Sunday in the Sun + 19 November 2017

Sunday 1117

There have been notable changes in the trajectories of all our lives the past few weeks, and these days it feels, at times, as if there is no light at the end of this particular tunnel. Truth, and indeed, goodness, have been confronted by a recurrent and quite monstrous evil – an evil whose name we thought had been banished from the record of human experience.

And…we were so very, very wrong.

This evil goes by many names, but the most cogent among them is Ethical Relativism. Here’s an easily digestible form of the term, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it. Not all descriptive relativists adopt meta-ethical relativism, and moreover, not all meta-ethical relativists adopt normative relativism.

An even shorter version of the concept might read something like this: Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Ethical Relativism allows, by way of example, the herding of Jews into cattle-cars for a one-way journey to Polish ovens, or for religious fanatics to commandeer airliners and fly them into skyscrapers. There is no truth, only a truth sanctioned by the group. There is not one God, there is only the God that delivers benefits to adherents of the group. God is not universal…God belongs to this group, to the exclusive benefit of the group.

Yet nowhere have we seen more damage done to the American construct of Civilization than through the recent actions of our very own, very Godly Republican Party. This group of scoundrels has trashed almost two-hundred-fifty years of our forefathers’ hard work – and in only twelve long months, too – yet they’re dashing headlong into the next, terminal phase of their experiment even as you read this. Enraptured by a spurious – and convenient – religious certitude, and bolstered with the most efficient propaganda network man has yet seen, American Republicans seem bent on establishing a global theocratic oligarchy, a global ‘Christian’ oligarchic theocracy, and if the experiment seems doomed to fail, well, why not just push the button? The Bible seems to validate their conspiracies, too, so ‘Full Speed Ahead,’ Mitch! Let’s get this job done before the false veneers of our democracy are stripped away and, well, our gerrymandered constituents grab their pitchforks and come a-callin’ for us in the night…

Or, put another way: “Let’s get this swindle over and done with before the veneers of democracy are stripped away and we’re exposed for what we really are!” As in, whores getting down on their knees to service their corporate-oligarchic masters…? Our gleefully cheerful Republican theocrats seem to have done just this, or most of them have, anyway, by crawling into bed with two of the most dangerously repulsive liars of the 21st century – Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – and most have done so unapologetically and without a second thought.

They are traitors, by the way, obstructing and betraying our ideals at every turn, and those who stand with these traitors are complicit in one of the grandest betrayals since Brutus slipped a knife in Caesar’s breast.

Bro love

A few of Trump’s recent comments, and the complete absence of any response from Republican leadership, would have, and perhaps only a few years ago, brought thunderous denouncements from Mitch McConnell & Co – assuming, that is, the president was a black man with an awkward sounding name. Take, for instance:

– Trump added that he thinks Putin “is very insulted by” the (ongoing Russia) scandal – if there’s one thing the American president should be concerned about, it’s Vladimir Putin’s feelings – and that “people will die” as a result of the controversy.

– “People don’t realize, Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned,” Trump added. “They were sanctioned at a very high level. And that took place very recently. It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken.”

So, after telling the news entourage “along for the ride” to Asia that Trump had no plans to meet with Prince Vlad, the White House announced (on the flight home, one assumes) that Trump and Putin met at least seven times (that they’re willing to own up to, anyway), and the takeaway from these conversations, according to Trump, is that if we don’t ditch the sanctions against Russia, well, then, PEOPLE WILL DIE?

After these men (Vladimir Putin and his intelligence services) plundered the very fabric of our democracy? That they continue, unapologetically, to undermine western democratic institutions everywhere and in any way they can?

“People will die?” Who, exactly, is going to die? Was Trump simply threatening us, his citizens, or did Prince Vlad threaten Trump? Does shit only roll in one direction in this farce? Like: just what the Hell does Putin “have on Trump?” Why are Republicans in our Congress allowing this to go down? Who, then, is paying-off who?

The greater question, to my mind, anyway, is why isn’t the mainstream media all over this one? Are we so intent on our own self-destruction that every news cycle can now only be dominated by more revelations that yet another Hollywood sleazebag has used his “position of authority” to grope another “hapless” actress’s ass? Is that what we’ve been reduced to now? Rome burns and we ask for another match and more gasoline?

Pissed.jpg

It seems like, since the 1950s anyway, religious charlatans have dominated political discourse in this country. Seeking to obliterate the very notion of “separation of church and state” enshrined in our constitution, they’ve fought for decades to get their tax-exempt status unshackled from being able to carry out political activity. Well, their Faustian Bargain with Trump has finally come through for them. Included in the Republican tax bill is language that will let churches once again engage in unrestricted political campaigning on behalf of a chosen (ahem, cough-cough) candidate or party.

That this supposed tax-relief bill just passed the House of Representatives is all the proof one might need that one political party no longer has the slightest interest in doing the right thing “for the people.” Embedded in this law are attacks on every social safety net enacted since FDR, from Social Security to Medicare and Medicaid, to tax deductions used by the middle class to ease the burdens of home ownership. And all the while the state propaganda organ (aka Fox News) keeps cheerleading how this bill will help the poor, beleaguered middle class in America.

Someone a bit less cynical than I might find these perplexing ironies amusing.

Then we find that one more in a long line of religious politicians, this one a fine, upstanding man, is about to be elected by the Good, God-fearing Volk down in Alabama, and by golly – he’s a pedophile-predator, too. Banned, apparently, from local malls for his behavior, this lawyer has been stalking teenaged-girls since he was in his thirties, and while normally this kind of activity might be enough to get you labeled a habitual child-predator and land you on a national criminal watch list, not so in Alabama, apparently. Oh, let’s not forget, this lawyer was, at the time, a prosecutor working in the local District Attorney’s office. As in, an officer of the court, who’s sworn duty it has been to uphold the laws of this country.

And – his activities were quite well known to people in the DAs office?

As in – this fellow was acting as if he was not only above the law, his cronies backed his play.

And…just what does that tell you about the state of play in this country?

And, again, not to mince words here, this lawless hypocrite had chosen not to uphold lawful orders from the United States Supreme Court. He had been dismissed as a state Supreme Court justice – for disobeying the law. And now the good, law-abiding Republican Volk down in ‘Bama have seen fit to nominate this man as the champion of their party because – why?

Well, because he’s a good ole God-fearin’ Christian, that’s why. Because his life’s ambition is to turn the clock back to a kinder, gentler time, a time when there was one church in this country and not too many brown-skinned people making such a ruckus. He wants all of us to take a trip back in time to that golden age, too. You remember, that time when you could African-Americans “nigger” and no one thought that odd in the least. You could make them “uppity niggers” sit in the back of the bus, too, or make ’em use separate water fountains and restrooms, and guess what? It didn’t matter, did it? Boys didn’t dress like little girls back then, did they? Inter-racial marriage? Nope, not happenin’ in this religious fantasyland…and now it’s time to put a stop to all this nonsense.

It brings to mind a political slogan heard ’round those parts almost two hundred years ago. It went something like: “Ship them niggers back!” – which is how the country of Liberia was created, and why the capital of that country – Monrovia – came to be named after President James Monroe. It’s also kind of funny to consider that Hitler once considered something called the Madagascar Plan, where it was envisioned all the Jews in Europe would be rounded up and forcibly resettled to the Island of Madagascar. Funnier still that you take into account the Liberian resettlement, like the Madagascar Plan, was called off due to the exorbitant cost of the plan. In other words, Hitler & Co found it more economical to slaughter six million Jews than to load them on ships and transport them to an island off the east African coast, while those in America kicked the can down the road a few more years – and we all know how that turned out, don’t we?

There’s a narrative in this country that goes something like this: The US Civil War happened because The South would not abolish slavery.

Well, yes – and no.

It was not about abolishing slavery (which, again, is the popular, sanitized narrative, and which is what you probably learned if you read the sanitized textbooks that pass for History in this country). Better that you did not learn, for instance, that northern merchants feared the south would gain a competitive advantage by continuing to use slave labor, and that Lincoln was pressed by these same northern merchants to end the South’s advantage by reintroducing slavery in the north. The American Civil War was fought not because of altruistic moral reasons, but in rather more stark terms, due more to a cold calculation of economic “reality,” to wit: reintroducing slavery would displace white workers.

Uh…sound familiar?

Oh, before I forget, let’s talk about the Second Amendment for a moment. You know, the one about a well-regulated militia and the right to keep an unlimited supply of M16s and AK47s locked away in your basement – just in case you decide you’d like to go shoot a few hundred people at a nearby country-western music festival? Read the Federalist Papers someday when you have a moment, where the intent of this amendment is discussed in some detail. Seems our founders were much more concerned about a slave rebellion taking place so they envisioned the need to have lots of (white?) guys with guns hanging around in case all those ‘uppity niggers’ got it into their heads that they might like something, well, something like freedom.

Like many such things, Republicans have, since the 1980s, waged a war against History. It’s far easier to distort History than it is to come to terms with it, to understand it – to learn from History. But, then again, Republicans have their Bible and that appears to be all the History these Volk really need. Forget, for a moment, that this Bible is a long-form narrative chiefly of the Historical Fiction genre, and that it was authored by cloistered monks bent on preserving the nefarious worldly powers of their various political institutions (er, ahem, churches). Take the Bible literally if you must, but adhere to it strictly. If you do, if you take The Christ’s admonishments to treat the poor fairly and with justice, to love them as you would love yourself, then there is no way in Hell you could even consider being a Republican.

The term Republican evangelical Christian is pure oxymoron, and this person is, it seems to me, a power-crazed being steeped in hypocrisy – a hypocrisy meant to achieve its own political ends – while imposing its belief system on every living being on this earth. He is, in every way imaginable, little different than the eleven men who, not so long ago, commandeered airliners and flew them into skyscrapers.

Because, I might add, morality is in the eye of the beholder.

Sunday in the Sun + 5 November 2017

bill-the-cat

Yes, it’s time to roll out Bill the Cat again. You remember Bill, don’t you?

No?

Well, perhaps you remember Bloom County?

Bloom buddies

Here’s wikipedia’s entry for Bill the Cat:

  • Bill the Cat is a large orange tabby cat. Introduced originally in the summer of 1982 as a parody of the comic character Garfield, and saying little beyond his trademark responses, “Ack” and “Pbthhh”, he has become something of a blank slate around which various plots revolved. Numerous strips indicated that his persistent near-catatonic state was the result of drug use or brain damage resulting from once being legally dead and then revived after too long a period. In the Christmas special A Wish for Wings That Work, Opus recounts having rescued Bill from a University Science Lab where they had replaced his brains with Tater Tots. He’s been a cultmember (“Bhagwan Bill”), televangelist (“Fundamentally Oral Bill”), perennial Presidential candidate (for the National Radical Meadow Party), heavy metal rock star (“Wild Bill Catt”), nuclear power plant operator at Chernobyl, and, in the last months of the series, had his brain surgically replaced with Donald Trump‘s. He has been known to speak on occasion, most notably during the Communist witch-hunt trials of which he has been a subject, when he remarked, “Say, you don’t suppose the ‘Jury Box’ is anything like a litter box, do you?” Bill has apparently had affairs with Jeane Kirkpatrick, Princess Diana and Socks the cat.
  • Oh, here’s today’s edition, if interested in such things.

