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DRY WEATHER with near normal temperatures are forecast to continue through Friday. A weak front will bring a chance of light rain to Del Norte and northern Humboldt counties Friday night through Saturday. Otherwise, dry weather with mild daytime temperatures are forecast for the remainder of the area through Sunday. A stronger cold front will move across the area on Tuesday ushering in much colder temperatures, showers with snow in the mountains and occasionally gusty winds. (NWS)
TWO CANDIDATES FOR CITY COUNCIL DROP OUT OF RACE
Two candidates whose names appear on the November 8, 2022 ballot for Fort Bragg City Council have informed the City's Elections Official that they are bowing out of the race. Richard Garcia, candidate for one of the four-year seats, and Alberto Aldaco, candidate for the two-year seat, have both stated they no longer intend to seek the position of Councilmember and if elected will not serve. To view a list of candidates and read the candidate statements, please visit the City Elections page.
OLD BRANSCOMB, CALIFORNIA
SITE COUNCIL/CTE MEETING, Thursday, October 27, 4:30 p.m.
Virtual or in person at the High School Library: Video Link
Purpose of the meeting:
Gain parent/guardian, staff, county personnel, and student input on current issues relating to the site culture and offerings and developing the CTE programs.
- Update on Bond Scope of Work
- Review and approve the SPSA Document
- WASC Visit March 25-March 27 (Accreditation Visit)
- Proposed Changes to Block Schedule in Discussion
- Service Learning Skate Park Project Student Generated with Noor Dawood
- Honor Roll Ceremonies Held/Grade Accountability Up
- Dual enrollment program for English on-site and Mendo College Auto Shop expanding to Costume Construction in the Spring
- Gabriella Frank Project for Music Funded in Fall 2022
Current pathways include Music/Art, Construction/Design Shop and FFA
Mentorships in the community beginning for CTE students
How can we expand partnerships with community businesses?
IN DEFENSE OF L.C. Lewis’s comment about the Fire Protection measure, Measure P, that “No further details, no promises or estimates of how much, if any, of the money will go to our volunteer fire departments.”
Scott Cratty, responding to Lewis, says that the Board’s resolution and the Fire Chiefs plan to “closely watch” the allocation of the sales tax revenues makes Lewis’s comment “simply incorrect.”
But Lewis was referring to the ballot measure language which only says the money “will be placed in the general fund to support general County services and functions, including but not limited to fire protection services.” The rest of the stuff is non-binding.
We have no doubt that the Supervisors who voted for the Resolution Mr. Cratty refers to fully intend that the money will be disbursed as called for in the resolution.
The Supervisors consciously and deliberately chose the general tax/50%+1 approach because they know their own history of not honoring local measures would detract from the Yes votes.
Remember, back in May when the tax measure was being considered, even Supervisor Haschak was aware of the Board’s poor record of delivering on previous measures when he said, “Before we propose a tax the Board should prove that we can implement it.”
The problem we have with the resolutions and “close watching” is that since the County/Supervisors insist that the County is so broke that they can’t afford to even offer a COLA to their employees. So a budget crunch could easily pressure them into keeping any amount of the Measure P money (estimated at around $2 million per year) to help balance their budget, a budget that they still don’t manage or track. And whatever “close watching” and complaining by the Fire Chiefs might arise, would likely be met with the Board’s now familiar “thank you for your words” style responses as they proceed to do as they feel necessary.
We hope we’re wrong. And we expect that Measure P will pass. But the Board’s history of failing to follow the will of the voters in recent County Measures — e.g., Measure V (standing dead trees declared a nuisance), Measure B (at least 25% of revenues was supposed to go to “services and treatment”) and Measure AJ (at least 1/8 of over $20 mil in pot tax revenues was supposed to go to “increased emergency services”) — is not exactly reassuring.
SCHOOL BOND TAX RATE CORRECTION
TO: Anderson Valley Unified School District
Re: Bond Debt Service Rate for 2022-23 Property Tax Year
There was an error in the calculation of the Bond Rate for Debt Service for Anderson Valley Unified School District for the 2021-22 Property Tax Year. The Rate assessed was 0.007 per $100 of assessed value and it should have been 0.059. Unfortunately, due to issues with the conversion to the new Property Tax System the County was not able to issue Corrected Bills. If the County had been able to issue a Corrected Bill, the additional amount would have been due in 30 days. The result of not being able to issue the Corrected Bills is an increase to the 2022-23 Bond Debt Service Rate of 0.052 per $100 of assessed value, resulting in a final Bond Debt Service Rate of 0.158 for the 2022-23 Property Tax Year, split into two installments with the usual 2022-23 Property Tax payment deadlines.
2021-22 Property Tax Rate for AVUSD School Bonds:
Measure A Bond Issuances:
Tax Year 2021-22 Rate amount that should have been charged 0.059
Less Tax Year 2021-22 Rate charged - 0.007
Tax Year 2021-22 Rate amount undercharged 0.052
2022-23 Property Tax Rate for AVUSD School Bonds:
Measure A Bond Issuances:
Tax Year 2022-23 Rate 0.048
Plus Tax Year 2021-22 Rate undercharged (from above) + 0.052
Total Tax Year 2022-23 portion of Rate for Measure A Bonds 0.100
Measure M 2022 Bond Issuance:
Tax Year 2022-23 Rate + 0.058
Total 2022-23 Bond Rate all issuances (Measures A & M) 0.158
If you have questions about the purpose or use of the bond proceeds, please contact the School District. For more information about the calculation of Debt Service Rates please visit:
I’m working on a calculation that will show the difference between the older issuances and the newest. Where all of the prior outstanding issuances under “Measure A” and Measure M is just the newest (2022)? We don’t track them by the Measure(s) on the ballot.
Thank you, Chamise Cubbison, Auditor-Controller/Treasurer Tax-Collector Mendocino County ▪ 501 Low Gap Rd., Rm 1080 ▪ Ukiah, CA 95482 ▪ Phone 707-234-6871
* * *
SUPERINTENDENT SIMSON NOTES: "I am forwarding the above letter regarding the tax billings from Chamise Cubbison, Auditor-Controller/Treasurer Tax-Collector about the tax billing correction that was applied on the current tax statement. This was NOT A SCHOOL DISTRICT ERROR, and in fact, the District contacted the Auditor's office last year to notify them of their under-billing status and disclosed it in Parent Square and the AVA.
Please direct any questions to: Chamise Cubbison, Auditor-Controller/Treasurer Tax-Collector
The popular Boonville quiz will return for the first Thursday next week: November 3rd. Hope to see you there. Cheers, Steve Sparks, Quizmaster
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE at Jug Handle Creek Nature Center November 6th
Jug Handle Creek Farm and Nature Center invites you to Walk on the Wild Side Sunday, Nov. 6th with naturalist-guided mushroom identification hikes starting at 1:30 pm. The event will also feature mushroom - based refreshments, a large local mushroom display and a presentation by mushroom enthusiast and entrepreneur Eric Schramm. Jug Handle is located at 15501 North Highway One in Caspar, CA. The event starts at 1:30 p.m. and will end at 5 p.m.
Mushroom Identification forays onto Jug Handle's surrounding nature trails will be led by expert local naturalists.
Before the hikes, enjoy warm, toasty mushroom-based finger-food refreshments served with cheese, crackers and mushroom spreads. The large mushroom display will be prepared by local mushroom enthusiast Eric Schramm.
After the guided mushroom ID walks, help yourself to mushroom-based soup, salad, desert and drinks, many featuring mushroom recipes from the Wild Mushroom cookbook. Enjoy the food and warm drinks while hearing an interesting presentation about fungi by Eric Scramm, founder of the Mendocino Mushroom Company.
Cost of the event is $35 per person. For Reservations please contact: Helene Chalfin firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 937-3498
NO OPTION VOTING. I miss seeing the Peace and Freedom and Green parties on the ballot, not only missing them but, he sniffed, I didn't vote for any of the two candidates for each office, voted no on all the judges because they didn't deign to dip into their lavish salaries to tell us a little about their decisions, but I did vote on the propositions, which I had conscientiously — you'll have take my word for that — researched.
