Roaming Charges: The Thoughts That Pulled the Trigger

River (Columbia) of Darkness. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ You could count on 35% of Americans supporting any ludicrous thing Trump said, which as bigoted and stupid as they were usually didn’t include (initial histrionics about Lil Rocketman excepted) a nuclear holocaust. Now we see the flip side with the 35% coming from the MSDNC demographic, who are ready to support nuclear war over a conflict whose context they only learned about from Maddow’s Russophobic show, which many of them likely watched while peddling furiously to nowhere on their Pelotons…

+ Is it really possible to stand for Ukraine and nuclear war at the same time? Too bad Wittgenstein isn’t around to puzzle that one out…

+ #JeSuisNukraine!

+ One of Putin’s first acts as president of the Russian Federation was to abolish the USSR’s long-standing No First Strike nuclear policy. He has stridently reminded the West of Russia’s status as a nuclear power. He placed Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert. He has shown a propensity to act rashly. If Putin did impulsively press the button, who knows where one of those aging SS-18s might land, which I suppose is the point. You’d think that Western elites might take these circumstances a little less cavalierly–if only because their Teslas are still on back order and they haven’t had a chance to crash test one yet.

+ Here we have the neocon/neoliberal version of “I’d rather die of Covid than wear a mask or get a vaccine.” Except in this case they’re willing to take the entire planet with them, including Cerulean warblers and snow leopards.

+ To anyone who has read Andrew Cockburn’s The Threat, the ineptness of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, powered by tanks many of which have been in duty since the pulverizing of Grozny two decades ago, will come as no surprise. His book shows how both the Soviets and the Pentagon benefitted by exaggerating (vastly in the case of the Pentagon hawks and arms procurers) the power and competence of the Soviet military in the 1980s. From the US’s POV, the “threat” of Soviet weaponry, much of which didn’t work, was used to justify the largest and most expensive arms build-up in history, much of it designed to fight an “enemy” which only existed on white papers, many generated by outfits like RAND, under the sponsorship of corporations like Lockheed. Since the collapse of the USSR, the Russian military has become even more decrepit, while the US has continued to outspend it tenfold, year after year. With the Middle East wars winding down, Putin’s snap-invasion of Ukraine came at just the right moment for US weapons-makers, who are sure to cash-in on an even bigger boost in the Pentagon’s budget over the next few years, with Russia as the pretext, even as Putin’s assault force stalls against an over-matched opponent in Ukraine, forcing him to plead with the Chinese for weapons and money. The most lucrative threats are almost always imaginary.

+ If the casualty numbers are anywhere close to accurate, in two weeks Russian troops have already suffered as many losses as the US did over the entire course of the Iraq and Afghan wars.

+ If I ever address a government body again, I want to Be Like Mick: “Ireland’s tradition of Neutrality is borne out of an unwillingness to kill and be killed in Imperialist Wars that have nothing to do with our people and everything to do with the interests of the elites profiting from Arms, Fossil Fuel and Finance Industries. We like Peace not War…”


+ The problem with Russia is that its people are isolated and don’t hear independent voices say the people from the countries that locked up Julian Assange, took down RT America & wiped the Abby Martin’s “Breaking the Set” and Oliver Stone’s Ukraine documentaries off the “air”/stream/Net…

+ I strongly oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a violation of international law leading to the inevitable war crimes that follow. Still, I’d much rather hear the Russian government explain its actions, rather than have them “interpreted” for me by the cable news commentariate, consisting of many of the same people who lied the US into the Iraq War.

+ One of the most recurring complaints in my inbox (along with emails reminding me of my status as a CIA Gatekeeper covering up their role in 9/11) is that I spend too much time criticizing NATO and the US instead of Putin. Let me be clear: I loathe Putin and his menacing regime, which has jailed several of my friends and CP writers (Boris K. several times). I think his invasion of Ukraine is reactionary, imperialistic and criminal.  But I don’t have any influence over Putin or responsibility for his actions, except to the extent that my own government has helped set the stage for the unfolding carnage in Ukraine. As a US citizen whose taxes (such as they are) help finance the world’s largest and deadliest military machine, I have an inherent obligation to criticize my own govt. for provoking war and not peace, for risking the lives of millions of civilians to advance its dangerous geo-political objectives, for continuing to leave the entire planet cowering under the threat of nuclear annihilation thirty years after the end of the Cold War. There are no clean hands and ours are among the filthiest.