I think Bill the Cat is the perfect metaphor for the age we find ourselves in – right now, today. Drug-addled, near-catatonic, stressed-out and wishing – against all odds – that this nightmare we find ourselves in would somehow just be over with, and real soon. That’s our Bill, wishful catatonia, yet even the latest polls hold this truth to be self-evident: Trump’s approval ratings are now lower than Harry Truman’s, which is saying something. Unless, that is, you get your daily fix of gnews related catatonia-inducing sludge from Fox, or the even more sinister Sinclair Broadcasting group of stations. If you do, then it is indeed Sunday in the Sun, where the sun is out and the skies are the bluest blue ever – even when it’s pouring rain and tornadoes line the near horizon.

Here in Amerika, a new day is dawning. The Orthodox Wing of the Republican Party abdicated this week, just kind of rolled over and whimpered on their way out of the room. The jack-booted thugs of Trumptopia have won, you see, in case you didn’t know that already.

A Republican House of Representatives, after almost forty years of crying about the dangers of running huge deficits, have introduced a so-called tax relief bill that is simply not funding any of these cuts. Magic Money, anyone? To make matters more interesting, these guys are padding the bill with all sorts of other Republican goodies from their various Wish Lists (like anti-abortion measures) while giving their billionaire cronies (and hey, corporations are people, too, remember?) all kinds of big cuts. Even King Donald stands to save millions a year, so yeah, what’s not to like…?

But wait! Lots and lots of Orthodox Republicans can’t stand the stench coming from all this hypocrisy and are, well, quitting politics. I guess “get out while the gettings good” is the new mantra on Capitol Hill this week, this, the one year anniversary of Trump’s ascendance to the throne. So, while Bob Mueller’s long-running RussiaGate Follies continues its limited engagement, we have Fox & Friends spelling out just why all this Russia bullshit is nothing compared to Hillary & Co and what THEY did with the Russians and all that Canadian uranium. Except, uh, wait a minute…no one over at Fox is getting the big picture, are they? Hillary may be rotten to the core, but it doesn’t appear like members of her campaign staff were over in Russia doing who knows what…like selling out the country…? Lining up a few golden showers for the boss, maybe…?

It’s amazing all the little things that get swept under the rug when you’re so busy with your broom you fail to notice you’ve stepped in your own bullshit.

All this makes me a little nostalgic for Nixon, Mitchell, Haldeman & Co., heretofore the most larcenous administration in our rosy history. At least Nixon and Kissinger got The One Truth of Our World: Russians are Trouble. Orthodox Republicans get this, they always have. It’s been political bedrock for them, until not quite two years ago, anyway. They understood the realities of our world better than their ideologically hidebound brethren, our new purveyors of cultural relativism, the Tea Party Republicans. They understood that when Putin ran Yeltsin & Co out of Moscow and filled the resulting vacuum with former KGB officers – who were by that time hip-deep in organized crime – that this was not a regime conducive to global prosperity. Putin & Co are NOW all about money and power, money and power to be used in the furtherance of the old Soviet worldview.

Our European allies in NATO and, in particular, Germany, get this. They understand that Prince Vlad exists only to suck the lifeblood out of western liberal democracies, so now, this week, Vlad and the Iranians talked about how best to work together to destroy America. Yup. And Hair Drumpf wants to get in bed with this guy.

And still, through it all, a rock solid 38-40 % of Americans support Trump. These people are variously described as poor white people – and modestly educated at that. Or, to put it more succinctly, stupid white cracker mother-fuckers…which, if you read between the lines is kind of the narrative coming out of the DNC.

Like…this is a real good way to win back the voters you lost last year.

Another good way is to have the former head of the DNC, one Donna Brazille, come out saying that, yeah, Hillary and the DNC coopted the primaries and did, in fact, coordinate their efforts to deny the nomination to one Bernie Sanders, Independent Socialist of Vermont.

The net effect? The “real” Democratic Party now pretty much belongs to Bernie and the Progressives, while Hillary is out hawking her book (about how everyone but her is responsible for 2016) and Democratic Elites are still out trying to sell diversity politics – in effect, still blaming white people.

And so, therefore, WHILE Republican efforts to claim the vote was rigged in 2016 gain traction, and so, therefore, it will be rigged again in 2020, and so, therefore, the only way to prevent this from happening is to, well, not hold the elections. Hey, sounds reasonable to me, right? I mean, this bullshit is on Fox, so it must be true, right? Right?

And so, therefore, the noise just keeps getting more confusing, doesn’t it?

Like Hitler was alive, seen by operatives the CIA deemed reliable, in 1955 (and a guy on Fox News claims he’s still alive, somehow forgetting Hitler would now be almost 130 years old). Or, that the FBI slipped a file into the JFK tranche indicating Martin Luther King Jr was a degenerate druggie into orgies. Makes you wonder…what would it be like to watch Fox for three weeks straight…? Well, read this. It’s almost funny.

I’ll conclude by saying “Hey! The revolution started, but somehow I missed it.”

As in, yeah, the alt-right was whipped up into a frenzy re: revolution was going to break out in America yesterday...

If you are inside the “alt-right” information bubble, you might be preparing yourself for a civil war to commence this Saturday.

Since late September, the idea has been circulating on Facebook groups, subreddit message boards, Twitter, and leading conspiracy media outlets that on 4 November, anti-fascist groups will begin a violent insurrection.

Some websites are telling their readers that antifa groups are “planning to kill every single Trump voter, Conservative and gun owner” this weekend. Hundreds of Facebook posts show how seriously consumers of such media are taking the news, and comments like “One more threat against white people and I swear to God I’m going to take a goddamn car and run over every fucking one of them” are not unrepresentative of the response.

But antifa groups have no plans to protest that day, and the small leftist groups who are planning protests have only dubious connections to the antifa movement. So what gives?

The whole thing rests on some very slender reeds, according to Spencer Sunshine, who recently wrote a report on the theories for the far right-monitoring group Political Research Associates. In the conspiracy underground on YouTube, he explains, there has been talk that “there was going to be a civil war” starting in November for some months.

Beginning in late September, three things kicked it a into higher gear. First, Refuse Fascism, a small group linked to the Revolutionary Communist party, staged a visually spectacular protest in Los Angeles. They blocked the 101 freeway and held up signs that enigmatically spelled out “Nov 4 it begins”. This is the same group that is organizing a series of protests around the country against the “Trump-Pence regime” this weekend.

Second, a video posted on a Facebook page called Vets Before Illegals went viral. The video, entitled “Antifa sets a date for civil war”, claimed that “on their website, they are calling for an open civil war that will start in November”, and set out alleged plans for attacking police officers, then citizens and the government.

Last, but by no means least, the rumor was picked up and amplified by Alex Jones, the radio star with an audience of millions. As Sunshine explains, Jones “is a kind of meta-conspiracy theorist now” who “harvests other people’s theories” and repackages them to fit his narratives and his audience.

Once Jones had mentioned it, Sunshine explains, the rumor mill exploded: “Once Jones says something, even more people pick up on it and put their own spin on it.” Jones’s website was still running the story on Wednesday morning.

In recent days, the story took an absurd turn, and had its closest brush with more mainstream conservative media, when Gateway Pundit, a longtime conservative blog that has recently expanded into news coverage, published a story by its White House correspondent, Lucian Wintrich, claiming that an “antifa leader” had promised to “behead white parents” on 4 November.

The tweet the story was based on, however, was a joke from an account that had no apparent ties to any antifa groups.

In a telephone interview, Wintrich conceded that the tweet his reporting was based on was not serious, and that it was unlikely that there would be a revolution on Saturday. But he did not back away from the story, presenting it as a critique of leftist rhetoric.

“The radical left is always making jokes about killing white people. What would happen if I made a joke about killing all black parents? That would be a national headline.

“If it’s appropriate for them to demonize [conservatives] over quite innocent jokes, why would we just roll over when they make inappropriate jokes? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

The piece included a detailed account of antifa ideology, which included the claim that the activists “are larpers (‘live action role-play’) attempting to find someone/thing to sexually interact with”.

When asked what sources he drew on in reporting on their ideology, Wintrich said: “I did go to school at Bard College. I received my education around people who I’m sure are on terrorist watchlists as socialist or communist extremists.”

As Sunshine says, Refuse Fascism activists have been supportive of antifa groups in the past, and often show up to the same demonstrations, but there is “no formal connection” between them and antifa. They are also small, he says, and their protest is explicitly nonviolent and specifically directed against the administration, not rightwing activists or police.

Mark Bray, historian and author of Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook, agrees. “Prior to 2017, the far right didn’t really know what antifa was,” he says, adding that the focus on these groups has a number of causes. It is an extension of the demonization of anarchists in general, but it is also a way to smear mainstream liberals who have no links to antifascist groups.

And to some extent, this particular panic has succeeded in energizing a particular slice of the right. As Sunshine puts it: “It motivates the base, it’s part of the apocalyptic narrative they use – there’s always a dangerous event just over the horizon.” Also, he says: “It’s a call for vigilante activity. There are currently tons of threats against leftwing activists.”

And unless there is a confrontation as a result of rightwing counter-protesters turning out to shut down the “revolution”, it’s all likely to come to nothing.

“There is no revolution or civil war planned for 4 November,” says Bray. “You can quote me on that.”

And, well, I’ll leave you to ponder the revolution, aka – the revenge of the nerds, part 23. Be safe out there…

Red Dawn

Happy trails, y’all. Keep an eye out for Bill, would you?

 

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars + 4

Corcovado5.1

IV

His mother, Elizabeth, had grown up in the Episcopal Church, and, with her parents, she had worshipped at St Andrew’s over on the west side of town, the ‘money’ side of town, every Sunday. And though James was her ‘sweetheart’ even then, he wasn’t drawn to the church – had never been interested in any church – yet that didn’t seem to matter to her. She talked James into going with her a time or two but nothing stuck, yet she was true enough to him to let the matter rest – “in the Lord’s hands,” she liked to say. When the war in Europe started, actually during the Battle of Britain, James went down to the Post Office and signed up for pilot training; he ended up in California learning to fly the earliest models of the B-17, and it turned out he was a very good pilot.

They corresponded, by mail, after he left Vermont, and soon she understood that he had lost all interest in religion – and why; she, at home on the other side of the country, had started going to St Andrew’s several times a week – and her interest in religion only deepened. By the time December Seventh rolled around, he was training new pilots and she was teaching Sunday School; when James shipped off to Britain in ‘42 she went to study religion at Boston College.

And so it went. They were polar opposites set on a collision course from the very beginning, and at the end of James’ war, after he returned from Britain, he was a very different man. As different as Elizabeth had become over the intervening years.

Yet they picked up where they’d left off – in each other’s arms, still madly in love with one another. Weeks after his return they walked the aisle in St Andrews hand in hand, as husband and wife, yet, if anything, his understanding of God and His Church had only diminished in his eyes. James had, he told his wife, been on many of the so-called ‘thousand plane raids’ over Dresden and Munich, he had fire-bombed whole cities, killed thousands upon thousands of human beings; there was, he told her, “no room in God’s House for the likes of me.”

They had talked about salvation and confession and he told her those were mere words to him, and she could feel the flames of burning cities aglow in his eyes. She said she understood after one bitter night, and she never pressed him further. Not once. She was, she told him, content to let God come to him when He was ready.

