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MCT: Wednesday, May 29, 2019

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SCATTERED SHOWERS and isolated thunderstorms will be possible across portions of Trinity and eastern Mendocino counties every afternoon and evening through Saturday. Otherwise, a gradual warming trend is expected through the end of the week. Persistent northerly winds will generate steep seas and hazardous ocean conditions through early next week. (National Weather Service)

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by Fred Gardner

Although it's entitled "How Legalization Changed Humboldt County Marijuana," Emily Witt's article in the current New Yorker is not about new plant varieties but about new social realities. She opens with an assertion sure to please her recent hosts (whose hope is that a Humboldt appellation can ward off the looming Appalacian economy):

"For more than 40 years, the epicenter of cannabis farming in the United States was a region of northwestern California called the Emerald Triangle, at the intersection of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties. Of these, Humboldt County is the most famous."

Says who? Did the McGarrigle Sisters ever sing about Humboldt? Did Doug Sahm? I think Mendocino is more famous.

"It was here, in hills surrounding a small town called Garberville, that hippies landed in the 1960s, after fleeing the squalor of Berkeley and Haight-Ashbury."

The new settlers at the end of the '60s included veterans seeking peace and sanity after Vietnam.

"They learned the practice known as sinsemilla, in which female cannabis plants are isolated from the pollen of their male counterparts, which causes the females to produce high levels of THC."

Sin semillas in Spanish means "without seeds." Gringos turned it into a one-word noun meaning not the growers' practice of isolating female plants but the flowers put out by the sexually frustrated females, swollen and laden with resin, desperate to catch a grain of pollen. It's not just THC production that gets enhanced when un-pollinated female flowers are forced to keep putting out; levels of all their cannabinoids, terpenoids, flavonoids and other components get elevated.

Please forgive my Adrian Monk-like tendency to straighten out minor factual errors. It's not easy to fly into an unfamiliar scene for a brief visit, as Witt did in February, and grasp the whole complicated story. Pot partisans in Humboldt appreciate her effort. Kym Kemp says the NYer piece "takes a serious, long look at the local culture" and "is well worth the read as a summary of what occurred here over the last 50 years."

Diane Dickinson, MD, says, "I thought the article was well done. I see lots of pain. Folks losing their properties due to huge fines. It’s a costly process to fit into and many are giving up. Lots of businesses are closing. Every business feels the struggle. And most wonder what the county is doing with all the fines they are collecting. I do have one patient I can verify that is paying off huge fines based on satellite photos from years ago of his greenhouse. It was more costly to fight it in court than to make monthly payments of $1,500 fines for years.

An important source for Witt is Jason Gellman, 39, a second-generation grower. His parents, she writes,

"were hippies who moved to Humboldt County when he was two years old, in the early '80s. They eventually managed to buy their own property… At that time, ten pounds of marijuana—the amount produced by eight or ten plants in a harvest cycle—could be sold for as much as $40,000, enough to support a family that grew most of its own food…

"Humboldt County’s first generation of cannabis growers used the crop as one of several sources of income. The second generation 'worked hard, but it was different,' Gellman said. 'It was more growing weed for money,' as a career. Gellman grew his first patch of cannabis at 14."

North Coast sinsemilla was still commanding $4,000/lb when California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing marijuana for medical use. The prime mover, Dennis Peron vowed to bring the price down to $3,200/lb and some far-sighted growers hated him for that.

For more than a decade, Prop 215 was good for the small growers. Though dispensary operators kept paying less and less for flowers, demand increased as more Californians got doctors' approval letters. Many growers took pride in providing the herb to people who benefitted from it. Witt writes, accurately:

"The medical-marijuana movement, which had been building for years, was led by AIDS activists, who wanted the right to use marijuana to treat symptoms of the disease."

But she continues, misleadingly:

"In Humboldt, the bill was received quietly—activism tended to attract the attention of law enforcement—but the growers soon adapted to the new legal paradigm, posting their medical marijuana cards on their fences as cover."

There was no bill to be "received" in Humboldt. Bills are enacted by the legislature. California's medical marijuana law was enacted by us, the people. Drafted by pot partisans meeting at the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, Prop 215 passed in November '96 by a 56-44 margin. Activists from Humboldt had worked for the Yes-on-215 campaign — Eric Heimstadt is one name I recall — and it carried the county with 57% of the vote.

Here's another misstatement of fact:

"At first, because federal law still banned marijuana, most people feared the consequences of growing more than 99 plants, the limit set by Proposition 215."

Prop 215 did not set any limits on how much marijuana a patient could use or a caregiver could provide. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, growers with more than 99 plants face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. Prop 215 allowed doctors to approve patients' use of marijuana in treating any condition for which it provided relief, and protected "caregivers" who provided marijuana to patients. Doctors would typically issue a letter confirming their diagnosis and authorizing the patient to medicate with cannabis. Growers were designated as caregivers and given copies of the patients' approval letters to show to law enforcers in the event of a raid.

