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ANOTHER WEAK FRONT will bring light rain and high elevation snow to the area on Friday. Colder temperatures are expected by Tuesday of next week with more light precipitation. (NWS)
It was a hard fought game in Covelo, but the girls ended up losing. I want to say thank you to Coach Toohey for getting the warm up shirts done in a short period of time.
Covelo was retiring a player’s jersey that went missing in 2018 and still has never been found. They were honoring the family by retiring her jersey. Our girls team wore shirts to support the family. When I was leaving the gym, I had a man run up behind me and stop me. The man was the uncle of the girl that went missing. He said that he wanted to shake my hand and just say thank you for what our girls did by wearing the shirt. The coach said that we showed nothing but “CLASS” by making this show of support.. He wanted to make sure that I told our girls thank you from the family.
ED NOTE: Khadijah Britton was taken at gunpoint in front of witnesses by a career criminal called Negie Fallis. Her remains have never been found. Fallis has been in and out of jail ever since.
CALTRANS WANTS YOU for a Boonville Equipment Operator
Looking for a great career opportunity? We’ve got a job opening for a Caltrans Equipment Operator I (JC-354561) in Caltrans District 1! This is a full-time position located in Boonville (Mendocino County).
Under general direction of a Caltrans Maintenance Supervisor (CMS) or designee, employee operates equipment identified as Category 2 used by the assigned unit. Works individually or with a crew performing tasks related to highway maintenance work.
Operates Category 2 equipment used by the assigned unit including but not limited to, dump trucks, backhoe, loaders, mowers, brush chippers, rollers, forklift, emulsion kettles.
Employee would accomplish tasks normally performed by assigned unit, including but not limited to, paving, shoulder grading, mowing, ditch cleaning, dig outs, pavement patching, repair or replacement of signs, markers, fence, guardrail, clean culverts, traffic control, lane closures, litter removal, dispose of animal carcasses, maintenance of roadside rest areas and other duties that would be assigned to a Highway Maintenance Worker or Landscape Maintenance Worker.
Equipment care and Record Keeping: cleans, makes minor repairs and services equipment. Keeps records of time reporting, equipment pre-op/post-op, material use and other pertinent records.
Employee may travel out of town on per diem for training, meetings and other job-related duties.
If properly licensed and equipment qualified, employee may operate Class A equipment during times of emergency or unexpected/unplanned work load increases.
This job posting is open until filled. For the job description and to apply, click the link below (DO NOT send applications to Caltrans District 1 on Facebook): https://www.calcareers.ca.gov/Cal.../Jobs/JobPosting.aspx...
Covering Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, and Mendocino Counties, District 1 is a great place to work, and can help provide a work/life balance with activities for the whole family. https://youtu.be/KL60isfvi1s
AV SPORTS SCHEDULES AND CALENDAR
Here is a link to the "living documents" containing our sports schedules and calendar: docs.google.com/presentation/d/18HK9FeDQyDwjanP8e8QlHMnbG2YfLdRU0jORSIjiRKI/edit?usp=sharing
Any and all updates I include will be located at these links.
Upcoming changes will include:
Change of date for Baseball/Softball games at Technology High School
Addition of Junior High Soccer schedule
Feel free to share them out to Parents and the community.
PS - if you notice any mistakes, contradictions, or other issues, please let me know!
John W Toohey <email@example.com>
Anderson Valley Jr./Sr. High School
Teacher - Athletic Director - Head Football Coach
THE COUNTY OF MENDOCINO is seeking individuals interested in contracting to serve as live-in caretaker at Indian Creek Park located on Highway 128 in Philo, CA. This position is seasonal, from April through October and requires the contractor have a recreational vehicle. The caretaker is expected to work at least 5 days a week, including every weekend and holiday. In return, the caretaker is paid a $100 stipend monthly; allowed use of a campground space and has access to free utilities. A candidate questionnaire and a list of example duties, including insurance requirements necessary to contract with the County can be found online at mendocinocounty.org/government/parks.
For consideration, please email your completed questionnaire to firstname.lastname@example.org before 5:00pm, on Friday, March 17, 2023.
THE HAWK SOARS!
Universal Perspectives on KZYX Thursday 7pm
Please join host Chris Skyhawk for Universal Perspectives this Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7PM PDT on KZYX www.kzyx.org when he will be continuing the series: Surviving late stage Capitalism: What’s next? His guest will be Tiokasin Ghosthorse.
Ghosthorse is a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation of South Dakota, As a member of the Center for Humans and Nature he is an international speaker on Peace, Indigenous and Mother Earth perspective. He is also a Boarding School Survivor, a musician, and the host of First Voices Radio, he will discuss how language shapes our reality, and how traditional indigenous wisdom might offer us views of new realities that we can collectively shape.
KZYXfm can be found at 90.7/91.5fm, and on the web at www.kzyx.org
AV UNIFIED’S SPORTS TICKET EQUITY COMPLAINT
Re: Equity Complaint
Dear Members of the CIF Federated Council:
My office represents the Anderson Valley Unified School District (“District”). On behalf of the District, we file this Equity Complaint against the California Interscholastic Federation (“CIF”). The District requests that this complaint be resolved under the Uniform Complaint Procedures (“UCP”) found in the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, sections 4600-4687.1
The District recently became aware of policies that apply across the CIF that discriminate against players and their families on the basis of national origin and income. Specifically, once a local school reaches the playoffs, high ticket prices and mandatory credit card usage act as barriers to players’ families attending sporting events. Required ticket prices and credit card usage disproportionately impact low-income families and families whose native language is not English. The District believes that these policies and practices are in violation of law and CIF policies.
I know this discrimination cannot be intentional. CIF’s mission statement reflects a desire to promote equity, including equal opportunities without regard to race, gender, and ethnicity “within all aspects of the athletic program.” CIF’s overall philosophy is to provide a “fundamentally fair and equitable framework in which interscholastic athletic competition can take place.” Moreover, as you know, California law places a high value on parental participation in school-based sports, as evidenced by rights granted in Labor Code section 230.8.
The District Superintendent, Louise Simson, raised her concerns with these policies and practices in writing to Pat Cruickshank on November 7, 2022, and with the entire North Coast Section at a meeting on January 27, 2023. Both Ms. Simson’s letter and her prepared remarks are attached to this complaint. There has been no follow-up and it does not appear that Mr. Cruickshank nor the North Coast Section is addressing Ms. Simson’s concerns as a formal complaint regarding equity in CIF programming. Accordingly, this formal complaint is filed with the CIF Federated Council as it does not appear that the North Coast Section is going to take action to resolve the District’s concerns or even to further investigate the concerns.
The District has several specific requests:
1. The District requests that the CIF act in accordance with Education Code section 220 and its non-discrimination policy2 and ensure that all signage for playoff games is bilingual and culturally appropriate. Specifically, ticket fee posters should be prepared in appropriate languages for the community in which the games are played.
2. The District requests that ticket prices are set in line with CIF’s Financial Principals and Audit Policy, which provides that: “The CIF should improve the degree to which participation in high school athletics are available to students of all economic and social stations.” Current ticket prices reflect a cost of attendance that is reflective of an hour’s work at minimum wage. This is too great a cost for parents. The District has three requests to fix this inequity:
a. Any low-income school that makes a request could receive two free passes per family per playoff game for student athletes so parents/guardians can attend the game. This would be at the expense of CIF. These tickets would be valid at home and away game and no student’s family would be turned away due to overreservation by the credit card ticketing process.
b. CIF will provide an additional 30 free tickets upon request by the school for families that are on free and reduced lunch programs that attend home and away games.
c. Any district requesting the accommodation will be allowed by CIF to have a cash and credit card gate at all times.
d. All schools hosting games must have a cash gate and must permit visiting schools to use that gate, including not selling out all tickets via online ticketing prior to the game.
The District is hopeful that CIF will look into and resolve this complaint swiftly and in time for the spring playoff season.
Jennifer E. Nix, General Counsel
School & College Legal Services of California
* * *
Dear Anderson Valley Community,
Some good news.
Our septic contractor related to me, we should have bathrooms open at the high school in a few days. That’s good! This is a temporary fix and the field is shut down until late Spring, but it will let our kids use a real toilet. Many thanks to Coach Toohey, Matt Bullington, and numerous parents for the fairgrounds workaround for the baseball season.
In a “thank goodness” grateful moment, which I do often, I am appreciative that staff members from the Office of Public School Construction have agreed to make a district site visit from Sacramento on Friday, February 17. I assure you that does not happen, unless there is political pressure to make it so. Your amazing efforts contacting our congressional and state offices have made this so.
I am going to make a big ask for construction support beyond the septic, so keep up the pressure. We will be doing a full day tour of all the health and safety issues at both sites. I am also incredibly grateful to one of my mentors, Julie Boesch, for calling together a strike team of experts on how to approach our funding needs. We need way more help than septic replacement. Make your ask big. We should look like any other school.
Folks this matters. Send the same email to all three people, but send an email. Talk about health and safety.
