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LIGHT RAIN is expected along the coast today with generally cool and cloudy weather elsewhere. Gusty north winds will welcome in the weekend along with a gradual warming trend through Sunday. Very cold temperatures and possible low elevation snow is on track for next week. (NWS)
ELIZABETH JENSEN: How much do your littles love tractors & trains & things that GO? Exploring an idea for our local park that brings delight while also celebrating our community. The Children’s Museum in Santa Rosa was able to refurbish a John Deere tractor and a decommissioned REACH helicopter to create places for imaginative play in their outdoor play area. Anyone have resources that may help bring a tractor, train, or plane to our park?
Dear Anderson Valley Community,
The septic contractor finalized a work around on the septic and our bathrooms reopened. The field will be closed until late Spring, when the groundwater diminishes and we can compact the trench. The good news is bathrooms will be open effective tomorrow.
I understand John Toohey has been receiving some negative heat about the baseball team and change of play and venues. I want to be clear. John and Matt Bullington have gone above and beyond to facilitate play. They don’t need to do that. The easy thing would have been to just cancel the season, but they didn’t even CONSIDER IT. I will be flat up honest. I have never seen a school system in such disrepair. I celebrate these two gentlemen for working out a solution. I celebrate the Spacek and Rossi families and the baseball team members for creating a solution through sweat equity at the fairgrounds for practice.
It’s good for kids and I thank you. We will get through this with grace and care and be better on the other side. I am grateful for all the effort that went into the solution.
On a related note, attendance at tonight’s basketball closer was amazing. I LOVE NO GATE FEES. COME ENJOY!
SOME LOCALS, particularly a few stalwart pot permit applicants who attended last Tuesday’s Supervisors meeting, are giving the Supervisors praise for turning down County Counsel Christian Curtis’s proposal to spend $25k on an expensive outside law firm to “advise” the Board about the possible legal implications of handing out the state’s “equity grant” money to pot growers who can prove they were harmed by the war on drugs. Curtis actually told the board that the highly specialized firm he had selected was willing to give Mendo a discount on the legal opinion, hence the bargain basement cost of only $25,000. The alternative was to either ask the State Attorney General for an opinion that might take at least a year to get (but wouldn’t cost anything) or leave the question unanswered. (County Counsel has delivered a secret (“priveleged”) memo the the Supervisors explaining why he thinks there’s some liability to the County, but the Board decided to keep that memo secret, saying to release it might create more liability.) The equity grant program is moving along at a glacial pace despite Curtis’s objections. So there’s a good chance that the program will be wrapped up by the time they get an opinion from the Attorney General. (They should be asking the legislative counsel’s office, not the Attorney General, because they should have vetted the state program before it was enacted. But maybe Curtis doesn’t know the difference.)
THE SUPERVISORS deserve no credit for denying Curtis’s proposal. It was preposterous on several levels and somebody should have told Curtis as much. But lately Curtis has essentially been running the Board meetings from his new perch in the Big Chair formerly occupied by Carmel Angelo, telling the board what they can talk about, what they can’t talk about, when they can talk about it, when they’ve overtalked about it, and even when they can take breaks. His often sketchy legal advice is too often taken as gospel by the board, perhaps because of the overlarge pay raise he incorrectly gave himself last year. Board members seem cowed by their attorney and are disinclined to complain, even if they wanted to.
L/CPL. (RET.) BRUCE MCEWEN who recently shoehorned himself into his old uniform for the Burns Supper had this to say, “ I may be 71 but I’m still the same man I was at 17.”
ONLY IN MENDOCINO
by Mary Geddry
A few years ago I moved with my family from the village of Mendocino, California to Coos County in Southern Oregon. We didn’t know a soul in this part of Oregon, though we have some family on the eastern side of the state. We were attracted by a similarity in climate, natural beauty and the much lower real estate prices. As my acquaintance base grew I was surprised to discover that while the “village” of Mendocino has sometimes been touted as the “best known small town in the world,” it just isn’t so in Southern Oregon. Not to say that no one here has heard of Mendocino. Some have, but it was usually in the context of Mendocino’s largest agricultural enterprise and export item: marijuana or “Mendocino Gold.”
Beyond that smoky association and despite pointing out that Mendocino provided the setting for the fictional town of Cabot Cove in the ‘Murder She Wrote’ series, most people seem largely unfamiliar with Mendocino, the county and the village, virtually an island entire of itself, detached from the continent (forgive me John Donne).
Consequently, I have found myself adopting metaphoric ways to impart not only the physical beauty of my former home, but also the cultural uniqueness that makes Mendocino, well, Mendocino.
Two experiences always come to mind when I am asked to describe Mendocino and I will repeat them here. During my residency in Mendocino, I cutback on my computer programming work and began an herbal soap making business. This statement alone probably says volumes about Mendocino but I must deal with that another time. In order to promote my products I often participated in local events, craft shows, fund raisers and farmer’s markets.
One such market was held every Sunday during the summer months in the less famous but probably more notorious coastal village of Albion, about seven miles south of Mendocino. This market was comprised mostly of renegade vendors: farmers or artisans, who for one reason or another, generally space or politics, could not participate in the more mainstream and lucrative markets held each week in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, Boonville and Ukiah. Consequently, the market this day was not well attended by either vendor or customer and was situated at the Albion School about three miles inland from the Pacific.
Mendocino County is heavily populated by the giant California Redwood tree and for a brief time laid claim to the “tallest tree” distinction but also maintains a sliver of real estate known as the pygmy forest, a unique ecological area of nutrient-poor, highly acidic soils that results in stunted vegetation and dwarf pines. While still beautiful, in its stark contrast to the heavily wooded, sun-deprived, redwood forests, the price of real estate offered in the pygmy forest is significantly cheaper and, naturally, it was here that the new Albion School was built.