There was no such thing as a California "medical marijuana card" until 2004, when Senate Bill 420 kicked in. SB-420 stated: "Qualified patients, persons with valid identification cards, and [their] designated primary caregivers… who associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes, shall not solely on the basis of that fact be subject to state criminal sanctions."

There were two big loopholes to SB-420, according to an analysis by attorneys Lauren Mendelsohn and Omar Figueroa:

"First, there was no limitation on how many patients or caregivers could join a collective, which eventually led to numerous collectives with thousands of members. Second, there was no limitation on how many collectives a patient or caregiver could join, which led to the same result. Over the years, this morphed into the 'collective / co-op model' where practically anyone with a medical cannabis recommendation could sign up to be a member of a medical cannabis collective and would then provide medical cannabis in exchange for 'reimbursement' for expenses, ostensibly on a not-for-profit basis."

"Under this model, with no regulation whatsoever from state authorities, and minimal, if any, regulation at the local level, the medical cannabis industry in California grew, multiplied, and thrived."

Witt in the New Yorker describes the dark side of this thriving industry:

"Newcomers arrived, from the East Coast, from Texas; there was an influx of immigrants from Bulgaria. Cannabis farmers started growing as much marijuana as they wanted. They diverted water from the rivers to irrigate their crops. They dumped pesticides into the watershed. They grew plants in national forests and state parks. They flattened mountaintops. The profits were high, and the risks were low — a grower who ran a big farm for two years could make out with two million dollars and then abandon the property, leaving the land a wreck.

The media perpetrated the image of medical marijuana as some kind of scam. TV news channels ran exposé footage of seemingly able-bodied young men leaving dispensaries with brown paper bags. The Medical Board of California, which had put Dr. Mikuriya on probation for inadequate record keeping, allowed the proliferation of fast-buck potdocs who issued approval letters on the basis of three-minute exams. It seemed as though the corporate media, politicians, and Deep State bureaucrats were intentionally discrediting the medical marijuana movement. The media to this day ignore the existence of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians — the serious specialists whose findings and observations will undoubtedly, in the years ahead, be replicated in clinical trials and published in "The Literature."

In 2015, Witt writes, "California passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, in an attempt to better control the trade." (The acronym was MMRSA and the politicians called it "mersa," which showed that no doctors had been involved in drafting or reviewing it, because "Mersa" is what medical people call Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a deadly pathogen. The politicians substituted Cannabis for Marijuana in the name of the Act and started calling it "MacCursor."

Mendelsohn and Figueroa explain a key purpose of the Act:

"In order to force medical cannabis operators into the regulated system, an expiration date was put on collectives and cooperatives (with a floating date of one year after the state started issuing state medical cannabis licenses)."

The Act, the lawyers explain, would soon be incorporated into legislation called "MowCursor:"

"After Proposition 64, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) passed resoundingly in late 2016 and established a similar, but different regulatory framework, regulators realized that they did not want to come up with two confusing sets of convoluted regulations, one for medical cannabis and one for adult-use cannabis. The Legislature ended up repealing the medical framework, and combining the two different regulatory frameworks into one unitary regulatory framework branded the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) which is currently in effect. Despite all of these changes, the sunset clause on collectives and cooperatives remained."

AUMA imposed a 15% excise tax on all cannabis purchases. The underlying assumption is that marijuana is not really a medicine. No medicine is taxed at 15%.

Dr. Dickinson reports that her practice is down more than 80% since legalization kicked in. Her new patients are senior citizens seeking education and people growing more than six plants to meet their medical needs. Dickinson advises them to keep a notebook with their recipes to justify the size of their gardens.

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REMEMBERING the legendary Aaron Thibeaux "T-Bone" Walker (May 28, 1910 – March 16, 1975). Born in Linden, Texas.

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Boonville Veterans Memorial Building

Saturday June 15, 2019, 1pm - 4pm

Sponsored By American Legion Redwood Empire Post 0385

Note: No Super Hot Chili!

First Prize $200

Second Prize $100

Third Prize $50

To Enter as a Contestant Call 707-895-9363 (Ray)

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PAGE FROM Mendo Booking Log, 1920s

(Courtesy, Held-Poage Historical Society)

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On May 7, 2019, the Ukiah Police Department began investigating a report of suspected child abuse after a female juvenile was found to have several significant and suspicious injuries to her body which were reportedly the result of child abuse. It was quickly determined that Audrey Joyce Hernandez, age 74, was the guardian of five children ranging in age from 4 to 15 years old.

