By Tommy Hough
From The Bridge On the River Kwai to A Bridge Too Far, the British have a fondness for their disasters when it comes to war movies. That fondness never quite became part of the American DNA, and perhaps it's a kind of national maturity that Great Britain long ago arrived at, which countries like the United States – a comparatively "moody teenager" among nations at 241 years old – still haven't been able to embrace in themselves.
Perhaps a part of that maturity is taking defeats and disasters and finding the lessons and heroism in what are otherwise dark and desperate hours. And as vividly illustrated in Christopher Nolan's new movie Dunkirk, there's also the characteristic British quality of quietly enduring in the face of despair, tragedy and rotten luck.
Dunkirk was a military disaster in that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), sent to France at the outset of World War II in Sept. 1939, was forced to retreat from the Germans nine months later in the spring of 1940 in a humiliating rout. As a final insult, British forces were forced to leave all of their artillery, tanks, heavy guns and equipment on the beach in France in order to save themselves.
The Germans, already aware of the general Allied strategy, designed their invasion of Holland and Belgium in May 1940 to also serve as a trap for the BEF and the French. It worked perfectly. When the Germans attacked, the BEF and three of the best French armies moved north to fight to fight the Wehrmacht in Belgium – just as the Germans expected them to.
While Holland and Belgium were important to Hitler, it was also something of a decoy. The main thrust of the German offensive was to conquer France, and it came several days later through the hilly, forested region of the Ardennes along the Belgian-French border to the south – an area naively thought to be impassable by French commanders who still thought in terms of static World War I battles. The Germans, however, came fighting the mobile, Blitzkrieg war of 1940.
The effect was shattering. The Germans quickly took Sedan and crossed the Meuse River – something they'd never been able to accomplish in four years of fighting in World War I – and made a beeline for the sea at the English Channel, cutting off the BEF and French armies to the north from the weaker armies in the south, which had been left to guard Paris.
French leadership, immersed in political power struggles instead of focusing on a strategy beyond their Maginot Line fortifications, exacerbated the problem. As chaos reigned in Paris, German forces moved in to annihilate the trapped British and French armies in the north. They nearly succeeded.
The result was a decision by the British high command to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force, understanding that once France fell, England would be next on Hitler's invasion list. Great Britain needed its army back – they would soon be fighting Hitler alone (the Soviet Union and United States wouldn’t enter the war until the following year). Ultimately, Britain also evacuated thousands of trapped French and Belgian soldiers.
In a modern miracle, dozens of commercial transports, along with a flotilla of thousands of so-called "little ships" made up of fishing vessels, trawlers, yachts and other pleasure craft steamed across the English Channel to the besieged French port to rescue their army. The British were reluctant to commit the bulk of the Royal Navy to the rescue, in part because they needed to conserve their resources to defend the home islands, and because smaller boats were less likely to be attacked by enemy submarines and aircraft – a point illustrated early in the Dunkirk operation in several calamitous sinkings. Those rescues and the risks at sea make up one portion of Dunkirk, which opens in theaters this weekend.
In the film, Nolan introduces us to mostly unnamed characters in the air, on the sea, and on the beach, sometimes finding their way onto ships, only to have them torpedoed out from under them and ending up on the same beach again. A minimum of dialogue is used, with a persistent, pulsating score that ratchets the tension to unbearable levels and highlights the episodic dilemmas on-screen. Several audience members near my wife and I were visibly fidgeting in their seats with anxiety during these intense scenes.
This isn't like any war film you've seen. The closest approximation may 1998's The Thin Red Line, except there is never a dull moment in this briskly-paced film. Like other Christopher Nolan efforts, the narrative has an elastic, non-linear quality, as the different air, sea and beach scenes often land at different points along the film's timeline. It's an effective device that worked in Nolan's Memento, as well as Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and it punctuates the disorienting situations the characters find themselves in.
The film is also a sensory experience. The IMAX photography is incredible and the sound design is a revelation. The gunshots are jarring and ear-splittingly loud, the soundtrack works in relation to the sense of space on the screen, and the scenes of Stuka dive bombers swooping down upon ships and men are made even more excruciating – as they certainly would’ve been in 1940 – by the use of sound (the Germans fitted Stuka aircraft with sirens intended to terrify those on the ground).
The aerial scenes involving Tom Hardy's cool, professional RAF pilot who has to constantly gauge the gasoline supply in his Spitfire are like nothing you've seen. You immediately get some idea of how difficult it would've been to fly these airplanes and engage in air-to-air combat against equally resourceful and well-trained Luftwaffe pilots, flying equally state-of-the-art Messerschmitt ME-109s.
Keep in mind too, there's no CGI used in this movie – those are real ships sinking on-screen, real stunts, and real aircraft. That the filmmakers were able to get their hands on working Supermarine Spitfires over 70 years after the end of World War II is impressive. For war movie fans, it's akin to the production team of 2014's Fury getting a still-working, albeit restored German Tiger tank on-screen.
Incredibly, the filmmakers also found working versions of the Heinkel-111 bomber and Messershmitt ME-109 fighters. While almost all of those original German-operated aircraft were destroyed during and after the war, the production team located several models that had been built under contract in Nazi-allied Spain during the 1940s, but with generally unseen engine and structural modifications added by Spanish engineers.
The lasting effect of this surprisingly quick movie (one hour, 40 minutes) is of tired soldiers on the beach, patiently waiting to go home, who are also irritable and quick to turn on each other when they've had enough. This leads to several small-scale scenarios that quickly escalate, highlighting what Oliver Stone called the "dog tired, don't-give-a-damn" attitude of sleep-deprived infantrymen who are still 19-year old kids armed with the power of life and death – and conditioned by combat not to play nice.
