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Mendocino County Today: Monday, March 13, 2023

Rain & Wind | Camellia | Storm Lessons | Smart Clock | No Help | Shafsky Bros | Baird Case | Lowrider Festival | Buckeye Migrations | Hendy Meadow | Ed Notes | Egg Hunt | Child Welfare | Yesterday's Catch | Desert Oasis | School Safety | Woodstock | Slapless Show | Hot Peppers | Bailing Bankers | Service Station | Deregulation Consequence | Bridge Out | Civil Liberties | Creationist Puddle | Ukraine | Amerika | War Act | Unreasoning Units | Insulting Report | Beware Jerk | Proxy Media | Hawk

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MODERATE TO HEAVY RAIN and periods of gusty winds are expected today through Tuesday. Drier weather is expected Wednesday and Thursday with more light rain possible late in the week.

FLOOD WATCH in effect from 2 pm this afternoon through late Tuesday night.

WIND ADVISORY in effect from 6 am to 5 pm Tuesday.

(National Weather Service)

YESTERDAY'S RAINFALL (past 24 hours): Leggett 2.64" - Laytonville 2.01" - Willits 1.57" - Covelo 1.37" - Yorkville 1.20" - Ukiah 0.69" - Mendocino 0.56" - Hopland 0.51"

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Camellia (photo by Elaine Kalantarian)

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We’ve seen lots of big snow over the years, but in the 40 years of my life here on Bell Springs, there has never been a series of storms with the strength, duration and staying power of what we’re dealing with. The main roads are plowed but people are still hiking in and out of driveways, struggling to get supplies, many are low on firewood and it has been a struggle to keep livestock fed.

North county first responders are all volunteers, and all have been stretched to the breakpoint, in part by the strenuous efforts and in part by the lack of support from county and state government. In speaking with community members, many feel like we’ve been left without the needed resources to deal with an unprecedented storm series. Big gratitude to all the first responders and community members working to help care for each other during this difficult time!

It’s hard to be prepared for something that hasn’t happened before, so I’m going to share some of the learning lessons that we are gathering as a community reeling from a traumatic and difficult experience. We need faster recognition and implementation of emergency support including shelters along the 101 corridor. Leggett needs permanent generator capacity to keep the school in power so that shelter can be offered to stranded motorists. The lack of power and communications have severely hampered local support efforts, and coupled with a lack of institutional support has left many cut off and the communities left to fend for ourselves.

In the high country, the county has worked hard to keep main roads plowed, and we appreciate the significant efforts by the operators who are working long hours in difficult conditions. The nature of the rural roads is that there are many places that remain inaccessible, often with stranded community members who have run low on supplies because of the duration of the storm event.

One of the key needs is for upland community response vehicles equipped with tracks to navigate the deep snow on the many side roads and driveways. As first responders, we received requests for welfare checks on neighbors but we were immobilized ourselves. It’s a terrible feeling to be asked for help and be unable to make it happen.

Despite the tremendous difficulties, there have been incredible moments of shared effort that define us as community. It’s the old saying about how people pull together when times get tough, and I have been in awe of the dedication, strength and capacity of people working together to help each other.

Big shout out to all the equipment operators working long hours to help get to people and open roads for supplies for humans and livestock. Up here on the Bell, Frank Thomas Construction has been instrumental in helping access many neighbors. Ben O’Neill has gone above and beyond in his efforts to rally supplies and organize distributions. Big shout out to the snowmobile crew, Noah, Hannibal and Avery for making deliveries to stranded people.

Deep gratitude to the Community Foundation of Mendocino County for a grant that purchased food, fuel and livestock feed supplies. Without this support we would have been entirely on our own, and it has made a major difference in our community support efforts. We are learning to be more organized, more communicative with representatives, and to ask for help when we need it. The lessons learned in this experience will help us to be much more effective during future storm events.

Now that the rains have come, we’re into the sloppy, slick, messy phase of the snow. The adrenaline is fading, leaving the fatigue that lingers like the messes we’ll have to clean up once the snow finishes melting. On the farm, valiant efforts saved seven hoophouses, while two were lost to collapse. There is a large oak branch down on a storage barn, and one nestled in the narrow gap between two hoophouses in a miraculous touchdown that didn’t crush the tunnels themselves.

Farming has been on hold for almost three weeks (today marks 19 days under snow), at what is usually one of the busiest parts of our season. I’m not entirely sure how to get the wheels back on the cart; at best, our whole year is going to be late. The loss of crops and infrastructure damage, along with the exhaustion leaves me feeling cut adrift, yet I know that when the sun returns and the snow melts away, hope will spring eternal. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!

— Happy Day Farms, March 12th, 2023

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by Jim Shields

On Thursday, Feb. 23, around 6 pm, Highway 101 was closed in both directions from Willits to the Humboldt County line and motorists were stranded in Laytonville. The Laytonville Fire Department requested that my daughter Jayma Shields Spence, who is Director of Laytonville Healthy Start, the north county’s family resource center, open up Harwood Hall which also serves as an emergency shelter. Last year, she agreed to let the County park the shelter trailer on Healthy Start property, from where it was previously kept at the fire department. The trailer is filled with all the basic supplies you would need to operate a shelter: cots, blankets, coffee pots, etc. and it made sense to have it on-site.

Jayma explained to me, “The trailer is also locked and I was told after I asked a member of the County OES (Office of Emergency Services) how we would unlock it, he said ‘We send a staff person to unlock it.’ I thought that was weird, but to bureaucrats who have more rules than I do, I guess that made sense to them.”

Here’s Jayma’s summary of what occurred next:

“By about 9 p.m., three of us had made contact with various members of the county to tell them about our situation and asked for access to the trailer. My dad spoke with the Sheriff, who was very helpful, former-Fire Chief Sue Carberry spoke with a few members of OES, and I spoke with 2 members of OES. We all made a threat that we would use the ‘Master Key’ (bolt cutters) to gain access to the trailer if need be. We were asked, ‘Why did you open up (the shelter)?’ The answer is because there was easily over 100 people stranded in Laytonville, about 20 were currently inside my office, the highway was closed due to a heavy snow storm with freezing temps, and no sign of stopping but that wasn’t considered an emergency by county officials. We were told that ‘we will continue to monitor the situation’ and that the highway was predicted to open up soon. The highway didn’t open up to south-bound traffic until Friday afternoon and it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that 101 finally opened up to north-bound traffic. By 10 p.m. it was obvious to me that no one was coming to our rescue. That we weren’t being given permission to access the emergency shelter trailer. So, we knew that it was up to us to provide a warm and welcoming place for our new guests.”

My daughter put out the word to the community about the County refusing to assist with what was clearly an emergency, and that supplies were needed. To make a long story short, folks generously brought in supplies and others volunteered their help, and we were able to provide shelter and the basics until the highway reopened two days later.

It should never have been made this difficult for the people who were just trying to do the right thing.

My motto has always been, “Solving emergency, get out of my way, paperwork will follow.”

Various media platforms, including the Bay Area’s KTVU, reported on this bureaucrat-created snafu, and many people weighed in with comments and posts. Here’s some of them:

A big thank you to Jayma Shields Spence and her helpmates for helping stranded travelers in Laytonville during the last storm. I’m sure it was stressful and difficult and you did an amazing job keeping people safe, fed and as warm as possible. I’m sorry to hear of another county failure in a well predicted situation which could have cost lives. Frustration doesn’t begin to cover my feelings about this. Maybe Supervisor Haschak could/should setup a call between OES and the team in Laytonville, so this doesn’t happen again. Another storm is predicted — TONIGHT .—k.h.

