEPARTMENT ORDERS sinkhole-plagued Mendocino County cabins to close after sewage found draining into creek
by Kathleen Coates
Officials have labeled a Mendocino County RV park and resort a “menace to public health” and ordered Saturday for it to close, weeks after a sinkhole stranded residents and visitors at the property.
Mendocino County Code Enforcement officers on Friday inspected the site of Creekside Cabins, located near Willits, and discovered overflowing RV septic tanks had covered the resort's ground with sewage, according to a public health order issued Saturday. Sewage from the property also was found being drained into an adjacent creek.
Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Andrew Coren ordered the property to close and its residents to evacuate by 5 p.m. Friday after it was determined bacteria in the property’s water posed an immediate threat.
Residents have awaited the installation — slated for Tuesday — of a temporary bridge to leave the area after a sinkhole appeared before New Year’s and swallowed a private road that served as the property’s lone entrance and exit.
Sewer processing, in addition to other basic services like trash removal, has been on hold for the cabins, located off Highway 101 between Arnold and Willits, as crews scrambled to construct a safe entry onto the property.
Caltrans announced Dec. 31 that maintenance and repair of the private road was the responsibility of the property’s owner, Teresa Thurman. Since then, however, Thurman has indicated she will not take action to fix the hole, according to the county.
The issue was then referred to Mendocino County Code Enforcement, and Caltrans, which opted to install the temporary span to help people leave the property.
Thurman has not responded to The Press Democrat’s calls for comment since Jan. 4.
Those who chose to stay at the property once the temporary bridge is removed Friday do so at their own risk, the county said.
AV UNIFED UPDATE by Superintendent Louise Simson
Dear Anderson Valley Community,
I hope you are enjoying the sunshine. I know we are all so grateful to have our water replenished, but I am sure we all wish it didn’t all come at once. I hope your families and homes were safe during this extraordinary event.
Needless to say, it was a frustrating and disappointing week for me in that I finally felt our school system might get some political support for additional infrastructure funding for our kids. I have traveled all over the world including Africa. I always make a point of visiting schools wherever I go. I had a magical lunch in elementary school in a French town where the kids sat in the lunch room with cloth napkins, cutlery, water pitchers and yummy food and visited and talked. I visited a school in Botswana that was not fancy but welcoming and comfortable, and I toured a school in Louisiana post hurricane Katrina. Bottom-line: no matter where I visited on the globe, the places had functioning bathrooms and the government made sure of that.
I think I have shared my story in the past. I am the daughter of a plasterer and a teacher’s aide mother. Neither of my parents, or their parents, or their ancestors of the past went to college. I am a fierce advocate of public education as the great equalizer of opportunity in our country. But I get so angry, when I see the inequity in school systems throughout our state. Kids are kids and all kids deserve a healthy and equitable learning environment.
I am so touched and grateful to the many families that reached out to Congressman Huffman. I don’t know if it will help. If it does, I will be the first to sing his praises and offer thanks to his office. In the meantime, please contact our state representatives:
Senator McGuire: firstname.lastname@example.org
Assembly Member Steve Wood: Contact Steve Wood
The Office of Public School Construction will pay for 60 percent. But if we can get some political involvement to lobby our cause,there are funding sources to pick up the whole cost, so we can use our bond money for improvements that are so desperately needed.
An update on the septic systems: Plans have been submitted for the elementary replacement. Parts arrive for the high school system on January 26 with a three week construction window assuming dry weather.
On a positive note, two great dinner events are scheduled so call and make your free reservations:
Join us for our ELAC dinner on Thursday, February 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the high school cafeteria. This is an adult event to brainstorm ideas for our future! All are welcome. The meeting will be translated.
On a very positive note, as I just shared with you, college and career information is very important to me for our families. On Tuesday, February 28 beginning at 5:0 p.m. families and their students in grades 6th through 12th grade are encouraged to attend our college and career dinner. Presentations on high school and college credit requirements, representatives from Sonoma State, Mendo College, various trade union organizations, vocational programs such as dental assisting and so much more will be available to you and your kids. Start the conversations early, so they can be prepared for college and career. Call the school office to make your reservations for both dinners:
Anderson Valley Elementary: 707-895-3010
Anderson Valley Junior/Senior High: 707-895-3153
Other wonderful things this week…
We started our second cohort at Mendo College. Thank you Mr. Bublitz for chaperoning the students. Students are participating in the auto program, a costume construction class, and volunteering making meals in the culinary program for Caring Kitchen creating foods for cancer patients.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Cymbre Thomas Swett for her leadership at the elementary site. Every time I visit, I see incredible cohesion, engagement, and pride at that site, and I am so thankful for that on-going work.
I hope you have a wonderful Sunday. Take a moment and drop a couple of emails about the septic–your kids deserve better and the state and feds needs to fund it.
Louise Simson, Superintendent
Anderson Valley Unified School District
Every Student • Every Possibility • No Matter What
by Mark Scaramella
If you thought that Mendo’s budget picture would have improved or at least been clarified over the last few weeks since the last pessimistic budget presentation, you’d be mostly wrong.
The estimated deficit remains at just over $6.6 million, more than half of which is in the Health Plan deficit from FY2020-2021 (July 2020 to June 2021, the first full year of covid impacts). We have not heard anyone mention the status of the health plan/deficit for the next year (FY2021-2022; From July 2021 to June of 2022), but we can assume there will be another surprise deficit for that year as well since no one has been minding that budget item and the 2020-2021 deficit was only discovered last fall. Also adding to the deficit is the recently increased jail expansion overrun now estimated at $1.4 million, despite unanimous agreement that the state should pay most of the $10 million-plus overrun since it’s their project and they (allegedly) caused much of the overrun with their delated project approvals. Most observers think the jail expansion overrun will continue to grow since the construction phase of the project has yet to even go out to bid.
There are a couple of new items on the list of deficits and backfills.
A new deficit contributor has been added this month: “FEMA RoomKey-Potential Non-Reimbursable.” That’s right: Somehow Mendo spent $1.6 million on covid housing which has now been deemed “potentially non-reimbursable.” Apparently, it’s more than “potential” because it is included in the latest $6.6 million deficit. This waste of money would have occurred on former CEO Carmel Angelo’s watch; it shouldn’t have been spent without assurance that it was reimbursable. However, current CEO Darcie Antle was Angelo’s budget person and she should have been on top of such presumed reimbursables as well.
It’s good to see that what Supervisor Dan Gjerde described last month as “a colossal waste of dollars” is on the list of PG&E allocations that are being reallocated to the deficit. Just over $1.6 million that Gjerde and his associates approved for Coastal Valley EMS projects and admin has now been listed as being applied to the deficit, along with another $1.8 million of previous PG&E allocations which was to be spent on “carbon reduction.”
With this updated list of shortfalls and offsetting reallocations, the County now says it’s got about $700k of remaining deficit. But without a comprehensive department by department budget report, who knows?
Last month, CEO Antle said she hoped to apply whatever the carryover from the last fiscal year to the remaining deficit which she guessed might be at least $500k. But the books from last fiscal year (2021-2022) which ended on seven months ago on June 30, 2022, are still not closed so nobody knows what the carryover will be. It is assumed that with a vacancy rate of over 25%, there will be some carryover. But here again, without departmental budget reporting, it’s not clear how much can be applied to the deficit. However, next Tuesday’s budget update makes it sound like this might not apply, noting: “Maintain Current Vacancy Rate for All Non‐mandated General Fund Budget Units, Exclude Positions Currently in Recruitment;Savings will be realized in future – no immediate savings.”
This kind of ad-hoc piecemeal budget juggling only applies to the current year which ends in June. It leaves a lot of balls in the air, doesn’t address next year, and leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
Such as: How much will last fiscal year’s health plan deficit be and will it continue next year? What departments are over or under budget and by how much and why? How much will unbudgeted outside legal services and lawsuit settlements cost? What kind of salary increases will the unions demand next year? (They reluctantly accepted a modest 2% increase and a $3,000 bonus late last year, saying that next fall they’ll want more.)
Then we have the still-burgeoning cannabis bureaucracy despite a precipitous drop in permit applications and taxes and fees.
Permit applications have stalled, and the majority of “provisional” permitees are delinquent on their taxes. Accordingly fee revenues are down and continuing to drop. Last year cannabis revenues were down by half from the prior years as the pot market collapsed — which everyone but Official Mendocino County had anticipated — creating a nearly $3 million shortfall. Failure to budget for the reduced cannabis revenues produced another deficit this year which no one has addressed either. Nevertheless, the Cannabis department continues to grow with yet more cannabis bureaucracy positions now in recruitment.
This month another large unplanned retroactive expense is proposed to fix the Creekside sinkhole in Willits which isn’t mentioned in any of the budget charts.
Consent Agenda Item 3g. “Approval of Retroactive Agreement with Wylatti Resource Management, Inc., in the Amount of $250,000 to Provide Temporary Short-Term Ingress and Egress at Creekside Cabins and RV Resort on State Highway 101in Mendocino County, Effective January 16, 2023, through June 30, 2023; and Approval of Appropriation Transfer of Funds in Fund 1100, Org Code PB, Increasing Appropriations to Line Item PB-823300 (Forfeiture & Penalty) by $500,000, Increasing Line Item PB-862189 (Professional Services) by $500,000, Funded by the Nuisance Abatement Line Item 2110-760791, to Support the Emergency Crossing Response at the Creekside Cabins North of Willits.”