ERIC KIRK offers, in this week's paper, the first assessment of the state judges I've ever seen. He likes all of them. Being a lawyer he tends to have a higher opinion of the justice system than I do. Bless him for his dogged investigations of the November 8 ballot. Death to the duopoly!
I USED to run for this or that office myself just to get a few shots in. My theory was to make the entrenched deal with opinions from the left of them. One morning, I was promoting myself outside the Mendocino Post Office. A lady hustled past me, saying over her shoulder, “I don't have time for your bullshit today, Bruce.” Harrumph. I had no idea who she was and here she was calling me by my first name. Another guy, grabbing my hard-hitting leaflet, declared, “You're all crooks.” “Not me,” I yelled at his disappearing back. “All I'm asking is a chance to be one.” It's a humbling experience throwing yourself out there to our grand, masticating electorate. I'm almost sympathetic with the people who do.
ANDY McCAFFREY, no relation to the running back: “I ran into retired Earth First!er, now capitalist Darryl Cherney today. I got two updates re the Judi Bari bombing investigation.
First, the $50,000 Jail Hurwitz reward is kaput. The money for that was transferred to back the reward for finding the bomber. And that is kinda kaput too except that Darryl said if someone does have info that finds the bomber, he will personally run the maximum $25,000 each on two of his credit cards to personally pay the reward.
Re: Finding DNA on the bomb fragments. They did find a few partial prints but have not been able to get them analyzed because of weirdness between law enforcement and the analysis firms. Law enforcement won’t work with the labs they don’t work with and citizens can’t use those labs.
They also have DNA from the Lord’s Avenger letter. Apparently you can use DNA at Ancestry.com to identify relatives of the person whose DNA you submit, but he doesn’t know how to do that with Ancestry. He is looking for help from anyone who can help him do that.
The original Lord’s Avenger letter was stolen from the now Doug Bosco (of Where's Bosco? infamy)-owned Santa Rosa Press Democrat. I didn’t know that Bosco owned it or that it was stolen after he bought it. So says DC”
UH, ANDY. Hate to break it to you 32 years after the fact, but the entire Bari-Cherney saga is a scam. Without going into my usually irresistible deconstruction of it, I'll limit myself to this: If Cherney has all this DNA what's preventing him from acting on it? And don't say he doesn't act because he's broke.
A READER WRITES: “Despite searching for news everywhere on Coast recycling, no real info on Waste Management closing Pudding Creek, no place except Road 409 to recycle. People will not recycle if they have to drive two hours or whatever. If you come across any info, please mention in the paper. Thanks.”
THERE is talk of locating one in Albion, but Fort Bragg seems outta luck for recycling. And what happens to all the money accumulated from those five and ten cent supposedly redeemable bottles and cans? No place in the county to get your deposits back.
BUT ONLY A SMALL PERCENTAGE of what goes into the recycle bin is actually recycled. Roughly 5% of plastic is recycled, and if you exclude yard waste, only aluminum and certain kinds of cardboard is recycled, depending on the market at the time. When China stopped accepting America’s “recycled” plastic a few years ago, the entire recycling landscape was redrawn to dispatch most of it to generalized trash. New content regulations have further reduced the percentage of actual recycling. If some Mendo person recycled beer and soda cans they could probably make money doing it in Willits, Ukiah and Fort Bragg. Unfortunately, most of what we toss in the recycling bin these days goes into the trash without a second thought. greenmatters.com/p/what-percent-recycling-actually-gets-recycled
“THE ALMEDA FIRE in Southern Oregon wiped out New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro, opened by Charlene and Vernon Rollins in 1989. The fire destroyed both the influential restaurant and the Rollinses’ home.” So sayeth this morning's NY Times, as Boonville old timers and not-so-old timers recall that the Rollins' fled Boonville in the middle of the night to elude creditors for debts incurred by the couple's New Boonville Hotel. The Rollins' soon established a new restaurant just over the state line outside Ashland, Oregon. Like their New Boonville establishment, New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro quickly became as famous as their New Boonville had been. The New Boonville Hotel iteration of the Rollins then reverted to the successful Boonville Hotel, which has been owned for years by Johnny Schmitt who shows no signs of fleeing.
SENATOR MCGUIRE: The most beautiful bathroom building in the state park system is now open @ the Ford House in the Village of Mendocino! The building is beautiful, the Native American art is spectacular and the services are absolutely necessary with 30k visitors to the Village annually. Great job, Mendo Parks - Thank you for seeing this project through!
UKIAH ARMED ROBBERY
by Colin Atagi
A Santa Rosa boy was among four suspects who were arrested after they followed a victim Sunday night to his Ukiah home and robbed him at gunpoint, police said.
Investigators did not release the names of the Santa Rosa boy and another suspect, a Clearlake girl, because they are minors. The other suspects were identified as Antioch residents Marcello Torres, 20, and Mauricio Torres, 19, according to the Ukiah Police Department.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the two are related.
Each suspect was arrested on suspicion of robbery, conspiracy, possessing a short-barreled shotgun, accessory and giving fake identification to law enforcement, according to police.
An investigation began at about 7:40 p.m. Sunday when police were called to the 600 block of Talmage Road, where the 42-year-old victim last saw the suspects, police said.
He reported he was driving east on Talmage Road when the suspects tried to enter his lane and he sped up to avoid a collision. They followed him to his home and one began to yell at him.
A girl claimed he hit their car and, as he checked for damage, the three other suspects approached while wearing “full face masks,” police said.
One pulled out a shotgun and another demanded everything in the victim’s pockets. The man refused and the group fled after one of them took a phone from his vehicle, police said.
The victim followed but lost sight of suspects before he contacted police.
The California Highway Patrol stopped the suspects on southbound Highway 101 and found the gun and phone inside.
Two of the suspects were booked into the Mendocino County jail and the juvenile suspects went to Mendocino County Juvenile Hall, police said.
(Santa Rosa Press Democrat)
MARY ROSE KACZOROWSKI, candidate for Fort Bragg City Council, two on-line assessments:
(1) Once again, Mary Rose excels at patting herself on the back. A long list of resumes may look great on paper but dealing with people in person is a completely different ballgame. Mary Rose is known to have verbal attacks and outbursts for no apparent reason. A prime example is at the Coastal Commission walking tour of the proposed DTSC clean-up of the mill site. The tour had to be turned around because of the smell coming from the sewer treatment plant. When members of the public agreed that the smell was strong Mary Rose stated “I’m so sick of people moving to our town and complaining about the smell of their own shit.” To which people responded “we have lived here for generations and no one should have to smell the sewer.” To which Mary Rose responded to these people that their families must be genocide supporters or that they themselves must have participated in the genocide of our local Pomo. And went on to say they must be racists and questioned if they even knew a Native person. This is interesting since the people she was accusing have worked closely with our local Tribes and they themselves have spoke publicly in support of the Tribe and on behalf of Tribal members. There have been other verbal attacks on other local coastal community members because of Mary Rose’s assumptions and because of her obvious desire to always be right and never wrong.
As a reference to Mary Rose’s assumptions one could simply go back and watch the Planning Commission/City Council meetings regarding Grocery Outlet and hear for yourself her judgmental statements on locals who may choose to shop there. She insinuated people who shop/consume food from Grocery Outlet are obese and consume mostly junk food. She went on to say there is no reason people can’t afford to shop at our current grocery options. Then stated she uses Cal-Fresh and the Food Bank. Not everyone qualifies for some of these very helpful programs and having children to feed is a huge difference than only being responsible for you. Empty shelves during the pandemic and emergencies should speak very loudly for the need of more shopping opportunities.
Mary Rose appears to take credit for projects even though she may have attended only one meeting. Anything and everything accomplished or stopped along our coast seems to have been done by either Mary Rose or Tess according to them. Who knew?
Tell us how you feel about local issues. You being an ambassador to who knows what is the very least of a local persons concerns.