This was my first time selling at the Albion market and so I turned to my fellow vendors for cues on where to setup, etc., and soon fell into conversation with my neighbors to each side.
The neighbor to my left had moved up from Marin with her husband, both professionals in technical fields, they had given up the city lifestyle, but not the technology, to start an organic farm. They raised organic produce, organic goats and organic poultry. Her name was Kathy and she told me a hilarious story about an unsuccessful attempt to impregnate their organically raised pig with sperm, (organic sperm, presumably), they had ordered via the internet, using a turkey baster.
The neighbor on my right was from Scotland, a potter, and he spoke with a brogue softened by many years of living in the US, primarily Mendocino. His name was Shug and he helped set the tone for the day by early on pulling out his bagpipes and strolling around the perimeter of the school grounds serenading the rest of us with an exceptionally well performed ballad.
Sales were very slow being so far from the beaten path of the tourists, but the day had been warm and sunny and the company congenial and entertaining.
About 3:00 PM a classic Mendocino fog began to creep its way toward the outer edge of the playground where we were setup. Unhindered by the “pygmies,” the encroaching chill would soon cause many of us to abandon our posts a little early but our bagpiper/potter Shug was overcome by the foggy ambience and again picked up his pipes and began a highland lament as he disappeared in ghostly fashion into the mist.
The fog gave an ethereal, otherworldly tonal quality to Shug’s melancholy song and the sound so enveloped us all that it was soon impossible to tell from which direction the music came. I was completely caught up in the beauty and surreal nature of the moment and was so thankful to be a witness to it. Only in Mendocino, I thought blissfully.
It was just then I noticed two middle-aged women emerging from the approaching fog, now only a few feet away from my display table. The women were most notable by their gait, a sort of cross between a skip and a walk and they capered, smiling broadly up to my table. The oldest, a pleasant looking woman with a tanned face and short cropped silver hair, the younger with trailing long brown tresses hanging over her shoulders. Both were dressed in the layered, multi-colored disassembly of sweat shirts, leggings, skirts and mud encrusted boots that marked them as “locals.”
“Hi. My name is Belle, but I used to be called Janet. I have cast off my old self and my new self is now called ‘Belle’,” explained the silver haired woman, still smiling. Her friend remained silent but nodded her head in enthusiastic agreement.
Not quite prepared for this greeting, I glanced nervously at my neighbor Kathy for her reaction but she was dealing with a customer and so I responded simply, hoping not to illicit any additional explanations.
“How do you do, Belle? I’m Mary,” I replied cautiously.
My reserve went ignored if not unnoticed. Belle was gushing with purpose and the unshakeable confidence of someone who “knows.” What it was that she “knew” would be revealed to me soon, I was sure, and I speculated whether they had yet spoken to anyone else here? If not, why me? Why me first?, I wondered? Memory will not permit me to repeat the conversation perfectly but I will reproduce a highly abridged version here as closely as possible.
“Many of us are caught in a rut and do not know how to get out of it,” she began, “I used to run a bed and breakfast here on the coast and was trapped by life habits pushed on me by ex-husbands, work and family. Unhappy and dissatisfied I decided to get rid of my former self. Since casting off my old self my new self is much happier and successful.”
The omni-directional quality of the bagpipes provided an unintended transcendental background as Belle now introduced her friend who had maintained a silent but happy and affirmative countenance throughout Belle’s monolog. Her name was Ginny (formerly Virginia), and once ungagged, she repeated almost verbatim everything Belle had to say about discarding “the old self.”
Not wanting to be rude but not sure I wanted to continue and having contributed nothing so far to the conversation, I glanced quickly around looking for help. None was forthcoming but I thought I detected a slight smile on Kathy’s face.
Shug was on his fourth ballad when Belle shared that she was offering classes at the recreation center every Sunday at only $35 per session. Several sessions would be necessary to completely rid oneself of an old self and create a new self. There were serious practical issues to be addressed such as what to say on your answering machine so as not to confuse friends and callers of your former self not yet familiar with your new self. I was not to worry, though. Everything would be hard work, finding the perfect name for your new self would be “very enlightening and a lot of fun.”
The fog was now waist high and extended well past my table and I finally extricated myself by assuring them that I would consider this concept of old self and new self but that my present self must get home to my children and I started loading the car.
The pair then capered over to the playground swings and took positions facing each other, swinging, and speaking sagely over the sound of the bagpipes about reality, old selves and new selves. As I drove away only their heads were visible above the fog when they reached the apex of the swing.
“Only in Mendocino,” I groaned.
A second experience actually revolves around one of my sons, Alex. Alex is in his 20s and has for the last four and a half years worked at an upscale inn in Mendocino just south of the village. Alex has acquired many skills during his tenure there but one of the most intriguing is “dowsing” or divining if you prefer. The inn property due to its changes and additions over the years is crisscrossed with multiple water lines, mains, irrigation pipes and serviced by multiple wells. Whether you believe in dowsing or not, the inn has come to rely on this technique to successfully locate lost lines, connections and leaks for several years.
Alex was introduced to dowsing by the owner, himself an accomplished dowser, and it soon became evident that Alex had an acute sensitivity. After a little practice Alex developed a 100% success rate and soon became the preferred dowser at the inn. Alex’ s youthful curiosity caused him to experiment with dowsing and he soon discovered that not only could he find water, but he could find his lost keys, other peoples misplaced items and on one occasion a missing employee. He came home from work once and asked me to test him. Among other things, Alex successfully located my purple lavatera even though he didn’t know what it was. Occasionally, he is even called upon by inn staff to help distraught guests find items they have misplaced or lost. They watch in dubious dismay and even annoyance as he produces his L-rods before assisting them, then stare in awestruck admiration as, in one instance, he leads them along a contorted path around various obstacles to their fallen keys laying in the ivy next to their parked car.