Not to worry, Ms. Shields. The BOS will follow its usual procedure of appointing an ad hoc committee to investigate, which committee will never report back to the Board. It’s Robertson’s Rules on burying the issue. Seriously, though. You might as well have taken the bolt cutters to the lock and handed out the emergency goods. After all, it was an emergency. And I personally would reimburse the county for the lock. May I end by congratulating Ms. Shields and her cohorts? Bless them for their compassion. — George Dorner

Wasn’t Barbara Howe fired for accessing the emergency generators during the blackouts? Bolt cutters are burglary tools, aren’t they? Well, that’s not the Humboldt Way, and Laytonville is closer to Humboldt than Mendocino in significant ways…— Bruce McEwen

“Howe told me that Moss-Chandler officially fired her for “committing county resources without authorization,” in this case four generators Howe promised to the county’s regional centers (following an inter-agency assessment Howe says she initiated) in case of emergencies— generators that, incidentally, had already been acquired with state emergency funds and were stored, awaiting placement, in a shed in Howe’s backyard.” — James Marmon

Losers not Leaders should be Mendo’s motto of government. Discouraging is not the word that comes to mind when the bumblers who preside over the County are once again m.i.a. Anger doesn’t even come close to describing what I (and I’m sure many others) think of these people. Luckily private citizens like Ms. Shields are at the ready to do what our elected and appointed officials are supposed to. And next time the hell with official county bureaucracy — cut the damn lock and see if DA Dave has the balls to prosecute you for damage to county property. — Stephen Rosenthal

Great piece by Jayma! My congrats.— Bruce Anderson

Where’s 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak, or is this another Creekside RV Park bridge debacle? I suspect most of the “Amazon Wish List” is within the county’s holdings somewhere. Isn’t there a County Emergency Services Department that can help Laytonville? A few grand would make this go away…Be Well, — Lazarus

On the day in question, I had my cordless cut-off grinder in hand ready to cut the lock off the OES trailer but my daughter asked me not to do it because she didn’t want trouble with the county bureaucrats. So I reluctantly complied with her wishes. I believe she now has a new motto. PS: I also spoke with Haschak after this occurred and he is on-board with the rest of us. —Jim Shields

That’s good to know about Mr. Haschak. I hope they have a plan prepared for this evening so both stranded citizens and well-meaning people trying to help aren’t put in the same stressful situation again. I am surprised no one cut the lock, but your daughter was probably right in her decision. No need for her to get thrown under the bus trying to help people. The county could easily make her out to be the bad guy for their own reasons. — k.h.

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher,, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:

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JULIE (SHAFSKY) PARAVICINI from Fort Bragg writes: Just finished reading the online paper from today. I noticed that you have a photo of my family’s store posted. I wanted to say how cool it is for me to see the photo and love when you post old-time photos in general. I wanted to send you a couple photos I have of what our store looked like in 1900:

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PART 2: FORT BRAGG WOMAN ACCUSED OF DEALING PSYCHEDELICS Maintains The Criminal Case Against Her Is ‘Full Of Lies And Inaccuracies’

by Matt LaFever

According to investigators from the Mendocino County Major Crimes Task Force, 51-year-old Fort Bragg woman Heather Baird possessed commercial quantities of psychedelic mushrooms and LSD. Investigators claim she sold psychedelics over the internet amassing considerable wealth.

After law enforcement raided her home, took custody of her son, and put her in solitary confinement for five days, she now faces two felony drug charges and a misdemeanor for child endangerment. 

Baird came forward to tell her side of the story. According to Baird, law enforcement’s version of events is “full of lies and inaccuracies” resulting in a waste of “thousands and thousands in taxpayer dollars so far, and they won’t get anything from me.”

But, Baird says the case law enforcement presents is inflated, distorted, and motivated by their preconceived notion that she is some sort of a heavy-hitting hallucinogen dealer. “They tried to make me sound like I’m a high roller and it couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

Heather Baird

Baird’s criminal case coincides with California legislators considering Senate Bill 58. If passed, Californians could possess, prepare, transport, and use specified amounts of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, and mescaline. This means Baird is being charged with possessing a drug that could potentially be decriminalized in the foreseeable future.

Baird argued law enforcement’s view of her as a drug dealer did not comport with the extensive community service she has provided to the Mendocino Coast community. For seven years, she ran a non-profit focused on children of the Mendocino County Coast. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she spearheaded a thrift store for those in need during the trying economic times of lockdown. In 2017, she received a Mayoral Commendation from Fort Bragg Mayor Lindy Peters for volunteering to work in Paradise, California after the tragic fire. Baird provided documentation of her community service in the form of pictures of print periodicals that wrote of her contributions. 

She disclosed to us that psychedelics, microdosing, and mental health are passions of hers. Baird would not speak to whether she actually provided these substances to interested parties, but she told us she is an advocate of psychedelic therapy.

She described microdosing psychedelics as “medicine” necessary for a community that “doesn’t take care of mental health.” Hallucinogens are “being decriminalized all around us. All one needs to do is take a drive to Oakland and you can buy all the stuff I had, right on the street or at their weekly psychedelic market.” 

Oakland decriminalized multiple psychedelics in 2019 and as recently as August 2022 mushroom laced candy bars could be bought over the counter.

Baird was told by police a tip had prompted the task force’s investigation. She believes that tip came from an ex-employee who had suffered from psychiatric episodes. Baird and the ex-employee split ways in early February.

Court documents say investigators initiated contact with their target on February 20, 2023, when an undercover officer met with Baird and purchased LSD and psilocybin-infused edibles from her.

Baird confirmed she was contacted by someone she did not know but would not disclose the nature of their interaction.

Investigators assert Baird was in possession of “commercial quantities” of narcotics including psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, and cannabis. However, Baird asserts she had relatively small amounts.

Baird told us on February 22, 2023, 10-15 squad cars surrounded her residence around 10:30 a.m. while her son was sleeping peacefully. 15-20 officers raided her apartment. They “ripped my place apart and found almost nothing,” she asserted. She told us the alleged “commercial quantities” of mushrooms were less than a pound. 

When law enforcement utilizes language like “commercial quantities” of drugs, some jurisdictions have established agreed-upon amounts that qualify as “commercial.” Other jurisdictions characterize any quantity of drugs being actively sold in an act of commerce as “commercial”.

Baird insists the approximate pound of mushrooms law enforcement discovered does not qualify as “commercial quantities”. Most microdosing protocols encourage users to consume .1 grams. A pound is 458 grams. This means a single pound of psychedelic mushrooms could provide 4,580 microdoses.

Other than the mushrooms, Baird said law enforcement confiscated a small amount of “microcapsules, micro chocolates, and candy bars”–an amount that she claimed did not suggest bulk sales or an extensive operation. 

Officers located a stash of mushrooms in a back storage closet, Baird said, which law enforcement and Child Protective Services claimed was “within reach” of her 12-year-old son. This gave the state grounds to take custody of the child. Over two weeks have gone by since the raid and her son remains in a foster home. 

During the raid, Baird said she got the distinct impression the police were searching for cash. Instead of a huge haul, officers found $1,600 at her home and seized $8,000 from her bank accounts. Baid said that one of the officers told her that if “I ‘found’ my money, they would leave my son.”

Court documents suggest law enforcement believed Baird had enriched herself by selling hallucinogens. The prosecution demanded any money she put up for bail was put through a “bail source review” to verify the cash was not a product of illegal activity. 

An investigator with Major Crimes wrote in the request that Baird was unemployed and lived lavishly paying $5,000 for rent on two properties and recently purchasing a new Toyota Tacoma indicating she was “living well above her financial means.”

According to Baird, this investigator was totally incorrect. She told us she is a taxpayer having worked independently since 2016 running a non-profit and working as an event organizer. Her apartment is $2,000/month. She also manages a Simpson Lane property with four tenants. Regarding the truck, Baird sold a car she owned outright to purchase a new vehicle and now makes monthly payments. 

The investigator told the judge that Baird expressed to investigators she would spend “millions of dollars to make bail” leading authorities to conclude that she would use her piles of cash earned from her psychedelic business to make bail. 

Baird said her comment about millions of dollars was a “joke” and a reference “to getting my son who I would go to the ends of the earth for. It would be clear to any intelligent human that I didn’t have millions since I’m living in a garage apartment.”

During the raid, the police “leveled” her cannabis grow to confiscate all her plants including the trim. “I was under the limit for a medical grow”, Baird said. “I just didn’t have the medical grow card which can be obtained online.” With her cannabis garden ripped out of the ground, Baird says she has a hard time making sense of how countless grows throughout Mendocino County up to 10,000 square feet in size could avoid the ire of law enforcement yet her small garden was destroyed.

Investigators confiscated all of her electronic devices during the raid. Baird told us officers deleted all of her photographs off her phone. Baird claims that at one point, an officer told Baird if she gave him her phone’s passcode, he would personally call some of her friends to pick up her son. She obliged and was shocked when he instead allegedly called CPS.

According to Baird, law enforcement sought large sums of cash typical of drug sales. Finding themselves empty-handed, Baird said authorities took the only thing important to her, “my son.”

Since her arrest, Baird has only seen her 12-year-old boy three times. She said CPS has him living in a foster home. Separated from his mother, Baird said her son is suffering, sad, and scared. 