We doubt that the “nuisance abatement” budget has $500k sitting around waiting to be spent. (Although they might be able to dip into reserves which they have been reluctant to do so far.)
Another consent agenda item (3q) proposes to spend $250k more on additional software consulting from the property tax system vendor (Thomson Reuters/Aumentum) bringing the total consulting cost to almost $3 million — plus travel and per diem for the consultants.
DISAPPOINTED IN WINDSOR
I had a dream. Windsor had a downtown art movie theater that also served as an entertainment venue and small convention center. There were nice new ethnic restaurants, including a French one, and three boutique hotels with rooftop bars mitigating taxes while hosting music nightly.
Our outdoor community pool was heated and well-staffed, but best of all, Donald Trump and Joe Biden were barred from seeking future political positions and a much more youthful Congress passed legislation making voting as mandatory as taxes and installing term limits for all politicians — even our local ones.
Windsor was a happening place for walking and people-watching. The SMART train brought tourists and took residents to San Francisco, returning to Windsor by midnight, bringing smiling faces back to town for taxis home.
Then I awoke and turned on the TV as torrents of rain fell and I saw flooding, politicians arguing, Highway 101 backed up, raging threats of war, ugly climate change worldwide and more mass shootings in our country. I went immediately back to bed.
COMET C/2022E3 (ZTF) is no longer too dim to require a telescope for viewing. By January 19, it could just be seen with the naked eye in this rural sky with little light pollution from a location about 20 kilometers from Salamanca, Spain. Still, telescopic images are needed to show any hint of the comet's pretty green coma, stubby whitish dust tail, and long ion tail. Its faint ion tail has been buffeted by recent solar activity. This visitor from the distant Oort cloud rounded the Sun on January 12, and is now sweeping through stars near the northern boundary of the constellation Bootes. Outward bound but still growing brighter, Comet ZTF makes its closest approach on February 2, coming to within about 2.4 light-minutes of our fair planet. (science.nasa.gov)
by Paul Modic
I launched the prototype of a Weed BnB last week and I don't think the first visitors ever stopped smiling or smoking. (I do like to playfully confront obsessive addicts at times, like when I asked the man of the couple, “So are you trying to not feel something by staying stoned all day and what might that be?” The guy seemed to ponder the question as if he had never thought about it before.)
In the mornings they invited me out on the deck for marijuana-infused omelets and scrambled eggs and later offered me a THC-laced cookie. I passed on the eggs but had a couple bites of the cookie.
Once or twice a day they went into the nearby “pot cabin,” where black plastic garbage bags filled the shelves, and took whatever strain of weed they wanted to try out on the deck or inside the Weed BnB. They were also welcome to take home as much as they had room for.
Once I cracked, “Well I'm going to go look in those bags and see how much you took,” and they just smiled knowing I had no intention of doing that impossible task, that my weed-man's burden was to try to give it all away before it got brown, ragged, and smoked like hay.
They took day trips to the coast and to see the big trees and I took them on a tour along the river. Sometimes we sat around talking and I regaled them with old-time growing stories, printed a few off for them to read, and made them a compilation of my favorites to take on the road.
On one of the weekend evenings I got high with them after we'd consumed dinner, Irish coffee, homemade brownies, and ice cream. I invented silly games we played with giant hula hoops and after all the fun I went back across the lawn to bed while my guests took a sauna.
Despite my six varieties the woman of the couple didn’t like the seeds sprinkled throughout and wanted to try some of the Raspberry Kush a friend had given me a couple months ago. “This is all I smoke now,” I said. “It's tasty and beautiful, purple and sparkly, and a great aphrodisiac. He's broke and really needs to sell some, which is nearly impossible. If you like it you could pay him the going rate, $400 a pound.”
K-dog came by on his way to play disc golf at the park, dropped off a sample bag, and the lady gave him a lamp, pillows, kitchenware, and other household items from a condo she was giving up in Reno. (He also dropped by a couple more plants of his sexy strain for me to grow.) They worked out a deal and he said he'd be back the next day with the rest of the weed. Her guy was also a disc golf player so he went with K-dog to the park to play a round in the rainy fields surrounded by poison oak, and returned a couple hours later sopping wet and happy.
She wanted a couple pounds, K-dog set to work clipping it up, and came back over the next day with half pound of very well-trimmed weed and a pound and a half roughly clipped. (It was one of the most beautiful pounds I'd ever seen.)
The pot tourist gave him $800 for the lot, both were satisfied with the transaction, and I was happy to help get a pound or two sold in this stagnant economy. “This is the first weed that went out of Humboldt County in over three months!” I announced, only half joking.
The day before they left I went over to the Weed BnB a few steps away and said, “Okay, if you get to mopping during the housecleaning use just a small amount of Murphy's Oil Soap and water for the hardwood floor.”
They were busy all morning cleaning up the space. I may be offering a free weed tourism experience for friends but there's no maid service and I wouldn't even know who to hire.
(The night before they left, the guy told me the story: each of their spouses had died within the last year and they had gotten together during their mourning recently when a consoling hug lead to something more. They hadn't told anyone because they didn't want to be judged as her husband had died just three months before. Her therapist had reassured her that she had already been in mourning during the two years she had been taking care of her husband dying at home.)
In the morning he took off for his job north where he works for the parks department in Oregon, to avoid the Vegas summers, and she headed south to continue caring for her 105-year-old mother who's in a nursing home. Having put off her world travels for the last couple of years she's looking forward to visiting the gorillas in Africa this fall. He's going to confront his empty house containing a lifetime of stuff and figure out what to do next.
* * *
A month later she texted that she'd be stopping by again, wanted to pick up another pound, I called K-dog with the news, and he was elated. He had already given me five undeclared plants of the same strain, the Raspberry Kush, and I had gotten three females from the lot and planted them. (So much for my plan of not growing any, or only one this year.)
I asked him if he had another extra, he said he'd already given them away to the farm down the road and started complaining about his plants, that they were already four feet tall and hadn't sexed yet.
“Hey, if I sex your plants for you would you give me one more female?” I asked.
He didn't go for that idea either. “I'm worried they might be hermaphrodite,” he said. “The plants I gave you came from seeds I made two years ago so I thought I was being clever keeping the more recent starts for me but maybe you got the best ones?”
“But they're all the same strain, right?” I said. “That's all I've been smoking since you gave me that bag last January when you came over to watch the 49ers-Rams championship game. I really like it, it may be no better than mine but I guess I'm believing the illusion that it is.” His weed was very pretty, purple and aromatic. “I better just come up there and sex them for you.”
“Why would anyone want to drive all this way to do that?” he asked.
“Hey, no problem, it needs to be done,” I said. “I'll call in a little while when I'm ready to come up.”
I found a couple rolls of construction tape and drove up the Avenue of the Giants ten miles. His plants were very robust and healthy-looking, bright green and three to a pot. It took me about ten minutes to go through and sex them: I marked the boys with orange tape and the girls with white. One huge Smart Pot had three females in it and I assured him he could dig out two without harming any.
His total was six females and four males. We sat around talking for forty-five minutes and he said the state or county was going to give him new front teeth. He also said he lost his glasses and wasn't sure how he could replace them, maybe that's why he couldn't see to sex the plants, but he probably just doesn't know the tricks, he was never a grower.
Finally I drove out of there, my community service completed.
A couple days later he sold his pound to my visitor for another $400 and as he was leaving he said, “That's a miracle.”
“What?” I said. “That a pound actually got sold in Humboldt county and you got paid?”
“Yup,” he said.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Saturday, January 21, 2023
CARINA ALVAREZ, Ukiah. DUI, probation revocation.
TRINITY AMADOR, Willits. Under influence, probation revocation.
JOHN BRUNK, Fort Bragg. Battery, criminal threats, failure to appear.
JASON COLSON, Fort Bragg. Burglary, switchblade.
DANNY DOMINGUEZ-BARRERA, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
FERNANDO FABIAN, Ukiah. Controlled substance, probation revocation.
TYLER FREASE, Lakeport/Ukiah. Theft by forged access card (over $400), concealed dirk-dagger.
JOSHUA GUNDERSON, Ukiah. Shoplifting, paraphernalia, disorderly conduct-alcohol.
NICHOLAS HALVORSEN, Fort Bragg. County parole violation, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
THOMAS HANOVER, Ukiah. Probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
ERIC JACOBSEN, Sacramento/Ukiah. DUI.
JAIME MARIN, Ukiah. Paraphernalia, probation revocation.
ROBERT MORTON, Fort Bragg. Protective order violation.
LUIS ORTIZ, Ukiah. Paraphernalia, probation revocation.
ANNAMARIE SALAZAR, Nice/Ukiah. DUI-alcohol&drugs, no license, child endangerment.
NATHANIEL SECKER, Fort Bragg. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, probation revocation.
SCOTT STONE, Conway, South Carolina/Ukiah. Probation revocation.