So grateful that you rallied up for our kids. Keep those letters going.
- Jared Huffman: https://huffman.house.gov/contact/email-me
- Jim Wood: https://a02.asmdc.org/contact
- Mike Macguire: https://sd02.senate.ca.gov/contact/email
Louise Simson, Superintendent
Anderson Valley Unified School District
Every Student • Every Possibility • No Matter What
by Mark Scaramella
The Board of Supervisors spent most of their Tuesday afternoon meeting discussing the County's extremely restrictive rules about “tree removal,” aka “vegetation modification,” for pot grow permits. At present the rules say that trees can't be removed unless they are dead or a safety hazard, and if a grower removes a single tree they have to prove that was the case, subjective as that may be.
When Supervisor Ted Williams asked the Board's grape rep Glenn McGourty what the grape growing industry would look like with rules like those imposed on pot, McGourty replied, “It would be pretty small.”
The item under consideration was a slightly less restrictive “veg-mod” rule. As an example of how ridiculous the rule and its application have become, long-time local pot attorney Hannah Nelson described the “veg-mod hell” that one of her legitimate permit applicant clients, Ms. Teresa Cisco of Willits, has found herself in.
Hannah Nelson: “It's a sad story. She has really hung in there. Originally she and her husband had a 25-plant garden prior to the permitting process. 2500 square feet, outdoors. It was next to their house. They were following the water board rules and they entered this program [in 2017] and they hired an environmental scientist to come out and evaluate to make sure everything was good. They were told that the garden next to their house was too close to an outlet for their pond. So they moved over to an area that had been partially burnt. They didn't remove any trees to create that area. Eventually trees fell. They were told that the fallen trees could not be removed because the ordinance says ‘no tree removal.’ It doesn't say no standing tree removal. I kid you not. Additionally, they have dead trees existing and standing all over. But in the satellite image they were flagged because the satellite image did not show those trees as dead. I have another client who was completely burned out by a fire and the satellite image didn't show all the sticks and burnt things and they were flagged. But because Ms. Cisco’s garden was in a new location, and it was after the ordinance, because they moved the garden from here to several hundred feet away, that was no longer allowed. They were also told that a group of trees at a turnaround on their property where you could go to the garden or the house — it's relatively close in — they removed those trees for fire safety and management. Some of them were dead and some were not. They were told that it was to benefit the cultivation garden which was nearby because it might remove the shading. I had somebody calculate that the sun doesn't move that way and it didn't do that. But it still wasn't good enough. They were still in Veg Mod Hell. The trees have not been removed. Additionally, I have been told, Why haven't other dead trees been removed on their property? Well, I think the answer is pretty clear. When you have to go in an area and pass by dead trees, you are concerned about trees that are dead and starting to lean.”
Supervisor John Haschak: “In that case wouldn't this new less restrictive proposal give them some clearance?”
Nelson: “Not according to what staff presented today, because they moved their cultivation site and trees were removed even though it was for a different purpose. Staff does not believe that it was for that purpose. They lost the photographs. She had taken a picture with a cell phone at the time and the cell phone blew up and they didn't have cloud saving. They actually printed out the picture because they were being inspected by code enforcement for a different issue. Code enforcement dealt with them and had nothing to say about trees, nothing to say about anything. And she got rid of the picture! Didn't need it anymore! Well guess what? Now she needs it.”
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, speaking in rebuttal to Biden's committee-written State of the Union speech last night, said the political division now is “crazy vs. normal,” a totally wacky thing to say given the number of spectacular nut cases in her Republican Party. I think both parties are utterly contemptible, but contemptible in different ways, alike in their venality and devotion to the darkest forces in our terminally fragged country.
OCCASIONAL AVA CONTRIBUTOR William J. Hughes tells us that he’s written a new novel (published 2020) entitled “Yellowstone.” It’s available in paperback online (Thriftbooks, Barnes&Noble, eBay, Amazon, Walmart, etc.).
DISNEY seems to have abandoned Mickey and Minnie. The mammoth film conglomerate is now featuring a new cartoon series that features black children rapping about reparations. Disney's rappers are called the Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, whose characters sing about their town being built by slaves as a hapless white character stands on the stage with a poster that says “still not atoned.” Professionally offended pale faces have called the film “blatant anti-white propaganda.”
THE PRESENT-DAY race discussions seem to me to be your basic dialogue of the deaf. I guess I understand that in a country of historical illiterates a white citizen could be offended by the basic facts of this country's founding by white aristocrats who, if they'd had their way, only rich white men would have had the vote. And who can possibly argue against the fact that capital accumulation in this country was expedited by 400 years of slavery and an accompanying real estate boom simplified by the murders of all the people who'd lived on that real estate. Think positive! Consider the neo-fact that race relations among ordinary people have never been better, that there are now literally millions of genuinely loyal, affectionate, intertwined ethnic relationships in a country where there were virtually none in 1960! Count yer blessings, Whitey!
ENJOYED this brief look-back of veteran newspaper guy, Mike Geniella:
I started out with the Hoiles-owned Freedom Newspapers in my hometown of Marysville. It was an era when pay raises were 10 cents an hour (seriously), and if you got caught accepting a cold beer from anyone you were fired.
The Press Democrat when I arrived in Santa Rosa was so large and successful that anything smacking of legitimacy could be put on the expense account, a tedious but generous process.
Then came the bomb. The New York Times arrived.
The Times thought big. I got to go on a 10-day trip to Cuba, where I entertained a couple of dozen Little Leaguers from Whitethorn with hot dogs and cokes poolside at the Hotel Nacional in Havana. But that was a short ride in the glory lane. Suddenly, the accounting department began to question the Ukiah News Bureau's running account at Wildberger's [old fashioned corner store opposite the County Courthouse] for 'office supplies.' You know, much-needed things like toilet paper and napkins.
"How many rolls of toilet paper do you need?," snarled a bookkeeper at the NYT-owned paper I now worked for.
Rick Wildberger and I did our best to satisfy the beast, providing hasty documentation but eventually, we had to close out the account. The PD started sending up boxes of paper, pencils, and such things…
I posted this in response to a post on Mendocino Action News - Fire, Traffic and Other Emergencies.
It was about the celebration in Willits of the 115th birthday of a County resident.
Adventist Health Howard Memorial posted a lengthy article about the celebration which I believed more than strongly suggested them being the source of her longevity. I took offense, as I am sure others are, and so I wrote in response: “Why is AHHM playing like it's they who take credit for Ms. Cecarelli's longevity? Seriously, is there anything they won't do to try to convince the residents of this County how fantastic they are? They can certainly accomplish that by offering to the residents of this County quality healthcare for starters. (Posted by an ex employee.) PS. Guaranteed, they will delete this post. Edie!! What a wonderful and remarkable accomplishment. Much love today and always!”
They deleted the post.
And so, I posted the following in response to that deletion.
“Question: Should I inquire as to why this topic appears on what is supposed to be ‘Fire, Traffic and Other Emergencies’ page?
Censorship at its finest!! Plain and simple!!"
They banned me from their fb page!!
Amazes me how honest and pointed input from community members of this County are censored if it goes against the public relations facade.
POINT ARENA IS FIRST CITY IN MENDOCINO COUNTY TO ADOPT 100% RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY
by Suzanne Pletcher
When the City of Point Arena threw the switch last week to source its electricity from 100% renewable geothermal and solar energy, it became the first city in Mendocino County to do so.
City Manager Paul Andersen said the wastewater treatment plant, City hall, the Coastal Seniors programs, city street lights and the hoist at the Point Arena pier all will now operate on clean electricity through a program called EverGreen, offered by Mendocino County’s default public electricity provider Sonoma Clean Power.
“Our city council is very progressive and really interested in making the city more energy independent,” said Andersen. ”We use a lot of electricity here in the city, with the wastewater treatment plant consuming the vast majority.”
Point Arena, with a population of 460 as of the 2020 census, has tried to find money to install solar panels over the ponds at the wastewater plant to offset energy use there, but without success. So Point Arena Mayor Barbara Burkey requested and the city council heard a presentation in January about EverGreen and afterwards directed Andersen to sign up. The city will pay an approximately $6,000 premium annually for 100% carbon-free electricity available 24/7.
“The ancillary benefit is the promotion of clean power to everybody in the city,” said Andersen. “And there are several businesses, including the movie theatre, Arena Market and Cafe food co-op, and Lisa’s Luscious Kitchen, that already have opted into that service.”
EverGreen electricity comes from solar and geothermal power generated locally in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The County of Mendocino opted in to EverGreen 100% renewable electricity for its eligible buildings in August, 2021.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Wednesday, February 8, 2023
MICHAEL CATANO, San Jose/Ukiah. DUI causing bodily injury, cruelty to child-infliction of injury, suspended license for DUI.
JOHN MARKS, Ukiah. Controlled substance, bringing controlled substance into jail, county parole violation.
WILLIAM OWENS, Ukiah. Parole violation.
DARIC PARDO, Covelo. Controlled substance, vandalism, county parole violation.