(2) Speaking as a person who signed Mary Rose’s nomination papers so she could run for City Council, I am disturbed by her actions as a candidate. What is brought up above brings up gives me pause but so do other concerns. I can’t fathom how someone who treats other community members like Mary Rose apparently did based on the stench from the sewer treatment plant thinks she would be a good fit to represent everyone on the City Council. Is that how she will treat people making public comments at City Council meetings? Yell at them and call them genocide supporters if she doesn’t agree with their concerns? Reading and hearing about that alarms me.
Most importantly, like two of the three incumbents running for new terms, Mary Rose has spoken with such vitriol against the Skunk Train that I think she has shown a clear bias against any of their plans and proposals. I think we all agree that the Mill Pond remediation project and associated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) environmental review are of critical importance to our town. Unfortunately, when council members or candidates take such strong positions in public meetings and during campaign events that they demonstrate a clear bias against a particular company or individual who is also an applicant for a permit under review by the City of Fort Bragg, then they will likely have to recuse themselves from any decisions concerning that applicant’s permits. What does this mean from a practical standpoint? Well, if three of the five council members are so biased against the Skunk Train’s interests, the City won’t even have a quorum of council members who can hear and decide on the permit and the staff will have to randomly select one of them to participate in the hearing. That is what we are facing because several of our candidates do not appear able to remain open-minded and unbiased about an actual permit application that has already been filed with the City.
Why would any voter want to support City Council candidates who won’t be able to participate in the community decision-making about the Mill Pond remediation project? Why would anyone who runs on her CEQA and land use experience and knowledge of the process take such biased positions against a permit applicant that they would have to recuse themselves from the most important planning permit hearing that the City will have to evaluate when it comes back to them? This is head-scratching to me!
ANOTHER EBAY FIND, Caspar, CA, circa 1920
An interesting photograph. The notation on the back reads "house of ill repute."
STATE STUDENT TEST SCORES RELEASED
Results to Serve as New Baseline after Pandemic Disruptions
New student test score data released this week by the California Department of Education will help Mendocino County educators provide support and interventions for students where they are needed the most. The test results show student performance in math and English Language Arts on the 2021-22 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).
Several factors should be taken into consideration when interpreting the results. In 2021, CAASPP testing was not required, and some districts opted to administer local tests. In 2020, CAASPP testing was suspended statewide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, these 2022 results can’t be meaningfully compared to prior years and are being used as a new baseline to support the teaching and learning that is happening in classrooms now.
Assessment data serves as a compass, a general idea as to where students are performing. Mendocino County school districts use the data to provide extra support to students who lost ground during the pandemic. The Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE) collaborates with local school districts to accelerate learning and enhance academic performance. This includes supporting the rollout of Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) for four-year-old children that is being phased in statewide. MCOE leads a countywide collaborative UPK Plan that includes eleven districts, three charter schools and multiple early learning and care agencies. MCOE is also helping districts create plans to implement the state’s Expanded Learning Opportunity mandates, to offer after-school programs for transitional kindergarten through sixth grade. These programs will provide learning opportunities outside of the regular school day, including on weekends and during summer break. In addition, MCOE and local districts have increased efforts to partner with Mendocino County Behavioral Health Services to promote student well-being, so trauma and stress don’t become obstacles to learning. During the last school year, on-campus mental health services provided support and referrals to more than 2,500 students throughout Mendocino County.
“I am proud of the work that’s underway in my agency and in our local schools to address student needs,” said Michelle Hutchins, Mendocino County Superintendent of Schools. “We want to meet students where they are and accelerate their learning by building on their strengths and needs at this exact moment in time.”
It is important to remember that test scores alone don’t tell the full story of student performance and school accountability. In December, the 2022 California School Dashboard will give communities a clearer picture of student achievement and the challenges our students faced during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, including data on academic progress, attendance, graduation rates, suspension rates, and English learner progress. In the meantime, the newly released CAASPP test scores are available now at caaspp-elpac.cde.ca.gov.
(County Office of Education Presser)
CATCH OF THE DAY, Wednesday, October 26, 2022
BRADLEY BOWMAN, Willits. Shoplifting, trespassing on railroad property, minor with alcoholic beverage, resisting.
ALEGANDRO CIBRIAN-ROMERO, Cloverdale/Ukiah. Burglary, controlled substance, conspiracy, failure to appear.
JESSICA ESCOBEDO-FERNANDEZ, Ukiah. Burglary, controlled substance, conspiracy, escape attempt after arrest, probation revocation.
RANDY GIBNEY, Fort Bragg. Protective order violation, probation revocation.
JONATHAN LEHMAN, Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
MICHAEL MONTANO, Ukiah. County parole violation.
RAYMUNDO MORELES JR., Gualala. Concentrated cannabis, suspended license, probation revocation.
JAMES MUNDAY, Ukiah. Controlled substance, protective order violation, failure to appear.
ORLANDO MUNOZ, Ukiah. County parole violation.
ARTEMIO ORTEGA-REYES, Ukiah. Stolen property, ammo possession by prohibited person, probation revocation.
JENNIFER OVERCAST, Willits. Failure to appear.
STEVEN SCOTT, Fort Bragg. Disobeying court order, failure to appear.
THE PRIVATIZATION OF MEDICARE MUST BE STOPPED
Humboldt Progressive Democrats, Resolution #2022-04:
Whereas, the Direct Contracting Entities (DCEs) program that started under the Trump administration introduced a way to move Medicare beneficiaries who had chosen Traditional Medicare into a for-profit insurance model without their consent, and
Whereas, at the present time there is no Congressional oversight of this program now known as ACO-Reach (Accountable Care Organization- Realizing Equity, Access and Community Health), and
Whereas, despite an endless barrage of deceptive advertising, the majority of those eligible for Medicare have chosen Traditional Medicare over for-profit insurance offered as Medicare Advantage (MA) and are unaware of this threat to their choice, and
Whereas, ACO-REACH programs (formerly known as DCEs) are allowed to keep up to 40% of their revenue that they don’t spend on healthcare services as profit and overhead; thereby, giving them a dangerous financial incentive to restrict seniors’ care, and
Whereas, Medicare pays ACO-REACH programs (formerly known as DCEs) more money for patients with more complex diagnoses which in MA has resulted in the fraudulent practice known as “up coding,” meaning that for-profit insurers exaggerate the seriousness of seniors’ diagnoses, resulting in higher costs to Medicare, and
Whereas, Instead of filling the gaps in Medicare’s coverage, the federal government has increasingly used Medicare funds to subsidize private insurance companies, significantly increasing its administrative costs, burdening doctors with extra paperwork, and providing new opportunity for fraudulent billing by private insurers, and
Whereas, the Congressional Budget Office has projected insolvency of the Medicare Hospital Trust in 2026 which provides care for 52.6 million seniors,
Therefore be it Resolved that the Humboldt Progressive Democrats demands that Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services and President Biden terminate the ACO-REACH program, and
Be it Further Resolved that the Humboldt Progressive Democrats opposes Medicare privatization and work toward ending the ACO/REACH program.
— Hélène Rouvier, Chairperson, October 19, 2022
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
If I lived in Pennsylvania, and if I thought that we had “free and fair elections” in this country, then I would check out the other candidates and find one whose positions on issues were closer to mine than those of the Dumbocrats or the Repugnicants, and vote for that candidate. And never vote R or D. If everyone did that, (and we had free and fair elections), donkeys and elephants would have to apply for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Of course the time for that has long passed.
MIKE DAVIS: 1946–2022
A brilliant radical reporter with a novelist’s eye and a historian’s memory.
by Jon Wiener
Mike Davis, author and activist, radical hero and family man, died October 25 after a long struggle with esophageal cancer; he was 76. He’s best known for his 1990 book about Los Angeles, City of Quartz. Marshall Berman, reviewing it for The Nation, said it combined “the radical citizen who wants to grasp the totality of his city’s life, and the urban guerrilla aching to see the whole damned thing blow.”
And the whole thing did blow, two years after the book was published. When the Rodney King riots broke out in LA in 1992, frightened white people rushed home, locked the doors, and turned on the TV news. Mike, however, was driving in the opposite direction, with his old friend Ron Schneck at his side. They parked, got out, and started talking with the people in the streets about what was going on. Then he went home and wrote about it.
