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.
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.