Friday, September 22, 2017

Power To the McCarthyite People

Former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power has countered Donald Trump's unhinged performance at the international confab this week with a very unhinged proposal of her own.

Taking a page from the paranoid Trump playbook, this liberal interventionist of the Obama administration penned a New York Times op-ed calling for the construction of a huge, amazing, beautiful wall like the world has never seen before. This wall would consist of stringent monitoring and censorship of whatever independent thought on the Internet that she and some shadow cohort deem to be "fake news" - a/k/a subversive. Suppression is needed, Power writes, because any and all criticism of the Military-Industrial Complex is obviously coming straight out of Russia. Vladimir Putin is secretly feasting upon what she calls "a ripe subset of the population."
While television remains the main source of news for most Americans, viewers today tend to select a network in line with their political preferences. Even more significantly, The Pew Research Center has found that two-thirds of Americans are getting at least some of their news through social media.
After the election, around 84 percent of Americans polled by Pew described themselves as at least somewhat confident in their ability to discern real news from fake. This confidence may be misplaced. (my bold.)
People not fortunate enough to be a member of Samantha Power's Class of Expert Thinkers are too stupid to distinguish proper, American, market-based neoliberal propaganda from other types of propaganda. Therefore she wants to take us back to a mythical time when all good citizens and true strictly adhered to mainstream media. She wants consumers to settle for whatever political discourse the corporate media chooses to slice, dice, marinate, cook up and boil down in a limited smorgasbord of pre-approved information.

We Americans are getting way too fat on way too much unregulated content. And Samantha Power wants our diets to be fair, balanced, vapid, and docility-provoking.

Here's the fake, untrue, paranoid and misleading paragraph in her op-ed that really got me chuckling:
During the Cold War, most Americans received their news and information via mediated platforms. Reporters and editors serving in the role of professional gatekeepers had almost full control over what appeared in the media. A foreign adversary seeking to reach American audiences did not have great options for bypassing these umpires, and Russian dezinformatsia rarely penetrated.
As a former "professional gatekeeper" on both newspapers and radio during the waning days of the Cold War and its aftermath, neither my job description nor that of my editors ever involved watching the wires and news releases coming across our desks for evidence of rampant infestations of dezinformatsia. Our main challenge was in mucking out whole boatloads of domestic political manure, which propagated in mountainous piles of real American press releases and flowed in endless streams of homegrown gobbledygook warning real Americans about such dangers as the Black Panthers lurking on every rooftop, and the Commie plot to sneak fluoride into our drinking water supply.

Revisionist History, Henry Kissinger-Style
  It's odd that, as such a credentialed stickler for academic rigor and especially as a former human rights journalist, Power also fails to mention that before, during,and throughout the Cold War, American newspapers, local radio stations and other independent media were thriving, proliferating and disseminating an almost unbelievable variety of opinion and news on a wide variety of topics. Even the smallest cities published both a morning and afternoon newspaper, and hosted a whole slew of radio stations which broadcast a veritable feast of locally produced spot news and discussion programs.

Maybe Henry Kissinger, that fawning Joe McCarthy critic (he could have done more to fight Communism!) and architect of not a few crimes against humanity himself, got her to revise her worldview when he picked her for a prize which he humbly named after himself.

Sure, the poobahs have always complained, loudly and vociferously, about content they don't like, and they've often threatened (and filed) libel suits. But rarely have they seriously demanded that a publication or a station be shut down, as they are now calling for such outlets as RT to be shut down. They took the First Amendment very literally "in those good old days".

It was with the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, which had mandated broadcasting in the public interest, when local news stations began to be subsumed into such consolidated megaliths as Clear Channel Communications, original home base of hate-monger Rush Limbaugh, among others. Local news went the way of the rotary phone, If there isn't Limbaugh to listen to for hours upon hours every day, there's always the canned feedback of the same top ten hits to keep you bland from Bangor to San Diego.

As John Light writes for the Bill Moyers blog, there are "857 channels, and there's nothing on." 

And it's getting worse during the Trump era. The planned takeover by the right-wing Sinclair family of the Tribune Company will result in one company controlling the local TV news beamed out to 70% of American households.

The waning days of the Cold War were also the waning days of the daily local newspaper. Vulture investors swooped down with a vengeance during the 70s recession, bought up all the financially struggling periodicals they could, downsized them, loaded them up with the debt, and then shuttered them for good at a windfall profit for themselves. If a newspaper was reasonably profitable, it stayed open under new cost-cutting management. I'd suggest that if Samantha Power was so worried about "foreign interference" in our media,  she would have first pointed her finger at Australian mogul Rupert Murdoch, who bought up a whole slew of US newspapers and broadcast stations, including the last newspaper I ever worked for. As the soon-to-be de facto head of the Republican "Fox News" Party, he proceeded to close all our satellite bureaus and to fire most of the staff. We pre-existing reporters were not only too liberal and muck-rakish, Murdoch also thought that our modest but livable wages were way too high. Also, too many news stories were unfairly interfering with all those garish front page ads for booze and used cars.

So, Earth to Samantha: Russia has nothing to do with the demise of quality print and broadcast media, or the alleged dumbing down of Americans. Corporate greed on a global scale has done that. And the corporations, particularly those which profit mightily from the American war and surveillance state, want to ensure that only their important messages get through to us.


The excellent Moon of Alabama blog has a detail-rich, evidence-based  deconstruction of Powers's op-ed, which among its other blatant whoppers, maintains that the Soviets unconscionably infiltrated Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. The Russians wanted Walter Mondale to win, so thank goodness we dodged that lethal bullet and Reagan went on to successfully entrench the neoliberal mantra - private competition and profit at great public cost - into people's ripe little minds. This, from a top adviser in the Obama administration! I can only surmise that Samantha must have just watched The Manchurian Candidate on TV to get her so inspired and so befuddled.