NOEL WICKSTROM, Willits. Violent felon with body armor, probation revocation.
NOT SO SMART
No one ever, ever could have predicted that the SMART railroad line, which runs through the lowest points in two counties, right across bay wetlands, could possibly find itself unable to run its trains on time due to flooded tracks.
No one ever, ever could have predicted that a fixed rail line, at some point, might not be the best choice for a route subject to flooding, fires and earthquakes, or that greatly improved bus service would provide flexibility at a far lower cost.
No one ever, ever could have predicted that the minuscule sales tax that voters were willing to approve to build/rehabilitate the initial SMART line would be insufficient for the advertised length of the service area.
No one ever, ever could have predicted that the price per passenger trip would far exceed the estimates put forth by SMART proponents.
So, because no one ever, ever pointed this out, SMART is now drowning — in water and debt. Oh, but I’m wrong. There was a whole group of people, including at least one economist, who told SMART and the public that this line was a fiasco in waiting.
No one listened.
MEMO OF THE AIR: La morte ha fatto l’uovo.
“Married couple Anna (Gina Lollobrigida, R.I.P.) and Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant, also R.I.P.) run a hi-tech automated poultry farm, breeding boneless chickens. Unbeknownst to Anna, Marco is a serial killer, who lures prostitutes to motel rooms before stabbing them. The arrival of Anna’s cousin Gabri (Ewa Aulin) further fragments the troubled marriage, as she and Marco begin an affair and conspire to run away together. However, Gabri is actually plotting with her husband Mondaini (Jean Sobieski) to kill Anna and frame Marco, as they have discovered Marco’s secret. When Marco discovers Anna’s body in his hotel room, he cleans the crime scene and takes the body back to the farm to dispose of it. What Gabri and Mondaini do not know is that Marco’s fixation is not with killing prostitutes, but simply hiring them to role-play murders, letting them go safely and handsomely paid. At the farm, Marco falls into a machine used to grind chicken feed in which he was trying to dispose of Anna’s body. When the police arrive, having responded to the murder at the hotel and then coming to the farm to investigate Marco’s alleged activities, the police focus their attention on Gabri, suspecting her of committing the murder out of sibling jealousy. Gabri and Mondaini are eventually arrested for Anna’s murder, as the farm chickens feed on Marco’s ground corpse.” -Wikipedia
Here's the recording of last night's (2023-01-20) Memo of the Air: Good Night Radio show* on 107.7fm KNYO-LP Fort Bragg (CA) and KNYO.org: https://tinyurl.com/KNYO-MOTA-0524
Here’s a link to my dream journal project that I add to at random every week or so. I’d like to read your dreams on the radio and I always offer to. Just email me.* Or include them in a reply to this post. Or send me a link to your dream journal and I’ll make a note to go there and check for updates. https://marcomcclean.medium.com/
Also, about the above recording, because of all the complications and oddnesses of this week I noticed at the last instant that my show file had enough material in it to take two more hours to read than there was time available. I had compulsively amassed way too much. So I used my trick for that, which is to brutally jettison (until next week) the longest pieces first, and the longest piece was by Paul Modic so, Paul, next week, for sure. And I got Louis Bedrock and Clifford Allen Sanders mixed up together in my mind, so I think I might have declared that Louis Bedrock is in his 90s, when that’s not right. Other than that, it’s a pretty coherent show.
Besides that, at https://MemoOfTheAir.wordpress.com you'll find a fresh batch of dozens of links to not necessarily radio-useful but nonetheless worthwhile items I set aside for you while gathering the show together. Such as:
Willowmere, Drumthwacket, Il Paradiso, some real names for some real pretty places that won’t look anything like this anymore. It’s probably all Walmarts and freeway cloverleafs now. Cloverleaves?
This is a story about Frank Whittle, arguably the greatest aero-engineer of the twentieth century, and about the turbojet engine, which he invented in 1931, before there were materials suitable to make it work, and which the British patent office unwittingly gave to the Nazis almost (but not quite) in time for them to win the war with it. “People in the area hadn’t heard that particular kind of noise before. You couldn’t really hide it, however secret it was supposed to be. One officer said, ‘How does that thing work, John?’ And John replied, ‘Oh, it’s easy, old boy, it just sucks itself along like a hoover'."
“Meanwhile an evil caricature of a crazy scientist in a boat lab is trying to crossbreed a fish and a human to make a new kind of underwater creature. He needs athletic subjects for this, so he kidnaps exclusively wrestlers.” Video catalog of worldwide Batpersons, and companion catalog of exotic Spidermen. With great power comes great responsibility.
*Email your written work on any subject and I'll read it on the very next Memo of the Air on KNYO.
Marco McClean, email@example.com, https://MemoOfTheAir.wordpress.com
IS OUR HEALTHCARE SYSTEM BROKEN?
by Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Here’s a question that’s been on my mind and perhaps yours: Is the US healthcare system expensive, complicated, dysfunctional, or broken? The simple answer is yes to all. Below are 10 of the most convincing arguments I’ve heard that our system needs a major overhaul. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, an entire industry has evolved in the US just to help people navigate the maddeningly complex task of choosing a health insurance plan.
The cost is enormous
High cost, not highest quality. Despite spending far more on healthcare than other high-income nations, the US scores poorly on many key health measures, including life expectancy, preventable hospital admissions, suicide, and maternal mortality. And for all that expense, satisfaction with the current healthcare system is relatively low in the US.
Financial burden. High costs combined with high numbers of underinsured or uninsured means many people risk bankruptcy if they develop a serious illness. Prices vary widely, and it’s nearly impossible to compare the quality or cost of your healthcare options — or even to know how big a bill to expect. And even when you ask lots of questions ahead of time and stick with recommended doctors in your health insurance network, you may still wind up getting a surprise bill. My neighbor did after knee surgery: even though the hospital and his surgeon were in his insurance network, the anesthesiologist was not.
Access is uneven
Health insurance tied to employment. During World War II, healthcare was offered as a way to attract workers since employers had few other options. Few people had private insurance then, but now a layoff can jeopardize your access to healthcare.
Healthcare disparities. The current US healthcare system has a cruel tendency to delay or deny high-quality care to those who are most in need of it but can least afford its high cost. This contributes to avoidable healthcare disparities for people of color and other disadvantaged groups.
Health insurers may discourage care to hold down costs. Many health insurance companies restrict expensive medications, tests, and other services by declining coverage until forms are filled out to justify the service to the insurer. True, this can prevent unnecessary expense to the healthcare system — and to the insurance company. Yet it also discourages care deemed appropriate by your physician.
This can make for shortsighted decisions. For example, when medications are prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis, coverage may be denied unless a cheaper medication is prescribed, even if it has little chance of working. A survey (note: automatic download) found that 78% of physicians reported that this led people to abandon recommended treatments; 92% thought it contributed to care delays. And because the expensive medication may prevent future knee or hip replacements, delay may ultimately prove more costly to insurance plans and patients while contributing to more suffering.
Investments in healthcare seem misdirected
Emphasizing technology and specialty care. Our system focuses on disease, specialty care, and technology rather than preventive care. During my medical training, I received relatively little instruction in nutrition, exercise, mental health, and primary care, but plenty of time was devoted to inpatient care, intensive care units, and subspecialties such as cardiology and gastroenterology. Doctors practicing in specialties where technology abounds (think anesthesiology, cardiology, or surgery) typically have far higher incomes than those in primary care.
Overemphasizing procedures and drugs. Here’s one example: A cortisone injection for tendinitis in the ankle is typically covered by health insurance. A shoe insert that might work just as well may not be.
Stifling innovation. Payment structures for private or government-based health insurance can stifle innovative healthcare delivery. Home-based treatments, such as some geriatric care and cancer care, may be cost-effective and preferred by patients. But, because current payment systems don’t routinely cover this care, these innovative approaches may never become widespread. Telehealth, which could bring medical care to millions with poor access, was relatively rare before the pandemic, partly due to lack of insurance coverage. And yet, telehealth has flourished by necessity, demonstrating how effective it can be.
Fragmented care. One hallmark of US healthcare is that people tend to get care in a variety of settings that may have little or no connection to each other. That can lead to duplication of care, poor coordination of services, and higher costs. A doctor may prescribe a medicine that has dangerous interactions with other medicines the person is taking. Medicine prescribed years earlier by a doctor no longer caring for a person may be continued indefinitely because other doctors do not know why it was started. Often doctors repeat blood tests already performed elsewhere because results of the previous tests are not readily available.
Defensive medicine. Medical care offered primarily to minimize the chance of getting sued drives up costs, provides little or no benefit, and may even reduce the quality of care. Malpractice lawsuits are so common in the US that for doctors in certain specialties, it’s not a matter of if but when they are sued. Though it’s hard to measure just how big the impact of defensive medicine is, at least one study suggests it’s not small.
No simple solution
Even insured Americans spend more out of pocket for their healthcare than people in most other wealthy nations. Some resort to purchasing medications from other countries where prices are far lower. The status quo may be acceptable to healthcare insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and some healthcare providers who are rewarded handsomely by it, but our current healthcare system is not sustainable.
