- Hippie Plague
- Ruffing's Performance
- C'mon Troubadour
- Fiddler's Green
- Worm Shockers
- Yesterday's Catch
- Status Quo
- Merle Haggard
- Haggard Salmon
- Hag's Place
- Superdelegate Huffman
- Eel River
- Infrastructure Crisis
- American Amnesia
- Questioning Authority
- Panama Papers
AND VERILY A PLAGUE DESCENDED, AND IT STANK OF PATCHOULI OIL
by Tommy Wayne Kramer
I sometimes wonder if the Love Generation and the New Agers who swarmed Mendocino County through the past few decades ever stop to examine the debris they’ve accumulated and the filth they’ve left behind.
The rising tide of hippies and free-thinkers produced a vast sea of crud from Hopland to Westport, and from Point Arena to Covelo. No acre went untouched; no institution went unmolested. Ukiah was particularly hard hit.
Hippie thoughts and dreams ranged from preposterous to poisonous, and their impact on local lands with their vast and devastating marijuana farms continues. The invasion has been a blight on the county. When the VW buses arrived they were full of hippies, and the hippies were full of crap.
They started alternate schools led by unqualified “teachers” who were determined that the so-called education would include nothing of value. Kids learned to draw rainbows, work on their self-esteem and recycle granola bar wrappers. The words “Constitution,” “America” and “Long Division” were never spoken, while “Tolerance,” “Self-esteem” and “Patriarchy” got heavy workouts.
My daughter went to Mariposa School, one of these academic cesspools, where she routinely came down with head lice and poison oak, and where one of the teachers sexually molested several of her friends. Then he committed suicide.
Why send your kid to Frank Zeek when there’s a holistic alternative at Mariposa?
When the hippies weren’t infecting other peoples’ kids with vermin and propaganda, they were raising their own spawn in various communes like Mid-Mountain and Greenfield Ranch. They were among a scattering of utopian back-to-the-land experiments where the sunny vegetarian fluff of unicorns, Aquarius, peace, love, astrology and free love dissolved into the usual sewage: drugs, ripoff artists, mental illness and crime.
And hoo boy, the crime. At Greenfield Ranch hard drugs and pot cultivation were at the low end of the criminal spectrum. Mass murder was toward the top. If you’ve never heard of Greenfield Ranch Hall of Famers like Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, ask your parents to fill you in on their grisly deeds. Lake and Ng kidnaped, raped, tortured, murdered, and committed suicide among the prancing rainbows, good vibes, tolerance, brown rice, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll at groovy Greenfield. It made national news.
At the same time another utopian socialist maniac opened a church in Redwood Valley, and immediately infiltrated the county social and political fabric by inserting his followers into key slots at Social Services and the Grand Jury. The Reverend Jim Jones soaked up bank accounts from his flock, rigged elections in San Francisco, was a left-wing hero, took a lot of drugs and finally fled the country to found a town in Guyana he modestly named after himself.
His dreams of socialist equality fulfilled, he murdered many hundreds of his followers (and a few U.S. politicians, and news reporters). If you’ve heard the phrase “Drink the Kool-Aid” that’s where it started, with mass suicides and automatic weapons. It made international news and the history books.
Mendocino County’s newcomers accomplished all this in a quick six or so years. Then it was time for our progressives to go mainstream and infect the county from within. The hippies who had taught nothing at alternative schools and learned nothing in the process, took jobs as teachers in public schools and spread their subversive diseases. Out went academic standards, and in came multicultural moronism, academic indifference, classrooms without walls, and students giving themselves their own grades. Local schools have never recovered.
Politically, a candidate with impeccable liberal credentials (he’d been a founder of Mariposa School, after all) ran for county supervisor. Dan Hamburg won, and from the early 1980s he became the face of progressive politics.
With that, the doors were down and the hogs were loose, as the old farmers, ranchers and small business owners were shoved aside. The progressive onslaught was underway.
They began by taking over established organizations like Headstart and Legal Aid, then quickly spread their tentacles into every layer of the social bureaucracy, including county welfare, foster care, and child placement services. The old hippies, now mainstream, launched grant-funded operations like North Coast Opportunities, AODP, the Mendocino Youth Project, Plowshares, Ford Street Project, the MTA bus service, Project Sanctuary, the Boys & Girls Club and dozens more. They also took over the Democratic Party.
A select group of insiders ran everything, either as directors or chief executives, and served on the Boards of Directors for all the other agencies. They amassed power and money by funneling state, federal and school grant funding to themselves and their fellow agencies. Today they exert machine-like control over government and its bureaucracies.
In 30 years they’ve taken over everything, and everything is worse. The elites run countless programs supposedly intended to solve problems like drug abuse, homelessness, teen pregnancies and gang violence. They fail at every turn, by design. They’ve treated thousands of drug abusers at rehab joints like AODP, Ford Street and Pilot House, yet there are more druggies and crime on the streets every day.
No one rides the MTA, there are more homeless and gang members than ever, Headstart is a failure, Legal Aid does nothing except absorb funding, and grants for community art projects guarantees the city gets uglier every year.