CYNTHIA PHILLIBER, Ukiah. Domestic battery, assault with deadly weapon not a gun, suspended license, failure to appear.
ERNEST SALO, Fort Bragg. Domestic battery, vandalism.
JOSE SANTIAGO, Covelo. Burglary, stolen property, conspiracy.
It was 1970, and fresh out of film school, I had landed a post-production job at a local company that had a stage, editing, animation, a lab, everything needed to make films. It was where I learned how to make movies.
Coppola's American Zoetrope, along with the headquarters for Rolling Stone magazine was right down the street.
I came home after a long weekend and the phone was ringing. I picked up and heard this, "I have been trying and trying to contact you, Francis Coppola has seen your film and he wants to talk to you".
I had left a silent workprint of my Jack Johnson documentary for their Friday night screenings. What young filmmaker wouldn't jump at this opportunity. So I met with him and there just happened to be a reporter and photographer from "Show Magazine" there to record it.
Coppola had a buddy director, Martin Ritt, who was just finishing his film, "The Great White Hope". Coppola wanted to put my film as a short to run before the movie. Mine was about the real Jack Johnson.
He also said, "Why don't you come work for us?" I told him I just couldn't walk out on this new film job I found". Of course he thought I was crazy and maybe I was, but he didn't say it, he just said, "Well you can work here to finish your film". And I did, so thank you Francis.
RESTRAINING ORDERS, an on-line comment:
In my own humble examples and being exposed to the experience of others rarely has a restraining order benefited anyone. You finally get to that point of seeking a restraining order. Thought it over for eons finally got the strength to do it, thinking that that’s going to be a beginning of the end for you. Yet a DV R/O has little weight or chance of enforcement. Law enforcement is often quick to negate them. They will ask for copies of the restraining order from the victim even though the restrained person is in the CLEFT [law enforcement computerized] system. I have seen many an abuser have the police called on them and then have the victim shamed and made fun of by the police during the call. The fun and games really begin after the police leave. Just ask any victim.
Yes!!! 100% restraining orders should be something more than a piece of paper. Violating an R/O should be a felony, 1 year minimum with no sentence reduction. Response should be immediate, not let me get a deputy to give you a return phone call and a ho hum.
FIRE IN THE MOUNTAIN: The Beginning of the End of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.
MOMMA, PLEASE DON’T LET YOUR BABIES GROW UP TO BE PERVERTS
by T.L. Brandon
My duty as a lone woman traveler is to report this incident. You see, I’m a forty year-old woman surrounded by busy people and often have to practice the art of life unescorted. This Live One likes to swim and one of my favorite spots is an access area at Lake Sonoma near the town of Cloverdale. Visiting this spot for over 15 years, I find a rare tranquility there — usually.
This spot is a mind-jerking three miles from the main traffic artery of Highway 101. This access area is at the bottom of a gorgeous valley of grassy hills spotted with ancient oaks, The only noise is from nature, air traffic and an occasional boat that has found its way in through the intricate fingers of this man-enhanced lake. To me, it is heaven with bees.
On this May afternoon, the bees had not yet blossomed and the late spring heat was baking at 103 degrees in the shade!
Of course the beach was inhabited, this was no surprise. With my virgin swim fins and a beach bag, I hit the sand. Due to the heat of the day, the water felt exquisitely cool and good. My swim allowed me to wallow in the bottomless green for nearly an hour. Twenty-five minutes into the swim, I dumped the fins. Heading out of the water to deposit them with my belongings, I quickly emerged back into the cool green water.
The lone young man (16 or so, in wrap-around shades) lounging on the beach, solo, had been joined by a group of young friends. In the group were two girls, smoking thin cigar-colored cigarettes, not a bathing suit among them, seated on towels. As I squatted down to stow my stuff, the new arrivals stared gape-mouthed at my body. No doubt, the boobs — in a plain Jane tugless tank from Land's End mind you — were on display. In his, I'm betting, fifteen-year-old innocence, a pudgy little brother type kid let out some sort of sound amounting to "yummmmmm" which drew the attention of the waterless girls who made more comments mostly involving the sucking of teeth in my direction.
Quickly, I returned to the deliciousness of the water and back to my swimming. Idly, I wondered if I had behaved in some provocative way. Going over it in my head as I swam, the yum sound reverberated in my head. Nope. Just an old lady bending over! These kids were locals — next generation toymies — welcome to the jungle!
Finishing my swim, body in full exertion mode (read: headlights on boys!), I floated around the shallow area cooling off, enjoying the lake. With the day cooling toward evening, the crowd had thinned out. A dad with a guitar and kids in tow had shown up. It was all a languishing summer scene surrounded by the incredible just-past spring green-gold hills of summer.
Noting it all as I relaxed, I could see that the party of kids was now larger by two more gruesome boys. The reflection of the wraparound shades that are soooo cool these days gave me additional creepy vibes off into the peaceful scene.
Word of my body must have multiplied between these young freaks as their reflector shades waited attentively — like dogs staring at a dining owner — for me to leave the water. A cooler had arrived and these children were sipping beers like they had to be home for dinner. The original boy said, with disgust, to the most leering of the group "Oh, you will fuck anything when you get drunk." This was just a little macho jest aimed in my direction but the alcohol and their number added up to red, which usually means RUN!
These youngsters were impatient. At one point one said, “Where’d that lady go, oh there…” I had to overhear it all. There was no sound wall of protection, no lamination between us, no computer screen to shield my ears. All sets of reflectorized shades were trained on my floating head, waiting. In their impatience, or probably to hide their young boners, they entered the water. The punkiest of the group, the chubby little brother type, actually groped his penis as he stared toward me. The gesture seemed to be of a macho sort, but this chubby dark-haired white boy just looked mentally retarded walking with his hand buried in his crotch.
The creepiest, biggest boy stood in the water beside me within ten feet — talking distance for most human beings. This boy, even though I spoke to him, stood still in reflectorized silence. His face held a steady, gaping leer. All of the little pervs were in the water now, all eyes still on me. Exiting with my back to them. I went right to my towel and wrapped myself in its beach-sized protection. An audible groan erupted from my young fans.
Yeah, I vacated the beach. The beach where I was surrounded by a handful of people, kids and dogs felt unsafe to me. Leaving that beach made me angry. Angry? Yeah, angry. I felt powerless to speak up to these kids. Their number, their absolute stupidity and their alcohol and hormone-fueled force intimidated, stopped, silenced and finally, angered me.
Making this report I want to appeal to the parents out there. These kids came from somewhere. You parents are out there! These kids need to know what is polite behavior in public! You are free to be as insane as you want at home, but while you are avoiding these beasts in your home that you birthed, please remember, out here in the real world, we have to share! Please teach your boys the difference between lechery and decency. Remind them that people are able to see, hear and observe their actions. Tell them about hyenas and appropriate social behavior and tell them this: The next woman they do this to could take action. Remember: All the rules are changing! Momma, I beg you, please don't let your babies grow up to be perverts.
PS. Later, as I painted along the banks of this lake in the slough area, one of your babies screamed at a passing car: "Hey, make a picture of this!” Are you proud yet?
‘CATASTROPHIC RESULTS’: NATIONWIDE PLAGUE OF FENTANYL PERSISTS ACROSS SONOMA COUNTY
by Austin Murphy
One especially raucous moment during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech took place toward the end of his Tuesday night remarks, when he touched on the nationwide calamity caused by fentanyl.
That subject provoked an unruly — some would say disrespectful — farrago of shouted accusations from some Republican lawmakers, who blamed the president for allowing the drug to slip through the southern border.
Around 15 hours before that brouhaha, police in Lake County made an arrest that served as a reminder that the North Bay is not immune to the scourge of this highly addictive, synthetic opioid.
After pulling over James Biocca, of Healdsburg, on suspected vehicle code violations at 12:40 a.m. Tuesday, Lakeport police said they found just under 100 grams of fentanyl in his possession, along with 21 grams of methamphetamine.
Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl is a potentially lethal dose, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Based on this scale, authorities believe the amount of fentanyl seized during that traffic stop was enough to potentially kill up to 49,400 people, or more than the population of Rohnert Park.
Five years ago, according to Lakeport Police Chief Brad Rasmussen, it was far less common for his officers to encounter fentanyl, which according to the DEA is “100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin as an analgesic.”
“But now we’re seeing more instances of it, responding to more fentanyl overdoses,” he said.
Illicit fentanyl has become a potent additive to heroin, cocaine, and even counterfeit prescription drugs.
Whether it’s made in Mexico or China, fentanyl sold on the streets in this country isn’t manufactured in “a sterile laboratory,” Rasmussen added.
“Let’s say if they make 10 pills, you could end up with some that don’t have any fentanyl in them, some that have a minimal amount, and some with a fatal amount. And if you take the wrong pill, you’re dead.”
Last fall, billboards highlighting the dangers of fentanyl use — “One Pill Can Kill,” some warned — appeared around Sonoma County, part of an outreach campaign launched by the District Attorney’s Office and other agencies.
