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.





Friday, September 8, 2017

Hillary Storms Onward

Poor Hillary Clinton can't catch a break.

Just when she was all set to claim entitlement to saturation media coverage of the latest version of her life, a hurricane named Irma is sucking it all up instead. Irma even has the nerve to totally crush Florida, which Hillary also memorably lost to her favorite stalker, Donald J. Trump. Didn't Irma get the message that there's a special place in hell for women who don't support other women? So Irma is either a Bernie-bro, a Putin troll, a James Comey FBI entrapment schemer, an Anthony Weiner sexting partner, or a Wikileaks dumpster fire that got way out of control.

Or probably all of the above. The important thing is that if something inconveniences Hillary Clinton, nobody else - not the homeless, the jobless, the drowned -  could possibly ever hope to reach the level of her sublime victimhood.

I don't plan on reading Hillary's book when it officially comes out. But judging from reviews of deliberately leaked copies, it is a nauseating combination of political revenge porn and self-pity. Not a good look. As a matter of fact, the speculative parodic review I already wrote concerning What the Hell Happened pales in comparison to the real thing. I was half-kidding when I predicted that she would also blame Obama for her loss. But she really goes there, chiding him for not abusing his office by hijacking the airwaves to deliver a  fear-mongering address about Russian interference in her coronation. 

She outlines numerous instances when she wanted to do something, but her handlers wouldn't let her. Her instincts and her intellect lost out every single time. Donald Trump was literally breathing down her neck on national television during a debate and she had to force herself to smile like a docile lady and keep quiet. She wanted to lash out at James Comey after he called her illegal email set-up "careless" but she had to keep quiet. Yada yada yada. She actually still cedes power to white male supremacy while pretending to fight against it even as she struggled to represent white male supremacy as the very first First Lady ever to ride her husband's coattails to the Oval Office.

Not a good look for someone who claims to have such unprecedented qualifications for leadership. Hillary was not and never will be a feminist with the courage of her own convictions.  

As Simone de Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex, "when a woman is named or elected to a position of power, she still represents the patriarchy; the lot of her female subjects/constituents/employees doesn't automatically improve. A queen (or a president) is not a woman first and foremost - she is an institution."

 A Clintonian restoration, with its neoliberal, plutocrat-friendly agenda, would have done little or nothing to elevate working class women.

De Beauvoir could have been forecasting Hillary's faux feminism, her sense of "it's my turn" aggrieved entitlement, and her current blame-game antics when she observed nearly 70 years ago:
She was promised compensations, she was assured that if she abdicated her opportunities into the hands of the man, they would be returned to her a hundredfold, and she considers herself duped; she accuses the whole masculine universe; resentment is the other side of dependence; when one gives everything, one never receives enough in return.
The snippet in Hillary's memoir which I find the most interesting and troublesome, though, was her claim that she was actually napping on Election Night as the returns came in. This is not a good look for a potential president who needs to stay awake and alert during critical national and international moments. Forget the 3 a.m. phone call. This dame couldn't even last past 9 p.m.

Was she hitting the bottle? She seems to admit, every chance she gets, that she does love her Chardonnay.




Was she on some other medications? Did Wolf Blitzer's stentorian CNN babble render her unconscious? Was she simply bored?

Perhaps she was just getting caught up on her beauty sleep in order to look her best at the Javits Center coronation gala. Perhaps she was lying about her election night snooze altogether.

I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. As Hillary herself famously scoffed about Benghazi, what difference at this point, does it make?

What I do know is that Hillary Clinton must be a bit short on the excessive cash needed to maintain herself and Bill and Chelsea and the grandkids in their lifestyles. Why else would she charge thousands of dollars for tickets to her book tour appearances? Most authors are only too happy to sign autographs for the price of just the book, score a few unpaid interviews, and then call it a tour.

But where there is chutzpah and where there are globs of money to be made, there is life in the old gal yet. So along with the book tour comes the political campaign to keep the centrist Democratic Party dream alive. Somebody's got to stand up against the growing anti-capitalist chorus for Single Payer health insurance, after all. So it might as well be Hillary. If she can't destroy something good, then what good is she?  She already managed to destroy the possibility for universal coverage once, during her husband's administration, so who says she can't try, try again?

