Sunday in the Sun + 7 May ’17

Sunday in the Sun logo

If you read around the various strata of life on the ‘net, one thing becomes clear. Those on the right are convinced doom is just around the next corner – if a liberal agenda is embraced, while those on the left are equally convinced the sky is falling – so long as a conservative agenda is pursued. Obviously, perhaps, at least one side is wrong. Less obvious is the notion that dividing the people sells. Divisions, once exacerbated, create new synergies. Take Fox News, for instance.

The creation of Roger Ailes, who worked in Nixon’s White House, the current incarnation of Fox was not created to disseminate unbiased news. The guiding impulse behind Fox was that the established Big 3 networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as PBS, were purveyors of news guided by a left-leaning media elite, and Fox would provide a “conservative” alternative. In other words, they tailored their message to fit an audience they perceived was underserved.

The problem with this paradigm should be readily evident.

Once any and all illusion of “unbiased reporting” was decoupled from the dissemination of “news”, Fox became a propaganda organ, one whose message was, through Roger Ailes, coupled directly to the most conservative elements within the Republican Party. And that’s fine, I suppose; that’s the free market and the way things work. Until Fox started pretending to be something other than it was, Fox really wasn’t a problem. When Fox started to peddle Alternative Facts as reality, while at the same time screaming that everything else was part of a liberal elite media conspiracy, well, things began to get a little sketchy at that point. Fox has never been an organization to present facts to it’s audience; rather, Fox tends to present a lot of unsubstantiated information as fact. Again, the problem arose when ‘alternative speculations’ were presented as Fact.

Fox also presents a completely unfiltered view into the modern Republican mind, a Dali landscape of wilting paranoia and breathless hysteria that’s fascinating to watch. For some reason only God herself understands I was subjected to five days and nights of Fox News while ‘in a room not of my choosing’ last week. All other network news, including CNN and MSNBC, had been blocked, by the way, which speaks volumes about corporate ownership of medicine, I suppose, but whenever I flipped over to a Fox News segment I felt like I’d drifted over into an alternate universe. Shrill pundits cried out about the dangers of this or that liberal agenda item – as if the very foundations of the universe would crumble from beneath our feet – if Pelosi this or Schumer that came to pass.

Listening to that crap made me a real believer in the internet, however. There are millions of news sites out there, yet I drift between a dozen or so – left and right and in between, too – to get my daily disinformation, and I try to do it that way. I like to read what’s on the Right’s mind. And the Left’s, too. I know I’ve repeated Francis Bacon’s maxim a hundred times, but it’s alway’s worth repeating: read neither to believe nor to contradict, but to weigh and consider. Watching TV or surfing the net should be the same way: you need a balanced diet in order to achieve cultural literacy. Fill your mind with gloop from the fringes and pretty soon you’ll be fringe too. Another word for fringe is crazy, as in Bat Crap Crazy. And Crazy is, I think, not a good place to be. The United States is adrift in Crazy right now, on the verge of imploding under the weight of so much delusion, so do your part.

This past week was the 25th anniversary of Rodney King’s arrest in Los Angeles, and 1992 was the end of 12 years of Republican rule in this country. Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown were squaring off to be the Democratic nominee to face George Bush when we first saw the image of King being beaten by several members of the LAPD. Still, we did not see the 30 minute chase that preceded the beating, nor did we hear what King said to the police when he finally stopped. No, all we saw was a savage beating.

That part of the sequence is, in it’s essence, Fox News. Present a limited perspective, one that supports your point of view, then call that the news. Of course, South Central LA went up in flames as a result of misdirected and biased reporting in the media, so there are consequences to these actions.

A few months ago, up in Canada, there was an attack outside a government office building, and when the news broke Fox was right on, playing it up as just another example of Islamist radicalism and it’s links to terrorism. All the usual suspects gathered and began laying out all their usual “facts” – and then word came that the suspect in custody was a white nationalist, presumably a Christian, too.