They wanted to wait a few years to have kids, or so they said, so he could earn some money and build up his bank account, and she told him late in 1949 that she thought it was an opportune time. Why ‘opportune’ he did not know, but he agreed and soon she was with child.

Yet he was too good a pilot for the Army Air Corp to let go of him completely, and, because he’d signed on to participate in the newly formed U. S. Air Force Reserves, when asked he was soon flying B-29s over Canada and the Arctic. When war broke out in Korea off he went, and two months after he arrived in Japan his daughter Rebecca was born, though he very nearly never got to hold her in his arms.

On a mission over the North his formation was attacked by Mig15s and his aircraft was damaged badly in the brief skirmish. He nursed the -29 back to the sea and had almost made it back to South Korea when fire broke out inside the right wing; he got his men out and rode the aircraft down, belly landing in the Yellow Sea. He managed to crawl out of the sinking wreckage and into a life raft, but both his legs were badly mangled.

His war officially ended on a hospital ship in Japan; he was back in the States a few weeks later, though he spent months at a succession of military hospitals in Maryland and Pennsylvania. And, finally, in White River Junction, Vermont, and that’s where he finally met his daughter.

And though in many ways James was the same sweet man Elizabeth had always known, he had come back a changed man – for the second time. Whereas he had exuded an infinite invulnerability when he came home from Europe, he now cast a wary eye almost everywhere he looked…like he was suddenly unsure of the very ground beneath his feet. Still, he persevered, met his doubts head-on. He walked, then he ran back to his life in St Johnsbury, and Elizabeth knew then that God answered all prayers.

When Rebecca fell ill – some sort of meningitis, the physicians told them – she prayed and prayed, and yet Rebecca passed. In the aftermath Elizabeth fell away from the Church, and in the fullness of time she completely lost her faith in God.

She finished her graduate degree – in social work – and helped coordinate social services throughout northern Vermont…everything from helping the recently disabled to the newly homeless. She came to be regarded as something of a saint among the ‘down and out’ – and even to the pastors and bishops that worked the pews around the region, hers was a well-regarded soul.

And then something horribly unexpected happened. A girl, an eight year old Chinese girl, was raped one summer’s evening near the old highway that went from St Johnsbury south, and a trucker who had been passing through on his way from Montreal to New York City was apprehended. And this mysterious truck driver – who was, apparently, from Hong Kong – was being pursued through the forests south of town. It was only a matter of time, they heard on the radio, until the monster was caught.

+++++

The rain had let up a little, and he could see faint patches of blue through thinning clouds from time to time. Melissa was sitting with him in the enclosed cockpit, rain and wind-driven spray still spattering on the canvas overhead, while Ted and Tracy were standing at the mast pulpit, looking for timbers on the Sound’s roiled surface.

And yet he and Melissa had said little to one another since she boarded. He didn’t know what to say to her, and she wasn’t sure she had anything left to say to a man like him.

Then, up on the bow, Ted pointed to the left and he looked that way too, saw a massive timber sjust awash and corrected his course to miss it – and as suddenly Ted was pointing frantically to the right – and he saw more timbers roped-up in a tight clump. He stood to get a better view of the way through the knotted seas, then he cut back on power, slowed to bare steerage-way and worked his way around and through the flotsam – and he found he was holding his breath more than once…until they were through, anyway.

“This is really bad…” Melissa said moments after he sat behind the wheel again. “I’ve dealt with crab-pots in Maine, but never anything like this.”

And he knew he was beginning to tremble a little – only for another reason. He’d had three cups of French roast and his bladder felt like it was about to rip apart, right down the middle, but he didn’t want to leave the wheel…

“You okay?” she said when she saw the expression on his face, the perspiration on his brow.

He shook his head. “Nope. Bladder’s about to…”

And she stood, took the wheel – and he looked at her like she was out of her mind – until the need to let loose from both ends grew like a three-alarm blaze. He nodded and ran down the companionway steps to the forward head – and didn’t return for ten minutes.

And when he did she was still behind the wheel, steering deftly between timbers, taking the hand signals Ted gave her without the slightest hesitation.

“You tired?” he asked.

“Not in the slightest…this is – exhilarating!”

“Well,” he mumbled, “that’s one way to look at it.”

And she laughed at that, then leaned over to look forward again. “I’m making for that buoy up there,” she said, pointing to a can about a mile ahead. “That marks the entrance to the inlet, right?”

“Yup.”

“Damn, this is a fine handling little ship, Jim. World of difference between my 325 and this thing…”

“Nothing beats displacement in seas like this.”

“I’ll say. Man, if you ever want to trade, give me a call…”

He laughed at that. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” He watched her watching the sea, watched the way she shifted her weight with her knees to roll with the swells and he nodded his approval. “Yours have a pedestal, or that rig under the seat?”

“Pedestal. That other rig always felt dead to me.”

“So I’ve heard.” He turned and looked forward then, content to let her steer for a while longer, and he noticed more and bigger patches of blue sky. “You may get lucky. Looks like some sun is trying to break through.”

“Yup,” she groaned, working Altair down the backside of a large roller.

Yet she kept her course, he saw. She bore down on the rise, fell off the crest, never missed a lick. “You do much racing?” he asked.

“A little. Why?”

“Because you’re damn good on the helm, that’s why.”

He wasn’t looking at her just then so he didn’t see the look in her eyes.

“Can you come up a bit?” he said. “I want to head straight in the inlet, not come in at an upwind angle.”

“Got it,” she said, and he watched the bow swing to starboard a little…twenty minutes later they passed the buoy and he turned and looked at her.

“You wanna take it now?” she asked.

“No. You’re doing fine,” he said as he came to the pedestal and changed the displays on the plotter.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at the display.

“Chart with a radar overlay here, and forward-looking sonar here, on the right.”

“Sonar? You mean…those are the walls of the inlet – underwater?”

“Yup.”

“Holy moly, this is like cheating…”

He grinned. “Kinda, yup, but it sure beats driving your boat up onto the rocks.”

“I’ll say.”

“Slow her down to 1600 RPM,” he said in his typical flight instructor’s voice, then: “Come to 3-3-0 and let’s see how much the current plays with us.”

“Got it.”

“Okay…see how it’s pushing us to starboard? Let make 3-2-5 and bring the revs up to 1800.”

He watched as she adjusted the throttle and made the course change, then he looked at the sonar readout and the plotter for a moment. “You’re doing great…okay, fall off a little more…okay, you got it…”

And then, just like that, they were through.

“Moorings in here?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Anywhere, in particular, you want to drop the hook?”

“Depends. If there’s room there’s kind of a waterfall all the way in. Nice sound to sleep to.”

She nodded her head; smiled a little, too. “Did I see a store back there?”

“Yeah. If you run out of food it’s okay in a pinch.”

“Expensive?”

“Man.”

“How far back does this thing go?”

“Not quite three-quarters of a mile,” he said, signaling Ted to get the anchors ready. “Keep an eye out for anchor lines…so don’t cut too close to other boats…I’m gonna get the Zodiac ready.”

+

Once the anchors were set he came back to the swim platform and tied off the Zodiac, then he watched her as she looked around the boat, wondering why he’d been so taken by her earlier that morning.

Was it just because he was lonely?  Whatever, it was his choice and he was in it now. Duty-honor-country wasn’t at work here, not like with Babs? His father had taught him about those things, but then again his parents had lived kind of an idyllic life – at least compared to what he and Barbara had endured…

“Endured…?” he said, unaware he was speaking aloud.

“What’s that?” Melissa asked, now standing on the aft deck – looking down at him still sitting in the inflatable.

“Oh, sorry, I was just thinking.”

“What did you endure? My turn behind the wheel?”

He chuckled at that. “No, not at all. I was impressed, really. You’re quite the helmsman.”

“Well, okay. Now what?”

“Excuse me?” he replied.

“You gonna run me over to the beach, or you want me to swim for it?”

“Water’s kind of cool for that, I think.” He looked at her for the longest time, then he sighed.

“You look…perplexed,” she said – perplexed.

“I’m not sure I know how to say this, but the odds of you finding a place to stay around here are somewhere between slim and none, and I don’t suppose you’re carrying a tent and sleeping bag in that duffel. So, what are your plans?”

“Get ashore, find a road and start walking. Something always comes along.”

He shook his head. “Not here. The only roads are back by the village, and there aren’t many places to sleep on this part of the island…unless you’ve got a home lined up.”

“Okay…so what do you suggest?”

“Stay here,” he said, his voice lost somewhere on the quiet side of hope.

“Here?” she replied. “With you?”

“Yup.”

“Okay,” she said, looking at him again.

And he felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and that puzzled him.

She came down to the swim platform then. “Can I give you a hand?” she asked.

He turned and looked around the cove…it had emptied out earlier that morning after they’d departed for Nancy’s. He assumed people had seen the break in the weather and pulled anchor – and now Altair’s crew had almost the entire cove to themselves.

When he turned to her he saw she’d taken off her shoes and was sitting on the platform, and she was just now dangling her feet in the water.

“Yikes…this IS cold,” she said, surprised. “Like Maine kind of cold.”

“This is not the Gulf of Mexico…that’s for sure.”

“What happened to your mom and dad?”

“Hmm? Oh, they passed about, oh, Mom went first. I think six years ago. Dad passed a few months later. Broken heart, I guess. Couldn’t live without her, so I think he chose not to.”

“He wasn’t sick?”

“Nope. He just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. That’s the way to go, I reckon.”

“They were that close?”

“Closer than forever.”

“What?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know how else to put it.”

“You think about them a lot?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I do. I miss them. I – miss – what they stood for.”

“You mean, like…politics?”

“Good Lord, no…just the opposite. They were diametrically opposed politically, from the very beginning, I think, but that didn’t seem to matter. Not to them, anyway.”

“Dad?” Ted said, coming back to the aft rail. “You through with the Zodiac?”

“For now. You two want to go exploring?”

“Yeah. Is there enough gas?”

“Yup. Two gallons, at least. That ought to be good for a couple of hours at low speed. Grab a hand unit and some water, maybe some sunscreen too.”

Ted nodded and left to get stuff from below, and Melissa pulled her feet out of the water and shivered a little. He found himself staring at them, at how white they’d become.

“You better get some socks on,” he said.

“Oh, they’ll warm up.”

“You say so, but don’t be surprised if you catch a chill. It’s cold and damp, not what your body is used to…”

He changed places with Ted a few minutes later, then they watched as Ted and Tracy took off across the cove, headed for the little waterfall, and as he watched them go he felt kind of odd. Like happy and sad, at the same time.

“How long have those two known each other,” she asked.

“I think this is the fourth day.”

“What? Really?”

“We had dinner at a restaurant in Vancouver, near the marina we were tied up at. She was our waitress, and Ted kind of fell for her.”

“What does that mean…‘kind of’?”

“Ted’s kind of confused right now. He’s been like a heat-seeking missile, dead-set on becoming a priest for as long as he’s been able to recite the Lord’s prayer…”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. ‘Oh.’ I’ve been picking up little signals that something happened this past year, but I’m not prying. Not yet, anyway. That said, he’s of a mind right now to meet a girl and do the deed.”

“He’s a…”

“Indeed he is. By design, not chance, but, like I said, something changed this past year. Something changed inside him.”