By Tommy Hough
It's pretty obvious I love this country, and I love working to make it a better place. Things may not be perfect in the U.S. – especially right now – and we may face a variety of challenges, but no one ever said crafting "a more perfect union" was going to happen by itself without citizens getting involved with heart, sweat and elbow grease. Standing on the sidelines just doesn't cut it with me.
That's why I was a little disappointed, and a little surprised, that California didn't make the top 10 list of the nation's most patriotic states. Simply by virtue of being the biggest state in the Union, shouldn't we get something of an automatic pass on this? California has more Americans than any other state. In fact, San Diego County has a bigger population than some states. Isn't volume of Americans in of itself inherently patriotic?
You want more? Californians turn out at a rate to vote above the national average. We have more registered voters, more citizens involved in civic organizations and political processes, we innovate advancements that the rest of the country eventually adopts, we have the longest shoreline in the lower 48 states, we share an international border, we have the Navy and Marines right here in San Diego County and a massive veteran popluation that fuels our workforce, and brings greater diversity every day to our corner of the U.S.
You want medical devices, medical research, miracle cures and groundbreaking software? You come to California. Heck, we invented Viagra and the smartphone, so back off.
We have wolves, bears, snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, black widows, brown recluses, and all kinds of venomous insects crawling out of the woodpile to kill you. We fight wildfires, rising sea levels and ride our way through earthquakes in the doorway while putting away a breakfast burrito before we even start our star-spangled day.
Oh, and we have the kind of genuine American natural heritage that few states can touch, including icons like Yosemite, the Redwoods, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, the Mojave and Colorado deserts, not to mention the Golden Gate, surfers, Disneyland, Hollywood, fish tacos, food composting and we invented Star Wars and Star Trek. Led Zeppelin wrote a song about coming here. We’re so vast we have our own gasoline refined for us that burns cleaner and is more efficient. We’re the sixth biggest economy in the world. Our governor was a seminarian-turned-hippie and is now a worldwide ambassador on fighting climate change – and the guy who was governor before him played The Terminator.
Shall we go on?
Okay, fine. General Patton was a Californian (he was from the San Gabriel Valley). Reagan was a Californian, and governor for eight years. Nancy Pelosi is a Californian. George Lucas is a Californian. Chances are any band you ever liked is from California or found success here. Whether it's Metallica, Cypress Hill, Guns and Roses, Tupac Shakur, Sonny and Cher, Green Day, the Grateful Dead, Rocket from the Crypt, The Byrds, N.W.A. or the Beach Boys – even Nirvana recorded Nevermind in California (Sound City in Van Nuys). Yes, in ZZ Top's "Jesus Just Left Chicago" Jesus was bound for New Orleans – but where did he go first on the way to Mardi Gras?
So, keeping in mind that we also have the coolest state flag in the U.S., let's critque this list of the most patriotic U.S. states:
1. Virginia – Nice state, actually. You've got a lot of D.C., plus Blacksburg, Richmond, Spotsylvania, Appomattox, Harper's Ferry, the Shenandoah Valley and some nice beaches – but ours are nicer and our sand is easier on the feet. And we'll take our Yellowtail and halibut any day over your Chesapeake Bay blue fish and flounder. And pardon me, but – phew – is it low tide?
2. Alaska – Okay, you've got more bald eagles than us, more mountains, more wolves and some huge National Parks. That's cool. But as for an overall number of Americans, we've got millions more of them than you. And sorry, but you still have to answer for Sarah Palin.
3. Wyoming – You've got Yellowstone and the Tetons, but even Alaska has more people than you. And you get by on civic engagement only because there's so few people there that if your citizens weren't engaged in the first place everything would grind to a halt, but then we wouldn't hear about it for a couple of years. Next.
4. South Carolina – Charleston is a great city, but I made a fool of myself over a redhead once in Spartanburg so you're docked a notch for that. And while you get points for having the gorge where Deliverance was filmed, you're also the state where Forrest Gump was filmed. "Run Forrest!"
5. Colorado – Okay, Colorado is pretty great, and let's face it, you're an honorary west coast state anyway. But we've got beaches along with our mountains, and our craft beer is better.
6. Washington – Okay, okay. Everyone knows I used to live in Washington. Yes, I really love it there and I miss a lot of things about it, from Mount Rainier to the North Cascades to the Olympic Peninsula to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the Puget Sound ferry system. But again, our craft beer is better.
7. Hawaii – Let’s not forget that the Pacific Fleet was moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor as a deterrent. Some deterrent. Nice state though.
8. Idaho – The Gem State has more designated Wilderness than any other state in the lower 48, your rivers are clean and the fishing is incredible, and it's where they filmed Napoloen Dynamite. That's awesome. But how's your voter turnout been lately? I mean, your governor is named Butch Otter.
9. Georgia – Well, I am a Jimmy Carter fan, and John Wayne did shoot The Green Berets there. Except Georgia looks nothing like Vietnam. Georgia, on the other hand, does have more Waffle House locations than we do.
10. North Carolina – Seriously? The only reason they shot The Hunger Games there was because of tax breaks. Beautuful state though, from Nags Head to Ashville.
But no matter where in the U.S.A. you may live, we wish you a fun and safe Independence Day holiday – because no matter how much you may think you hate California, our trees are bigger, our beaches are better, we're driving faster, and we're going to love you right back regardless. Namaste. Now come on over here for a safe, empowering and space-approrpriate hug.
This piece originally appeared on the 91X website.