She despises the lefties, what's left of them, just as much as Joe McCarthy did back in the good old late 40s and early 50s. She wants America to hate again just as eagerly as Donald Trump does. But the special thing that centrist Democrats want us to hate, besides Russia, is a brand-new horrible something called divisiveness:
 In the United States, the vulnerability to foreign influence is exacerbated by divisions within the political establishment. During the Cold War, the larger struggle against communism created a mainstream consensus about what America stood for and against. Today, our society appears to be defined by a particularly vicious form of “partyism” affecting Democrats and Republicans alike. This divisive environment can make the media more susceptible to repeating and amplifying falsehoods.
More nonsense from a self-described historian. All you have to do is watch the Vietnam War documentary currently airing on PBS to remember that Lyndon Johnson demanded that the anti-war raging protests on American streets and on college campuses be exposed as a Kremlin plot. He was very sorry when even J. Edgar Hoover himself couldn't shut down the dissent and come up with evidence of Russian meddling. The war and its critics ended up destroying his presidency.

 The granddaddy of propaganda, Edward Bernays, noted 90 years ago that   divisiveness has always been as all-American as fear itself. The difference nowadays, as I noted above, is the stunning lack of diversity in our consolidated establishment media, now comprised of only six or eight major corporations. In 1928, when Bernays wrote, there were 22,128 specialty periodicals, with most of them enjoying circulations above 100,000 readers.

The diversity of these publications is evident at a glance. Yet they only faintly suggest the multitude of cleavages which exist in our society, and along which flow information and opinion carrying authority to the individual groups....
"Life" satirically expresses the idea in the reply which it represents an American as giving to the Britisher who praises this country for having no upper and lower classes or castes:
"Yeah, all we have is the Four Hundred, the White-Collar Men, Bootleggers, Wall Street Barons, Criminals, the D.A.R., the K.K.K., the Colonial Dames, the Masons, Kiwanis and Rotarians, the K. of C., the Elks, the Censors, the Cognoscenti, the Morons, Heroes like Lindy, the W.C.T.U., Politicians, Menckenites, the Booboisie, Immigrants, Broadcasters, and - the Rich and Poor."
So therefore, methinks that Samantha Power doth protest too much.

For a member of a political party which prides itself so much on "diversity," it certainly seems insanely intent upon limiting America's diverse citizenry to the preferences of its own very small core of wealthy donors and Neocon warmongers.

And it was absolutely no surprise to me that the compliant New York Times chose not to allow reader comments to Samantha Powers's special pleading for even more censorship of dissenting, independent voices.

This country is ripe for revolution, or maybe it's already just a ripening corpse, but whatever it is, it's obviously consolidated all the Powers That Be into one massive blob of pulsating delusions.

Blob-o-Mania: Samantha Power Receiving Kissinger Diplomacy Prize

... And now streaming for your nostalgic Orwellian viewing pleasure over an acceptable Internet site, or if you're a real American, through your smart modern two-way TV set:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Darkly Dreaming Hillary

Losing the election to Donald Trump was her "dark midnight time of the soul," Hillary Clinton confided to rehab specialist Stephen Colbert on his CBS infotainment show. Fresh off his stint of normalizing and endearing professional liar Sean Spicer at the Emmy awards, Colbert was happy to do likewise for Clinton, whose marathon book tour is vying for attention with earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters which always seem to unfairly threaten her campaigns.

She joked that she'll be sticking around unless people take up a huge collection to send her someplace really nice. She demurred from mentioning an actual price for her departure. And since she already is someplace really nice, "I'm not going anywhere."

Asked about her book, she said it was "horrible." (I am pretty sure that she meant that the grueling experience of writing the book was horrible, which just goes to show that Trump's own constant use of the words horrible - horrible! - is catching.)

Hillary called Trump's U.N. speech, which ridiculed the North Korean dictator as Rocket Man, "very dark and very dangerous," threatening as it did to eclipse her own dark night of the soul, not to mention causing an endless loop of the Elton John hit to play inside people's heads.

Trump's words, Hillary complained, were very crass and not befitting the designated purveyor of "respectful" American aggression and exceptionalism.  It's always best to use words which are diplomatic and nuanced and democracy-spreading, she said. Maybe something more in line with how the then-Secretary of State respectfully described to a worldwide TV audience (via another CBS interview) the death-by-sodomy of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, after the US bombing campaign and right before another mass US-inspired immigration crisis:

Perhaps that's what prompted her to dish to Colbert about Putin -  whom, she has absolutely no doubt, infiltrated the hive-mind of the American electorate and turned them into millions of zombie Trump-voters. Not only is Putin a giant pod creature from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he is an evil manspreader whose sexism only added to the free-floating scourge of misogyny which helped propel Trump to his Dark Victory. Hillary also bragged that she got Putin so agitated one time in his dacha, he went into a manspreading frenzy. "He takes me down the stairs... into his inner sanctum... and then asked if my husband would like to come." (on a polar bear-tagging junket, not the other kind of threesome) Oh, the Hillmanity.

With that, Colbert uncorked a bottle of the Chardonnay which Hillary - once again - jokingly admitted is her drug of choice for the dark days of her lives. It's what got her through the agony of blamespreading, and then demanding gobs of money for it.  