I got an email from her just today, slugged "re: bravery" as though I were part of some ongoing trendy, insidery discussion. Hillary being Hillary, of course, she had the gall and the bad taste to immediately use the name of murdered Charlottesville activist Heather Heyer as a means to suck money off someone else's courageous dead body. In coordination with her book tour, Clinton is using her political action slush fund to "fight back" against the very hate and divisiveness which her tortured new memoir absolutely wallows in and perpetuates!

"Some days, it feels like the work left to do is insurmountable," she writes in the spammy email, probably typed out between exhausting sips of Chardonnay. "But if I've learned anything, it's that those (sic,hic) are the days we need each other* more than ever. That's one of the reasons we created Onward Together: to support smart, passionate activists who know what needs to be done and could use a little of our help to get there."

If you think Hillary Clinton would ever have given a dime to smart, passionate Bernie Sanders supporter Heather Heyer or any other anti-fascist, then I've got a ghostwritten memoir to sell you. Of course, what she really wants is money for her collapsed little eye-wall of  functionaries and campaign operatives, who are now doing such amazing work as collating maudlin quotes from other functionaries in a clunky new propaganda website called Verrit. (rhymes with Ferret.) 

Read the fine print: Hillary's slush fund will do nothing to make ordinary people's lives better today, or even tomorrow. It is classic neoliberal claptrap, a purely aspirational and intentionally vague public relations gimmick:
Onward Together works to build a brighter future for generations to come by supporting groups that encourage people to organize in their communities or run for office."
 Translation: give Hillary Clinton money to pay Clinton people a fraction of this money to inspire volunteer Clinton people to support other unpaid Clinton people. And if you're very lucky, some amazing shards of shattered glass ceiling might even eventually trickle down to your grandkids after you're long dead.

The designated grift sweepstakes winner for today is a group called Run For Something, (the hills?) which is designed to suck up money for only "good and necessary" causes, defined as winning more seats for centrist Democrats who are not in the Bernie Medicare For All Brigade. Oh and to get you even more inspired, click here to score a ticket to one of Hillary's own upcoming pity party/revenge porn appearances!

And while you're breathlessly waiting to see Hillary in the flesh, she suggests that you also do your mental health part and show your class solidarity by attending Broadway shows.
I've been fortunate enough (wealthy enough)  to see quite a bit of theater - if you get the chance to see Come From Away on Broadway, take it."
 By "you," she obviously doesn't mean people on fixed or low or no incomes. She means only those fellow Fortunates with enough disposable income to afford the three-figure price of admission to a hit Broadway show. Just by this suggestion alone, Hillary gives her own whole show away. Her appeal is both geographically and financially limited to the Acela Corridor/Wall Street and Silicon Valley/Hollywood.

But in her book, she nevertheless persists in claiming not to understand why her approval ratings stand even below those of her favorite stalker. It must be on account of her XX chromosomes and the vast, right wing He-Man Woman Haters Club. What other explanation could there possibly be?


Then again, this troubling confusion is probably understandable from a woman who says that her favorite reading material is mystery novels. She is a cozy closed-room puzzle unto herself, in dire need of an emergency dose of Hercule Poirot-level little gray cells to help her in the fine art of honest self-examination.

The hoped-for whirlwind of a comeback from a comeback from a defeat is barreling toward some mighty cold waters in the form of dismay from her fellow Democrats. Her book might be storming sales lists on Amazon this week, but all forecasts point to a rapid weakening to classic tropical depression status in the overstock bin.

But there will always be fine wine from Hillary's Zazzle collection. At only $6.65 a bottle, even the deplorables can feel the Clinton glow and afford to drown their sorrows with the Hillary Signature Star, Woman's Place White House, or Love Trumps Hate Heart (?) labels.

*oppressed wealthy elite donors of the superior knowledge class who couldn't care less about those annoying and demanding purists in the bottom 90%.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Detainees, Disposables, and DACA

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, famous for his long history of racism and xenophobia, was only too happy to give cover to Boss Trump Tuesday as he announced the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

But compassionate sadist that he is, Sessions added that the Death to Dreamers agenda won't be enforced until March, which should give Congress more than (ahem) enough time to do right by the 800,000 people who suddenly find themselves plunked back on the deportation list after being given a respite by the Obama administration. 

