2023’s BEST and BIGGEST Orange Juice Stories!

There was once a Year of Living Dangerously; 2023 in contrast was the Year of Blog Stats Being Distorted by Some App Called NewsBreak. This whatever-sort-of-service-it-is picks stories from blogs, seemingly at random, that will suddenly get thousands of extra hits. We wish it would have more often picked just our BEST stories, which it sometimes did.

You used to kind of know that you’d written a story that was timely and resonated with the public when it got thousands of hits; now it’s a little harder to tell. So this year we’re going to go like this:

  1. Vern’s best stories of the year (in Vern’s estimation)
  2. Greg’s best stories of the year (in Greg’s estimation)
  3. Our series on the Jessie Lopez Recall in Santa Ana
  4. Our series on Anaheim’s JL Corruption Report
  5. Our 11-year body of work on the late Jordan Brandman
  6. Our BIGGEST STORIES with the MOST HITS this year (mostly thanks to NewsBreak)
  7. CHESTNUTS (old stories that people just keep going back to.)

The Best of Vern, 2023


Saga of the Bahu ARCO (A Microcosm of Anaheim Corruption.) It was perhaps perverse of Vern (a phrase that rolls easily off the tongue) to pen an epic history of six decades of Anaheim, its Hills and its corruption, incorporating the best and most scabrous portraits of Harry Sidhu and Todd Ament, with a huge cast of other Anaheim characters, a study of petroleum economics, overlooked gems from the just-released JL Report, and a visit to the Yankee Doodle Dog Show, all accompanied by music from Sparks, the Stones, Herbie Hancock, and Jackie Gleason, and present it as a story about a gas station. No wonder only 624 of you have read it. Let’s crank it up to 2000 by year’s end. Sample passage:

According to the Bible (Matthew 27:51) when Christ expired on the Cross, the Curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook, rocks split, and the dead walked the earth. Here in this town, when Harry Sidhu spread his arms wide to proclaim that we were “Open For Business,” Anaheim’s ethical walls crumbled, like a skyscraper imploding.

Vern Nelson, “Saga of the Bahu Arco”


On the other hand, THOUSANDS of you read the The Baton that Flew Up to Heaven, a eulogy to beloved Anaheim baton twirler Jo An Burdick, which was equally panoramic and included a history of Anaheim’s Halloween Parade, among many other things.


When valueless GOP Congressional Candidate Scott Baugh was caught pandering to a Christian-conservative crowd claiming that “Woke-ism is the Greatest Threat our Nation Has Ever Faced,” different outlets and politicians responded differently, but Vern saw an opportunity to list and celebrate all the existential crises this great nation has faced and triumphed over throughout its history, as well as the real crises we face now, along with plenty of anti-Baugh snark. It was VERY PATRIOTIC.


Also very patriotic: When Donald Trump was indicted for the first time, Republicans were outraged and Democrats were gleeful, but Vern saw it as the next inevitable step in the ongoing American Revolution: For the first time, Presidents are NOT ABOVE THE LAW, THEY ARE NOT KINGS! On the First Trump Indictment.


As a rule, when cranky Zenger calls one of Vern’s posts “magisterial,” which only happens once or twice a year, it’s probably one of the better ones. Such is “A Howl Rises Up from the Bowels of the Anaheim Chamber, thru Gloria Ma’ae.” Never-elected former Anaheim Councilwoman Ma’ae has taken to showing up at Council and giving the Chamber of Commerce line on things, and this gave Vern a chance to catalogue much of the history of that filthy and discredited body (with a lot of reference to the JL Report, along with this blog’s “institutional memory.”)


Also allegedly “magisterial” was this account of regular person Cecilia Flores’ Victory Over Lucille Kring’s Planning Commission and the Charter School Industry.


No other outlet beside the Orange Juice Blog seemed to notice, take seriously, and celebrate, the final defeat of the Disney Corporations’ attempts to weasel out of having to pay a Living Wage as required under Anaheim’s 2018 Measure L. This was some of the best news of the year! Vern memorialized it, partly sarcastically, in “Will Andy Anaheim & Mike Lyster Celebrate Disney’s Supreme Court Faceplant?” Disney workers should be seeing a TSUNAMI OF MONEY some time next year.