Meanwhile, Darkly Dangerous Donald just got insanely handed, with no strings attached, more than ten times the money he'd asked for to help him pursue his dream-quest to redundantly "totally destroy" tiny North Korea: a whopping three quarters of a trillion dollars. Also in Trump's beady little sights: Venezuela and Iran or wherever his pre-adolescent brain takes him next.

As the New York Times approvingly noted, 
 In a rare act of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, the Senate passed a $700 billion defense policy bill on Monday that sets forth a muscular vision of America as a global power, with a Pentagon budget that far exceeds what President Trump has asked for.
Senators voted 89-9 to approve the measure, known as the National Defense Authorization Act; the House has already adopted a similar version.
I love the way the mainstream media is always in awe of this allegedly "rare" bipartisanship. The two right wings of the war party always act in lockstep when it comes to funding unlimited state-sponsored death. It seems like only yesterday when they near-unanimously funded Johnson's war in Vietnam after the phony Gulf of Tonkin attack (which was glossed over in the current PBS series, incidentally.)

After calling ever-spreading war fever a refreshing anomaly, the Times steps in its own doo-doo by casually mentioning that, well, yeah, this is the 56th consecutive year that Congress has passed the defense bill with much eagerness and very little debate.

But this year was also something heartwarming and special, because the vote was also a "tribute" to Senate Hawk John McCain, who is bravely battling cancer, and who muscularly boasted on CNN last week that his treatment isn't costing him a dime, and who is once again the deciding vote on whether millions of other people will lost their own skimpy health insurance.

Giving a blank weapons check to a president whom establishment politicians and their media partners  purport to fear and loathe so much should call them out as hypocrites. But they are not about to expose themselves as such, especially since their message and "the narrative" is congealed within a handful of corporate-owned and controlled conglomerates. 

So, just in case you need a good laugh, or a good cry, or simply a rapidly-spreading distraction from other realities, here's the full clip of the Clinton/Colbert Russophobic schmooze-fest (naturally, when Colbert bloviates that "we" have to stop the horrible things going on in government under Trump, he doesn't mean that we have to stop the permanent state of war. The topic never even comes up, because militarism helps pay Colbert's salary, and it enriches the CBS stockholders way too much. As CBS honcho Les Moonves famously said, "Trump might not be good for America, but he's damned good for CBS!")

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

They Meant Well

I've watched the first two parts of Vietnam, the marathon Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary currently airing and streaming on PBS. Although the reviews have been mixed, I'm waiting to see the entire film before passing final judgment myself.

So far, my main quibble is that at the very beginning of the series, narrator Peter Coyote glibly informs us that the United States originally entered this misbegotten war with only the very best intentions.  My bullshit detector immediately went into high alert.

The footage somewhat confusingly zig-zags between French soldiers behaving badly in the 1950s and American soldiers behaving badly in the 1960s, and Vietnamese soldiers (essentially, all civilians) behaving badly throughout. This serves the purpose of spreading the blame around thinly and internationally, so that no one country or person can ever be held individually accountable for the colossal mess.

Interestingly enough, though, Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader of the north, is portrayed as initially being a good guy and friend of the CIA, but whose outreach to US presidents Truman and Eisenhower was either thwarted or ignored by the State Department, leading him straight into the arms of China. And oh, that Domino Effect, which some of the aging generals and spooks interviewed apparently adhere to right to this very day.

It was something of a jolt to be reminded that journalists in that era were given mostly free rein to document, in both words and pictures, countless bloody images of soldiers behaving both very nobly and very badly. It seems never to have occurred to American leaders to ban reporters from the killing fields, as is the case now. After Iraq and Afghanistan went sour, even film documentation of returning body bags to Joint Base Andrews was banned in an effort to shield American news-consumers from reality.  Our leaders were and still are trying to prevent a recurrence of the Vietnam Syndrome: the absolute loathing of most citizens for any more wars after so many graphic debacles on the nightly news. (The Neocons call this dreaded public aversion to state-sponsored blood and gore our "sickly inhibitions").

President John F. Kennedy is also portrayed as a good guy who only reluctantly sent secret US ground troops to Southeast Asia, and was absolutely appalled when, three weeks before his own assassination, the CIA orchestrated the assassination of South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem and his secret police henchman. 

So this got me thinking about the whole Kennedy Camelot myth. And that, in turn, got me thinking about the modern re-creator of the Camelot myth, T.H. White, and his five-part The Once and Future King

A pacifist and conscientious objector during World War II, White wrote much of his opus during the rise and rule of European fascism. His overarching theme dovetails nicely with that of the Ken Burns film: They Meant Well. 

King Arthur surrounded himself with the righteous Knights of the Round Table just as Kennedy surrounded himself with the Best and the Brightest. Their goals were to fight Might with Right. And, as usually happens, the Righties ended up turning into the Mighties. And things began to fall apart, very badly.

I hadn't read White since I was a child, but I picked up the book again right after reading Helen Macdonald's excellent H Is For Hawk, which is a parallel tale of Macdonald dealing with her grief over the death of her father by taming a raptor, and fellow falconer White's struggling against his own sadistic demons  through writing about how hard it is for mankind to be a force for good.

Humans, he acerbically noted, are the only species on earth who kill each other for the sheer, stupid sport of it. 

This isn't to say that other animals can't be every bit as nasty as people. In one chapter in the first volume, The Sword in the Stone, we're regaled with Arthur's (the Wart's) life as an ant, and the insanely vicious rules of ant supremacy and ant oppression:
A. We are more numerous than they are, therefore we have a right to their mash.