+ Sen. Robert Taft arguing against the creation of NATO: “The building up of a great army surrounding Russia…means inevitably an armament race, and armament races in the past have led to war…[NATO] will do far more to bring about a third world war than it ever will to maintain the peace.”

+ And here’s George Kennan, writing to Thomas Friedman of all people in 1989, warning of the dangers of NATO expansion into Ukraine:

I think it is the beginning of a new Cold War. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the founding fathers of this country turn over in their graves.

We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a lighthearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs. What bothers me is how superficial and ill-informed the whole Senate debate was. I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe.

Don’t people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime. And Russia’s democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we’ve just signed up to defend from Russia. Of course, there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expansionists] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are – but this is just wrong.

+ It takes the rabid Russiahawks clamoring for no-fly zones, US “peacekeeping” troops on the ground, MiGs flying from Ramstein Air Base & new arms shipments and weapons transfers to Ukraine, to make the normally incoherent Biden sound reasonable.

+ Keith Gessen: “That everyone was wrong did not prevent everyone from immediately claiming that, in fact, they’d been right. Russia experts who had been arguing for years that Putin was a bloody tyrant rushed forth to claim vindication, for he had undoubtedly become what they had claimed he was all along. Russia experts who had been arguing for years that we needed to heed Putin’s warnings could also claim vindication (though more quietly) because Putin had finally acted on those warnings. As usual, officials from US presidential administrations of yore were trotted out on TV as talking heads, dispensing their wisdom and accepting no responsibility, as if they had not all contributed, in one way or another, to the catastrophe.”

+ The economic consequences of Putin’s madcap invasion could be dire for the Russian people, undoing almost all of the gains made since disastrous days of “shock therapy”…

+ The sanctions on Russia may not end the war, but could succeed in bringing their health care system down to our own level.

+ A rational world would do almost anything to avoid this outcome. We don’t live in a rational world. See below…

+ This may be one of the most moronic things ever to appear on American television. No surprise it ran on Maddow’s show from the mouth of Obama’s former ambassador to Russia…

+ Hitler revisionism isn’t something I expected from liberals this early in the war. Neo-Nazis in Ukraine are certainly a  concern but perhaps not as big of a threat as the ones amassing in the green rooms at MSDNC and CNN…

+ Before the week’s out, Hitler will be compared favorably to Ike and FDR…

+ After they’ve rehabilitated Adolf Hitler it’s nothing to spruce up the reputation of old John Mitchell: “The conservation movement is a breeding ground of Communists and other subversives. We intend to clean them out, even if it means rounding up every birdwatcher in the country.”

+ I’m not one for comparing the crimes of autocrats. But purely for variety’s sake I’ll nominate for a Gellhorn Prize the first talking head on MSDNC or CNN who, instead of calling Putin the new Hitler, refers to him as Russia’s Dick Cheney…

+ The Ukraine conflict is precisely the kind of war Bernie wanted all those F-35s for ($1.7 trillion and counting). Unfortunately, the high-tech fighter jets are lemons, as shown in this POGO report. They aren’t stable in flight, can’t fly in bad weather & their electronics can be hacked by almost any “400-lbs guy on a bed.”

+ War is a racket, Ukraine edition…

+ Biden just signed a $13 billion emergency assistance package for Ukraine, including $800 million in additional military aid. How about $800 million in gas vouchers for the suckers at home, Joe?

+ The price of oil dropped 20% over the last week. The price of gasoline went up by nearly as much. Most crimes against humanity are economic and are rarely, if ever, treated as such.

Barrel of oil
Week ago: $128
Now: $99

Gallon of gas
Week ago: $4.17
Now: $4.32

+ According to Bloomberg, the cumulative wealth of the richest Russians in the world has plummeted almost $90B since the start of the conflict. (Meanwhile, America’s 704 billionaires have gotten $1.7 trillion richer—57%—over two years of the pandemic. Almost all of those wealth gains will go tax-free.)

+ According to Forbes, the wealth of the US’ richest 3 oligarchs (Musk, Bezos and Gates) alone is $594 billion, a total that is greater than the wealth of the 100 richest Russian oligarchs combined at $558 billion.

+ The splenetic argot of the Cold War is beginning to ooze back into the commentary about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this week, NPR’s Nina Totenberg was going on about how the “Free World” needed to come together to stop Russia, one of Reagan’s favorite phrases which was thoroughly tarnished by the 80s’ and is corroded beyond all meaning now. Both countries warehouse appalling numbers of their people in prisons. But the US does it much more aggressively and systematically than any other country in the world, including China and Russia.

