Dry Winds | Gerry Haslam | Plant Sale | B Flatlining | Obey Jesus | Opting Out | Old Hippies | Lake Pillsbury | Grand Reopening | Weed v Wine | Asparagus Truck | Klamath Salmon | Bosco-rama | Yesterday's Catch | Coital Death | Animal LaMotta | Buried Blacksmith | Poverty Wages | UFO Story | Splendid Wreckage | Soylent Beige | Gender Sideshow | Please Hold | White Guy | Devil's Dictionary | Christmas Carton | American Empire
DRY WEATHER WITH BREEZY NORTHERLY WINDS will persist through Tuesday. Warmer interior temperatures are forecast today through Wednesday, while coastal areas remain cool with brisk northerly breezes each afternoon. A cold front will bring substantial interior cooling toward the latter portion of the work week. Some rain and high mountain snow showers are also expected toward the latter portion of the work week, mainly in Del Norte and northern Humboldt Counties. (NWS)
GERRY WAS A HOLY ROLLER
by Ken Hurst
I was so glad that Jonah Raskin wrote the fine obituary for Gerald Haslam who I knew as Gerry.
Gerry wasn't raised a Catholic. He and Merle Haggard went to Catholic school because their parents thought they could get a good education there.
Gerry told me when he first went to Catholic school he thought he was entering the first leg of hell. He had been a Free Holiness from a Free Holiness family. If the whole place turned to flame they wouldn't have been shocked.
Gerry and Merle were raised in the same neighborhood but did not travel in the same circles. Gerry said it seemed like Merle had about 15 tons of testosterone, more than the rest of the kids. He was dating sexy sophomores in high school while the rest of us were still trying to get enough nerve to put our arms over our girlfriends’ shoulders.
Merle and his dad were very close. They used to go fishing and camping on the Kern River near Bakersfield every weekend. Merle's dad died when he was pretty young. We lived near each other in Oildale, but we traveled with different crowds.
Much later we had both been Kings of the Okie Day in Oildale. Gerry said one day Merle came over after we both had had a few brews and placed his arm over my shoulder and said, "I remember you ol’ boy." And like that, we were friends.
The last time I saw Gerry in Penngrove he had an older car jacked up in the yard and told me, "An Okie always needs an extra for parts," and laughed.
Once I got into a fist fight with "Tiny," the noted Sergeant of Arms for the Hells Angels. It started because Tiny was beating the shit out of a small Hells Angel. As I walked by them I said, You guys should get off of Main Street. Tiny said, "No one tells the Hells Angels what to do." Not being an idiot, I walked into the No-Name bar. It had a redwood bar but no name.
Tiny came to the window and kept yelling, "There's not enough room on this planet for both of us."
So I finally went outside and Tiny threw a ponderous swing at me and I shoved him into a white Cadillac. The cops came and the little Hells Angel turned me into the cops. I new instinctively that was a no-no for the Angels.
Anyway, I never said anything to anybody. But at the trial in San Rafael, Gerry Haslam, Dr. Gray and the Head of the English Department all showed up as a character witnesses. This was in the early fall of 1969.
I asked Gerry how they knew about it. Gerry said it was in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
That day I looked at the Chronicle and on the second section the whole page was full of pictures of thousands of Hells Angels titled "Arresting Angels."
Gerry Haslam was the finest, most authentic man I ever knew.
IS THE MEASURE B COMMITTEE DEAD?
by Mark Scaramella
For the first twelve or so minutes of last Wednesday’s Measure B Committee meeting the audio didn’t work “for technical reasons.”
When the audio finally came on (with several odd swishing sounds from cyber-space), several Committee members were bemoaning the Supes having gone off on their own and ignoring the Measure B Committee by declaring the Kemper Report as their “Strategic Plan” (three years after it was submitted, and still being ignored whatever it’s called).
The B committee also bemoaned the County’s consideration of Dr. Noemi Doohan’s “Ranch Proposal” and the roofless old Whitmore Lane nursing home as possible Psychiatric Health Facilities without the slightest involvement or input from the B-ers.