Millions and millions of dollars get shuffled back and forth between various programs and agencies. These groups are uninterested in making problems go away, because if problems go away the money goes away. Nothing complicated about it.
Yet it’s all courtesy of the Love Generation, who promised back in the 1960s they only wanted to make the world a better place. But Ukiah and Mendocino County have grown worse — more rotten, more corrupt — while the hippie progressives have grown fatter and more prosperous.
And I’ve yet to hear a single one of them apologize for what they’ve done.
* * *
WOULDN'T HAVE put it so harshly myself — some of my best friends etc. But the worst aspect of Hippie, Mendo sub-species, at least in my direct experience, was the leech-like tenacity with which the shaggy beasts always went after freebies while offering nothing in return but their deadbeat selves. Offer a flower child an overnight stay, it became three overnights, and on the third night the guest had to be threatened with physical ejection. And all three days they are doing nothing but laying around sopping up free meals.
THERE WAS THAT. And there was the slob way of living passed off as neo-bohemianism. "Clean up? How bourgeosie." If his habitat isn't scrupulously clean and orderly this extremely uptight white man starts chewing his knuckles.
AND THERE was the lazy Hippie tolerance for the criminals who fastened on Hippie while Hippie preyed on the kids — Manson; Lake; Tree Fog Johnson; Kenneth Parnell; and a large number of lesser lights, all of whom settled in Mendocino County where, like, Do Your Own Thing, Man. And when El Pervo got caught sodomizing little Wind Chime, did the Hippies go to "the man"? Of course not. The Hippies got together and shunned the perv down the road to the next Hippie camp, as happened here in the Anderson Valley when the Hippies tardily figured out that Tree Frog Johnson always volunteered to watch the kids while mom and pop dove into the big naked piles of solstice weekends because he was doing his own thing. With their children.
AND MR. KRAMER is correct about how the hippies took over public Mendocino County, moving into as many public jobs as they could glom onto — the legal profession, which they made even more cynically corrupt; public schools they quickly stripped of even elementary standards; the helping professions, of course, because who better to straighten YOU out than a hopeless nutcase? Scratch a city manager or a public bureaucrat anywhere in Mendocino County — Supervisor Hamburg is the all-time Hippie herd bull — and there they are, love beads traded in for power suits and neckties and, count on it, grabbing off every public dollar they can.
I'VE TOLD this one a million times, but it pops into my ravaged brain every time I hear Hippie: Long ago I was at a Boonville school board meeting, as always looking out for the interests of the good and the true. I was usually the only other person in the room aside from their majesties up front, the school board. One night, I probably had become a little bit over-heated in response to some edu-crime when suddenly a former hippie, magically elevated to elected respectability, demanded, "Sit down, Bruce. You're becoming irrational."
O THE INDIGNITY, my friends! Only a few years before I'd encountered that same person rolling around naked in a mud pit at the Albion People's Fair. (The Hippies of course euphemized the mud pit as a "pond.") Told that I was irrational by the ultimate in irrational? I knew then that a terrible thing had happened. Hippie had won. They'd taken over local government!
FAMOUS MASS KILLERS LAKE AND NG lived in the Anderson Valley. Lake functioned here as a volunteer fire fighter while dreaming of kidnapping the beautiful blonde girl who worked the cash register at Jack's Valley Store. When Lake was finally suppressed his psychotic musings on the would-be victim turned up in his papers.
"BEST RECORDING SECRETARY we ever had," an old timer told me. "Leonard Lake had the most beautiful handwriting."
I REMEMBER SEEING the dynamic duo walking around in full camo. I think most of us assumed they weren't dangerous but simply socially retarded until one day the big black helicopters landed in Philo and out spilled some kind of FBI commando platoon. Lake and Ng, it turned out, had somehow managed to store a bunch of stolen weapons at their house on Ray's Road that Ng had ripped off from a Marine Corps armory in Honolulu. (They were both ex-jarheads; Lake was a non-combat veteran of Vietnam.) Deputy Squires commented at the time, "We're lucky they went quietly. They had enough guns and ammo in there to hold off an army." The two maniacs quickly bailed out and were next in the news as mass killers.
LAKE also managed the Philo Motel for a time while his wife, Cricket, functioned as a teacher's aide at the Anderson Valley Junior High School where my daughter happened to be a student. Daughter came home one day to tell her parents that Mrs. Lake had invited her and several of her classmates to pose in the altogether at the Philo Motel's hot tub while hubby photographed them. So I said, "I guess you'll need a note from home then."
OF COURSE I didn't say that, and I was about the tenth parent to call the school to demand that Cricket be fired. Which she was. We were always on red alert around here to guard our children against creeps, of whom there were too many to count. If Mendocino County could talk, we'd all be having nightmares.
* * *
TWK WRITES: "I realized too late that I’d neglected some of the other things hippies brought to the county, including social diseases (herpes, hepatitis C, scabies, etc) and that I’d completely overlooked Reverend Moon’s place in the sun, just outside Boonville."