Vern thinks THIS is important: The argument that, despite what the more cautious politicians and lawyers say, Jose Moreno’s “Clean Up Anaheim Act,” as it applies RECUSAL RULES to campaign help gotten from Anaheim’s notoriously gigantic INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES, should be defensible even under CITIZENS UNITED. We still believe this, and think this reform is not only legal but desperately NECESSARY.


It was fun to get all snarky and sarcastic against West Anaheim’s old, cranky, crypto-racist Karens, while for once celebrating (mildly) something that the City was doing. We’re talking about Vern’s story “West Anaheim Karens Freak Out Over City’s Official ‘Ghetto Art.'”


Let’s not forget about the South County! This year we had a new contributor, using the pseudonym South County Payne, who is part of the movement to bring district elections to the four remaining South County towns that don’t have it. This person wrote plenty of their own great stories, but when Vern noticed how each of those towns were run by incestuous, geographically concentrated cabals, all white and mostly Republican, he just had to contribute the very abrasive “Districting Fever Sweeps South OC, Political Insiders Shit Bricks!”


Finally, the 2011 Fullerton Police Murder of Kelly Thomas, and the complete lack of justice for that, is an unhealed wound in the OC psyche, and Vern has finally finished his song about that. This story introduces “The Ghost of Kelly Thomas,” which was premiered earlier this month, will be on YouTube soon and then CD after that.


The Best of Diamond, 2023

Odd-numbered years are generally slack ones for me, my most-read work usually involves political campaigns — prospective pieces, endorsements, and results. (And Vern has already beaten me to the punch on one of the most important things for 2024 — ORANGE & beyond: This March start with EDUCATION, then vote UP-Ballot!which reminds us that the critically important Orange County Board of Education races, where the plurality wins! — will be decided in the MARCH primary! So I don’t feel so bad that Vern completely kicked my ass in this 13th’s year of our editorial collaboration. He had a great year — and I still finished second!

My big themes this year fell into three somewhat overlapping categories: Democratic dumbness, Anaheim, and the Gaza War (which is now about far more than Gaza alone.)


As an American Jew, I’ve felt a special need to speak out on the Gaza War because it is supposedly being waged for my benefit. In actuality, the driving of a wedge between the Jewish and Palestinian communities, between Jews and Muslims generally, and between the noisiest American Jews (represented by AIPAC) and the progressive community, is actually a detriment to me and a benefit to Netanyahu — who in 2024 will be trying once again to elect amoral, narcissistic, and money-hungry Donald Trump to the Presidency, which he hopes will leave him free to do any awful thing he wants short of … well, I can’t think of a good stopping point that he’d accept.) I have a special responsibility that one can not only be a Jewish Democrat, but a Zionist Jewish Democrat — because a two-state solution with a secure, self-regulated, and self-controlled internationally recognized Palestinian state actually does entail there also being a secure, self-regulated, and self-controlled internationally recognized Jewish state. I don’t believe we will or even should ever get one without the other. Here are some of the 2023 pieces on Gaza that I’d love to see people read and remember:

Biden, Airlift Food & Water to Gaza RIGHT NOW!President Biden, by being unforgiving enough of Netanyahu’s atrocities to lose the Muslim for but too hard on him to hold the Jewish vote actually has pulled off the spectacular feat of alienating both sides. (This will become a serious 2024 problem in states like Michigan, Nevada, and Arizona — which collectively could elect Trump — and makes coming up with ways to resolve this conflict a critical task for both progressive Jews and anti-Trump Muslims, both of whom would suffer much more under a Trump Dictator’s Vengeance Tour.) To me, the most important first step is to make clear that we will not be party to war crimes up to and including genocide. Even when we can’t stop Israel from doing something, we can cut off money funding it. Even when they fund it themselves, we can retain the right to intercede ourselves for humanitarian reasons. We should never have allowed Gazans to die of preventable starvation, dehydration, and loss of access to electricity — and we should have used our Navy and Air Force to make sure that they had plenty of each of them. Would that support have been intercepted and co-opted by Hamas? In many cases, perhaps so. But then the responsibility for those deaths would lie entirely on Hamas’s account, not on ours.