The B-ers chatted randomly for a while about the “annual” independent audit required by the text of Measure B which has never been done. (When we asked former Measure B Program Manager Alyson Bailey why there was no required annual audit a few months ago, she said that there was very little to audit, so no need to perform it.)
County Auditor Lloyd Weer said he includes the Measure B Account in his annual county “audits,” but didn’t think that counted as an “independent audit.” There was no attempt to define what an audit would be in the case of Measure B, but Weer agreed the County will probably hire somebody to add up the numbers he’s already added up and call it an “independent audit.”
No need for the Committee to discuss it.
As usual, Committee Chair Donna Moschetti apologized a lot, mostly for tiny slip ups like not realizing someone wanted to say something. Perhaps a blanket apology at the beginning of the meeting would save everyone a lot of time. The one apology she didn’t make was to the voting public for the Committee having done nothing to advance Measure B in over three years.
On May 24 the County plans to hold a joint meeting of the Behaviorial Health Advisory Board, the Supervisors and the Measure B Committee, agenda yet to be determined, no items proposed so far.
Committee members Tom Allman and Ross Liberty joined the relatively short meeting late with only a few minutes remaining. Neither had anything to say.
At the end of the meeting, Chair Moschetti said that the Measure B Committee still intends to meet on May 26, even though it’s just two days after the joint meeting. A few commissioners said they’d have to check their calendars to see if they could attend both meetings.
But the overall vibe was obvious: None of these meetings or committees matter. CEO Carmel Angelo and Mental Health Director Jenine Miller are quite capable of steering all the contract work to the “only qualified bidder” Schraeders and getting the Supes to rubberstamp their PHF plans, whatever they may end up being, without the slightest by-the-by from the moribund committees or the Kemper Report or anyone else.
SUPERVISOR MAUREEN MULHEREN: The BOS asked that staff could look at an option similar to an Opt Out Zone but for the 10% on over 10 acres. So Covelo or Potter or whomever wanted to opt out could have that as an option. When people ask me why I voted for 10% expansion my answer is that I believe the use permit process and the Planning Commission will make sure that these locations are in the appropriate place and have appropriate mitigations. I’ve been all over the County and each farm is so unique I could see that over an acre might work for some locations and didn’t want to limit businesses to do what works for them. And as I have said on many posts the “new” board is committed to making code enforcement work and trying to get as many businesses as possible through the hoops of regulation. I realize that not everyone wants expansion but that doesn’t mean that no one does. I believe it should be reviewed on a site by site basis and if whole communities don’t want it they can have property owners sign up to opt out.
LEAVE LAKE PILLSBURY AS IS
by Frank Lynch & Carol Cinquini, Directors, Lake Pillsbury Alliance
Little is said about the role of Lake Pillsbury in our regional water system or the critical water it provides to fill Lake Mendocino. If anything, its importance to understated or not referenced at all in most media articles. Without Lake Pillsbury at the Eel River headwaters to control downstream flows, both the Eel and Russian Rivers and surrounding aquifers will intermittently dry up. Lake Pillsbury is a critical component of our water system and currently provides year-round water storage that benefits fish and hundreds of thousands of downstream domestic and agricultural users in both the Eel River and Russian River basins.
A strong movement is afoot to remove Scott Dam and eliminate Lake Pillsbury, targeted by those who believe the dam is the key reason for declining fisheries in the North Coast. There are many reasons for the Eel River fishery decline (e.g., over-fishing, massive flooding events, past timber harvest practices, road and railroad construction, unregulated cannabis grows) and the majority have nothing to do with Scott Dam. More recently scientists are noting that changes in the ocean ecosystem (e.g., warmer temperatures, increased acidity) may be the cause of the huge decline in the number of fish returning from the ocean to our rivers (with or without dams).
The Two Basin Partnership proposes to remove Scott Dam and continue water diversions into the Russian River during the winter and spring months when flows exceed minimum requirements for Eel River fish. Our current drought circumstances highlight the critical importance of Lake Pillsbury water storage; without it, there would have been little to no excess water to transfer into the Russian River this year. Lake Mendocino depends upon water from the Eel River system on a sustained year-round basis.