All of the children were detained by CPS while UPD Detectives investigated this case. During the investigation, several search warrants were executed and evidence of suspected child abuse was discovered. A warrant was obtained and on May 23, 2019, Hernandez was subsequently placed under arrest. Hernandez was booked and lodged at the Mendocino County Jail in lieu of $65,000 bail for Felony Infliction of corporal injury to a child, and misdemeanor Child abuse (4 counts) At this time, the Ukiah Police Department is asking anybody who may have further information regarding this case to please contact the Ukiah Police Department at 707-463-6262. The Ukiah Police Department would also like to thank the allied agencies who assisted in this investigation including Mendocino County Child Protective Services and the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Investigations Unit.

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"TERESZKA, a child in a residence for disturbed children. Driven mad by the horrors of WW2, She drew a picture of 'home' on the blackboard. Poland, 1948.

This is the most powerful example of anti-war art I have ever seen."

— Anthony Freda Studio

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A READER sends along "a reality check" re the impact of CostCo on Ukiah-area businesses. From the Ukiah Co-op newsletter: "Sales for 2018 totaled $15,093,494. For the first time in many years, sales growth for the Co-op was a negative 4.46%. Sales began declining in July when Costco opened. Every department with the exception of the Espresso & Juice Bar, had negative sales in 2018. Sales to Co-op member/owners comprised 75% of total sales. An average of 1,257 customers per day shopped at the Co-op in 2018, a drop of 27 customers per day from 2017."

THE CO-OP employees number 97, 53% of whom are full-time, and "3,766 products carried met our definition of local, including produce."

THE STORE has come a long, long way from its shaky beginnings, and certainly should be supported. I stop in for lunch occasionally but I'm going to become a member, which I was many years ago until an unhappy encounter with an officious little fellow calling him Yep Harmony, one of those annoying individuals who fairly radiate, "Hit me. I dare you." I regret not hitting him but I've forgotten why or how I encountered him. The Co-op was, in its beginnings, oppressively hippie, i.e., half-assed, arrogant, rude, slovenly, kind of like the MEC if the MEC offered organic carrots. These days, the Co-op is a very nice store, entirely pleasant.

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At long last! It's Taco Tuesday at La Cantina! Two dollar tacos! Three dollar domestic beers! Come between 5 and 9 tonight and you can grab some delicious tacos from Lizbby's next door for just two bucks! The carnitas tacos (pictured) are the BOMB!

This week, Maricela has whipped up some pollo marinado (spicy stewed chicken) special for Taco Tuesday. Homemade tortillas again! See you soon!

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Presentation in Spanish! A night of information about forest fire behavior, home tightening, prevention and preparation. Anderson Valley Fire Department in Boonville, Friday June 7TH from 6 to 9 PM.

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CHUCK DUNBAR WRITES: “ ‘Barbara Howe, head of Mendo Public Health, has received her walking papers. Ms. Howe, a highly respected, long-time employee of the agency, was summarily dismissed last week in the now familiar Give me your keys and leave massacre style we’ve often seen in Mendocino County. Ms. Howe was given "16 minutes," we understand, to clear out. Dr. Gary Pace has resigned in protest.' Of course there’s a story underneath this no-doubt-sordid-action, and it brings to mind others (Diane Curry for one) who have been abruptly forced out, as you note. The allied resignation of Dr. Pace speaks to the wrong that has been done here. It’s yet another dictatorial act by Carmel Angelo that harms the functioning of the County workforce. It’s a shameful thing, and one wonders how long the BOS will continue to allow it to happen. It’s the ‘highly respected, long-time employees” who somehow keep the County going through all manner of mistakes and misdeeds by upper management. I wonder if Ms. Howe would offer an interview to the AVA about what really happened here. More folks who leave need to speak-out very clearly about what goes on beneath the surface of County government’.”

ED NOTE: And don't forget Alan "The Kid" Flora. I don't understand this kind of management. These people work for the county for years only to be summarily dismissed like they are criminals. I remember when present DA David Eyster got the Friday afternoon heave-ho from then-DA Susan Massini, another person with Liz Borden impulses. Eyster may have even been herded out at gunpoint, but whether his exit was that dramatic I can't remember. Over here in Boonville, a local woman with many years of faithful service at our Health Center was not only suddenly fired but relieved of her office keys and marched out into the parking lot where the hatchet lady watched until the suddenly non-personed former employee had driven off. The whole process took about five minutes, and the offed lady had been at the Center for years. An irate crowd appeared at the next meeting of the Center's zombie-like board of trustees to demand answers for the humiliatingly cruel firing of the popular employee. The trustees, mute, just stared back at the audience. (The trustees were all liberals, of course.) It was positively eerie. But wronged people mostly go quietly, and this kind of thing is routine anymore because the wronged can be permanently ruined for future employment if they don't go quietly. I'm never surprised when a worker bee re-appears at his job site and shoots up the place. Should Ms. Howe appeal to the Supervisors for fair play? Three of them are tethered so tight to CEO Angelo's apron strings their gonads have turned into their eyeballs. Haschak and Williams, I would think, might at least raise an eyebrow or two at the sudden knife in Barbara Howe's back. Dr. Pace's protest resignation should mean something, too. He's a sound, serious guy who wouldn't do something like this unless Ms. Howe's firing wasn't very, very unfair.

