Sunday in the Sun + 16 July 2017

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Oh, what a long, strange trip it’s been. I read that somewhere, once, like maybe on the side of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia?

I’ve driven across the American Heartland a few times in my life, but I’ve never seen it like this before. Walk into a shopping mall at eleven in the morning and it’s just empty. I mean, empty. A Sears store with employees standing around staring at the walls, not a single customer in sight, save me, and yet not one makes a move towards me to ask if I need any help. Maybe they think I’m not really there? Was I? Really?

All in all, I’ve been in more than a few diners along the way too, and I like to talk, and I like to listen even more – and people are talking right now. If you thought they were angry last November, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Everything wrong with the world can be traced back to Democrats, in case you didn’t know. This Roosha thang is all Hillary’s fault. Them evil newspapers are heaping piles of bullshit onto President Trump, keeping him from enacting his agenda. Anger? Oh, you got no idea.

The churches are full out here in the heartland, and you get the impression that folks have given up so much hope, and for so long, that God and Jesus are the only things left in their lives. You see those folk in diners after church, and I’ve noticed a kind of shell-shocked look in a lot of eyes – a kind of faraway stare – like they’ve given up looking for hope anymore. They’ve got Jesus and that’s all they need. I’ve seen a lot of autistic kids out here too, and a bunch of kids with Down Syndrome. Too many. What’s causing it…why so many?

Maybe you’ve read The Grapes of Wrath or other stories set in the Great Depression? I tend to see that novel, in my mind’s eye, as a kind of sepia-toned tableau of suffering on an immense scale, yet what I’ve seen in the Heartland is anything but. Take the endless stream of “all you can eat” buffets that overwhelm the shopping centers that line the highways out here. Chinese, American, Mexican…it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the food is cheap and available in limitless quantities. If you’ve never been to a “Golden Corral” in America, you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about, but imagine four or five horse troughs loaded down with canned vegetables, fried everything – and all kinds of cheese sauce to slather all over your three pound plate.

Now, imagine going into one a few minutes after the place opens and finding the place full of men and women in their 30s and 40s, many in wheelchairs and on supplemental oxygen, wolfing down plate after plate of this stuff – like they’re starving.

Yet most of these folk weigh in at about 350 pounds. In wheelchairs. On oxygen. Eating a ten thousand calorie lunch.

I’m searching for a metaphor here, okay?

Empty, lonely lives come to mind. Trying to fill the emptiness with food. In this land of hyper-abundance, is this what it’s come down to? No jobs out here. No job equals no identity too, doesn’t it? What else can you fill the emptiness with? When all you have is anger?

And yet the anger is overflowing. It’s flowing from the cesspool Fox News created and Trump kindled, only now there’s nowhere for all this anger to go. Except into waiting mouths, eager to place the blame anywhere but where it belongs.

I’ve never seen anything as hopelessly mired in psychosis as our understanding of these Heartlands. It’s frightening. The Colberts and Noahs and the bi-coastal elites have no clue what’s going on out here. Write ’em off, “because they’re ignorant.”

Sorry, Bill Maher, but you can’t write off two hundred million people. You can’t ridicule them, make fun of them, and you sure as Hell can’t dismiss them as irrelevant.

These people are lost, lonely – and mad as Hell.

They think Hillary is Satan. Most democrats are, too. Trump may be too, but he seems less evil, somehow, maybe because their pastors and preachers tell them he is less evil. That’s how it works out here. It has the feel of a “done deal” – a fait accompli.

Why? How did these progressive prairies get to this dark place?

Schools are shadows of what they were 30 years ago. Budget cuts. Secularization. Fringe streams of thought are somehow the accepted mainstream out here because there are no voices to fill in the silence once church is over with. You can see something like The Handmaid’s Tale coming to pass out here, maybe because it’s happening. Maybe it’s already happened – and the bi-coastal elites haven’t figured it out yet.

I’d like to see Bill Maher set up shop in a cornfield outside of Dubuque, Iowa and see how well his opening monologue does out here. He might understand the why and the how of Donald Trump a little better than he did last November. For that matter, Hillary ought to come out here too.

+++Because women out here are concerned about a president whom they perceive as very anti-woman. About that “pussy-grabber” in the White House. But why now? Why not last November? Why did they find their voices only now?

+++Because farmers are scared to death about climate change – as they’re living in the reality of the various phenomena as they unfold. Some fields are awash in rain, while others, not so very far away, are approaching dust bowl conditions. It’s too hot for the crops they used to grow, or too wet for others. And small farmers are quitting in record numbers…at least that’s what you hear in the diners. Why? And why now?