A Decent Liberal Israeli’s Perspective on Gaza

In the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attacks — designed, and successful at, provoking such an overwhelming response from Israel that Saudi Arabia could not sign an impending peace treaty with it — it was hard to find any Israeli voices speaking clearly and passionately about the then-nascent war. I found one in Ori Hanan Weisberg, an anti-Netanyahu Jewish Israeli who boiled his reaction down to hatred at the bad actors, and the misfeasors, on all sides. I’d add to his list my anger at Israel’s supporters who try to leverage rightful indignation against the sexual violations and mutilations by at least some Hamas fighters against innocent Jewish women in a kibbutz near Gaza into demanding that feminists support Israel’s bombing of Gazan women and children. One can despise the former without feeling compelled to condone the latter!

The Smartest Speech by a Politician on This Terrible Moment in Gaza

Shocking, I know — but it’s by Senator Bernie Sanders, who on this as on most moral issues has thought more deeply, sensitively, and critically about things that almost anyone else in politics. It’s still worth reading.

A Commentary on Iyad’s Memory

Orange County activist Iyad Afalqa, who is Palestinian, wrote a beautiful piece on Facebook on the Israeli Defense Forces tactic of using humiliation against young Palestinian men and boys as a means of social control. He was kind enough to allow me to reprint it in these pages — after which I wrote my commentary in this separate piece, which I accept in some parts would not receive his approval, which is my most complete essay on Gaza of 2023. 2024 will see more.


DPOC Mangles Rules to Block Peaceful Statement re. Gaza

Peace activists wanted to pass a resolution on Gaza. It went to the Resolutions Committee — where only one side of the conflict (guess which one!) was allowed to comment on it. It was voted down with only two dissenters — Marleen Gillespie and Trinidad Castaneda. If Democrats lose in 2024, if will likely be because that could not keep themselves from stifling voices who criticize the positions of Netanyahu and AIPAC, who — in what should not be a shock — are turning way against Israel’s acts in this by now one-sided “war” and tiring of being told that anything less than full-throated approval of Israel’s actions constitutes “anti-Semitism.” This was just one local instance of the stupidity. (This piece, of course, could have fit within the first category as well — but this one had more room.)

Speakership: Dumb Dems Doom Democracy

Democrats in general live by the rule that no compromise with opposing parties on major issues, even if it leaves Democrats in a better position, is permissible. Rather than, for example, trying to garner the votes to elect a relatively moderate Republican in exchange for reasonable concessions, Democrats hewed fast to the principle that that only thing they could, should, and would do was to keep on nominating House Minority Leader Hakeem “Xiel” Jeffries time and again for Speaker, which they thought made them look principled and consistent rather than fresh out of ideas and resigned to inevitable defeat. We could have had a moderate Republican Speaker who we’d then have on a leash. Less likely, we might even have had a conservative Democratic Speaker while making our own concessions to the few Republicans who might have been happy to be made Committee Chairs in exchange for cooperation. We didn’t try. Or, in exchange for concessions, we could have kept Kevin McCarthy in the first place in exchange for shielding him from future Matt Gaetz and Andy Biggs-sponsored removal votes. We didn’t — because we’re Democrats, and fuck anything that might compromise us personally.

PR Professional Flubs Melahat Fluff

Here’s an instance where the Regressive Democrats champion NotBogdan Chumley tried to support his former (and, who are we kidding, probably still-current) patron Melahat Rafiei by noting that the FDI had “dropped charges with prejudice” against the Wily Mehalat, implying that obviously should couldn’t be so bad! In doing so, he actually made a hero of Mike Tardif, of all people, who pointed out that the FBI does not file charges, but produces “informations” about individuals who might be charged, like admitted felon Melahat, and that they had withdrawn their information on her. Chumley responded that the FBI can indeed bring charges [Narrator voice: They Can’t] but had dismissed the charges and then refiled them. Even if he was talking about the wrong kind of document, it’s still pretty funny to think that he was arguing that the fact that the people who “brought charges” had dropped them in any way exonerates or reduces the guilt of someone when those “charges” were then REFILED! That’s why he’s a PR Professional!

Jordan Brandman Deserves a Forensic Autopsy — Literally and Figuratively!