BTW, the mention of Massini and Eyster never fails to remind me of what would be a fairly major scandal any place other than here in Amnesia County, but during Massini's wild tenure as DA a couple of crooks burned the heart out of civic Fort Bragg in one night of arson fires. That one night in 1987 the old Piedmont Hotel, the Fort Bragg Library and Ten Mile Court were burned to the ground. The tiny FB police department did truly excellent work in pointing the FBI and the ATF straight at the perps. But….But never so much as an arrest of the low-level boys who did the torching from where the feds could, and perhaps did, work their way up to the people responsible; the wealthy crooks who commissioned the arsons were never touched. The nearly 40 boxes of collected evidence, including all the federal investigations, went to DA Massini for what everyone assumed would be indictments and prosecutions. Never happened, and then the statute of limitations ran out and, the topper, those 20-some boxes of evidence disappeared. Any other place this kind of thing is not acceptable, but we're here, where you are whatever you say you are, and history starts all over again every day.

ONE MORE anecdote and I'll put my dentures on my bedstand and let you go: When the late Norm Vroman succeeded Big Red as DA, he told me I should carry a gun whenever I went to Fort Bragg. "There's some people up there who really don't like you." Norm, I said, there are people in the house next door who don't like me, but this biz is not a popularity contest. Or shouldn't be. Gun people always assume a gun will protect them in all situations, but assassins almost always have the drop, and by the time you get your gat up and firing you're probably already dead. I did carry a gun to FB, however, whenever I went up there at night, and I always carry one east of Highway 101, north of Willits, south of Eureka.

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I don’t attend Memorial Day remembrances anymore, because they break my heart. It breaks my heart to watch ashen-faced, grief- stricken parents assuaged for their losses with the empty accolades of “men who died for our freedoms.”

No, I won’t attend until there is a concurrent day to recognize and shame the psychopaths who tore our young men from their mother’s embrace and ground them into oblivion for the sake of ego and profit.

Only when we concurrently shame Davis, Lee, Custer, McArthur, McNamara, Westmoreland, Nixon, Kissinger, Bush, Cheney, Dow, General Dynamics, Halliburton and all the other self-serving miscreants and profiteers that have wasted our young men, and when Memorial Day is an honest recognition of our failures as a country to protect our precious children, brothers and sisters from madmen, will I allow myself to suffer the pain and sorrow of a Memorial Day remembrance.

Curtis Ashbeck

Santa Rosa

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To the Editor:

I attended the May 9 presentation by the City on the State Street project. I appreciate our city leadership taking the time to bring in resources, share information, and take questions. While I agree with the objectives of improving traffic safety on State Street as well as improving its appearance, I and many in attendance have concerns.

Our Director of Public Works showed that both the federal and state governments will be providing several millions of dollars to fund the project. Although not explicitly stated, this implied that the cost of the entire project would be covered by external funding. When pressed by several concerned citizens, the Director and the Deputy City Manager admitted that the actual project cost has not really been estimated, that the project is trying to be scaled to fit within the external funding, and if there are cost overruns (as what usually happens with government projects…my observation) they will be covered by um, er, cough-cough, ahem, by Measure Y generated sales taxes… after all, State Street needs to be repaired and resurfaced, anyway.

A question was asked about what, if any, strings were attached to the federal and state funding. There usually is… the money fairy has a master. After another bit of hemming and hawing, there was really not an answer. Without venturing into world of conspiracy theory, it is not a secret that the folks in Sacramento are concerned about ‘Climate Change’ with carbon based fuels being fingered as the main culprit. The Sacramento planners would like to encourage people to use other transportation options such as walking, cycling, and public transit. So, if State Street is put on a Diet, isn’t it logical to think that the planners believe if there were to be more congestion, people would abandon their cars? With Ukiah being the county seat and so many people living across the river, up in Redwood Valley, and points beyond, this strategy may work in San Francisco, but it really would not here.

I do not disagree that there are issues with traffic safety and flow on State Street. Having spent a good portion of my professional engineering career improving the performance of large processing facilities, I learned, that after completing a redesign at my desk, it was important, whenever possible, to test the new design in the field under actual operating conditions. The data gathered helped improved my design as well as gained the trust and support of the people who were to operate or use the facility. So, well before irreversible construction commences, I propose testing the three lane design over a six to eight week period to ensure that it gets the intended results. This can be done at very minimal cost. State Street can be marked with the same small plastic colored tabs CalTrans uses to divert traffic during highway maintenance/repair. Hay bales or orange cones can be set out where the bulb-outs are planned. The speed limit can be dropped as planned. We will all see how this reconfiguration works, and if it does, I tip my hat to the Traffic Engineers!