Mike was a 1960s person, but he didn’t come from a liberal or left background. His father was a meat cutter and a conservative, and as a young patriot, Mike briefly joined the Devil Pups—the Marine Corps’ version of the Boy Scouts. His life was changed by the civil rights movement. In 1962, when he was a junior in high school, a Black activist married to his cousin took Mike to a protest organized by the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), picketing an all-white Bank of America branch in San Diego. Soon he was volunteering in the CORE office there. He started college at Reed, but left to go to work for SDS.
As an SDS organizer in the late ’60s, Mike was part of the largest mass arrest in the history of 1960s protest—at “Valley State,” now California State University–Northridge, in 1969, when 286 were arrested after a peaceful sit-down of 3,000 students protesting the school administration banning all demonstrations, rallies, and meetings. “What I remember most vividly about the arrests,” he said 45 years later, “was the ride to jail in a police bus. The girls started singing, ‘Hey Jude, don’t be afraid.’ I fell in love with all of them.”
City of Quartz was his masterpiece. Published in 1990, it opens with a description of a visit to the ruins of the socialist city of Llano del Rio, founded in 1914 in the desert north of LA. There, on May Day 1990, he finds two twentysomething building laborers from El Salvador camped out, hoping for work in nearby Palmdale. “When I observed that they were settled in the ruins of a ciudad socialista, one of them asked whether the ‘rich people had come with planes and bombed them out.’” They asked what he was doing out there, and what he thought of Los Angeles. “I tried to explain that I had just written a book…” And then you turn the page, to chapter one, the unforgettable “Sunshine and Noir.”
After City of Quartz, everybody wanted Mike. Adam Shatz wrote in 1997 about how phoning Mike Davis is a good way of getting acquainted with his answering machine.… Sitting on his porch on a warm evening, I understood why: The phone rang incessantly, and Davis never once rose from his chair. The calls last from morning to midnight. It might be the photographer Richard Avedon or the architect I.M. Pei with a request for one of Davis’s legendary tours of L.A.… It might also be a Danish curator mounting an exhibit on the postmodern city, an organizer with the hotel workers’ union, a student at UCLA’s Cesar Chavez Center, or (very likely) a Hollywood screenwriter.
He turned down most invitations to speak. I remember his daughter Roisin telling him in 2014, “Dad, you really should reply to that invitation from the president of Argentina,” and Mike saying, “If I’m not replying to the pope, I’m not replying to her.” (He had been invited to the Vatican after the publication of Planet of Slums.)
But he accepted some. At UC Irvine, where we were colleagues in the history department for most of a decade, I gave a lecture in his course (“Intro to 20th-Century US History”) to cover for him the day he was speaking at an anarchist convention in Palermo.
Mike hated being called “a prophet of doom.” Yes, LA did explode two years after City of Quartz; the fires and floods did get more intense after Ecology of Fear, and of course a global pandemic did follow The Monster at Our Door. But when he wrote about climate change or viral pandemics, he was not offering a “prophecy”; he was reporting on the latest research. After Covid hit, we did several Nation podcast segments about it; he told me at one point “I’ve been staying up late reading virology textbooks.”
He said he wrote about the things that scared him the most. Ecology of Fear (1998) dealt with earthquakes, forest fires, floods and century-long droughts. One chapter, “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn,” became a classic, arguing that fire budgets would be better spent protecting crowded inner-city neighborhoods rather than mega-mansions built in remote hillside fire areas. That provoked its own firestorm. His critics, led by a Malibu realtor, couldn’t refute his argument, so they went after his footnotes—and both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times ran stories about the “controversy.” But the controversy faded and the argument became stronger. “During fire season,” LA Times columnist Gustavo Arellano wrote in 2018, when fires circled LA and the sky was full of smoke for weeks, “I always think about…‘The Case for Letting Malibu Burn.’”
Unlike the rest of the New Left, Mike didn’t reject the old left—his mentor in the 1960s and ’70s was the renegade CP leader in Southern California, Dorothy Healey. Mike loved arguing with her. When Dorothy died in 2006, Mike wrote in The Nation that she represented “the left’s ‘greatest generation’—those tough-as-nails children of Ellis Island who built the CIO, fought Jim Crow in Manhattan and Alabama, and buried their friends in the Spanish earth.” Their deaths, he said, were “an inestimable, heart-wrenching loss.” Now we feel the same about his.
CHUCK DUNBAR WRITES: Sorry to say, I had never come across the work of Mike Davis, until today, following his death. One piece in his honor starts with this memory:
“Sometime in the mid-nineties, when I was an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley, a guest lecturer visited my U.S. history class. It was one of those massive survey lectures with about five hundred students, many of us there to check a requirement rather than follow an academic passion. The guest’s name was Mike Davis, and his subject was Los Angeles. The hour began with a story about Aimee Semple McPherson, a charismatic evangelist and early-twentieth-century pioneer of media celebrity, who established a base of ardent believers in the city back when it was only sparsely populated. I can still hear the way Davis said her name, as though repeating it enough times offered some key to understanding the huckster promises that drew some people to L.A. It ended with a look at the recently completed headquarters of the Beverly Hills Police Department—a gleaming fortress, a monument to state power. Throughout the lecture, I remember being unable to move, transfixed by the torrent of ideas, all the dots being connected, this new way of seeing the world around me. After class, I skipped down to a bookstore near campus and bought “City of Quartz,” Davis’s 1990 book about Los Angeles as both ‘utopia and dystopia.’ What he taught us that day was not history; it was a way of digging through the ruins of the past to see the future.”
“Mike Davis Could See the Future,” Hua Hsu
The New Yorker, 10/26/22
MAYBE LEAVE IT ALONE
Think permanent Daylight Saving Time sounds like a great idea. Think again. The United States switched to permanent DST once before, on Jan. 7, 1974. Before the month was out, eight children going to school in the dark in Florida had been hit and killed by cars. Millions found the prolonged morning darkness — sunrise came as late as 8:25 a.m. in the Bay Area — damaging to their mental health.
Writing of the 1974 change, Washington Post journalist Brittany Shammas noted that “as the dark mornings continued, the complaints kept coming.” While 79% of Americans supported the idea of permanent DST before actually experiencing it, within months, that number dropped to 42%. Congress repealed the law less than a year after it had gone into effect. Needless deaths and months on end of getting up in the dark? Why go through all this again?
TIM ROBBINS AND THE LOST ART OF FINDING COMMON GROUND
The star of films like The Producer and Bull Durham opens up about two tough years of pandemic politics, and worries society is purposefully phasing out the common meeting space.
by Matt Taibbi
After the Covid-19 crisis began, actor Tim Robbins was like everyone else in suddenly having both more time to think, and more unpleasant things to think about. Among other things, as a leader of The Actors’ Gang theater company, Robbins had to work through what living in a world of mandated long-term isolation might mean. What if people were no longer forced into contact with one another?
“I wondered,” he recalls now, “‘What happens when you eliminate the water cooler conversation?’”
Would we miss that “difficult conversation with someone who’s not one of your friends, but a coworker and a human being,” who’s “saying something that is not the way you see the world, but he’s right there and you have to hear it”? Robbins felt we might, because confronting a live human being forces people to use parts of their brain the Internet encourages them to bypass.
“When you eliminate that conversation, and everyone goes into isolation, and has their own little silos of thought, that’s incredibly dangerous for society. Because now you’re isolated to the point where you’ll no longer have any kind of discussion,” he says. Instead, he worries, “You’ll just have that little room you go into where everyone agrees with you, and we all say, ‘Fuck those other people.’”
Years later, the Oscar-winning actor known for left-liberal advocacy finds his thinking has shifted in significant ways. In part this is because the entertainment business remains mired in high-vigilance mode when it comes to pandemic restrictions, with an omerta still hovering over vaccine-related questions. Robbins himself was with the program early, which he now seems to regret. “I was guilty of everything that I came to understand was not healthy,” he says now. “I demonized people.”