“And she’s the first girl he’s…”

“Yup,” he sighed. “I think you’ve got the picture.”

“I don’t like it. There’s something really off about her.”

“How about heroin and a pathological liar. Is that a good combination?”

She stared at him, then shook her head. “Why?”

“He’s going to be 21 in August. He’ll do the right thing.”

“He might. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with her in the picture. Did you get her junk off the boat?”

“Yup.”

“You say she’s from Australia?”

“That’s what’s her passport says, yes.”

She nodded. “Think her passport is here, on board?”

“I don’t know. I guess so.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

He shook his head. “I’d rather not break those boundaries, if you don’t mind. What are you? A cop?”

She shook her head. “Nope. I work in the prosecutors’ office, with the DAs office, in Atlanta; for the most part, I work sex crimes.”

“What…like rape…stuff like that?”

“Yeah, stuff like that,” she said, looking him in the eye.

“Interesting.”

“Interesting? Why do say that?”

“My mom was very religious when she was younger. She became interested in social work, worked with victims of sexual assault.”

“When was that?”

“Back in the 50s, I think. At least, that’s when she started. She kept at it ‘til Dad retired and they moved to Florida.”

“She was a little ahead of her time, don’t you think? Weren’t too many women back in the 50s working with those kinds of people. Do you know why she developed an interest in that work?”

He shook his head. “No, not really. It was was of those things she never talked about.”

Melissa nodded understanding. “It’s usually for personal reasons.”

“Oh? You too?”

She kept nodding. “Yeah, you could say that.”

He looked at her, then turned away for a minute – his eyes closed.

And she looked at him closely just then, not sure what she was seeing, then she leaned over, put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you some sort of an empath?” she asked.

“I don’t know…I’m not even sure I believe such a thing is possible…”

“Oh, it’s possible, alright.”

“And?”

“I can see it all over your face. You read people, don’t you? I mean, read ‘em like a book.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes things are clear to me.”

“Things?”

“People.”

“What about Tracy? What could you see about her?”

“Trouble. All kinds of trouble.”

“Such as?”

“The things she told us about her life seem out of place, but it’s her…”

“Her eyes.”

“Exactly. Something in her eyes.”

“Something…?”

“Dishonest.”

“Dishonest?” she said wonderingly. “How about…dangerous?” she added.

“I thought so when I first listened to her talk about her family, her parents. Now I’m not so sure.”

“First impressions are usually the right impressions, you know?”

He nodded, looked at her anew. “You brought cameras, lenses?”

“Yup.”

“Got a good telephoto.”

“I do. But I don’t think we have a way to get to shore right now.”

He scrunched-up his lips, then shrugged.

“Maybe you just wanted to be alone with me out here on your boat?” she asked – quietly.

“You know…? I think I’m too tired to do much of anything this afternoon, not without taking a nap first. I hate to leave you, but I really am tired.”

“Can you show me where to put my bag? I’ll need to unpack a few things.”

He hesitated, then shook his head a little. “Follow me,” he said, and just aft of his stateroom was a little office – that also had a small bunk against the hull, “Be it ever so humble,” he mumbled. “Sorry.”

“Kind of small,” she sighed. “Where do you bunk out?”

“Forward,” he said, feeling very sleepy now.

“You look beat. What time did you get up?”

“Two, two thirty. That’s my usual, though,” he said as he stumbled to his berth. “You mind if I take a rest for a while?”

“Be my guest.”

He lay down – and was asleep before his head hit the pillow…yet he was aware something was wrong.

His dreams were fevered, and the pain started then.

+++++

The police called Elizabeth, asked her to come to the hospital. They told her to hurry and James drove her.

A detective from the state police met her when she arrived, told her the victim, a young Chinese girl, had been found – dead – south of town, her throat cut, evidence of anal penetration – semen, the policeman said, unsure of himself around this lady – and that the girl had never talked.

“Why do you need me?” Elizabeth wanted to know. “I’m not connected with the police.”

“Well, the problem is a little unusual, Ma’am. We found a truck nearby, a box truck, nineteen-footer…and it was full of Chinese gals. None of ‘em speakin’ much, but one of ‘em said they were going to New York. They got jobs there. And they just come from China, on a boat.”

“How many girls, officer?”

“As best I can tell, something like ninety.”

“Ninety? In a nineteen foot truck?”

“A-yup. Packed like oysters in a tin can. Smell about the same, too.”

“Isn’t this a problem for the immigration people?”

“Probably so, a-yup, but you see…I think there’s something else goin’ on, and I heard you was good at talkin’ to folks. So, I was wonderin’ if, maybe, you could talk to these gals some, help us get a handle on where these folks is headed. Think you could?”

The detective helped her find the conference room where the girls were being held, and when he opened the door the sight she beheld was like nothing she had ever seen. Two hours later she was as angry as she’d ever been in her life – and she knew, too, that her life would never be the same.

+++++

This chapter (c) 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | just a little bit of story-tellin’

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars 2

corcovado 2 im

II

His eyes were red, his mouth tasted like old fish and bug-juice, and now this. Someone, somewhere in Washington, had gotten a bug up his ass and wanted a bunch of Iraqi Migs hit before they could, conceivably, get airborne – and thereby be instantly shot down by some U.S. Air Force pukes loitering above Ali Air Base. There remained an outside chance, however small, that these Migs could break out and go after one of the carriers in the Gulf, and that just would not do.

The problem, as he saw it, was that his squadron had just bombed the living daylights out of just that airfield, including bombs that had cratered the runway beyond any further possible use. The other problem? Someone in the NRO had just gone over the latest satellite imagery and one runway was, somehow and against all odds, operational. And then, under cover of darkness and against all odds, the Migs had arrived.

No, that would just not do…not one little bit.

Ali Air Base was the closest operational base to Kuwait City, and, therefore, to the Gulf, and had been, literally, plastered two days before, when Operation Desert Shield rolled over into Desert Storm. And, he had flown at least six sorties there over the last two days. His Intruder had taken several hits from small arms fire this morning, driving home the point that, as hapless as the Iraqis seemed to be, a ‘Gomer’ with a flintlock could always get off a lucky shot off – and thereby ruin your whole day.

The squad XO had rousted him from a nice, warm dream less than a half hour ago, given him enough time to grab a shower and drop by the air wing’s dining room for a bologna sandwich and some bug-juice, otherwise known as Kool-Aid, as he walked to the briefing room; he began to regret the sandwich as soon as he finished it – and wished he’d tossed down two more Dixie-cups of the red stuff – on top of the four he’d tossed down – but already his bladder was aching…and that just wouldn’t do…

The Wing’s intel weenies had set up an overhead projector in the little compartment, but as only three Intruders were being detailed to this strike the room had kind of an intimate, less formal feel going down just then, until the CO walked in and that vibe disappeared – in an instant. Commander Dan Green walked up the lectern and looked at his team, then shook his head.

“No use going over the how or the why,” Green began, “but Gomer has moved some assets on the ground at Ali that weren’t there four hours ago, and that can only mean one thing. Somehow, someway, we didn’t get the runways as good as we thought. Also, there are eight Mig-23s on the ground there, and ten Frogfoots just landed, maybe an hour ago. They’re loaded with ordnance, or so I’m told, and we got Marines on the beach, if you get my drift…

“Jim, you’re taking 5-0-9.”

“5-0-9, sir?”

“We’ve apparently got two of those new AGM-84E missiles onboard, and 5-0-9 is the only bird we’ve got that can handle them. You’re also the only man in the squad with any training on the dash-84, and someone on the E-ring wants it used – tonight. Here’s your attack profile,” Green added, handing over a hastily mimeographed piece of paper – full of charts and graphs. “You’ll launch and arc in from the west. The missiles’ tracks are programmed to hit the fuel bladders, again, and the OPS building, which we, somehow, missed today. Satellite imagery has their pilots in-barracks right now, but they’re fueling the Migs as we speak, so odds are they’ll try to take-off before the sun comes up. With that many aircraft up, the thinking is one or two might get through, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

“So, I launch, shoot and boogie back?” he asked.

“Not quite. Your load-out includes two cluster bombs. Look on page three. You launch, impact should be within two minutes. The XO and I will come in from the south and east a minute later, then you come in from the west about a minute after that, drop on anything that moves.”

“Okay.”

“One other thing. See the note page five…you’ll meet up with a Raven at those coordinates. He’ll lead the strike, jamming for the most part, but he’ll be carrying anti-radiation heads, too. He launches first, then you. Got it?”

He looked over the attack profile and shook his head. “Why so low over the border?” he asked. “I thought their radar were down across the board?”

“A Saudi E-3 is picking up emissions in the area.”

“Oh, swell.”

“Yeah. Good news all over. Word is someone picked up Buk transmissions late last night, and some Air Force A-10s picked up some SA-7 fire when they tried to hit a road about ten clicks north of there…”

“You’re full of good news, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, well, if it was easy…”

“Yeah, yeah…I hear you, skipper.”

“5-0-9 is gonna shoot from cat one, and she’s on the elevator right now, ready to go. Cartwright ought to have the coordinates loaded by now, all but the rendezvous with that EF-111. Try not to bust 300 AGL inbound, okay?”

“Yup.”

“Seeya.”

“Yup. Good hunting, skip.”

“You too. Better get a move on.”

He picked up the rest of his gear and made it to the flight deck as the Roosevelt turned into the wind, and he did a quick walk-around the Intruder as an S-3 applied full power next to his catapult, checking his ordnance was racked correctly and all pins removed. He climbed up into his cockpit just as the Viking launched, and the cockpit filled with JP-9 fumes.

His BN, Jerry Cartwright, was still entering waypoints into DIANe when he clambered into the left seat, then his crew chief helped hook up an O2 line to his face-mask; they both straightened out his harness before the chief pulled the safeties on the ejection seat, showing him the pins before he disappeared into the darkness below. He took a deep breath and looked around – but all he saw outside the Intruder was pure black…not even a flicker of moonlight on the sea…

He applied power and taxied from the elevator, watched the deck come alive as he lined up on the rail, then he closed the canopy and ran up power, waiting for the wand. A minor swarm walked away from the Intruder a moment later, all the last minute checks complete, and he then ‘Pri-fly’ came over the net right on cue.

“Tiger 5-0-9, clear.”

“5-0-9.”

“You got her spun up? We ready to roll?” he asked Cartwright as he checked power and rechecked the wing.

“I’m nominal.”

“Okay. Let’s go do this shit.” He turned to the wands down in the dark and adjusted his head a little, pushing his body back in the seat a little more, then he turned his head a little and saluted into the night…

…And the Intruder roared down the deck…slamming him into the seat…

In the enveloping darkness the transition to flight was subtle…just the slightest dip as 5-0-9’s wings bit into the thick air as she cleared the deck…and, as was his habit, he shook his head and worked his jaw as he raised the gear and cleaned the wing, keeping one eye on the altimeter, the other on his airspeed, scanning the engine tapes until he was at 1500AGL and everything was still working the way it was supposed to.

“Come left to three one zero,” Cartwright said. “You got the Raven’s coordinates?”

“Entered.”

“Okay…why don’t you do some of that pilot shit and wake me when we get back.”

“Yup, you take a nap. Just remember to wake me somewhere over Kansas, okay?”