A READER WRITES: "Please oh please, let the public know that the closed session after the Fort Bragg City Council meeting tomorrow is to evaluate City Manager Ruffing's performance as manager, and may include the possibility of a raise.
"Some observations and a few questions on Ruffing's performance:
"Not sure if this assessment is for this year only, but Ruffing was a driving force in the behind the scenes efforts to get the grant to finance Hospitality Center's acquisition of the Old Coast Hotel, a deal shrouded in secrecy, and a deal done without public knowledge or input. Now it seems the Hospitality Center is not providing services promised, and local residents remain unhappy with this project.
"Did Ruffing appoint Jennifer Owen to her position as Special Projects Manager, Community Development? Non-elected and faith-driven, Owen has gotten huge sums from CDBGs, many grants having a negative affect on the quality of life for residents, on public safety, and on the future of Fort Bragg as a successful tourist destination, yet she is ignorant of the difference between 'grantor' and 'grantee'. I question her competency, and am surprised Ruffing seems unaware of it.
"A recent news item in the Advocate quotes Ruffing as 'outlining tens of millions of dollars of CDBG funding for organizations like the MCHC', which is supposed to provide mental health and other services for the homeless, yet she goes on to assert that "the social services that help homeless people, that's not the city's responsibility.”
"The mayor himself has said 'helping the homeless is a cornerstone' of his term of office. To me, it is obvious that by obtaining such grants, the city IS responsible for homeless services, if indirectly, as grantee, and I find her statement baffling. The more worrisome facet of this is the fact that Ruffing has not hired a full time Grant Manager/Monitor to ensure that the city's legal obligations to fulfill the contract requirements are met. Does this not render the city vulnerable to possible legal action by the grantor, and possibly threaten future ability to get more of these grants?
"Then there is Ruffing's power to influence police policy. Why on earth are tourists now being ticketed with expensive fines for taking beach glass, while the mayor is asking for donations of this glass to send to Japan? And worse, why are tourists being targeted for what seems a minor infraction of a dubious 'law' while transients are daily violating the Fort Bragg Police Department's own regulations for their behavior, negatively impacting public safety concerns, threatening public health, harming our quality of life, and discouraging tourism. Not to mention her bungling and mismanagement in her treatment (mistreatment?) of popular former police chief Scott Mayberry.
"There is also the questionable promotion of her crony, Ginny Feth Michelle, to Assistant to City Manager, which to my understanding also granted Michelle an $18,000 pay raise, and greatly increased her pension fund.
"As a General Law City, Fort Bragg seems to have chosen the 'weak mayor, strong city manager' model. Am I correct on this? If so, when was this policy established, and was it decided by popular vote?
"Under this model, the Mayor 'is reduced to the role of cheerleader and external promoter of a city's image and interests', according to respected public administration scholar, Terrell Blodgett. Wikipedia says this form of city gov became popular in the early 20th century, promoted by chambers of commerce and corporate interests. The motivation was to emulate 'corporate efficiency and accountability.' Maybe things were different a century ago — not seeing much in the way of corporate accountability now. Or accountability by city gov here in Fort Bragg.
"To my mind, the great weakness of this model of city governance is that it puts way too much power in the hands of unelected possibly unqualified, personnel who make policy decisions, without public input, that presently affect the city and will continue to shape its future for years to come.
"We no longer encourage friends from our generation to move into town, and have quit urging our kids to consider living in town, out of aforementioned concerns."
A READER WRITES: “I have been following developments and difficulties in the County’s mental health privatization process and I am optimistic about the Mental Health transition to Camille Schrader’s Redwood Quality Management Company. Six months from now Ortner will be a fading memory. RQMS will deliver dramatically more and better service as will become apparent over time.”
AMBROSE BIERCE REPLIES: “Optimism, n. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with disproof — an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.”
FIDDLER'S GREEN, readers comment: The former proprietor of Fiddler's Green Nursery on Franklin in Fort Bragg? Since Wanda passed away, her three very pleasant nieces (Heather, Jen and Laura) are trying to re-establish the nursery, working without salary. Please consider stopping by, helping them by pulling a few weeds, and maybe buying a few plants. Let’s keep businesses in Fort Bragg! It's a very nice store. Block south of Safeway on Franklin. I look forward to stopping by again. Some people get their jollies at pet store or a perfume counter. Pet stores make me sad that I can't take 'em all home and house them, and I'm not huge on perfume, but there's something sort of hushed and calm and almost lower-case-sacred about plant stores. Fiddler's Green was smack in this type of low-key peacefulness, with good green smells.
WORM-SHOCKING: Don't Try This At Home
To: Youngsters who want to set up a bait stand and sell worms
Re: Shocking the night crawlers out of the ground in broad daylight.
Remember the lemonade stand? If you do, you're a city slicker. In the country we had a bait stand.
A couple of my Ukiah neighbors, old guys — I live at what's euphemistically called a senior citizen community — and these old codgers, bored I think, were rigging up a "worm shocker." The fools had driven an iron stake, the kind used for forming up concrete pours for foundations and sidewalks, and the were handily stripping the wires from the end of an extension cord to attach to it.