Bald eagle photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Yosemite National Park photo by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
I can appreciate that when you're in traffic and trying to drive from one place to another, you may not be seeing the best of humanity outside your car window. And your instincts aren't entirely off. We're really awful to each other on the road here in San Diego, and it turns out, we're not such good drivers either.
San Diegans are ranked the fifth-worst drivers in the nation in a new survey of 75 U.S. cities. While this is based upon data compiled on traffic accidents, speeding tickets, DUIs and moving violations like running a red light or using a cell phone while driving, it's also based upon the general vibe people have on the road around here. We're not just in a hurry, we're in a hurry for you to get the hell out of our way.
And get this, we place one ahead of L.A. on the survey – they're in sixth place, we're in fifth. That's an unhappy little placement. But who are the worst drivers in the nation?
Welcome to Sacramento – I'm not sure what's in the water at the confluence of the American and San Joaquin rivers, but apparently it isn't good manners or driver's intuition.
Being at number five, San Diego is right behind Richmond, Virginia; our Inland Empire neighbors in Riverside; and Salt Lake City. Yeah, I thought the drivers in Salt Lake City would've been nicer and more relaxed too.
As for U.S. cities with the best drivers, Detroit, Michigan led the list, followed by Providence, Rhode Island; Orlando and Miami, both in Florida; and Little Rock, Arkansas. So, in a way, Detroit's old nickname of the Motor City still applies – and for courtesy. Who would've guessed?
Meanwhile, San Diegans – take it easy. Take your eyes off your smartphone or the fish taco you're stuffing in your mouth and pay attention to the road and your driving, and remember to be aware of the humanity in the cars around you.
In an effort to make drivers more conscientious, someone once said to drive as though everyone else on the road were members of your own family – until they realized that might actually cause MORE road rage, not less.
This piece originally appeared on the 91X website.
Photos by Tommy Hough
By Tommy Hough
It may be the first full day of summer, but our current heat wave has already broken records, and none is more impressive, and perhaps more ominous, than the highest temperature ever recorded in San Diego County – 124 degrees in Ocotillo Wells, a milestone even for the desert hamlet between Anza-Borrego and the Salton Sea.
Ever been there? You probably know Ocotillo Wells for being someplace you quickly drive through when you're heading east on Route 78 out of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park towards Highway 86 to get to the Imperial or Coachella valleys, or perhaps you're one of those people that likes to ride dirtbikes and quads out in the desert at Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.
And while hot temperatures in the desert may not strike you as newsworthy, remember, a 124 degree reading is a full 30 degrees hotter than a 94 degree reading – and no one is going to argue with you if you call a 94 degree day a "hot one." But at 124 degrees, even air traffic is affected, as was the case yesterday at Palm Springs Airport, where it was only (!) 121 degrees.
According to the Palm Springs Desert Sun, American Airlines cancelled seven flights between Phoenix and Palm Springs due to the hot weather. American's regional flights use Bombardier CRJ aircraft, which has a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. Phoenix hit a high of 120 yesterday.
Despite rumors of melting asphalt on runways, the real problem is extreme heat affects a plane's ability to take off. Hot air is less dense than cold air, and the hotter the temperature, the more speed a plane needs to lift off. Hard as it may be to believe, with record heat a runway may not be long enough to allow a plane to achieve the necessary extra speed needed to take off. So be thankful for the thick coastal air we have at Lindbergh Field that our inbound and outbound flights are able to chew into.
Meanwhile, Ocotillo Wells wasn't the only hot spot in the county, as Borrego Springs hit 120. Not to be outdone, Death Valley National Park in Inyo County still won as the hottest locale in the state yesterday, coming in at 127 degrees. Expect more hot summers and record-high temperatures in our deserts, and eventually, points closer to the coast, as global warming continues to extend summers and warm California even further.
Our friend Gary Robbins wrote up more about the heat wave in today's Union-Tribune.
By Tommy Hough
Seventy-five years ago this week, the United States was in a fight for its life.
While the Battle of Midway in June 1942 resulted in a thundering defeat for Japan as four of its front-line carriers were sunk, the Japanese fleet remained an immediate threat throughout the Guadalcanal and Solomons campaign into early 1943. It wasn't until the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 that the air arm of the Imperial Japanese Navy was fully destroyed, and even with that loss Japan continued to fight on for another year, with the bloody campaigns in the the Palau Islands, the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa to follow.
All of this was far off and unimaginable in early 1942. The U.S. had declared war on Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan in December 1941, but only Japan had actually attacked the United States – infamously, as President Roosevelt said in his declaration of war – in the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy and overall commander of the Kito Butai battle group that carried out the attack on Hawaii, was opposed to the idea of war with the U.S., but hoped the strike on Pearl Harbor would deliver such a knockout blow the U.S. would have no choice but to sue for peace.
While the Japanese attack was indeed devastating, the one target Yamamoto had prioritized for destruction above all else had the good fortune of not being at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. As it turned out, the aircraft carriers Lexington, Saratoga and Enterprise were all at sea looking for the Japanese fleet the morning of the attack.
Adolf Hitler declared war on the U.S. four days after Pearl Harbor and the U.S. responded in kind, but it was the nation's seething desire for revenge and retribution against Japan that fueled the American public's attention in early 1942. Even as America's new Soviet allies were stopping the German Wehrmacht at the gates of Moscow, and the British were chasing German forces across North Africa, U.S. focus was solely on the Pacific.
At first, things did not go well. In fact, by the spring of 1942, the American public was reeling from a string of bitter disasters and humiliations.
In February the Ellwood Oil Field north of Santa Barbara was shelled by a Japanese submarine, which led to the phantom "Battle of Los Angeles" in the skies over L.A. days several nights later, as trigger-happy anti-aircraft gunners shot away for hours at what they thought were Japanese planes. There were none, but panicked drivers caused dozens of traffic accidents around the city as spent shells fell out of the sky.