Incarceration Rate per 100,000 people:

China:   121
Russia: 325
USA:     639

+ Zelensky in “black stilettos” is about the most interesting thing I’ve heard about him, second only to playing the piano with his penis. I wonder if they were the same brand that Giuliani wore when he went out in drag?

+ Herbert Lin, writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: “Russia could explode a nuclear weapon over the open ocean, where it wouldn’t kill people…” Say what? Open air testing of nuclear weapons by the US, USSR, UK, France and China may have led to more than a million cases of cancer worldwide and tens of thousands of premature deaths.

+ If Pelosi reading Bono’s insipid doggerel doesn’t start a nuclear war then perhaps the MAD doctrine is holding, after all…

+ Putin’s own security forces reportedly raided the headquarters of the FSB, arresting several top officials, for intelligence failures in the invasion of Ukraine. That this never happened to George Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, John Yoo and Paul Wolfowitz is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American history.

+ The western media doesn’t need those color-coded alerts from DHS anymore. From “migrant caravans” to “crime waves” to the Ukraine war, they go straight to Red all on their own now, counting up the ad revenue, as they help engineer the end of the world.

+ Because almost everything I predict is wrong, including whether Putin would invade Ukraine, I’m going to try to live Marshall McLuhan’s rule from now on: “I’ve always been very careful not to predict anything that has not already happened.”

+ At least Venus and Mars are alright tonight…

+ Natasha is the best thing on the Internet this week…


+ From the Annals of the Free World:

Amman al-Baluchi is a 44-year-old Kuwaiti man with brain damage, the result of being repeatedly slammed against a wall by CIA interrogators for more than 2 hours. Baluchi is a prisoner in Guantanamo, awaiting trial as a suspected 9/11 plotter.  According to a newly declassified IG report, Baluchi was used as a living prop for the training of CIA torturers in an abusive technique called “walling.” In 2003, Baluchi was illegally kidnapped by the CIA in Pakistan and renditioned to a black site north of Kabul. His interrogation was conducted by two CIA torturers going by the code names “the Salt Pit” and Cobalt. Before bashing his head against the wall, the interrogators drenched Baluchi in ice water, then jammed a stick behind his knees and repeatedly forced him back into a kneeling position, a technique known to inflict excruciating pain. (Both of these methods were considered “extra-legal.”) But the worst was yet to come and it came with the full-approval of the Agency. Baluchi was stripped naked. His heels were placed against a plywood wall and a rolled-up towel was strapped behind his neck. Then, according to the IG report, “the interrogators would … grab the ends of the towel in front of and below the detainees face and shove [Baluchi] backwards into the wall, never letting go of the towel.” The goal was to make Baluchi “bounce.” The “bouncing” of Baluchi went on for a couple of hours, as CIA interrogators lined up to take a crack at slamming his head against the wall, so that they could get “certified” in “their ability to use the technique.” Baluchi was left with permanent brain trauma. The CIA never learned a useful tidbit of information from him. But that, apparently, wasn’t the point of these torture sessions. They were meant to terrify the detainees into compliance.

+ Christopher Benfey: “One advantage of writing nonfiction is that it doesn’t have to be plausible.”

+ The Democrats only nominate “both siders” to the Court, a mistake Republicans haven’t made since David Souter.

+ Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves after signing into law the states’ ban on the teaching of Critical Race Theory:  “Students are being force-fed an unhealthy dose of progressive fundamentalism that runs counter to the principles of America’s founding.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the Constitution itself is ultimately banned in states like Mississippi because if students are permitted to read the 3/5s & fugitive slave clauses it will become clear to them that the principles of America’s founding included the idea of people as property.

+ Prince Kozlovsky: “God merely decrees the future, the Tsar can remake the past.”

+ “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

+ Here’s Eric Adams scolding NYC residents for recording police (“my police“) misconduct with their phones: “If your iPhone can’t catch that picture with you being at a safe distance, then you need to upgrade your iPhone. Stop being on top of my police officers while they’re carrying out their jobs. That is not acceptable & it won’t be tolerated.”

+ Former running back and current GOP Senate candidate from Georgia Herschel Walker on evolution: “At one time, science said man came from apes, did it not? … If that is true, why are there still apes? Think about it.” Good point, Herschel. My neighbor bought an electric car, why are there still gas-powered ones on the road?

+ Welcome to the club….uh…New York Times?!!?