Now, I had witnessed such experiments in my youth and recalled, vaguely, that there were certain liabilities inherent in the project. In those days a pitchfork was used with the cord attached, and at the crucial moment some brave soul would plug it in. This fellow — generally the kid at the bottom of the pecking order — invariably took a jolt strong enough to knock him on his proverbial posterior. Then the lights would go out. Mother would come out, shortly, and discover something forbidden was afoot. Mom would call Grandpa (Needless to say, Dad was gone or this project would have been hastily discovered, harshly proscribed, and the perpetrators punished, or worse) to come over and put a penny in the fuse box, to restore electricity so Mom could finish the laundry, vacuum the rugs, and keep the roast roasting, while heating water for the dinner dishes. And with that old-fashioned woven fabric insulation with a fuse stronger than the wire itself, and the wringer washer chug-chug chugging away on the porch, the oven coils glowing, the water heater hissing, an iron heating on the ironing board... well, as soon as she put her foot on the treadle of the sewing machine (the foot-pump treadle having been replaced with a foot switch to an electric motor — and that moment, I think, she smelled the fire inside the walls that was already causing the rose and gilt crescents on the wall paper to shrivel and darken like toast. Then POOF! A house-fire igniting out of sight and smell, from inside the walls, was a common emergency. I'd seen a couple of these by the time I was 10, and they go really quick. When I was 13 I lost my dog and a pair of boots my uncle gave me in one. Dogs react foolishly to fire. Mine dove under the bed and wouldn't come out when I called, called and called. The smoke got to her before the flames; a blessing or curse, I don't know. I've had a few good dogs since, but I've never been able to replace those boots.
Now, I like fishing as well as next fool. I can sit on a overturned bucket and watch a bobber ride at anchor all day if I have a supply of cold beer. And I'm sure I've drowned my share of worms. So I may, perhaps, be forgiven for sneaking around my senior neighborhood to see how the worm-shocking project succeeded. I confess I sometimes suspect people — esp. oldsters — embarking on suicidal adventures. Now, it's coming time to find out. It's nearly dark and, as I recall, the prime hour for worm shocking. If this works out these guys will hit the bait-stand jackpot opening day, ready to serve, thank you so much, sir, all your bait fishing needs, step right up, we'll fill your order, for all your bait fishing needs at our freshly refilled — goodbye drought! — and abundantly stocked with hungry hatchery trout, our good old Lake Mendocino.
— Bruce McEwen
CATCH OF THE DAY, April 10, 2016
ADRIAN ARREGUIN, Redwood Valley. DUI.
RICK HORTON, Colfax/Ukiah. Controlled substance, failure to appear.
DION KENNEDY, Santa Rosa/Ukiah. Domestic battery.
HECTOR MARTINEZ JR., Gualala. Controlled substance.
MASON MCGEE, Ukiah. Drunk in public.
AUDIEL MIRANDA, Ukiah. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, probation revocation.
VIRGINIA O’CONNOR, Willits. Under influence, resisting.
RONALD PEDIGO, Ukiah. Parole violation.
TREVOR SHUSS, Ukiah. Drunk in public, battery on peace officer.
ZACHARY SIMONS, Ukiah. Grand theft, failure to appear.
TALEASHA STASER, Covelo. Domestic battery.
EVAN TAYLOR, Fort Bragg. Paraphernalia, resisting, minor possession alcohol beverage.
“IF YOU THINK it’s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now, then you’re not in touch with the status quo.”
Susan Sarandon, explaining why she would probably vote for Trump over Clinton if Sanders is not the Democratic Party nominee.
MERLE HAGGARD, HIPPIE ICON?
by Steve Heilig
Merle Haggard died last week, up in his beloved Mount Shasta region, on his 79th birthday. His son Ben wrote this online:
"A week ago dad told us he was gonna pass on his birthday, and he wasn't wrong. A hour ago he took his last breath surrounded by family and friends. He loved everything about life and he loved that everyone of you gave him a chance with his music. He wasn't just a country singer. He was the best country singer that ever lived."
The best that ever? Some would argue that there are five or so others who would also fit on that throne. I'm no country music expert, not even a huge fan overall, but I'll go with Merle, for his instantly-recognizable baritone voice, unsurpassed songwriting, supple guitar, authentic outlaw history, and, as I'm a west coast chauvinist, his California roots and lifelong loyalty. There was nothing corny or phony about him, and he seemed to always do exactly what he wanted to, musically and otherwise.
On top of all that, as much as the more flamboyant, long-haired and willing pot icon Willie Nelson, Haggard seemed to have been at heart a hippie. But strictly a "Hag" kind of countercultural figure, one like nobody else.
His life story is well known — born to parents who fled west to California from the dust bowl, raised in a converted boxcar in the Bakersfield area of the Central Valley, jailed as a teenager for burglary. As one of his signature tunes, "Mama Tried," related, "I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole."