It was good to see a room full of concerned citizens… for the project, against the project, and skeptics. I would like to have everyone get behind the idea of doing some sort of test. I think it is also important to insist that the entire project be estimated, with an appropriate contingency added for unknowns (not scope growth) along with the sources of funding identified to cover the entire project. As too often happens with public works projects, the original budget is low-balled, the project starts and part way through it is ‘discovered’ that more money is needed. Then we all feel that we have the proverbial gun to our head which gives us no choice but to pay and pay until the project is finished… when if we knew the real final cost upfront, we may have decided to pull the plug before the job got off the drawing board.

D.E. Johnson


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Rural Roundabout

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I would like to see every man who fathered an aborted fetus come out and take a stand — admitting knowledge, consent and even paying for said abortion. This is a woman’s issue and a man’s issue and a family issue. It is not a church, or a legislative issue; it is a medical and/or human rights issue.

Evelyn Calder


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Anderson, Bell, Berry

ROYAL ANDERSON JR., Fort Bragg. Trespassing, probation revocation.

ROBERT BELL, Willits. Domestic abuse, probation revocation.

CHELSEA BERRY, Upper Lake/Ukiah. Failure to appear.

Hietala, Mizner, Parker, Seivertson

JUSTIN HIETALA, Blue Lake/Ukiah. Burglary, probation revocation.

HAROLD MIZNER JR., Redwood Valley. Probation revocation.

TAMMI PARKER, Oakland/Ukiah. DUI.

RACHAEL SEIVERTSON, Ukiah. Probation revocation.

Jennifer Smith, Joshua Smith, Sumski

JENNIFER SMITH, Fort Bragg. Unauthorized entry into dwelling without owner’s consent, probation revocation.

JOSHUA SMITH, Laytonville. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, resisting.

VALERIE SUMSKI, Potter Valley. Taking vehicle without owner’s consent.

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Changing weather patterns

Trade wars

Middle East powder keg

Superbugs–failing antibiotics

Open borders–migrations of the poorest, least capable.

Ungovernable populations

Massive reliance on computers

Disastrous economy

Divisions by race, religion, sexuality, ethnicity, agendas

Failed public education system/failed any type of system

Disappearing middle class

Thousands of store closings

Medicare/Social Security broke

Unreliable news media

Ongoing attempt to overthrow sitting president

Opioid epidemic

Obesity epidemic

Suicides dramatic increase

Over half of babies born to single mothers

“War” on white males

Divorce rates above 50 percent

Pornography addictions

National debt

Spent nuclear fuel fires

Biowarfare (poor man’s WMD)

Disease pandemic (flu?)

Asteroid strike

Solar flare strike

Activist judges


Endless wars

Talk about a long emergency. It is with us. But don’t worry, be happy. We have a strong military and by gosh we are democracy incorporated. The good news for me is I won’t live long enough to see most of the above come to their end result. Our children and grandchildren are screwed. The critical issue though is tariffs messing with Xmas decorations from China.

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6pm @ Company Store, life discussion group. For anyone who wants to discuss/process recent events in their life in the company of nonjudgmental peers, there is an ongoing supportive circle of usually just 3-6 people meeting in the very relaxing space of the Center for Spiritual Living. The group facilitator has a multi-faith spiritual leaning himself, but isn't pushy with advice or a particular perspective on things, although he likes to meditate or do a chant at some point in the meeting. Occasionally an opinionated person will show up to the group and be pushy with their advice, but more often than not I'd say the social norm of our group reins in (restrains) the human tendency towards preachiness. So instead the human tendency towards love and care-taking wins out. So that's Tuesdays at 6 in the old Union Lumber Company Store, across from Figueiredo's.

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The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County invites you to an Open House at our new coastal office in Fort Bragg.

Friday, May 31, 2019

4 to 6 p.m.

510 Cypress St., Suite B-200

Fort Bragg, CA

Refreshments will be served. All are welcome!

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“He’s blaming the Democrats.”

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by Glenn Greenwald

The U.S. government on Thursday unveiled an 18-count indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, charging him under the 1917 Espionage Act for his role in the 2010 publication of a trove of secret documents relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and diplomatic communications regarding dozens of nations. So extreme and unprecedented are the indictment's legal theories and likely consequences that it shocked and alarmed even many of Assange's most virulent critics.

The new indictment against Assange bears no relationship to WikiLeaks' publication of Democratic Party and Clinton campaign documents or any of its other activities during the 2016 presidential campaign. Instead, it covers only publication of a massive archive of classified U.S. government documents that revealed a multitude of previously unknown, highly significant information about wars, government and corporate corruption, and official deceit. WikiLeaks, in 2010, published those materials in partnership with some of the largest media outlets in the world, including the New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais, outlets that published many of the same secret documents that form the basis of the criminal case against Assange.