Assertions by the prosecution that her boy was in danger are untrue, Baird said. “He was not in danger or living in a trap house. He is 12, plays Minecraft, and builds rockets. He’s a boy who needs to be with his mother.”

After the raid, Baird was booked into the Mendocino County jail. For five nights, she was in solitary confinement due to COVID-19 quarantine protocols. She says she was given a single blanket and shivered constantly. She makes the following claims which have not been substantiated. She says that the facility’s heater is centered in the common area, which she said was too far away from her quarantine cell to heat it. In addition, she says that no one brought her toiletries and she could not make purchases at the commissary. She reports that she lost ten pounds in five days.

Despite the prosecution’s insistence a bail review be conducted, she was finally released without paying any bail.

As a result of her arrest, Baird must leave the apartment she shared with her son, a hound dog, three cats, fish tanks, and a bearded dragon. Baird has been evicted from her apartment and is looking for a new place to call home. 

Despite law enforcement’s belief she was selling psychedelics, Baird spoke confidently that the community knows her good works and is making efforts to help. “I have gone above and beyond hundreds of times at all hours of the day and night for people for over a decade. I have to say I knew that I’d have support from the community, and I hope this is a catalyst for change.”

Community members have initiated a letter-writing campaign to Mendocino County District Attorney Dave Eyster imploring him to drop the charges. On April 6, 2023, several local bands are playing a concert to raise funds for her legal fees. The community’s support gives Baird hope that “cops are the minority here in this county where people believe in plant medicine.”

Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. Heather Baird will return to Fort Bragg’s Ten Mile Court presided by Judge Clay Brennan. Prosecutors will negotiate with her defense attorney, a common process before the preliminary hearing. 

Talking to her, she gives off an air that these negotiations are inconsequential. Instead, she is cautiously optimistic after being told that there is a chance her son could be coming home tomorrow.

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First annual Lowrider Festival happening in Ukiah on March 24

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by Tommy Wayne Kramer

I arrived in Ukiah a long time ago, back when stegosauruses roamed Laytonville, the Dead Sea was merely ill, and no one in Mendocino County had ever heard of marijuana.

You might think these were the Good Old Days, and maybe they were, but about 15 minutes after I got here everyone else from Ohio also came to town. The invasion changed things, but no one has called the changes an improvement over the good old days.

This introduction leads us to an update, and finds me half a century older and 3000 miles east, but still surrounded by former Buckeyes who were smart enough not to take the scenic route to North Carolina by first pausing in Ukiah. I think it’s a little spooky, though my wife prefers the word “creepy.”

Not that Ohioans aren’t swell, because they most certainly are, but there are just so stinkin’ many of them all crowded around this small Carolina town that ought to be no more lure for ex-Clevelanders or Toledoans than Ukiah was. But here they are. We are.

All my neighbors, except the people who have lived here since their ancestors fought mine at Gettysburg, are from Ohio and dozens more will be climbing off the next Greyhound.

Chipmunks are cute, but do you want 40,000 of them in your attic? Wife Trophy has had enough. She forbids me engaging in conversations with strangers because one of us will eventually say “Really? I had an uncle lived in Bucyrus. When did you get here?” The conversation will go on and on into high school memories, college rivalries, James A. Rhodes, weather updates and promises to stay in touch.

Out of nowhere a nice lady we know let it slip she left Cleveland (where I lived) to take night classes at Bowling Green University (where I went) and that she’s going with her daughter to vacation with her son who lives on Lake Erie and works in the salt mines beneath it.

Salt mines? Under Lake Erie?! Ten more minutes of conversation are required. Trophy sags to the floor.

I know more people here who lived in Shaker Heights than I ever knew when I grew up in Seven Hills. 

In Scotland we met a herd of women, all from Ohio, who were accompanying a youngster there to run a marathon. The girl goes to the same high school I did. So did the other four.

Maybe the state of Ohio is all emptied out, with Northern California and North Carolina the lucky beneficiaries.

We’re in the south among southerners and southerners are relentlessly polite and well-mannered. But they have their limits no matter how much they love chipmunks.

My brother emigrated from Ohio to South Carolina when he was a tender lad of 25, and thinks natives are getting a wee bit taxed. A wee bit annoyed. A wee bit like grabbing pitchforks and torches and chasing the invaders out.

Carolinians are weary of new arrivals who are shocked, stunned and semi-outraged at the absence of Stroh’s beer, kielbasa sausages and Browns games on TV. Being midwesterners, and thus not quite so polite and well-mannered as their new neighbors, they make their complaints known.

The Charleston Riverdogs baseball team sponsors an annual “Go Back Home!” night. A radio station lets local listeners vote on which state is most deserving of having its immigrants shipped back. Three years in a row Ohio has swept the polls.

“Go Back to Ohio!” it is. Again. We’re Number One! Or maybe Number 50.

At the ballgame game fans vote for the best-dressed former Buckeye; the Grand Prize is a one-way bus ticket back to the land of milk, honey and unemployment.

Big draw. Lotsa laughs. Few shootings.

Think how different Ukiah might be today if locals had watched the steady stream of newcomers rolling into town back around 1975. They’d scratch their heads, look at one another and somebody might say something like this:

“Y’know, VW buses are cute, but do we want 400 of them parked up and down State Street? Now Elmer, tell us more about this Greenfield Ranch thing.”

Mighta kept Ukiah a nice town. Wouldn’t have saved the Dead Sea, but there’d be no dinosaurs and pot growers.

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Meadow, Hendy Woods (photo mk)

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HARD PRESSED FAMILIES are moving back in together so they can make their collective rent, mortgage payments, share childcare, and survive the economic feral society outside the front door. Some 60 million American households are now thought to be “multigenerational,” a figure which has quadrupled since the 1970s, according to data collected by Pew Research. And it is not just a trend reserved for 20-somethings. Couples in their 30s and 40s are finding they are having to move in with their grandparents to help out with rising costs. 

ECONOMIC FAMILY UNITS are common in many parts of the world, even when it isn’t necessary to make ends meet. Multi-generational families under one roof are, the experts say, good for everyone’s mental health, eliminating the isolation that causes so much mental illness. I lived with a multi-generational Malay family for about a year when I was young. The grandparents anchored a sprawling family that included three generations all the way down to a half-dozen toddlers watched over by older children. El Gringo was always struck by how smoothly the family’s matriarch made it all work, and how well everyone got along, all of us gathering on the porch every late afternoon to share the day’s events as the equatorial sun suddenly plummeted us all into darkness. 

JANET SAYS NO, but will say YES the instant the bigger banks tell her to, despite fears of a market meltdown. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced Sunday. Silicon Valley Bank was the 16th largest bank in the US until it failed on Friday after a 60% drop in share price as its customer deposits weren’t sufficient to keep this particular ponzo-ronzo afloat. SVB controlled $209 billion in total assets at the end of 2022, and has done mucho business with the NorCal wine business. How the collapse of SVB will impact the wine industry is not yet known, but a lot of those businesses, judging from on-line chatter, are very nervous.

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‘WE WERE ONCE A FAMILY’: A riveting indictment of the child welfare system

Book Review by Robert Kolker

Roxanna Asgarian’s deep reporting on a notorious tragedy that ended in Mendocino sheds light on a bureaucracy responsible for more than 400,000 children…

Jennifer and Sarah Hart were a White married couple, together since college, who adopted a set of three biracial siblings in 2006 and three Black siblings two years later. All six adopted children — Ciera, Abigail, Jeremiah, Devonte, Hannah and Markis — came from the Texas foster-care system. For 10 years, Jen maintained a flamboyant Facebook presence, filled with adorable photos of the children, proclamations of Black allyship, and proud endorsements of meditation and vegetarianism. Many on social media bought into the image of devoted parents taking on a burden others would flinch at, providing a home for children who, in Jen’s telling, had been mistreated and forgotten before she and Sarah came along.

But all of that was a smokescreen. In the early hours of March 26, 2018, the Harts’ SUV veered off Mendocino County’s section of the Pacific Coast Highway, fell off a sharp cliff and crashed on the jagged rocks below. There were no survivors.

It soon came out that the Harts had moved twice in recent years — from Minnesota to Oregon, and Oregon to Washington — with complaints filed against them with children’s protective services agencies everywhere they went. An inquest found that there were no skid marks on the cliff where the Harts’ SUV went flying — and that the Harts had dosed the children, who ranged in age from 12 to 19, and themselves with extraordinary amounts of Benadryl. 

This was premeditated, the culmination of a nightmarish family life.