However, he soon began to wonder why certain rules were being kept long after they lost real-world utility. For instance, deals struck in 2021 between studios and powerful unions like SAG-AFTRA, the Directors’ Guild of America, and Actors’ Equity barred the unvaccinated not just from working, but auditioning. This maybe, possibly made sense when the vaccines were thought to prevent transmission. But now?
“I get it. I understand the fear. I was there,” Robbins says. “But we’ve restricted people from working for too long.”
For decades Robbins occupied a unique role in American popular culture as a writer, director, and polarizing counterculture figure, like a taller, cheerier cross of Orson Welles and Peter Fonda. His acting reputation for a long time was inextricably (and unfairly, I always thought) tied to his status as a bugbear of the Gingrich/Bush Republican right. I knew without looking that Robbins had to be a central figure in Fox host Laura Ingraham’s 2006 best-selling insta-book about heathen lib entertainers who don’t know their place, Shut Up and Sing. Ingraham in fact described Robbins and former partner Susan Sarandon as “the leading stars of today’s Hollywood elite,” a compliment on the order of being called Mr. and Mrs. Satan. Ironically, Ingraham was mad at Robbins for talking about a “chill wind” of intellectual conformity that began blowing after 9/11, the same phenomenon she herself began railing against when it started to affect conservatives in recent years, and which Robbins is still criticizing now.
Though he’s won acclaim for serious films like Shawshank Redemption and Dead Man Walking, the Robbins filmography is also packed with performances where he goofs on himself by pitching in a garter belt (Bull Durham) or wearing absurd hair extensions (in Erik the Viking — I hope those were extensions)or by giving America maybe its best-ever a portrait of a Hollywood douchebag, a performance that almost had to be career-imperiling in its accuracy (The Player). Robbins always had strong views and was especially vocal during the Iraq period, but his politics never got in the way of helping deliver some of the generation’s most enjoyable films. He even had fun with his own lefty reputation when he played a PBS newscaster taking a break between pledge drives to throw down in the Anchorman brawl.
Nonetheless, he now finds himself mixed up in controversies that place him at least somewhat on the outs with the same Hollywood political culture where he was once a leading figure. Areas of contention include the mandates and the passage of AB 5, a piece of California legislation originally aimed at gig-worker corporations like Lyft and Uber that ultimately forced hundreds of businesses, including theater companies, to offer minimum wages and benefits many claim they can’t afford. It’s a repeat of a controversy from the mid-2010s, when the Actors’ Equity union beat back a lawsuit filed by the likes of Ed Harris and Ed Asner and overrode a 2-1 vote by thousands of its members, who wanted to retain the ability to play for peanuts in a city where exposure is worth more than a few extra bucks on a paycheck.
Robbins worries that in this slew of new shibboleths about everything from vaccines to regulation of cake decorators, music arrangers and theater companies, society is revealing troubling changes in its ideas about what art and creativity are for. He sees hostility to the idea of bringing people together both in the physical sense, as in opening the doors to a theater, but also in the figurative sense of making sure art and entertainment are for everyone, not just for people with correct opinions. With bookstores, museums, theaters, and even water coolers disappearing all over the country, America seems to have it in for common spaces, as if keeping people from talking to one another is someone’s intentional political goal.
“I almost feel like there are forces within our society that just want art to die,” Robbins says.
The interview you’re about to read isn’t a red-pilling story, since Robbins isn’t and won’t ever be anyone’s idea of a conservative. It is however a warning from someone with an extensive enough track record as a progressive activist that he ought at least to have earned a hearing if he now feels he has to say a few uncomfortable things. Mostly, he’s warning about a didactic meanness he senses creeping into both politics and art. This he felt especially during the Covid-19 period, when we drifted from mere health policy into a bizarre Freaks-style collective shaming reflex, stressing the moral and mental unworthiness of people who for whatever reason — there were many — refused official advice.
“I heard people saying, ‘If you didn’t take the vaccine and you get sick, you don’t have a right to a hospital bed,” he says. “It made me think about returning to a society where we care about each other. Your neighbor would be sick, and you’d bring over some soup. It didn’t matter what their politics were, you’re their fucking neighbor,” he says, shaking his head.
“I think we lost a lot of ourselves during this time.”
More below (interview edited for length and clarity):
Matt Taibbi: When Covid-19 arrived, what happened with The Actors’ Gang?
Tim Robbins: We had to shut down, obviously. We went on to a Zoom workshop kind of mode. As an organization we decided that we weren’t going to lay anyone off or furlough anyone. A lot of arts organizations did. We kept everyone on staff and on health insurance. We found other ways to do our work online with our education programs. Then for our prison project, we started communicating by mail. We would send them packets every month with outlines of exercises they could do on their own. A lot of them would write, and send it back to us, because we wanted to keep the relationship going with the people that we were working with before the pandemic.
So that was great. It provided us an opportunity to hire more returning citizens, the ones that had done their time and were being paroled, which was another bizarre thing — you had guys that were in jail for 30 years that got out right during Covid, and went right back into isolation. Isn’t that insane? But overall, it was a difficult two years.
Matt Taibbi: As re-opening approached, what happened?
Tim Robbins: We were capable of opening last September, but there were still all of these restrictions. I had a problem with this idea of having a litmus test at the door for entry. I understood the health concerns, but I also understand that theater is a forum and it has to be open to everybody. If you start specifying reasons why people can’t be in a theater, I don’t think it’s a theater anymore. Not in the tradition of what it has always been historically, which is a forum where stories are told and disparate elements come together and figure it out.
That’s what it’s been for. People figure out their relationship with the gods, with society, with each other. But at the door, you don’t say you can’t come in, because you haven’t done this or that. I had a problem with that. So I waited until everyone could be allowed in the theater. We opened up with a show called Can’t Pay Don’t Pay in April last year.
I think a lot of theaters had a problem rebounding, because the audiences are either skittish about being in rooms with other people, or (laughs) they just don’t like theater that much anyway. The pandemic was a good excuse to not go!
But the most challenging thing has been dealing with the actors themselves, because there is this skittishness and fear, and it’s still in people. Unlike England — I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time last year in London, and they got back a lot sooner than we did. There was an attitude there, it’s that “keep calm and carry on” thing. You know, we got bombed last night, but we’re getting up today. When they reopened their theaters, they reopened them for everybody. They never excluded anybody. And when they got back to it, their West End was thriving, and continues to thrive today.
Maybe the reason we have problems is that some people are still skittish about being in a crowd with other people, but it could also be that maybe 30 to 40% of theater audiences were told they weren’t welcome. And maybe there’s something in that: when you’re told you’re not welcome, you might not necessarily want to go back.
Matt Taibbi: When you started to question these things, what was the reaction?
Tim Robbins: I totally understood it in the first year. I was compliant with everything. I locked down, I isolated, I was away from people for seven months. I bought into it. I demonized people. I was guilty of everything that I came to understand was not healthy. I was angry at people that weren’t wearing masks, and protesting about it in Orange County. Yet, a month later I was protesting for BLM in the streets with a mask on. A week after that, I kind of had to do a self-check on that. I knew there was a little bit of hypocrisy going on there.
I had a really good friend that died from it early on. I was angry. I was fearful, and I did everything I could to help stop the spread, but also I kept my eyes open and at my age, I think one of the most important things that I’ve been able to do is understand that I’m not right all the time, and I have to check myself and see where the hypocrisy lay. So I started having more questions.
Soon it’s a year on, and two years on, and people are still stuck with these restrictions despite the fact that we now know that the vaccine didn’t stop transmission and didn’t stop people from getting it. Once the CDC changes policy and says basically that both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are capable of getting Covid, the restrictions don’t make sense anymore, particularly regarding employment.
And there were a lot of people in SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity that were kept from auditioning for the past two and a half years, and really still are today. Their livelihoods are threatened. They can’t participate yet. There’s no rhyme or reason with it. I think people are holding on because there’s still a fear, but it’s too long now.
I’m not against the vaccine, I’m just of the belief that your health is determined by your relationship with your body and your mind. And if you believe that the vaccines have helped you, then all power to you. If for some reason you didn’t vaccinate and you made it through this, all power to you too. You shouldn’t be excluded from society for doing that. I am a hundred percent sure of that. I think that was a mistake. I think it was done out of fear. I forgive it, but to continue it at this point is irrational, in my opinion.