With these new charges, the Trump administration is aggressively and explicitly seeking to obliterate the last reliable buffer protecting journalism in the United States from being criminalized, a step that no previous administration, no matter how hostile to journalistic freedom, was willing to take. The U.S. government has been eager to prosecute Assange since the 2010 leaks. Until now, though, officials had refrained because they concluded it was impossible to distinguish WikiLeaks' actions from the typical business of mainstream media outlets. Indicting Assange for the act of publishing would thus make journalism a felony. By charging Assange under the Espionage Act, the Trump administration proved that the asylum Assange obtained from Ecuador in 2012 - offered in the name of protecting him from persecution by the United States for publishing newsworthy documents - was necessary and justified.

The argument offered by both the Trump administration and by some members of the self-styled "resistance" to Trump is, ironically, the same: that Assange isn't a journalist at all and thus deserves no free press protections. But this claim overlooks the indictment's real danger and, worse, displays a wholesale ignorance of the First Amendment. Press freedoms belong to everyone, not to a select, privileged group of citizens called "journalists." Empowering prosecutors to decide who does or doesn't deserve press protections would restrict "freedom of the press" to a small, cloistered priesthood of privileged citizens designated by the government as "journalists." The First Amendment was written to avoid precisely that danger.

Most critically, the U.S. government has now issued a legal document that formally declares that collaborating with government sources to receive and publish classified documents is no longer regarded by the Justice Department as journalism protected by the First Amendment, but rather as the felony of espionage, one that can send reporters and their editors to prison for decades. It thus represents, by far, the greatest threat to press freedom in the Trump era, if not the last several decades.

If Assange can be declared guilty of espionage for working with sources to obtain and publish information deemed "classified" by the U.S. government, then there's nothing to stop the criminalization of every other media outlet that routinely does the same - including The Washington Post, as well as the large media outlets that partnered with WikiLeaks and published much of the same material in 2010, along with newer digital media outlets like the Intercept, where I work.

The vast bulk of activities cited by the indictment as criminal are exactly what major U.S. media outlets do on a daily basis. The indictment, for instance, alleges that WikiLeaks "encouraged sources" such as Chelsea Manning to obtain and pass on classified information; that the group provided technical advice on how to obtain and transmit that information without detection; and that it then published the classified information stolen by its source. The indictment also explicitly states that "part of the conspiracy [is] that ASSANGE and Manning used a special folder on a cloud drop box of WikiLeaks to transmit classified records containing information related to the national defense of the United States." It includes as part of the criminal conspiracy the fact that Assange and his source "took measures to conceal Manning as the source" by using encrypted chat programs.

Outside the parameters of the Trump DOJ's indictment of Assange, these activities are called "basic investigative journalism." Most major media outlets in the United States, including The Post, now vocally promote Secure Drop, a technical means modeled after the one pioneered by WikiLeaks to allow sources to pass on secret information for publication without detection. Last September, the New York Times published an article (titled "How to Tell Us a Secret") containing advice from its security experts on the best means for sources to communicate with and transmit information to the paper without detection, including which encrypted programs to use.

Many of the most consequential and celebrated press revelations of the last several decades - from the Pentagon Papers to the Snowden archive (which I worked on with the Guardian) to the disclosure of illegal War on Terror programs such as warrantless domestic NSA spying and CIA black sites - have relied upon the same methods which the Assange indictment seeks to criminalize: namely, working with sources to transmit illegally obtained documents for publication.

The history of the WikiLeaks investigation, which was initiated by the Obama administration, proves how menacing this new indictment is. In the wake of the 2010 publications, Obama officials eagerly wanted to indict WikiLeaks and Assange. The Justice Department convened a grand jury in 2011 to investigate WikiLeaks, and that investigation endured for years.

While the Obama administration was willing to hunt down and prosecute journalists' sources using the Espionage Act, it never charged WikiLeaks simply for publishing classified information. Obama officials were willing to prosecute Assange only if they could find evidence that he did more than work with his source, Chelsea Manning, in the ways journalists typically collaborate with their sources, They searched for evidence showing, and pressured witnesses (including Manning) to assert that Assange actively instructed Manning on how to remove those documents. Years of searching found no evidence that this happened, so officials concluded that any prosecution of WikiLeaks or Assange would irrevocably endanger press freedoms because there was no way to prosecute WikiLeaks without also prosecuting the New York Times and the Guardian for publishing the same material.

The Trump administration's first indictment of Assange, filed last month, sought to circumvent this dilemma by masquerading as a narrowly crafted instrument that offered Assange's adversaries an easy way to cheer the charges without being perceived as supportive of threats to journalistic freedom. That indictment pretended that it was prosecuting Assange for allegedly helping Manning hack into government databases to steal secret material.