A few months ago, the mother of one of his close friends called Alex at the inn to tell him that she suspected her daughter’s boyfriend, an employee and resident of the inn, of stealing a large sum of cash from her. Alex was stunned at the charge and assured her she must be wrong about the friend but he informed the owner of her concerns. An internal investigation was undertaken and after certain facts came to light it was determined that a search of the suspect’s housing was necessary. Alex and another employee were enlisted for this duty.
“Be sure and take your rods,” the owner told Alex.
Alex found what was left of the cash in less than two minutes. But what the main point of this story is that Mendocino is a rare place that finds it perfectly commonplace to send an employee armed with dowsing rods to solve a crime. Only in Mendocino, I think fondly.
READY TO GO ON SHORT NOTICE
Trying to Reach Postmodern America...Are You There?
Set up a Kali altar on top of the storage cabinet next to the bed at Burning Bridges homeless shelter in Ukiah, CA last night, complete with a traditional fruit offering, and a bowl full of candy prasadam for everybody. The staff and guests enjoyed it. Looks like Mother Kali Ma is now the deity of protection at the Mendocino county homeless resource center. Silently chanted Om Aim Hrim Klim Chamundaye Vicche in bed after the lights went out, thus we are now fully in association with the goddess who personifies the destruction of the demonic and the return of this world to righteousness.
That’s the update on the homeless situation in the Mendocino county seat. Meanwhile, I am awaiting anything at all to happen insofar as getting a subsidized apartment, following one year on area waiting lists. I am also willing to leave the region for opportunity elsewhere on a larger stage; I’m packed! The real me is constantly watching the mind think, and is not attached to thoughts, which simply dissipate. The physical health is okay.
Does anybody want to do anything at all of any importance in postmodern California? Radical environmental direct action? Hardcore peace & justice? Hello…are you there?
Craig Louis Stehr
CATCH OF THE DAY, Thursday, February 9, 2023
RONALD AUNCHMAN, Los Banos/Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
JORDAN BRIGHT, Ukiah. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, county parole violation.
HOWARD COATS, Ukiah. Failure to appear.
AUGUSTINE FREASE, Ukiah. Failure to appear.
MARCO GONZALEZ, Hopland. Failure to appear.
ISAAC HILLHOUSE, Ukiah. DUI, probation revocation.
RITA LAVENDUSKY, Fort Bragg. Failure to appear.
ALEX MORA-WHITEHURST, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
STORMY SCOTT, Big Lagoon/Ukiah. Controlled substance.
AARON SIMPSON, Ukiah. Controlled substance for sale, false ID, probation revocation.
MATTHEW SULLY, Ukiah. DUI.
ANTONIO WHIPPLE, Covelo. Assault with deadly weapon not a gun, disobeying court order, failure to appear.
VIRGINIA SHARKEY: This painting, "Vernal Gold," from the series I did of Yosemite, was selected to be in the Marin Society of Artists's online show entitled "Water." It's inspired by the magnificent Vernal Falls, what else? And I was happy, also, to have it reproduced on the Yosemite Calendar awhile back for their summer lecture series at Parsons Lodge. It's oil, 5 feet by 4 1/2 feet.
FREE JULIAN ASSANGE
Julian Assange has now spent more than a decade imprisoned, much of it in solidarity confinement (a torture under U.N. and international law) for simply disclosing information about what our government was doing illegally in Iraq and didn’t want us or the rest of the world to know. Assange has never been tried for any crime, yet has spent years in prison for crimes he’s only allegedly involved in. It’s time to free the man. It’s time to free journalism, and it’s definitely time to allow our democracy to operate in the bright light of the open.
WHO KILLED DAVID ‘GYPSY’ CHAIN
by Jeffrey St. Clair
(The shooting of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán (known as Tortuguita) on 18 January by Atlanta police has garnered international headlines as the first killing of an environmental activist by police in the US. This may or may not be true. But Terán’s shooting (we now know he was shot at least 13 times) was not the first killing of a forest activist in the US. I have profiled two previous deaths: Navajo activist LeRoy Jackson and redwood forest defender David Chain. This piece ran in the Texas Observer in January 1999.)
David “Gypsy” Chain, originally from Pasadena, was killed on September 17, 1998 on Pacific Lumber land, near Grizzly Creek off Route 36 in Humboldt County, because he formed part of the last line of defense in a battle plan fatally betrayed by Democratic politicians and environmental executives cringing before a corporate predator from Texas.
A.E. Ammonds, the 52-year-old faller who put the tree down on Chain, crushing his skull, was the party immediately responsible for the young man’s death – but if Ammonds ever has to face charges of involuntary manslaughter, the people who put him in the woods that day should bear the full brunt of penalties consequent upon a wrongful death.
The terrain where Chain died forms part of the Headwaters Forest, owned by Pacific Lumber, taken over some years ago by Houston-based Maxxam, owned by Charles Hurwitz. As is well known, Headwaters is the largest private holding of old-growth redwoods in the world. When Hurwitz announced a few years ago that his crews would start logging, the most resolute plan against the tycoon was to have the U.S. government penalize Hurwitz for his looting of a Texas savings and loan, by taking Headwaters from him as compensation for his $2 billion heist. But this plan fell by the wayside, derided by the establishment enviros as far too extreme.
Next came a well-conceived plan by former California Congressman Dan Hamburg to have the U.S. government buy out 40,000 acres of the entire 63,000-acre watershed for a substantial, albeit defensible sum. Although it was helped forward through Congress by two of the craftiest manipulators on the Hill – Vernon Jordan and Tommy Boggs, working for Hurwitz – the bill failed in the Senate.