The relief granted to the important Latino voting bloc by the former president in an election year (2012) was never designed to be long-lasting. It was largely a result of the immense pressure from immigrant activists who threatened to withhold their votes from the Democratic incumbent unless he put his mouth where his money was. So he picked up his pen and he did the right pragmatic thing.

But, neoliberal stickler for boot-strapperism that he was, Obama made sure that signing up for DACA wouldn't be a walk in the park for the young immigrants. They had to jump through quite a few hoops. First, they couldn't have irresponsibly been born either too soon or too late. Anybody younger than 15 and older than 31 was out of luck. This is because the recipients of his selective mercy had to be either prime fodder for military service or smart enough to be in school full-time or lucky enough to have a job. They also had to have the financial wherewithal to pay a hefty fee for their temporary amnesty. Applications would languish for at least three suspenseful months. And most important, they had to come out of the shadows and admit their illegal status to the government.

So now that Trump's merciless brutality has collided with Obama's brutal mercy, the former president has bravely taken to Facebook to type out his displeasure. It's cruel, he says, to punish these young people who were unwittingly brought to this country by their irresponsible parents (read: sneaky immigrants with heavy accents who have probably not "assimilated".) Nowhere in his maudlin message does Obama explore the reasons why the parents entered the country with their kids in the first place. But that's not his point. His point is dog-whistling the message that some unqualified people still have to be sent a message. Mercy does have its limits, after all.

And therein lies my problem with DACA. It separates  "good" immigrants from "bad" immigrants, just as the "deserving" poor are artificially separated by policy-makers from the "undeserving" poor as an excuse to slash social programs. The liberal media's love affair with Dreamers, as they are dreamily known, helps paper over such horrendous realities as the private prisons where mother and child refugees from Central American government and gang violence are indefinitely detained pending court hearings on their refugee applications.

Rather than grant those detainees a reprieve, right before leaving office Obama made a prisoner exchange deal with the Australian prime minister, involving about more than a thousand Latino migrants currently being held in a US-controlled prison in Costa Rica, and and an equal number of Asian migrants, jailed on a couple of islands in the Pacific Ocean and in Papua New Guinea. These politicians were playing their own cruel game of international musical chairs with disposable human lives, forcing refugees to move even more many thousands of miles away from friends and relatives to gain their alleged freedom. "Transportation" of prisoners, as occurred in the bleak and brutal times of Charles Dickens, is alive and well.

The inmates of the Dickensian Berks County Family Residential Center in Pennsylvania, meanwhile, remain incarcerated for months or even years, pending deportation back to their violence-ridden native countries. They're not included in the Australian/American human refuse swap, probably for fear of any more untoward publicity, such as that arising from the mothers' hunger strike last year. The strike ended only when ICE officials threatened to yank small children away from their desperate parents.

That episode in the annals of American mercy was largely ignored by media. Not so, however, was the story of Donald Trump's crude, rude, and dishonest attempt to renege on Obama's "dumb" deal with Australia - before he eventually went along with it. Or did he?

It seems that the globalized swap of human bodies is running into a roadblock. Trump officials who arrived on the Australian gulag at Nauru in July to "vet" refugees abruptly up and left after only three days of interviews. From Reuters:
“The U.S. deal looks more and more doubtful,” Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said. “The U.S. deal was never the solution the Australian government pretended it to be.”
Former U.S. President Barack Obama agreed a deal with Australia late last year to offer refuge to up to 1,250 asylum seekers, a deal the Trump administration said it would only honor to maintain a strong relationship with Australia and then only on condition that refugees satisfied strict checks.
In exchange, Australia has pledged to take Central American refugees from a center in Costa Rica, where the United States has taken in a larger number of people in recent years.
The swap is designed, in part, to help Australia close both Manus and Nauru, which are expensive to run and have been widely criticized by the United Nations and others over treatment of detainees.
To be fair to Obama, whose administration deported a record number of immigrants before the Latino voting population forced him to change course, he at least was seen as trying to expand DACA in 2015 in order to include the parents of Dreamers in the temporary amnesty scheme. But mercilessly brutal Texas officials sued and won, and the administration's subsequent appeal, all the way to the Supreme Court, resulted in a non-decision. And thus does the game of musical chairs with human lives continue unabated. The people in power are always loath to ever let any divide-and-conquer opportunity go to waste. The wielding of fear and resentment is their most valuable weapon.