Lake Pillsbury’s regulated water releases provide important cold water flows downstream to enhance the Eel River fishery and it benefits Russian River endangered fish. Scientists continue to debate the size and quality of the fish habitat above Scott Dam, but any upstream habitat gained would be minor compared to the myriad of downstream fish mitigation enhancements that could be implemented, protecting this water storage facility we so badly need.
Over the years, the Potter Valley Project has proven to be a reliable and valuable regional resource, providing clean power, water supply, a pristine recreational area in the hub of the Mendocino National Forest, critical fire fighting protection, and supporting 100 year old ecosystems and wildlife habitat and communities within the Lake Pillsbury basin.
Despite what powerful interests want the public to believe, this is not a done deal. It could take decades to resolve.
Over the next few years the Two Basin Solution Partners will conduct at least 22 environmental studies as part of the FERC licensing process, and more studies and litigation will certainly follow. Formation of a regional entity to manage the Potter Valley Project will require legislation.
In times of climate uncertainty, worsening droughts and extreme fires, it is ludicrous to remove Scott Dam and eliminate Lake Pillsbury. Should we enhance and protect endangered fish? Of course, but there are numerous and less impactful alternatives to explore before making an irreversible decision to eliminate this valuable water resource. It is our firm belief that money can be better spent on dam improvements and fishery mitigation enhancements, and ultimately increase clean hydropower production to return the project to profitability. This could be a win-win for all stakeholders.
LESSER OF TWO…
Living close to a vineyard, I find the daily intrusions mainly auditory. The noise of tractors and fans is the price I pay for living in a beautiful, rural county. To add visual and olfactory intrusions from an industrial marijuana grow is contrary, at best, to the agricultural nature and beauty of our county.
I may not love the uniform acres of vineyards, but at least I’m looking at plants and greenery. Plastic hoop houses, security fences, lighting and the invasive smell that comes from industrial marijuana grows will affect the quality of life for many rural residents and tourists alike.
Whatever the acreage, such a large-scale change will significantly affect Sonoma County. It should be considered carefully and have multiple benefits, beyond just tax revenue. I encourage the supervisors to consider carefully before rushing to permits. At $1 million per acre in revenue, the marijuana industry will wait, but your constituents may not.
So far this spring only 36 Coho Salmon age 1+ have been trapped by DFW while exiting the Shasta River Basin. 21 Coho Salmon age 0+, 3 Coho Salmon age 1+have been trapped on their way out from the Scott River.
See the attached report from Cal DFW to confirm these sad numbers.
These are dismal numbers and indicate that Klamath River Coho continue on the slide to extinction. The Shasta and Scott should be the top producers of Klamath River Coho but they are not because of poorly regulated irrigation using surface flows. Irrigation in the Shasta and Scott prevents Coho from reaching the best spawning grounds and kills the juveniles before they can get out to Klamath River. Then disease gets most of them descending the Klamath.
Meanwhile DFW and the State Water Board allow this to go unchallenged and NMFS is giving Shasta ranchers a Safe Harbor Agreement that allows them to kill Coho salmon.
The flows tell the story of how irrigators are killing the Shasta Coho:
Flows should be increasing in springtime due to snowmelt. But in the Shasta most of the flow is being diverted to irrigate cow pasture and alfalfa.
Felice Pace, Water Chair
North Group Redwood Chapter Sierra Club
Gratefully living in the Polikla (Yurok) homeland
A READER WRITES:
"Elegant Event & High Honors" (title of a special video on www.youtube.com)
The dedication of the chi-chi event honoring U.S. Rep Douglas H. Bosco and his “wife” Gayle C. Guynup with a conference room at the Sonoma County PUBLIC Library. The event happened more than a year ago (no masks to be seen) and has had an amazing 25 views since being put out on the Tube.
I'm certain that some AVA subscribers might want to see the now half owner of the Santa Rosa PeeDee and his bride being regaled by members of the Bar as well as the Democratic Party pols who have appeared to have been at the bar too long but are there to kiss Doug's, er, ring.
The catered evening's canapes alone appear to have cost more than a month's salary for an essential worker earning the federal hourly minimum wage.