Then came a well-conceived strategy by the Environmental Protection Information Center, an enviro group based in Garberville, California, to tame Hurwitz by rigorous application of federal and state regs. Thousands of acres would be put off limits to the chainsaw in order to protect dwindling habitat for the marbled murrelet, the northern spotted owl and the coho salmon. Given the ravaged condition of Pacific Lumber’s holdings after a decade of Hurwitz’s onslaughts, the mandatory protections for these species would put most of the land out of Hurwitz’s reach. E.P.I.C. put its strategy into play with a series of lawsuits and petitions under the Endangered Species Act, and the strategy began to take effect. At this point Hurwitz raised the stakes, announcing that in the face of these regulatory inhibitions, he was going to file a “takings” suit against the federal government, suing it for hundreds of millions for preventing him from enjoying the rights and ravages of private property.
The Clinton administration and large environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society took this threat as the signal for immediate retreat. Hurwitz, they quavered, might have a chance of victory in such a takings claim, which would encourage further “hostage-taking” by corporations. So, they argued, the prudent course was to give Hurwitz more than he had ever dared dream when he had sent Jordan and Boggs up to Capitol Hill to work for the Hamburg bill.
Enter California Senator Dianne Feinstein. She successfully lobbied Clinton to announce a deal whereby the feds and the state of California would pool money to acquire the minimal core area of Headwaters – less than 10,000 acres of the entire watershed. Of that, only 3,500 acres are composed of old growth redwoods, for which the government offered to Hurwitz the astounding sum of $480 million.
One story going around Washington and Sacramento is that Hurwitz had argued that the acres were worth $900 million, roughly what he paid for the entire company, and the Department of Justice countered with a valuation of $20 million. At which point Tommy Boggs reportedly said, “Why not split the difference?”
By any measure this is surely one of Hurwitz’s greatest financial coups. But there was a lagniappe. As part of the deal Hurwitz demanded that he be allowed to work his will on the rest of the entire 210,000 acres of his Pacific Lumber holdings. The Department of Interior and the State of California duly agreed to sign off on a Habitat Conservation Plan proposed by Pacific Lumber. In the Clinton era, these H.C.P.s have become the preferred corporate method of circumventing the Endangered Species Act.
Pacific Lumber’s H.C.P. will allow the company to largely liquidate the old growth and residual redwood and Douglas fir tracts outside of the 10,000 acres scheduled to be bought by the government. The company is scheduled to receive a permit to kill as many as 340 marbled murrelets, the threatened seabird that nests in coastal old growth forest. This amounts to 17 percent of a total murrelet population in precipitous decline.
Right now on Pacific Lumber lands there are 116 pairs of nesting spotted owls. The H.C.P. estimates that 16 pairs will be “taken,” i.e., killed, and in the words of a California C.D.F. consultant for the plan, “the population [of owls] will be allowed to fluctuate with changes in the landscape.” Given that the spotted owl population has been declining at as much as a 4 per cent annual rate in Clinton-time, none of this bodes well for the creature’s long- or even middle-term survival. On top of that, if the evidence shows that the owl and the murrelet are disappearing at even higher rates, a “no surprises” clause successfully demanded by Hurwitz means that nothing can be done for fifty years – by which time the whole show will be over.
The coho salmon is probably the most complicated factor in the whole deal, and the species that could potentially keep most of the remaining mature forest on Pacific Lumber’s lands out of the sawmills. But instead of pushing an aggressive conservation strategy, the government accepted the following brazen proposal in Pacific Lumber’s H.C.P.: on what are called year-round salmon-bearing streams, Pacific Lumber proposed a thirty-foot no-cut buffer on each side. The federal guidelines for such streams in Washington, Oregon and California require between 300 feet and 500 feet, depending on the slope. On year-round streams without salmon that flow into salmon streams, Pacific Lumber has successfully proposed a ten-foot “buffer,” which is of course entirely meaningless.
At this level of protection the coho – once the mainstay of the Indian economy – has no future at all.
There was a late opportunity to lay this whole dreadful plan low. The feds approved its $250 million slice of the $480 million last year, when Clinton signed the Interior appropriations bill. But the deal still had to be approved by the California general assembly, where E.P.I.C. was making a decent effort at monkey-wrenching the process by fierce lobbying, stirring up fiscal conservatives at the huge cost to the taxpayer, and making environmentally-minded legislators writhe at the preposterousness of the H.C.P.s.
But working the phones behind the scenes were conspirators in the drama which would end in David Chain’s death. Dianne Feinstein and Tommy Boggs lobbied hard, and as the bill picked up legislative speed in Sacramento, the one group which could have stepped forward and killed it in its tracks was the Sierra Club. Instead, in familiar fashion, the Club’s executive director Carl Pope admitted later to his own board of directors that although it was “a close judgment call,” the club “did not actively try to block [the bill’s] passage, but rather put its energy into improving it.” This would be all that was needed to inch the bill past the finishing post, and the General Assembly passed it on September 1.
Oh, and the improvements? The Sierra Club suggested that the coho buffer by expanded from thirty feet to 100 feet and from ten to thirty feet, still far short of the minimum guidelines.
The stage was now set for its fatal denouement, and most likely a whole series of desperate and dangerous actions. Because of the deal finally ratified in Washington and Sacramento, there is no room left for regulatory inhibitions against corporate ravages. At the federal and state level, corporations can shove through Habitat Conservation Plans that are meaningless. The logging crews will be sent into the woods, and the only restraint left will be direct action demonstrators like Chain. There is no remaining alternative.
After Chain was killed, the Sierra Club board piously passed a resolution of “outrage” against his end. The resolution was opposed by David Brower, who told the board that the Club should look at its own shared culpability, abandon ritual expressions of regret, cultivate “inrage, and get its balls back.”