 Sessions, for his own part, didn't waste the opportunity Tuesday to again spew the canard that "illegals" are invading our country to steal such wonderful jobs as picking fruit and washing dishes from "real" Americans. (No matter that the Dreamers are mostly educated and "assimilated" - for all intents and purposes, already naturalized citizens.)

As soon as Trump was elected on his anti-immigration platform, the American Civil Liberties Union began advising potential DACA applicants to think twice before signing up, and to also consult with an immigration attorney before doing so. Even under Obama, there were always risks to signing up as a Dreamer. An eventual rude awakening was a given.

But if, as some people hope and predict, the feckless Trump will never actually enforce his decision on DACA absent any congressional action (he will humanely "revisit" the issue in six months), the announcement still serves the purpose of absolutely terrorizing 800,000 potential deportees and their families. Thankfully, they learned how to organize a long time ago. They are visible, and therefore they will ultimately be victorious.

In all likelihood, his threat to the Dreamers is just the stick Trump needs to get Congress to appropriate billions of dollars for his never-ending Nightmare Wall.

***

Update: Due to the nature (downright nasty as in "deport yourself back to Mexico!" to "I'm a progressive, and certainly not a racist, but..."  of comments submitted in the past 24 hours, I've had no choice but to shut down this function for this particular piece.

I've noticed that such websites as Truthout and Naked Capitalism have done away with reader comments on all their articles entirely in recent weeks. and I hope I'm not forced to do likewise. But it's getting uglier than usual out here in cyberspace. Hate speech is not the same thing as free speech. I don't have to tolerate it, and neither should anyone else.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Norma Rae Revisited

One of the last Hollywood films to unabashedly showcase working class activism was released in 1979, on the very eve of the Reagan era neoliberalism that, in the coming decades, would effectively destroy the American labor movement.

Norma Rae, which won Sally Field her first Oscar for her portrayal of the title character, is based on real-life labor organizer Crystal Lee Sutton and the ultimately successful struggle of workers to unionize a J.P. Stevens textile plant in 1974. Despite many details, as well as dialogue lifted almost verbatim from a New York Times article about Sutton, (then known as Crystal Lee Jordan) the film bears the usual "this is a work of fiction and any connection to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental" disclaimer in the closing credits. As a result, Sutton herself never saw a dime from the film, which became a major box office hit. In that regard, too, it very much presaged the brutal backlash against working people that was to come.

Still, the movie stands out for its realism, from the pro-labor dialogue, to the cross-racial worker solidarity portrayed, right down to the depressing, paint-peeling company-owned abodes of the mill workers, who at the time represented nearly one third of the population of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. (Since the movie was shot in Alabama, no actual factory workers were needed as extras, of course.) Another irony is that the producer, 20th Century Fox, only forked out money for the film because it was drowning in record profits from the first edition of the Star Wars franchise, the escapist fantasy for the ages.

Another hint of the neoliberal swing from labor politics to the identity-driven politics to come was the film's marketing as a feminist story rather than a class story. Labor historian Jefferson Cowie writes that although class solidarity and worker solidarity were, in fact, the underlying themes of Norma Rae, "one of the most important aspects of the film is the subtle way that both individualism and feminism subtly trump workerism in the film. Rather than creating a solid foundation for the merging of gender and class, as (director Martin) Ritt had hoped for, this film was backed and marketed as a woman's picture. Like all Hollywood productions, the film focused on the rising consciousness of the lead heroine at the expense of the rest of the workers' efforts. Crystal Lee found this so problematic that she came close to suing Martin Ritt and launching a competing narrative of the events in collaboration with the Academy-award winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple. The narration of political uplift also became the center of the marketing strategy."

The promotional poster, in fact, features a perky Sally Field, arms outstretched like a cheerleader, looking carefree and happy in skintight designer jeans, which were soon to be branded in department stores as "Norma Rae Work n Class Jeans!" 


