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Thursday, January 22, 2015

"God Bless You, Buffalo Bill...."

The SOTU Circus and Government As Theatre

President talk purty.

This was my assessment of last year’s State of The Union address, and that much hasn’t changed.  I’ll give Mr. Obama these props – he gives a damn good speech.   The rest of it wasn’t as tawdry as I imagined – but I won a bet with a friend of mine on Tuesday; see, I’d bet him that Obama was going to trot out someone who’d gone into debt to go back to school.   I told him that Obama would spin it – “he’ll tell us all why putting the house up to learn typing and Microsoft Office is a good thing.  He won’t tell us why it was possible to pay $5.00/credit hour thirty five years ago, and that the average college student could graduate with no debt.

In the person of ‘Rebekah’, he had his victim.   According to the Speechmaker, she and her husband got clobbered by the Recession (cue the ‘boo’ and ‘hiss’); then they picked themselves up by their bootstraps like the stalwart ‘Mericans they are, hocked the family farm so ‘Rebekah’ could get her edumakashun, and hung on until (cue the cheers) The Economy Picked Up Due To Obama (cue the angels singing ‘Ahhhhhh!’).

This was when the guy lost me for good and all – because the old adages are still true; in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is still king; bullshit is still bullshit, and as my Grandfather used to say, you can’t shine a turd.

This was, of course, a great time to segue into Obama’s Next Great Idea – paying for community-college educations for everyone, so they can learn what they’d learn in a proper high school, if we only had proper high schools.   He left out the part where India graduates more honor students from their high schools than the entire complement of high school students in America – and that several nations have both undergraduate and graduate studies paid for not just for their own citizens, but for any citizen of any nation who has the resources to move there and study.   It’s rather like opening a Yugo dealership today in any American suburb, then running ads for a free AM radio with every purchase.   The result will be both embarrassing and disappointing – and eventually, it’ll go away.

He went on to praise global trade in glowing terms – and to tell us why the Trans Pacific Partnership is a good deal, and to ignore that vague sucking sound you hear over the horizon – the one that signals a wholesale loss of American jobs to nations with labor rates just north of slavery.

While begging the 1% to actually deliver on the bullshit-idea of ‘job creators’ (“…[we] still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest……”), he bragged on the economy, saying, “Tonight, we turn the page”, and calling 2015 a “breakthrough year”.  

The rest of the speech was, quite frankly, predictable – we’re going to lick global warming; we’re going to close Gitmo; the wars are finally over; the middle class is coming back; gasoline is at an all-time-low – and soon, you’ll be able to take dirt-cheap vacations to Cuba.

I guess no one told him that 80% of Americans are one paycheck from the street; that one child in four goes to bed hungry, and one American in five relies on some form of public assistance just to make ends meet.   Nope – that wouldn’t have made for good theatre.  

No one bothered to remind him that he could have closed Gitmo with the stroke of a pen in 2009; that he could have created a single-payer health-care system at the same time due to a majority in both houses of Congress, and that he could have put an end to the wars, held the bankers accountable for demolishing the economy – and a whole lot more.   But that wouldn’t have made for good theatre, either.   Embarrassing revelations never do – beside the which any of these would have meant admitting what those of us who Stayed Awake in Class already know:   He sold his soul to Capitalism, if not the Devil, to get himself elected.

We’ve laid a new foundation,” he said in closing – along with the obligatory, “God bless you, and God bless this country we love.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t share his enthusiasm.  I’ve got rose-colored glasses I can send to anyone who bought this crap – and a text on home-gardening for those who didn’t, because they’ll be the ones to connect the dots and realize that the metaphoric trailer-house of cards driving this American ‘recovery’ is chained to the pier blocks of a very shaky foundation.   All of those links are weak, and only one of ‘em has to break to send the whole thing rolling down Catastrophe Hill.  When that happens, control of your own food supply will be a Damn Good Idea.

I thought back on the Theater That Was The Speech, and ‘Rebekah’.  I was given to remember William Wellman’s 1944 biopic, “Buffalo Bill”, at the end of which the eponymous character was giving a speech at the end of one of his Wild West shows, ending with “God bless you all!”    At this point, Wellman treated us to one of the schmaltziest scenes in cinema – a little boy with crutches pushes them aside, stands up on his own two feet, and says, “God bless you, Buffalo Bill!”

I remember reading a review of this film, in which the reviewer said, “You can do anything in film, as long as you have no shame.”

Obama proved one thing by Tuesday’s theatre – he has no shame.

At least, he didn’t trot out a boy with crutches.


(This will be my last post here. I'll be leaving this page up for the archive, but I won't be updating it. Readership has fallen off; the whole thing now is a lot like talking to yourself (which is at once pathetic and sad, as well as dangerous and scary). Other activities beg my time - and when all's said-and-done, it's simply not worth continuing this for free. Thanks for reading!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rain Without Thunder

On December 13th, 2011, Justin Bridges was assaulted by several members of the Portland Police Department. His story is a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with America.