And all mention of the story simply disappeared from Fox. In other words, if the news fits a pre-established narrative it goes on air. If it doesn’t, well, that’s the way it goes, right? Except that’s not The News. Not even close. It’s Propaganda, aimed at feeding a frenzied cult following. There news is manure, plain and simple, used to fertilize a peculiar form of Hate. The left leaning media elite did a lot better at The News than people on the right realize these days, and people like Walter Cronkite and Howard K Smith were not propagandists. I’m not really sure what you call the circus at Fox, but they are not journalists.

And – neither am I. What I like to think I’m doing here is passing along the work of other real, honest-to-Pete journalists, so let’s see what’s been going down this week.

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It probably didn’t escape you that an ACA/Obamacare bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, the House being – as conservative pundit P. J. O’ Rourke calls them, A Parliament of Whores – that august body known for such goodies as the Patriot Act and, now, the ACHA. It’s doubtful there’s ever been a more destructive bill passed by the house with so little deliberation. Reports are surfacing that the final bill wasn’t even published before being voted on, meaning it’s doubtful most members of Congress even bothered to read the thing, let alone wait for an assessment by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s of the bill’s impact. Elements of the final bill look like an insurance company’s wish list come true, meaning we’ll be back to where we were in the George W Bush years. Meaning older Americans with pre-existing conditions, or roughly 1/3 of all American’s over 40 – with some sort of chronic illness will be greeted with premiums in the 30-40 thousand a year range (and hey, in 2006-08 I was paying 46,000 a year for insurance so I know what I’m talking about). On the plus side, employer based insurance will provide skimpier benefits with higher deductibles, but by golly that insurance will be “affordable” – even if it doesn’t cover squat. I guess if nothing else every member of congress who voted for this abortion should be up for a tough reelection campaign…but not so fast, Kimosabe! Remember, this is Sunday in the Sun, where rainy days are really full of sunshine, so just wait for Fox and Breitbart to start blaming Democrats for higher premiums and falling coverage, because there’s no such thing as objective reality anymore, just endless hallways of smoke and mirrors. And my oh my, those tax breaks for billionaires? Think those went away?

Welcome to Trumptopia. Because then Trump lauded Australia’s health-care system. His surprising praise came as he met with Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull, whose government pays for all citizens to have free access to doctors and public hospitals. US senator Bernie Sanders remarked: “Thank you Mr. Trump for admitting that universal health care is the better way to go.”

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Which brings us to this weeks edition of “What’s in a picture.” You ready to play?

ACHA

Do we see a bunch of happy prosti, er, politicians, congratulating themselves after just screwing over their core constituents? Or, is this the cast of the new Stepford Husbands movie, where all the robots are white, smile a lot and have American flag lapel pins over their mechanical hearts? Or…could this be a dream come true for the Democratic Party? Weigh in and share with us what you think this picture is all about.

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So, what’s it like to fly an F-35 Stealth Fighter? What advantages does stealth give a pilot in combat? Well, here’s an interesting piece by an USMC F-35 pilot about the advantages stealth confers in combat situations.

f35

“What the public doesn’t realize is how dominant the difference in information is,” said Flatley. While the F-35 performs similarly to legacy jets in some areas like speed, turning, and range, there’s a huge, ever-growing information gap between what the F-35 pilot sees and what an F-18 pilot sees.

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Tunnels, ultralights, drones, fishing boats…these are the new and continuing threats facing the US along the US Mexican border, and here’s Homeland Security’s assessment of the threat. From 2000 through 2016, more than 6,000 people have been killed making the crossing, according to researchers at the University of North Texas.

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Concerning the ObamaCare replacement passed this week, who comes out ahead, and who loses? This initial assessment concludes the wealthy come out ahead and the chronically sick are the biggest losers, and that an estimated 50 thousand people a year will die directly as a result of this bill’s passage. Over ten years, that half a million people, murdered, given that the definition of murder is to intentionally or knowingly take action that results in the death of another.