“Yup.”

“Tiger 5-0-9, Big Stick.”

“Five by five, Stick.”

“Tiger Lead is airborne. Start your hack in five, four, three, two, one – mark.”

“Got it,” he said as he reset the chronometer and punched the go button.

“509, contact Turnout on 244.3, and good hunting.”

“Forty-four three, and thanks.”

He trimmed the Intruder into a shallow dive and slipped the HUD into terrain mode, looked at the sea’s surface one more time before he turned all his attention to his cockpit instruments. He would for the rest of this first segment, anyway.

“5-0-9, Turnout,” he heard a few minutes later.

“5-0-9, go.”

“Come to 3-2-0, get down in the weeds now.”

“3-2-0.”

“Uh, 5-0-9, we’re picking up emissions inside Al-Wafrah, profile looks like SA-11.”

“Got it.”

“Turnout, Weasel 3-0-9, expedite.”

“3-0-9.”

“Uh, 5-0-9, make that 3-3-0. Someone just went active.”

“Jerry?”

“I’m looking…” his BN said as the Intruder’s threat receivers started warbling…then…“I gotta launch! One airborne. Now two…! High-PRM, headed south! Get down in the weeds, man!”

He sighed, felt his sphincters relax a little as he pulled up on the stick a little. Five twenty knots and one ten over the waves meant one wrong twitch and Tiger 5-0-9 would become a smeary patch of oil in the waters off Kuwait…then he saw the beach a mile ahead, and a few campfires down on the sand as they roared over seconds later.

“5-0-9, feet dry.”

“5-0-9, come left to 3-1-0 and climb to at least 200 AGL, buddy, or I just can’t see you.”

“Three ten and two.”

“How long?” Cartwright asked.

“To?”

“The Raven.”

“Call it ten minutes. Maybe nine minutes forty seconds.”

“Wish there was some moon.”

“Not me. Too many b-b-guns down there.”

“Hear anything from Barbara?”

“Nope. She went back home, I think. To her parents for a while.”

“5-0-9, got an outbound strike headed to the Stick, two miles north, 300AGL.”

“Okay.”

“5-0-9, come left to 2-2-0 NOW!”

He hit the stick hard, reefed the Intruder into a steep left turn, his eyes focused on the altimeter as he came off the power a little, then the threat receiver came on again.

“What the fuck!”

“Looks like heat-seekers. SA-7s, my guess,” Cartwright croaked, the G-forces making it hard to talk now.

“Every Gomer with a flintlock,” he groaned – as he straightened out on 2-2-0.

“5-0-9, you guys still with me?”

“Roger that. Looked like SA-7s.”

“5-0-9, concur, your traffic is now two zero miles, come right to 3-4-0.”

“Got it.”

“Okay, come up to 7000AGL, then start your attack profile after you hook up.”

“Seven, yeah, got it.”

Moments later the EF-111 appeared high and to their left, coming out of Saudi Arabia, and he reefed the Intruder into a gently arcing turn and slipped into the Raven’s four o’clock.

“Magpie, 5-0-9. You ready?”

“Affirmative.”

“Follow me.”

He looked around once, finally realized the night was clear and it looked like there were a billion stars out, then he focused on the -111 and followed this Magpie into a steep dive, letting his speed build up to almost five hundred and ninety knots – as fast as the Intruder dared go at this density altitude, and with this payload.

“Magpie, 5-0-9, I’ve got two transmitters targeted, launching in three-two-one…”

He had his visor down in an instant, and he squinted ahead just enough to see his instruments – yet even so the intense bloom from the Raven’s anti-radiation missiles almost blinded him.

“Fuck!” Cartwright shouted. “God damn, I’m fuckin’ blind!”

“Magpie, 5-0-9, launching in three-two-one…”

He clinched his eyes tightly this time, and still he saw the bloom – only it was deep red this time – leaving the jangled impression of blood vessels on his retinae. He shook his head, looked at the attack cue on his HUD and armed both his missiles.

“Launch in fifteen seconds,” Cartwright sighed, flipping the final safeties to OFF. “Ten seconds. Magpie, launching ONE in five, four, three, two and one…launching TWO in five, four, three, two, one…”

His eyes almost wilted under the sustained fire that burst forth from his wings.

“Magpie, Turnout, two impacts, high probability detonations on target. Come left to zero-two-zero, start jamming off axis.”

“Magpie, 0-2-0.”

“509, SLAM ONE has detonated. I’ve lost your second…no…wait one. SLAM TWO detonation, both appear to be on target. Tiger 500 and 5-0-2 are starting their runs. Come to zero-eight-two degrees and 500AGL, 300 K-T-S.”

“509, 500 and three.”

“509, start your run your discretion.”

He looked at the chronometer on the panel…call it fifteen seconds…as he trimmed out of his dive and went to full power. “Going now,” he said to the controller in the E-2C, then, to Cartwright: “Pickle’s hot?”

“Your bombs,” his BN added, unnecessarily.

Even from thirty miles out the fires were visible, yet he couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was like down there. At least ten thousand pounds of high explosives had just hit the Iraqi airfield – everything from fuel storage bladders to the control tower had taken hits, and now he was coming in to literally drop bombs on anything, or anyone, left standing.

Then…the threat receiver screamed at him…

…As five SAMs lit off and arced off into the night – chasing the skipper and the XO…

“Turnout? Got a vector to the launcher?”

“500, 509, negative. Hit the airfield again, got that! Repeat, stay on target!”

“509, roger.”

“509, Turnout, radar contact, we got three aircraft taxiing for the runway, looks like the Sukhoi-25s.”

“Vector?”

“Call it zero-eight-one.”

“Show me four-zero seconds out. Gotta drop from at least eight hundred.”

“509, no active emissions from the SAMs…looks like they shut down…probably putting more on the rails.”

“Yup. Runway in sight…confirm…looks like three Frogfoots and a Flogger…”

The threat receiver began howling again…just as he pickled his bombs on the Sukhois…and seconds later he saw the SAM arcing in from the left. Flares and chaff, push the stick down, turn into the missiles flight path, try to confuse their radar seekers, more chaff, stick up, jink right and push down…

One missile exploded harmlessly in his wake…

The second missed, but only by a few meters, then it exploded a hundred meters behind his Intruder…

And fire alarms went off, then hydraulic pressure alarms. Electric buses went next, then he looked over, saw Cartwright’s head was – gone – low geysers of raw arterial blood pumping from the stump…then he felt the pain in his right leg. Shooting up from his ankle all the way to his thigh…

“Uh, 509, I’m going down – fast.”

“509, say again?”

“509, I’m hit, my BN is gone, engines out, losing pressures…uh…okay, fire on the wing…punching out now…”

He didn’t hang around for a reply, and the next thing he knew he was hanging from his parachute harness, drifting down towards a black hole in the desert…

+++++

He was sitting on the swim platform, Altair still just visible – low on the southwest horizon. He could hear Ted describing Altair’s systems to Tracy, trying his best to impress the girl, and no doubt failing miserably despite his reassuringly authoritative choice of words. In his experience girls just didn’t give a damn about electronics and all such ‘stuff,’ though they often tried to appear interested. If they were, well, interested in the boy talking, that is. Only he wasn’t sure who or what this girl was interested in – yet – and that bothered him.

The whole license thing bothered him, too.

Like she didn’t appreciate the gravity of his passport explanation and so had decided to play him. To call him on it, in other words…and in his world eighteen-year-old girls just didn’t do that. No, he wondered who she really was, and what her angle was.

And just then he wished Ted had checked his testosterone back in Boston, but that was a done deal now. He’d have to deal with it as best he could.

He sighed, took a deep breath as he rubbed the scar on his right shin, the he looked aft and saw he could still see Vancouver’s lights in their wake, and while the sun was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky it was still quite dark out.

“Just like me,” he said softly. “Groping around in the dark again. Trying to make sense of the senseless…”

+++++

He could see Tiger 509 cartwheeling after it slammed into the earth, spraying jet fuel in wide arcs as it tumbled – and suddenly vast swathes of grass lit off. Following the prevailing wind, the flames marched to the north, but then the thought struck him…

The flames were bright, and he looked up, saw his olive colored parachute as plain as day – which meant any Gomer within ten miles could see him, too.

And now, hanging up here in the sky, he noticed his leg really hurt.

At least, he said to no one in particular, he felt somewhat intact. Not like…

No, I’m not going there, he thought. I’m alive, he isn’t and I’m sorry, but I’ll worry about all that later. He reached for his SART radio and turned it on, but left it attached to his harness…

“509, how do you read, over?”

He fumbled for the transmit button and pressed it. “509, still in my chute.”

“Confirm, you are down?”

“I will be, in about thirty seconds. The aircraft is about a half mile east of my position.”

“Are you injured?”

“Affirmative. Some metal sticking out of my legs, but that’s about all I can see from here.”

“Call when you get set.”

“Yup,” he said, but the ground was rushing up now, and he knew what was coming next…

He tumbled for what felt like forever, his chute full of the southerly breeze and dragging his body through what had to be acres of marshy reed and prickly grass…then the silk got tangled in some sort of stunted tree and he rolled to a stop. He lay still for a moment, listening to his heart beat in his temples, then he tried to slow his breathing down but realized he was just too disoriented for that. He felt pain all over now and pulled out his K-Bar, cut parachute cords, cutting himself free of the fluttering parachute.

He rolled over, tried to see the wound but it was still too dark and he didn’t dare use his flashlight out here in the open so he leaned up and took a look around. He was in the coastal marsh, he could hear the sea beyond – and a small city perhaps ten miles away…probably Abādān…and he knew troops were there…that’s where the SAMs had come from…

He turned again and he hurt all over, felt light-headed for a moment and he steadied himself on a rock…until he heard movement in the marshy grass a few meters away…

Then he remembered…there were supposedly crocodiles in these marshlands and he pushed himself up, gathered the remains of the parachute and walked directly away from the marsh as quietly as he could…

He came upon a low escarpment of rocky scree and he strung up the remains of the parachute between a few stumpy trees, making a shelter of sorts as he knew the sun would be brutal in just a few hours, and only then did he unclip the light from his harness and look at his leg…

He saw one piece of metal jutting from the top of his left thigh, and it looked thin – and sharp – then he shined the light on his right shin and saw a much more ragged piece – of something – had gone all the way through this leg, and this wound was bleeding – badly. He felt for the little first aid kit in his right breast pocket and pulled it out, felt for the powder he was supposed to pour on wounds like this to control the bleeding and found it. He gently opened the pack and poured a little on both wounds, then leaned back and took a deep breath…

‘The radio!’ he thought… ‘Got to get on the radio, turn on the beacon…’

He found the beacon and flipped it on, then turned on the radio and called in: “509, on the air.”

He paused, heard nothing, then called again.

“509, checking in, how do you read?”

“509, we have your beacon, some bad guys in the area looking for you right now, so keep your head down. Call in at 0500 hours, earlier if compromised.”