In October of that year, Justin participated along with hundreds of others in the Occupy Portland protest. A practitioner of ASL (American Sign Language), Justin was the ‘voice’ of the People’s Assembly at the Occupy camp to those who were hearing-impaired. A kind man, Justin’s occasional translation gigs as a sign-language interpreter plus being a musician were and remain his main sources of income. Life had not been kind to him; he’d suffered a broken back in the past and that injury plagued him daily.

I’d walked the Occupy camp in Chapman Square (part of the Portland Plaza Blocks) on the 12th. I sensed fear. Something was going to happen; everyone seemed to know it – there were impromptu ‘presentations’ on how to avoid tear gas; some people had gas masks; others had bandanas – but everyone was afraid.

The place was ringed by cops.

One told me before I entered the park that I “didn’t belong there”, and it “wasn’t safe”. I said, “If I have any trouble, I know who to yell for.” I winked at him; it seemed to disarm him completely; he had the look of a man who didn’t quite know what to make of me.

I didn’t feel unsafe. The place smelled like a camp – of unwashed people and latrines – but I didn’t sense a threat from anywhere but the blue-clad men in large numbers outside the perimeter.

What I didn’t know was that the orders were being cut to clear out the camp as I was walking its grounds. That night, Portland’s mayor gave the order to begin clearing the camp. Nearly one-third of the protesters defied the police order to disperse. By morning on the 13th, Portland Police in riot gear showed up to forcibly remove the rest.

Justin Bridges was backed into a trash container, where he fell down, further injuring his back. According to Bridges himself as well as witnesses, the police began to beat him, in spite of his repeated attempts to tell them that he was injured, and couldn’t feel his legs. Bridges was taken to the hospital, partially paralyzed.

It’s not often that one is a witness to history – but I was; I had to see the place for myself, and I’m glad I did. The media hadn’t gotten it right at all – in fact, they wasted no time in painting the Occupy protesters as a motley crew of undisciplined ne’er do wells, sucking the public teat with no clear message. The truth is that they’d published a well-written manifesto and list of demands, and were led and inspired by some of America’s best. This was a genuine grassroots protest; a spontaneous event which had mushroomed from its origins near Wall Street in New York, and which involved people from many walks of life – the chronically unemployed; the homeless; the retired, and others who’d taken time from business or work to be a part of something which spoke truth to power.

Power, for its part, sent an equally unequivocal message back: This event is over. Further protest will not be tolerated. The cleanout of the Portland camps was repeated in New York and throughout America in a four-day span beginning the 12th and ending on the 15th. (Documents revealed through Wikileaks showed that the Department of Homeland Security considered the entire Occupy protest movement ‘dangerous’, and that the FBI, DHS and recently-militarized local police agencies were coordinated at the Federal level to coordinate the crackdown, as well as to infiltrate Occupy camps and protests.)

The media continued to paint the Occupy protesters with a broad brush of laziness, self-indulgence and entitlement, while the police across the country, in a prolonged orgy of self-promotion, praised themselves for their ‘restraint’.

For its part, DHS continued the militarization of police departments at a breakneck pace. Gone was any pretense of ‘protect and serve’ – slogans such as ‘conserve the peace’ began appearing on police cars across the country, and the appearance of machine guns and armored personnel carriers became the norm – things which the average American had heretofore seen only on TV coverage of riots in places with strange sounding names like Soweto.

Flash forward three years.

Justin Bridges, Cecily McMillan and other ‘examples’ made by the police and the justice system on behalf of their 1% overlords have been forgotten. The Occupy protests are now distant memories, thanks to a docile and supine populace with the collective memory of a gnat. Justin’s injuries now look tame in comparison to the outright murders represented by names like Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.

We are now treated to a stone-cold reality: The people in charge do not view themselves as beholden to the people. They report only to a power-elite who serve the real source of all power in America – money.

The other day, the NYPD’s union stated flatly that they would engage in ‘wartime policing’ in response to the murder of two of their own, and have defied civilian authority in the person of the mayor. Increasingly, the broadsword of civil control is answerable only to itself.

Over 1,000 civilians have been killed by domestic police forces in the past year. That alone would be a terrible statistic – but these killings are not limited to urban areas or ‘that part of town’. They’re everywhere.

You’re very correct if you’ve already connected the dots between this horseshit and the recently-released CIA torture report. Whether it’s domestic police or the CIA presence in dungeons overseas, both local and national governments have made it clear: We don’t report to you. Not any longer.

What moral ascendancy the police had in America is gone. Whatever right we thought we represented as a nation by way of defending our interests overseas is history. The ship of American Exceptionalism – the real thing; where we were genuinely better than any perceived enemy – has sailed.

I heard Chris Hedges speak in McPherson Square in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2011 when he said, “There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country, or you stand on the wrong side of history….Either you are a rebel, or a slave.” He was right.

It’s past time to pick a side. Power, as Fredrick Douglass said, concedes nothing without a demand. He went on to say, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground; they want rain without thunder….” Democracy itself in America is at stake now.

I want it to rain. I’ll also take the thunder.
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