Monday ReadsPosted: June 10, 2013
One of the things that really amazes me when I talk to folks on either ends of the political spectrum is that both think that our republic is falling prey to self-dealing politicians and corporations that exist only to take from tax payers. The themes are somewhat different when it comes to the associated concerns but the overall vision of a country and great democracy in decline appears shared. I often wonder why very few of either see the real dangers but focus more on the silly stuff. We have had some pretty astounding portends of our Huxleyian future. It seems we have met the enemy and he is indeed us to borrow from that old Pogo cartoon.
I read this astounding take on the collapse of the building in Philadelphia by William Bunch at his blog at The Inquirer. It is called “When Things Fall Apart”. It’s an apt lede for nearly everything these days from our infrastructure to our national security policy.
To be clear. the collapse here in Philadelphia of the four-story building was no metaphor — it was a senseless, heartbreaking tragedy that was all too real for people who were shopping for bargains in a Salvation Army thrift store one minute and trapped in a mountain of rubble the next. But the building collapse did seem to be the the epitome, at least here in Philadelphia, of a week that had the feel from start to finish of things falling apart, of the old foundations collapsing and no one sure exactly which of the many suspects is to blame — or what, if anything, will replace them.
Much like the Santa Monica shooting, the news locally that some 3,700 Philadelphia school employees are getting pink slips, the first step in transforming the remaining schools from places of learning to oversized child warehouses, floated away into the weekend ether, In the past, such a move would be seen as a mere bargaining ploy, but in 2013 the sense is growing that no one can stop this tragedy, that Philadelphians have become powerless bystanders watching our schools fall down in slow motion — very much like the citizens who called help lines and begged for someone to stop the shoddy demolition at 22nd and Market.
Nationally, the news was dominated by a serious of revelations — initiated, we now know, by a courageous whistleblower named Edward Snowden — that the U.S. government’s scooping up of data about its everyday citizens — who we’re calling on the telephone, now long we talked for, and possibly whom we’re talking to overseas on the Internet via sites like Facebook or Google — is much more extensive than all but the most cynical among us expected, or feared.
Nothing about the deadly demolition of a blighted four-story building at the edge of downtown looked right. That’s what the people who had watched it in the days and weeks before the collapse told me.
In fact, everyone I spoke with said something seemed off – way off.
Everyone, apparently, except the city that issued a demolition permit for a building owned by infamous king of porn and serial slumlord Richard Basciano. The permit was issued to Philadelphia architect Plato Marinakos for Griffin Campbell Construction – led by a demolition boss who in addition to a criminal record, also has a history of violations on other properties he’s worked on.
Despite obvious red flags, the city is claiming everything was on the up and up, the demolition company had proper permits, the workers were certified, blah, blah, blah.
But I wonder how workers can be vetted when permits are issued through a middleman? And I wonder what, if any, oversight the project had? And I wonder if anyone from L&I ever inspected the site?
If anyone was monitoring the site, neighbors and construction workers said they missed some obvious signs of trouble.
Workers weren’t wearing hard hats.
They were trying to tear down the building in the dark with sledgehammers and flashlights.
And union carpenters working nearby said the wall that eventually collapsed wasn’t braced properly.
The demo was so screwed up, they said, they were literally waiting for the building to collapse.
And it did, apparently killing six people and hurting 13 others who had to be rescued from the rubble.
Yup. We see it all coming and then we watch as it keeps happening. Joan Walsh believes we Americans are a passive lot these days.
On Thursday night the National Journal released a poll showing that 85 percent of those surveyed believed it was “likely” that their “communications history, like phone calls, e-mails, and Internet use,” was “available for businesses, government, individuals, and other groups to access without your consent.” The steady drip, drip, drip of detail about our ever-expanding national security state has led all of us to protect ourselves a little with a kind of tired cynicism about it.
And I think there’s more to the indifference, even by a lot of liberals, to this latest news than just “it’s OK when our guy does it.” Partly, we blame ourselves. Probably every one of us has thought from time to time about how exposed we all are, from our cellphones to email to the Internet “cloud” to all of social media — and then we go about our business using all of it because it’s all so damn awesome. And so, on some level, we feel partly culpable. We always knew, or suspected, all of this was possible — and went on doing it anyway.
We know our cellphone signal lets us be tracked, which sometimes seems creepy, but seems excellent when you can activate “Find My Phone” to locate your iPhone in the cab where you dropped it last night, or find the best Japanese restaurant near your current location on Yelp. We all scream when Facebook changes its privacy settings without notice – but very few of us close our accounts in protest. We are tweeting our outrage from our Sprint smartphones, Googling to find out whether Sen. Obama really flip-flopped and voted to authorize the way the Bush administration was using FISA in 2008 (he did), then G-chatting with our editors about when we’re filing our stories on all of it.
There’s a strong Calvinist impulse in the American psyche: So often, Americans blame themselves for their troubles. If I worked harder, maybe I wouldn’t have lost my job. I should have stayed in school. If I hadn’t gotten so drunk, I wouldn’t have been date-raped. If I wasn’t strutting all over social media like a strumpet, and so tied to my iPhone, addicted to my email, they wouldn’t have so much data on me. We shouldn’t have walked down that dark data alley; it’s not like we weren’t warned.
Again, it’s like people have the sense of something going all wrong but have their focus on the wrong thing. Walsh talks about the blinders of partisan democrats above. Republicans have a brand that denies more of reality. Lloyd Green–at the Daily Beast–calls it a “Modernity Gap”.
… a report issued this week by the College Republican National Committee, Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation, indicted the Republicans for being “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned;” for singularly attacking government; for hostility toward gay marriage, and for acting like the “stupid party.” But too many in the GOP seem to embrace that label.
Limiting the evidence to just the past two weeks, Exhibit No. 1: Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, a GOP member of House Judiciary Committee, told a witness — who had ended her pregnancy after having been advised that the fetus was brain dead, that she should have carried the “child” to term.
Exhibit No. 2: Erik Erickson, the founder of RedState, mansplained to Fox News’ incredulous Megyn Kelly this week that “when you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society, and other animals, the male typically is the dominant role.”
Exhibit No. 3: Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s first-term governor, blamed working mothers for American illiteracy.
Exhibit No. 4, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss attributed rape in the armed forces to hormones.”
The real problem, though, is not stray and scatterred comments. Rather it is that such comments speak to the party’s discomfort with modernity.
Notice how much of these examples are aimed at women and have a distinct religious fanaticism about them. I wanted to actually not make this a depressing post, but I find myself ending with more than a bit of a nihilistic headline from Noam Chomsky who asks: “Are We on the Verge of Total Self-Destruction?” However, his post looks at places where people are doing something.
In fact, all over the world — Australia, India, South America — there are battles going on, sometimes wars. In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences. In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand. The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”
Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it — and the ground is where it ought to be.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil. He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting. Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer. Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product. In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use. That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer. You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background. Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.
Perhaps it is time we here in the US took similar action. Rather than accepting this march to the destruction of our privacy, our identities and our freedoms, we should do what we can where we are. Here are the things we need to change via Robert Reich. Most are the result of the Reagan mindset that our government is the problem. However, his list shows that the red states are getting worse while the blue states are showing signs of moving the other direction. Is geography destiny in this country once again?
Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.
Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”
But the trend raises three troubling issues.
First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.
Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way easily to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.
Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.
A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.
Just some things to think about. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?