“Got it.” He turned the radio to standby – to conserve power – then he bunched up some extra parachute material into a pillow and leaned back – and the light-headedness returned…this time with a vengeance. He reached out to steady himself but he was falling again, falling through cool clouds, falling to the earth, and into the night…

+++++

They dropped anchor that afternoon, a mile off the main channel in a protected harbor on the south side of Musket Island. He inflated the Zodiac and put the little Honda outboard on the thin wooden stern, then held her off with one hand while he pulled the little inflatable to Altair’s bow. Ted was on the  foredeck, getting the second anchor ready on the foredeck as he pulled up, and he took the anchor from him, put it on the Zodiac’s hard floor, then turned to the motor and pulled the crank…

“Ready to pay out the chain?” he asked as the little outboard sputtered to life.

“I’ve got 200 feet ready. Is that enough?”

“Should be.”

“I think we should tie the stern off to those trees,” Ted added, pointing to shore. “Maybe keep us from swinging too much…”

“Not with these tides, unless you want to stay up all night paying out line,” he said as he puttered slowly away from Altair. When he was fifty yards away from their first anchor he let this second one, a 44 pound Rocna, go; when it hit bottom he moved off a few yards then dropped the remaining chain overboard.

“Okay, back it down a little, rudder to port.”

“Okay!” Ted called out, but by that time he was paying attention to Tracy again. Arms crossed over her chest, the same petulant expression on her face she’d worn all day. ‘Not quite bored yet,’ he sighed inwardly. ‘But give it a few more hours…then the hurting will begin.’

The first thing he’d noticed as the day warmed and sweatshirts came off were the tell-tale tracks on her arm, and that had set off all his internal alarms. This was his ship and he was responsible for any drugs found on board, and that meant if they were boarded and drugs were found – anywhere – he’d conceivably lose the boat. His home. And that meant he had to proceed carefully, and quickly, to get to the bottom of this.

“So,” he said aloud, “tell Ted and let him handle it, or do it myself?”

Do it yourself, the little voice in the back of his head said. Don’t put this on Ted.

He nodded as he set a trip-line for the anchor, then he motored over to the rocky shore, to the crumbling remnants of an old granite quarry. He waved at an older couple anchored as he passed, noting their little sailboat had come all the way from Southhampton, England, and he shook his head, wondering what it would be like to be cooped up on a thirty foot boat in the middle of the Atlantic…for weeks?

The water was clear near the rocky shore as he slowed – then beached the Zodiac, and he hopped out, walked the rocks for a few minutes, looking at Altair as he walked, at Ted and Tracy talking on the foredeck. He was not looking forward to this…no, not at all…

He looked-over the old quarry for a while, climbed among the rusted detritus wondering where these slabs of time had ended up. Some courthouse in Vancouver, probably, he sighed. He turned, looked at the sun…maybe an hour before twilight, so it was time to head back and get to it.

By the time he was motoring back he noted Ted and Tracy had gone below, and he groaned. ‘God, not already,’ he said inwardly…

He circled Altair once before he approached the swim-platform and tied off, and by the time he reached for the rail Ted was standing there, waiting, looking at him.

With a couple of baggies in hand.

And with what looked like a handful of insulin-type syringes in the other.

“What’s all this?” he asked.

“Heroin,” Ted said.

“Did you get all of it?”

“Unless it’s stashed up her ass, yeah.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve checked already,” his son added. “We can drop her at Powell River on the way up, in the morning.”

“Is that what she wants?”

“No. She wants to stay.”

“Nowhere to go?”

“Nope.”

“No money?”

“A few bucks.”

“What’s with the McGill story?”

“Bullshit, for the most part. She came over a few years ago, dropped out after her second year. Been drifting ever since.”

He nodded as he looked at his son. No, no longer a boy, that much was certain…but what kind of man was he going to be?”

“And what do you want to do?” he asked his son.

“Get rid of this shit.”

“Take the Zodiac, get some rocks from the beach and put them in the baggies, take them off a-ways and dump ‘em. Next, what do you want to do about her?”

His son looked down, shook his head… “I don’t know, Dad. I just don’t know.”

“Well, whatever you decide to do is fine by me. I’m proud of you, by the way.”

Ted looked up, smiled. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Never thought I’d hear you say something like that, Dad.”

“Oh?”

“You’re not the most demonstrative dude in the world, ya know.”

The words hit him, hard, and he felt old and hollow inside for a moment, then he looked at his son again and nodded his head. “I am my father’s son, Ted. Sorry.”

“No need to apologize, Pops. I guess it just makes it all the more meaningful, ya know?”

He nodded again. “I’m going to put on some water for spaghetti. Is she in her bunk?”

“Yup.”

“Is she hurting yet?”

“Yup.”

“Goddamn it all to Hell,” he muttered. “This isn’t exactly what we had in mind, was it?”

“This is the world we live in, Dad.”

“I must’ve missed something along the way.”

“Somehow I doubt that, but it’s a not the eighties anymore.”

He smiled again, and nodded, then smiled as he said: “Maybe you should be a cop, Ted.”

“Why not a pilot?”

“Because if you have a family you’ll miss all the fun.”

“And a cop wouldn’t?”

“You got a point there, Bucko. Well, you’d better get to it.”

“Right.”

“Should I just ignore her?”

“No, I think she’s expecting you. She saw you looking at her arms; that’s when she came to me.”

“Okay.”

Ted pushed off and motored away, then he turned and stepped into the canvas enclosure on his way down below. Once in the galley he pulled-out a large pot and filled it with water, added some salt and olive oil then set it to boil while he pulled out a skillet and chopped onions and peppers, then set them on a burner in some more olive oil. Add a little garlic and cilantro, he thought, then a few cans of diced tomatoes and some basil to kick things off.

“That smells good,” he heard the girl say, and when he turned he saw she was sitting in the saloon, her feet tucked-in under her legs – and his heart went out to her sitting there. She looked like a used up waif, her life not beginning now, but in tatters.

“Next – my secret ingredient, a good shot of Merlot…”

“In spaghetti sauce?”

“It’s classy spaghetti sauce, kiddo.”

“Like you, huh?”

“Me? I kind of doubt that…”

“I don’t.”

He turned and looked at her again. “How you feeling?”

“Strung out, burned out.”

“Lost, and maybe a little alone?”

She turned away, started to cry…

“Knock it off, will you?” he sighed. “We’re supposed to grown-ups around here…okay?”

“Sorry…I’m not feeling very grown-up right now.”

“How are you feeling? Besides strung out?”

“Like I’ve been found out…by my parents, my father.”

“And what would your father have done?”

“Beat me half to death, I suppose.”

“And then…?”

“Him? He’d have gone down to the pub, I reckon. Had a few pints…”

“And your mother?”

“She wasn’t around much, if you know what I mean?”

“No, I guess I don’t.”

“She worked nights, mostly.”

“Nights?”

“On the street.”

“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight…? Dad was a drunk and mom was a hooker?”

She nodded her head, looked away. “We were poor, lived in…”

“Pardon me, but I really don’t believe a word you’re saying?”

“What?”

“I don’t believe you, Tracy.”

She stared at him now, unsure of herself – and angry.

“You told Ted you spent two years at McGill, but somehow I don’t see a heroin addict raised in that kind of home ending up at a school like that. It just doesn’t, you know, add up,” he said as he turned back to his sauce.

“You think you know me…?”

“Who – me? No, not at all. Point of fact, I don’t know you at all. Second point? I don’t think you know yourself very well.”

“Oh, and what do you think I am?”

“In my limited experience, people lie like you are when they’re trying to conceal something.”

“Oh, and just what am I trying to conceal?”

“Beats me, kid. And even if you knew, which I kind of doubt, I don’t think you’d tell me anything that even remotely resembles the truth. You want some wine?”

“Yes, please.”

He poured her a glass of Merlot and walked it over to her, looking her in the eye as he handed it to her. “The thing is, if you want to talk, I’ll listen, but I think I’ve already got the contours outlined in my mind.”

“Oh, really?”

He walked back to the stove and stirred his sauce a little, sighing… “Yeah. Daddy was a rich man, Mommy was the drunk and she didn’t get involved much, did she?”

“Involved? What do you mean?”

“He abused you, didn’t he?”

“Abused? What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. You tell me…?”

She looked away, took a big pull from her glass then looked at him again. “It wasn’t like that, not really. I think he wanted to, but I don’t think he had the courage.”

“Now that’s an odd choice of word, don’t you think, Tracy? Courage?”

“Well, he always told me I was cute…too cute…”

“Ah, so it all comes down to restraint on his part? That’s what you mean by courage?”

“I suppose so, yes.”

“Because you’re so, what, so irresistible?”

“Yes. I guess.”

He looked at her again, careful not to say a word.

“God, that sounds awful, doesn’t it?” she added.

He stirred the tomatoes and nodded his head. “Kind of, yes. What does your father do?”

“Imports mainly. Foodstuffs, from South America for the most part, I think.”

“And he’s wealthy?”

“Yes. Very.”

“And mother?”

“She plays cards.”

“And drinks a fair bit, I take it?”

She nodded her head again. “Yup.”

“You want a salad?”

“Can I help?”

“Sure…I can always use a fresh galley slave…”

She laughed at that, and was still smiling when Ted came down – and saw them both smiling and chattering away.

‘God…I’ll bet she never knew what hit her,’ he thought, smiling a little at thoughts of other nights, and other interrogations.

+++++

‘Yes…there it is again,’ he thought. ‘Something in the grass, moving this way…”

The pain in his right leg was almost overwhelming now, but the blood flowing from the wound had slowed a little after he put the coagulant around the penetrating metal shard, and though he’d wanted to shoot an ampule of morphine he knew he couldn’t relax yet. Not now.

Then he’d heard something in the grass and curled up behind a large rock.

But then…nothing. Like as soon as he moved, the movement in the grass stopped…

He pulled some of the ragged parachute fabric over his body, trying to hide as best he could without disturbing the little structure he’d built, and then he’d lain still for minutes, trying not to move anything. Then he’d looked at his watch…

And cursed. Almost five now, almost time to check in with the E2 orbiting somewhere out there in the night, somewhere out over the Gulf.

He flipped the SART radio to active and pushed the transmit button: “509, 509, 509,” he whispered, as per protocol. “509, in the clear on 243.”

“509, sitrep.”

“Something moving in on my position, being very quiet about it, too.”

“Okay. Seal Team airborne at this time, be at your position less than two zero minutes. Jolly Green will be coming in behind them.”

“509, got it.”

“Hang tight, fella. The cavalry’s comin’…”

He flipped the power to standby, turned his attention back to the marsh, looking for a shift in the shadows…when a new, sharper spasm of pain broke over him. He looked down at his leg, saw a snake of some kind coiled up beside his right foot and he knew, just knew, he was going to die just then.

He heard more noise in the grass then and looked up, saw a small leopard walk out of the waist-high reeds – looking right into his eyes.

He was reaching down for his 45ACP – slowly – when the snake struck again.

this chapter (c) 2017 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

Sunday in the Sun + 29 October 2017

Bob

Music Matters

First up this week, a walk down memory lane with a ghost on the canvas.

“People don’t know – when they’re looking at souls.”

+++++

So, it’s time for some Sunday in the Sun, The Robert Mueller Edition, when it rains – even when the sun’s out.

Late Friday evening word broke that the first grand jury indictment in the Robert Mueller Russia Collusion probe has been handed down, and will be served Monday. Meaning someone is going to be arrested Monday morning. Unless…

But…who? Paul Manafort? Don Jr.?And where does that take us next? How many rabbit holes are there left?

