Archive for August, 2017

Unprepared

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Knee-jerk hypercapitalists may recall the words of their celebrated  spokesman Grover Norquist: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The quality of preparedness and response furnished by state, local and federal authorities to the people of Houston tells us the drowning was successful. Even though the “responsible” authorities knew that there would be widespread flooding, there was no evacuation plan, no advance provision for emergency shelter, no coordinated rescue strategy, nothing to indicate that Houston or Texas or even the USA has a functioning government.  You might hope that your state and city have made better preparations for big emergencies, but they probably haven’t. 

Not that anybody is asking. Well into the third day of the crisis in Houston, you can search high and low for journalistic criticism of government authorities, and you will find nothing. On the contrary, the media have been showering praise on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which didn’t even show up until Day Two of the disaster, and the Texas National Guard, which is “mobilized” but still ineffectual as of Day Three. You might expect that the question on every reporter’s lips would be “Was any lesson learned from Katrina?” It’s not.

What do you have a right to expect from government in an emergency like the one in Houston? The answer seems to be, “Nothing.” The consensus among reporters is that this disaster is simply too big and too severe for government. Nobody is questioning the decision of authorities in Texas not to evacuate Houston in advance. The media people know perfectly well that it was a bad call, but they’re censoring the inadequacy of preparedness out of their coverage. You can see that there are few boats plying flooded neighborhoods, few cots in emergency shelters, few buses delivering refugees, no sign of responsible government whatsoever. Plenty of video of inundated neighborhoods and occasional rescues by private parties, but not much in the way of an organized response, and no comment from the media.

The censorship should come as no surprise. The corrupt institution we call journalism depends on access to government officials for a supply of press releases, statements, and leaks to feed the information stream we innocently accept as “news.” In return for access, news-mongers must refrain from criticism. It makes it difficult for us news-consumers to assess the performance of our leaders, but accountability is the price of freedom.

If all this sounds like capitulation, it is.  The Houston police and fire authorities are prepared, but not for this. Terrorism is the big risk, and the authorities are armed to the teeth for that sort of unlikely event. Heavy weapons, kevlar suits, shields, and armored personnel carriers have been distributed in abundance; boats for flood-prone areas, not so much.

It’s true that Texans voted for less government, but maybe they didn’t deserve to get it.

Autoreviewing

Friday, August 25th, 2017

The President of the United States should be a role model for all of us. In that spirit, I’m recommending that all of us (for fun) talk like Donald Trump. So, for example, when you make a batch of hamburgers for your family, you say, “These are going to be the best hamburgers you’ve ever eaten. No, the best hamburgers anybody’s ever eaten in the history of the world. And that’s because of the quality of the cook. If there was a  Nobel prize for cooking, I would definitely get it. Ask anybody . . . ” and so on. If we all did this all the time, it would be a great crowd gag and maybe motivate some of the people who have the power to do it to dump this clown.

Defaming Islam

Friday, August 18th, 2017

News-consumers are entitled to an explanation of this phrase, which appears in just about every journalistic account of the latest mass killings in Spain: “The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Barcelona violence.”

The statement is not factual, because there is no person who speaks officially for “The Islamic State,” which is itself not an identifiable political entity but, rather, an acronym of English intitials invented by somebody somewhere to refer to terrorists and used on the Internet to claim responsibility for acts of mayhem. There’s an online presence that calls itself the Amaq News Agency, but it’s no more identifiable as a Muslim organization than the entity it claims to speak for. No other source is disclosed for the claim of responsibility, which effectively lays blame for the attack with people of a particular religion. If you seek further verification of this universally reported claim, you won’t find it anywhere I’ve looked.

Suppose there was a group that wanted to defame Islam and Muslims. Might it arrange for someone to commit an act of mayhem and claim responsiblity for it on the Internet, in the guise of a Muslim news agency? That’s a no less plausible explanation for this atrocity than the one offered unanimously by our embedded mass media, that fanatical Muslims were responsible. In fact, given the lack of trustworthy provenance for the published claim, coupled with the ease of falsification and the fact that there are many groups that habitually defame Islam, the possibility of a false claim seems even more likely.

People should ask what else, if anything, the media can tell readers about the provenance for the assertion that something called “Islamic State” carried out this attack, or even that such an entity exists at all.

Vandals for Social Justice

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

I seem to be part of a small minority of peace-and-justice advocates who don’t want to remove offensive monuments. I’ve taken to the street in opposition to every war waged by the USA since 1970 (when I took off my military uniform for the last time), but I think the memorials should be left standing. Yes, I’m offended when I consider the corrupt legacy of Christopher Columbus, whose statue stands prominently here in Hartford,  but I’d rather suffer the offense than remove the statue and forget how we once venerated him.   

The embedded mass media tell us it was the removal of a statue of rebel general Robert E. Lee that sparked the exhibition of Nazi paraphernalia in Charlottesville last weekend. Maybe, but the event was billed as an assembly of right-wing groups from around the country. I watched some of the “protest,” and I kept seeing the same faces over and over. It looked like a minuscule group, maybe a few hundred. If that’s the far-right, it’s tiny and not worth the attention it got from the media. These same media mock us when we turn out a few thousand to resist war, but I didn’t hear a single reporter suggest that the turnout for this convention was pathetic.

I’m embarassed to be on the same side as the Nazis on the question of Lee’s statue. Lee was a good general, not because of his dedication to slavery or to killing but because of his ability to get his subordinates to carry out orders.   There haven’t been very many good generals, because you don’t rise in the military without kissing a lot of butt, and that selection process eliminates the most qualified leaders. Lee was as good a general as Grant, but Lee’s civilian commanders were deficient, while Grant’s eventually gained competence.  Plus Lee’s sponsors openly espoused a brutal, altogether American ethic that still infects us. His image reminds me of all that.

It’s true that most of these memorials went up during a renaissance of bigotry in the 1920’s, accompanied by a surge in Ku Klux Klan membership and a rash of racist mob violence, but that’s not a good reason to desecrate them. In fact, it may be the best reason to keep them. Once they’re gone, they can no longer remind us of the circumstances that motivated their creation. After all, a memorial is meant to keep an event in memory, not necessarily to celebrate the event.  Nobody celebrates the crucifixion of Jesus, but it’s depicted everywhere.

Somebody recorded the destruction of one monument. It was a statue of an anonymous rebel infantryman meant to honor the soldiers of the confederacy. I found the scene unpleasant. I’m probably not alone in thinking memorials to soldiers should be preserved, no matter which side they were on, in recognition of their devotion to duty and their willingness to sacrifice for each other. It’s not impossible to oppose war and honor soldiers. Most veterans respect pacifists, and many militantly oppose war. The mob scene I witnessed discredits me and the movement I advocate and puts me in mind of the vandals who blew up the Buddhist monoliths in Afghanistan. This crowd looked disturbingly similar to the ones you see in pictures of lynchings and cross-burnings.

Does anybody else think it’s odd that people should get all riled up over monuments to a war that ended a long time ago and express so little concern over wars that our leaders are waging today? I hope we don’t find it as easy to forget our legacy of violence and exploitation once we’ve removed all the memorials.