Even so, the local sheriff cast it as “a ‘Thelma and Louise’ situation” — two harried idealists, done in by the pressures of a world gone mad. This prompted journalist Roxanna Asgarian to wonder why so few people were saying what actually happened. “What is drugging your family and driving them off a cliff,” she asks, “if not murder?”

Asgarian is based in Texas, where the six Hart children came from. She is the law and courts reporter for the Texas Tribune and has experience reporting on the child welfare system. That vantage point, and her interest in how power shapes and controls social narratives, drew her inexorably to this case. “I knew that there was much more to this story,” she writes, “and that it started earlier, way earlier, when these kids were still in their homes with their birth parents.”

Her bracing gut punch of a book, “We Were Once a Family,” is a provocative mix of immersive narrative journalism, rigorous social policy analysis and proud advocacy. It pulls back the focus from the horrific crash to investigate, thoroughly and intimately, why these six children were sent out of Texas in the first place — away not just from their parents but from responsible family members who could have kept the children close. In Asgarian’s telling, the child welfare system in America — a “large web of state, county and city agencies” as she explains it, responsible for some 425,000 children — may not be specifically designed to tear children away from the people who love them and place them into the homes of swiftly and carelessly vetted strangers, but time and again it does exactly that.

Asgarian begins with a powerfully rendered narrative of how the second set of three children the Harts adopted — Ciera, Devonte and Jeremiah — were caught up in the wheels of a Texas family court plagued by cronyism, xenophobia and a zeal for placing children anywhere but near their families. The children’s mother, Sherry Davis, was a drug user, but her partner, Nathaniel, much older and not living with Sherry, was a more-than-ideal caregiver for the children. So was the children’s aunt Priscilla, who played by the rules of the system and applied for custody.

In reality, neither Nathaniel nor Priscilla had a chance: The family court judge, the larger-than-life, brash and braying Patrick Shelton, locked them both out of the process. Without them knowing it even happened, the three children were sent to Minnesota, into the hands of the Harts. A fourth brother — Sherry’s oldest son, Dontay — was left to languish in a residential program, without ever being told his three siblings had left the state.

Asgarian was so far ahead of any other reporter that she became the first to locate the family of the other set of adopted children: Abigail, Hannah and Markis. No one before Asgarian had bothered to notify their mother, Tammy Scheurich. (“I was floored when I realized she didn’t know,” Asgarian writes.) By the time Tammy first became a mother, at 18, she’d experienced enough trauma for several lifetimes: sexual abuse as a child, domestic violence, mental illness and hospitalizations; suicide attempts and homelessness would follow. The three children were taken from her during a health emergency for Hannah — which becomes a chance for Asgarian to note how hospitals serve as an arm of the child welfare complex. 

Tammy lived in a world where bringing a child to the hospital could result in that child never coming home. And that’s what happened. Tammy’s distrustful relationship with the hospital was interpreted by one Child Protective Services official as evidence of child neglect. A “blindsided” Tammy was then charged with child endangerment. And when she failed to pay $225 in court fees she was sent to jail for 30 days, received no mental health support and developed an abiding hatred for the caseworker who took the children away. Other family members were never considered as an option; instead Tammy’s children went to the Harts.

The Harts made me think of cult leaders, broadcasting messages of love and compassion to conceal something more sadistic and pathological. Asgarian suggests that their intensely cultivated image of perfection was destined to crack — and once it did, there was no going back. In reality, there weren’t enough beds in their home for all six of the kids. Hannah, twice reported with bruises, had her two front teeth knocked out, and at age 12 she stood just 3 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed about 50 pounds. One friend who reported the Harts to the Oregon Department of Human Services said that Jen “views the children as animals before they came to her, and she as their savior.” 

And yet for the longest time, no complaint seemed to stick. The Harts’ first investigations for abuse, astonishingly, took place before they adopted the second set of children. Those reports, Asgarian notes, slipped through the cracks; unlike the birth families, the Harts “were met with the benefit of the doubt.”

The children are killed with more than 100 pages left in the book. It is here that Asgarian fully steps into the narrative, developing deep personal ties with the children’s birth parents, their partners, their other children and their caseworkers, getting to understand the depths of their impossible life situations and the institutional neglect.

The most affecting story is of Dontay Davis, the brother left behind, first institutionalized and later incarcerated. It took almost a year, Asgarian writes, for Dontay to even talk to her. And later on, when he learned that his three siblings were gone, his heart was shattered: “That was the last little hope I had in my life.” 

Asgarian’s portrait of this traumatized boy as he becomes an even more scarred and dysfunctional man works as a microcosm for all the book’s arguments. “Many of the systems that could now help him as an adult remind him too much of CPS, the entity he blames for the destruction of his family and the death of his siblings,” she writes. And later we see history repeating, as Dontay’s own son enters the sights of the child welfare bureaucracy.

Asgarian views many of the people in this book through the prisms of psychology (domestic violence, trauma, PTSD), policy (mass incarceration, child welfare agencies) and cultural bias — even as she becomes intimately involved in their lives. “In this book, I’m not a passive observer of injustice,” she writes. “The child welfare system didn’t cause the trauma Tammy or Sherry experienced at a young age, but neither did it help them deal with it.” Their birth families “were not beating their children or starving them; they were clearly struggling with substance use and mental illness, but instead of receiving help, the parents were punished.”

Priscilla puts it more bluntly: “They got it all backwards. They should have done something with the mother, put her in rehab — but you have people here, loved ones, to take them in, and you take them away. They got it all messed up.”

* * *

Roxanna Asgarian. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-60229-1

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CATCH OF THE DAY, Sunday, March 12, 2023

Arreguin, Cruz, Davis


LORENZO CRUZ, Ukiah. Burglary.

CARL DAVIS, Willits. Domestic battery.

Medina, Myers, Norton

JORGE MEDINA-REDONDO, Philo. DUI, failure to appear.

ELIZABETH MYERS, Upper Lake/Ukiah. DUI, suspended license for DUI.

JUSTINE NORTON, Ukiah. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, more than an ounce of pot, probation revocation.

Ray, Sandoval, Short

JAMES RAY, Hopland. Failure to appear, probation revocation.


NICHOLAS SHORT, Lovelock, Nevada/Ukiah. Domestic battery.

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I agree that metal detectors at school entrances might improve school safety. However, the analogy of going through airport security not making people feel as if they’re entering a prison isn’t the best: that doesn’t happen every day throughout an entire school year.

We shouldn’t have to resort to installing metal detectors, but students must feel safe in school, and if that’s what it takes, do it. I taught high school for over 20 years and would have been fiercely against the idea then, but the world has changed radically since 1989 when I moved on to college teaching.

People with weapons may be anywhere, and the news makes it seem as if they’re everywhere. No one should have to live in fear when they go to the supermarket or a place of worship or out to a club or theater, let alone into a school to study and learn.

Sadly, even metal detectors may not be enough. Access to nonmetallic knives and guns is increasingly easy. So maybe we do need resource officers in our schools, a proposal I find intrinsically abhorrent. But if that would have saved the life of Montgomery’s Jayden Pienta, I’m all for it.

Jim Lobdell

Santa Rosa

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Woodstock 1969

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A show that’s become a shrink-wrapped, anodyne exercise stuck safely to the script.

by Mike Hale

To paraphrase Greta Garbo, give me back my slap.

No, of course onstage assaults are unacceptable. But the 95th Academy Awards could have used a jolt of some kind as they wound their way through three and a half hours on Sunday night. There was a crisis team in place to handle the fallout from any unexpected catastrophes like Will Smith’s attack on Chris Rock at last year’s show, but there was nothing it could do about the ordinariness and sameness of the ABC broadcast.

The audience in the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles roared for the early victories of sentimental favorites like Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (for best supporting actor and actress) and the late — very late — victories of the film’s writers and directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and star, Michelle Yeoh. And their speeches were stirring. But at the end of the now endless awards season, we knew that they would be, and we had a pretty good idea what they would say.

There is now, through no one’s individual fault, a consistently promotional, exhortatory, shrink-wrapped feeling to the Oscars. After the depredations of streaming video and Covid-19, no chances are being taken. Jimmy Kimmel, reviving the role of the solo Oscar host, got off some good lines in his monologue — the movies are still distinct from television because “a TV show can’t lose $100 million.” (Though in the age of Netflix and Amazon, is that true?) But on balance it was safe, with the sharp jibes reserved for easy targets who weren’t there, like James Cameron and Tom Cruise. (“L. Ron Hubba Hubba,” maybe the best line of the night.)