CATCH OF THE DAY, May 2, 2021
IRVING ACEVES-LIZARRAGA, Willits. Probation revocation.
MISTY DOUGLAS, Ukiah. Domestic battery.
SCOTT FINNEY, Ukiah. Suspended license (for DUI).
ANTHONY FORTNER, Boca Raton, Florida/Ukiah. Loaded handgun not registered owner.
YESSENIA GARCIA, Laytonville. Domestic battery.
RAMON MACIEL, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol. (Frequent flyer.)
BRANDON MAYFIELD, Willits. Controlled substance while armed with loaded firearm, loaded handgun –not registered owner, concealed weapon in vehicle, stolen property, probation revocation.
MARIO PANIAGUA, Willits. DUI.
ALICIA QUIROZ, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, resisting, probation revocation.
AVRIL WRIGHT, Lucerne/Ukiah. Smuggling controlled substance or liquor into jail, controlled substance, paraphernalia, false personation of another.
SEX AND DEATH
by Alexander Cockburn (1997)
First one friend of mine and then a second developed arrhythmia last week. One of them told me that what with the irregular heart beat, he was worried that having sex in any way might constitute a mortal threat and a risk that he might croak on the job or that he might pass on in media res.
It’s a fear that often besets the older man with any sort of pain between his adam’s apple and the belt line. I referred my pal to a study by M. Ueno cited in an essay by Hackett and Rosenbaum called “Emotion, Psychiatric Disorders, and the Heart,” published in Heart Disease, edited by Eugene Braunwald, published in 1980. The Ueno essay is alluringly titled “The So-Called Coition Death,” published in something abbreviated as Jap. J. Leg. Med. 17:330.1963, though why the Japanese should be so interested in this I’m not sure, since their rates of heart disease are remarkably low owing to the huge intake of sashimi and seaweed. On the other hand, Japanese executives are in the habit of dropping dead from overwork. So maybe they’re worried about bringing the problem of the workplace into the bedroom.
Coital death is unusual. Ueno’s study showed that coition accounted for 0.6% of endogenous sudden deaths. Most of these occurred in the context of extramarital screwing. Males were on average 13 years older than their companions and one-third were drunk at the time.
Of course this fear of dying while fucking is connected to the notion that the latter activity invovles a great expenditure of physical effort. Not really. One study by H.K. Hellerstein and E.H. Piedman reckoned that the equivalent cost in oxygen of maximal activity during intercourse approximates six calories per minute. During foreplay and afterplay about 4.5 calories are consumed. I’m not sure what “afterplay” involves now. In the good old days it meant lighting a cigarette, puffing on it and blowing lazy smoke rings in the air, sort of, while trying to persuade the love partner to get up and mix a gin and tonic.
Hellerstein and Friedman conclude that the demand placed on the heart by sexual intercourse is equal to that of “a brisk walk around the block or climbing a flight of stairs.” No big deal really. We should all try it more often. At least that’s what I told my arrhythmic friend. He was probably upset about Princess Diana.
The Finns, who have nothing much else to do aside from drink heavily, once figured out a roster of “life change events.” Rack up too many points in “life change units” at any one time and you might be setting yourself up for a heart problem.
For example, “recently out of work” costs you 50 LCUs. “Recently fired from work” also costs you 50 LCUs. But guess what? “Recently married” also costs you 50 LCUs, marginally ahead of “separation of wife due to marital problems” which rates 48 LCUs. Moral: don’t get a job and don’t get married. Even getting engaged gets you 32 LCUs, and “change in number of arguments with wife” gets you 40. “Death of wife” is the highest of all, at 105. Divorce stands at 80. By contrast, “unpaid bills leading to threatened legal action” rates 26, heavy shopping (more than $2,000) 22, and “change in religious or political convictions” a mere 20. I could find no mention of the big killer, America’s favorite way of getting rid of the old, family reunions. Maybe the Finns don’t have them.
I HAD HIM ALONG THE ROPES, he had his head down and I was really measuring him. His head popped up and he let go a left hook that almost tore through my stomach. It hurt so much, I had tears in my eyes, like a little kid. I got the decision, but I learned that Jake LaMotta was some animal.