Sadly, this only increased the paranoia that led to President Roosevelt signing of the notorious Executive Order 9066, which committed Japanese-American citizens on the west coast to internment for the remainder of the war, even though a Roosevelt administration study from the previous fall advised against such a move in the event of war with Japan.
In the war zone, things went from bad to worse.
The U.S. territory of Guam in the Mariana Islands was overrun by the Japanese shortly after Pearl Harbor, and a planned task force mission to rescue besieged Wake Island was cancelled at the last minute by nervous commanders in Hawaii who feared a Japanese invasion – thereby sealing the fate of Wake Island's U.S. marine and civilian contractor defenders, many of whom were murdered in captivity by the Japanese 18 months later.
The Japanese seized Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, then moved south to capture Singapore in what became a humiliating rout for the British. The Royal Navy's Repulse and Prince of Wales, two of the world's newest and technologically superior warships, were sunk within minutes of each other by the air arm of Japan's Kito Butai, demonstrating once and for all that capable and well-deployed air power would readily overcome sea power, no matter the size of the dreadnoughts.
The USS Houston, one of FDR's favorite ships and the pride of the U.S. Pacific fleet, was sunk with a dozen obsolete cruisers and destroyers of a combined task force of U.S., British, Australian and Dutch warships in defense of the Dutch East Indies in the calamitous Battle of the Java Sea.
Japanese forces landed at New Guinea, and despite being at the end of a long supply line into the South Pacific, were soon threatening sea routes to Australia. The Kito Butai raided British ships and bases in the Indian Ocean, then shifted eastward to support the bombing of mainland Australia at Darwin in February 1942. It seemed as though nothing could stop the Japanese advance.
With decades of hubris fueling defensive measures, all of the British heavy guns at Singapore faced seaward in order to hold off an expected amphibious invasion. No one in the British Far East command ever considered an attack on Singapore would come from the rear, through the "impassable" jungles of Malaysia. So the Japanese did just that, attacking by way of the landward route down the Malayan peninsula, and deafeating the massive British garrison in just seven days.
The defeat at Singapore, in which British forces far outnumbered the Japanese at the time of surrender, remains one of the United Kingdom's most ignominous defeats, as over 130,000 troops were taken prisoner in the largest surrender of British-led forces in history.
U.S. forces in the Philippines held out in a desperate rearguard action until May 1942, following a well-executed retreat from the mainland of Luzon to the Bataan peninsula shortly after the Japanese landings. While the American defense of Bataan slowed the overall Japanese offensive in the Pacific, there was no meaningful way a relief effort could reach the Philippines, now far behind enemy lines. Bataan fell in April, and the fortified island of Corregidor – which blocked access into Manila Bay – fell in May. Over 100,000 U.S. and Filippino troops surrendered in the the largest mass capitulation in U.S. history. It remains America's worst military disaster.
Even as the bad news unfolded throughout the Pacific, U.S. carrier forces quickly regrouped after the shock of Pearl Harbor and stayed at sea as repairs got underway on Oahu. The Yorktown and Enterprise battle groups led hit-and-run raids on Japanese bases in the Gilbert and Marshall islands at the end of January 1942, and while the raids themselves had little military impact, it gave U.S. carrier pilots and fleet operations valuable combat experience that would serve them well later in the year.
Then, in April 1942, in one of the most audacious attacks in the history of warfare, the USS Hornet, recalled from U-Boat patrol duty in the Atlantic, launched land-based Army B-25 bombers from its deck 650 miles from Japan to attack the Japanese mainland in the Doolittle Raid. Planning for the operation had begun shortly after Pearl Harbor, and the feat of launching large, land-based bombers from an aircraft carrier was never repeated again in the war – in part because the carriers could barely launch the bombers to begin with, and definitely could not retrieve them.
Most of the bomber crews, including the mission's namesake commander James Doolitle, crash-landed in China, with one aircraft landing in the Soviet Union. Several crews were captured by the Japanese in occupied China, and several Doolittle raiders were put to death by the Japanese as war criminals. While the raid barely scratched Japanese industry, it did have the desired effect of shocking the Japanese populace into realizing their nation could be attacked. The Doolittle Raid was also a desperately needed shot in the arm for U.S. morale, coming days after the fall of Bataan.
Admiral Yamamoto was keenly aware that he had missed the U.S. carriers at Pearl Harbor, and as the raids on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands and the Doolittle Raid made clear, the Americans were making effective use of their carriers along the edge of Japan's new strategic perimeter. Yamamoto knew that Japan's newly-conquered island territories, stretching far out into the Pacific, were too far apart to offer mutual support. The admiral also knew he would be facing the might of U.S. industrial output by early 1943 as new ships, materiel and men arrived in the theater at a rate the Japanese could never hope to match.
As Yamamoto concluded another try at a knockout blow was necessary, the Battle of the Coral Sea unfolded in the waters off Australia in May 1942. Here, in the first major carrier battle of the Pacific War, the Japanese advance was at last checked as carrier-based aircraft, rather than battleships and cruisers, carried the fight to the enemy. The Lexington was lost in the battle, but the fight compelled Yamomoto to act quickly. He needed an operation that would compel U.S. forces to respond, and draw them out into what he and other Japanese naval officers felt would be the penultimate naval battle between the two fleets, in which Japan would deliver the decisive blow.
Curiously, this strategy was based upon the theories of U.S. Admiral Alfred Mahan, America's leading naval strategist of the late 19th century. Mahan's teachings were considered gospel by the officer corps of the Imperial Japanese Navy, even though they had been largely abandoned by U.S. commanders, having been developed nearly 50 years before and never fully realized in real, wartime scenarios.