This again is a transitional story that could belong in the next category just as well. I leave it here because Chumley — who also seems to be an operative for DPOC Chair Ada Briceno, herself formerly and believed to still be advised by Melahat — played at least some role in the death spiral of Jordan Brandman, linked to in one o Vern’s top stories above. Jordan reached out to Adam Elmahrek to tell his side of the story on how badly he was treated by his former Anaheim friends, to whom he’d given such support in better times, when they abandoned him. Shortly after Brandman died, Chumley wrote this:

News of Brandman’s passing spread quickly among his friends this morning.  There is sadness, anger, and regret. And for some, including me, it’s not a surprise. And there’s significant anger directed at Los Angeles Times reporters Gabriel San Roman and Adam Elmahrek for their expose on Brandman last summer which Brandman’s friends believe pushed the former councilman over the edge.

Funny thing, though: Elmahrek’s “expose” didn’t expose new information about Brandman so much as expose his ire at his former friends — ones tied to Chumley himself — who has abandoned him over his vile texts incident. Brandman, as I note in the story, would have made a powerful and more-than-willing witness against some powerful people — and while his death could be a suicide (as his “friends” rushed to believe) or an accidental overdose (as Chumley ultimately conceded), it was also possible that it was a homicide. Chumley got his information that he had died of an overdose early, apparently (unless he was misleading again) from Brandman’s father, and I still don’t know whether there was an autopsy or a homicide investigations in his case. Is “honoring Jordan’s memory” best served by calling it a suicide when it may not have been self-inflicted? I say no.


SO MUCH on Anaheim this year, and Vern has already covered most of it. Here are some pieces I did on it.

Deciphering Anaheim’s Measure A

This is my examination of SEIU Local 11’s ballot measure that came up for a special election some months ago. It really didn’t make a lot of sense and it lost big, thanks in part to its having its heart cut out by Local 11’s leader Chair Ada. But don’t worry, Ada has now elicited a strike at two Pasadena hotels just before the Rose Bowl game — flipping to the justification that it’s about stagnant wages rather than about trying to get hotels to build worker housing — so nothing holds her down for long.

Anaheim’s Ethical Cesspit is SO Much Worse Than Ashleigh Realizes

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken reminds me a lot of President Biden — and I mean that in a good way for both — in that they are good people who have not (or perhaps can not) fully come to grips with the power and ferocity of their opposition. For Biden, it’s the MAGA movement, the Supreme Court, world dictators, and much more. For Ashleigh, it’s something closer: Disney.

There is simply no way of “fixing” Anaheim without confronting Disney and its slavering desire over the Anaheim City Council. Ashleigh — understandably, as someone who likely wants reelection — has been hesitant to hold Disney’s feet to the fire, partly because that doesn’t seem to be her temperament and perhaps because she things the respectful negotiations are possible.

They aren’t. We won’t learn definitively about who Disney wants to elect to the Council this time to expand its Council majority even further — but those chosen few will not even have to raise a cent (except for looking like they’re trying) if, as usual, Disney and Chamber of Commerce-related Independent Expenditures will be able to flood people’s mailboxes next fall.

This is a war being waged against primarily the future and poorer residents of a someday bankrupted Anaheim. It has to be treated like one. Organization of people to the point where they ignore all of the glossy and colorful lies in their mailboxes, and the serpent-tongued voicemails and and test, when they inevitably arrive.

The Weak Legal Case for Anaheim’s Item 10

You wouldn’t know if from the title, but this is about the attempt to squash the JL Group’s ability to tell the truth about just some of the governance horror stories about Anaheim. This includes my wish list for topics to be addressed in this investigation, which went largely unfilled because the investigators took a relatively narrow view of their commission from the Council. They were probably right to underplay their hand, because if they hadn’t we might not have seen it emerge at all. Anyway, here’s a few for history of what one observer thought we might have a chance to expect while the Council majority was sharpening its knives to gut it.


Palm Sunday, Vonnegut, & Facetious Jesus (an evergreen, slightly rewritten for 2023)

Yes, according to the great Kurt Vonnegut, “the poor shall always be with you” — an utterance of Jesus’ that has been used to justify neglect of the poor ever since the Gospels came out — was probably a badly translated joke at the expense of pocketing the money that had been spent by the daughter of a big donor who wanted to soothe the sage’s feet. You have to read it to get the full glory and angry humor behind this one.