—Sugar Ray Robinson
ALEXANDER HAMILTON WILLARD
by William J. Hughes
For the last several years I've been on Sacajawea's trail, literally from Montana and Idaho to Oregon. Of course Sacajawea means Lewis and Clark. Part of the trail my brother was working as a tourist supervisor at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, Lewis and Clark's sponsor of course. I also carry a replica, a commemorative 2003 nickel, of the Lewis and Clark peace coin they carried in 1803 along with a Sacajawea one dollar coin on my keychain.
So I'm standing at the teller window in my bank, waiting on some checks, chatting with the teller about Sacajawea and some of my being where she had been when a guy at the next teller window tells me there's a member of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery buried in Franklin, very much nearby Sacramento.
Wait a second, did this perfect stranger just tell me there is a member of the Lewis and Clark exhibition buried in Franklin -- a spot in the road? A spot down south a bit?
How do you come to know such a thing?, I think I asked him. He told me, “I portrayed him in a school play. He was a gunsmith with Lewis and Clark.” Okay, now used to what he's saying. He tells me where in Franklin. I think I know enough about Franklin to know there ain't much to know, sort of a compliment to another version of unknown California.
All I know about Alexander Hamilton Willard is he was born in 1777, then was with Lewis and Clark in 1803 to 1805, served in the U.S. Army, lived in Missouri and Wisconsin, migrated west in 1852, settled in what was Georgetown, 12 kids, died at age 86 in Sacramento. He was a blacksmith, buried in Franklin, California, so nearby, so attached to my attachment to Sacajawea and Lewis Clark. I saw his gravestone on a website.
Now for the so nearby, so unknown until now. I got my neighbor interested in Willard and Lewis and Clark. Unlike me he owned a car so he's in charge of the drive south.
We blast down I-5 South past the ever expanding suburbs and the still preserved wetlands for Franklin/Hood Road. Turn left for Franklin, farmland, a weathered sign for historic Franklin and sure enough, there is the cemetery right off of Franklin Boulevard.
We are initially stopped at a locked service gate, but there's got to be some entrance.
Sure enough, on Franklin Boulevard, a short empty parking lot inside a black iron fence with the well-kept green grass and the regimented headstones. Not a large cemetery, not tiny, small. A bit of a remarkable thrill to be here, from Montana and Idaho and most recently Astoria, Oregon, the national park of Fort Clatsop, where the Corps wintered in 1805, to here in Franklin.
Fine iron archway announcing Franklin Cemetery. What do you know? There are three fine, almost national park quality interpretive signs for Alexander Hamilton Willard, visual and script telling his life and Lewis and Clark story. Famous son of Franklin, formerly of Georgetown, California.
Quiet, nobody but us, chilly breeze blowing. One of the signs directs us to his grave.
Lush grass, worn headstones, Willard's a short, worn obelisk with family members and the man himself. No TV station, no librarian, no documentarian in Sacramento to my knowledge has ever mentioned him, “a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition!” I guess it's up to me to spread the word.
I leave a picture postcard of a now, for me, well known moment at Fort Clatsop during the Corps winter quarters: Captain Clark has Sacajawea give up her blue bead belt for some other pelts. Willard would recognize the moment. With it I leave my e-mail and phone number.
That done, we wandered through the gravestones, some nearly illegible from time and whether, the Chinese and Japanese stones most remarkable with their beautiful native lettering. You just never know unless you leave yourself open.
We leave through the Main Street town of Franklin as rustic as you can get, suspended in time, that sort of Sacramento Delta funkiness, wooden, with a King’s skate rink right out of James Dean's East of Eden.
Back north to Sacramento through the ever increasing Elk Grove suburbs, not exactly the Corps of Discovery, but what a discovery.
Postscript: Sacajawea's son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who she carried on her back on her Lewis and Clark journey, lived and died in Auburn, brought there by the Gold Rush. Could he and Willard have ever met? We shall try to find out.