To Yamamoto, an invasion of the island of Midway seemed to be the best option to draw the Americans out to fight. A stopover for Pan American commercial traffic heading to Asia ("midway" from San Francisco to destinations in China), Midway had grown into a major U.S. Army outpost, and was technically part of the Hawaiian Islands chain, albeit to the extreme northwest. Yamamoto felt the Americans would be obliged to defend it.
As it turned out, the Americans were listening.
By Tommy Hough
Today, Donald Trump inflicted a grievous wound upon everything the United States has stood for since 1945.
Today, instead of maintaining our role as a world leader, free with the ideas, empathy and support a nation born in hard-won liberty can provide, we have ceded that leadership.
Under a foul pretense of populism and phony patriotism in a rambling and thoroughly logic-free speech, Mr. Trump has cast our nation's long-standing mantle of leadership into the wind, like a used wrapper or discarded newspaper. China and Russia will surely benefit from our absence.
Today, instead of leading the world by example of American grit, innovation and intelligence, President Trump has moved the United States from a column with 195 nations to a column with two – Syria and Nicaragua. These are the only other nations, now along with the United States, not a party to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
The reasons for Syria's absence from this landmark document are clear. The reasons for the Trump-led United States should be clear as well.
Trump is a man with no moral or ideological center. He is a child, moved only by the last people who spoke with him. In this case, it was White House adviser Steve "Breitbart" Bannon, and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – a man who has made a career off suing the EPA and has now been tasked with dismantling the once-laudable agency and gutting its staff of expertise and decades of research with the civility of a dumpster fire.
Trump may believe he's a bold political juggernaut by pulling the U.S. out of a global agreement that brought together an astonishing number of nations to face down and combat climate change, but he is only defying the wishes of well over half the nation's citizens in favor of a loud, cruel constituency no longer made up of conservatives or even Republicans – but rather, talk radio listeners, internet trolls, radical authoritarians, deranged Infowars addicts and wealthy suburbanites who can't stop looking over their shoulder.
Trump even turned a blind eye to the dozens of CEOs and corporate leaders (!) committed to becoming more energy efficient and reliant upon renewable energy, including business leaders he brought into his orbit to allegedly advise him, like Tesla innovator Elon Musk. All now clearly a matter of time-wasting optics.
Even oil companies aren't so cynical as to have called for the U.S. to leave the Paris Climate Accord, knowing full well that oil is a finite resource that is expensive to find, litigate and extract, and that renewable energy is cheaper to produce and infinite as long as there is sun and wind. But in the Trump White House, only the president's enablers have access to their "useful idiot," as they feed him another scrap of fake news and manipulative compliments.
If Trump or the modern Republican Party actually cared about economic issues, they'd be supportive of the move to cleaner energy for no other reason than it is becoming cheaper to harness and utilize. In developing countries that have no coal industry to protect, the price of solar is now half the price of coal.
And even though China remains an importer of U.S. coal, the administration would be loathe to admit that China cancelled the construction of 110 coal plants in January – enough to meet the total annual electricity needs of Germany. China is rolling out solar at an unprecedented rate, and the whole world understands it is a far better economic move to go with un-subsidized clean energy than to stick with coal.
If we do not come together as Democrats and jettison the rudderless suspicions and trivial intraparty spats when there is zero sunlight between us on the biggest issues of our time, and effectively take on the Trump White House and ongoing GOP machine of lies, evasion and ignorance, we do not deserve to inherit the leadership our nation so desperately needs.
To defeat the Wall of Ignorance across the aisle we need to repeat realities again and again, like how the state of California employs more people in the renewable energy sector than there are coal jobs in all of the United States. As the memory of a functional, bicameral legislature working on a shared reality in the interest of all Americans slips into obscurity, it has become our charge to rescue our nation from a new Dark Age.
If we don't come together at this moment, we will miss the opportunity to reclaim the direction of our nation and willfully carry what I call the "burden of the party of good government." We must focus, NOW on 2018 and 2020. We must unify NOW. We must show the world Americans are still committed to the same American values of progress and equality that have inspired so many corners of the globe. We must reclaim our planet's health in the name of all Americans and citizens of earth.
Our democracy has never faced a threat quite like the mania of the Trump administration and the runaway nihilism of the 115th Congress. We must counter Mr. Trump and his cabal at every turn, and we must decisively defeat them in 2018 and 2020. Only then can we begin to assess the damage and re-build what Trump is rapidly desecrating.
We begin by coming together NOW and moving forward together. We begin by unifying over our abundance of common ground. We begin by acknowledging that what has become of our nation cannot stand. We begin by ignoring the small grains of sand on the floor and instead fight to keep the landslide next door from inundating our families and ourselves.
To our president, I can only add:
History will not be kind to you, Mr. Trump, and neither will we. You are a child who cannot weigh the abundant evidence around you, or consider our nation's standing in the world without squandering it.
You recklessly fail our country, and now, our planet, at every turn – even as immense opportunities for progress stare you in the face and lie within your grasp. If only you and your family weren't so busy raiding our nation's coffers to notice. If only you cared to act upon the boundless opportunities the office you hold offers you. In the end, you're incapable of even making your own bad decisions, unless they come down to 140 characters.
In a matter of months you have become the president of nothing. All but the paranoid and prejudiced loathe you.
We will move this nation forward in spite of you, but we will not forget your treacherous ignorance, and the damage and humiliation you continue to pile upon our country, which we remain proud of and believe in, in spite of the stain which you visit upon the Oval Office.
You sir, have become liberty's darkest hour.