+++And most of all, because the men and the women and the children see a bleak landscape ahead, with no one helping them find a way out of the despair that’s gripped them since the 1980s.

What did Paul Simon write? It’s all happening’ at the zoo?

I’m getting to the point where I think I need to hitchhike across this landscape. To feel the dirt again.

Recall the film Sullivan’s Travels? If not, you might watch it. Soon. While you still can.

Or, as Kunstler puts it: “Like other operations of the human mind, this collective fugue-state has a big subconscious module in it: the deep, poorly articulated fear that the signal notion of Progress behind progressive politics in the industrial era has reached a dead end. The world is clearly not becoming a better place, but rather reeling into disorder and ecological crisis, despite all the rational programs and politics of modern democracy, and political failure is everywhere. The “peace dividend” promised by the end of the cold war has degenerated into endless war. The miraculous promises of medicine have been hijacked by “health care” racketeering now institutionalized under ObamaCare. The Civil Rights campaign begun in the 1950s with the most earnest, hopeful intentions (and generous policies) has produced off-the-charts black crime rates, educational defeat, ruined cities, and epic rancor. The middle class has been left economically shipwrecked by the promises of globalism. The pledge of a happy retirement dissolves as the pension funds roll over and die. And the supposed paragon of enlightened American governance morphs into a sinister and corrupt Deep State of oligarchical corruption.”

Like I said. Mad.

+++++

On the other side of the Great Divide, I came across this article in the NYTimes. About lawyers, perhaps, and one of the sideshows going on in the shadows. Lawyers and drug abuse. Worth a read. Here’s the opening:

In July 2015, something was very wrong with my ex-husband, Peter. His behavior over the preceding 18 months had been erratic and odd. He could be angry and threatening one minute, remorseful and generous the next. His voice mail messages and texts had become meandering soliloquies that didn’t make sense, veering from his work travails, to car repairs, to his pet mouse, Snowball.

I thought maybe the stress of his job as a lawyer had finally gotten to him, or that he was bipolar. He had been working more than 60 hours a week for 20 years, ever since he started law school and worked his way into a partnership in the intellectual property practice of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a prominent law firm based in Silicon Valley.

Then, for two days, Peter couldn’t be reached. So I drove the 20 minutes or so to his house, to look in on him. Although we were divorced, we had known each other by then for nearly 30 years. We were family.

I parked in Peter’s driveway, used my key to open the front door and walked up to the living room, a loftlike space with bamboo floors bathed in sunlight.

“Peter?” I called out.

Silence. A few candy wrappers littered a counter. Peter worked so much that he rarely cooked anymore, sustaining himself largely on fast food, snacks, coffee, ibuprofen and antacids. I headed toward the bedroom, calling his name.

The door was ajar. A few crumpled and bloodied tissues were scattered on the bedsheets. And then I turned the corner and saw him, lying on the floor between the bathroom and the bedroom. His head rested on a flattened cardboard box.

In my shock, I didn’t see the half-filled syringes on the bathroom sink, or the spoon, lighter and crushed pills. I didn’t see the bag of white powder, or the tourniquet, or the other lighter next to the bed. The police report from that day noted several safes around the bedroom, all of them open and spilling out translucent orange pill bottles.

Peter, one of the most successful people I have ever known, died a drug addict, felled by a systemic bacterial infection common to intravenous users.

+++++

Or this loose thread I found on the floor, leading nowhere:

In USC’s lecture halls, labs and executive offices, Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito was a towering figure. The dean of the Keck School of Medicine was a renowned eye surgeon whose skill in the operating room was matched by a gift for attracting money and talent to the university.

There was another side to the Harvard-educated physician.

During his tenure as dean, Puliafito kept company with a circle of criminals and drug users who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.

Puliafito, 66, and these much younger acquaintances captured their exploits in photos and videos. The Times reviewed dozens of the images.

Shot in 2015 and 2016, they show Puliafito and the others partying in hotel rooms, cars, apartments and the dean’s office at USC.

In one video, a tuxedo-clad Puliafito displays an orange pill on his tongue and says into the camera, “Thought I’d take an ecstasy before the ball.” Then he swallows the pill.

In another, Puliafito uses a butane torch to heat a large glass pipe outfitted for methamphetamine use. He inhales and then unleashes a thick plume of white smoke. Seated next to him on a sofa, a young woman smokes heroin from a piece of heated foil.

As dean, Puliafito oversaw hundreds of medical students, thousands of professors and clinicians, and research grants totaling more than $200 million. He was a key fundraiser for USC, bringing in more than $1 billion in donations, by his estimation.