Other countries have approached healthcare quite differently, including single-payer, government-run systems, or a mix of private and public options. Perhaps some of the most successful can serve as a model for us. But, with so much on the line and competing interests’ well-funded lobbying groups ready to do battle, it’s far from clear whether reform of our healthcare system can happen anytime soon.
I haven’t met many patients who think our current healthcare system is great. In fact, I don’t know anyone who would design the system we currently have — well, other than those who are profiting from it.
The question going forward is whether there will be the trust, will, and vision necessary to build something better. It won’t be easy, but the alternative — continuing to complain while waiting for the system to implode — is unacceptable.
ON-LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
To give us a sense of control in our lives, we expend a lot of energy trying to figure out the future. I guess we all do. But in reality, no one knows. So – I take predictions with a jaundiced eye. McCarthy or Newcomb the next prexy? I doubt it. My own thinking is that some physical event or events will occur that change everything. The Earth is not alone in the universe. Stars explode, the sun burps out matter and radiation.
Climate always changes. Now we have atmospheric rivers. I never heard of that before. What else does Gaia have in store for us? We’ve depleted our soil, poisoned the land. The Earth naturally has its own equilibrium system, and we’re trying to override it with our own. Food availability will become probabilistic. People won’t put up with that – world-wide unrest will ensue and nobody knows who or what will be in power once the dust settles.
Economically, we’ve acted very stupidly. You can’t spend more than you take in without an ultimate breakdown. Militarily we’ve been insane. We all know here what the USA is doing. Did you read about the toddler shooting a gun? Crazy isn’t it? Now picture the gun as a missile carrying nukes – that’s where we may be heading. Then who or what will be in power? Biden, Newcomb, McCarthy? Really?
I could go on because there’s more factors that will shape the future, but you all should get the point: we really can’t tell what the future will bring. I’ll close out by stating a few positive possibilities: Nuclear fusion is successfully achieved, oil is abiotic, we balance the budget, Ukraine collapses before we push Russia too far. I wonder what would happen if there’s a small sub-group of sane individuals ensconced in a mental institution? Would they be subsumed by all the crazy inmates, or would they be able to rise to power inside?
EVERY JOURNALIST who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.
— Janet Malcolm
UKRAINE, SATURDAY, 21ST JANUARY
Germany failed to reach an agreement with its key Western allies on sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, despite growing pressure to step up its military aid and pleas from Kyiv for more weapons.
Germany has denied claims it is dragging its feet and has called on the US to send its own tanks to Ukraine.
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley reiterated Friday that Russia's war will likely "end in a negotiation" and not on the battlefield.
The US also announced its Treasury Department will designate the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group as a "transnational criminal organization" and impose more sanctions against it next week.
AMERICA THIS WEEK, Ep. 22 (Part 1) with Walter Kirn and Matt Taibbi
Walter and Matt make plans for a Davos vacation, lament the lost art of good conversation, and look ahead to future Twitter Files.
Matt Taibbi:Welcome to America This Week. I’m Matt Taibbi.
Walter Kirn:I’m Walter Kirn.
Matt:And once again, I’m on the road. There’s some more Twitter File stuff coming, and so we’re in transit. But I think the setup seems to work, right Walter?
Walter:Oh, yeah. I like it. I like the idea that we’re roving correspondents and one holds down the home seat and the other goes out and pierces the veil in the world. Yeah.
Matt:But usually, you’re the one reporting from the front lines of white nationalism.
Walter:Well, I think I did my best to fight back on behalf of Montana’s honor last week. We’ll see if Hollywood abandoned ship here and troops arrived to calm the situation.
Matt:Yeah, that’s a lot of borders to defend. I don’t envy that task, but all eyes this week are on a place far, far away. I love everything about the Davos story, and I’ve never been there. I’ve always wanted to go. And I question now whether I’ll ever be allowed to go because that’s part of what’s funny about Davos is they hold it in a small skiing resort in Switzerland that only very wealthy people go to. And it’s a safe space for the architects of global government where they show up and they speak openly about things that we only speculate about most of the rest of the year. And what’s amazing about it is that they do two things that are extremely clever.
One is that they hold the conference in a place that’s far away, that’s too expensive for poor journalists to get too easily. And then they just don’t deny you, they don’t give you credentials if you come from the wrong organization and you can’t cover the thing. So you get bits and pieces of what they say out of it and what they say there is just incredible. It’s the kind of stuff that will start revolutions eventually. But at Davos where these people meet, they say the most extraordinary things, and this week was yet another example of it.
Walter:Well, let’s give a couple of those examples. I noticed that our FBI director, for some reason, is in Davos. I didn’t know that he was concerned with international business or anything other than fighting crime here in the US. But he talked broadly about the merger of technological and law enforcement power and corporate and private sector power and governmental law enforcement power, which I found breathtaking. I mean who needs conspiracy theories when they’re out there saying it?
Matt:Should we listen to the clip? Here’s Christopher Wray director of the FBI, who, again, as you note, they do have a counter-intelligence remit, but really there’s no reason for this person to be at Davos. But he’s there anyway. And here he’s speaking at Davos in front of the World Economic Forum sponsored by Wired for some reason.
Christopher Wray:I think the sophistication of the private sector is improving and in particular important, the level of collaboration between the private sector and the government, especially the FBI has, I think made significant strides. Pretty much every technology we could talk about today, we see both great opportunity, but great dangers in the wrong hand.
Walter:His voice disconcerts me. You see pictures of Wray, he’s got a kind of photogenic well coiffed quality, but I’d not heard his voice until recently. And it’s deeper and more self-satisfied and a little more threatening in a way than I would’ve expected. But let’s look at the content. They’re making great strides in what exactly?
Matt:In cooperation with the private sector.
Walter:Isn’t that what you’ve been reporting on at Twitter?
Matt:Yeah, and is, so the timing of that statement is a little curious given that they’ve been outed recently for basically having a sweeping program of content moderation that’s organized and involves regular meetings with companies as diverse as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Wikipedia, iCloud, God knows what else. Right?
Walter:But Matt, weren’t you specifically called on Twitter by the FBI on their official account a conspiracy theorist? Right?
Walter:For revealing this business.
Matt:That was such a classic non-denial. Denial. Yeah. And then they come out and they talk about their cooperation with the private sector. Now what does he mean by that exactly? Because they were already getting basically everything they wanted from the private sector through high-handed tactics. Right? So for instance back in 2006, 7, 8 the Inspector General of the Justice Department, they did reports about the FBI’s extravagant use of national security letters. So they would send tens of thousands of these national security letters every year to tech companies and companies would be obliged to turn over private user information without a warrant. It could be about anything from medical records to your surfing history on the internet. And the companies had a gag, or it was like a standing gag order. They were not allowed to inform customers that they had received these letters and that they were turning over this information.
And it wasn’t for a long time that there was even a test case about this, because they couldn’t get around the gag order to even make legal challenges to this. So between operation Stellar wind or whatever else the Snowden revelations were called, the NSA programs were using FA which is administered through the FBI to access data through private companies. They were getting this stuff. What I think is different is that now it’s open cooperation with these companies. The companies have stopped putting up any semblance of a fight.
Walter:Right? Well, isn’t that what you’re saying? It’s from coercion to cooperation. I said on Twitter, I think that the tech companies have learned to love the bomb because as I have read your Twitter files reporting, there was some nominal resistance to this relationship with power, and then it seemed to turn into just exhausted submission. And then they also moved into a state of actually trying to give them what they want, even when they couldn’t find what they wanted. Seeing some of those in-house communications showed me that even if they can’t find evidence, their willingness to maybe even create it is greater than one would’ve hoped.
Matt:You would’ve thought there would’ve been a little bit more pushback on behalf of the customer. If you’re in a business that depends on customer trust and you’re fulfilling tens of thousands of requests from the FBI for private user information and you’re probably selling bulk information out the back door to subcontractors like Dataminr, which work with the CIA and other government agencies, I feel like there has to be some kind of capitalist impulse to not screw the customer that much. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
Walter:Is this capitalism anymore? Really? I mean we’ve been told for decades, really by the left, that corporate power is riding on top of political power. But that doesn’t seem to be what we’ve found. What we’ve found is that the bureaucrats and the law enforcement people, and the intelligence people and so on, even the party people have the ability to really command the direction of these private companies. They’re not in fact taking orders from them. They are overriding what one would think is the capitalist interest in serving the customer with a political interest in maintaining narratives and pro-government attitudes and so on.
Matt:Yeah. And, I think there was a key moment in 2017 where you have the Silicon Valley culture that’s led by people like Mark Zuckerberg who are nerds who spend their lives coding and in front of a computer screen. And that culture I think leaned in a libertarian direction for a long time. It grew out of hacker agriculture. I think they don’t have a strong natural pull towards cooperation with the government. And then Trump got elected, and these companies started to be hauled before Congress, and people like Mark Zuckerberg, who had been very valuable in saying things like I don’t want to be editor-in-chief of the universe, like, we’re not in the news business. We’re a tech company and blah, blah, blah. They very quickly changed their tune. And this is one of the things that bothered me about this recent hit piece that the Washington Post did, trying to take a swipe at the Twitter files in this oblique way where they were saying that the January 6th committee held back valuable evidence that would’ve incriminated the tech companies out of fear of confronting powerful tech companies, which is all they’ve done since 2017.