This blog was also at the forefront, this year, of at least three important issues or events, first of which:

We Helped Beat the Recall of Santa Ana’s Jessie Lopez

While other “journalist(s)” showed up late to the Victory Party, the Orange Juice Blog was fighting this unjust and corrupt recall from the beginning, here on the blog AND on the ground — and we won! We beat an out-of-control Police Union. And the stakes were much higher than just the worthy Councilwoman Lopez – this recall would have destroyed Santa Ana’s progressive Council Majority, AND made politicians terrified to stand up to police unions in the future. (Or MORE terrified, I should say.)

  • We’d previously, two years earlier, established RARE credibility on this issue by opposing the recall, by the same police union for the same bogus reasons, of rightwing Republican Ceci Iglesias. Most Democrats, most on the left, jumped at the chance to get rid of the Council’s only Republican, even as I warned that a police union should not be allowed to recall a politician just for standing up to them. When it happened two years later to a progressive Democrat and everyone complained, they were rightly accused of hypocrisy. BUT NOT US! This was Vern’s 2020 “Just Say No to the Police-Coup Recall Against Ceci Iglesias!”
  • At the beginning of this year when it became clear that dirty union boss Gerry Serrano was launching a recall on Jessie and Thai, while leaving alone the CouncilMEN who’d done the same things, Vern wrote “Big Bad Serrano Targets More Young Santa Ana Ladies,” and 3,444 of you-all read it!
  • Canvassing in the summer against Serrano’s signature gatherers in Santa Ana, Vern was able to talk to local voters and report on “Lies Serrano’s People Told to Get Their Jessie Recall Signatures.”
  • In July, Gerry Serrano, the nightmare union boss who started this whole thing, was “let go” by the City and of necessity by the POA. We celebrated by saying “Sayonara Serrano!” – a story that 1593 of you read. But the recall continued of its own momentum.
  • In October when we learned that the recall would go forward against Jessie (but not Thai) Vern wrote this MANIFESTO: “This Month, Ward 3 Decides the Future of Santa Ana!”
  • By now we’d been joined by Officer Manny Delgadillo, a longtime Santa Ana cop (and downtown police liaison) who opposed Serrano and the Recall, and provided us a lot of valuable info. He also wrote a few pieces for us, including THIS ONE which over 1000 of you-all read.
  • Let’s just skip all the legal mess of October and November and fast-forward to where WE WON, and Vern was too busy and tired to go to the victory party (although Gustavo Arellano sure made it.) He instead sat down, was the first to call the election, and wrote “Jessie Beats Recall: WINNERS AND LOSERS.” Then moved on to the next battle.


Fighting for the Release of the JL Report

One big thing that the chastened 2022 Anaheim Council unanimously approved, after the FBI corruption revelations, was to commission the JL Group to investigate and produce a corruption report. When JL came back to the newly elected council in 2023, it was clear that most of them were confused and irritated about the whole thing. At first they wanted to cut it off, cut off the funding, when it was only halfway done; later they wanted to redact it as much as possible. This blog along with The Voice of OC, OCCORD, CHISPA, and the Anaheim Democrats Club, were part of a movement that would NOT let that happen.

And our series of articles on that was pretty great. At the same time we were getting to know exactly what our new 2023 Council was like. And this was when Mayor Pro Tem Natalie Rubalcava, one of the JL Group’s biggest critics, said THIS to make a point about the investigators’ lack of discrimination (She “played the Vern card.”)


The Short Sad Life of Jordan Brandman

2023 is also when former Councilman Jordan Brandman tragically died, in late September, reportedly from an overdose – we still don’t know if that was intentional or not. We’d been critics of him since he first ran for Council in 2012 (Los Amigos had problems with him even before that due to his promises and betrayals while on School Board.) Vern stands by his prophetic sentence in his 2012 “Contortions of Jordan Brandman” – “Bless his heart, but Jordan Brandman should not be a politician.”

We were always critical of his politics, particularly as he was one of those Democrats who behaved like the worst Republicans – he enthusiastically joined all the Cabal members with trickle-down economics and political suppression, with more than the average level of dishonesty and cruelty. But we didn’t write about him after he left Council in 2021 (except for when he “reached out” to the Times to tell his story.) We still think what was most devastating to him was all his former “friends” abandoning him after he was out of power and no longer useful.