But even that first indictment was clearly a ruse. It did not allege that Assange attempted to help Manning "hack" into government databases to steal documents. It only alleged that he did that so to help her avoid getting caught, which is not merely a right but a duty of journalists when dealing with sources who are taking great risks to show the public what their governments and powerful corporations are doing.

"Julian Assange is no journalist," Assistant Attorney General John Demers pronounced in announcing the indictment. By this reasoning, imprisoning Assange for publishing documents poses no dangers to "real journalists" because press freedoms are inapplicable to Assange (or, presumably, anyone else denied the "journalist" designation).

But this distinction between "real journalists" and "non-journalists" is both incoherent and irrelevant. The claim reveals a glaring - and dangerous - confusion about what press freedom means, how it functions and the reasons the Constitution guarantees its protection.

Unlike doctors and lawyers, "journalist" is not some licensed, credentialed title which only a small, privileged set of professionals can legitimately or legally claim for themselves upon fulfilling a defined set of educational and professional requirements. Unlike those professions, the state does not license who is and is not a "journalist."

The opposite is true: a "journalist" can be, and is, anyone, regardless of education, credentials or employment status, who informs the public about newsworthy matters. The sole requirement to be a "journalist" is to engage in an act of journalism, with in turn is best defined as the reporting to the public of events in the public interest, particularly when such revelations inform the public about what democracy's most powerful factions are doing behind a wall of secrecy. '

In a 1977 Supreme Court opinion documenting the limitless scope of the constitutional free press guarantee, Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote: "In short, the First Amendment does not 'belong' to any definable category of persons or entities: It belongs to all who exercise its freedoms."

The historical context for the First Amendment's press freedom guarantee was the advent of the printing press, which empowered any citizen to speak out against, or reveal information about, political authorities. It was the right to engage in that activity that the Constitution's framers sought to protect - not just for a small group called "journalists" but for all citizens.

Indeed, the First Amendment's "press freedom" guarantee was available to everyone precisely because it was a reaction to the British Crown's attempt to limit who possessed this right by licensing who is and is not a "journalist," as Burger wrote for the Supreme Court in 1977.

Of course, even if the court had not established, over and over, that the act of publishing information in the public interest is protected no matter who does it, much of WikiLeaks' work is obviously journalism. Many of WikiLeaks' publications, particularly the 2010 blockbuster stories which the Trump administration is trying to criminalize, fall squarely within anyone's definition of "the free discussion of governmental affairs," as a 1966 Supreme Court decision put it. Indeed, WikiLeaks won prestigious journalism awards around the world for those stories, becoming a sought-after journalistic partner by the world's most influential media outlets. The 2010 stories helped bring about highly consequential reforms: Former New York Times editor Bill Keller credits release of the diplomatic cables with sparking the Arab Spring by revealing systemic corruption on the part of Tunisia's ruling regime. Others say those documents helped end the Iraq War by exposing such horrific abuses by U.S. forces that the Iraqi government's intention to extend its authorization for U.S. troops to remain on Iraqi soil became politically untenable.

Justifying Assange's prosecution on the grounds that he is "not a journalist" reveals a grand, dark irony: To declare that publishing relevant materials about powerful actors is a right possessed only by those designated by the government to be "real journalists" is itself an obvious threat to press freedom. That was the historical danger the First Amendment sough to avoid.

Is there anyone who trusts Trump (who has dismissed an entire cable outlet and several newspapers as "Fake News"), or the federal judiciary - or any politician - to sit in judgment of who does and does not merit this vague honorific, without which publishers can be jailed?

Critically, this newest indictment vindicates the fears expressed for years by WikiLeaks, its supporters and the government of Ecuador, which in 2012 granted political asylum to Assange in its London embassy to protect him from political persecution.

Assange first went to the Ecuadoran embassy when he was facing charges of sexual assault in Sweden, and his critics had always claimed it was those charges he hoped to dodge by "hiding out" in the embassy. But both Assange's lawyers and Ecuadoran officials had vowed from the start of that saga that Assange would immediately leave the embassy and board the next flight to Stockholm if Swedish authorities promised not to use his presence in their country as a pretext to extradite him to the U.S. to be prosecuted for publishing documents. The Swedish government, despite having the authority to make such a promise, refused to do so.

That led Assange and Ecuador to conclude that luring Assange to Sweden, a close U.S. ally, would result in his extradition and eventual prosecution for the "crime" of publishing documents and thus be threatened with life in a U.S. prison for doing so. Ecuador, along with press freedom groups around the world, viewed that threat as classic political persecution, and concluded it was not only the country's right but its duty under international treaties to protect Assange by offering him asylum.