+ Israel’s Knesset passed a law last week barring the naturalization of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or Gaza married to Israeli citizens, forcing thousands of Palestinian families to either emigrate or live apart. Even George Washington drew the line at separating the families of the people he “owned”…

+ Texas rejected about 13% of mail-in ballots, nearly 23,000 total, in the first election under the state’s new voting law.

+ The UK’s economic losses from Brexit are 178 times bigger than all of the trade deals cut by Boris Johnson.

+ From the same Failed State that just increased its military budget by $30 billion more than even the military wanted…

+ For the past month or so, Democrats have been urging Biden to come up with a better slogan than “Build Back Better.” Nancy Pelosi’s idea, “Democrats Deliver,” polled the worst of all.

I think you’d better call John,
‘Cause it don’t look like they’re here
to DELIVER …. the mail

+ In Hong Kong, every Omicron Covid case has been between 20 and 50 times more deadly than in similar regions.

+ There were 720,000 fewer dengue fever cases globally in the first year of the pandemic because of COVID restrictions.

+ Tennessee hasn’t “evolved” much since the days of the Scopes Trial, but the level of the rhetorical skills shows evidence of significant decline…

+ In the waning days of the Soviet Union, the KGB desperate to rehab its image started holding Miss KGB contests. (I don’t know if Trump was a paid consultant.) The first winner was a young woman named Ekaterina Maiorova. During her interview, Ekaterina claimed that her favorite hobby was knitting, her favorite drink was orange juice, her favorite movie was Gone With the Wind and her ideal man was … James Bond. All of the contestants wore bulletproof vests. Now there’s a secret police with a sense of humor, dark though it may have been, about itself. At least, I hope it was being ironic. (See: The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin by Adam Hochschild)


+ The SW Megadrought is set to deepen this year, as almost all of California and Nevada are experiencing their driest starts to a new year in at least 40+ years. The same is true for large sections of bordering states.

+ Lake Powell has fallen to below 3,525 feet, putting it at its lowest level since the reservoir filled after the federal government dammed the Colorado River at Glen Canyon more than a half century ago.

+ According to an investigation by High Country News, 54 million acres of BLM “rangelands” are being trashed by livestock grazing, according to the BLM’s own data. In six states — California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming — more than 40% of assessed lands are failing land-health standards. (The Forest Service controls more than 100 million acres authorized for livestock grazing, but they don’t even perform “land-health standards.” Under one of the most lavish welfare programs run by the federal government, ranchers pay 1 cent per day per sheep and 3 cents per day for cow to graze on federal public lands.

+ Last week Brisbane, Australia received 80% of its average annual rainfall in just three days. More water pummeled the city than usually falls in London over an entire year. Meanwhile, Sydney has seen its wettest start to a year on record.

+ Globally, children will have their lives shortened by an average of twenty months from breathing polluted air, according to two new reports from the State of Global Air initiative.

+ $900 million has poured into “green Exchange Traded-Funds” like iShares Clean, but that fund gets an “F” from outfits like As You Sow for 22% exposure in fossil-fired utilities.

+ There are some really sick people out there: In 2010, during federal court hearings on the wolf’s Endangered Species Act status, Toby Bridges posted comments about using Xylitol artificial sweetener to poison wolves, writing “Wolf control now as a new, until now secret, weapon … there’s going to be a whole lot of very sweet gut piles and wolf-killed carcasses dotting the landscape this fall. Along with some supplemental feeding of wolf pups come next spring.” This is the same guy who bragged on Facebook in 2014 that he ran over wolves with his car.

+ The temperatures in the Arctic this week could spike to more than 50 degrees above “normal”….


+ TVA, the largest federal utility, is openly defying Biden’s clean energy goals and plans to invest $3.5 billion in new gas plants. Its CEO, Jeffrey Lyash, rakes in $10 million a year–$9.6 million more than Anthony Fauci, who has been vilified for profiteering from his federal position by Republican members of Congress.

+ There’s something darkly humorous about Joe Manchin advising fossil fuel executives to throw their weight around in Congress more aggressively, as if they’ve been playing touch football for the last 50 years: “Demand more. If you do that, you all can turn this around. You’ll get some people in Congress that basically are there for the right reasons. There’s a difference between public service and self-service, and there’s not one of you that don’t have the instincts to pick that up immediately. Just use it when you pick it up, and throw ’em the hell out of the room.”

+ Ring me when they seize Manchin’s yacht…

+ Private equity funds control almost all the water in Oregon’s first protected aquifer, yet state regulators continue to approve new wells in areas known to have rapidly depleting water. In one aquifer the water level is dropping by 10 feet per year.