After Humboldt County District Attorney Terry Farmer refused to bring criminal charges in the case, Gypsy’s mother, Cindy, filed a wrongful death civil suit against Pacific Lumber and its parent company, Maxxam, alleging they were reckless and responsible for the death of her son. A settlement was reached three days before trial was scheduled to open.
(Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: email@example.com or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3. CounterPunch.org.)
DMITRY DOSTOEVSKY, great-grandson of the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Dostoevsky had four children: Two died in infancy while the other two survived the 1917 revolution. The writer's daughter, Lyubov, emigrated to Europe and wrote a memoir called "Dostoevsky According to His Daughter" (although experts believe the book is full of inaccuracies).
The son, Fyodor, tried to become a writer like his father, but did not succeed in this field. What he did do was to preserve the writer's archive, which had been looked after by his mother.
His descendant, the writer's great-grandson, Dmitry, lives in St. Petersburg. In one interview, he said that he had inherited his personality from his famous great-grandfather.
Dmitry did not receive a university education (he said that Dostoevsky did not have "formal training" either) and changed jobs more than 20 times, including that of tram driver, which he held for a long time.
HERE'S WHAT'S COME ACROSS ESTHER MOBLEY'S DESK LATELY:
California’s largest wine company, E. & J. Gallo, will have to pay a $378,668 fine for leaking irrigation and waste water into the Merced River, reports Andrew Kuhn in the Merced Sun-Star.
An ex-employee of Napa Valley’s Heitz Cellar has filed a lawsuit alleging that the winery failed to pay all of his wages, writes Kerana Todorov in Wine Business.
In the Daily Beast, David Shortell looks at the burgeoning wine scene in Guanajuato, Mexico, where local wineries are producing wines with “a signature freshness.”
I SNUCK INTO A CALIFORNIA SLAUGHTERHOUSE To Film How They Kill Pigs. It Was Horrifying.
by Raven Deerbrook
On an early morning in October, I was sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles staring at my cell phone as live footage of pigs being gassed to death flashed across my screen. The footage was coming from hidden cameras I had placed the night before inside the Farmer John slaughterhouse in nearby Vernon, a meat packing plant owned by Smithfield Foods, the largest pork company in the world.
As a factory farm and slaughterhouse investigator, I’ve recorded the deaths of thousands of animals in California and brought numerous hidden violations to the public’s attention. But for years, animal rights activists in the U.S., including myself, have been unable to document exactly how pigs are rendered unconscious, and in many cases, die, in carbon dioxide gas chambers like the one used by Farmer John — until now.
Experience told me that whatever images streamed out of the chamber that October morning was going to be bad. But I wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed: pigs screaming, gasping for air, thrashing violently and desperately trying to escape as they slowly suffocated in a pool of invisible carbon dioxide gas.
Carbon dioxide gas chambers are in widespread use across Europe and Australia and have become increasingly common in the United States. Rather than stunning pigs one-by-one, the animals are herded into a cage that is then slowly lowered below ground. Since carbon dioxide gas is heavier than oxygen, when it’s added to the chamber, it sinks to the bottom, pushing breathable air up and out. On one of the days I was undercover at Farmer John, I observed the set point for carbon dioxide in the chamber to be at 90%.
Although administering high concentrations of carbon dioxide has long been known to cause pain, fear and distress in pigs before the loss of consciousness, slaughterhouses claim that the process is humane and in line with U.S. federal law, which requires that carbon dioxide gas accomplishes “anesthesia quickly and calmly.” On its website, for example, Smithfield Foods describes the use of gas as “painless.”
But it only takes viewing a few seconds of footage to know that’s not true. Rather, the growing popularity of gas chambers in U.S. slaughterhouses is due to another reason: efficiency. With the use of carbon dioxide, pigs can be asphyxiated in groups. The gas chambers used by Smithfield Foods in Vernon, for example, have been in use since 2019 and kill over 6,000 pigs daily.
Although a former federal prosecutor reviewed the footage, determined that the facility’s use of carbon dioxide violated the federal standard and reported the violation to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, no legal action has been taken against the pork producer.
Why not? Partly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has wide discretion to interpret the definition of “quickly and calmly.” Coupled with the fact that the evidence of animal cruelty in gas chambers is concealed underground and cannot be seen without the use of cameras — which were not present in the chamber at Farmer John until I installed my own — it becomes easy to see why the department’s inspectors haven’t found Smithfield in violation.
Farmer John’s slaughterhouse has long been the focus of protest by animal activists and criticism from labor groups. In May 2020, the union that represents the workers at the plant demanded that the facility be shut down after a COVID outbreak infected 153 workers. In November, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined the plant after determining it had not followed adequate COVID mitigation protocols. More recently, the plant was also fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations of the federal Clean Air Act.
In May 2022, Smithfield Foods announced it would close the Vernon plant in early 2023, citing “the escalating cost of doing business in California.” While this is welcome news for animal activists in the state, the shutdown won’t change the pork producer’s practices. With slaughterhouses all over the country, the company will likely just expand its operations in other states.
Here in California, however, the plant’s closure presents our state with an opportunity to re-evaluate where we stand on the use of gas chambers to suffocate thousands of sentient animals every day. Given this method is supposedly the most practical and humane method available, it also leads to a bigger question: Should we re-evaluate mass slaughter altogether?
To be sure, California leaders must support workers impacted by this closure and ensure they are able to secure new jobs. But there is no reason those jobs need to depend on animal cruelty. Farmer John is closing, and California can ensure that the property is never again used to torture animals, endanger workers or pollute our environment.