Kimmel addressed Smith’s slap at length without really talking about it. He focused on what would happen in the extremely unlikely event anyone went rogue this year, pointing out performers in the audience whose screen characters were brutal enforcers — Pedro Pascal of “The Mandalorian,” Michael B. Jordan of “Creed III” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” It was an odd way to signal that violence was unwelcome.

(Smith, last year’s best-actor winner, was replaced as a presenter for the lead acting awards by Halle Berry.)

In current fashion, the show opened not with a production number but a film montage, in this case a series of behind-the-scenes clips from nominated films. The attempt to hook audiences by bringing them inside the process of filmmaking and award-giving was also reflected in the deconstructed see-through set.

This contemporary feint toward inclusiveness — if they can’t nominate more female directors, at least they can make viewers feel as if they’re getting an inside look — contrasts, for better and worse, with the glossy insiders’ party that the Oscars used to be.

The surely unintentional effect, in a broadcast that sang the praises of the theater experience, is to make the movies feel smaller — more suited for the laptop screen and the Netflix interface. Winners don’t stick in the mind they way they used to. Did you remember that “Dune” took home six awards last year, twice as many as any other film? Or that “CODA” won best picture? (You’re welcome.)

In this context, the purely promotional segments on Sunday — a long plug for the Academy museum, a creaky salute to Warner Bros.’ 100th anniversary — felt right at home but also, in their reinforcement of the show’s lumpen unremarkableness, more irritating than ever.

And seemingly harmless attempts to signal virtue can backfire, as in Kimmel’s awkward and eventually condescending exchange with Malala Yousafzai.

As always, there were moments that pierced the veil. The victory of “Navalny” in the documentary feature category, while its subject, the dissident Alexei Navalny, languishes in a Russian prison, was indelible. Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Paul Dano were polished and funny in their presentation of costume design; the award’s winner, Ruth Carter of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” movingly invoked her mother, who had just died at the age of 101, asking the actor Chadwick Boseman to look for her in the afterlife. Yeoh, given carte blanche to emote, showed that feeling could be conveyed in an acceptance speech that was largely polished and non-self-aggrandizing.

David Byrne injected a welcome note of weirdness, if not musicality, in the performance of the best-song nominee “This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” The production number “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR,” Lady Gaga’s unplugged performance of “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick” and Rihanna’s rendition of “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” were unimpeachably professional. But the musical highlight of the night was undoubtedly the snatch of the Carpenters’ “Top of the World” sung by the composer M.M. Keeravani when “Naatu Naatu” won best song.

When Kimmel wasn’t forced to ad-lib, he and his writers were generally on point. A call for audience votes on whether Robert Blake should be included in the In Memoriam segment was slyly handled. (He wasn’t.) A joke about the editing of footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol didn’t mention Tucker Carlson or Fox News but made its point.

The good moments, however, couldn’t change my sense that the modern Oscars have become something more to be endured than enjoyed. If you wanted a glimpse of the zeitgeist on Sunday night, HBO (“The Last of Us”) and TLC (“MILF Manor”) were the places to look.


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THE U.S. HAS SUFFERED SO MANY FINANCIAL PANICS over the past few decades, dating to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, because the country tends to regulate its banks so lightly.

In the case of SVB, regulators allowed it to make risky bets with its deposits (while the bank’s executives insisted that the bets weren’t risky). More generally, SVB and other banks are often not required to maintain enough of a financial cushion to withstand a crisis. Financial cushions — effectively, cash or other forms of insurance — tend to reduce banks’ profits, which is why bankers resist them. But without a healthy cushion, a bank can collapse during a crisis, and taxpayers must sometimes bail it out. When that happens, the bankers and their investors often emerged unscathed.

Once SVB began to falter, financial industry executives and investors again began clamoring for government help. In the short term, the government may indeed need to step in to avoid a spreading crisis. But the less immediate questions may be uncomfortable for the bankers: How can the people who caused this crisis bear financial responsibility for it? And how can the U.S. economy end this cycle of booms that benefit banks and busts that hurt everyone else?

Noah Smith, an economist and Substack writer, offers this useful bit of history in his newsletter:

In 2008, the bankers who made the bad decisions that led to the financial crisis generally got to keep their (very lucrative) jobs after getting bailed out. And their banks continued to exist as well, and even got government to guarantee them some profits going forward. Even as normal people suffered mass unemployment and the loss of their careers and livelihoods, many of the people responsible for the disaster kept collecting million-dollar checks and being in respected positions of power, now with government guarantees. If that seemed unfair, it’s because it was unfair.

— David Leonhardt (

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by Elizabeth Warren

No one should be mistaken about what unfolded over the past few days in the U.S. banking system: These recent bank failures are the direct result of leaders in Washington weakening the financial rules.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to protect consumers and ensure that big banks could never again take down the economy and destroy millions of lives. Wall Street chief executives and their armies of lawyers and lobbyists hated this law. They spent millions trying to defeat it, and, when they lost, spent millions more trying to weaken it.

Greg Becker, the chief executive of Silicon Valley Bank, was one of the ‌many high-powered executives who lobbied Congress to weaken the law. In 2018, the big banks won. With support from both parties, President Donald Trump signed a law to roll back critical parts of Dodd-Frank. Regulators, including the Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell, then made a bad situation worse, ‌‌letting financial institutions load up on risk.

Banks like S.V.B. ‌— which had become the 16th largest bank in the country before regulators shut it down on Friday ‌—‌ got relief from stringent requirements, basing their claim on the laughable assertion that banks like them weren’t actually “big” ‌and therefore didn’t need strong oversight. ‌

I fought against these changes. On the eve of the Senate vote in 2018, I warned‌, “Washington is about to make it easier for the banks to run up risk, make it easier to put our constituents at risk, make it easier to put American families in danger, just so the C.E.O.s of these banks can get a new corporate jet and add another floor to their new corporate headquarters.”

I wish I’d been wrong. But on Friday, S.V.B. executives were busy paying out congratulatory bonuses hours before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation‌‌ rushed in to take over their failing institution — leaving countless businesses and non‌profits with accounts at the bank alarmed that they wouldn’t be able to pay their bills and employees.

S.V.B. suffered from a toxic mix of risky management and weak supervision. For one, the bank relied on a concentrated group of tech companies with big deposits, driving an abnormally large ratio of uninsured deposits‌. This meant that weakness in a single sector of the economy could threaten the bank’s stability.

Instead of managing that risk, S.V.B. funneled these deposits into long-term bonds, making it hard for the bank to respond to a drawdown. S.V.B. apparently failed to hedge against the obvious risk of rising interest rates. This business model was great for S.V.B.’s short-term profits, which shot up by nearly 40 ‌percent over the last three years‌ — but now we know its cost.

S.V.B.’s collapse set off looming contagion that regulators felt forced to stanch, leading to their decision to dissolve Signature Bank. Signature had touted its F.D.I.C. insurance as it whipped up a customer base tilted toward risky cryptocurrency firms.

Had Congress and the Federal Reserve not rolled back the stricter oversight, S.V.B. and Signature would have been subject to stronger liquidity and capital requirements to withstand financial shocks. They would have been required to conduct regular stress tests to expose their vulnerabilities and shore up their businesses. But because those requirements were repealed, when an old-fashioned bank run hit S.V.B‌., the‌ bank couldn’t withstand the pressure — and Signature’s collapse was close behind.

On Sunday night, regulators announced they would ensure that all deposits at S.V.B. and Signature would be repaid 100 cents on the dollar. Not just small businesses and nonprofits, but also billion-dollar companies, crypto investors and the very venture capital firms that triggered the bank run on S.V.B. in the first place — all in the name of preventing further contagion.

Regulators have said that banks, rather than taxpayers, will bear the cost of the federal backstop required to protect deposits. We’ll see if that’s true. But it’s no wonder the American people are skeptical of a system that holds millions of struggling student loan borrowers in limbo but steps in overnight to ensure that billion-dollar crypto firms won’t lose a dime in deposits.

These threats never should have been allowed to materialize. We must act to prevent them from occurring again.

First, Congress, the White House‌ and banking regulators should reverse the dangerous bank deregulation of the Trump era. Repealing the 2018 legislation that weakened the rules for banks like S.V.B. must be an immediate priority for Congress. Similarly, ‌Mr. Powell’s disastrous “tailoring” of these rules has put our economy at risk, and it needs to end — ‌now. ‌

Bank regulators must also take a careful look under the hood at our financial institutions to see where other dangers may be lurking. Elected officials, including the Senate Republicans who, just days before S.V.B.’s collapse, pressed Mr. Powell to stave off higher capital standards, must now demand stronger — not weaker — oversight.