+ Montana’s wolf hunting season ended this week with a grim total of 272 killed, which despite eased regulations was 57 fewer than last year. This indicates two things: 1. the wolf population has been perilously reduced (1,447) after 5 years of senseless slaughter; 2. the wolves that remain are starting to outsmart their hunters (not difficult, admittedly).

+ Meanwhile, down in Wyoming the state’s “Game” and Fish Dept. released its annual grizzly bear report this week, which showed 45 bears were captured in 2021 in 49 separate “incidents.” Four bears were captured more than once. Of those 45 bears, 30 were killed by the department. Nearly twice as many grizzly bears were “relocated” in 2021 compared to 2020.

+ American hunters imported more than 700,000 trophies (ie, body parts) taken from giraffes, rhinos and many other species around the globe from 2016 to 2020, according to data newly obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The data reveals a steady and sizeable annual increase in U.S. trade in hunting trophies — including mounts, skulls, skins, teeth and other parts — throughout the Trump administration. The trophy trade declined only after the Covid-19 pandemic hit.


+ “I dig for the truth, but, while I do, something happens to it…” –Tarkovsky’s Stalker…

+ Robert Plant looking back on John Bonham’s death: “I drove down with him on the day of the rehearsal, and I drove back without him….I loved him desperately and couldn’t listen to Led Zeppelin music after his death.”

+ Rolling Stone must have the whitest readers in America (and I’m including The National Review, Farm and Ranch Living and the Rifleman).

+ A corrective (and I didn’t even get to Curtis Mayfield, Martha Reeves, Chaka Khan, or Smokey Robinson)…

1. Muddy Waters
2. Marvin Gaye
3. Aretha Franklin
4. Sam Cooke
5. James Brown
6. Sly Stone
7. Al Green
8. Etta James
9. Otis Redding
10. Prince

+ I admire Dolly’s humility and I’m absolutely sure it’s genuine, but Chicago, Bon Jovi, Gene Pitney and Laura Nyro are in the Rock Hall of Fame, for chrissakes. “Rock” owes almost as much to country as it does to R&B, as any reader of Nick Tosches (or your own ears) can tell you.

+ Rock and Roll is a definable genre of music (“it’s got a backbeat you can’t lose it”). Rock music is not. It’s become a catchall for popular music since the 50s and since the RnR Hall of Fame needs new inductees every year to stay in business and almost no one has been playing rock and roll in the last 30 years, they’ve started inducting “rock” musicians. By that elastic standard do the much carped about nominations of Jay Z & Run DMC belong? Of course. And Dolly Parton belongs near very the top.

+ When the Beach Boys first hit the charts with Surfin’ Safari and Surfin’ USA, Brian Wilson had never been surfing. He didn’t even know how to swim. (See Hollywood Eden by Joel Selvin.)

+ Wayne Shorter: “Nothing is wasted. Nothing is thrown away. Everything in my life has something to do with my development on the road to enlightenment.”

+ Regarding the limits of Charles Dickens’ empathy:

In 1851, he was managing Urania Cottage, a home for “fallen women,” and editing Household Words, a journal of social commentary and fiction. (His powers of compassion were in important ways limited: He applauded the violent suppression of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and tried to have his wife, Catherine, placed in an asylum during their ugly separation.)

+ Sun Ra wasn’t surprised by much, but I wonder if he thought this song would be more relevant than ever nearly 30 years after he ascended back to Saturn…? 

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

The Social Lives of Animals
Ashley Ward
(Basic Books)

Spies, Lies and Algorithms
Amy B. Zegart

Life on the Rocks: Building a Future for Coral Reefs
Juli Berwald

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Naked Truth
Avishai Cohen

Planetário Da Gávea
Hermeto Pascoal & Su Grupo
(Far Out Recordings)

Young Guv
(Run for Cover Records)

To Be in Control

“In order to be in control, you have to have a definite plan for at least a reasonable period of time. So how, may I ask, can man be in control if he can’t even draw up a plan for a ridiculously short period of time, say, a thousand years, and is, moreover, unable to ensure his own safety for even the next day?”

– Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Abby Martin’s “Empire Files” had been pulled from You Tube. It is still available. It’s her old RT America show, “Breaking the Set” that’s now lost, with the striking of RT America from YouTube. Around 550 episodes. Here’s a link to Martin’s inside account of her experience working at RT America.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3