Yes, fentanyl is a nationwide problem, “but we’re seeing it here, too,” said Sonoma County District Attorney Carla Rodriguez, who expressed particular concern that the drug is now so “easily accessible,” even to children.
“A recent trend we’re seeing is the illicit manufacturers of fentanyl are making their pills look like candy — Skittles or Smarties or Sweet Tarts,” she said. “And anyone with a phone can order them online and not know there’s a fatal dose of fentanyl in there. It’s terrifying.”
One reason the problem is getting worse, said Rodriguez, is a lack of sufficient deterrence.
She pointed to California Assembly Bill 109, which was passed in 2011 and designed to reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons. That bill shifted responsibility for some non-violent offenders from the state to the counties.
That law “basically changed the sentencing for 500 felonies,” said Rodriguez.
A drug dealing offense that once carried up to four years in state prison now is served in local jail, and the sentence is further shortened by a built-in period of parole, with “half-time credits” earned on pre- and post-conviction jail time.
Bottom line: dealers end up serving a single year of actual time behind bars. While prisons are no longer overcrowded — “and that’s totally just,” said Rodriguez — “you don’t have scary consequences for drug dealing. And this is what happens.”
A 2,550% increase
Fentanyl is definitely showing up more frequently, and with “catastrophic results,” according to Deputy Rob Dillion, spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
“Patrol deputies see fentanyl regularly in everything from possession and use to overdoses and related deaths,” he said.
In the first 11 months of 2022 there were 74 accidental drug overdoses in the county, most involving fentanyl intoxication, according to the Sonoma County Coroner.
As of late November, deaths involving fentanyl across the region had gone up 2,550% from 2017 through 2021, according to data from the Sonoma County Department of Health Services.
“Epidemic, pandemic, whatever you want to call it. It’s killing a lot of people,” said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Kevin Naugle, who spent five years as a detective in the department’s Narcotics Unit.
Fentanyl is “causing a lot of people to overdose. Even users that have been addicts for a long time could get what I refer to as a ‘hot batch,’ maybe one that is a little purer than they expected.”
It’s been his observation, Naugle said, that the fentanyl entering Sonoma County is coming from San Francisco and Oakland.
The drugs aren’t manufactured in the Bay Area, he emphasized. “Most, if not all, of this fentanyl is coming from Mexico and a number of countries south of the border.”
After the narcotic is delivered to “stash houses,” dealers often “break it down,” said Naugle.
They’ll add “their own special cutting agent” — the depressant benzodiazepines, for instance. “Whatever they do that allows them to make more product, make more money,” he said.
The number of fentanyl arrests isn’t necessarily indicative of the scope of the problem, Naugle added. “If we arrest somebody and take them to jail for a drug crime only, it’s a misdemeanor, and they’re able to cite out.”
Knowing this, police sometimes “tell ‘em to get rid of it, or take it from them and book it into our evidence to be destroyed.”
No one knows the true number of overdoses caused by the drug, Naugle said.
“Every place we go to with opiate and opioid users, we find Narcan all over the place,” he said, referring to the medicine used to treat an opioid overdose.
These users are prepared, Naugle said. They’ll sit in groups and say, ‘I’ll watch you use, and once you’re kind of coherent, you’re gonna watch me, and be available to give me Narcan.
“The ones that die are the ones that are by themselves, or they got a ‘hot shot,’ or a stronger dose” than they realized, he said. “Or it was their first time, or they thought it was cocaine but it was actually fentanyl and they sniffed a line — they were dead before they could even put the straw down.”
THE MODERN-DAY GAME does not impress me. It's super easy when you don't get hit as a quarterback, and when you can't re-route receivers, and when you can't hit guys across the middle.
— Trent Dilfer
IN SUPER BOWL WEEK, WHY WE STILL LOVE THE NFL AS IT DESTROYS PLAYERS, USES FANS
by Ann Killion
It’s that week. The one devoted to glorifying a football game. A good week to reflect on America’s continued obsession with this game and this league.
This has been another tough season for the NFL. And for those of us who watch it. You have to be in full denial, pulling an impenetrable wall between what you’re watching and what you know about what you’re watching, to really enjoy the sport. Remarkably, millions of us manage to do just that. Television ratings are booming.
It’s as though we have all implanted a memory-erase chip that makes us forget what we know. We allow the NFL to repackage its controversies and problems into neat little bundles, like co-opting the social-justice push by painting End Racism in the end zones (spoiler alert: it hasn’t happened). We forget, we compartmentalize and we watch.
Remember CTE? The degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head that surged into the public consciousness a decade ago, with player suicides and the publication of “League of Denial,” the scathing book by journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru.
CTE hasn’t gone away. This week, findings of a Boston University CTE study were released, showing that almost 92% of the brains studied of former NFL players were diagnosed with CTE. Researchers said the results were in sharp contrast to the rate of CTE detected in the brains of the general public.
The NFL still doesn’t seem to know what to do about concussions, as we saw with the season-long saga involving Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. We all watched him get a concussion in Week 3, head bouncing off the ground, standing up wobbly and collapsing again, only to be put back into the game and then start the next game four days later. In which he, not shockingly, suffered another concussion.
Concussion protocols failed Tagovailoa. His injury originally was described as a back problem. The unaffiliated neurotrauma specialist who evaluated him was fired. There are now real questions about whether Tagovailoa should ever play football again. Can he be adequately protected?
This season, we watched a man almost die on a football field. Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed, his heart stopped, and he was revived only because of the quick work of the trainers and first responders present. The story did have a happy ending and was quickly spun to be one of resilience, faith and community support. Those sentiments overwhelmed what actually happened: a man almost died on national television, with the world and his teammates watching. If it was a cautionary tale for the league, you wouldn’t know it.
The list goes on. A serial sexual abuser -- Deshaun Watson -- was welcomed as a franchise savior in Cleveland. Washington's Daniel Snyder continues to own his football team despite overseeing a dysfunctional and toxic culture. Tony Dungy, revered as a league icon, tweeted dangerous and hateful misinformation about transgender youth (a shocking lack of empathy for a man who lost a child to suicide) and compared Hamlin’s injury to abortion at an anti-abortion rally. Despite lip service by the league about encouraging minority hiring for two decades, there are far fewer Black head coaches than there were a few years ago: DeMeco Ryans' hiring by the Texans brings the total back to three.
Why, again, do we love this sport?
The toxicity leaks into the stadiums. My friend and her adult daughter, two very nice women, spent a boatload of money to attend the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia and root on the 49ers. They figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Yeah, it was certainly that. They had 7-year-olds yelling “F--- you!” to their faces, as their parents encouraged them, middle fingers flying. They had grown men yelling profanities at them. They stayed out of the parking lots but talked to other 49ers fans who had batteries, eggs and bottles thrown at them as they walked into the stadium. One can only imagine what would have happened if the 49ers actually had a chance to win the game.
Passion for the team? Yeah, that’s what the NFL would like to call it. And it’s not just Eagles fans. That kind of behavior happens all over the league. I think that’s why we were so charmed when we saw the fans in Munich singing John Denver's "Country Home"; that’s just not the way it is at most stadiums in the U.S.
Am I part of the problem? Sure. Media members, like the fans, are hooked on the league. It rolls out a season-long plot, chapter by chapter, an ongoing narrative that other sports can’t touch for serial-like drama.
We all devour the NFL and we will again Sunday. It’s like a good TV show. The problem is, its problems and consequences are real life.
SNEAKY FEES have become a big part of America’s consumer economy.
Hertz charges almost $6 a day simply for using a toll transponder in a rental car. Marriott and Hilton add nightly “resort fees” to the bill even at hotels that nobody would consider to be resorts. American, Delta and United list one airfare when you first search for a seat — and then add charges for basic features like the ability to sit next to your spouse.
Ticketmaster is especially aggressive about imposing fees, as I experienced recently while buying two tickets to a football game. When I initially selected my seats on Ticketmaster’s online stadium map, they cost $48. The bill at checkout was more than one-third higher — $64.40.
President Biden has announced a crackdown on these fees (which his administration calls “junk fees”), and he devoted a section of his State of the Union address to them. “Look, junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most other folks in homes like the one I grew up in,” he said Tuesday night. “I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and gets away with it.”
Today, I want to explain why anybody is even worrying about this problem. After all, in a competitive capitalist economy like ours, shouldn’t the market have already solved it?
The market solution to sneaky fees seems straightforward. When Marriott starts charging $50 nightly “resort fees,” Hilton can call out its competitor and try to steal Marriott customers. And some companies do take this approach: Southwest Airlines advertises a “Bags Fly Free” policy, an obvious swipe at rivals.
But the mushrooming number of fees has made clear that competition does not usually eliminate the practice. Why not? Academic research has suggested that there are two main reasons.
First, human beings are not the efficiently rational machines that economic theory pretends they are. An entire branch of the field, behavioral economics, has sprung up in recent decades to make sense of our limited attention spans.