B. They are more numerous than we are, therefore they are wickedly trying to steal our mash.

C. We are a mighty race and have a natural right to subjugate their puny one.

D. They are a mighty race and are unnaturally trying to subjugate our inoffensive one.

E. We must attack them in self-defense.

F. They are attacking us by defending themselves.

G. If we do not attack them today, they will attack us tomorrow.

H. In any case we are not attacking them at all. We are offering them incalculable benefits.
The "incalculable benefits" offered to recruits and draftees in the Vietnam War were actually put down on paper by latter-day Camelot Defense Secretary  Robert McNamara. This modern knight in shining armor thought it would be ultra-cool to sell the war to a whole multitude of ants (Project 100,000) in conjunction with LBJ's War on Poverty and the Great Society:
  "The poor of America... have not had the opportunity to earn their fair share of this nation's abundance, but they can be given the opportunity to serve in their country's defense and they can be given an opportunity to return to civilian life with skills and aptitudes which for them and their families will reverse the downward spiral of decay."
The best and brightest knights of the Pentagon derisively called them "the Moron Corps" - a disposable group of excess ants offered a one-way ticket to the ant farm. They checked in to the war, and due to their mental and physical disabilities, the few who did manage to escape certainly didn't return to any American dream. So it'll be interesting to see whether this largely forgotten tidbit of history will be included in the Ken Burns version of the Vietnam War. Dear Olde Camelot was the same myth in the '60s as it was in the equally mythical ancient Britain. And so it remains to this very day.

You might remember that the Arthurian legend ended with the banally evil Mordred usurping the throne and regressing the whole world to primordial mayhem just for the sheer, stupid fun of it. There are too many parallels to this cautionary tale in our modern world to even count.

As ever, we seem condemned to repeat (and revise) history, over and over and over again.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Don't Call Tony Blair a Poodle

The New York Times axed my published comment on today's Maureen Dowd column, which portrayed Iraq War co-manufacturer and former British P.M. Tony Blair and xenophobic UKIP leader Nigel Farage as the two opposite, but apparently coequal, sides of the "Brexit debate".

Although Blair has long been derided as "Bush's Poodle," it is apparently verboten for mere comment-writers to expand upon this apt metaphor as he strives to make some sort of political comeback, along with even more money. Or, maybe I was censored for mentioning the scary words "Jeremy Corbyn". Who really knows when it comes to the stqndards of the Times, which had no real qualms about quoting verbatim the foul-mouthed rant of that other Tony, name of Scaramucci.

Seeing as how Dowd's column was, for once, not devoted to either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, this piece doesn't seem to be gleaning the usual vast number of clicks or comments. As best as I can remember (didn't think to make a copy) this is what I wrote:

Nice scathing take-down of Tony Blair. Good to know that he remains properly paper-trained enough to adorn his office walls with his master's (this was a reference to George Bush, who remains a pal) bathroom kitsch. (many paintings were actually composed in the luxe Bush soaking tub or just outside the shower stall).
But why did Dowd make no attempt to contact the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, before jetting off to Brussels to soak up the wit and wisdom of Nigel Farage?

Silly question, I know.  The corporate media views the leftist Corbyn much as it views Bernie Sanders: anathema, and a clear and present danger to the sensitive elites for whom "bipartisan" politics must always remain within an artificially narrow safe space. When Corbyn achieved his unexpected upset, Blair snarled to the desperate victims of decades of cruel austerity policies: "If your heart's with Corbyn, get a transplant!"

It could have been worse. Because despite the best efforts of neoliberal politicians spanning a 40-year straight line all the way from  Thatcher to May, the National Health Service still exists, and even the poorest heart patients are still able to avoid the debt collector should they ever require such drastic surgery.

 Blair insisting to Dowd that he abhors right-wing strongmen like Trump and Farage and Putin is really quite hilarious, given that he recently agreed with Donald Trump that the "left media" has criticized Trump unfairly.
 After all, it seems like only yesterday when Blair was partying hearty with Silvio Berlusconi, who on one memorable night lit up the Sardinian sky with fireworks spelling out "Viva Tony!"  
Bunga Bunga might be naught but a fond memory, but who's to say that there's not a Mar-a-Lago invite in Blair's future?  With any luck and groveling finesse, perhaps he can score a big hunk of amazing chocolate cake, or at least a Beggin Strip.

After all, a poodle's gotta eat.

If there's one thing that Donald Trump has accomplished, it has been making this dog-eat-dog world safe for a whole slew of lesser jerks.
What do you think - too harsh?

Anyway, I had much better luck with the Times censors with my riposte to Paul Krugman, who compared the political promises of Donald Trump with the political promises of Bernie "Medicare for All" Sanders - while smarmily and dishonestly insisting that he meant to do no such thing.  His column (Politicians, Promises, and Getting Real) is one more lazy rehash of his many pieces deriding single payer health insurance as ideal in a perfect world, but undo-able because its pie-in-the-sky unicorniness would create a "backlash," and also inconvenience the millions of lucky proles who simply adore the employment-based insurance which they now pay for in myriad ways, both hidden and unhidden.  Krugman doesn't even bother pretending any more. The fallacies in his logic are too myriad to address in just one 1500-character Times comment.

Nevertheless, I persisted.Here's my published comment as it (for now anyway) still appears online:
 I'm tired of hearing the same tired old tropes to explain to us non-wonks that we just can't have such nice things as a bankrupt-free healthy life because of some dreaded "backlash."

Let's get really real here. The richest country on earth doesn't have Single Payer because the corporations and oligarchs running the place don't want it. This has little to do with people now insured through work becoming too "inconvenienced" if they have to change plans and simplify things. Nearly two-thirds of us want Medicare for All. Does Krugman mean to imply that most people either don't work, or that their insurance has no stupid limits attached?