We will remind you at every turn of what you have done. And we will defeat you on any level playing field of ideas, reality and reason.
History will not be kind, sir. Neither will we.
Bald eagle photo by Randy Hume
Tree of Nations graphic by Marie Guillard
By Tommy Hough
It's almost too much to bear upon hearing of the death of Chris Cornell.
If there was any musical reason for why I first visited Seattle and then came to make the city and the Pacific Northwest my home for several very intense, wonderful years, Soundgarden may have been it. Whatever it was that they had in the water there, I thought, I wanted some of it.
It may be hard to appreciate now, but before there was Nirvana, there was Soundgarden. Young as they were at the time, they became something of the elder statesmen of what came to be the Seattle scene. They were the first Seattle band I became aware of and sank my teeth into. From there it was a short move of the needle to Tad, Green River, and the entire Sub Pop catalogue.
While I initially missed their first couple of EPs, I first heard them via the cruddy-sounding (and just-remastered) Ultramega OK album, which didn’t even come out on Sub Pop, but on the Lawndale-based SST label. Like all Seattle bands of the era, they were rock, but there was punk urgency and metal appreciation in what were grooves – not poses. These guys liked rock for the bass-heavy, Sabbath-like guts, not the preening B.S. of Sunset Strip hair metal that was so insufferably in vogue at the time. They were different. They were weird. They thudded and sounded great loud.
Then came Louder Than Love. Being newly-signed to A&M Records, Soundgarden were now on a "major label," the first Seattle band of the era to do so. "Hands All Over" was about the Exxon Valdez oil spill instead of heavy petting. "Full On Kevin's Mom" was actually about getting it on with Kevin's mom. "Gun" was creepy, not swaggering. "Loud Love" was a sonic knockout.
Shortly after Louder Than Love came out, they were named the "ugliest band" by a teen magazine called Sassy. That might've been the coolest damn thing ever.
With that, I'd found my band.
I realize we're all getting older, and sometimes we lose friends along the way. Layne was something of an anticipated shock. But then we lost Prince last year at a young age. We lost Scott. Now we've lost Chris. At age 52, there’s nothing other than it being tremendously sad.
While Nirvana was the shooting star that I never saw live, Soundgarden was the band I didn't miss. Of all the Seattle bands, they were the one I saw the most. I first saw them at Bogart's in Cincinnati in the spring of 1990. I saw them again at Lollapalloza in 1991, and again in 1992, 1994 and 1996. The best Soundgarden show I saw was in 1994 for Superunknown, when they opened with "Jesus Christ Pose" and scared the "Spoonman" teenyboppers in the front row to death.
It's going to be a long time before I can hear "Say Hello to Heaven" again by Temple of the Dog, which Chris wrote for his late friend Andrew Wood, the mercurial singer of Motherlove Bone – and who died at such an ealy age it's criminal. Wood had an impact on the rest of Cornell's career, and "Say Hello to Heaven" was his touching tribute to him. Today, the song takes on new meaning.
And while I love "Birth Ritual" from the Singles soundtrack and "Room a Thousand Years Wide" from Badmotorfinger, the song I credit with turning me into an environmentalist was Soundgarden's cover of Black Sabbath's "Into the Void," with lyrics appropriated from Chief Sealth (Seattle)'s cautionary warning to white men of the mid-1800s about their callous attitude toward the environment. It came off a quickie EP they released on the heels of Badmotorfinger called SOMMS – which stands for Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas.
Yeah, I'd found my band.
RIP Chris Cornell, 1964 – 2017.
By Tommy Hough
As if Donald Trump hasn't done enough to ensure his place as the most anti-environmental president in U.S. history, he's now ordered his Interior Department to appease resource extractors and the Cliven Bundy fringe of the GOP by ordering a review of the status of 27 National Monuments established in the U.S. since 1996. Judging from his rationale for the monuments "review," it's clear the president has no idea how government works, or how National Parks, National Monuments or Wilderness areas are established.
Most National Monuments are the result of lengthy preservation campaigns by individuals and citizens groups, and are managed for varying levels of conservation by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) once they are established. Generally the agency already managing the area is charged with management of the monument once it's established. While an Act of Congress can establish a National Monument in the same manner as a National Park, the 1906 Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to immediately designate an area of federal land as a National Monument with the stroke of a pen.
Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act is one of the most powerful pieces of policy-making available to the President of the United States, enabling the president to preserve any area of federal land that may be subject to an imminent ecological threat. Similarly, the Antiquities Act gives the president the power to designate an area of importance as a National Monument if Congress is moving too slowly to preserve it with National Park or Wilderness legislation – or if Congress shows little interest in advancing a conservation option at all.
Among the dozens of iconic locales that President Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to preserve, none is more famous than the Grand Canyon – as much a symbol of the American west as the bald eagle. Roosevelt established the Grand Canyon as a National Monument in 1908, and it became a National Park by an Act of Congress 11 years later in 1919. In the catalogue of great American places, special locales and preserved ecosystems, it's hard to imagine an American west without the Grand Canyon preserved.
Theodore Roosevelt also established Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming in 1906, and what is now Olympic National Park in Washington as Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909. He established Pinnacles National Monument in Monterey County in 1908, which became a National Park 105 years later in 2013.
Two of California's most iconic and frequently visited National Parks, Death Valley and Joshua Tree, were established as National Monuments by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and 1936, respectively. Both became National Parks in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which also established Mojave National Preserve.
In his remarks on April 26 announcing the monuments review, President Trump specifically referred to Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, which was established as a National Monument by President Obama in December. Located along the border of Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Bear Ears also surrounds Natural Bridges National Monument, and had been the subject of a lengthy, grassroots effort to protect its habitat and ecosystems, along with areas within the monument sacred to the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Uintah, Ouray and Pueblo people. Private property holdings in the monument are not affected by the designation.