Puliafito resigned his $1.1-million-a-year post in March 2016, in the middle of the spring term, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities.

Three weeks earlier, a 21-year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room. The woman was rushed to a hospital, where she recovered. Police found methamphetamine in the hotel room, according to a police report, but made no arrests. Puliafito has never spoken publicly about the incident, which is being reported here for the first time.

I don’t know about you, but do drugs seem to be playing an outsized role in America’s collapse? And why do people we used to hold up in admiration seem so mired in this epidemic?

+++++

Here’s another point of view: “Donald Trump’s tax reform plans would, if enacted, increase the gap between rich and poor Americans and see the US slip below Greece on a new global index of inequality.”

But of course, nothing’s as simple as it appears… Or…is it?

+++++

“Theresa May is an automaton and Donald Trump could start the third world war with a 3am tweet. But which country is more xenophobic and who hates the poor most?”

+++++

Another piece of the puzzle? Perhaps…

“Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

“A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home…”

More right here.

+++++

Or…maybe you missed this little piece of connective tissue?

President Trump’s chief private attorney Marc Kasowitz erupted in a string of profanity-laced emails to a stranger who had urged him to resign from the team that is handling matters related to the ongoing Russia investigations. In the Wednesday night tirade, Kasowitz first responded to the man, saying: “F— you.” Fifteen minutes later, Kasowitz added a second barrage: “How dare you send me an email like that. I’m on you now. You are f— with me now. Let’s see who you are. Watch your back, bitch.” In the exchange, which was first reported Thursday by ProPublica, Kasowitz appeared to threaten the man, saying, “I already know where you live, I’m on you… You will see me. I promise.” 

Hey. it’s all in the spin, right?

+++++

So…the old media is dead…right? Try this one, from Bloomberg:

One of the more delicious elements of the Trump-Russia scandal is that it’s being driven not by social media or television talking heads but by reporters, especially those from two old-line media outlets, the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Post has broken news about President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the lies he told about dealings with Russians that forced Trump to fire him. It was the first to report that Attorney General Jeff Sessions misled Congress about his meetings with a Russian diplomat, after which Sessions recused himself from involvement in the Trump-Russia investigation. It discovered that Trump revealed classified information to Russia’s foreign minister, and that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, sought to establish a private communications channelwith Moscow and failed to disclose those contacts. The Times’s big scoop last week was about a meeting involving Kushner, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer, which the younger Trump attended in hopes of gathering dirt about Hillary Clinton. Earlier, the paper disclosed that the president tried to pressure the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, to end an investigation of Flynn’s activities before he fired him. Its intelligence sources allowed it to reveal that Russian officials discussed ways to influence Trump through his aides. There have been important stories from other outlets, but these two print (and now digital) powerhouses have dominated.

+++++

What’s it all about? Try this?

+++++

I’m working on the next chapter of Dreams. I promise.

Soon.

18 thoughts on “Sunday in the Sun + 16 July 2017

  1. An update on the condition of Senator John McCain;

    “Senator John McCain reports that he got excellent care from his Surgeons and Staff at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ and that he will return to D.C. soon to vote on the Trumpcare Bill to make sure that no one else in America can receive similar care.”

    I am

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  2. Your experience in Sears (or Kmart) is no different in Wisconsin than anywhere else in the country. Walking into both stores is like a flashback to the, well, I’m not sure what era, but the stores look and smell like they haven’t been updated since they were built. We even gave Sears a shot when we went shopping for new appliances for our kitchen. They had appliances on display they could no longer get, and next to nothing in stock. Of course, that’s after we had to track someone down to help us, who then had to find someone from appliances. Quite a different story at Lowes, Home Depot, and the appliance stores we shopped. A Bud Light Men of Genius award to the guy who thought combining Kmart and Sears was a good idea.

    We haven’t been back to my wife’s hometown in Wisconsin for a while, but it always struck me as a sad place, where everyone (our age) wanted to be somewhere else.

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    • I’m not sure what business plan they’re following. The Seppuku Plan, perhaps? Sad is indeed a word that comes to mind. It’s interesting up here, though. I’ve never had peach hard cider before, or a hamburger marinated in blueberries, topped with bacon and an egg.
      The Audi shopping goes well, too. You were spot on regarding the A4. The A5 Sportback is something else altogether, though. The A5 Coupe and I had an intimate religious experience together. Not quite kinky, it was very satisfying nonetheless.

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  3. I think the A5 is available as a convertible, too. For my parents and grandparents Sears was the go to store. My grandfather even had a Sears brand 12 gauge shotgun. There are as many craftsman tools in my father’s toolboxes as there are Snap-on, Matco and Bonney. How much longer before it joins the ranks of Zayre Ames and Lechmere? (showing my New England heratige here).