Fortunately, while the birthday setting was true, the life sentence part was poetic license. And prison sent him on his musical path. While "inside" San Quentin in Marin in 1960 he heard one of Johnny Cash's early prison concerts and vowed to become a country singer and player himself, soon starting to play live and record, releasing his first LP in 1965, and the rest was country music history. Haggard had 38 #1 country hits and many more in the top ten of that tradition-bound chart. But as the New York Times put it in one of his many obituaries this week, titled "The Archetypal Outlaw,” even with such success, Haggard "was always an outsider — and his band was always named The Strangers."
For those who didn't care for it and/or saw country music as unredeemably square, Haggard's big breakthrough (and, some would say, debacle) came in 1969 with his song "Okie from Muskogee," an assault on San Francisco's burgeoning "counterculture" and all things hippie — LSD, pot, free love, draft card burning, incense, beads, long hair and "roman sandals"(?). It was a huge hit. But it was also hard to tell (and for a long time he wouldn't), how far Haggard's tongue was lodged in his cheek when he wrote and sang that one. Was he mostly pandering to the Southern rednecks he seemed to be celebrating? He did at times through his career lean that way, with embraces of some of the more reactionary aspects of life and even the likes of Nixon and Reagan. But he also later noted his big hit "probably set my career back about 40 years" and that "I was dumb as a rock" when he wrote it.
The musical reaction from the so-called "counterculture" being lampooned was, well, humorous. Big Brother and the Holding Company, the San Francisco band that had backed Janis Joplin, had a minor hit on their first LP after her death with "I'll Change Your Flat Tire Merle,” a response to Haggard, fiddles and all. The lyrics bear full reprint:
As I drove down on 65, I was cruisin' down that old grapevine
Well, I must have been doin' at least about 95
Well out there on the side of the road all broke down
Who do you think was standin' around
But the greatest country singer alive!
Well I hear you had an adventurous youth, makin' love in a telephone booth
And I even hear you did a little stretch in jail
But now you got a big ranch house with a bar
And eight, nine, ten of them fancy cars
And every other little check comin' in the mail
I'll fix your flat tire Merle
Don't ya get your sweet country pickin' fingers all covered with erl
Cause you're a honky, I know, but Merle you got soul
And I'll fix your flat tire Merle
Now I heard all them records ya did, makin' fun of us long haired kids
And now ya know we don't care what ya think... Merle,
If you're gonna call the world your home
Ya know you're gonna have to get out and get stoned
An' it's better with a joint than with a drink, I think
So I'll fix your flat tire Merle
Don't ya get your sweet country pickin' fingers all covered with erl
Cause you're a honky, I know, but Merle you got soul
And I'll fix your flat tire Merle
So I'll fix your flat tire Merle. —
Note that even these hippies who were striking back at him called Merle the greatest. Another very popular group, the Youngbloods, led by sweet-voiced Jesse Colin Young and ensconced commune-style in West Marin, chimed in with "Hippie from Olema" (Olema being a crossroads village of about 50 citizens and a gateway to Point Reyes):
Well I'm proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate
We don’t watch commercials in Olema
We don’t buy the plastic crap they sell
We still wear our hair long like folks used to
And we bathe often, therefore we don’t smell
We don’t throw our beer cans on the highway
We don’t slide a man because he’s black
We don’t spill our oil out in the ocean
’Cause we love birds and fish too much for that
And I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re Haggard
In Olema, California, planet earth.
Both of these tunes can be heard on youtube, and are worth a listen. But other rockers just did Haggard songs in sincere tribute; soon enough, the ultimate hippie band, the Grateful Dead, were making his songs a regular part of their countless 1970s concerts, especially "Mama Tried" and "Sing Me Back Home," his wrenching death row lament. Haggard may not have commented on their versions but he must have enjoyed the royalty checks, if those were paid ("Texas Jewboy" troubadour Kinky Friedman's revision of "Okie" as "Asshole from El Paso" was a a bit more pointed in rebuke).
The opening line of "Okie" was "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee…" and that would get a big cheer in live performances. And that may have been true in Oklahoma, at least at the time. But those who knew or at least encountered the singer had to smile. At least in his later years, Haggard was no pot-teetotaler; he just was more private about it than his buddy Willie Nelson, until one of his last public songs and video, done with Willie, featuring them amiably passing a reefer in the studio while singing a sweet tune titled "It's all Going to Pot."
And in the late 1990s, Haggard did a San Francisco benefit show for the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics, which hads roots as the ultimate hippie medical provider. Outside the building where his touring bus was parked, it smelled like Golden Gate Park's "Hippie HIll" on April 20th ("4/20,” the pot smokers' favorite holiday).
Haggard sat on a stool, in air reeking of reefer and cooling down after a wonderful set with his current Strangers. "Medical Marijuana" had recently been legalized in California, and there were fliers and stickers strewn around the backstage area extolling and marketing the herb. Haggard picked one up and read, eyebrow raised, and then looked up and said "Y'all call it 'medical' pot here? Well...that's a hoot." There was silence for a moment, so I waded in and replied, "Yeah, I agree, but many sick folks says it makes them feel better, however you wanna call it, right?" Haggard, reportedly not one to suffer any fools, looked thoughtful for a second, and came back with "OK, you put it that way, good enough for me."