BILL GRIMES WRITES:
Can't believe that for a long time I was vaguely interested in -- and hoping -- that reports of UFOs existed and were occupied with a nonhuman species, were completely baseless. And reports in the National Enquirer that our government was hiding information about these objects were completely uncredible. An audience building ploy. Of course I dismissed any such thoughts before blabbing them to others. I'd be showing my WV heritage. A kook, a nut.
Now, based upon this comprehensive article in “The New Yorker” it appears something credibly unexplainable has been happening in the skies of our planet.
In the online audio introducing this story, David Remmick, the magazine's editor, said if someone had told him he would be running a story about UFOs in this august (my word) publication he would have thought them to be crazy.
BUT IN THE END even the most successful of lives is only the splendid wreckage of what used to be a future.
— Gore Vidal
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
These gender confused people are about .06% of the population, and most likely that number has been constant throughout history. But media and popular culture have their own reasons for focusing in on and magnifying this infinitesimal, really pathetic minority. You can pretty much surmise what those reasons are. It’d be like visiting the Nebraska State Fair in 1950, and instead of attending wholesome agricultural events on the midway, you are attracted to the sideshow, more specifically the alley where they kept Side Show Freaks; you take a Kodak snapshot of the freaks and tell everybody back home this is what the Nebraska State Fair was all about.
WHEN YOU HEAR on the news that somebody chopped off his girlfriend’s head, drank her blood, and used her toes to play pool, chances are it was a white guy. Find an old lady kicked down the stairs for her welfare check? A black guy did that. Someone cut out the old lady’s eyes and used them as knick-knacks? Definitely a white guy.
— Chris Rock
RECOMMENDED READING: “The Devil’s Dictionary,” by Ambrose Bierce. Originally published in 1911. Now out of copyright (but not out of date) and available on-line. This is the oft-quoted, oft-excerpted, still current, real deal, the whole thing, the Director’s cut, if you will. Complete with some dated and nearly unreadable “poetry,” some by Bierce, some by others. If you think you know it from the occasional literary reference, you’re badly mistaken. According to the preface the dictionary was produced over a period of 25 years (1881-1906), appearing as items in a regular column by Bierce in several San Francisco-based newspapers. Most people who know of the dictionary have seen some of its funny, biting, sardonic, sarcastic, brief, and yes even “bitter,” definitions such as “Actually, adv. perhaps, possibly,” or “Abuse, n. Unanswerable wit,” or “Harangue, n. A political speech by an opponent,” or “Really, adv. Apparently,” or “White, adj. and n. Black,” or “Fork, n. An instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting dead animals into the mouth. Formerly the knife was employed for this purpose…” or “Accuser, n. One’s former friend; particularly the person for whom one has performed some friendly service.” But the real thing is much, much more than the few snippets we see here and there; the complete collection is replete with hundreds of additional gems such as “Handkerchief, n. A small square of silk or linen, used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears. The handkerchief is a recent invention; our ancestors knew nothing of it and entrusted its duties to the sleeve…” Or my father’s favorite, “Wheat, n. A cereal grain from which a tolerably good whiskey can, with some difficulty, be made, and which is also used for bread.”… Some of the definitions betray unhappy aspects of Bierce’s newspaper experience: “Arrears, n. (In deference to the feelings of a large and worthy class of our subscribers and advertisers, the definition of this word is withheld.)” And one more: “Art, n. This word has no definition.” I dare not repeat Bierce’s extended “definition” of “Woman, n,” here, these days. You’ll have to look that one up for yourself.
The Devil’s Dictionary could stand an update for modern parlance. For example (with apologies to Bierce): “Robust, adj. outta my ass, untested.” “Emoji, n. An on-line pictoral device used by bad writers.” “Deep dive, n. A glance at some data to see if the user is correct. If not, the phrase ‘I’m not 100% sure’ may be used.” “Computer Literacy, n. An oxymoron.”
THE UNRAVELING OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE
by Chris Hedges
America’s defeat in Afghanistan is one in a string of catastrophic military blunders that herald the death of the American empire. With the exception of the first Gulf War, fought largely by mechanized units in the open desert that did not – wisely – attempt to occupy Iraq, the United States political and military leadership has stumbled from one military debacle to another. Korea. Vietnam. Lebanon. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. The trajectory of military fiascos mirrors the sad finales of the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Russian, French, British, Dutch, Portuguese and Soviet empires. While each of these empires decayed with their own peculiarities, they all exhibited patterns of dissolution that characterize the American experiment.