Nevertheless, Trump referred to Bear Ears as a "land grab," parroting absurd charges made by anti-conservation extremists. Bear Ears has been managed by the federal government since Utah was a territory. Declaring Bear Ears to be a land grab implies that the land was either sitting around with no owner, or was seized as part of the designation. Both scenarios are false, though it's unlikely that reality has permeated Trump's mind.
While Trump probably doesn't know better, those who make the land grab charge are inciting fools like the Bundy clan, who carried out an armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, in late 2015. Citing the "tyranny" of federal land control (tyranny?), the Bundy clan was apparently unaware that the Malheur had been a National Wildlife Refuge since it was established in 1908 by – who else? President Theodore Roosevelt. The refuge also serves as a center of jobs and economic activity for Harney County. Some tyranny.
Land designated as National Monuments are already on federal land. There is no practice of seizing or taking land from others – unlike the kind of eminent domain laws Mr. Trump frequently benefits from in municipalities where he builds his buildings. The only thing that changes with a National Monument designation is the management of the area, and the understanding the monument will be managed for long-term conservation, not short-term gain.
Like National Parks, National Battlefields and National Historic Places, National Monuments preserve the best of America's natural and cultural heritage, including the wide-open, fault-driven spaces of Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, some of oldest Giant Sequoia groves in the southern Sierra Nevada, and the desert expanses and fragile ecosystems of Mojave Trails National Monument.
Monuments are managed for all Americans to enjoy and revel in, not for a few to profit from at the expense of habitat and our environment. Monuments, parks and wilderness also serve as economic engines for nearby communities, and offer Americans room to roam, hike, hunt, explore and decompress. They are not placeholders, and their integrity and sanctity has always been recognized from one administration to the next.
Secretary Zinke would do his agency credit by paying these special places a visit without the politically-charged mania of press, staff and photo ops, and see for himself why he's lucky to serve as the guardian of these great corners of our nation.
By Tommy Hough
It's only been 100 days or so since competent, humane leadership left the White House. Seems like a long time ago now, doesn't it?
Since Donald Trump's inauguration and the swearing in of the 115th Congress, we have rapidly arrived at a point in our nation's history where our federal government is now actively working against us. That "us" includes Americans who work for a living, Americans who don't have access to golden parachutes, and Americans who are trying their best to spend time with their children in between night school and two or three jobs to make ends meet.
From the environment to immigration to labor to health care, not only are we are not represented, but the American Experiment is becoming an experiment in Social Darwinism at the hands of Trump and the GOP Congress. Go ahead and complain – they'll be happy to raise a beer to your misery and say they're helping. In 2017 Washington, congressional representatives and the president have written off anyone who doesn't respond to conservative AM talk radio paeans, and have crafted an un-reality snow job built upon the imaginary transgressions and rudderless resentments of the modern GOP.
The vote this week in the House of Representatives certainly left no doubt as to the state of America's idiocracy-fueled oligarchy. A bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), colloquially known as Obamacare, was passed on a close vote – but without any kind of public discussion, determination on the reality of its figures from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), or without even most of those who voted on it having read the legislation in the first place.
Those who claim to have read the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and still voted for it should run and hide, not only for shame, but for fear of retaliation for being unable to empathize with anyone outside of their own circle of friends or family who may be dying a slow death that bankrupts their entire family for lack of health insurance.
Back in 2009 and 2010, the vast number of Republicans in Congress and right-wing, conservative talking heads complained that the ACA was being "shoved down" their throats by the Democratic majority in Congress. Except that the bill that became Obamacare was, in reality, worked on throughout 2009 and 2010, and was in and out of congressional committees for well over a year. The public could access the bill on-line, and it was thoroughly debated in both houses of Congress. There was nothing secret or unknown about it. Such are the burdens of good government.
When the ACA was at last passed and signed into law, it had a number of moving parts, like many pieces of legislation – but it had been thoroughly, publicly vetted.
People knew it may have been imperfect, but they also knew what they were getting – and it was a real change for the better. As President Obama said as he signed the ACA into law on March 23, 2010, "All of the overheated rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform." Obamacare was intended to be a document that could be improved upon by future generations. Future generations, that is, who choose to be answerable to the needs of actual people, instead of special interests.
One of the things we do know about the just-passed Republican AHCA is that it undoes the provision that enables tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions to purchase the coverage they need. It also undoes the provision that enables the parents of children who have a pre-existing condition to purchase the insurance their kids need.
To celebrate the eradication of this pesky consideration in the AHCA, House Republicans and President Trump drank beer in the Rose Garden as the president gloated, "Hey, I'm president." Quite a change from the steady hands and legislative competence of 2009 and 2010, and more along the lines of "let them eat cake."
But the AHCA didn't pass the House because it was a good bill, or a humane bill, or a better bill than Obamacare. It passed because conservatives (or what passes for conservatism these days) and House Republicans despise Obamacare. They hate that it was passed by Democrats, and they hate it because it was signed into law by a Democratic president named Obama. Most of all, conservatives and the GOP hate Obamacare because it requires them to be taxed, and requires those who make more to give more, just as it might for tanks and aircraft carriers and jet fighters.
The other reason why conservatives and the GOP hate the ACA is because it works. Ask your friends who benefit from it. Ask your family. Ask my sister, who serves as a caretaker for my father who has dementia. Ask my friend and former colleague who had life-saving quadruple bypass surgery and under Obamacare can't be turned down for insurance because of his pre-existing condition. But under the Republican AHCA, my friend would be left virtually insuranceless due to his now pre-exisiting condition as he stares down a lifetime of check-ups and medical care.