No one has stood up for people who might be immunocompromised, or couldn’t take the vaccine, or people that are just holistic and don’t take any kind of medicine at all. Or people — this is the most important one — people that have had Covid and have natural immunity.
The other thing is, where does this end? How many boosters do you have to get to remain eligible for work? How long do we extend this?
Matt Taibbi: You feel something important has been lost in the last few years. Can you elaborate?
Tim Robbins: These last few years, they’ve taught me so much, about what is right, what is wrong. There’s so much empowerment of people that feel that they are being incredibly virtuous and generous, yet are doing things that are not very kind to other people. I think we’ve lost ourselves during this time. Just a brief stroll through social media and you’ll find that out. (laughs) The internet has become like a bar that you go to, and you open the door, and everyone yells, “Fuck you! Get out!”
Matt Taibbi: (laughs) I’m vaguely familiar…
Tim Robbins: It’s amazing. It’s taught me a lot about human nature, about how easy it is for people to turn on other people, and that when people do things that are destructive to other people, they often think they’re being virtuous. It’s been that way throughout history.
That’s something I already knew as a writer. When you’re making a character, you try not to make it all black and white, good and evil. I really understood much more profoundly what happens with the turn, how people turn. You go from someone that is inclusive, altruistic, generous, empathetic, to a monster. Where you want to freeze people’s bank accounts because they disagree with you. That’s a dangerous thing. That’s a dangerous world that we’ve created. And I say ‘we,’ because I was part of that. I bought into that whole idea early on.
Matt Taibbi: There’s also been a phenomenon of bureaucratic mission creep. Could you talk about how that’s affected your industry?
Tim Robbins: Our union out here, Actors Equity, decided about five years ago to end an agreement that the union had with local theaters here that were under 99 seats. We had a thriving small theater scene in Los Angeles, and Actors Equity decided that they wanted to end that 99-seat agreement. Then they had a vote, and two-thirds of their membership voted to keep the agreement, but the AEA ended it regardless. Producers couldn’t make money off of productions. I think Actors’ Equity has a fantasy that if they close all the small theaters in Los Angeles, a bunch of mid-level theaters will rise up, and there will be more contracts…
On top of that, we had a bill pass called AB 5, which was intended to target gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers. And Uber and Lyft were wealthy enough to lobby in Sacramento to get a carve-out from that legislation. What was left were small theaters and musicians. They said, “Listen, are you going to try to keep us from rehearsing, or just jamming?”
I almost feel like there are forces within our society that just want art to die. It’s now not only just the scolds from the right, like in the old days when the Moral Majority wanted art to die. Now it’s unions and people that are, again, claiming virtuous reasons for all of this. The truth is a lot of local theater has failed, and the pandemic helped put the nail in the coffin.
Small theater companies of people who just want a way in, in a business that’s so devoid of content. If you’re lucky, you get an audition for a walk-on in a sitcom, and how’s that feeding your artistic soul? So you had a huge amount of actors in Los Angeles that just wanted to do quality work, be in a play where they could get to say real lines by real authors. It was something they were volunteering for, that would keep their instrument sharp. And now they were being told they can’t do that.
Matt Taibbi: To what end, do you think?
Tim Robbins: Listen, Matt, if you told me 20 years ago that there would be no video stores where you could talk to a clerk and see what that person might be recommending, or no record stores where you could go see what’s new in music, or no bookstores in most towns, I would’ve told you you were crazy. But we’re here. This is part of a larger movement away from the gathering place.
Theaters are failing, and movie theaters are not doing so well. Any form of gathering place other than a bar has pretty much been hurting. You know, it’s no surprise to me how well sports have been doing during this whole period. Stadiums are packed, because people need community.
I’ve always thought of baseball as a place where I can go and get away from the politics and just sit and high-five some dude that might have voted for someone I don’t like. That’s important.
Matt Taibbi: Art and movies used to play that role, too, but are they being discouraged in that function?
Tim Robbins: Yes. This is the whole purpose of theater, to bring people that don’t agree into the same place where they can agree on their own shared humanity.
That’s the other problem. It got incredibly politicized here. It wasn’t that way in London. What I felt there wasn’t the divide that there was here. I attended a couple of the marches that were happening in [early] 2021, which was when they were under their lockdown. There was a street presence of people who were coming out already, against mandates and passports. I went down and I talked to some of those people and I realized: it’s not a left-right thing there. These weren’t a bunch of National Front-type people. These were old hippies and homeopaths. I tweeted about it and I got this hellish response. I realized that we have been programmed in a different way in this country, to think that if someone doesn’t get the vaccine, they must be a Nazi.
Tim Robbins: I’m trying to understand why we’re in the situation we’re in, socially, with each other. That’s what concerns me the most. I believe that if the vaccine helps you, that’s great. But, I have kind of a hard line on freedom. You can’t over-regulate people’s lives. I don’t know what that makes me, what label that puts on me, but I am an absolutist on freedom.
I’ve done a lot of work in organizing and in protest movements and in building coalitions. Community building is always about an organizer walking into the room and knowing that the people in this room do not agree on everything. But I, as an organizer, have to find the linchpin, find the common thread. And when I find that, I’m going to build the movement around that.
What I’ve been seeing over the past few years has been the opposite of that. It’s going into a room and saying, “You don’t have the right to speak because you don’t agree with our way of thinking.” Or it’s, “You’re an idiot for thinking this or that. Shut up. Get your vaccination.”
You’re not going to build any movement that way. All you’ll do is alienate people. And whether it’s organizing around social justice or criminal justice reform or creating more equity — all legitimate important things that need to be done — organizers who know how to do it don’t create division. They don’t cancel people. Because once you’ve done that, you’ve lost those people forever. You’re not getting them back.
Matt Taibbi: Don’t art and movies try to do the same thing? You’re looking for the unifying theme, the thing everyone thinks is funny, or everybody enjoys? The linchpin that holds an audience together?
Tim Robbins: Trying to find the thing that unites us. Exactly. Right. You’re trying to find something that we all can laugh at or a shared feeling that we can all have.
Dead Man Walking was a real challenge because it was a dance we had to do. I didn’t want to make the movie just for people that were against the death penalty. I wanted to make it for everybody, and I wanted people to have a discussion about it. So we had to give dignity and screen time and respect to the people that had lost their family members, and were for the death penalty. And I thought we did it in a way that was respectful enough so that people, if they did not agree with getting rid of the death penalty, could still watch that film and see their shared humanity in the pain of the mother, of the pain of Sister Helen, in the pain of the killer himself.
That’s the difficult thing to do. But when you do that, then you create dialogue. Helen will tell you that that movie changed the picture for her. Beforehand, everywhere she went, 10 or 15 people showed up. Now she’s got a thousand people coming out, and they have a discussion about the death penalty. You know, we did a play version of it, and we were in 140 universities over the course of 10 years. There would be 30 young people getting together to do a play. And when the play would open, there would be symposiums from the law department, from the divinity school, from sociology departments. They would have discussions and meetings and debates, and the actors themselves would have to play parts that they didn’t necessarily agree with, and have to go into that mindset. And it created a fertile ground for discussion and for growth. People could respect each other and both sides of the opinion.
Throwing your doors open for the public means you throw them open to everybody. And once, no one even thought twice about that. It’s the decent thing to do. Then during the pandemic, I heard people saying, “If you didn’t take the vaccine and you get sick, you don’t have a right to a hospital bed.”
And I just started thinking, “What about all the junkies?” That’s the choice they made, too. It’s their own fucking vein. Are we kicking them out? No. You take care of them.
Matt Taibbi: Smokers, obese people who have diabetes…
Tim Robbins: You save their lives. Because they’re part of us. They may be troubled and they may be having to take these drugs for whatever emotional reasons they are, but what the hell man, you gotta take care of them.
And like you say, it could be that you apply that to obesity, you could apply that to any physical malady that has anything to do with something you put in your body. Well, that’s a choice that you made. Maybe a bad choice, but don’t worry about it. We got you. And then you have the choice as to whether you want to change your life or not.