If you are familiar with the best-selling book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman, you will recognize these ideas. We lead busy lives that keep us from analyzing every purchase, and we get distracted by salient but misleading information (like a low list price). Big companies, with the resources at their disposal, have learned to take advantage of these limitations. The economist Richard Thaler refers to practices like these as “sludge,” the evil counterpart to nudges that use behavioral economics to improve life.
True, one company could call out another for using sludge. But doing so often requires a complex marketing message that tries to persuade people to overcome their psychological instincts (like the appeal of a low list price). For that reason, Hilton can probably make more money by charging its own sneaky resort fees than by criticizing Marriott’s.
“Once some subset of hotels start charging these fees and generating a significant amount of revenue,” Bharat Ramamurti, a Biden adviser, told me, “that creates pressure on hotels to do this, or otherwise they’re getting left behind.”
The second major reason is monopoly power. In some markets, consumers don’t have much choice. Ticketmaster’s fees outrage many people. But I didn’t have any choice when I bought those football tickets. There was no rival service selling them.
In recent decades, many American industries have become more concentrated, partly because Washington became more lax about enforcing antitrust laws. Thomas Philippon, an N.Y.U. economist, has estimated that increased corporate concentration costs the typical American household more than $5,000 a year.
In some industries, sludge and monopoly power feed off each other. The small number of dominant internet providers, for instance, reduces the chances that a new entrant can design a business strategy around undercutting Comcast’s and Verizon’s sneaky fees. Those new entrants don’t exist. Comcast and Verizon have also figured out how to make the cancellation of internet service unpleasant and time-consuming. Airlines — another concentrated industry — use frequent-flier programs in a similar way, effectively punishing customers for switching to a different carrier.
The Biden administration is trying to address both causes of sneaky fees. On antitrust, it has adopted a policy more confrontational than that of any other administration in decades. That effort is in its early stages, without many big victories. Still, the administration does seem to be taking corporate concentration seriously.
As for the sludge itself, the administration has already taken steps to restrict a few examples, such as charges for late payments on credit cards. Biden has asked Congress to pass a law with stricter rules for other industries.
The administration’s bigger focus for now is on disclosure — requiring companies to tell consumers up front what the full cost will be. The Transportation Department has proposed such a rule for airlines.
Disclosure rules often have the advantage of being easier to enforce than outright bans on sneaky fees: If the government bans one kind of fee, companies can often repackage it in another way. “The best we could hope for is that consumers see the full costs transparently and that the government facilitates that,” Thaler, a Nobel laureate in economics, told me.
Ramamurti, the Biden adviser, put it this way: “We don’t want firms to be competing with each other to be hiding the true price of their product.”
How much of a difference Biden’s actions will make remains unclear. But the administration’s effort is based on an idea supported by a lot of evidence: The free market doesn’t solve all problems.
The U.S. government over the past half-century has moved toward an economic policy that often allows corporations to behave as they want, based on the theory that the free market will solve any excesses. The results haven’t been very good. During that same half century, economic growth has slowed, corporate profits have risen faster than wages, income inequality has soared, and living standards have grown slowly.
Sneaky fees turn out to be a small but telling example of why the modern economy isn’t working so well for many Americans.
— David Leonhardt (nytimes.com)
DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON'T
A hypothetical: Joe Biden decides to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon as it enters Montana. No one is injured, but the balloon’s cargo is destroyed as it hits the ground at high speed. Republicans start screaming that Biden is reckless. People could have been injured or worse. Any opportunity to examine the cargo is lost. So much could have been learned. Why not, the Republicans say, wait until it is safely over US-controlled waters before shooting it down? Another instance of Biden incompetence.
This is, unfortunately, politics as usual on both sides of the aisle. When will the American electorate start punishing this behavior in public opinion polls and at the ballot box? If we did, it would end quickly.
WE KNOW THAT HORSES originated in the Americas, then migrated to other parts of the world. European colonizers claimed that horses had been rendered extinct in the Americas prior to the Spanish re-introducing them, which would make horses "non-native" and therefore not deserving consideration as part of our wildlife heritage. This bias plays a role in national policy.
But Native American oral tradition maintains that horses never disappeared, they have always been here. DNA evidence suggests the Ojibwe horses are not related to the Spanish, which backs up the idea that horses never went extinct here.
SPY: “a person who secretly collects and reports information on the activities, movements, and plans of an enemy or competitor.” (Dictionary.com)
SO THE CHINESE flew a “spy” balloon over North America where everybody could see it and where it could be easily shot down so they could get better pictures of easily visible unhidden sites in Montana and Missouri than they were already getting from Google Earth or their satellites? Oh sure. The Chinese are too dumb to do their spying in secret. They just do it out in the open for all to see? Right.
Remember the U-2 Spy Plane Incident?
(From the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library)
“At the height of the cold war, as critics of the Eisenhower administration complained about the growing ‘missile gap,’ the United States secretly [our emphasis] gathered data on Soviet missile capabilities through photographs obtained from U-2 reconnaissance plane overflights of the Soviet Union. In May 1960, plans were finalized for a crucial Paris summit conference between western nations and leaders of the Soviet Union with disarmament to be the main focus. Hopes for a successful summit were dashed when on May 1, 1960, May Day, an American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet air space. On the first day of the Paris summit, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stormed out after delivering a condemnation of U.S. spy activities.…”
In other words, the preturnaturally skeptical Eisenhower didn’t believe the military industrial complex’s exaggerated (and expensive) “missile gap” hype and wanted to (secretly — i.e., secret mainly to the US military propagandists) prove they were exaggerating Russia’s missile capability with U-2 overflight photography. (Russia, by the way, wanted America to think they had more missiles than they had as well. The missile gap myth benefited both sides of the Cold War.)
But the U-2 flights were not “spying.” They were Eisenhower’s well-intentioned attempt at disarmament and huge budget savings. (Remember when Eisenhower pointed out that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed; from those who are cold and are not clothed…”) He wanted to prove the Pentagon and many politicians were exaggerating to justify boosting defense spending. And it blew up in Eisenhower’s face when the Rooskies shot down the U-2. But the public didn’t know any of that until decades later. (And you certainly wouldn’t know it from silly Hollywood movies like “Bridge of Spies” which made no mention of the real purpose of the “secret” U-2 flights.)
No good deed goes unpunished.
The point? We didn’t know what the U-2 was doing in the 50s. And we don’t know why the painfully obvious Chinese balloon was floating over the heartland. China said it was a weather research balloon which went off course (even though it apparently had some limited navigational capabilities).
Whatever it was, portraying these kinds of overflights as military spying and as provocations only benefits the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about.
HOW AMERICA TOOK OUT THE NORD STREAM PIPELINE
by Seymour Hersh
The New York Times called it a “mystery,” but the United States executed a covert sea operation that was kept secret—until now…
UKRAINE, WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2023
“Wings for freedom”: Zelenskyy visits UK, lobbies for fighter jets.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the UK on Wednesday for the first time since Russia's invasion, making a rare trip out of his war-torn country.
Zelenskyy met UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and addressed parliament in a bid for more military aid in the form of advanced weapons and "wings for freedom" fighter jets as Ukraine prepares for expected spring offensives by Russian forces.
It is Zelenskyy's second known trip outside of Ukraine since Russia's invasion began nearly a year ago. He also visited the U.S. in December.
“President Zelenskyy’s visit to the UK is a testament to his country’s courage, determination and fight, and a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries,” Sunak said in a statement.
Zelensky visited Buckingham Palace and met with King Charles. The Royal Family posted a photo of the men shaking hands on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris later on Wednesday, the Élysée Palace said.
WALTER MOSLEY THINKS AMERICA IS GETTING DUMBER
by David Marchese
Walter Mosley is best known as one of contemporary literature’s pre-eminent crime novelists, but he’s actually four or five different writers rolled into one. Famous for his Easy Rawlins series of novels, Mosley has also written sci-fi (“Blue Light”), existential erotica (“Killing Johnny Fry”), parables about race (“Fortunate Son”), political monographs (“Life Out of Context”) and writing guides (“This Year You Write Your Novel”), to cite just a few of the 50 or so books he has published. He’s an altogether thornier, more idiosyncratic writer than readers may know, an inveterate investigator and chronicler of his own heart, mind and soul. “Art itself, like psychoanalysis, comes from deep inside you, somewhere where all of these things are roiling around, coming together, falling apart,” says the 71-year-old Mosley, whose new novel, “Every Man a King,” the second to feature his ex-N.Y.P.D.-investigator-turned-private-eye protagonist, Joe King Oliver, will be published on Feb. 21. “I write seven days a week, usually three hours a day, and when I’m writing, things come up. I say, here’s something! I like finding out what I’m about.”
When I was reading old articles about you, especially from around the time of “Devil in a Blue Dress,” a lot of them talked about how your work brought a new kind of representation to the detective genre. All these years later, are there any ways in which you see the publishing world’s idea of “representation” as also carrying any limiting expectations?