The British authorities who arrested Assange in London last month after Ecuador rescinded his asylum are now in discussions to do exactly what WikiLeaks defenders had always feared: send him to the United States for prosecution under the Espionage Act. That fear was long mocked by Assange critics as a paranoid pretext to avoid facing the case in Sweden, and it's now been quite obviously vindicated.

The Obama administration had given ample reason for Assange to be concerned, by pursuing criminal charges and empaneling a grand jury that stayed active for years. But the Trump administration, from the start, escalated that threat severely and quite publicly. In April 2017, Mike Pompeo, then the CIA director and now the secretary of state, delivered a blistering speech about WikiLeaks suffused with threats. Pompeo proclaimed that "we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us." adding that while WikiLeaks "pretended that America's First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice . . . they are wrong." He concluded: "To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now."

Trump has often openly mused about measures designed to make it easier to punish journalists for what they published. His first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, told the Senate in 2017 that he would not rule out prosecuting not only government sources but also journalists for national security leaks.

The criminal case against Assange, if it were to succeed, would provide the perfect blueprint, the most powerful precedent imaginable, for criminalizing journalism in the United States. Once it is established that working with sources to publish classified information is no longer journalism but espionage, it will be impossible to limit that menacing principle.

When governments seek to eliminate core civic liberties, a common tactic is to begin by targeting a figure who is deeply marginalized and unpopular, with the hope that personal animosity toward him will lead people to cheer his punishment rather than oppose such efforts due to the dangerous precedent it is designed to create. But supporting a dangerous precedent because of contempt for the initial target is the ultimate act of irrationality: Once the precedent is legally consecrated, the ability to oppose its subsequent application to more popular figures disappears.

Assange has few allies left in the United States. The 2010 leaks that exposed war crimes by the Bush administration and the War on Terror generally made him a hero among many leftists, but the enemy of Republicans and hawkish Democrats alike. His remaining support among U.S. liberals subsequently disappeared, and was replaced by seething contempt, when his 2016 leaks revealed corruption at the DNC and harmed Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The Trump administration has undoubtedly calculated that Assange's uniquely unpopular status across the political spectrum makes him the ideal test case for creating a precedent that criminalizes the defining attributes of investigative journalism. Now every journalist and every citizen must decide whether their personal animus toward Assange is more important than preserving press freedom in the United States.

(Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of the Intercept, led the NSA reporting that won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for the Guardian.)

* * *

“Well, I’m an optimist. I still think peace can be avoided.”

* * *


A couple of nights ago, I counted the number of times I had moved residences since I graduated from high school. Seven. In a culture known for its ruthlessness, this doesn't seem all that extreme. My eighth, and possibly final, move approaches. On Saturday, I move into an assisted care facility here in Eugene. Into a small (tiny) 350 sq. ft. apartment that I haven't seen. An old folks farm, I call them. Dozens upon dozens of these places dog Eugene. Having spent a significant portion of the past couple of months in the hospital, I rather welcome the prospect.

Certainly, the experience will deepen, at least for me, because I will be writing about it. And of course, I don't expect to have much in common with most of the other residents. But I also expect that I am likely to be in for a big surprise. I may very well find out that other's paths have been similar to mine.

Those with long-time, loving partners will find the gate opening later. They will probably have a few more years of compensating for their partner's losses until overwhelmed by the burden of care for this companion who hasn't recognized them in years.

I sit in my living room and look at the boxes of books, art, clothes — stuff. The stuff of my life. Upon my death, most of it will likely be headed for burial in the southeastern Oregon desert.

In my small way, I have contributed to using the world, in the form of using it up. Yesterday brought the news that the latest IPCC report so I conclude that we have twelve years until catastrophic climate change is inevitable. There is no way that this runaway train is going to be subject the the kinds of alterations needed to prevent this from happening. Or even to moderate it, much.

In the vernacular, we are fucked. Six ways from sundown. As the Native Americans found out many millions of years ago, it is a good day to die. And Joe? Whenever you're ready…

(Bruce Brady)

* * *



  1. Harvey Reading May 29, 2019

    Go Costco.

  2. James Marmon May 29, 2019


    In 1989, DA Susan Massini tried to convince Judge Luther that I was a “menace to society” and hang a “bitch” on me (habitual criminal act). It really upset me because she had also been my defense attorney prior to her becoming a prosecutor. Shortly afterwards that hearing I decided to become a social worker.

    James Marmon MSW

  3. chuck dunbar May 29, 2019

    Excellent piece by Steve Heilig in yesterday’s AVA–“Some Memorial Day Reflections.”

    Informative and thoughtful, and noting three books I’d not heard of on America’s brutal actions in recent wars. I wish this essay could be widely distributed and read.

    And also, today’s bluntly-put letter by Curtis Ashbeck: “I don’t attend Memorial Day remembrances anymore, because they break my heart..”

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