Second, regulators should reform deposit insurance so that both during this crisis and in the future, businesses that are trying to make payroll and otherwise conduct ordinary financial transactions are fully covered — while ensuring the cost of protecting outsized depositors is borne by those financial institutions that pose the greatest risk. Never again should large companies with billions in unsecured deposits expect, or receive, free support from the government.

Finally, if we are to deter this kind of risky behavior from happening again, it’s critical that those responsible not be rewarded. S.V.B. and Signature shareholders will be wiped out, but their executives must also be held accountable. Mr. Becker of S.V.B. took home $9.9 million in compensation last year, including a $1.5 million bonus for boosting bank profitability — and its riskiness. Joseph DePaolo of Signature got $8.6 million. We should claw all of that back, along with bonuses for other executives at these banks. Where needed, Congress should empower regulators to recover pay and bonuses. Prosecutors and regulators should investigate whether any executives engaged in insider trading ‌or broke other civil or criminal laws.

These bank failures were entirely avoidable if Congress and the Fed had done their jobs and kept strong banking regulations in place since 2018. S.V.B. and Signature are gone, and now Washington must act quickly to prevent the next crisis.


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Americans have been told a dangerous and uncertain world requires stronger managers and less freedom, but the decline of civil liberties is what started this mess

by Matt Taibbi

Civil liberties have officially gone out of style, a phenomenon on full display at the Weaponization of Government Hearing at which I just testified.

The circus-like scene featured a ranking member calling two journalists a “direct threat,” a Stanford-educated former prosecutor who confused accusation with proof, and a Texas congressman, Colin Allred, who proudly held up the results of an adjudicated criminal case to argue against due process in another arena. When I asked Allred’s permission to point out that he’d just demonstrated that a proper forum for dealing with campaign abuses already existed in the court system, he basically told me to shut up.

“No,” he said, “you don’t get to ask questions here.”

I then had to keep my mouth shut as an elected official shifted to Dad mode to admonish me to “take off the tinfoil hat,” because “there’s not a “vast conspiracy,” by which he meant he apparently meant my last three months of research.

Allred then went on MSNBC, where my former friend Chris Hayes with a straight face suggested he didn’t see a “government angle” in either the Twitter Files or our testimony — both of which were more or less entirely about that issue — and Allred beamed in agreement, saying the discovery of Truthout and Ultra Maga Dog Mom on federal blacklists was just the FBI “pointing out that certain actions are probably Russian disinformation ops.” He also offered the ironic criticism that some people are “stuck in an information loop, in which you’re not allowing outside information in”.

At the hearing, Pee-Wee’s words of the day were clearly cherry-picked, money, and Elon Musk. Nearly every question asked of Michael Shellenberger and me involved our associations or motives. Florida’s Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said “being a Republican witness certainly casts a cloud over your objectivity” (only a Democratic witness can be trusted), while Dan Goldman tweeted that only someone who signed his version of a loyalty oath — a question about whether or not we “agreed” with Robert Mueller’s two indictments of Russian defendants — can “belong” in the public conversation.

These are behaviors we associated with Republicans in the War on Terror years, when Democrats howled over accusations that John Kerry “looks French.” That the roles have been reversed is old news, but the big question remains: why did this happen?

In the coming days you’re going to see a new release of Twitter Files material, about the creation of a multi-agency working group to address what experts described as vaccine “disinformation and misinformation.”

This cross-platform group looked for people who were just “asking questions,” which they viewed as a rhetorical trick for introducing misinformation. They took aim at people who “framed” ideas like vaccine passports as compulsory or authoritarian, as opposed to emphasizing their utility and necessity, which they interpreted to mean a tendency to more generally negative opinions about vaccines. Moreover, as disclosed last week, they saw a threat in people who wrote about “true stories of vaccine side effects” or “true posts which could fuel hesitancy.”

Most disturbing was a letter to a long list of academics, tech executives, and communications specialists from a staffer for the non-profit Institute for Defense Analysis. It referred to a new type of online influencer, “some of whom enjoy reach commensurate with mass media channels”:

“In an age of declining trust in media, government, and institutions, influencers occupy a position of trust and enjoy a perception of authenticity. In addition to the rise of influencers, now-prevalent online crowds have been transformed into a significant force in shaping narratives; they are persistent and can be leveraged to achieve amplification of particular messages in the battle for attention.”

“Online crowds have been transformed into a significant force in shaping narratives” is just another way of saying, “independent groups now have politically effective ways to organize,” which the authors clearly saw as a problem in itself.

The digital age has produced an almost involuntary general disrespect for personal boundaries. Probably all of us are guilty of it on some level. We peek, poke, and prod in ways that would have made us ashamed in the pre-Internet years.

We see a more ominous form of it throughout the Twitter Files, where content moderators are forever taking short cuts to judgment by blithely entering the minds of users, to make snap calls about intent. If people transmit true or possibly true stories that conflict with approved narratives, from human rights abuses in the Donbass to first-person accounts of “breakthrough” vaccine cases, these acts are algorithmically detected as intended to deceive and thrown in thoughtcrime baskets: undermining Ukraine, promoting hesitancy, etc.

The campaign against “disinformation” in this way has become the proxy for a war against civil liberties that probably began in 2016, when the reality of Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination first began to spread through the intellectual class. There was a crucial moment in May of that year, when Andrew Sullivan published “Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic.”

This piece was a cri de coeur from the educated set. I read it on the way to covering Trump’s clinching victory in the Indiana primary, and though I totally disagreed with its premise, I recognized right away that Andrew’s argument was brilliant and would have legs. Sullivan described Plato’s paradoxical observation that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy,” explaining that as freedoms spread and deference to authority withered, the state would become ungovernable:

“Family hierarchies are inverted… Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen…

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.”

It was already patently obvious to anyone covering politics in America that respect for politicians and institutions was indeed vanishing at warp speed. I thought it was a consequence of official lies like WMD, failed policies like the Iraq War or the financial crisis response, and the increasingly insufferable fakery of presidential politics. People like author Martin Gurri pointed at a free Internet, which allowed the public to see these warts in more hideous technicolor than before.

Sullivan saw many of the same things, but his idea about a possible solution was to rouse to action the country’s elites, who he said “still matter” and “provide the critical ingredient to save democracy from itself.” Look, Andrew’s English, a crime for which I think people may in some cases be excused (even if I found myself reaching for something sharp when he described Bernie Sanders as a “demagogue of the left”). Also, his essay was subtle and had multiple layers, one of which was an exhortation to those same elites to wake up and listen to the anger in the population.

Unfortunately, post-election, each successive version of the “Too Much Democracy” idea became more simplistic and self-serving. By 2019 the shipwreck of the Weekly Standard, the Bulwark, was publishing “Too Much Democracy is Killing Democracy,” an article which insisted it wasn’t an argument for the vote to be restricted, but “it is an argument for a political, social, and cultural compact that makes participation by many unnecessary.” Soon we had people like Joan Donovan of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center leading the charge for “de-platforming,” not as a general principle of course, but merely as a “short-term” solution. In its own way it was very Trumpian thinking: we just need to clamp down on speech until we can “figure out what’s going on.”

Still, as far back as 2016, the RAND Corporation conducted a study showing the phrase most predictive of Trump support was “people like me don’t have any say.” This was a problem of corporate and financial concentration invisible to people of a certain class. As fewer and fewer people were needed to run the giant banking or retail delivery or communications machines of society, there were more and more going straight from college back to their parents’ houses, where they spent their days fighting voice-mail programs just to find out where to send their (inevitably unanswered) job applications. This was going to inspire some angry tweets, and frankly, allowing all of them was the least the system could do.

Instead of facing the boiling-ever-hotter problem underneath, the managerial types decided — in the short term only, of course — to mechanically deamplify the discontent, papering things over with an expanding new bureaucracy of “polarization mitigation,” what Michael calls the Censorship-Industrial Complex. Instead of opening society’s doors and giving people roles and a voice, they’re being closed more tightly.

Making an angry public less visible doesn’t make it go away. Moreover, as we saw at the hearing, clamping down on civil liberties makes obnoxious leaders more conspicuous, not less. Democrats used to understand this, but now they’re betting everything on the blinders they refuse to take off, a plan everyone but them can see won’t end well.