That, for me, is a functioning society.
Matt Taibbi: Absolutely. Thanks, Tim.
Tim Robbins: Good luck.
UKRAINE, WEDNESDAY, 26 OCTOBER
The “heaviest of battles” lies ahead in Kherson as Ukrainian troops advance on occupying Russian forces, according to a Ukrainian presidential advisor. While Russia’s grip on the strategic territory is shakier than in previous months, it does not appear ready to abandon it. Rather, it appears to be digging in for prolonged fighting after ordering civilians to evacuate and inviting remaining men to local join militias.
Russia has sent a letter to the United Nations pushing its unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine is preparing to use a nuclear-laced “dirty bomb” on its own territory. In a 310-page document, it outlined Ukraine’s plan to use bioweapons, allegations vocally rejected and largely debunked by Ukrainian and Western officials and weapons experts.
Meanwhile, a member of Russia’s security council has called for the “de-Satanization” of Ukraine, claiming the country is home to hundreds of satanic sects and radicalism. The claims were met with ridicule by Ukrainian public figures.
WRITING ON WAR: And Living in a World from Hell
by Chris Hedges
As this century began, I was writing War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, my reflections on two decades as a war correspondent, 15 of them with the New York Times, in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, Bosnia, and Kosovo. I worked in a small, sparsely furnished studio apartment on First Avenue in New York City. The room had a desk, chair, futon, and a couple of bookshelves — not enough to accommodate my extensive library, leaving piles of books stacked against the wall. The single window overlooked a back alley.
The super, who lived in the first-floor apartment, smoked prodigious amounts of weed, leaving the grimy lobby stinking of pot. When he found out I was writing a book, he suggested I chronicle his moment of glory during the six days of clashes known as the Stonewall Riots, triggered by a 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village. He claimed he had thrown a trash can through the front window of a police cruiser.
It was a solitary life, broken by periodic visits to a small antique bookstore in the neighborhood that had a copy of the 1910-1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the last edition published for scholars. I couldn’t afford it, but the owner generously let me read entries from those 29 volumes written by the likes of Algernon Charles Swinburne, John Muir, T.H. Huxley, and Bertrand Russell. The entry for Catullus, several of whose poems I could recite from memory in Latin, read: “The greatest lyric poet of Rome.” I loved the certainty of that judgment — one that scholars today would not, I suspect, make, much less print.
There were days when I could not write. I would sit in despair, overcome by emotion, unable to cope with a sense of loss, of hurt, and the hundreds of violent images I carry within me. Writing about war was not cathartic. It was painful. I was forced to unwrap memories carefully swaddled in the cotton wool of forgetfulness. The advance on the book was modest: $25,000. Neither the publisher nor I expected many people to read it, especially with such an ungainly title. I wrote out of a sense of obligation, a belief that, given my deep familiarity with the culture of war, I should set it down. But I vowed, once done, never to willfully dredge up those memories again.
To the publisher’s surprise, the book exploded. Hundreds of thousands of copies were eventually sold. Big publishers, dollar signs in their eyes, dangled significant offers for another book on war. But I refused. I didn’t want to dilute what I had written or go through that experience again. I did not want to be ghettoized into writing about war for the rest of my life. I was done. To this day, I’m still unable to reread it.
The Open Wound of War
Yet it’s not true that I fled war. I fled my wars but would continue to write about other people’s wars. I know the wounds and scars. I know what’s often hidden. I know the anguish and guilt. It’s strangely comforting to be with others maimed by war. We don’t need words to communicate. Silence is enough.
I wanted to reach teenagers, the fodder of wars and the target of recruiters. I doubted many would read War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. I embarked on a text that would pose, and then answer, the most basic questions about war — all from military, medical, tactical, and psychological studies of combat. I operated on the assumption that the simplest and most obvious questions rarely get answered like: What happens to my body if I’m killed?
I hired a team of researchers, mostly graduate students at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, and, in 2003, we produced an inexpensive paperback — I fought the price down to $11 by giving away any future royalties — called What Every Person Should Know About War.
I worked closely on the book with Jack Wheeler, who had graduated from West Point in 1966 and then served in Vietnam, where 30 members of his class were killed. (Rick Atkinson’s The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point’s Class of 1966 is the story of Jack’s class.) Jack went on to Yale Law School after he left the military and became a presidential aide to Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, while chairing the drive to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
He struggled with what he called “the open wound of Vietnam” and severe depression. He was last seen on December 30, 2010, disoriented and wandering the streets of Wilmington, Delaware. The next day, his body was discovered as it was dumped from a garbage truck into the Cherry Island Landfill. The Delaware state medical examiner’s office said the cause of death was assault and “blunt force trauma.” Police ruled his death a homicide, a murder that would never be solved. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
The idea for the book came from the work of Harold Roland Shapiro, a New York lawyer who, while representing a veteran disabled in World War I, investigated that conflict, discovering a huge disparity between its reality and the public perception of it. His book was, however, difficult to find. I had to get a copy from the Library of Congress. The medical descriptions of wounds, Shapiro wrote, rendered “all that I had read and heard previously as being either fiction, isolated reminiscence, vague generalization or deliberate propaganda.” He published his book, What Every Young Man Should Know About War, in 1937. Fearing it might inhibit recruitment, he agreed to remove it from circulation at the start of World War II. It never went back into print.
The military is remarkably good at studying itself (although such studies aren’t easy to obtain). It knows how to use operant conditioning — the same techniques used to train a dog — to turn young men and women into efficient killers. It skillfully employs the tools of science, technology, and psychology to increase the lethal force of combat units. It also knows how to sell war as adventure, as well as the true route to manhood, comradeship, and maturity.
The callous indifference to life, including the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, leapt off the pages of the official documents. For example, the response to the question “What will happen if I am exposed to nuclear radiation but do not die immediately?” was answered in a passage from the Office of the Surgeon General’s Textbook of Military Medicine that read, in part:
Fatally irradiated soldiers should receive every possible palliative treatment, including narcotics, to prolong their utility and alleviate their physical and psychological distress. Depending on the amount of fatal radiation, such soldiers may have several weeks to live and to devote to the cause. Commanders and medical personnel should be familiar with estimating survival time based on onset of vomiting. Physicians should be prepared to give medications to alleviate diarrhea, and to prevent infection and other sequelae of radiation sickness in order to allow the soldier to serve as long as possible. The soldier must be allowed to make the full contribution to the war effort. He will already have made the ultimate sacrifice. He deserves a chance to strike back, and to do so while experiencing as little discomfort as possible.
Our book, as I hoped, turned up on Quaker anti-recruitment tables in high schools.
“I Am Sullied”
I was disgusted by the simplistic, often mendacious coverage of our post-9/11 war in Iraq, a country I had covered as the Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times. In 2007, I went to work with reporter Laila Al-Arian on a long investigative article in the Nation, “The Other War: Iraq Veterans Bear Witness,” that ended up in an expanded version as another book on war, Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians.
We spent hundreds of hours interviewing 50 American combat veterans of Iraq about atrocities they had witnessed or participated in. It was a damning indictment of the U.S. occupation with accounts of terrorizing and abusive house raids, withering suppressing fire routinely laid down in civilian areas to protect American convoys, indiscriminate shooting from patrols, the large kill radius of detonations and air strikes in populated areas, and the slaughter of whole families who approached military checkpoints too closely or too quickly. The reporting made headlines in newspapers across Europe but was largely ignored in the U.S., where the press was generally unwilling to confront the feel-good narrative about “liberating” the people of Iraq.
For the book’s epigraph, we used a June 4, 2005, suicide note left by Colonel Theodore “Ted” Westhusing for his commanders in Iraq. Westhusing (whom I was later told had read and recommended War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning) was the honor captain of his 1983 West Point class. He shot himself in the head with his 9mm Beretta service revolver. His suicide note — think of it as an epitaph for the global war on terror – read in part:
Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [Redacted name] — You are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff — no msn [mission] support and you don’t care. I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am sullied — no more. I didn’t volunteer to support corrupt, money-grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.