Ditto for the political "litmus test" so allegedly feared by politicians loath to quit taking bribes from the predatory insurance industry. Why protect these people? So that our health care system remains the most expensive on the planet, and our mortality and morbidity rates stay some of the worst?
Right now, there are millions of people suffering the mental and physical and financial trauma of two massive hurricanes. So what better time than right now to start incessantly demanding true universal coverage for them, and for all of us?

If Great Britain could establish its national health service after the Nazi blitz, surely we can do the same in the face of the even deadlier assault of man-made climate change.

"Pay-fors?" For starters, we can slash the Pentagon budget, and stop bombing people to death.
So, what do you think - not up to my usual standards of harshness?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

After the Storms

Hurricanes kill, of course, but it's what comes after them that kills absolutely.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Hollywood, Florida, where at least eight elderly nursing home residents - inmates, actually - have died in temperatures nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Whether heatstroke, tainted food, preexisting conditions or dehydration were contributing factors or direct causes is moot at this point. Because the real cause is criminal human neglect and policies decided at the very highest levels of our corporacracy.

There was no flooding to prevent the evacuation of these trapped patients, as was the tragic case at New Orleans' charity hospital during Hurricane Katrina. The Florida "rehabilitation facility" is located right across the street from the nice, clean, modern, air-conditioned hospital with which it is affiliated. 

The nursing home administrator, Jorge Carballo, as well as relatives of patients complained to the media that Florida Power and Light was unresponsive to their incessant pleas to repair the broken fuse which allegedly caused the air conditioning to fail. They called and they called and they called, but nobody ever came. "It was life-threatening," said one patient's daughter, who understandably wished to remain anonymous.

So they set up fans to circulate the humid 100-degree air, and they made their patients as comfortable as is humanly possible in an inhumane situation.

The utility company itself said the nursing home was not on its list of critical infrastructure priorities. It is not surprising that old, sick, poor people are not top priorities in a state which depends so heavily on the luxury tourism industry for its revenue. What, you thought this nursing home was Disneyland or something?

Why nobody seems to have done the logical thing and called 9-1-1 immediately is still a mystery. As evidenced by the professed myriad calls to a utility company, the phone system, at least, was operative.

But here's the dirty little secret about nursing homes. They are really loath to discharge their patients, let alone lose their entire population in one fell swoop, along with all those Medicare and Medicaid dollars. As with everything else, eldercare is increasingly privatized and profit-motivated.

And another dirty little secret is that the inmates of these facilities can get so desperate and so confused and so scared that even on a good day they pick up the phone and call 9-1-1 themselves. Over and over and over again. And once the cops arrive, because they are required by law to do so,, the nurse or administrator tiredly explains that it was just Mr. Jones, the Alzheimer's patient, at it again.

Also, nursing homes and 9-1-1 dispatchers have a fraught relationship. Overworked staff requesting an ambulance must go through a whole checklist before help is dispatched. For legal reasons, the emergency dispatchers have to ascertain, among other things, whether the nurse making the call is even medically trained enough to observe and measure symptoms.

And, according to a government-commissioned study by Health Services Research, "hospitalizations of nursing home residents are costly and expose residents to iatrogenic disease and social and psychological harm. Economic constraints imposed by payers of care, predominantly Medicaid policies, are hypothesized to impact hospitalizations."

So we don't know yet whether the Florida facility called for help in a timely manner. But testimony about the measures taken or not taken should be enlightening, to say the least. In the end, it will probably all boil down to a cost/benefit analysis gone horribly, horribly wrong. Mistakes were made. No one person can ever be held criminally or civilly accountable. It's the bureaucracy, you see. 

It's hard to successfully sue nursing homes, because oftentimes their ownership is sliced and diced into so many hidden little pieces it becomes a losing battle from the very beginning. Unaccountability is built right in to the system. And under the Trump administration, it's getting even harder to hold them liable  for even the most flagrant neglect and abuse. They're doing away with a belated Obama rule which at least prohibited a facility from immediately foisting a "non-arbitration" agreement on new patients who are already confused enough by their change in surroundings. The oligarchic United States Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in ensuring that any patient who refuses to sign arbitration papers can be denied admission. The chances of collecting damages have gone from slim to none.

But back to getting outside help when confined in a facility. When I myself was a patient/inmate at one of these public/private "subacute care" homes for three months after a severe injury about a decade ago, patients taking it upon themselves to call 9-1-1 was a regular occurrence. One gentleman with dementia, who used to wheel himself into my room to chat and confabulate, would invariably beg me to call 9-1-1 for him because the Mob was out to get him. (I was lucky enough to have my own phone.) And truth to be told, I was often tempted to call for outside help on my own behalf. But that's a long story, or really a book, for another day. The facility ended up closing when a purchase deal went sour. Now it's being profitably used as a movie set.

Unfortunately, the tragedy in Hollywood, Florida is probably just the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. This state is Retiree Central, and electrical service to millions of customers is expected to be off for weeks, if not months.

So where are our vaunted military troops with their ships and their planes conducting the mandatory evacuations of the poorest and most vulnerable people to cooler climes? Those searches and rescues which are currently underway are in ever-increasing danger of becoming the most massive corpse salvage operation in history.

The humanitarian crisis in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean no longer even leads the front pages of our establishment newspapers. Over at the New York Times, Trump's bipartisan dinner with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi was the lead article today. Even the "Pharma Bro Felon's" arrest on charges of threatening Hillary Clinton's hair follicles is placed above the now day-old story of the nursing home catastrophe. 