Add this to the Republican Party’s growing list of “party before country” abominations.

As usual, The Onion puts a little different spin on things:

Nation’s Back Alleys Working To Expand Available Services In Anticipation Of Trumpcare Bill Becoming Law

WASHINGTON—Preparing for a surge in business from the millions of Americans who could soon be left without access to medical care, the nation’s back alleys were reportedly rushing to expand their services Thursday in anticipation of the American Health Care Act becoming law.

Sources from back alleys in every state confirmed that as soon as the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill known as Trumpcare, their filth-strewn, sidestreet-based facilities began scrambling to add personnel and expand into nearby shuttered warehouses and vacant lots in order to meet the increased demand for services expected from low-income families, elderly Americans, individuals with pre-existing conditions, and others who will have decreased access to health coverage.

“We’re gonna have thousands of people coming through here soon, and right now we’re just not ready for them,” said Durham, NC man Curtis Hendershaw, who spoke from a narrow alleyway behind the Dragon Inn Chinese restaurant, adding that he had already begun making calls to all the unlicensed physicians and disgraced former medical professionals he knows. “We’re used to stitching a guy up here and there, but as soon as insurers can drop essential benefits and impose annual payment caps, we’ll be doing all sorts of major surgeries, pediatric services, mental health treatment, you name it.”

“I just put some cardboard down under that fire escape there so we can have a dry place for a neonatal unit,” he continued.

According to reports, back alleys around the country have begun to upgrade their facilities, hauling in additional soiled twin mattresses to increase the number of available beds, shoveling out rodent carcasses to create makeshift waiting areas, and diverting drainpipes from adjacent buildings so amateur practitioners have a supply of rusty water to scrub their hands with before performing appendectomies.

The demand is expected to be so great that the back alleys are reportedly planning to offer a wide array of medical services, with each darkened, grimy corner of the nation’s empty back streets and abandoned industrial parks focusing on specialized areas, such as emergency care, geriatrics, labor and delivery, prescription drug dispensing, or outpatient amputation procedures.

“This is a huge change for us, because we’ve been scaling back for the past six or seven years, and now all of a sudden we have to undergo a major expansion so we can meet the needs of a large section of the community,” said Don Chalmers, 51, who works in a back alley behind a parking garage several blocks from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “We’ve lost a lot of business to that hospital up the street, but with this new bill cutting Medicaid funding by hundreds of billions of dollars and eliminating the employer mandate, a lot of people will be walking right out those doors and right into the ICU we’re setting up in the back of this old burnt-out van over here.”

“It’s not that bad, though, really,” he continued. “As soon as your procedure’s finished we lay you down under a bridge where you’re welcome to rest up as long as you need to.”

Chalmers went on to state that he had even further expansion plans for the future, gesturing toward a nearby dumpster, which he said he was hoping to set up as a hospice unit. Additionally, he said he had found a dental assistant with access to oral painkillers who told him she could help out with addicts who, if the 2010 Affordable Care Act is repealed and replaced, will no longer be able to afford methadone or addiction treatment.

Speaking with reporters, several Americans who stand to lose their health insurance under Trumpcare expressed their gratitude that the nation’s back alleys were expanding to meet their needs.

“I have three young children, so it’s good to know that a place like this is here, just off of Cottman Avenue, beyond all the truck loading docks,” 41-year-old Laura Williams said as she watched a broken leg being reset in an alley behind a Northeast Philadelphia check-cashing facility. “This is great news for my mom, too, who’s starting to get on in years. It’s not that convenient; I had to take three buses to get here and then climb through a hole in a chain-link fence. But at least it’s something my family can afford.”

“Considering how busy these places are about to get, I just hope they’ll be able to fit us in,” Williams added.

Or how about this: in a rational society with a quasi-thoughtful legislative body, lawmakers would come together to repair Obamacare. But we’re in this dystopia, not that world. That sums it up nicely, I think, but here’s more.