Beyond the pot thing, Haggard seemed to go from being reactionary to more "liberal" with age, in reversal of the traditional trajectory. Besides the smoking, he embraced environmentalism, detested pomposity and greed, and seemed to become a pacifist as well. Although "Okie" had been written at least in part in reaction to anti-Vietnam protests, he opposed the venal Iraq war and in his later years became a Hillary Clinton supporter and wrote a song for Barack Obama's presidential campaigns. As for current aspirants, Haggard recently noted he was "watching Donald Trump's campaign with amusement and concern," and further noted, "I think he's dealing from a strange deck."
One of very best of Haggard's musical progeny, Dave Alvin, last week noted "Merle Haggard meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people but to me he was THE songwriter of California. Not the California of Malibu, Silicon Valley or Beverly Hills but the California of Highway 99, migrant workers and the struggle to survive in the promised land. All the political ambiguity and one dimensional stereotypes aside, Mr. Haggard was one of the giants of modern American Music (not just Country)… In his way he was also a true, fearless rock and roll rebel."
Beyond his own dozens of records, there have been numerous Haggard tribute albums through the years, featuring all the best country stars, but maybe be the best was the 1994 "songwriters's tribute" Tulare Dust, featuring many of the best younger "Americana" artists like Alvin, Iris Dement, Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, John Doe, and more. Many of them gathered at the Fillmore West (another hippie hangout) when that CD was released, and did the songs beautifully and reverentially. But when Haggard himself stepped out to close the show, it was immediately clear who was the main event. "Oh so now we see how these songs really are done," said a lovely woman standing next to me.
Because, Haggard knew of which he wrote, from poverty to prison to stardom to bankruptcy in his later years, and you could hear all that in his songs and singing. Even though he'd been given just about every musical award one could earn, his dark side remained. "There've been times when I've been on the brink of closing down and walking away, disappearing into the woods," he reflected in 1999. Fortunately, he didn't do that until now, and made some great music even after that. He was a legend, and a charmer, contradictions and all, and his sound and sly smile will live on.
MERLE HAGGARD AND THE POLITICS OF SALMON
by Dan Bacher
During the battle to save the pristine salmon and steelhead habitat of Headwaters Forest in 1998, I got a phone call one morning from Mike Sherwood, then the California Director of the Sierra Club. He told me that country legend Merle Haggard (who passed away on his birthday, April 6, this week) and actor Woody Harrelson would be appearing at the State Capitol for a noon time rally.
“Thanks for the information,” I told Sherwood and drove from Elk Grove to the Capitol to check the event out. I arrived about a half hour early, so I went to a small circle of a dozen activists standing around and talking on the capitol lawn.
I scanned the area around the capitol on the lookout for Haggard, Harrelson and the folks from the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) of Garberville, the event’s organizers.
I was ready to ask the guy next to me, a short, laid back, bearded man, about when Haggard and Harrelson were supposed to appear when suddenly realized that he was Merle Haggard.
“Please to meet you, Merle,” I said as I held out my hand and got a hard, firm shake from the country bard, known for the outspoken lyrics of “Okie from Muskogee,” the “Fightin’ Side of Me,” and many, many other songs.
Haggard explained to me that he was there to stop the logging of redwood and Douglas-fir forests on the North Coast by Pacific Lumber Company, the once sustainably run timber company that had been bought by the corporate giant Maxxam in a hostile take-over.
Haggard, a long time angler and hunter who lives near Lake Shasta and started the first bass tournaments on that reservoir, was there to urge the Legislature to not fund the Headwaters Forest deal between the federal government and Pacific Lumber unless measures protecting forest watersheds were adopted. He also recommended the removal of state and federal officials responsible for the destruction of forest habitat.
“Clear cutting is rape,” said Haggard. “Several years ago I drove along the coast from Coos Bay to Crescent City and the destruction I saw made me sick to the stomach. I’ve fished in the streams of the North Coast since I first came to Eureka to work in a plywood mill in 1955. The problem is that many of the people who work in the mills aren’t aware of what logging companies like Pacific Lumber are doing.”
Haggard continued, “The people responsible for this destruction (government officials and timber company owners) should be taken out of their positions. These forests support the grandest life on earth; to have no feeling for it is criminal. Only money is being heard now, not the voice of the people.”
Haggard spoke his mind like a true sportsman and environmentalist in his simple, but powerful and poetic way that made him such a great songwriter.
During the event, Haggard, Harrelson and others in the group listened, via a cellphone with a speaker, to Julia Butterfly, who had begun a sit in a giant redwood tree, “Luna,” owned by Pacific Lumber Company, in December 10, 1997.
They expressed their strong support for her persistence in taking direct action to stop the clearcutting of the tree. She didn’t come down from the tree until December 18, 1999.
Haggard’s appearance there was very important because he demonstrated the necessity for environmental groups and sportsmen to work together in the cause to protect our fisheries from destruction by the timber industry, agribusiness and oil and chemical industries. Haggard realized that to restore fisheries, anglers must work with environmental groups, Indian Tribes, family farmers and others to achieve common goals, even though they may disagree at times.