And when I turned on CNN yesterday afternoon, there was the same old RussiaGate panel at it again, mewling over Michael Flynn's son's collusion with the latest colluders. There was Hillary Clinton again, talking about the only humanitarian crisis that really matters: her political defeat. To give CNN credit, however, these tawdry stories are at least regularly interspersed with post-storm coverage by some actual reporters we never see unless there's a terror attack or a weather catastrophe. I especially appreciated foreign correspondent Clarissa Ward's description of the Caribbean chaos as a Lord of the Flies scenario.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has finally introduced his Medicare For All legislation. It could not have come at a better, more pressing time. Millions of people are going to need some pretty intensive physical and mental health therapy in the arch-conservative states of Florida and Texas, whose receding flood waters contain a fair portion of unregulated toxic chemicals and antibiotic-resistant microbes. What more urgent time than right now to make sure that they get help that doesn't come with a premium or deductible?  If a devastated Great Britain could establish its own National Health Service in the rubble of the Nazi blitz, certainly we can do the same to stave off the continuing assault on life that is man-made climate change.

There is a full-blown third world humanitarian crisis going on right now in the richest country on earth. It's a do or die moment. Call the New Deal ambulance, pronto.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Forgetting Our Great National Obsession

Man, do I ever feel faux-guilty. I was so busy watching and worrying over Hurricane Irma (when I wasn't shallowly and obsessively writing about Hillary and Ivanka, that is) that I completely, utterly forgot that yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11. I didn't realize the importance of the date until I switched on the local news last night. Usually they lead off with a gory highway pileup, or the latest grievous assault on (or theft of) a religious statue in the Bronx. But the minute I heard that solemn tolling bell soundtrack, I knew exactly what I had missed.

It was like the recurring nightmare I used to have as a struggling single mother: I'd either forgotten about Halloween, and my kids were the only ones in the school without costumes, or even worse, the kids woke up to a bare Christmas tree because Mom had forgotten to play Santa. Maybe a psychologist out there can interpret these anxiety dreams for me. Because truth be told, I still sometimes have them. even though my children have been adults for years.

I wasn't always so remiss about 9/11 on this blog. Without going through the archives, I'm pretty sure I've posted something inappropriate about it on all the requisite dates. Since I am a day late and a dollar short, I'll just offer up the following 9/11 anecdote before following up with a reprise of one of my older posts.

You might have read that our esteemed governor, Andrew Cuomo, has faced some criticism for yanking hundreds of New York State police troopers away from their normal patrols in order for them to stand around at the airports and train stations as actors in National Security Terror Theater. (The media has had to file Freedom of Information requests to get the specifics on this public relations gimmick, such as the $26 million cost overrun in the state police budget.)

A state trooper I know was one of those assigned to Grand Central recently. Before going to their assigned posts, however, his detail's first order of business was a special guided tour of the 9/11 memorial and museum at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. He told me that the objective was to get the troopers in the right emotional and patriotic frames of mind as they sussed out potential terrorists waiting in line for a train to Albany or a flight to Boise. Oh, and it was for Cuomo to look Oval Office-ready and for passengers to feel either safe or intimidated, as the case may be. The trooper told me he'd personally found the whole experience very weird, particularly the required museum tour. His main function turned out to be posing for selfies with out-of-state tourists.

On that note, here's a piece I wrote three years ago, to mark the opening of the 9/11 museum in 2014:

Atrocity Exhibition in the Gilded Age

It could always be worse, I suppose. At least they're not selling the "Twisted Metal" series of X-rated video games in the September 11 Memorial Museum gift shop. Not yet, anyway.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a 9/11 souvenir shop. It will open its doors next week, to coincide with the grand opening of our Great National Shrine to Terror, appropriately located just blocks away from that other terror enclave known as Wall Street in lower Manhattan.

A dedication gala reserved for a class-spanning cavalcade of potentates, politicians, CEOs, corporate sponsors, emergency personnel and survivors was being held today.

But back to shopping. Among the mementos on sale are adorable search and rescue dog plushies. They're euphemistally being  labeled "rescue" animals for Disneyfication-of-atrocity purposes, due to their rapid redeployment as cadaver dogs after the tower collapses. 

And since the 9/11 gift shop is an equal opportunity purveyor, the puppies are available in both black Lab and yellow Lab. 

  The selection doesn't end with toys. For fashionistas anxious to show off their somberness for all the folks back home, the "Darkness" clothing label is offering a special line of tee-shirts and hoodies. This couture is not recommended for wearing upon dark skin, especially in Florida* and wherever the NYPD is on patrol.

And for those hopelessly romantic death-denialists out there, there's a wide variety of "Survivor Tree" jewelry, named after the oak tree damaged in the attacks and nursed back to health by some volunteer horticulturists.

  Finally,don't forget your WTC Map & Memorial Tote Bag. For only $20, you'll have a sturdy place to stash your 9/11 plushies, earrings, mug, cap, cell phone cover, mousepad, magnets, keychains and a wide variety of 9/11 Christmas ornaments.

Are you worried that the commercialization of one of the most horrific crimes in history might be too intense for the sensitive shopper?  Well, you can ease yourselves. Because all proceeds will be used for the outrageously expensive upkeep of the 9/11 Museum itself. You see, the multimillion-dollar tax deductible predatory loans investments from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and virtually all of corporate America apparently are not enough to keep Terror alive, year after year, for all eternity.

 And heaven forbid that any proceeds are used to give away tickets to those New Yorkers who can't afford the $24 price of admission. The indigent population in the Wealth Disparity Capital of the World will get nothing. The ailing, poisoned first responders of 9/11 will not be seeing any additional proceeds either, despite the fact that their badges and insignia are being honored as religious artifacts and sold at high markups in the gift shop.