Obamacare may not be perfect in all its facets, but it works – and if there's one thing that's anathema to conservatives, it's a government program that improves the lives of citizens. That pops their entire philosophic belief that government makes things worse, like Interstate highways and the Navy and the space program and the U.S. Postal Service. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy Republicans seek out to prove every time they get elected to office.
The AHCA really will make the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans worse, where Obamacare made them better. That it's being done in such a willfully cruel manner is simply mystifying, and indeed, quite cruel.
Republicans tried to keep the ACA from passing and then going into effect because they knew it could evolve, grow and become more effective. They still dread that Americans will come to that realization, and they will try harder than ever now to find a way to undo Obamacare with something even as awful as the AHCA when not a single medical professional, patient advocate, economist, or literally anyone familiar with health insurance supports it.
By Tommy Hough
Throwing all environmental law and conservation policy norms out the window, President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday directing the Interior Department to conduct a "review" of the establishment of all National Monuments going back to 1996, with the clear intent of undoing or shrinking some or all of these federally-protected areas.
As we've been expecting, it is the most full-fledged, naked assault on conservation policy in modern U.S. history, and another attempt by the GOP to ultimately privatize public land that belongs to you and I. The established National Monuments being subjected to "review" include:
As if Donald Trump hasn't already done enough to ensure his place as the most anti-environmental, anti-conservation president in U.S. history, all within a matter of weeks, he's now seeing fit to appease the Cliven Bundy fringe of Republican party extremism – the most reactionary wing of his constituency.
Almost all of the National Monuments listed above came together according to the guidelines set down by the landmark Antiquities Act of 1906. Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, one of our nation's greatest conservationists, the Antiquities Act is one of the most powerful pieces of policymaking available to the President of the United States. Along with preserving dozens of other sites under the policy, President Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to preserve what is now Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Olympic National Park in Washington as National Monuments in 1908 and 1909, respectively.
Theodore Roosevelt also established Pinnacles National Monument here in California in 1908, which became a National Park in 2013. Death Valley and Joshua Tree were both established as National Monuments by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and 1936, and both became National Parks in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which also established Mojave National Preserve.
While National Monuments can be passed as legislation by Congress in the same manner as a National Park, the Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to immediately designate an area of federal land as a National Monument with the stroke of a pen. The idea is to quickly protect any area that may be threatened, or designate an area of importance if Congress is moving too slow on National Park or Wilderness legislation, or if Congress shows little interest in advancing a conservation option for the area at all.
While Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego won't be affected by the Interior Department review (it was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913), it's no accident the National Monuments called into question by the Trump executive order stretch back to 1996, the year President Bill Clinton protected what is now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which lies adjacent to Bryce National Park in Utah. The "cutoff" date on the executive order is a clear indication of the lobbying and influence of far-right and anti-conservation groups within the Trump administration and western counties in Utah, Nevada and elsewhere.
As today's Republican-controlled Congress moves further to the right and away from the political center of the American mainstream, conservation initiatives and protecting clean air, water, wildlife habitat, open space and our country's natural heritage have become another matter of kneejerk partisanship for Republicans – even in districts where many of our nation's natural wonders can be found, despite the fact many of those monuments have become economic engines by way of eco-tourism and park visitation.
In his remarks, President Trump specifically referred to Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, which was established as a National Monument by President Obama in December. Located along the borders of Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Bear Ears also surrounds Natural Bridges National Monument, and had been the subject of a lengthy, grassroots effort to protect its sage and oak woodland habitat going back to the 1980s, as well as areas within the monument sacred to the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Uintah, Ouray and Pueblo people.
Trump referred to the Bear Ears designation as a "land grab," parroting earlier and equally absurd charges made by anti-conservation extremists. It's anything but a land grab – and demonstrates the president's complete ignorance on the subject. Bear Ears has been managed by the federal government as public land since Utah was a territory. Declaring Bear Ears to be a "land grab" implies that the land was sitting around with no owner, or was seized (!) as part of the Obama designation in December.
Trump is too stupid to know better, but those who make the "land grab" charge are yelling fire in a crowded theater in a manner to incite fools like the Bundy clan, who conducted an armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, in late 2015, citing the "tyranny" of federal land control – apparently without noticing the Malheur has been a National Wildlife Refuge since 1908 (!) and is a center of jobs and economic activity for Harney County. Some tyranny.
Any and all land designated as National Monuments are already on federal land, there's no practice of seizing or taking land from others – unlike the kind of eminent domain laws Mr. Trump benefits from in order to build his buildings. The only thing that changes with the National Monument designation is the understanding that the area will be managed for long-term conservation, not for short-term gain. It is to be managed for all Americans to enjoy and revel in, not for a few to profit from at the expense of habitats and our environment. As a result, use of recreational machines may be curtailed and resource extraction may no longer be allowed, but hiking and hunting are prime activities.
The likelihood that the executive order's Interior Department "review" will ever lead to the undoing of an actual National Monument is dubious, as is the chance that it would survive any kind of court challenge, but it is the beginning of a larger assault on our public lands. Even though the Antiquities Act is 111 years old and has been used by over a dozen administrations to protect cultural or environmentally-valuable areas, no president has ever tried to undo a National Monument that was established by a previous administration or an Act of Congress. It's unheard of.
Typically a National Monument is managed by the National Park Service, which falls under the auspices of the Department of the Interior. However, since 1980, it has become more common for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage areas designated as National Monuments. The new(er) Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments in California are good examples of monuments managed by the BLM.
San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of SDCDEA, Tommy Hough was recently a candidate for San Diego City Council.