They’ve had hearing, after hearing where they drag these people in front of the Hill and demand that they come up with solutions for ending the sewing of discord. You have Republicans like Tom Cotton even telling Twitter, well, I hope that you’ll reconsider your stance about working with Dataminr and quote, unquote friendly intelligence services like the United States. I think they did change their tune a little bit, right then, in 2017 they just gave up their independence, and it’s been this cooperative relationship ever since. It’s no longer really a private industry. I think you’re right about that. It’s some kind of hybrid something or other. Where the only utility of the fact that they’re even private businesses is that they can run around the First Amendment, I guess.
Walter:Well, and also they can run around our defenses in the sense that we think we are using some communication service, some social media platform on which we’re sharing cat photos and talking to grandma or ordering books, food, doing internet searches and so on. We think we’re conducting daily life when in fact, we are providing data at the very least, the opportunity to be manipulated at the most.
The hallmarks of private business are competition. They don’t seem to compete. These companies seem to all sing to the same tune of customer service. They may be serving their customers outwardly, but inside they’re narcing on their customers.
Matt:That was another shocking thing about these. I mean, not to go back to the files too much, but you have these industry meetings where all these companies are sitting in on briefings headed by the FBI and the DHS where they’re going to tell them what’s what? And here’s how we’re going to send you content moderation requests. You would think one of the companies would say what? We’re going to do a commercial saying we’re not going to do this, and our competitors do. That would be the smart thing to do if you were just trying to make money and win market share.
Walter:Apple did that. Apple has an ongoing branding theme that goes up and down in visibility, that they are the privacy company, that your privacy is everything to the Apple Company, Apple Corporation. I don’t trust it and see no reason to believe it, but as recently as yesterday, I was doing something on Apple adjusting some setting, and I got some propaganda about how much they cared about my privacy. But here’s the question. Why is Christopher Wray going to Switzerland to report that the FBI’s cooperation with private industry is making great strides? Who in Davos, or what about the international gathering there needs to hear that or wants to hear it? It’s like he’s going to report to the boss. Are they the boss? Why is he so confident that this represents good news to them?
Matt:It did sound a little bit like a progress report. The United States had been a little bit of a holdout on this front. On the speech front, on their resistance to cooperation with government front. There was a, I’ll have to look up what it’s called again, but all of the companies signed an agreement with the EU in early 2016 in the wake of bombings in Brussels and Paris ISIS bombings that basically gave the government of the European Union more of a say in content moderation. And the United States lagged behind. They didn’t have a formal agreement like that. We also don’t have hate speech laws, which we’re going to get to in a minute, because that’s another thing. So maybe the United States was the outlier, or maybe we were the country that hadn’t yet secured a formal agreement with all of its tech subsidiaries.
Walter:Well, we are a country with a bill of rights, after all, those pesky first 10 amendments to the Constitution. And so, I guess that might slow our progress toward total Borg diversification. But Chris Wray is happy to report that seems to be dealt with. And as you say, there was another person at the conference, the European Commission Vice President, I believe she was or is. And she had something to report about our future in the United States too, even though she doesn’t speak English all that well. But she was glad to report that quote unquote illegal hate crime or hate speech laws, I guess she meant, are coming to the US soon.
Matt:Yeah. Let’s listen to this clip because this one actually was scary to me. I had a physiological fright reaction to this. This is European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova at the World Economic Forum in Davos. And she’s speaking to, of course, the illustrious moderator Brian Stelter.
Vera Jourova: We need the people who understand the language and the case law in the country because what qualifies as hate speech, as illegal hate speech, which you will have soon also in US, I think that we have a strong reason why we have this in the criminal law. We need the platforms to simply work with special language and to identify such cases the AI would be too dangerous.
Matt:We have to find out who that other person was at that conference, because there’s a moment where she puts her hand on the knee of someone sitting to her left when she mentions hate speech laws, and she says, which you will have soon in America.
Walter:Right. And she mentioned, I believe just before that something called peace law, which you have to understand peace law in the country. Is that right?
Matt:Peace law? I thought, I thought maybe she went case law. It could be peace law.
Walter:I thought she said peace as opposed to hate so to speak. hmm. First, could she sound more like a Dresden brothel dominatrix than this? And when she laughs to assure the person next to her, which suggests that the person next to her is an American, it will soon be coming to your country, you get a sense that our democratic processes don’t really exist at all. That some VP of the European Union can promise the delivery of new laws to the United States. Ha ha.
Matt:Yeah, the laugh was really disturbing. It was like when you’re tripping when you see somebody laugh.
Walter:I feel like I’m tripping watching Davos. I have a general observation about Davos. They never disagree about anything. You’d think that while discussing the most allegedly important topics in the universe, the future of the planet -- which is their self-image, they think of themselves as somehow guaranteeing and guiding the future of the planet -- You’d think that they’d argue once in a while, you’d think they’d have a debate or two, but apparently all matters are settled. Maybe behind closed doors or up on the slopes at the top of the chairlift. And the face that they present is one of complete agreement. They each bring their little dish to the buffet. I’m going to get illegal hate speech laws in the United States. I’m going to bring greater cooperation between law enforcement and the private sector. I’m going to do X. And then they all like their opening presence go, oh, this is wonderful, beautiful. It’s just what I wanted. Medieval ecclesiastical conferences on the nature of the Trinity and so on had far more argument than you see at this thing. It’s like a trade fair for cars or something, it’s a trade fair for political power. They just stroke each other’s new models. It’s really disconcerting.
Matt:But this is, this is the pattern of everything. And modern western life. The only argument we ever are allowed to see is the stage-managed, left-right thing that they have on television. Again, going back to this, the thing about the Twitter files that I think strikes people is that this is the unvarnished discussion that people have before it’s processed through public relations professionals and before it’s smoothed over and made presentable to the public. This is how powerful people talk to each other in private. We never get to see it. You’ve mentioned before how much we Americans would admire the British parliamentary system, which could be so argumentative and wild in its back and forth.
But we don’t really have that in the states anymore, anywhere. We present this united front of opinion in the press. This has been a huge factor in how the media’s evolved in the last six or seven years. They have this new ethos of if you agree with one person about one thing, you are agreeing with them about everything. So you must not agree. You must not step off the reservation to agree with somebody who’s not on the right team, and which just gradually creates big herds of people who all agree about everything. And that’s not natural, is it?
Walter:Well, it makes you think that left-right political disagreement is a coliseum show for the people, but has very little to do with what goes on up at the top. And the other thing that it causes one to wonder is how they came to this agreement about how to run society. You’ll notice that this woman we just heard speak, talks about language as though it’s the great programming tool for society. They seem to agree on a cybernetic model for society. That if our programming is done correctly, and if illicit inputs are kept out of the process, the people will all helplessly move as a group in the direction they wish us to. They’re always talking about misinformation, disinformation, hate speech this and that. And it suggests that they see language as the preeminent tool for programming society in a manner which they find amenable. And it is odd to be part of this group, this great mass whose words and ideas are being adjudicated at the very top. They never ask writers, people who know the most about the languages spoken in different nations, what they think of this process. The experts aren’t consulted. Journalists aren’t consulted about the uses of language. We’re having the very instruments of thought and discovery, intellectual discovery crafted, sometimes confiscated from us.
Matt:By people who don’t know or don’t know the value of language
Walter:By people who speak bureaucratese, by people who don’t only not know language, but use it rather poorly and in fact, in a fashion,
Matt:Do violence to it.
Walter:Do absolute violence to it. We have things like a few weeks ago, Stanford University listing a long group of banned words or words they hope will be banned, at least in discourse at universities and so on.
Matt:It’s straight out of Orwell.
Walter:It’s obvious that Orwell created a document that they, in their inverted way, saw as a blueprint and as an owner’s manual for future society, because they couldn’t duplicate the findings of 1984 more perfectly than they do. But once again, I think they see themselves ultimately not as political actors, but as reality programmers. And they’re going to Davos to report on their successes so far on their plans for the future, and to give progress reports on the various enterprises they’re engaged in. And when they’re together, whether they’re an FBI director or a billionaire -- an FBI director doesn’t make that much money compared to a guy who flies in on his own private jet rather than ours, which Wray uses -- but they have a comedy, a fraternity, sorority that’s really striking. They seem to think they come from the same club, and I guess they do.
Matt:But they do, right? Christopher Wray has more of a guest pass, I guess, but politicians get to be in that club, and if they’re very good at it, they get to become permanent members like the Clintons, right? Or the Obamas. You eventually get to cash in on a grand scale if you stay in the game long enough. And then you become one of those aristocrats.
Walter:Basically. I noticed Joe Manchin is there, who I thought of as this bloody-minded representative of West Virginia populist sentiment, but wow, has he leapfrogged that role into that of senator of the world. Maybe his specifically political career is ending, and he’s going to become some kind of consultant in the great territory.
Matt:Yeah. He’ll go to work for BP or whatever it is, and become the VP of Global Communications or something, right? Or even sit on the board, or God knows what else. The playbook for this was mapped out years ago. Remember Billy Tauzin?