Anyway, over the years we produced a very thorough body of work on the politician:

“Rest in peace” is boilerplate. As Vern wrote in September, ” If people really live on, then let’s hope Jordan Brandman finds some peace.  And if people are reincarnated, the let’s hope Jordan Brandman comes back less damaged.  And makes better friends than Pringle, Nocella, and Chmielewski.”


And NOW…..

Our stories (not already mentioned) that got THE MOST READERS this year – mostly thanks to NewsBreak, so it’s kinda RANDO.


We’re glad this was our most-read story of the year, and it seems from the comments that people, friendly and hostile, actually read it – nearly 6000 of you so far: From Temecula to Orange, the Normal People Rise Up! It’s actually a thing – the mass reaction of the people to the takeover of our school boards by homophobic Mega-Pastors fueled by Charter School dollars. In Temecula, one nutjob has run off and another is being recalled, while the Orange USD recall is happening during this March’s primary!


Our friend John Earl (left) is a great investigative journalist, and you all should subscribe to his “So Cal Water Wars” (with a donation.) We are always happy to cross-post his articles, and we’re glad that NewsBreak picked up this piece and nearly 4000 people read it. Still, judging by the total lack of comments, I’m guessing that it was mostly clicked on by rightwingers looking for more evidence that the governor is some lefty antichrist, and that they were puzzled to see him being critiqued from the environmentalist left. Gavin Newsom’s ‘Culture of Distrust’ revealed by his former Water Conservation Manager. It’s true, Gavin’s “environmentalism” is a convenient thing that takes a back seat to his deference to big business, as when he and Barbara Boxer also tried to foist Poseidon on this county.


3000 of you-all read this story, where Donna took a video of Anaheim police wasting 40 minutes of everybody’s time including bicycle-riding Jack White, trying unsuccessfully to convince him they had a right to search him for the most minor of bike infractions, while his white friend, who’d done exactly the same maneuvers, stood watching. 3000 is nothing though, when over 150,000 folks worldwide have watched Donna’s video, and they’re still watching and commenting! (Jack lawyered up and is still taking his case through the courts – we hope to have an update soon.) Biking While Black, in Anaheim!

Almost 3000 hits:

Greg’s Why Was Judge Jeffrey Ferguson Granted Bail? Good question! Why WAS the hard-drinking killer judge (who, sadly, was actually a pretty decent judge) granted bail?

Where “Stop Woke” comes to die: Protest DEATH-SANTIS in Anaheim! NewsBreak actually did help us get a lot of people to this protest, when the hateful little Florida governor came to the Westin to wring out some Presidential contributions from OC Republicans. (Funny, we saw Michelle and Shawn Steel drive in – we thought they loved them some Trump!)

Another one related to the Orange Unified School District recall, and the stoopid misbehavior of our county’s Culture Warriors: Leandra Blades coaches minor son to commit Felony Fraud at Street Fair

And South OC Paine’s biggest hit, What the hell is the Laguna Hills Council THINKING? We probably haven’t covered little Laguna Hills enough!

Nearly 2000



(Old stories of ours that still got a lot of “hits” this year)



This is the Year With the Extra Day, the Year when we…

  • Finally finish off Trump and Trumpism for good.
  • Take back both Houses of Congress, for good, from the useless nihilistic Republicans – so that we can finally do SOMETHING about climate change, gun violence, and protecting Democracy! (In the OC, that means defeating Michelle Steel, Young Kim & Scott Baugh.)
  • Take back public education in OC for the Normal People.
  • Get real Campaign Finance Reform in Anaheim and make sure we get a fair deal from Disney for allowing them to go forward with Disneyland Forward, which their CEO tells his shareholders will be “like building another Disneyland INSIDE OF Disneyland!” (That always reminds us of John Cena in “Trainwreck” when some black guy calls him “Mark Wahlberg” – “Have you SEEN Mark Wahlberg? I’m like Mark Wahlberg ATE Mark Wahlberg.“)

And finally if you made it this far, thank you, but you’re probably a little bit crazy.


About Admin

"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.