Yet, as important as this event may be, other, surely not coincidental events were taking place in and around the swamp on Friday, too. First, this item, from FOX NEWS, shows how the Republican disinformation campaign may try to handle the unwinding scandal:

“Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing a fresh round of calls from conservative critics for his resignation from the Russia collusion probe, amid revelations that have called into question the FBI’s own actions and potentially Mueller’s independence.

“This week’s bombshell that a controversial anti-Trump dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign has Republicans asking to what extent the FBI – which received some of the findings and briefly agreed to pay the same researcher to gather intelligence on Trump and Russia – used the politically connected material.

“Hill investigators also are looking into a Russian firm’s uranium deal that was approved by the Obama administration in 2010 despite reports that the FBI – then led by Mueller – had evidence of bribery involving a subsidiary of that firm.

“Critics question whether Mueller’s own ties to the bureau as well as fired FBI director James Comey now render him compromised as he investigates allegations of Russian meddling and collusion with Trump officials in the 2016 race.

“The federal code could not be clearer – Mueller is compromised by his apparent conflict of interest in being close with James Comey,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who first called for Mueller to step down over the summer, said in a statement to Fox News on Friday. “The appearance of a conflict is enough to put Mueller in violation of the code. … All of the revelations in recent weeks make the case stronger.”

“Outgoing New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor and Trump ally, also suggested Friday that Mueller consider stepping aside.

“If the facts that you just laid out are true, then somebody with Bob Mueller’s integrity will step aside and should — if in fact those facts, as you laid them out, are true,” Christie said on “Fox & Friends,” in response to various conflict-of-interest allegations.”

+++++

So, if the messenger delivers something you don’t like, discredit the message – or, if history is any guide at all, simply get rid of the messenger. Anyone recalling the Saturday Night Massacre – during the Watergate era – will surely understand what this indictment portends. And let’s not forget to mention all the other niggling distractions this week (the JFK data release for one) that add to the noise.

Yet, there are a couple of other (troublesome) “trends” – developing concurrently. The next piece of the puzzle? Consolidation of power, to wit, what’s happening at the Department of State?

A leaked State Department document is alarming diplomats and others who say it shows the accumulation of power among a small and unaccountable group of senior aides to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The chart, obtained by POLITICO, illustrates the growing influence of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, which traditionally has served as an in-house think tank but which Tillerson heavily relies upon for day-to-day decision making. Critics already complain that the office — led by Brian Hook, a powerful Tillerson aide not subject to Senate confirmation — accepts too little input from career diplomats, and the chart, which lays out a method to craft foreign policy, shows no explicit role for them.

The chart appears to show a top-down approach in which ideas emanate from the secretary’s inner circle rather than bubbling up from diverse sources, such as foreign service officers in the field. More than half a dozen current and former U.S. officials who have seen the document said it reveals an unusual level of control and oversight by the Policy Planning Staff, which is known in diplomatic circles as S/P.

Several current and former U.S. officials warned that the new approach, called the Policy Planning Process, or “P3,” increases the risk of poor, uninformed policy choices on everything from terrorism in Africa to human rights issues at a perilous time in international relations. It could also further demoralize career State Department staffers who already feel marginalized by Tillerson and President Donald Trump.

“This says to me that they are developing a new foreign policy structure that is designed to largely ignore those who know these regions and who know these issues,” said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official who served under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The chart suggests “a power grab by a small cabal of Tillerson aides,” added a senior Democratic congressional aide. “Making policy with a token effort to engage policy experts is a recipe for disaster and further evidence that the political forces in this administration will do anything they can to dismantle the State Department.”

The State Department’s press section did not respond to a POLITICO request for more material and context, but a senior department official said in a statement: “Policy development starts with the administration priorities set by the president. The policy planning process develops foreign policy with broad input at all stages from within State and the inter-agency. This process has supported new policies in a range of areas, including Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.”

In recent weeks, Hook has been meeting with various divisions at the State Department to explain the eight-step process. A source familiar with the issue said Hook is not seeking feedback but merely informing employees of a process Tillerson has already approved. The chart shows that policymaking begins with a “whiteboard session” between Hook and Tillerson.

Other State Department sources said Hook is simply explaining an approach that, at least in its first few steps, has slowly taken hold since Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO used to corporate management structure, took over as secretary in February.

The State Department officials said Hook’s policy planning chart nonetheless formalizes an unwelcome change in their status from the Obama administration.

“We are implementers of policy decided by Tillerson and his team,” one veteran State Department official concluded.

Several sources were unsettled to see the chart omit any mention of other parts of the State Department, especially its many bureaus focused on specific regions and issues, such as the Middle East and economics.

Some noted that Hook and Tillerson could include career diplomats in policy discussions throughout the process, even if the chart does not describe a specific role for them. Certain longtime department employees, including acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton, are known to have Tillerson’s ear. It’s also possible that what the chart vaguely describes as an “internally” triggered policy demand could come from a junior diplomat with a big idea.

Regardless of those caveats, the sources consulted said the chart strongly implies that Hook and Tillerson are the authoritative drivers of foreign policy to an unusual degree.

Several sources — while cautioning that the chart could offer an incomplete picture — also noted with concern that it also implies that the secretary of state, the Cabinet and Trump himself might endorse a policy prior to any significant evaluation by the National Security Council. They argued it should be the other way around to prevent poorly informed policy options from being placed before Cabinet secretaries and the president.

One serving U.S. official said the chart seemed “delusional” in its measure of the State Department and Tillerson’s influence in policy making. The Defense Department and the White House itself are major players in crafting U.S. foreign policy; and in the case of Tillerson, he’s clashed with Trump on so many levels — even reportedly calling the president a “moron” — that his very future at State is in question.

“This would be a challenging process to manage effectively for even the most powerful and skilled secretary of state, and we don’t have that right now,” said Derek Chollet, who was a deputy director of the Policy Planning Staff under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I don’t understand how this comports with any reality that we’re aware of.”

The State Department’s Policy Planning Staff was created in 1947 by legendary diplomat George Kennan at the request of then-Secretary of State George C. Marshall. It’s supposed to be an independent source of analysis and often acts as a second opinion on policy for the secretary. According to the department’s own explanation, Policy Planning tends to “take a longer term, strategic view of global trends.”

Various secretaries of state have employed the office in different ways. It was considered unusually active under James Baker, when George H.W. Bush was president. It was also considered relatively active when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

But former and current U.S. officials said that, even in those days, the Policy Planning Staff worked hand in hand with other divisions at State instead of supplanting them. A case in point was the “pivot to Asia” strategy publicly articulated by Clinton — but widely considered the brainchild of then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.

Hook’s role at State is drawing increasing scrutiny from lawmakers, many of whom are troubled by Tillerson’s slowness in filling the many vacant assistant secretary and other leadership positions at State. The jobs remain unfilled as Tillerson is working on a plan to restructure and streamline the entire department.

Hook and his crew on the Policy Planning Staff — which numbers around two dozen, according to the State Department’s website — wield unusual power in part because so many key jobs are empty or held by diplomats on an acting basis. And unlike assistant secretaries or other top officials, Hook’s position doesn’t require Senate confirmation, which troubles some on Capitol Hill.

Observers say Hook, viewed as a relatively mainstream Republican, is running ragged trying to meet the demands placed on him.

“Hook is like a one-man band frantically, albeit valiantly, trying to play all the instruments, as competent and experienced musicians are made to stand on the sidelines,” one U.S. official said.

There have been reports that Tillerson, as part of a broader effort to restructure the State Department, wants to greatly expand the size of the Policy Planning Staff. The department did not immediately respond to questions about those reports. Still, even the possibility is meeting resistance among some lawmakers.

Last month, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire tacked an amendment onto a State Department appropriations bill that seeks to limit the size of the Policy Planning Staff, subject to certain conditions. The broader bill, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, also largely rejected Trump’s effort to slash the State Department’s funding by a third. (from politico)

+++++

The next piece of the puzzle? Try this from NBC News, a Trump certified purveyor of Fake Stuff.

A federal watchdog agency will investigate President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, it was announced Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office plans to probe the voter fraud panel’s funding, internal operations and how it is protecting and sorting the tens of millions of sensitive voter files the commission has collected.

The announcement comes after three Democratic senators — Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Cory Booker of New Jersey — sent a letter last week urging the agency to investigate the commission, saying it had ignored several requests from Congress aimed at understanding its work. The senators said the panel’s creation and operations were “cause for serious concern.”

+++++

Okay, are you seeing the overall picture yet? No? Well, then, try this…also from Politico:

One of the Trump campaign’s top data firms sought to connect with Julian Assange before the 2016 election, the Wikileaks founder said on Twitter on Wednesday.

“I can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica [prior to November last year] and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks,” Assange wrote.

The interaction was first reported by The Daily Beast, which said the firm approached WikiLeaks about finding emails sent during Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state that were not made public by the State Department. Assange, however, did not specify in his tweet who from Cambridge Analytica approached him or what they sought.

“We have confirmed the approach and rejection only. Not the subject,” Assange later added on Twitter.

WikiLeaks has come under scrutiny since the U.S. intelligence community concluded that the organization was given Democrats’ hacked emails as part of a Russian government effort to interfere in the election to help Donald Trump. WikiLeaks has denied any connection to the Russian effort.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading an investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign, including whether any Trump associates colluded with Moscow.

Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with deep ties to the billionaire Mercer family, was paid $5.9 million by Trump’s campaign during the 2016 campaign cycle. Neither WikiLeaks nor Cambridge Analytica responded to POLITICO’s request for comment.

Trump’s campaign released a statement later Wednesday that appeared to try to distance itself from Cambridge Analytica. (click the link, above, for the rest of the story)

Then, the last piece of the puzzle…FaceBook, and it’s continued “inadvertent” attack on mainstream journalism.

Facebook has been criticised for the worrying impact on democracy of its “downright Orwellian” decision to run an experiment seeing professional media removed from the main news feed in six countries.

The experiment, which began 19 October and is still ongoing, involves limiting the core element of Facebook’s social network to only personal posts and paid adverts.

So-called public posts, such as those from media organisation Facebook pages, are being moved to a separate “explore” feed timeline. As a result, media organisations in the six countries containing 1% of the world’s population – Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia – have had one of their most important publishing platforms removed overnight.

“The Facebook explore tab killed 66% of our traffic. Just destroyed it … years of really hard work were just swept away,” says Dina Fernandez, a journalist and member of the editorial board at Guatemalan news site Soy502. “It has been catastrophic, and I am very, very worried.”

In Slovakia, data from Facebook-owned analytics site CrowdTangle shows that “interactions” – engagement such as likes, shares and comments – fell by 60% overnight for the Facebook pages of a broad selection of the country’s media Facebook pages. Filip Struhárik, a Slovakian journalist with news site Denník N, says the situation has since worsened, falling by a further 5%.

“Lower reach can be a problem for smaller publishers, citizens’ initiatives, small NGOs,” Struhárik said. “They can’t afford to pay for distribution on Facebook by boosting posts – and they don’t have infrastructure to reach people other ways.”

Struhárik thinks his employer will survive the change. Denník N has subscription revenue, which means it doesn’t rely on the vast traffic that Facebook can drive for advertising income, and ensures that its most dedicated readers go straight to its homepage for their news. But Fernandez, in Guatemala, is much more concerned.