Walter:No, not a name I’m familiar with.
Matt:So he was a Democratic congressman from Louisiana mm-hmm. And he was one of the decisive votes in George W. Bush’s Prescription Drug Benefit Bill, which was a huge handout to the pharmaceutical industry. And he basically put together the bill, left Congress, and two weeks later became the head of the pharmaceutical lobbying arm for $2 million a year. And that’s the model. You do a little service in government, you leave and you get your NBA contract after that. It’s promised one way or the other. If you work in the SEC as the head of enforcement, then you go to Wilmer Hale or some law firm like that, Brown Rudnick, Sullivan Cromwell. What’s the one where both Holder and Lenny Brewer worked? It’s driving me crazy. I’ll remember it.
Walter:We’re going to need law firm trading cards if we’re to understand our future.
Matt:Perkins co, all these companies, right? You go and you get your $4 million a year partnership after you’ve done your tour as associate Attorney general or Attorney General. I mean, Eric Holder, they even kept his chair for him while he was Attorney General. The entire time he served.
Walter:Like MacArthur. They knew he’d be back. One person I saw at Davos was the head of Pfizer, Bourla. He was complaining about vaccine adoption and saying that the big problem with the vaccine endeavor worldwide is that it had become politicized. So why the hell, if he doesn’t want things politicized, why does he go to the premier political gathering on Earth? If he wants to be perceived as just a sincere avatar of health and wellness for the world, why would he go be among these people? It seems to be prima facia evidence that there’s something political about the vaccine. Now I might hesitate to say that, but he doesn’t hesitate to show it. And they’re all there. And I think that the maybe discouraging, or even awe-inspiring in a terrible way, nature of this spectacle for the average person is to see that they all get along. It’s us who don’t get along. It’s we who are fighting, and it’s we who are on the verge of Civil War III or whatever, Civil War II, but they just sit down and draw up a chair and slap each other’s knees. And they come from, whether it’s pharma, law enforcement, finance, green energy, the European Parliament, the British government, the American government, the whatever. My gosh, they get along. How much time have they been spending together? Do they ask after each other’s kids? I’m sure.
Matt:That’s a good point. When do they do that schmoozing? How do they do that schmoozing?
Walter:Yeah. They’re all old friends and there’s a sense of being excluded. I mean, people talk about populous resentment as the populous resentment as though it’s a disease. But is it not the logical consequence of having the velvet rope thrown down and having to stare in awe at these jet setters annually as they talk blithely about our fate? Another thing that a lot of the doom and gloomers on the internet picked up on from Davos was someone’s prediction -- and I did see it, so I can faithfully attest that it happened -- of a major large-scale cyber outage across the world that is coming in the next couple of years. It was faithfully predicted. You’re sitting at home, about to go to work and provide for your family or yourself. And you’re doing it against the headwind of the knowledge that a large-scale cyber outage is coming for the globe. Why not just quit now? The whole thing achieves, if this is its purpose, a sense of powerlessness in its audience, and it’s hard to believe that they’re not aware of that.
Matt:Also, how can they not be aware of the optics of it? Maybe they just think that not many people are paying attention to it, which I guess is true. But as an American, I listen to Vera Jourova talking about how, oh, you’re going to have hate speech laws in the US too soon. And my first reaction, I’m a relatively civilized person, I’ve never committed a crime, and I want to reach for an illegal slugger and go smash everything on that stage. And they’re surprised that there’s a populist reaction to this kind of dialogue.
Walter:Of course, Matt, those reactions are very convenient for them because what you sir hate, speech laws, unless they get some hate speech that allows them to enforce them and gain power from them, what good is a private-public partnership over the communication that happens on technology, unless a lot of it can be redlined and maybe even prosecuted someday. They really do thrive on the misbehavior of the peons. What they’re talking about is new tools for identifying and disciplining that misbehavior. So it’s not like disorder doesn’t feed them to some extent. So what should they care about? The optics? They’re not in the business of making a more peaceful, just, world except on paper. What they seem really interested in is figuring out how to leverage dissent and conflict in society.
Matt:Walter, if somebody came to you and said, why shouldn’t we have hate speech laws? What would your response to that be?
Walter:Well, I would say that they’ve got two words there, hate and speech, which are about as general and vague as can be. It’s like saying that they’re going to legislate against bad actions. Well what are bad? What’s bad, and what are actions? So, I wonder about the definition of the terms and their broadness. Secondly, I don’t know that speech itself as I define it, is the thing that we should be policing in the world. Speech does a lot of things for a novelist, it’s a way of describing reality. So, if I have characters conducting a conversation in a novel in which one is being hateful, or one is even a terrible villain say, and I make that villain charismatic, will I have a problem? A lot of speech is just the venting of internal mental pressure.
Should that be a problem for the person who vents? Should there not be some accommodation for when somebody feels in a bad mood or angry, they might talk differently? Then the whole thing simplifies human behavior to a point that is almost idiotic, and then it purports to want to change or abolish this behavior through some legal means as yet unspecified when they talk about hate speech laws as well. Are they going to be like speeding tickets, or are they going to be things that land you in solitary confinement? That too is left unaddressed. And finally, there’s the, as I said, the pesky problem of the First Amendment. I’m right now working on a screenplay about the founding Fathers, as it were, about the Revolutionary War, about 1776, and the press back then.
The press back then, and the newspapers, they were scurrilous. They were full of all kinds of often unsubstantiated charges against politicians and enemies of various kinds. They certainly had a lot of hate speech toward the King of England. In a society that may be dissatisfied with its situation, how do you express discontent without a certain amount of quote hate? So the reason I’m against it is that it all seems like a not very well-concealed attempt to govern the thoughts and behavior and expression and political beings of people. And hate will be defined by each microgeneration as it sees it. It’s a very different matter today than it was 10 years ago.
It will also probably be prosecuted retroactively because now that we have a permanent record, as it were of our utterances on computers and in the archives of social media and so on, and we’re seeing this now, we can be retroactively punished for things that offended codes of the moment that weren’t codes at the time the utterance took place. So the paralyzing self-consciousness for the human being of wondering, not only if something I say today will give offense to someone today, but will it ever possibly potentially give offense in the future, pretty much eliminates any spontaneity, any real candor in self-expression.
Matt:Yeah. Absolutely. And you’ve talked a lot about stochastic terrorism and the insidious and creepy line of thought that goes into this theory. Which is this idea that a person can be responsible for actions for inciting actions that are statistically predictable, but individually unpredictable, right? This is the way they define that. The significance of things like the banning of Donald Trump from Facebook and Twitter and other platforms, was that they had to expand the definition of what a violation was to make it all about the context, what they call the context surrounding at Twitter. So it’s not just what you say in the moment. It’s not just the individual tweet or Facebook post that might be offensive. It’s the entire context of who you are. Are you an influential political leader? Do you have lots of people listening to your words? Might they do something that is violent or crazy in response to your words? Might they do it after listening to you over the course of years? And so, even small things that you said five years ago might, when added to 5,000 other things you said subsequently might add up to a case,
Walter:Or this is the theory of collective guilt cubed. Because in collective guilt, we’re punished for the behavior of our neighbors. You come into a town where someone has done something bad and you shoot all of them, and you put all of them in jail. But, this is collective guilt over time and across society to a collective that you don’t even feel you belong to, merely by speaking and having your words broadcast, you are responsible for the behavior of people you’ve never met on into the future. I mean, this basically takes the concept of guilt and dissolves it completely in any normal sense of jurisprudence. Notice to whom it doesn’t apply. Hollywood could make a show called Dahmer and do the most graphic recreations of horrible crimes. And yet it seems to not fall under the purview of stochastic criminality.
“SUDDENLY, I felt so god-damned happy I wanted to stand up and sing. But all I could think of was ‘bon voyage.’ What a phrase, that. All our lives we're knocking about mumbling that phrase which the French have given us, but do we ever take the bon voyage? Do we realize that even when we walk to the bistro, or to the corner grocer, that it's a voyage from which we may never return? If we keenly felt that, that each time we sailed out of the house we were embarking on a voyage, would it make our lives a little different? While we make the little trip to the corner, or to Dieppe, or to Newhaven, or wherever it may be, the earth too is making her little trip, where nobody knows, not even the astronomers. But all of us, whether we move from here to the corner or from here to China, are making a voyage with our mother the earth, and the earth is moving with the sun and with the sun the other planets too are moving...the whole firmament is moving and with it, if you listen closely, you will hear ‘Bon Voyage! Bon Voyage!’ And if you get still as a needle and don't ask a lot of foolish questions, you will realize that to "make a voyage" is only an idea, that there is nothing in life but voyage, voyage within voyage, and that death is not the last voyage but the beginning of a new voyage and nobody knows why or whither, but ‘bon voyage’ just the same! I wanted to stand up and sing that in the key of Ut-Mineur. I saw the whole universe like a network of tracks, some deep and invisible like the planetary grooves, and in this vast misty slithering to and fro, in the ghost-like passage from one realm to another, I saw all things animate and inanimate waving to one another, the cockroaches to the cockroaches, the stars to the stars, man to man, and God to God. All aboard for the big trek to nowhere, but ‘Bon Voyage’ just the same! From osmosis to cataclysm, all a vast, silent, and perpetual movement! To stand still within the big crazy movement, to move with the earth however she wobbles, to join up with the cockroaches and the stars and the gods and men, that's voyaging!”