Haggard definitely had his own opinion about everything — and his views on issues covered the gamut from the populist right to the populist left.
When his anthemic song “Okie from Muskogee” was released in 1969, it became a hit on both AM country radio and FM counterculture alternative rock stations. The country fans thought it was Merle’s musical statement of his opposition to hippies and the 1960s counterculture — and the rock fans thought it was a tongue-in-cheek satire about rednecks.
Actually, it was neither, as Merle explained in a Coast to Coast interview with former late night talk shore host Art Bell in 2000.
Haggard said his purpose for writing the song was to portray the viewpoint of his father during the 1960s.
“I consider myself pretty politically liberal,” Haggard told Bell in the interview.
An associate of mine used to do videos for Haggard and made a fishing video, accompanied with the words to an anti-war song by Haggard, in a salute to the country giant about a decade ago.
Then in 2005 he released “America First," an even more explicti anti-war song.
“Why don’t we liberate these United States, we’re the ones that need it worst.
Let the rest of the world help us for a change, and let’s rebuild America first.”
Let’s get out of Iraq and get back on the track.”
Haggard was also outspoken in his defense of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. In an article published on Counterpunch on September 7, 2002, the late Alexander Cockburn said:
“On the home front the war on the Bill of Rights is set at full throttle, though getting less popular with each day as judges thunder their indignation at the unconstitutional diktats of Attorney General John Ashcroft, a man low in public esteem.
On this latter point we can turn to Merle Haggard, the bard of blue collar America, the man who saluted the American flag more than a generation ago in songs such as the Fighting Side of Me and Okie from Muskogee. Haggard addressed a concert crowd in Kansas City a few days ago in the following terms: ‘I think we should give John Ashcroft a big hand …(pause)… right in the mouth!’ Haggard went on to say, ‘the way things are going I’ll probably be thrown in jail tomorrow for saying that, so I hope ya’ll will bail me out’.”
While I love his songs, the most memorable thing about Haggard to me is how on that day in 1998 he stood up against clearcutting and environmental destruction — and for the restoration of salmon, steelhead and other fisheries. Haggard, with all of his life’s ups and downs, was definitely a man of the people who believed that the “voice of the people” should be heard over the voice of those with money and power.
Rest in Peace, Merle Haggard.
SAY IT RIGHT
Merle Haggard was in the chips in the 70s so he changed his situation all the way upscale from a childhood boxcar to a big white mansion on a rise of ground by Cottonwood Creek near the mouth of the Kern, where that river pours abruptly out of its lower gorge into the rolling country east of Bakersfield. He planted about ten acres of lawn and fruit trees around the house that featured a model railroad running out of the wall, around the deck rail, and back inside. A shingle reading "Hag's Place" hung on chains from the crossbar of the classic ranch gate on Highway 178.
Unfortunately, the wettest 24 hours in Bakersfield history dumped over three inches of rain on the parched and impervious land, and his green paradise was wiped out, covered with a new layer of debris, gravel, and granite boulders. Later he had to sell the place for debts.
Then "Okie from Muskogee" was a giant hit, and a friend in a Kern Valley country band told me a story about the genesis of the song. Seems that Merle and the Strangers were partying in their bus on the way to gigs in Oklahoma, drinking booze and smoking marijuana. Someone noted that there weren't likely to be any marijuana smokers in Muskogee, and that got a big laugh, and they built a song around it. Some of the live versions suggest that they are funnin' the locals a bit. "A place where even squares can have a ball."
Maybe no one in Muskogee took trips on LSD, but I wouldn't bet that Merle never did. The song earned them a lot of money and went on to spawn humorous imitations like "Hippie from Olema" and "Homo from Nipomo" and so on.
But the whole region, a rough and dusty near-desert of scorching heat and numbing fogs, surrounded by a ring of mountains over mile high, was a tough place to live, then and now.
Merle Haggard's music, and that of his peers, tells the truth about people oppressed, then and now, by the Valley land-water-oil aristocracy ever since the Dust Bowl forced them off the High Plains. Just because the skin color and emigrant origin has changed doesn't mean the realities have, another thing Merle Haggard knew and sung about, and anyone who has been the target of slurs will understand the saying, "You can call me an Okie, but you better say it right."
Yours, Jay Williamson
To the Editor:
To Rep. Jared Huffman.
At the very least, considering the likely highly competitive campaigning that will be going on in your district, you should have maintained a neutral stance rather than the step you apparently have taken (to be a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton). This would have shown respect for your constituency.
Perhaps I don’t understand the Machiavellian intricacies of your political career; perhaps you are a gambler who thinks he/she has an inside track on the odds. In any case, “deeply disappointed” sums up my reality.
Al Krauss, Ukiah
THE EEL RIVER: A VITAL TROUBLED WATERSHED
IT WOULD BE HELPFUL if there were another word for “infrastructure”: it’s such an earnest and passive word for the blood vessels of this country, the crucial conveyors and connections that get us from here to there (or not) and the ports that facilitate our trade (or don’t), as well as the carriers of information, in particular broadband (if one is connected to it), and other unreliable structures. The word “crisis” is also overused, applied to the unimportant as well as the crucial. But this country has an infrastructure crisis.