Researchers have long demonstrated that pigs possess cognitive capabilities similar to dogs and young children. They show self-awareness, form likes and dislikes, and experience happiness and fear. They’re smart, social and sensitive creatures and have a language to convey a wide range of messages between themselves and to us.
The message the pigs conveyed in the gas chamber footage is clear: They are in extreme pain, and they want to live. You don’t need the Agriculture Department to tell you that. You can see and hear it for yourself.
(Raven Deerbrook is a factory farm and slaughterhouse investigator and member of the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere. She lives in Berkeley.)
‘NO LIGHT AT THE OTHER END’: Impending Loss of Pandemic CalFresh Boosts Could Trigger Hunger Spike
by Jeanne Kuang
Food banks across California are bracing for a feared spike in hunger amid inflated prices after a pandemic-era boost in food aid ends in April.
March is the last month CalFresh recipients will get the additional benefits, as the federal government cuts off the “emergency allotments” that have kept food stamp allowances higher than usual for nearly three years now.
The average household on CalFresh will lose about $200 a month, said Becky Silva, government relations director at the California Association of Food Banks. A single-person household, for instance, could drop from $281 a month in food aid to as low as $23 in April.
U.S. Department of Agriculture documents show that since November, the pandemic boosts have amounted to more than $500 million a month in additional food stamps coming into low-income Californians’ budgets.
“There’s no way to overstate how devastating this is going to be,” Silva said. “Families are going to see a dramatic and sudden drop in their food benefits at a time when food price inflation and the cost of living in California especially is through the roof.”
Food stamps are funded by the federal government, which determines benefit amounts annually based on the nationwide cost of living as well as recipients’ household size and income.
In March 2020, Congress allowed the USDA to give states funding to boost all recipients’ aid to the maximum allowable benefits for their household size, or add $95 on top for those already receiving the maximum. The recent Congressional spending bill passed in December cuts that off this spring in exchange for funding for extra food aid for school children during the summer months.
More than 2.9 million California households receive food assistance through CalFresh, a number that has risen steadily throughout the pandemic.
The state social services department attributes the increase partially to a more flexible application process during the pandemic, while advocates like Silva also suggest the boost in aid made going through an application more worthwhile for eligible residents.
The loss of emergency allotments will be felt particularly hard by older and disabled people, many of whom have already seen their food aid eligibility reduced after a historic inflationary bump in Social Security checks in January. In addition to wages, Social Security, unemployment benefits and disability payments all count as income for the person receiving food aid.
Tom McSpedden, a 69-year-old Citrus Heights resident with Type II diabetes, saw a nearly $60 decrease in his normal CalFresh allowance last month after getting a $109 increase in his monthly Social Security checks.
But he continued to get the pandemic CalFresh boosts, which kept the total food stamps on his benefits card at $281 that month – the maximum allowable aid for a single-person household.
In April, McSpedden’s monthly CalFresh benefits will drop to roughly $50.
Nearly half of McSpedden’s monthly $1,368 Social Security check goes toward renting a room; the rest is meticulously budgeted for his phone, car insurance, gas, the portion of insulin and medications that Medicare doesn’t cover and bankruptcy payments.
“I don’t have the $230 left over each month to compensate” for the drop in aid, he said. “I’m just not going to be able to afford food. It’s that simple.”
There isn’t any plan to immediately backfill the loss.
The food banks association and other anti-poverty organizations have proposed that the state spend more than $2 billion providing a “ramp-down” of the extra benefits for five months after the federal boosts end.
But it’s unclear whether the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration would agree on new spending as they seek to close a $23 billion budget deficit.
Advocates are also calling for the state to add its own funds to the regular food stamps program, to boost the minimum food aid grant from $23 to $50 with corresponding inflationary increases. Other ideas include expanding special CalFresh programs that provide extra dollars for those purchasing California-grown produce, or for certain Central Valley households who lack clean drinking water in their homes.
Those proposals are “nowhere near approaching the $500 million a month that will be absent from people’s budgets, dinner tables and California retailers as well,” said Jared Call, senior advocate at the food policy organization Nourish California. “But our approach is, no tool in the toolbox should be unused.”
The California Department of Social Services says it’s warning households of the upcoming decline in aid and directing CalFresh recipients to food banks, which have received additional funding from both the state and federal governments in recent years.
The state’s network of food banks continues to serve on average 1.5 times the number of clients as before the pandemic, Silva said.
The Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, which provides food in the county McSpedden lives, averaged 150,000 clients a month before the pandemic, said community resource manager Lorena Carranza. In recent months, that number has been about 275,000.
But food distributions can’t replace the flexibility of food stamps that many residents rely on.
With a special diet to manage his diabetes, McSpedden said food distribution boxes usually only contain a few items he can eat. He’s loath to take a full box when others could use it, he said.
McSpedden worked for nearly three decades as a long-haul trucker until about 15 years ago, when a series of heart attacks ended that career and landed him in a hospital stay that wiped out his savings and retirement accounts.
“I’ve been in predicaments before,” he said. “But this thing here with the extra food stamps, I have no idea. I’m looking into a tunnel with no light at the other end.”