— Henry Miller
NANCY PELOSI, LIBERATED AND LOVING IT
by Maureen Dowd
It’s not a pretty sight when pols lose power. They wilt, they crumple, they cling to the vestiges, they mourn their vanished entourage and perks. How can their day in the sun be over? One minute they’re running the world and the next, they’re in the room where it doesn’t happen.
Donald Trump was so freaked out at losing power that he was willing to destroy the country to keep it.
I went to lunch with Nancy Pelosi at the Four Seasons to find out how she was faring, now that she has gone from being one of the most powerful women in the world — second in line to the presidency — and one of the most formidable speakers in American history to a mere House backbencher.
I was expecting King Lear, howling at the storm, but I found Gene Kelly, singing in the rain. Pelosi was not crying in her soup. She was basking as she scarfed down French fries, a truffle-butter roll and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts — all before the main course. She was literally in the pink, ablaze in a hot-pink pantsuit and matching Jimmy Choo stilettos, shooting the breeze about Broadway, music and sports. Showing off her four-inch heels, the 82-year-old said, “I highly recommend suede because it’s like a bedroom slipper.”
Fans dropped by our booth to thank Pelosi, and women in the restaurant gave me thumbs-ups, simply because I was sitting with her.
“I wonder, Maureen, girl to girl, I keep thinking I should feel a little more, I don’t know,” she hesitated, looking for the right word. Over the course of our conversation, she said the word was “regretful,” and she thought about it in church, and during morning and night prayers, but she just wasn’t feeling it. “It’s just the time, and that’s it. Upward and onward. I’m thrilled with the transition. I think it was beautiful.”
Her daughter Alexandra, a documentary filmmaker, assured me that it’s not an act. “I can tell you, in my 52 years of being alive on this earth, I have never had the kind of weekend I’m having right now,” she said last Sunday. “My mother is at peak happiness. I’ve never seen her like this. It’s like she’s floating through the air. It’s fascinating for my kids because they don’t know this person.
“I think you want to enjoy being old. I don’t think you want to spend your final days fighting with Kevin McCarthy about how many seats you get on Appropriations.”
Before I could broach the humiliating spectacle of McCarthy abasing himself to the loonies on the far right and being tortured by preposterous Matt Gaetz, Nancy Pelosi brought up her successor.
She looked at me, her brown eyes widening, and said: “I’m sad for Kevin that he couldn’t do that in a way that brought a little more dignity to the House of Representatives. It’s strange.” She added, “What happened was inexplicable.”
The woman is, as her friend and fellow California lawmaker Anna Eshoo said, “satin and steel.” I tried to keep a straight face at Pelosi’s satiny solicitude. She had, after all, called the Jello-spined McCarthy “a moron” in 2021 after he criticized the Capitol physician’s mask mandate.
I dryly asked the devout Catholic if she was praying for McCarthy, the way she once prayed for her nemesis Donald Trump.
“Yeah, I was, because I was praying for the House,” she said. “It was just stunning that he wouldn’t be ready. You know what your challenges are. Just be ready. What they were seeing, whether they realized or not, was an incredible shrinking speakership.
“Really, in order to even honor — ‘honor’ isn’t the word — in order to recognize some of the requests that were being made, you have to have the leverage to get the job done. They were undoing his ability to do what they were asking him to do. That was most unfortunate. I don’t want to see the job turn into something else. It has to be the speakership.”
Did she give McCarthy any advice?
Yes, she said; before the first vote, when he seemed confident, she told him, “Get it done.”
But for four long days — days in which McCarthy was brought low by the ugly forces he had helped unleash — he couldn’t get it done.
“Well,” she observed, popping another chocolate in her mouth, “you do have to know how to count.”
At one point during the later rounds of voting in the McMarathon, Eshoo said, Pelosi asked her for a pen. “She grabbed part of the newspaper, and she was running the numbers herself,” Eshoo said. “She had the numbers before the numbers ever appeared. When I left the Capitol that night, I wish I had kept the rumpled newspaper used by the master of numbers.”
Pelosi said she found it “particularly concerning” when McCarthy “went up to Gaetz on the floor. That seemed to be unnecessary.” She said, why not “work it out in the bathroom” or some other private space. “To me, it was indicative of the disrespect they had for the Congress of the United States, that they would not have had their act together. It was a cause of wonder that they had to take 15 votes. How does that bode for what comes next?”
Pelosi did not accept an invitation to sit with her protégé, the new minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, for the speaker votes. She did not want to be the Godfather whispering in the ear of Michael Corleone. She chose to sit near the back with her old friends in the California delegation, Eshoo, Doris Matsui and Mike Thompson.
Pelosi had vowed not to hover over the new leadership, telling reporters, “I have no intention of being the mother-in-law in the kitchen saying that ‘my son doesn’t like the stuffing that way — this is the way we make it in our family.’”
Some in the room felt that Steny Hoyer, her old deputy, looked needy, still sitting up front behind the new leadership.
I asked Pelosi if she had to persuade Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, her old No. 3, to step back and make room for a new generation.
“I’m not responsible for them,” she said. “No.”
Eshoo said Pelosi does not need to cling because her tenure was “jaw-dropping with a real sense of awe about the place and who came before us.” Her reputation, Eshoo said, “will stand the way the Washington Monument stands. They can’t chisel away at that.”
Not that there weren’t those who tried. For Republican candidates, Fox News and the right, she was a “Satan” to rally against, the epitome of Democratic evil. “S.N.L.” caricatured her as an uber-lib in 2006, with Kristen Wiig, as Pelosi, talking to a pair of chain-and-leather-clad aides, one with a gag in his mouth. But the far left of her caucus never made things easy for her, either, and some moderate Democrats even made a pathetic stab at deposing her. She never won over pundits, as Tip O’Neill did, despite accomplishments to match his.
I asked Pelosi to compare working with President Barack Obama and President Biden.
They were both “Senate-centric,” she said, but “they connected with the American people in different ways.”
“Obama in a more Obama-esque way” — here she waved her hand over her head — “and Joe in a real regular-Joe way” — here she waved her hand over her heart. “Both of them are quite wonderful. I always say to people: ‘You have to know your Why. Why do you think you should be the one? What is your vision?’ And you have to know your What — how to get it done.’ They’re both good at that.” In the case of Obama’s signature health care plan, it required all Pelosi’s legislative legerdemain to provide the What to his Why and power it into law.
Even before Pelosi had a chance to turn over the gavel, the inmates had taken over the asylum. The madness includes scenes of the country teetering on the edge of financial default; Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene throwing down in the congressional ladies’ room; the backlash against giving spots on the Homeland Security and Oversight Committees to Greene — who said that if she had been running the Jan. 6 attack, “we would have won” and it would have been armed, and who blamed “space lasers” she said were controlled by a prominent Jewish family for a wildfire in California; and, of course, the fabulist follies of the Untalented Mr. Ripley, George Santos, the anti-drag queen/alleged former drag queen whose most recent nadir was getting accused of pilfering money from a disabled veteran’s dog.
While McCarthy tried to quell the chaos, Pelosi was busy ruminating on whether she should wear a blue and yellow sweater (Golden State Warriors colors) to take her teenage grandsons to the game against the Wizards that afternoon; they were also going to the White House Tuesday to watch the championship team be honored. When Alexandra complained that her kids would miss school if Mimi, as the boys call her, took them to the Warriors’ celebration, Mimi replied, “This is the White House with Steph Curry.” End of discussion.
Even Pelosi’s old sparring partners have bowed before her mastery of politics. She was regarded by many on the Hill as an Armani dilettante when she arrived in Congress in 1987, an affluent San Francisco housewife with a frozen smile, a well-connected daughter of a former Baltimore congressman and mayor. But she is finishing up her career as “one tough son of a bitch,” as the former Speaker John Boehner told me. He calls the first Madam Speaker the best speaker of the modern era; he even cried at her portrait-unveiling at the Capitol last month.
She knew how to raise money and get her candidates elected, he said, and “she held her caucus together in an unbelievable fashion.” He added, “When push came to shove, she just whipped them in line. I don’t have a mean bone in my body. All right? I just don’t. She does.” He chuckled with admiration for his old adversary.
Abigail Spanberger, a Democratic lawmaker from Virginia, saw the steely side of Pelosi after she co-sponsored legislation to ban current members of Congress and their families from trading individual stocks. Spanberger claimed that Pelosi stalled until the bill was moribund. (It has now been reintroduced.) Pelosi — whose husband holds a fortune in stock — argued that lawmakers should be able to participate in the free-market economy.
Eshoo recalled the time in 2019 that Pelosi (in an interview with me) brushed back A.O.C. and the Squad, saying that they might rule on Twitter but in the House, “They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
The part of Alexandra Pelosi’s HBO documentary about her mother that got the most attention was film from Jan. 6, when the speaker said about President Trump, moments before the mob in the hallways screamed for her blood, “If he comes, I’m going to punch him out.” It was a raw moment for Nancy Pelosi, described by Eshoo as “a lady with both an inner and an outer refinement about her.”