Here’s the thing: When I first got published, there weren’t a lot of Black people being published. The amount of work that you had to do to be out there in the world was amazing. That’s no longer true. But publishing has remained incredibly white. Because it’s been so white, and because it’s the kind of business where you hire your friends, you also hire people who tell stories that you’re interested in. It’s not like, “I don’t want to hire that Black person.” It’s more like, “I don’t know what he’s talking about, and he’s not my friend.” So that’s one thing. But the reason publishers started publishing more books by Black people is that Black people buy books in which they see themselves. There are a lot of books out there that do represent who Black people are and what we think about. It’s not that only white people read the books, and so we have to create books that white people will feel somehow satisfied by.
So representation doesn’t present any potential pitfalls?
Explain what you mean.
I’ll try by analogy. If Jewish American novelists could only get work published that was still responding to the mid-20th-century pressures of assimilation or was all written in the shadow of mainstream successes like Saul Bellow or Philip Roth, that, to me, would be a limiting kind of representation. Similarly, I wonder if the mainstream publishing industry is still mostly interested in a narrow slice of Black experience. Does that make any sense?
I just want to say, before we get into answering that question, that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are Jewish, and they weren’t writing about being Jewish. They were writing stories. When you talk about Saul Bellow and Roth, there’s a certain really small group of people who think that they’re really important in their lives. I’m not one of those people. There’s some good writing in there, but if you write what is essentially memoir, you have to be writing about a period of time, not about yourself. Once you start talking about the girls you banged and the people who mistreated you, then it’s like, man, this is not interesting; it should be a Wikipedia page. But Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I’ve been reading them since I was a kid, and there’s nothing Jewish in it at all. Stan and Jack said: “This is fun! We can express ourselves and make money and have an audience.” And they did. I think there are a lot of so-called white people who don’t feel represented in literature. If you’re in the South, how many people are writing about the problems of your life? Bellow and Roth, they’re writing a very particular kind of story, but they don’t represent America. The only people who write about them are people who have degrees in literature.
This is only tangentially related, but I was reading about “Herzog” the other day, and did you know that the year it came out, that book was a huge best seller? The literary culture was so different 60 or so years ago.
But wait a second. Who’s the guy? He was a crime writer. He’d write a line like “She came in the door packing a pair of .38s.” Mickey Spillane! He said, “This writer came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Spillane, don’t you think it’s a tragedy that seven out of the 10 best-selling books last year were your books?’” And he said, “Shut up, or I’ll write three more.” People read books looking for what’s missing in their lives, looking for action and adventure. Really, I don’t even know what Bellow’s talking about. Honestly, I don’t. I mean, I like his writing. I’m happy that he won a Nobel Prize. I’m also happy that Roth didn’t. But what are the problems that we face when you start dealing with capitalism, existentialism, when you start living with sexism? How do we deal with these things? With identity politics? You have to tell stories about real people experiencing it and not real people with a Ph.D. People who are not stupid but ignorant, who don’t know things about the world. So then they’re trying to figure out what’s right and wrong according to what they do know. Which is why I bring up Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. When I was a kid, I learned from comic books. You see the Sub-Mariner in a comic book. You say, here is a supervillain, but he’s a supervillain because the surface dwellers destroyed his people. He’s more like a guerrilla fighter. As a kid, you read that, and you think about it naturally. You don’t even think about thinking about it, but you’re thinking about it!
When you say you don’t know what Bellow is talking about, you mean the milieu of his books? The people?
I guess I don’t identify with the emotional impetus of a lot of his work. I think part of me unconsciously understands what’s going on, but the stories themselves, I get a little lost. Who, what, why is this happening? When you look at his life, a lot of it is — a lot of times you tell a story, that’s wish fulfillment. OK, but what’s the real thing going on?
Isn’t wish fulfillment as valid a motivation for storytelling as any other? Writers are working out their own stuff the best way they know how, right?
Yeah, but working it out and wish fulfillment are two different things. It’s OK to want to be the hero of the story, but you still have to, at some point, say what the world they’re living in is. You know, Russell Banks just died. I knew Russell. He was a good guy. He wrote a lot about himself, but he was ruthless and didn’t give himself any breaks. He understood his wishes, but he also understood the underlying reality. Bellow’s a wonderful writer, but I identified more, or I felt I could understand more, about what Russell was saying than Bellow.
I assume you were being playful when you said you were happy that Roth didn’t win the Nobel, but why do you say that?
I think there’s a little more innocence in Bellow’s work. I’m not going to try to be a literary critic here. I just didn’t like Roth’s work. I didn’t like reading it. I didn’t like the characters, nor what the characters were telling me. You can have a character and think they’re awful and still learn something from them, and I didn’t feel that I was learning anything from Roth. I wouldn’t have given him the Nobel Prize, which, if he’d got it, would be fine.
You mentioned Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I know you’ve always been a big comic fan, but what do you make of the cultural dominance of the Marvel Universe? Because I guess one way of looking at it is that those stories constitute our modern myths. Another way is that their ubiquity is a sign of a dumbed-down culture.
Yeah, that’s true, but why is it true? We’re living in a dumbed-down culture because the education of most people in America is sad and not useful. There are people who don’t know how to spell, they don’t know how to think. They don’t even teach kids how to deal with money in school — the one thing you think they would teach in America. So the fact that the people turn to comic books and pornography and other seemingly lower-level things? I’m not sure that they are lower-level, but the reason that things are selling is because of how America is dealing with its citizens. It’s a symptom: He’s sneezing. Why is he sneezing? We live next to a pepper factory. Maybe it’s the pepper!
So the implication is that cultural tastes would be different if people were educated differently?
What’s the biggest problem facing almost all Americans? Money. But you go to high school, and they don’t teach you about money. They don’t tell you: You’re going to live to be 90, but you’re going to retire at 65, and the money the government gives you is not meant to be enough to take care of you. That’s a perfect example of how we educate in ignorance. You have these people coming out into the world, and they don’t know what to do. My God. Our educational system has failed 90 percent of the people.
I want to ask you about that Times guest essay you wrote about quitting a TV show after you got in trouble for saying the N-word in telling a story from your teenage years.
I told that story! It was my experience. Somebody complained, for whatever reason, and then the studio called me, and said, we don’t accept this because it’s not right. And I’m sitting there like, no, you don’t accept this because you don’t want to get sued. It was crazy. I mean, so-called white people are telling me that I can’t say a word I’ve been living with and under my entire life, and my father and his father and his father? And now I can’t even use it to explain my own experience? Are you insane? But it’s like, you think it’s all one thing, political correctness, but it’s also about money. They said, look, we don’t really care, but we’re willing to destroy you if you get us into trouble here. I said, fine, I’ll quit.
Right, so in that essay, you wrote: “There’s all kinds of language that makes me uncomfortable. Half the utterances of my president, for instance. Some people’s sexual habits and desires. But I have no right whatsoever to tell anyone what they should and should not cherish or express.” Isn’t that conflating public free speech with rules of speech that a private enterprise might have? Maybe there’s a difference between what we can express at work and what we can express in our personal lives.
You are you. I’m me. There are certain things that you might not like that people say, but if it’s true in the office, it’s true outside the office. I’m not different where I work and where I’m not working. That doesn’t mean I’m right, by the way. But if you’re going to take my job because I’m not being who you want me to be, that’s a very serious thing.
So where’s the line for discourse at work?
If you use language aggressively and in an attacking way, that is almost the same as hitting you. You can’t work in that environment. The problem is, of course, usually people get away with the worst things. They get away with not paying you enough money. We’re limited on all sides, from the time we’re born to the time we die, but I think that we all understand, I have a right to be me, to say what I feel. That’s being threatened from all sides. It’s not just from the right; it’s also from the left. Look, the freest I’m ever going to be is equal to everybody around me. If we’re all equal, then that’s the limit of my freedom. It’s a great notion. I’ve been lucky in my life. Economically I’ve done the right things at the right time. I’m a writer in Hollywood, so I belong to a union. It’s wild. I get a pension. It’s great! But when you have that, you think: Why doesn’t everybody have that? Why are these people at 79 years old working as greeters in some big chain store? Why can’t I just live and know that my life is going to be assured as long as everybody around me is assured? That’s the equality thing. You get to eat, I get to eat. You have a place to sleep, I have a place to sleep. Except capitalism doesn’t work like that. What was it that Damon Wayans used to say? “Homey don’t play that.”
Let me ask about the character of Quiller in the new book. He’s this guy who feels this push and pull between his logical rationale for racism and his emotions about race. But do you think there’s any racism that isn’t fundamentally emotional?
Oh, sure. There’s institutional racism. There are also assumptions. To give an example: My grandfather on my mother’s side, Harry Slatkin, was a Jew from Russia — or the satellites of Russia. He came to America, I think, in 1905. He was a doctor. He was talking to my mom once, and she said she was going to marry my father, and he said, “But Black people, they’re closer to the apes than we are!” But when my grandfather met my father, he fell in love with him. He was running around with a series of prejudices that didn’t make sense but he thought were true. There’s all kinds of things like that. But yeah,a lot of racism comes out of your fears, your bruises, your wounds, and this character needed to hate somebody. It wasn’t until he fell in love that he was able to question the need to hate. I think most people have these kinds of irrational angers and fears. Quiller realizes: Wait a second. This Black woman understands what I’m saying more than all these other people, and she tells me they’re idiots — and they are! How am I going to redefine myself? That’s always possible. And in this book, Joe Oliver allows for change. America is a funny place. A lot of people see what’s wrong, but a lot of it is good.