The war in Ukraine raised the familiar bile, the revulsion at those who don’t go to war and yet revel in the mad destructive power of violence. Once again, by embracing a childish binary universe of good and evil from a distance, war was turned into a morality play, gripping the popular imagination. Following our humiliating defeat in Afghanistan and the debacles of Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, here was a conflict that could be sold to the public as restoring American virtue. Russian President Vladimir Putin, like Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein, instantly became the new Hitler. Ukraine, which most Americans undoubtedly couldn’t have found on a map, was suddenly the front line in the eternal fight for democracy and liberty.
The orgiastic celebration of violence took off.
The Ghosts of War
It’s impossible, under international law, to defend Russia’s war in Ukraine, as it is impossible to defend our invasion of Iraq. Preemptive war is a war crime, a criminal war of aggression. Still, putting the invasion of Ukraine in context was out of the question. Explaining — as Soviet specialists (including famed Cold War diplomat George F. Kennan) had — that expanding NATO into Central and Eastern Europe was a provocation to Russia was forbidden. Kennan had called it “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era” that would “send Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”
In 1989, I had covered the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania that signaled the coming collapse of the Soviet Union. I was acutely aware of the “cascade of assurances” given to Moscow that NATO, founded in 1949 to prevent Soviet expansion in Eastern and Central Europe, would not spread beyond the borders of a unified Germany. In fact, with the end of the Cold War, NATO should have been rendered obsolete.
I naively thought we would see the promised “peace dividend,” especially with the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reaching out to form security and economic alliances with the West. In the early years of Vladimir Putin’s rule, even he lent the U.S. military a hand in its war on terror, seeing in it Russia’s own struggle to contain Islamic extremists spawned by its wars in Chechnya. He provided logistical support and resupply routes for American forces fighting in Afghanistan. But the pimps of war were having none of it. Washington would turn Russia into the enemy, with or without Moscow’s cooperation.
The newest holy crusade between angels and demons was launched.
War unleashes the poison of nationalism, with its twin evils of self-exaltation and bigotry. It creates an illusory sense of unity and purpose. The shameless cheerleaderswho sold us the war in Iraq are once again on the airwaves beating the drums of war for Ukraine. As Edward Said once wrote about these courtiers to power:
Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s own eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.
I was pulled back into the morass. I found myself writing for Scheerpost and my Substack site, columns condemning the bloodlusts Ukraine unleashed. The provision of more than $50 billion in weapons and aid to Ukraine not only means the Ukrainian government has no incentive to negotiate, but that it condemns hundreds of thousands of innocents to suffering and death. For perhaps the first time in my life, I found myself agreeing with Henry Kissinger, who at least understands realpolitik, including the danger of pushing Russia and China into an alliance against the U.S., while provoking a major nuclear power.
Greg Ruggiero, who runs City Lights Publishers, urged me to write a book on this new conflict. At first, I refused, not wanting to resurrect the ghosts of war. But looking back at my columns, articles, and talks since the publication of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning in 2002, I was surprised at how often I had circled back to war.
I rarely wrote about myself or my experiences. I sought out those discarded as the human detritus of war, the physically and psychologically maimed like Tomas Young, a quadriplegic wounded in Iraq, whom I visited recently in Kansas City after he declared that he was ready to disconnect his feeding tube and die.
It made sense to put those pieces together to denounce the newest intoxication with industrial slaughter. I stripped the chapters down to war’s essence with titles like “The Act of Killing,” “Corpses” or “When the Bodies Come Home.”
The Greatest Evil Is War has just been published by Seven Stories Press.
This, I pray, will be my final foray into the subject.
MY LITTLE CRITICS
My little critics must all have been brought up by their Aunties
who petted them, and had them fixed
to save them from undesirable associations.
It must be so. Otherwise
the sight of an ordinary Tom wouldn’t send them into such silly hysterics,
my little critics, dear, safe little pets.
— D. H. Lawrence (1930)
WORTHLESS HOUSE PROGRESSIVES Retract Mild Peace Advocacy Under Pressure From Warmongers
by Caitlin Johnstone
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has retracted an extremely mild, toothless letter its members had written to President Biden politely asking him to consider adding a little diplomacy into the mix to help end the conflict in Ukraine. The retraction followed a deluge of public outrage against their slight deviation from the official imperial narrative.
If you actually read the original letter signed by House progressives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman and Ro Khanna, you will quickly see that it’s as innocuous and anodyne as any statement could possibly be while still containing words. It opens with effusive praise for Biden’s interventionism in Ukraine and condemns the Russian government unequivocally throughout, offering only the humble suggestion that he “pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.” Its authors make it abundantly clear that they support making sure such diplomacy is agreeable to Ukraine at every step of the way.
This impotent nothing salad was bizarrely spun by The Washington Post as a call on Biden to “dramatically shift his strategy on the Ukraine war,” despite nothing that could be remotely construed as “dramatic” existing anywhere in the body of the text. The letter received backlash from warmongers in both parties, including from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was personally slammed by Bernie Sanders, the pope of American progressivism. Trolls and warmongers swarmed the social media notifications of every account which posted the letter in an official capacity, mindlessly bleating the words “appeasement” and “Chamberlain” in unison.
In a statement on the retraction of the letter, CPC chair Pramila Jayapal says she accepts responsibility for the publication of the offending act of peacemongering while in the same breath blaming its publication on her staff.
“The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting. As Chair of the Caucus, I accept responsibility for this,” Jayapal said.
“Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory,” the statement reads, ignoring mainstream reports that US officials quietly believe Ukraine stands no chance at outright victory in this war. “The letter sent yesterday, although restating that basic principle, has been conflated with GOP opposition to support for the Ukrainians’ just defense of their national sovereignty. As such, it is a distraction at this time and we withdraw the letter.”
Empire critics were quick to highlight the obsequious nature of this retraction.
“For progressives, I didn’t think it could get more pathetic than voting for a disastrous proxy war that the US provoked and prolonged, handing billions to arms makers in the process. In retracting their tepid call for diplomacy and blaming staffers for it, they somehow surpassed it,” tweeted Aaron Maté.
“Certainly speaks to the insanely hawkish atmosphere in Washington that pressured the progressive caucus to withdrawal a totally reasonable, responsible and necessary call for diplomacy in a conflict that risks escalating to nuclear armageddon,” tweeted Rania Khalek.
“Imagine being elected to Congress based on promises of challenging ‘the establishment’ or whatever, then being so petrified of anger from bipartisan DC establishment mavens that you can’t even wait 24 hours before meekly retracting the only mild dissent you’ve expressed,” tweeted Glenn Greenwald.
I don’t know what pressures were the ultimate deciding factor in the CPC’s decision to retract its feeble advocacy for a bit more diplomacy, or how much of that pressure was brought to bear behind the scenes by bigger political monsters in the Beltway swamp, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. The important take-home from this lesson, once again, is that progressive Democrats are worse than worthless at opposing the mechanisms of oligarchy and empire.
In fact if you look at their actions it’s not even really accurate to describe them as “progressive Democrats” as though they are a faction that has meaningful differences with the rest of that party. Aside from the occasional empty soundbyte about healthcare or debt forgiveness, they’re not doing anything to advance progressive agendas which make American lives better, and they’re certainly doing nothing to impede the expansion of the US war machine.
The progressive Democrat is a myth, like the good billionaire or the righteous American war. “The Squad” is nothing more than the social media-savvy branch of the Democratic establishment. The United States has two warmongering oligarchic parties, and a tremendous amount of narrative management goes into manipulating, cajoling and coercing Americans into staying psychologically plugged in to that fraudulent political paradigm.
This comes at the same time the defense minister of Romania was forced to resign for saying peace talks were necessary to achieve peace in Ukraine. It just reveals so much about where we’re at and where we’re headed that the most incendiary and outrageous thing you can say in our society is that we should probably attempt to diplomatically de-escalate hostilities between nuclear superpowers. The fact that the Overton window of acceptable political discourse has already been dragged that far in the direction of warmongering insanity prevents peace from ever having any space to get a word in edgewise.