Nancy and Alexandra Pelosi say they’re not sure whether she actually would have thrown a haymaker if he had invaded her turf. “Perhaps we’ll never know,” Alexandra said. As speaker, Pelosi did offer a master class, with a fiery orange coat, wagging finger, dramatic ripping and sarcastic clapping, in how a woman could spar with Trump. His nickname for her, “Nervous Nancy,” did not hit the mark because, as Eshoo said, at critical moments “she never blinked or had a white knuckle.”
Alexandra agreed: “I’ve never seen her crack. It’s in her DNA. She doesn’t cry, she doesn’t whine, she doesn’t throw tantrums. Her motto is, as the Marines say, ‘Embrace the suck’.”
I asked Pelosi how the savage attack on her husband of nearly 60 years, Paul, had affected her decision to step down. The beating with a hammer by a QAnon believer left him looking like Frankenstein under his dashing hat, Alexandra said, and with an incapacitated hand that the doctors thought he might lose. His daughter said he has handled it gracefully because he’s “a really cool cat.”
“I was probably going to go anyway,” Nancy Pelosi said. But, she added, “say we won by 20 votes and it was a big thing, I might have stayed. It’s true that I had two thoughts in mind when I went to the floor, to stay or not to stay. It was time to move on.”
She said that in 2016: “If Hillary had won, I could have left. But I was not going to let Donald Trump have his way with the government.” She was also irritated that she was constantly asked if she was too old for the job when Mitch McConnell, who’s about the same age, wasn’t.
She said that she believed the Democrats could have held onto the House in November if top New York pols had realized that the key issue in that state was crime.
“That is an issue that had to be dealt with early on, not 10 days before the election,” Pelosi said, adding about Kathy Hochul, “The governor didn’t realize soon enough where the trouble was.”
Returning to the subject of her husband, she said that it was unimaginable having her home turned into “a crime scene” and then getting hit with sick conspiracy theories about Paul, and Republicans making fun of the attack.
“The fact that they were after me and then they hit him,” Pelosi said, looking stricken. “He’s a strong person, athletic. This has been tough. It’s going to be about three or four more months before he’s really back to normal.”
Alexandra, always the id to her mother’s superego, was more blunt: “I think that weighed really heavy on her soul. I think she felt really guilty. I think that really broke her. Over Thanksgiving, she had priests coming, trying to have an exorcism of the house and having prayer services.”
Alexandra has always been outspoken about the personal sacrifice for the family that her mother’s public service entails, given all the demonization; the daughter teased her parents that her mother had turned their last name into a curse word.
“It’s a miracle that this kind of thing never happened sooner,” Alexandra said. “We were always worried. It’s like your worst fear coming to life.”
Now that Nancy Pelosi has made way for fresh leadership, does she think President Biden should do the same? He would be 86 by the time he finished another term. (Chuck Grassley was just re-elected to the Senate at 89 and fractured his hip this month.)
She said that Biden “has done a great job” and will make his own decision on whether to run again. She said he will have to weigh the pros and cons: “Is age a positive thing for him? No.” But she said that age is “a relative thing,” noting that she met recently with centenarian Norman Lear and he was sharp as a tack. On the plus side, she said, “I think Jill is ready to go, for him to run.”
Does Pelosi think Biden is the only one who can beat Trump in 2024?
“No,” she replied. “I think we have other great candidates when the time comes.”
I said that some Democrats are rethinking a Biden re-election run because they are upset over the slippery, inept way the White House has handled the discovery of classified documents from Biden’s days as vice president in multiple places — including the Wilmington, Del., garage that houses his green 1967 Corvette. They worry that it neutralizes Democrats’ ability to go after Trump on the issue, especially after the president cavalierly said on Thursday that he has “no regrets” about it.
Pelosi said that her long years on the House Intelligence Committee taught her that there’s a big difference between the sort of “obstruction” on documents that Trump engaged in and the way Biden “openly put forward” the documents.
Also, she said, it’s important to know, “What is the nature of the documents? Maybe there’s one word in there that shouldn’t be.” Or, she said, is it in the “strictest” classified category?
I noted that even analysts on MSNBC were saying that the White House’s messaging was terrible, and Pelosi replied: “I’m not a big fan of MSNBC. I love some individuals there, but. …”
Pelosi’s accomplishments are stunning. Besides getting Obama’s health care bill passed, she saved the economy when she forced through the bank bailout in 2008. She shepherded the spending bill last year with a historic investment in climate change. She was that rare, courageous lawmaker who fought the Iraq invasion, while other top Democrats inexplicably went along with the tragic decision.
When I asked other women in journalism what they thought I should ask Pelosi, they all said the same thing: “How does she do it?”
She climbed to the top in a “Boys will be boys” universe while raising five kids she bore in six years. She said she had many 20-hour days as speaker, days that were often scheduled in five-minute increments, according to aides, and she still tirelessly works and travels around the globe and, while she doesn’t drink, she and her husband like to socialize. And on top of all this, she manages to stay meticulously groomed, wearing masks that matched her outfits during the Covid siege, and sticking with her stilettos to briskly walk the Capitol’s marble floors, even as women who are 20 years younger phase out their high heels.
“You’re a freak of nature,” I told her.
She agreed: “I’m not saying everybody’s like me because I am a little bit freakish. I have to say I really feel quite blessed in that regard.”
In her daughter’s documentary, there’s a funny scene where Pelosi does housework while she listens to a pandemic briefing from Mike Pence and members of the Trump administration. She is clearly not impressed with their strategy on Covid. After fulsomely thanking the vice president, she puts him on mute and asks Alexandra, who’s behind the camera, “Am I a bitch or what?”
Pelosi laughed when I asked about it. “I did my rugs,” she said. “I did my kitchen. I made my bed. And he’s still talking.”
She credits her energy to Italian genes and dark chocolate. She has even started using her famous sweet tooth to avoid uncomfortable questions.
When I told her I’d pulled a muscle doing yoga, she smiled. “See? I keep away from all exercise.” She power walks, but her daughter said that turns into “walks while taking power calls.” Alexandra once saw her mother on an exercise bike, eating chocolate ice cream out of the container while talking on the telephone and lightly cycling.
When a Fox News reporter asked Pelosi in the hall of Congress recently about how the president has handled the classified document kerfuffle, she nibbled on a cookie, indicating she couldn’t talk because her mouth was full. It evoked the days when Ronald Reagan would pretend he didn’t hear tough questions because of the whirring blades of Marine One.
I thought of Pelosi’s indefatigability when another of the world’s most prominent women, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, said she would quit before the upcoming election because she was out of energy and resolve. The inspiring and charming 42-year-old, who has a 4-year-old daughter and has been in office five years, said she does not think you should stay on the hot tin roof of politics unless “you have a full tank and a bit in reserve.”
If I were Pelosi, I would be supine on a chaise in my St. Helena vineyard watching BritBox. But, over a double espresso, she reeled off some recent weekend activities, stacking them Jenga-style.
She was back in San Francisco the weekend before last. On that Sunday, she had a thank-you event for supporters. Then she went to the 49ers game — “which we won” — and later swung by the San Francisco Jazz Festival to see trumpeter Chris Botti.
She spent last weekend at a hotel in New York. She and Paul went to see “Leopoldstadt” on Saturday afternoon and took Alexandra’s sons to the closing show of “The Music Man” on Sunday. The family went to Balthazar Saturday night, where Paul and Nancy previewed many of the songs from the Meredith Willson show. (Paul once played Prof. Harold Hill in a charity show.)
“They have joy for the first time since the attack,” Alexandra said. “We sat there for three hours having all these courses. She never pulled out her phone. We used to sit down and tell the waiter: ‘Oh, we’re in a rush’.”
Last month, Pelosi invited me, along with several other women reporters, to lunch in the Board of Education Room, which was once, as Jackie Calmes, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, put it, “the Capitol’s most historic man cave.” Earlier speakers, like “Cactus Jack” Garner and Sam Rayburn, both from Texas, had invited younger lawmakers, like Lyndon Johnson, for drinks, cards and bull sessions.
Opposite a painting of the Texas state seal, Pelosi had ordered up two new frescoes of her own — the Golden Gate Bridge and suffragists marching outside the Capitol in 1919.
When she came to the House in 1987, determined to sound the alarm about AIDS, she said the men in power would dismiss the women with remarks like, “Why don’t the women just make a list of the things they’d like to see done and give us the list?” She revealed that she still feels the sting of sexism — “a thousand nicks a day, even though people may not realize it or intend it” — and slyly said of the men who tried to hamper her political rise, “Poor babies.” She’s planning a memoir “to set the record straight.”
As we left the Four Seasons, Pelosi showed me a turquoise ring she was wearing given to her by Afghan female artisans and said she “would like to see Congress be a stronger voice for women in the world.” She also said she would like to help the women in Congress in any way she could.
Won’t she still be a celebrity, even without her old title and big staff and wide balcony?
“I was a woman of great power, and now I’ll be a woman of great influence,” she said. “Whatever that happens to be.”
(New York Times)