To be totally fair, though, Museum directors are not charging admission to children. They also don't recommend attendance by children under the age of 10. The exhibits are that disturbing.

If you can't or won't visit the glorified crime scene, you can still order 9/11 stuff from the gift shop website. And should your merchandise arrive in a mangled condition, there's a 45-day window for returns or refunds. Your complete satisfaction is their goal.

But, I digress from the sanctity of this surreal occasion.

In the 9/11 museum itself, the thrills will be muted, and open displays of  enjoyment will not be tolerated. Taking a cue from peep show culture, long-suppressed graphic video and audio of human beings in the act of death will be only available for discreet viewing in private rooms. Similarly, the unidentified human remains newly arrived from the city morgue for museum interment will be hidden from rubber-neckers who cannot prove that they are immediate family. Fetishists will have to be satisfied using their limited imaginations as they ponder the grotesque tableaux of mangled fire trucks, orphaned shoes, melted girders, and other relics and artifacts of mass murder. The mausoleum within the museum is off-limits to mere gawkers.

And J.G. Ballard must be rolling in his grave.

The late novelist actually presaged the 9/11 museum and the dystopian decadence of the 21st century Gilded Age in his fiction. His novel "The Atrocity Exhibition" included a controversial short story called "Crash". The plot, such as it is, takes place amidst a museum display of horrendous car crash memorabilia.

"All over the world," Ballard wrote, "major museums have bowed to the influence of Disney and become theme parks in their own right. The past, whether Renaissance Italy or Ancient Egypt, is re-assimilated and homogenized in its most digestible form."

Unlike the glitzy 9/11 shrine, we never do find out whether Ballard's atrocity exhibition of gruesome relics is real, or whether it's simply a figment of the protagonist's psychotic imagination.  First published in Great Britain in 1970, the book was considered so disgusting that copies were soon yanked from store shelves and destroyed. The pre-9/11 world apparently was not yet ready for science fiction pornography.

The late Christopher Hitchens described Ballard as a "catastrophist" who specialized in "dark materials," (as in the 9/11 Boutique "Darkness" clothing line) his inspiration flowing in a straight line from Jonathan Swift. In his review of Ballard's short story collection, Hitchens wrote:
Another early story (though not represented here: the claim of this volume to be “complete” is somewhat deceptive) in something of the same style, “Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy,” ignited a ridiculous fuss in the very news rags whose ghoulish coverage of her life Ballard was intending to satirize. Randolph Churchill led the charge, demanding punishment for the tiny magazine that printed it. This “modest proposal” furnishes one of many clues to a spring of Ballard’s inspiration, which is fairly obviously the work of Jonathan Swift. In 1964 he even wrote an ultra-macabre story, “The Drowned Giant,” which tells of what happens when the corpse of a beautiful but gigantic man washes ashore on a beach “five miles to the north-west of the city.” The local Lilliputians find cheap but inventive ways of desecrating and disfiguring the body before cutting it up for souvenirs and finally rendering it down in big vats. One might characterize this as the microcosmically ideal Ballard fantasy, in that it partakes of the surreal—the “Gulliver” being represented as a huge flesh statue based on the work of Praxiteles—as well as of the Freudian: “as if the mutilation of this motionless colossus had released a sudden flood of repressed spite.” In the pattern of many other stories, the narrator adopts the tone of a pathologist dictating a detached report of gross anatomy. A single phrase, colossal wreck, is a borrowing from Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” which may be the closest that Ballard ever came to a concession to the Romantic school.
 Another and nearer literary source is provided by the name—Traven—of the solitary character in “The Terminal Beach.” This is one of two tales—the other being “One Afternoon at Utah Beach”—in which Ballard makes an imaginarium out of the ruined scapes of World War II. Like his modern but vacant cities full of ghostly tower blocks (he is obsessed with towers of all sorts) and abandoned swimming pools, the Pacific and Atlantic beaches, still covered by concrete blocks and bunkers, furnish the ideal setting for a Ballardian wasteland. The beach in the first story has the additional advantage of having been the site of an annihilating nuclear test. The revenant shapes of long-dead Japanese and Germans are allowed a pitiless flicker before their extinction.
 It was such an innocent time, that Pre-9/11 Era. And then Everything Changed (TM). We were speed-read the Shock Doctrine. The NSA revved up into high gear. The Bill of Rights crashed and burned and became a relic practically overnight. (all except the Second Amendment, which immediately began consuming the other nine, course by voracious course.)

Disaster Capitalism ran wild.

 “Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today, nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans.” -- Barack Obama, 9/11 Museum dedication.

 “The human race sleepwalked to oblivion, thinking only of the corporate logos on its shroud." -- J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come.


* This was a reference to the murder of Trayvon Martin in the "stand your ground" Sunshine State. He was shot to death by neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman because he was wearing a hoodie while walking while black.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Ivanka: DOTUS or DOOFUS?

Ivanka Trump has been in a fashion quandary lately. What designer costume should she be today: Daughter Of Oligarch Fuming Under Siege (DOOFUS), or Daughter Of The United States (DOTUS)?

Ever since her doting daddy dissed the Dreamers, and banned transgender people from the military, Ivanka had been forced into semi-hiding. It was no longer safe for her to turn her exclusive Washington neighborhood into her own private catwalk, because the neighbors were all out there protesting. There hadn't been a front page spread about her latest outfit in The Daily Mail for at least a week. (Not that I'd been keeping count, mind you, but it suddenly dawned on me that their breathless fashion, hair, and makeup coverage, complete with the tasteful price-tags attached to everything for our resentful pleasure, were suddenly gone.)