In one of your nonfiction books, you wrote that every person should tell the truth once a day. In your own life, outside your work, what’s the most recent important truth that you’ve told?
You know, especially when you start to get older, as I am, you think: I really am going to die. That’s going to happen. I have to know that. I don’t have to reject it or love it or be brave in the face of it. I just have to accept it.
Yes, inasmuch as it’s a truth that I don’t try to avoid. The other day I was on YouTube, and I came across this news from Sloan Kettering where they did a test on people with rectal cancer, and all 18 people are in remission six months later. It’s shocking to me. But the fact that there’s a cure for cancer somewhere, I don’t let that somehow say to me, you’re not going to die. I’m still going to die! Am I afraid of that? It doesn’t matter. The truth doesn’t mean that you won’t be afraid and you won’t be wrong. The truth won’t give you the strength to do some things that you know you should do but can’t. But as a writer, the truth is no end of help.
I AM, YOU KNOW, adamantly against illegal immigrants. Clearly, we have to make some tough decisions as a country, and one of them ought to be coming up with a much better entry and exit system so that if we’re going to let people in for the work that otherwise would not be done, let’s have a system that keeps track of them. I favor at least a visa ID, some kind of an entry and exit ID. And, you know, perhaps, although I’m not a big fan of it, we might have to move towards an ID system even for citizens. People have to stop employing illegal immigrants. I mean, come up to Westchester, go to Suffolk and Nassau counties, stand on the street corners in Brooklyn or the Bronx; you’re going to see loads of people waiting to get picked up to go do yardwork and construction work and domestic work.
— Hillary Clinton, 2004
TAKE A BOW, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW
The venerable watchdog publication breaks legacy media ranks with a massive rebuke of Trump-Russia coverage. Interview with the report's dogged author, Jeff Gerth
by Matt Taibbi
The Columbia Journalism Review stunned many last Monday by publishing “The Press Versus the President,” a 24,000-word autopsy of press coverage in the Trump years, focusing on the the Trump-Russia collusion scandal colloquially known as “Russiagate.”
The piece was written by Jeff Gerth, a long-serving New York Times writer who is as credentialed as they come in the legacy press, having among other things won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 (for reporting, incidentally, not commentary or public service). In retirement at the start of the Trump years, Gerth watched with growing alarm as venerable institutions like the Times and the Washington Post continually made high-stakes assertions in headlines that appeared based on thin or uncheckable sourcing.
The pile of such stories was already stacked to skyscraper height, and commemorated by awards like a joint Times-Post Pulitzer, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrapped up an investigation of the matter without indicting Trump or anyone else for the supposed conspiracy. There was no way for Mueller’s probe to have ended the way it did and for years of “worse than Watergate” news reports about Trump-Russian collusion to be true, so Gerth went back to the beginning in search of the real story of what, if anything, went wrong on the coverage side.
The result is a long, almost book-length compendium of errors and editorial overreach. It could have been longer. Gerth focused on the would-be investigative reports at papers like the Times and the Post that drove Russiagate, mostly leaving alone the less serious players at cable news and at online journals whose main contribution was making the click-bomb bigger.
A brief note on some issues that were already popping up as problems in the media business heading into 2016-2017, and which are important subtext to Gerth’s piece:
All the President’s Men was a great movie, but it may have infected the media world with a delusion. Alan J. Pakula’s atmospheric thriller depicted journalists as modern-day noir detectives, with the bustling Washington Post newsroom replacing the stylish offices of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman giving America a portrait of reporters as sexy young rebels who could topple a president with a keystroke. The job is virtually never like that, but a generation of reporters and editors grew up with this ideal, on the alert for that one great scoop that would lead to lucrative book and movie deals and model-level actors playing them onscreen. I don’t think it’s an accident that just as journalism was beginning to lose its way, Hollywood began cranking out All the President’s Men homages one after another, from Spotlight to She Said to The Post.
Gerth doesn’t say that great papers like the Times and the Post were so busy self-mythologizing that they untethered themselves from accountability mechanisms that once kept papers out of trouble, but it’s implied in the facts he uncovers. Perhaps the most damning scene in the four-part series comes in Part Two, when in an astonishing display of hubris the Times invites a documentary crew to film them for a series called The Fourth Estate. The problem is, the scene they invite Showtime to record is perhaps the biggest screwup in the Russiagate years. This is the journalistic equivalent of Captain Edward Smith inviting cameras to record him snoring away as his Titanic drives into an iceberg.
The Fourth Estate cameras were in the newsroom as Times leaders were preparing a front page stunner for February 14th, 2017 called “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.” The piece cited “phone records and intercepted calls” and “four current and former American officials” in asserting that “members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign” had repeated contact with “senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”
If true, this piece by the iconic daily might easily have been just the first in a series of exposés leading to the end of the Trump presidency. Or so the Times thought, seemingly. Gerth, who correctly identifies the “Repeated Contacts” story as one of the decisive moments in the Russiagate disaster, recounts how editors and reporters preened for the cameras as they accelerated toward their proverbial iceberg:
As the story is being edited, Mark Mazzetti, an investigative reporter in the Washington bureau who was also helping edit some of the Trump-Russia coverage, is shown telling senior editors he is “fairly sure members of Russian intelligence” were “having conversations with members of Trump’s campaign…” He asks Baquet, “Are we feeding into a conspiracy” with the “recurring themes of contacts?”
Baquet responded that he wanted the story, up high, to “show the range” and level of “contacts” and “meetings, some of which may be completely innocent” and not “sinister,” followed by a “nut” or summary “graph,” explaining why “this is something that continues to hobble them.”
Baquet’s desire to flush out the details of supposed contacts is similar to his well-founded skepticism in October 2016 about the supposed computer links between a Russian bank and the Trump organization.
Mazzetti reports back that the story is “nailed down.”
Baquet asks, “Can you pull it off?”
“Oh yeah,” Mazzetti replies.
So Baquet signs off, adding that it’s the “biggest story in years.”
Elisabeth Bumiller, the Washington bureau chief, adds her seal of approval: “There’ll be hair on fire.”
That’s the executive editor of the New York Times asking a reporter to double-check with his (unnamed) sources on a huge front-page story, and the reporter coming back in a jiffy with news that the piece is “nailed down.” It’s not happening today, but the publishers of the Times will sooner or later wish they had that moment back.
The story turned out to be wrong, at least according to the FBI, whose director James Comey would later testify that “in the main, it was not true.” Even the man leading the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, Peter Strzok — the same ferocious Trump critic Peter Strzok, who reassured his lover Lisa Page that Trump would never become president, because “we’ll stop it” — even he couldn’t find a way to confirm the tale, as Gerth describes (emphasis mine):
The story said “the FBI declined to comment.” In fact, the FBI was quickly ripping the piece to shreds, in a series of annotated comments by Strzok, who managed the Russia case. His analysis, prepared for his bosses, found numerous inaccuracies, including a categorical refutation of the lead and headline; “we are unaware,” Strzok wrote, “of ANY Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials.” Comey immediately checked with other intelligence agencies to see if they had any such evidence, came up empty, and relayed his findings to a closed Senate briefing, according to testimony at a Senate hearing months later.
This was a classic example of reporters being more eager for a headline than afraid of a mistake. This can only happen because mistakes of this sort are no longer career-threatening as they once were. The press is supposed to be one of society’s primary mechanisms for holding people in power accountable, but the system only works if reporters and editors aim that regulatory reflex at themselves first. A newspaper no one believes isn’t going to be worth much on the oversight front, yet the figures in the newsroom scene Showtime captured appeared to forget that, in their zeal to cast themselves in the next “All the President’s” remake.
In that same vein it’s notable that Gerth got Bob Woodward, journalism’s original movie star, to go on record castigating the business over its Trump-Russia reporting. Woodward told Gerth he believed the coverage “wasn’t handled well,” and “urged newsrooms to ‘walk down the painful road of introspection.’” He also described to Gerth how he tried to warn “people who covered this” in the Washington Post newsroom away from certain stories, only to be met with shrugs. “To be honest, there was a lack of curiosity on the part of the people at the Post about what I had said, why I said this,” he told Gerth. “I accepted that and I didn’t force it on anyone.”
Gerth’s story is a long, weedsy tale, and though some have described it as hard to read, I disagree. The piece is a thorough chronicle of a classic tale of human folly, describing how a business that depends on independence of thought, honesty, and a strong instinct for self-preservation to survive, fell victim instead to herd-think and walked en masse off a very high cliff. The story is scrupulously documented, as Gerth worked hard to get everyone from Woodward to former FBI spokesman Mike Korten to Donald Trump on the record, providing an immediate contrast to the anonymous “people familiar with the matter” (an attribution used a thousand times by the Times in the Trump years, Gerth notes) who propped up so much of the Russiagate reporting. It’s conspicuous that the people who mostly refuse comment in this article are the reporters themselves, who clearly still haven’t grasped what happened here and what they need to face to save their profession.