Imperial ineptitude is matched by domestic ineptitude. The collapse of good government at home, with legislative, executive and judicial systems all seized by corporate power, ensures that the incompetent and the corrupt, those dedicated not to the national interest but to swelling the profits of the oligarchic elite, lead the country into a cul-de-sac. Rulers and military leaders, driven by venal self-interest, are often buffoonish characters in a grand comic operetta. How else to think of Allen Dulles, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Trump or the hapless Joe Biden? While their intellectual and moral vacuity is often darkly amusing, it is murderous and savage when directed towards their victims.
There is not a single case since 1941 when the coups, political assassinations, election fraud, black propaganda, blackmail, kidnapping, brutal counter-insurgency campaigns, U.S. sanctioned massacres, torture in global black sites, proxy wars or military interventions carried out by the United States resulted in the establishment of a democratic government. The two-decade-long wars in the Middle East, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, have only left in their wake one failed state after another. Yet, no one in the ruling class is held accountable.
War, when it is waged to serve utopian absurdities, such as implanting a client government in Baghdad that will flip the region, including Iran, into U.S. protectorates, or when, as in Afghanistan, there is no vision at all, descends into a quagmire. The massive allocation of money and resources to the U.S. military, which includes Biden’s request for $715 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2022, a $11.3 billion, or 1.6 percent increase, over 2021, is not in the end about national defense. The bloated military budget is designed, as Seymour Melman explained in his book, “The Permanent War Economy,” primarily to keep the American economy from collapsing. All we really make anymore are weapons. Once this is understood, perpetual war makes sense, at least for those who profit from it.
The idea that America is a defender of democracy, liberty and human rights would come as a huge surprise to those who saw their democratically elected governments subverted and overthrown by the United States in Panama (1941), Syria (1949), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), Honduras (2009) and Egypt (2013). And this list does not include a host of other governments that, however despotic, as was the case in South Vietnam, Indonesia or Iraq, were viewed as inimical to American interests and destroyed, in each case making life for the inhabitants of these countries even more miserable.
I spent two decades on the outer reaches of empire as a foreign correspondent. The flowery rhetoric used to justify the subjugation of other nations so corporations can plunder natural resources and exploit cheap labor is solely for domestic consumption. The generals, intelligence operatives, diplomats, bankers and corporate executives that manage empire find this idealistic talk risible. They despise, with good reason, naïve liberals who call for “humanitarian intervention” and believe the ideals used to justify empire are real, that empire can be a force for good. These liberal interventionists, the useful idiots of imperialism, attempt to civilize a process that was created and designed to repress, intimidate, plunder and dominate.
The liberal interventionists, because they wrap themselves in high ideals, are responsible for numerous military and foreign policy debacles. The call by liberal interventionists such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Samantha Power to fund jihadists in Syria and depose Muammar Gaddafi in Libya rent these countries — as in Afghanistan and Iraq — into warring fiefdoms. The liberal interventionists are also the tip of the spear in the campaign to rachet up tensions with China and Russia.
Russia is blamed for interfering in the last two presidential elections on behalf of Donald Trump. Russia, whose economy is roughly the size of Italy’s, is also attacked for destabilizing the Ukraine, supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria, funding France’s National Front party and hacking into German computers. Biden has imposed sanctions on Russia – including limits on buying newly issued sovereign debt – in response to allegations that Moscow was behind a hack on SolarWinds Corp. and worked to thwart his candidacy.
At the same time, the liberal interventionists are orchestrating a new cold war with China, justifying this cold war because the Chinese government is carrying out genocide against its Uyghur minority, repressing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and stealing U.S. patents. As with Russia, sanctions have been imposed targeting the country’s ruling elite. The U.S. is also carrying out provocative military maneuvers along the Russian border and in the South China Sea.