The near-total failure of our political institutions to invest for the future, eschewing what doesn’t yield the quick payoff, political and physical, has left us with hopelessly clogged traffic, at risk of being on a bridge that collapses, or on a train that flies off defective rails, or with rusted pipes carrying our drinking water. Broadband is our new interstate highway system, but not everyone has access to it — a division largely based on class. Depending on the measurement used, the United States ranks from fourteenth to thirtieth among all nations in its investments in infrastructure. The wealthiest nation on earth is nowhere near the top.
Elizabeth Drew, “A Country Breaking Down”
This book is about an uncomfortable truth: It takes government — a lot of government — for advanced societies to flourish. But Americans have never been good at acknowledging government’s necessary role in supporting both freedom and prosperity. And we have become much less so over the last generation. We live in an era of profound skepticism about government. Contemporary political discourse portrays liberty and coercion as locked in ceaseless conflict. We are told that government is about “redistribution” and the private sector about “production,” as if government only reshuffles the economic deck rather than holding many of the highest cards. We are told “free enterprise” and “big government” are engaged in a fierce zero-sum battle (one side’s gain is the other’s loss), when, in fact, the modern partnership between markets and government may well be humanity’s most impressive positive-sum bargain (making both sides better off). We are told the United States got rich in spite of government, when the truth is closer to the opposite: The United States got rich because it got government more or less right. We suffer, in short, from a kind of mass historical forgetting, a distinctively “American Amnesia.”
(from "American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper" (March 2016) by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson)
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY: When I was in kindergarten, the teacher made a shocking announcement, that the very next day, there would be a fire drill and that, when we heard the alarm, we would line up and exit the building.
See, a short time before, I saw a TV documentary where a fellow used a bow-like instrument to rapidly rotate a straight stick against a piece of wood, and, by means of friction, start a fire.
I rapidly deduced that a “fire-drill” was such an instrument, that it would, by means of friction from a rotating drill bit, start a fire.
And I thought, a man would show up with this fire-drill and, most incredibly, start this fire from which we would have to run for our lives.
This led to many questions. Why would they start a fire inside the school? What if it burns down? What if we can’t get out in time? This was crazy, totally crazy.
My parents had taught me to respect my elders, to do what I was told, and so I kept my concerns to myself.
And so, the very next day, full of worry, I went to school. At the appointed hour, the alarm sounded, we walked out in single file out onto the sidewalk. But where was the man with the fire-drill, where was the smoke and the fire?
I asked some classmates whether they saw a man with a drill. And they looked at me uncomprehendingly until I explained about the TV program and the stick and how the drill would start a fire. One fellow suggested maybe the man got lost, another suggested that maybe he got the day wrong. And, I thought, maybe, that could be.
But one fellow said that maybe the teacher lied.
The teacher LIED!? LIED?!!! The possibility had never occurred to me and upset me enormously. Yes, I thought, that’s possible, and I looked with new respect at my wiser classmate.
But why would she lie? Regardless, this experience planted the germ of the idea that maybe our superiors were stupid and liars and not to be trusted. And CRAZY! I mean, who’d be nuts enough to start a fire in a building full of kids? Or even talk about it and scare the bejesus out of us, or at least me.
Not long after this incident, in church, the reverend told us that such and such a holy day was approaching and that, on that day, and I quote, “Jesus would be among us.” And the reverend smiled and held his arms out wide as if to embrace us.
On the way home I said to my parents did you hear THAT, Jesus would be among us, He was coming to see us, we HAVE to get to church on time, we CAN’T miss this.
My parents said that’s not what the reverend meant.
How could that be? Because that’s what he SAID, Jesus would be among us. And so on the appointed day, we went to church with me full of excitement at seeing Jesus. What would I say to Jesus, would I get a chance to meet Him?
Needless to say Jesus wasn’t there. I was really disappointed.
These experiences taught me to doubt people, that people were liars, that words have two meanings, that people were full of double-talk.
And that especially people were IDIOTS, lying about things when there was no way to NOT get caught. Jesus would be among us? He wasn’t, so why would someone say that he would be?
The bloody nerve! At best the reverend got things wrong. But how can you make a mistake on something so important? This was really stupid. And I was sure that no matter what, Jesus wasn’t at fault, I mean, he was probably really busy.
Never mind that my younger self misunderstood. From an early age, I seldom went wrong assuming a strong streak of mendacity and stupidity and sheer craziness in people. And this apparently is what we see at work with the Panama Papers fiasco.
As you say, the party goes on, until it doesn’t. You’d think that people would have known better.
On Monday, April 12, at 1 p.m., Pacific Time, KMEC Radio, with hosts John Sakowicz and Sid Cooperrider, bring a special edition show on the "Panama Papers". Our guest is Pulitzer Center grantee and Mexico bureau chief of the McClatchy newspaper chain, Tim Johnson. McClatchy is the only U.S. newspaper company with access to the leaked database at the time.