The only trouble is that this triumphal image never happened in the actual movie, let alone in real life. Crystal Lee herself no longer worked at the minimum wage (then about $3 an hour) job at the textile mill she had helped to organize. This is the original advertising poster, which Fox distribution and marketing executives nixed as being too dangerously close to real working class angst:





In the movie trailer, the excited voice-over gushes: "Norma Rae is a survivor and for the first time in her life she has the chance to become something more - a winner!" 

This tripe not only presaged the neoliberal era, it presaged neoliberalism's ultimate excrescence - the win-at-any-cost persona and propaganda of our current pseudo-populist president, Donald J. Trump. Not for nothing were the anti-union mill owners of the South also among the most generous right-wing funders of the Republican Party. From Henry P. Liefermann's gut-wrenching Times article, which inspired the film:
 The industry, from floor sweeper to chairman of the board, reaches everywhere in the South. Senators such as Strom Thurmond, Sam Ervin, Herman Talmadge, governors such as John West, Terry Sanford and Jimmy Carter started their campaigns with the mill vote. Roger Milliken of Deering‐Milliken mills, the world's third largest, was one of Richard Nixon's finance chairmen in 1968 (as well as one of the John Birch Society's directors in 1962). It was the souls of the mill hands Billy Graham began with—he has gone on to Presidents and the world, they to such as the Great Speckled Bird Baptist Church in Greenville, S. C.
Mill hands are the bedrock of the Deep South's economy, religion, politics, industry. They are also the lowest paid industrial workers in the South and the nation. Their average income is $6,000 a year before any deductions; their average work day includes 20 minutes for lunch and two 10‐minute rest breaks; their average work week is six days, including a scheduled day of overtime; their average hourly wage of $2.79 is 35 cents less than the Southern average and $1.22 an hour below the national average for industrial workers, and their wholly non‐average life is plagued by alcohol, sex, violence and an image of themselves as deserving no better than what they get.
These mill workers got sick manufacturing high-end bedding for the rich and fulfilling contracts for damask tablecloths for the entire chain of luxury Hilton hotels.  And, Liefferman wrote, mill workers were even encouraged to bring their children to work in order to learn the trade.

Now, of course, much of this manufacturing work for what Forbes aptly calls Carl Icahn's "Undercover Empire" is increasingly offshored to workers, paid even less than Crystal and her pre-union co-workers were, to get sick as they manufacture Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren and Disney and Izod sheets and towels and clothing.
 
Crystal Lee Sutton would die of a brain tumor in 2009 at age 68, having escaped the brown lung disease which prematurely claimed the lives of so many of her former co-workers and generations of members of her own extended family.

The Roanoke Rapids, NC mill where she'd worked and agitated had shut its doors six years previously, in 2003, eventually becoming subsumed in the WestPoint-Stevens conglomerate, which itself was taken over in bankruptcy by corporate raider (and Trump adviser) Carl Icahn, who continues to live long and prosper despite his felony record. As recounted in The Encylopedia of Forlorn Places, the building where Sutton and her co-workers fought for and gained their rights has fallen into disrepair, while many other factories of its kind were quickly demolished for fear of too many people remembering history.


The penultimate scene in the film version, in which the newly-fired and defiant Norma Rae jumps up on a table happened just that way in real life. For the first time in generations, the whole plant went quiet.
Crystal Lee returned to her work table to pick up her purse. Suddenly she pulled out a sheet of cardboard, and with her black marker lettered on it, “UNION.” She climbed on her table and slowly began to turn, holding the sign high so the side hemmers, terry hemmers, terry cutters and packers could see what she had written.
That's what she was doing when Drewery Beale came to get her, found her on the table, angry, afraid, close to tears, holding her “UNION” sign. Later that night Chief Beale would take Crystal Lee to jail, book her on disorderly‐conduct charges, and the union organizers would came to bail her out. Weeks later the charges would be dropped, her firing taken before the N.L.R.B. by the union, and she would be on unemployment, the family living only on Cookie Jordan's salary.
That mill might be falling down today, but Crystal Lee's memory lives on, especially at Allemance Community College, where a museum has been established in her memory. 

Crystal, Thinking


 ***

Norma Rae is currently available on the Filmstruck streaming platform, which is also showcasing several other rarely aired labor films this month, including Salt of the Earth, about striking New Mexico mine workers, and Barbara Koppleman's iconic Harlan County USA.