And there’s always Kunstler’s take on the process: “So, you would surmise from reading the papers (or their web editions) that the health care problem was simply a matter of apportioning insurance coverage. That is what the stage magicians call misdirection. Any way you cut the dynamics of health insurance, as practiced in the USA these days, it is nothing but racketeering, literally a conspiracy between informed players to swindle uninformed “patients.” The debate in congress (and the news media) is just about who gets to be swindled.”

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So, here’s Han and Leia on set in the Millennium Falcon, but what’s in that image just below? A storm trooper over Tatooine?

B29

Well, no, it’s an image taken out the nose of a B-29, the same type of bomber used by the USAAF in WWII. See any similarity? Well, George Lucas did too,

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Of course, we all know religious groups have nothing to do with the current administration, so why not give them even more power in the political process?

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Of course we all know by now that climate change is just a big Chinese hoax, but even so things continue to change. Tropical storms don’t happen before June, but don’t tell that to Arlene, a deep depression that formed in mid-April.

at chart

Yes, things are changing, even if Herr Drumpf and his terracidal minions in the Republican Party are inconvenienced by that truth.

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CBQ E9

Here’s another “What’s in a Picture” that might be worth your time. So, what have we here? Beaver Cleaver hijacking a train? Well, no, it’s a westbound CB&Q (or Burlington Route) E9-A locomotive stopping on it’s way through Berwyn, Illinois in August, 1963. Kind of a lineal descendant of this little guy:

Cass

Railroads were, to borrow a phrase, the arteries through which the lifeblood of this country flowed. Every major stop along a railroad’s right-of-way was peopled with railroad company employees: they did everything, too, from passenger and freight services to workshops and maintenance of way operations. In short, our railroads employed more people –either directly or indirectly through concerns like steel and iron works, coal mines and iron ore haulers – so that in effect most people ended up, in one way or another, working for the nation’s railroads. Bank tellers and cattle drovers? Yup, their livelihoods were tied with railroads. Without railroads, you could say that cities like Kansas City and Chicago, Salt Lake City and Louisville and Nashville and Dallas might not feature as prominently as they do in our country’s history.

And it’s funny, too, that passenger trains were taxed out of existence to pay for airport construction. They paid for the privilege of cutting their own throats, you might say, and in the process we ended up rebuilding cities that are more like islands today. You hop on a plane and a few hours later you land and walk into a generic terminal building, get into a Japanese econobox and drive into a town that feels remarkably like the one you just left. Chain restaurants and hotels have replaced small hotels like the Driscoll in Chicago and the Waldorf in New York, hotels that earned a place in our history by defining upward mobility. The greatest mass mobilization in human history, the American military buildup during WWII, was only possible because we had a vast rail network already in place – one that linked almost every city and town to the largest industrial centers around the country.

From 1968 to 1972 that infrastructure was decimated by congress. Successive Republican majorities have all but starved Amtrak into a status that might charitably be called ‘life-support,’ and despite the real need for regional mass transit solutions Republicans have opted time and time again to let ‘states’ carry the load. Hence, states as small as Maine and Vermont, and as densely populated as California and New Jersey all have there own ‘state railroads’ – which is odd given that Amtrak was chartered as a ‘National’ rail carrier. What we’ve got now is small, local players that serve commuters but do little for larger regional or transcontinental markets.

Odd, too, in that state carriers are the opposite of free market solutions. Amtrak seems to embody the Republican ethos quite well, too: starve a thing to death then blame government inefficiency for it’s failure. When funding blossomed under Clinton Amtrak soared; when W cut funding service faltered and Republicans began blaming the inefficiencies of big government, again.

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The problems that have resulted, namely social fragmentation and homogenization of the national experience, have not been particularly “good” for us. With fragmentation has come a measurable loss of job stability – railroad jobs were generational affairs that lasted a lifetime, and villages became towns became small cities under railroad supervision. Nothing of the kind can be said of air travel, although tourism has blossomed and people the world over have gained new perspectives they might never have achieved without cheap air fares. Then there were the Saudi nationals who decided flying airliners into the World Trade Center might make a big statement.