One last note about Jeff, who was good enough to answer a few questions for this article. The news business is not Hollywood. It’s not even politics, which as the old joke goes is Hollywood for ugly people. Real reporting work is mostly a drag, mostly time-consuming, and very often a high-effort, low-reward activity. If you’re doing it right, most of the time you’re making phone calls that don’t pan out, being a nuisance via repeated requests to use a quote or put a name to one, or sitting up at night and hyperventilating about article factoids your sleeping mind has woken you up to have panic attacks about.
There’s a ton of grunt work involved, which is why the best exemplars in a profession that attracts many different psychological types — egomaniacs, addicts, rootless wanderers, charmers, social climbers, etc. — are workers. Jeff Gerth is a worker. He’s the prototype for the kind of reporter who makes a million phone calls and checks, checks, checks. In that sense he was the perfect person to do this story, but it’s also tragic that this particular story needed so much checking.
As of this writing the legacy press is still mostly trying to ignore the CJR article. To be fair, dealing with its implications would require a cleanup/retraction process on a scale the business has probably never seen. Still, it has to be done, as these outlets can’t ignore this forever, and likely won’t be able to, either. The piece is beginning to attract notice in conservative media and in foreign papers like the London Times, and even I’ve heard from some writers and media figures from the mainstream ranks who are beginning to have second thoughts. Jeff isn’t optimistic; I am, a little. If and when this does eventually get sorted out, future generations of reporters will owe a lot to the work Gerth put in over the last few years.
I asked him a few questions about the story and its aftermath:
Matt Taibbi: You could have written this on Substack, or for a smaller online outlet with less mainstream cachet, but picked the CJR. In the piece, you focused on the New York Times and Washington Post and spent less time on viral media and cable news. Can you explain those decisions?
Jeff Gerth: I went with CJR because I had a prior project with them that went well. Their audience, while small, targeted a key demographic and the editor-in-chief was supportive of my work. I focused on the Times and Post because they were the primary news breakers, whereas the cable networks and social media were mostly commentators and amplifiers. When networks like CNN did break news, such as the disclosure of the Comey briefing of Trump on the dossier, I delved into it. Secondarily, I focused the most on the Times because it is the most viewed and influential news outlet, it was the only organization subject to multiple, documented criticism by the FBI, and it allowed a filmmaker into its newsroom resulting in rare insights into the editorial process.
MT: What do you make of the reaction to the article? And without being nasty about it, as someone like me might be, can you identify with the dilemma organizations like the Times and Post find themselves in now? How does a newspaper go about retracting or cleaning up a problem on this scale?
JG: The reaction, so far, has been fairly predictable, like a Rorschach Test. The passage of time has hardened people's views. So, for example, if you believed the Trump Tower meeting was the tip of an ominous iceberg you weren't a fan of the piece. If you thought the meeting was an amateurish effort that flopped, you were inclined to like it, though some of those in the subset of doubters thought my piece came years too late.
As for soul searching by newsrooms, which is what Bob Woodward called for, I am not optimistic, for several reasons. One is the sheer passage of time. In addition, the Post and the Times both dropped their public editors and the US, unlike the United Kingdom or Australia, does not have any kind of government ombudsman. As for constituencies that might have influence on newsrooms, such as readers/viewers or shareholders, there is a noticeable lack of concern. (As the piece noted, consumers of news are increasingly siloed, and aren't interested in content that goes against their pre-existing views.)
Finally, with respect to the Times, I actually perceive a hardening of their stance. For years their coverage of the Russian efforts in the 2016 election used the word “interference,” which is consistent with what the Mueller Report said. But in their carefully crafted statement to me they used the word “manipulation.” Anything is possible, so, if new evidence comes to light, The Times or other outlets might have to wrestle with that.
MT: What was the genesis of this project? Was there a particular article you saw that started you down this road, or a call from a source, or — what exactly? In a broader sense, this was a very big undertaking, and nobody asked you to do this. What was your motivation for taking on this task? What did you hope to accomplish?
JG: The project has a couple of roots. One was some work I did while a fellow at the Investigative Reporting Program at U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. I delved into the dossier and came away doubtful. After the release of the Mueller Report I happened to be in NYC for the birth of my grandson, and had lunch with Kyle Pope, CJR's editor. We discussed my doing an anatomy of the coverage. I agreed to do it, but said I thought such an autopsy should wait for the coroner's report; I was referring to the just started inquiry by John Durham into the origins of the Russia inquiry. Of course, his inquiry has gone on longer than I anticipated and my report came out before his.
I have long viewed investigative reporting through two prisms; either biopsies or autopsies. The former include trying to uncover potential wrongdoing or disasters ahead of time, the latter involve digging deep after the disaster has happened. Since this project was an autopsy it should have been easier, but that wasn't always the case.
First of all, despite all the official reports, books and hearings, some key evidence remains classified or hidden from public view. Second of all, as I soon discovered, reporters and their news organizations don't always take well to close scrutiny. Still, I relished taking on the assignment because I enjoy the unusual challenges of reporting, such as getting strangers to trust you, especially when you are reporting for an organization they have never heard of. Finally, I care a lot about the credibility of journalism, and that was another motivation. It turned out to be the longest project of my career, taking more time than a book, but, for the most part, it was enjoyable.
MT: It sticks out in the article that many of your quotes are on-the-record. Of course off-the-record sources can be valuable, but they also clearly became a problem during this time period. Can you explain your thinking about the virtues and pitfalls of this practice, and also tell us what you think happened in this case?
JG: The proliferation of anonymous sources has long been a thorny problem for journalists. They started out being used infrequently but now they are widespread. I watched several executive editors of the Times wrestle, usually unsuccessfully, with the problem. The Jayson Blair scandal, twenty years ago, prompted the most introspection about the issue, but that soon faded. Their use is sometimes unavoidable, such as when writing about classified information, but today they are often just the default mode for the most mundane topics.
Again, as I explained in the earlier discussion about the dim prospects for soul searching about Russia coverage, I think the use of anonymous sources will continue because there is a lack of pressure for change, either from internal or external forces. The election of Trump only fueled an existing fire. He was hardly going to be the driving force in getting the news business to tighten its standards.
Most readers don't understand the dynamics of the relationship between reporters and their sources; their conflicting yet symbiotic motivations and what gets left out of stories. One example, from the Trump/Russia saga, shows some of those complexities. The founders of Fusion GPS, both former reporters, were anonymous sources for many news outlets. Reporters used their information for negative stories about Trump, but they didn't report that the information came from researchers hired by Democratic opponents. As my story pointed out, on the same day in January 2017 the Times said it couldn't disclose the identity of the players behind the dossier, but then, hours later, did just that, angering their own sources. Later, the paper went so far as to delete the first story’s reference to the confidentiality agreement. Without anyone to the wiser.
MT: The news media once was one of the primary accountability mechanisms for politicians and political institutions, but now the press itself seems to have arrived at a place where it has few accountability mechanisms of its own. What does the story you’ve written illustrate about the state of the media?
JG: As I've said above, and said in my piece, there is a lack of accountability and transparency in today’s media. The trend has accelerated due to the abandonment of public editors at outlets like the Times and the Post, as well as the shifting revenue models that create tighter, reinforcing loops between subscribers and news organizations.
But the issue is really structural, and by design. The media is often referred to as The Fourth Estate, the title of the 2018 documentary about the Times. The American media enjoys special protection under the Constitution, amplified by Supreme Court rulings limiting the ability to prevail in a libel suit. The FCC used to have a fairness doctrine for licensed broadcasters but that was dropped decades ago.
Unlike the three branches of government, there are no disclosure requirements, or easy mechanisms to seek redress. You can impeach a President or a judge and vote out a Congressperson, but it’s up to a publisher to fire an editor. Congress can hold federal agencies to account, but there is no overseer to sanction a news organization. (The UK and Australian governments, on the other hand, do have some limited oversight mechanisms.) If you are a private corporation selling faulty products, the consumer can get redress through refunds, exchanges, warranties or complaints to government agencies.
There isn't much you can do about bad journalism except change the channel, write a comment to a faceless person that may or may not get addressed, or toss the newspaper in the trash. Most serious news outlets run corrections, which puts them a cut above internet sites that could care less. But my own experience is that corrections are generally limited to mundane facts, the use of an “editor's note” to address more serious flaws is rare, and not enough readers or viewers care enough about the subject to make it a priority.
I will finish with one quick example of the declining importance of journalistic ethics. It involves the standards editor of the NYT. That person used to be on the masthead, the hallowed ground for the most important and senior managers of the newsroom. Today, the standards editor is not among the 12 people listed on the masthead for the news side of the paper.