EVERY ANTIQUARIAN, I think every collector, daydreams at some point about the ninety-year-old lady. A little old lady with one foot in the grave and no money to pay for her medications, who comes to you saying she wants to sell some of her great-grandfather’s books that have been sitting in her cellar. You go to take a look, just to make sure, and find a dozen or so volumes of little value before suddenly noticing a large, poorly bound folio, its parchment cover utterly worn out, its headcaps gone, its joints failing, its corners eaten away by rats, heavily stained. You are struck by the two columns of Gothic script, you count the lines, forty-two, you race to the colophon. It is Gutenberg’s forty-two line Bible, the first book ever printed in the world. The last copy on the market (the others are all on display in famous libraries) fetched I forget how many millions of dollars — billions of lire — recently at a New York auction, secured I believe by some Japanese bankers, who immediately locked it away in a safe. A new copy, still in circulation, would be priceless. You could ask whatever you wanted for it, a gazillion lire. You look at the little old lady, you know that if you gave her just ten million she would be perfectly happy, but your conscience nags at you: so you offer her a hundred, two hundred million, enough to put her back on her feet for the few years she has left. Then naturally, once you get back home, hands trembling, you have no idea what to do. In order to sell the book, you would have to mobilize the great auction houses, and they would take a big chunk of the profits and the other half would go to taxes, so really, you would prefer to hold on to it, but you could never show it to anyone because if word got around then half the world’s thieves would be at your door, and what pleasure would there be in having that prodigious thing and not being able to make other collectors green with envy. Forget insurance, the cost would make you faint. What should you do? Loan it to the city, let them keep it, in a room in the Castello Sforzesco, under bulletproof glass, with four armed gorillas to guard it day and night? Then if you wanted to actually look at YOUR book you would have to wade through a crowd of idlers who all want to see the rarest thing in the world up close. And then what do you do, elbow the guy and say THAT’S MY BOOK? Is it worth it?
— Umberto Eco, 2004; from “The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana”
SEYMOUR HERSH REVEALS HOW THE US BLEW UP NORD STREAM 2
In his Substack debut, Seymour Hersh exposes the US role in blowing up the Russia-Germany gas pipelines, and a major off-ramp to peace.
by Aaron Mate
Seymour Hersh, one of the most decorated and impactful journalists of all time, is now on Substack. And he's out with a scoop: the inside story of how the US government blew up Nord Stream 2, the pipelines built to transmit cheap Russian energy to Germany and other European states.
You can read the piece here: seymourhersh.substack.com/p/how-america-took-out-the-nord-stream
Hersh reports that planning for the covert operation began in late 2021. It was undertaken at the behest of National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who was said to be “delivering on the desires of the President.” Last June, Navy divers operating under the cover of a NATO exercise, BALTOPS 22, planted the deap-sea bombs. The explosives were triggered three months later, in September.
As Hersh notes, the destruction of the pipeline fulfilled a major geopolitical US aim. If brought online, Nordstream 2 would “double the amount of cheap gas that would be available to Germany and Western Europe,” and “provide enough gas for more than 50 percent of Germany’s annual consumption.” Accordingly, “Washington was afraid that countries like Germany would be reluctant to supply Ukraine with the money and weapons it needed to defeat Russia.”
It is noteworthy that this plan was formulated in late 2021 — not only when Russian troops were massing on Ukraine’s border, but also when Russia proposed extensive draft treaties to the US and NATO for resolving its security concerns in Ukraine and other surrounding European states. Now we learn that when the US rejected Russia’s core demands — refusing to even discuss the issue of NATO expansion — it was moving ahead with a plan to blow up two pipelines that, if operational, would deepen ties between Russia and the rest of Europe, thereby making a proxy war in Ukraine more difficult.
This explains why, as Hersh notes, senior Biden administration officials could not conceal their glee when the pipelines exploded last September. The bombing of Nord Stream 2, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared, was a “tremendous strategic opportunity.”
Senior State Department official Victoria Nuland recently followed suit by telling Sen. Ted Cruz that she, along with the White House, is “very gratified to know that Nord Stream 2 is now… a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”
In all likelihood, Hersh’s story will be shunned or dismissed by an establishment media that has promoted the notion that Russia was somehow responsible for bombing its own pipeline (though, as Hersh notes, some have recently, albeit meekly, tried to walk that back). As I wrote in October:
An illustrative New York Times report on the Nord Stream bombing declares that “much of the speculation about responsibility has focused on Russia.” According to the Times’ established standards, the notion that Moscow would detonate its own $20 billion pipeline is perfectly consistent: one week earlier, the Times reported that the shelling of Ukraine’s Zaporizhians nuclear power plant was carried out “apparently by Russian forces.” Which means that in the Times’ apparent view, Russia shelled the nuclear plant while also occupying it.
The “Russia-did-it” narrative was echoed by former CIA Director John Brennan, who declared that “Russia certainly is the most likely suspect,” in the Nord Stream attack. Brennan has maintained his confidence in accusing Russia of consequential acts despite previously signing on to a claim, alongside dozens of fellow retired intelligence officials, that the Hunter Biden laptop was also likely the product of a Russian disinformation operation.
One of the few attempts to leak any claim of substance was given to CNN. Citing the now-routine “Western intelligence officials”, a trio of CNN reporters wrote that “European security officials observed Russian Navy ships in vicinity of Nord Stream pipeline leaks,” thus casting “further suspicion on Russia,” which is seen by “European and US officials as the only actor in the region believed to have both the capability and motivation to deliberately damage the pipelines.”
As for the motivation, that can only be the case if one ignores the multi-year US-led campaign -- endorsed by both major political parties and pursued with concerted economic warfare -- to kill the pipelines.
Now Seymour Hersh, a journalism legend, has given us the details on an international act of sabotage that US media outlets reliably obscured.
LIFE ON THE BEAT FOR UKRAINE’S COPS: The Drunk, the Disorderly and Drones
by Marc Santora
In cities dealing with bombardment and blackouts, the Patrol Police have taken a lead in trying to retain a sense of security for a traumatized public.
In another time, in another place, the call to the police in Kyiv might have been dismissed as a crank. A resident living along the river had spotted a suspicious red light in the distance and was worried.
In wartime Ukraine, the reason for the concern was obvious: It could be an agent of Moscow directing a Russian missile to its target.
So Officer Dmytro Subota and his partner, Officer Anatoliy Kochylo, raced to investigate.