So you can imagine my relief when Ivanka and her male model husband Jared Kushner reappeared on the Kalorama catwalk Saturday to go out for another fashion jog in their fashion togs. They were a perfect match in "somber" gray to show their solidarity with those victims of Hurricane Irma who might have lost their third vacation home in Naples or on Marco Island. DOTUS even wore color-coordinated gray/black sneakers to offset her gray leggings, with just the right trimming of black funereal mesh and a spiffy black Secret Service cap to match her security detail. Even her Daddy was happy to coordinate, bragging that "We're prepared at the very highest levels!"

 Jogging the Jarvanka Way

DOTUS unfortunately regressed into DOOFUS style (in coordination with Labor Day) when her one feeble claim to liberalism - "empowering" working women - took a powder. She disabused us of the media-marketed notion that she was some kind of moral force keeping Daddy's worst instincts at bay when she chirpily announced that the female wage equity she espouses sadly does not apply to the women who work directly for her Daddy in the White House. Also, she totally agrees with the overturning of the Obama rule which ostensibly forces CEOs to reveal male/female pay disparity.This fashion faux pas has elicited all the pout-rage you'd expect from the mainstream media market. They hate it whenever their groupthink narrative is challenged.

As a reward for loyally succumbing to Daddy, Ivanka was released from her East Coast bubble and allowed to accompany Daddy to North Dakota for another one of his pseudo-populist rallies. Because if they can't appreciate her in the Beltway, there's always still the Heartland to charm and fool and dazzle.

And even more sadly, her planned trip to China, where she is adored as the Great White Capitalist Goddess of Glamor and Virtuous Greed, had to be cancelled. I suppose we can blame it all on unfashionable North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, and Daddy's lecturing China about their need to do more to contain him.

But lest you feel too betrayed or let down, you will be happy to know that the umbel never falls too far from the hemlock - because DOTUS still tweets. She is particularly fond of sending out her very special thoughts and prayers, if not her actual Self, to wherever climate change disasters strike. She is also very busy maintaining her website, which is neatly divided into the categories which are most pressing and important to struggling, desperate people: Style, Work, Home, Play, Travel, Wise Words and Shop. So your only quandary is which category to relish first.

"How to be present for your family when you travel all the time" immediately piqued my interest, so I proceeded to relish without another thought. (The site will do that to you, so caveat emptor)

Ivanka, or maybe an underling just pretending to be Ivanka, interviewed an ESPN personality named Jenna Mayo, who has boldly missed Thanksgiving with her family for the last eight years in a row.  How much more empowering does it get than that? The trick is to be absent and present at the exact same moment in time through the magical powers of selfishness and marketing and hypnosis - and let's not forget that old standby: the infliction of tons and tons of maternal guilt. In her preferred new position as DOTUS, Ivanka adds just the right buzzwords so necessary to put an identitarian neoliberal sheen on things:
Working hard in a male-dominant industry, Jenna has always aspired to set an example for women and girls that they should not be intimidated to choose a career in which they’re the minority. As a wife and now mom of two, Jenna manages to invest in both her family and work at the same time—even when she’s on the road.
“People want to feel loved, valued, missed and important,” Jenna says. “When I’m away, I want to make sure my husband and kids feel that. It’s my responsibility as a wife and a mom.”
When you're a member of the Trump crowd, your most important narcissistic concern is to make sure that other people understand that you and your interests are always more important than other people's needs. What better way to sell narcissism as a virtue than to make sure it starts right in the bosom of your own family?

According to DOTUS, there are no five stages of grief to manage in kids who miss their absentee moms. There are instead five ways to bolster your own ego by pretending to care about your needy spouse and offspring.

1. Follow the "Love Languages": leave notes for the children. Stock the fridge to show solidarity with your selfless husband's life of service. Be careful about giving too many gifts to the kids, though - otherwise you might spoil them. Quality time and physical caresses can always be accomplished in the intervals between trips. You'll have them absolutely begging for it!

2. Be in touch daily: use Face Time in lieu of the Beanie Babies that Daddy used to bring you after all his business trips. Naturally, your own particular mother was always at home, taking care of you, and later trying to unload your worthless Beanie Babies as a way of tax-deductible charitable giving to unseen poor children during Christmas-time.

3. Get creative: whenever you go on TV, hold up up a sign that says "I Love Kale." You cleverly think that the all-important TV audience will thereby see you as a caring, hands-on mother whose family's nutrition is her top priority, even though you're a busy, famous star. It will make your kids so grateful that you are not at home. Also, be sure to send your son pictures of all the planes and trains that you get to ride on. (because despite your crusade of empowering women, your own daughter apparently would not be empowered by such things.)

4. Leave notes: be very original and be repetitive in a Goebbelsian kind of way. Write  "I love you" over and over and over again. Leave these notes, along with your favorite Bible quotes, in their lunchboxes or backpacks. And they will be both embarrassed and grateful that you are not at home.

5. Always give your neglected loved ones something to look forward to. Schedule date night with your husband around your own hyperactive schedule. Pretend that Monday morning is really Saturday night. He'll never know! He will appreciate you for it, as he glumly sits at home and pines for you and is not out having an affair. 

And always remember to never forget that Ivanka is the good Trump whose main accomplishment in life is to make you glad that you're not a rich ignorant asshole like Daddy.

This guy can't even manage his own website, let alone talk without making the hand gesture that matches his mouth that matches his you-know-what.