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Wagner chief admits Ukrainian forces are fiercely fighting in Bakhmut

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private military company Wagner, has admitted that Ukrainian forces are fighting fiercely in Bakhmut, saying they are “fighting for every meter.”

In a new audio message posted on his Telegram page on Sunday, Prigozhin said, “the situation in Bakhmut is very difficult, the enemy is fighting for every meter. The closer we are to the city center, the harder the battles, the more artillery works against us, and the more tanks.”

“The Ukrainians are throwing up endless reserves,” Prigozhin added.

Ukraine’s foreign minister said his country will keep fighting to hold Bakhmut, which Russia is trying to make the first Ukrainian city it’s captured in months.

The Institute for the Study of War said Saturday there’s no clear evidence Moscow is making progress in the eastern city, though it is difficult to establish the exact picture on the ground.

Ukrainian forces say vital supply routes remain open in Bakhmut. Wagner private military chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claims his troops are nearing the city center. 

In Russia, a group of wives and mothers are calling on President Vladimir Putin to stop sending their husbands and sons “to the slaughter” by forcing them to fight without adequate training or supplies.

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* * *

IN DECEMBER OF 2021, two months before the first Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Jake Sullivan convened a meeting of a newly formed task force — men and women from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, and the State and Treasury Departments — and asked for recommendations about how to respond to Putin’s impending invasion.

It would be the first of a series of top-secret meetings, in a secure room on a top floor of the Old Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, that was also the home of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB). There was the usual back and forth chatter that eventually led to a crucial preliminary question: Would the recommendation forwarded by the group to the President be reversible — such as another layer of sanctions and currency restrictions — or irreversible — that is, kinetic actions, which could not be undone?

What became clear to participants, according to the source with direct knowledge of the process, is that Sullivan intended for the group to come up with a plan for the destruction of the two Nord Stream pipelines — and that he was delivering on the desires of the President.

Over the next several meetings, the participants debated options for an attack. The Navy proposed using a newly commissioned submarine to assault the pipeline directly. The Air Force discussed dropping bombs with delayed fuses that could be set off remotely. The CIA argued that whatever was done, it would have to be covert. Everyone involved understood the stakes. “This is not kiddie stuff,” the source said. If the attack were traceable to the United States, “It’s an act of war.”

— Seymour Hersh

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YOU CANNOT MAKE A MAN by standing a sheep on its hind-legs. But by standing a whole flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of men. If man were not a gregarious animal, the world might have achieved, by this time, some real progress towards civilization. Segregate him, and he is no fool. But let him loose among his fellows, and he is lost — he becomes a unit in unreason.

—Max Beerbohm, 1911; from ‘Zuleika Dobson’

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THE LATEST NEW YORK TIMES REPORT on the Nord Stream pipeline bombing is something else. According to NYT's anonymous US government sources, the pipelines were blown up by a "pro-Ukrainian group" who had no known connections to any military or intelligence agency, but somehow had all the information, skills, diving equipment and military explosives necessary to carry out such an attack.

It's actually insulting how stupid it is. It reads like a small child lying about who broke the lamp in the living room; "Uhh, some bad guy came in and broke it, then he left. He was wearing a black cape and had a twirly mustache." At least respect us enough to make up a better lie than "Yeah it turns out it was just some random people with a boat, man! It's crazy I know!"

They literally wrote an entire article without ever addressing how bizarre it is to just keep referring to the alleged perpetrators as just a "group". Like that's a thing. "Yeah you know, one of those Groups we've all been hearing about in the news. You know Groups, they sail around the world destroying international undersea energy infrastructure."

Imagine having to tell this Scooby Doo-esque tale about a yacht of Ukraine-loving mischief-makers who pranked Europe's energy supply like it's a real thing. Like, "Oh come on, who among us has not taken a boatload of military explosives to go blow up international pipelines for fun with their friends?"

— Caitlin Johnstone

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IN NORD STREAM ATTACK, US officials use proxy media to blame proxy Ukraine

One month after Seymour Hersh reported that the US blew up the Nord Stream pipelines, US officials find a scapegoat in Ukraine and stenographers in the New York Times.

by Aaron Mate

Nearly six months after the Nord Stream pipelines exploded and one month after Seymour Hersh reported that the Biden administration was responsible, US officials have unveiled their defense. According to the New York Times, anonymous government sources claim that "newly collected intelligence" now "suggests" that the Nord Stream bomber was in fact a "pro-Ukrainian group."

The only confirmed “intelligence” about this supposed “group” is that US officials have none to offer about them.

“U.S. officials said there was much they did not know about the perpetrators and their affiliations,” The Times reports. The supposed “newly collected” information “does not specify the members of the group, or who directed or paid for the operation.” Despite knowing nothing about them, the Times’ sources nonetheless speculate that “the saboteurs were most likely Ukrainian or Russian nationals, or some combination of the two.” They also leave open “the possibility that the operation might have been conducted off the books by a proxy force with connections to the Ukrainian government or its security services.” (emphasis added)

When no evidence is produced, anything is of course “possible.” But the Times’ sources are oddly certain on one critical matter: “U.S. officials said no American or British nationals were involved.” Also, there is “no evidence President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine or his top lieutenants were involved in the operation, or that the perpetrators were acting at the direction of any Ukrainian government officials.”

Despite failing to obtain any concrete information about the perpetrators, the Times nonetheless declares that the US cover story planted in their pages “amounts to the first significant known lead about who was responsible for the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines.”

It is unclear why the Times has deemed their evidence-free “lead” to be “significant”, and not, by contrast, the Hersh story that came four weeks earlier. Not only does Hersh’s reporting predate the Times’, but his story contained extensive detail about how the US planned and executed the Nord Stream explosions. 

Tellingly, the Times distorts the basis for Hersh’s reporting. “In making his case,” the Times claims, Hersh merely “cited” President Biden’s “preinvasion threat to ‘bring an end’ to Nord Stream 2, and similar statements by other senior U.S. officials.” In falsely suggesting that he relied solely on public statements, the Times completely omits that Hersh in fact cited a well-placed source.

By contrast, the Times has no information about its newfound perpetrators or about any other aspect of its “significant” lead. 

“U.S. officials declined to disclose the nature of the intelligence, how it was obtained or any details of the strength of the evidence it contains,” The Times states. Accordingly, US officials admit that “that there are no firm conclusions” to be drawn, and that there are “enormous gaps in what U.S. spy agencies and their European partners knew about what transpired.” For that apparent reason, “U.S. officials who have been briefed on the intelligence are divided about how much weight to put on the new information.” The Times, by contrast, apparently feels no such evidentiary burden.

In sum, US officials have “much they did not know about the perpetrators” – i.e. everything; “enormous gaps” in their awareness of how the (unknown) “pro-Ukraine group” purportedly carried out a deep-sea bombing; uncertainty over “how much weight to put on” their “intelligence”; and even “no firm conclusions” to offer. Moreover, all of this supposed US “intelligence” happens to have been “newly collected” — after one of the most accomplished journalists in history published a detailed report on how US intelligence plotted and conducted the bombing.

Given the absence of evidence and curious timing, a reasonable conclusion is not that a Ukrainian “proxy force” was the culprit, but that the US is now using its Ukrainian proxy as a scapegoat.

As the standard bearer of establishment US media, the Times’ “reporting” is perfectly in character.  Days after the September 2022 bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, the Times noted that “much of the speculation about responsibility has focused on Russia” – just as US officials would certainly hope. The narrative was echoed by former CIA Director John Brennan, who opined that “Russia certainly is the most likely suspect,” in the Nord Stream attack. Citing anonymous “Western intelligence officials”, CNN claimed 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.”

With the story that Russia blew up its own pipelines no longer tenable, the Times’ new narrative asks us to believe that some unnamed “pro-Ukraine group”, which “did not appear to be working for military or intelligence services” somehow managed to obtain the unique capability to plant multiple explosives on a heavily sealed pipeline at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

That narrative is already being laundered through the German media. Hours after the Times story broke, the German outlet Die Zeit came out with a story, sourced to German officials, that claims the bombing operation was carried out by a group of six people, including just “two divers.” These supposed perpetrators, we are told, arrived at the crime scene via a yacht “apparently owned by two Ukrainians” that departed Germany. How a yacht managed to carry the equipment and explosives needed for the operation is left unexplained.

The saboteurs somehow possessed the capability to carry out a deep-sea bombing, but not the awareness to properly clean up their floating crime scene. According to Die Zeit, the boat was “returned to the owner in an uncleaned condition,” which allowed “investigators” to discover “traces of explosives on the table in the cabin.” Should this lean “pro-Ukraine” crack team of naval commandos conduct another act of deep-sea sabotage, they will only need to hire a cleaning professional to get away with it.