    I don’t know if you are seeing a lot of it in Wisconsin, but there are a lot of cigarette smokers here – more than I am use to seeing anyway.

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    • Not so many smokers visible. Smoking has become an expensive luxury in many areas, with taxes upping the cost to prohibitive levels, e.g., smoke OR eat, not both. From what I can see here, eating is winning out, big-time. Gas stations have 64oz cups at their fountains! Can you imagine…64 ounces of Coke in one sitting? That’s not quite a pound of sugar, but pretty close, and watching The Weather Channel, every other advertisement is for some sort of new diabetes medication. Is not a simple cause and effect correlation not apparent here? If tobacco causes all sorts of complications, i.e., lung cancer, can not refined sugar be considered at least minimally as dangerous?
      The Sears thing bugs me. The whole retail demise thing bugs me. Pretty soon the vast majority of sales will be completed online, and what does that do to the remaining mom and pop stores. I make it a point to shop locally. Sometimes it’s a pain now because mom and pop don’t have the retail flow they used to, so they don’t keep up their inventory. A vicious cycle, I know, but I stick with ’em, order what I need and let them get it for me. Hell, it’s about all one can do, but mail order is pernicious, it’s a disease eating away the remaining local jobs we have in this country. A universal basic income will be needed soon because 99% of the people are going to be dead broke, or just plain dead, because nobody is going to have a job. In a “service industry” economy, i.e., where manufacturing is dead, if you kill retail there’s not going to be a helluva lot left other than food services. And Hardees is experimenting with robots and automated food production??? 90% of those service industry jobs could be rendered irrelevant within a a decade.
      At some point we have to ask “when is enough enough?” It’s neat to make machines. It’s simply not in anyone’s best interest to continue this trend.

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      • I’m still adjusting to smoking in WA. I look forward to visiting the tasting room of a new winery, I compare different Syrahs. My neighbor found a new strain of pot and can’t wait to light up.

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  4. For some, mail order is a godsend. Thanks to the Internet, and UPS, the guy I get my Jeep parts from, who is in the middle of no where in Minnesota, has grown a business from a hobby, to a full time job with 6 full time employees.

    We have become lazy, too. I have a friend who is a partner in a marine contracting firm that specializes in bridges in salt water environments. He needs heavy equipment mechanics, but even at a starting wage of $50k with benefits and profit sharing, he has a hard time filling spots, because no one wants to work outside, which this job often requires.

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    • Reading about a Wal*Mart closing in West Virginia last week: the store moved in, destroyed all the local Mom & Pops BUT hired many of their employees – then, after about five years, the Wal*Mart closed. “Everyone” now unemployed, all the old Mom & Pops moved on to greener pastures (Florida,one assumes, or, I suppose, opioid overdoses if not), and now the nearest grocer is 70 miles away. Town destroyed, local emergency services eliminated, hospital closed, nearest medical care now 90 miles away.
      And there is nothing, nothing, that can be done.
      By the time the market catches up and some chain big-box store moves back in (assuming that ever happens) it will be too late, the damage is done. Wal*Mart will have created yet another wasteland/ghost town – and their pharmacies will profit by pumping opioids out onto the streets?
      What’s wrong with this picture? I wonder how much the local congressman took in from the Walton family to get permits to build the store in the first place? And why does this keep happening over and over again? Who is looking out for the people?
      And Trump carried the place by something like 70% to 30?

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  5. You know things are getting weird when OJ Simpson is released on probation on the same day Ford announces the return of the Bronco.

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    • And for God’s sake, did we really need six uninterrupted hours of coverage on the parole hearing? Seriously, why does ANYONE care, what possible relevance does this have to anyone or anything other than the immediate family? Welcome to the coliseum…. let’s distract the people from reality with entertainment (brain damaged football players making $100 million), free bread (those giant cokes, or perhaps a side of opiods) and scandal (pick one…..). Meanwhile, Rome (society, our way of life, the planet) burn literally and figuratively.
      Oh well, I’m sure Rush or Beck or Hannity has an answer (see above re: distraction), at least for the”right” folks. And yes, pun intended.
      It’s Friday with a nice weekend on tap so enough of a rant. Glad that A.L. is back online.

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      • Doesn’t it feel like the media war exists as a circus sideshow, smoke and mirrors to keep us distracted while the real game plays out? It’s like a bunch of anarchists trying to strike the match that lights the fire that burns down the house.
        Except I don’t think anyone of them has any idea what they’ll do as they walk through the embers.

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