Yet our new American model of rail transit is not like that elsewhere in the world, and the results are interesting.

swiss rail

There are 46 passenger railroads in Switzerland, a country that’s, well, not very big. Switzerland is famous for being an industrial powerhouse that preserves it’s scenic beauty, true enough, but consider this: you can land in Zurich and ride an escalator down into the airport’s basement – and board a train for damn near anywhere in the country, from the largest cities to the smallest villages. Imagine the synergies from such a network? No place in the country is isolated. There are no “ghost towns” or rust belts, because by and large all Swiss rolling stock and traction is locally made – just like our railroads were sixty years ago. And who do you think the Swiss patterned their railroads on? Hint: the New York Central is mentioned in more than one history of railroading in Switzerland. Now, here’s another example, one that hits a little closer to home:

china rail

Imagine, if you will, companies like Electro-Motive, Budd, American Car and Foundry as well as the Pullman Company, American companies at the vanguard of mid-century railcar and traction development. All gone. America’s passenger fleet is made in Canada and France today, while China is bidding – and is often offering to finance – new high-speed rail initiatives in this country – and around the world.

Why?

Because Republicans in congress refuse to commit money to the necessary infrastructure projects to reinvigorate America’s railroads. Airliners, too, are polluting the upper atmosphere in unpredictable ways. Again, why do we allow this to go on in our name?

And here’s a new rub. With no new passenger rail projects in the pipeline, what happens when jet fuel becomes either too expensive or simply unavailable? Well, LAX is pointing the way ahead, opening a new terminal this week that caters to the 1%, but what the hell happens to the rest of us? If fuel goes to 20 bucks a gallon, are you going to feel like driving your pickup truck from LA to New York? Or LA to San Francisco? Or even to the office or work-site? One of the big drivers in construction cost increases can be attributed to pickup truck prices, by the way. With so-called Super-Duty pickups required for a real work truck, and with prices hovering between 50 and 70K, what happens when these trucks need to be replaced every two years? Costs rise, a lot, for the work done. When you couple that with America’s penchant for moving out to the suburbs, you have the recipe for real disaster – if you don’t have rail in the mix to pick up the demand.

So, China. Thirty years ago they were an economic wannabe, then they went on a railroad expansion campaign, doubling, then tripling the amount of rail in all regions of the country. The country boomed, of course, yet now that rail infrastructure is in place it’s being neglected in favor of an expanding air network? Is it spurious reasoning to think that China’s incipient economic collapse has something to do with that? Well, I wonder. Too soon to tell, but I’m not the only one thinking that way. Perhaps that explains why China is bidding on rail projects in the US, as well as Africa and Latin America.

Perhaps, too, that’s why long term thinking beats short term nihilism every time. Anyway, here’s a short piece on what it was like to grow up along the Burlington in Illinois in the 60s.

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So, enough of this blather. It’s Spring, the sun is out and the weather is glorious. Get out there and mow some grass, sit back, have a Bud and, as it’s Cinco de Mayo weekend maybe head out for a taco or two and enjoy life. Change is in the air, too, so enjoy things while you can. Life, as Ferris said, is short, so get out there and live some.

Hasta later, and have a margarita for me, too.

 

One thought on “Sunday in the Sun + 7 May ’17

  1. As a driver for UPS in the 90s, almost every little town in SE NH I drove through had a Depot road or Railroad ave. The tracks were either long gone, or rusted solid. But the railroads influence still lives on. One of my college room mates father was an engineer with the Boston & Maine ( actually, it was Guilford Rail System, the life size train play set for Timothy Mellon) long hours, and a couple of days away from home at a time, but very good pay and benefits, and a job that both his father and grandfather had worked at.

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