As for motivation, we are somehow also asked to forget that Biden administration officials not only expressed the motivation, but the post-facto satisfaction. “If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” senior US official Victoria Nuland vowed in January 2022. President Biden added the following month that “if Russia invades... there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” After the Nord Stream pipelines were bombed, Secretary of State Antony Blinken greeted the news as a “tremendous strategic opportunity.” Just days before Hersh’s story was published, Nuland informed Congress that both she and the White House are “very gratified” that Nord Stream is “a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”

Not only are global audiences asked to ignore the public statements of Biden administration principals, but their blanket refusal to answer any questions. This was put on display in Washington this past weekend, when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz paid Biden a White House visit. Unlike Scholz’s last DC trip, there was no joint news conference. This was understandable: the last time they appeared together, Biden blurted out that he would “bring an end” to Nord Stream, leaving Scholz to stand next to him in awkward silence. This time around, the two briefly sat before a group of reporters who were quickly shooed out of the room, much to Biden’s apparent glee.

US media outlets got the memo: in a sit-down interview with Scholz, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria did not find the time to mention Hersh’s reporting. In covering the German Chancellor’s visit, US media outlets like the Times and the Washington Post adopted a similar vow of silence.  

Inadvertently, the Times’ account exposes new holes in the failed attempts to refute Hersh’s story. 

Members of the NATO state-funded website Bellingcat, falsely presented to NATO state audiences as an independent investigative outlet, have attempted to cast doubt on Hersh’s claims by arguing that open-source tracking at the time of the bombing fails to detect the vessels he reported on. But as the Times story notes, investigators are seeking information about ships “whose location transponders were not on or were not working when they passed through the area, possibly to cloak their movements.” Hersh has made this same point in interviews, noting that when Biden flew into Poland before his visit to Kiev last month, his “plane switched off its transponder” to avoid detection, as the Associated Press reported. Unfortunately for self-styled digital sherlocks, major international crimes – particularly those involving intelligence agencies – cannot be solved from their laptops.

Hersh was also pilloried for citing a single anonymous source. The Times’ story, by contrast, relies on multiple anonymous sources, who, unlike Hersh, have no tangible information to offer. After ignoring Hersh’s story for a full month, the Times’ news section was forced to acknowledge it for the first time. And the best that its anonymous sources could come up with is not only an evidence-free, caveat-filled narrative, but a story that does not challenge a single aspect of Hersh’s detailed account.

In another contrast, Hersh is one of the most accomplished and impactful journalists in the history of the profession. Two of the journalists on the Times story, Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman, have bylined multiple stories that spread demonstrable falsehoods sourced to anonymous US officials.

In the summer of 2020, Barnes and Goldman were among the Times journalists who laundered CIA disinformation that Russia was paying bounties for dead US troops in Afghanistan. When the Biden administration was forced to acknowledge that the allegation was baseless, the Times tried to water down its initial claims in an attempt to save face.

In January, Barnes co-wrote a Times story which claimed, citing unnamed “U.S. officials” more than a dozen times, that “Russian military intelligence officers” were behind “a recent letter bomb campaign in Spain whose most prominent targets were the prime minister, the defense minister and foreign diplomats.” But days later, as the Washington Post reported, Spanish authorities arrested “a 74-year-old Spaniard who opposed his country’s support for Ukraine but appears to have acted alone.” (Moon of Alabama is one the few voices to have called out the Times’ fraudulent reporting). 

That same month, Goldman shared a byline, alongside fellow “Russian bounties” stenographer Charlie Savage, on a Times story which argued that Special Counsel John Durham has “failed to find wrongdoing in the origins of the Russia inquiry,” even though Durham’s findings have yet to be released. As I reported for Real Clear Investigations, the Times made its case by omitting countervailing information and distorting the available facts – as is the norm for establishment media coverage of Russiagate. 

The US officials behind the Times’ latest Nord Stream tale presumably believe that they have offered the best counter to Hersh that they could. That it is devoid of concrete information, and written by Times staffers with a track record of parroting US intelligence-furnished propaganda, ultimately has the opposite effect. 

The Times’ narrative can only be seen as further confirmation that Hersh found the Nord Stream bomber in Washington. That explains why anonymous US officials are now using proxies in establishment media to scapegoat their proxy in Ukraine.


* * *

Red-shouldered hawk, American River, 3-05-23 (Anni Kasper)


  1. Stephen Dunlap March 13, 2023

    Heather Baird is guilty of HELPING a LOT of people of ALL ages, set her free & clear all charges. Restitution would help her continue to help others.

    • Bruce McEwen March 13, 2023

      Heather Baird bears a strong resemblance to former court interpreter Timothy Baird, and the similarities are not just physical. Timothy, like Heather, always very graciously went out of his way to help people and I can’t help thinking the two Bairds are related…somehow.

  2. peter boudoures March 13, 2023

    With the willow project by ConocoPhillips approved by Biden it reminds me of the drill baby drill slogan used by his buddy. I can’t find any active federal programs for off grid or hybrid solar systems. If the environment truly is the most pressing concern it sure doesn’t show with this administrations actions.

  3. Nathan Duffy March 13, 2023

    RE: R.Crumb Amerika. This would make a great cover for “Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, And The Fate Of The Nation” by James Howard Kunstler.

  4. Eric Sunswheat March 13, 2023

    RE: The Laytonville Fire Department requested that my daughter Jayma Shields Spence… open up Harwood Hall which also serves as an emergency shelter. Last year, she agreed to let the County park the shelter trailer on Healthy Start property, from where it was previously kept at the fire department…

    Jayma explained to me, “The trailer is also locked and I was told after I asked a member of the County OES (Office of Emergency Services) how we would unlock it, he said ‘We send a staff person to unlock it.’ (Jim Shields)

    —>. Reality check. From various accounts, I think I understand that Laytonville Fire Department recently retired Chief, not the Laytonville Fire Department itself, asked Jayma Shields Spence to open emergency shelter.

    According to Supervisor Ted Williams, in an online blog post to, the protocol is that the Fire Department itself was required to request that the County to open the shelter trailer.

    My summary is that the county Office of Emergency Services did not provide Jayma with the protocol information, for accessing the shelter trailer lock combination, or for County staff itself to open the door.

    Either Ms. Jayma Shields Spence was not authorized representative of the Fire Department to receive implementation strategy, or that OES front line ad hoc phone staff did not have necessary procedural information to trigger action, since the emergency shelter program was geared towards fire emergencies.

    Perhaps OES leadership were beyond reach, snowbound or out saving the family value lives of residents, if not transients driving vehicles.

    The recently retired chief of Laytonville Fire Department seemingly would have known historical correct course of action, if what Supervisor Ted Williams stipulates is truth, in context. Information is only as good as the source.

    Eric Sunswheat
    Potter Valley

  5. Stephen Rosenthal March 13, 2023

    Interesting read by Casey O’Neill. Anyone remember when the BOS, in their eternal short-sighted stupidity, balked and challenged the Sheriff about purchasing a Snow Cat? I do.

  6. Grapes March 13, 2023

    The Harts, and is this even their name?

    No matter…this is a story of racism in the United States—color coding, intolerance.

    Nothing will change until people give up cruel, and incorrect labels, such as POC, BPOC, White, Brown, Black, Cream, and their co-relation to “in need of fixing”. Until, no do-gooder organizations exist. Until, no government form demands you check a box. Until, it is not cool to put other people down to build yourself up. Until, you understand the meaning, and significance of being in America, of being an American, because if you don’t, we’ll ALL be living in HELL!

  7. gupatii March 13, 2023

    Did you notice the panic and chaos in the Woodstock picture as a result of the concurrent Hong Kong Flu pandemic…

  8. George Dorner March 13, 2023

    If the staff person with the key to the emergency supplies can’t unlock them because the emergency keeps him/her from reaching Laytonville, then what good are the supplies? It would be a laughable absurdity if only it didn’t threaten human life.

    The key belongs with a reliable Laytonville local. Say, the fire chief. Inside the supply locker, store a logbook and pen to account for any supplies issued. Then you have emergency supplies instead of an obscure storage facility.

  9. Margot Lane March 13, 2023

    Pinky, the solar bike guy, is charging (literally) ever southward! Parked under a tree somewhere near Santa Cruz, having passed many a collapsed road.

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