“There is nothing really that can surprise us anymore,” Officer Subota said as they sped along empty streets just after midnight. They decided the caller had mistaken a red light on a construction crane for something nefarious, and continued their night patrol.
Such is the head-spinning nature of being a beat cop in a city of 3.3 million that is under bombardment, struggling with blackouts and gripped by uncertainty. Around Ukraine, the Patrol Police, a division of the National Police responsible for public order, now deals with the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Nearly a year ago, on the morning of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, every officer was issued a rifle to help defend the country. They helped orchestrate the exodus of millions of people, battled Russians outside the city of Chernihiv, hunted down Russian saboteurs in Kyiv and stood shoulder to shoulder with soldiers in the southern port city of Mariupol that ultimately fell.
Now, as the government seeks to root out corruption and abuse, Ukrainian officials, Western advisers and local activists hope the trust earned by the Patrol Police can prove enduring and serve as an example for other parts of a sprawling state security apparatus still mired by abuses.
Built from scratch with financial and technical assistance from the United States and Europe, the Patrol Police is seen as a visible example of Ukraine’s desire to embrace Western values and end a culture of corruption that was a legacy of Soviet rule. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has increasingly focused on the issue as he seeks to bolster Western alliances and set the country on a path to join the European Union.
“The only problem is that the area of responsibility of the Patrol Police — public safety — is only part of the work of the police,” he said. The biggest problems are concentrated in the criminal divisions, and the public remained wary of turning to them given a pattern of abuse.
For much of the past year, as the country united against a common enemy and fought for survival, issues related to corruption largely receded into the background. But graffiti on a wall by the banks of the Dnipro River serves as a reminder of the depth of distrust of law enforcement and the broader criminal justice system: “Who do you call when the police kill you?”
It was a question the whole nation was asking in 2014, in the midst of the Maidan revolution that swept a Kremlin-loyal government out of power. Back then, a special branch of the police force, called the Berkut division, shot and killed around 100 protesters among the thousands gathered in central Kyiv demanding reform.
“The brutal actions of the police were the catalyst for people outraged by corruption, the rollback of European integration, and forced ‘Russification,’” wrote Halyna Kokhan, who worked for the European Anti-Corruption Initiative in Ukraine, which advised the country on the overhaul of its law enforcement agencies.
The Berkut division was disbanded. The name of the national police force was changed from Militsiya, the same name as in Soviet times, to Politsiya. And the Patrol Police was formed, replacing two divisions that had the most day-to-day contact with the public but were rife with corruption.
A new police academy was created, and officers were given Prius cars and outfitted with uniforms modeled on departments in the United States. American trainers were sent to work with recruits in a country where the idea of neighborhood policing was a foreign concept.
But the group makes up just 25,000 of the roughly 150,000 members of the National Police and, as broader reforms have stalled, Ukrainians have expressed frustration that abuses have continued.
Roman Sinitsyn, who led some of the commissions set up in 2015 to root out police abuse, said the Patrol Police had been successful because it was created as a new force rather than just refashioned from an old one. It hired almost entirely from among educated young people who had not previously served in law enforcement.
The leaders of the Patrol Police recognize that this period could define the force’s reputation. “The police have to be as close to the people as ever,” said Oleksiy Biloshytskiy, first deputy chief of the Patrol Police. “We need to be seen as their defenders. If we fail during this time, we will lose their trust forever.”
As wave after wave of Russian attacks have plunged cities into darkness and cut off towns from basic services, the Patrol Police have taken the lead in trying to ensure a sense of security for a weary and traumatized public.
Svitlana Lukianenkova, 30, joined the force in 2016. Her training did not include lessons on drone strikes, she said. But the basics of neighborhood-based policing are useful in these trying times.
We work without any holidays or weekends because we need to provide security,” she said.
Road accidents soared during the blackouts, and hundreds of pedestrians in Kyiv and other cities have been killed or injured. But even with the blackouts, Kyiv has recorded a remarkable drop in crime. Robbery, assaults and homicides have all plunged 50 to 60 percent from the same 10-month period a year ago.
“All of these statistics will need to be researched to understand the complex set of circumstances at play,” said Deputy Chief Biloshytskiy. “But it certainly is a reflection of the unity of the society right now.”
And the job is by no means finished. The National Police said on Thursday that the workload for some elements of the police was up 80 percent. The most challenging areas are the parts of the country that have been freed from Russian occupation, with some 80,000 cases of looting being reported.
“Part of the police officers are working in the freed territories, the workload is crazy, but to date we have not lost control of the criminal situation in the country,” said Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs.
Officer Lukianenkova, who sent her daughter, Eva, out of the country at the start of the war, recalls every moment of a missile strike she responded to in Kyiv. The missile hit next to a school and as she arrived, another rocket hit an apartment building across the street. She heard someone screaming from an apartment on fire, but there was nothing she could do.
It is a memory etched in her mind, she said, and one reason she finds officers abusing their positions intolerable.
Officer Lukianenkova and her partner, Stanislav Skrypnyk, 28, said that there are still incidents of police abuse, but that their superiors are quick to take action.
“There are people who don’t like police because police give them fines. It is normal,” Officer Skrypnyk said. “But after the 24th of February, people would bring us food, thank us, look at us as heroes.”
Officer Lukianenkova agreed, noting that most days are spent on the rather ordinary tasks of policing, even in moments of high drama.
“I remember one day there was a small car accident at the same time as a Russian missile was flying overhead,” she recalled. Even though the officers needed to quickly get to the site of the strike, the people involved in the accident wanted their paperwork signed first.
“Our people are undefeatable because even when missiles are flying and there are explosions, they are thinking about the administration of their car,” Officer Skrypnyk said, with a smile.