The core belief of imperialists, whether they come in the form of a Barack Obama or a George W. Bush, is racism and ethnic chauvinism, the notion that Americans are permitted, because of superior attributes, to impose their “values” on lesser races and peoples by force. This racism, carried out in the name of Western civilization and its corollary white supremacy, unites the rabid imperialists and liberal interventionists in the Republican and Democratic parties. It is the fatal disease of empire, captured in Graham Greene’s novel “The Quiet American” and Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient.”
The crimes of empire always spawn counter-violence that is then used to justify harsher forms of imperial repression. For example, the United States routinely kidnapped Islamic jihadists fighting in the Balkans between 1995 and 1998. They were sent to Egypt — many were Egyptian — where they were savagely tortured and usually executed. In 1998, the International Islamic Front for Jihad said it would carry out a strike against the United States after jihadists were kidnapped and transferred to black sites from Albania. They made good on their threat igniting massive truck bombs at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 dead. Of course, the “extraordinary renditions” by the CIA did not end and neither did the attacks by jihadists.
Our decades-long military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, are called “micro-militarism.” The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) when they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers. The defeat triggered successful revolts throughout the Athenian empire. The Roman empire, which at its height lasted for two centuries, created a military machine that, like the Pentagon, was a state within a state. Rome’s military rulers, led by Augustus, snuffed out the remnants of Rome’s anemic democracy and ushered in a period of despotism that saw the empire disintegrate under the weight of extravagant military expenditures and corruption. The British empire, after the suicidal military folly of World War I, was terminated in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Britain was forced to withdraw in humiliation, empowering Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over its few remaining colonies. None of these empires recovered.
“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power”: “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”
The worse it gets at home the more the empire needs to fabricate enemies within and without. This is the real reason for the increase in tensions with Russia and China. The poverty of half the nation and concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny oligarchic cabal, the wanton murder of unarmed civilians by militarized police, the rage at the ruling elites, expressed with nearly half the electorate voting for a con artist and demagogue and a mob of his supporters storming the capital, are the internal signs of disintegration. The inability of the for-profit national health services to cope with the pandemic, the passage of a Covid relief bill and the proposal of an infrastructure bill that would hand the bulk of some $5 trillion dollars to corporations while tossing crumbs — one-time checks of $1,400 to a citizenry in deep financial distress — will only fuel the decline.
Because of the loss of unionized jobs, the real decline of wages, de-industrialization, chronic underemployment and unemployment, and punishing austerity programs, the country is plagued by a plethora of diseases of despair including opioid addictions, alcoholism, suicides, gambling, depression, morbid obesity and mass shootings — since March 16 the United States has had at least 45 mass shootings, including eight people killed in an Indiana FedEx facility on Friday, three dead and three injured in a shooting in Wisconsin on Sunday, and another three dead in a shooting in Austin on Sunday. These are the consequences of a deeply troubled society.
The façade of empire is able to mask the rot within its foundations, often for decades, until, as we saw with the Soviet Union, the empire appears to suddenly disintegrate. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will probably mark the final chapter of the American empire. In 2015, the dollar accounted for 90 percent of bilateral transactions between China and Russia, a percentage that has since fallen to about 50 percent. The use of sanctions as a weapon against China and Russia pushes these countries to replace the dollar with their own national currencies. Russia, as part of this move away from the dollar, has begun accumulating yuan reserves.
The loss of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency will instantly raise the cost of imports. It will result in unemployment of Depression-era levels. It will force the empire to dramatically contract. It will, as the economy worsens, fuel a hyper-nationalism that will most likely be expressed through a Christianized fascism. The mechanisms, already in place, for total social control, militarized police, a suspension of civil liberties, wholesale government surveillance, enhanced “terrorism” laws that railroad people into the world’s largest prison system and censorship overseen by the digital media monopolies will seamlessly cement into place a police state. Nations that descend into crises these severe seek to deflect the rage of a betrayed population on foreign scapegoats. China and Russia will be used to fill these roles.
The defeat in Afghanistan is a familiar and sad story, one all those blinded by imperial hubris endure. The tragedy, however, is not the collapse of the American empire, but that, lacking the ability to engage in self-critique and self-correction, as it dies it will lash out in a blind, inchoate fury at innocents at home and abroad.