Even if Facebook reversed the change today, she says, “I really don’t know how long it will take to recover. If they reverse it fast enough it will be less difficult. If they take a long time, we might not be around.” Soy502 is a new site in an unstable democracy where journalists and civil society groups already face an uphill battle to be heard.

“We currently have a smear campaign that is targeting journalists, which is really vicious, fuelled by interest groups who are against the anti-corruption drive in our country,” she says. “We are regarded in the region as a success story on new media for the digital age. This can destroy us.”

Moving media content to the explore feed, a secondary section of the site that is rolling out worldwide, means users who really want to see posts from sites they follow have to click over to look for them – if they can find them.

“I don’t know what the criteria used to show news is. I see a lot of junk in the feed,” says Fernandez. “At least with past algorithms you had an idea of what would show up. With these, it’s completely strange.”

Fernandez shared examples of the sort of posts filling the explore feed: clips of wrestling and reality TV shows from pages like “Filosóraptor” and “Cabronazi” (illustrated with a picture of Adolf Hitler in a pink uniform), but few pieces of content from the pages she and her colleagues had chosen to follow. “My timeline is showing me very little local news.”

In Slovakia memes and gifs are the better end of the spectrum. “My explore feed looks quite normal, but a few people told me that they see distinct content here – old jokes, alt-right pages, posts by non-standard politicians,” said Struhárik. “We have regional elections in two weeks, and a lot of members of the fascist party are candidates, so it’s not a good time to hide posts of serious news and show people a strange cocktail of random popular posts.”

Where there are losers, there are winners. Jim Anderson, the chief executive of Facebook mega-publisher SocialFlow, says “millions of publishers of all shapes and sizes have pages on Facebook, so there may well be someone out there who benefits.

“In general, publishers’ concern is that the news feed is the primary Facebook experience for most users. Getting two billion people into the habit of consuming content in a new place is a tall order.”

Facebook has long tested sweeping changes to its product on subsections of its user base. When it wanted to roll out a new stories feature, for instance, it did so in Ireland first; when it wanted to trial a new camera app, it did so in Brazil; when it wanted to test adverts in Messenger, Australia was the subject.

But in this case, the standard practice of focusing on smaller, less developed countries that matter less to the company’s bottom line means that the nations which have been hit are those with the most riding on a stable media ecosystem.

“Independent media in my country is vital to building a new democracy and fighting corruption,” says Otto Angel, a broadcast journalist in Guatemala. “Right now, we use Facebook Live to broadcast judicial hearings in corruption cases. With this ‘catastrophe’, we lose around 57% of clicks a day.

“If I could speak with some officer of Facebook, I will ask if they can take back this project,” Angel said.

Fernandez accused Facebook of simply not caring what happened to its test subjects. “It’s like it took sites in emerging markets where we don’t really matter. We at Soy502 worked really hard to become a viable, respectable news site four years ago, and it all can be destroyed right away.”

In a statement released Monday, Facebook’s head of news feed, Adam Mosseri, said that the company “currently” had no plans to roll the test out further. But he added the purpose of the test was to see whether Facebook users prefer the site if “personal” and “public” posts are separated. If the results are positive, and Facebook does find that the metrics it seeks to optimise are improved by the experiment, then its plans could well change.

For those who rely on Facebook to campaign politically, share breaking news, or keep up to date with the world, that might be a concerning thought. “I’m worried about the impact of Facebook on democracy,” said Fernandez. “One company in particular has a gigantic control on the flow of information worldwide. This alone should be worrisome. It’s downright Orwellian.”

+++++

So, just where are we now? Well first, a little irony from Bill Yeats, by way of a timely, and perhaps patiently pedantic reminder:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats | The Second Coming

Yeats gets trotted out for a turn around the track every so often, ever since he wrote the piece as the First World War was winding down – and the Irish “troubles” were winding up yet again – and the poem has been with almost nauseating frequency since the Brexit vote in the UK two years ago, not to mention Trump’s coronation last November. It’s a telling indictment that we find comfort wrapping up our current troubles in such dark spiritualism, yet there’s truth in Yeats’ verse, too.

We see the “best of us” these days lacking a certain political conviction (don’t we?) while we see no end of passionate intensity – everywhere we look. From San Francisco to Beijing to the streets of Barcelona, everywhere we turn there’s lots of intensity on display, just waiting to come pouring down on all of us. Everyone’s upset and there’s a growing, almost pervasive sense of hopelessness about events in our collective body politic that Yeats speaks to…and that means something, like a canary in a coal mine means something.

…Almost like our elected representatives no longer represent…us. They have become our nightmare, and we are left, the indignant desert birds, to wonder what rough beast is coming to claim it’s rightful place on the (our?) throne.

We are confronting dissolution on almost every front, dissolution from within, dissolution all around us. Dissolution on the home front, where norms of discourse are falling apart before our eyes, where Neo-Nazi white nationalists are claiming their place at the table and beginning to define one way forward. And rather than stand up to this rabble, the Republican Party is capitulating, handing over the keys to the kingdom while the moderates are drifting to the sidelines, resigning rather than fighting for principle.

Flake, Corker, McCain…who will remember these names a few years hence? Who will remember their stand when Bannon and his acolytes begin to write their own history of the Republican Party – as we weather the winter of our own discontent. Who will remember that people like Flake and Corker ran rather than stayed to fight for their principles? To fight the good, honest fight?

Anyone? You?

So, what happens next, when Republican-sponsored corporate neo-fascism reigns supreme? Will you wake-up and smell the stench when they call off elections in 2018, or maybe 2020 – because of pervasive election fraud? After Gerrymandering is legitimized by the Supreme Court? Will you care enough to make a stand then?

And abroad, where the American exodus continues, where Trump, Tillerson & Co continue to dismantle the structural precepts that created the post-war global world order? Has anyone really given any thought at all about what happens when America is almost fully disengaged from the world? About the economic chaos such a sudden vacuum will create, and the full-blown economic tsunami that will engulf the so-called Third World when trade with America simply – stops? Can China exist in a world without America? Can Japan, or Germany? How far off will the last gasp be then?

If you take Trump and Bannon seriously, and you should, I’d start to care about these things more than you have to date. These people are talking more and more like they want to put a wall around this country, stop immigration completely, take basic rights away from those they consider inferior (read: Blacks and Browns, or anyone who disagrees with what the generals have to say) and, perhaps one day soon, we’ll start hearing about plans to resume repatriating people to the continents of their origins. Hey, it’s happened before, and don’t think it isn’t being talked about around campfires in Trumpland. In Germany, in the thirties, they called it the Madagascar Plan, but hey, look at Liberia and ask yourself why the capital is called Monrovia. We’ve been there, done that, and there’s no reason why we can’t go there again – once we forget who we are, and once we forget about the one common thread that holds us all together…

It’s called the constitution, by the way, that meaningless piece of paper some Republicans take great pride in trampling all over these days. It’s called the Rule of Law, that forgotten lady now rented out on occasion, to the highest bidder.

+++++

I’ll conclude with a piece from this evening’s Atlantic.

“Unprecedented” has become one of the most popular terms to use when discussing President Trump. On any given day since January 20 2017, the odds are good that a person can turn on their televisions or browse through a news story to encounter some pundit discussing how President Trump’s actions are unlike anything we have ever seen before.

As a “public intellectual” who takes to the airwaves frequently, I often find myself fielding this question about all sorts of issues. The gatekeepers of the chyron perpetually have their ears open to hear a guest utter those words. Because of how unpredictable and bizarre so much of the news seems to be in the era of Trump, the desire to blurt out “unprecedented!” when discussing the state of American politics is always strong.

For a historian such as myself, using the term is always trickier than it seems. The knee-jerk response to the “unprecedented” question is to instantly reach back into our database and recall a person, a moment, or a crisis that reveals unexpected similarities to what is happening today. If we misuse the term unprecedented, we risk missing what is really new while ignoring the deep political roots to what is currently taking place in Washington. We fall prey to Trump Exceptionalism by forgetting how much of the ugliness and dysfunction did not appear out nowhere. If we look into the window of history, we can see that much of Trump’s presidency has a pretty solid foundation.

If we use “unprecedented” with care, then we are able to see what is genuinely distinct about the moment within which we live. Never have we had a president, for instance, who directly communicates with the public in the same kind of unscripted, ad-hoc, and off-the-cuff manner as we have witnessed with Trump. The kind of unbridled rhetorical attacks that he has unleashed on every enemy from the news industry to Puerto Rican officials to kneeling NFL football players to Republican legislators has been a striking contrast to what we have witnessed in American presidential history. In contrast to FDR, who spoke directly to the public through fireside chats on the radio that were carefully crafted, thoughtfully edited, and broadcast strategically, President Trump has used Twitter to literally say what is on his mind at any moment without much consideration for the consequences. This is a new style of presidential communication and a dramatic lowering of the editorial barrier as to what the commander in chief is willing to utter before the world.

Another truly unprecedented part of the Trump presidency that doesn’t get much attention anymore has to do with the massive conflict of interest that exists in this Oval Office. When the president made a decision in January to avoid erecting a strict firewall between his family business and the presidency, he set the democracy on a dangerous path that we have not yet experienced. Never have we had a businessperson with such vast economic holdings as president. To have our leader be the titular head of a sprawling global company with property interests all over the globe, even with his two sons “running the business,” creates obvious problematic situations where the line between making money and making policy is permanently blurred.

The Washington Post recently reported how the private prison company GEO Group decided to hold its annual conference this year at Trump’s Miami resort rather than near its headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida. The company and its top executives have donated a considerable amount to the president. The decision by the company, which has ramped up its lobbying operation in Washington and whose business is booming this year, was in part a result of signing a contract to build an immigration-detention center, and will now be bringing good business to one of the Trump properties—which have already enjoyed endless free advertising every time the president spends his golfing weekends at one of these resorts.

There are other times, however, where using the term “unprecedented” masks the ways in which Trump is simply exploiting the way that we have allowed our government institutions to evolve.

Take his rampant use of presidential power to dismantle climate-change regulations put into place by former President Barack Obama and his efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act through a slow, administrative death. The risks of expanding presidential power over the course of the 20th century have been well documented. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who had been a supporter and part of several Democratic administrations that strengthened the executive branch, warned of the “Imperial Presidency” when Richard Nixon was in office. Democrats were furious about how many of Ronald Reagan’s appointees in the 1980s, like James Watt at Interior or Clarence Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, refused to enforce the programs for which they were responsible.

Democrats were likewise outraged when President George W. Bush used signing statements and executive orders to aggressively conduct the war on terrorism regardless of legislative restraints, while Republicans were outraged by the way that President Clinton used the same power to protect the environment or President Obama to expand protection to the children of illegal immigrants. President Trump has been following in their footsteps, often in more dramatic fashion than we have seen, paying very little attention to legislating and using the executive power that he inherited to achieve his domestic aims.

Excessive use of “unprecedented” can mask the ways in which Trump’s presidency is an outgrowth of deep trends that have been taking hold in recent decades. He is the symptom of our divided, polarized times, rather than the root cause. For instance, the fact that President Trump spends so much of his time “playing to the base” and ignoring bipartisan opportunities should not be a surprise. We have lived through decades where the forces of partisan polarization have hardened. The parties move further and further apart, with the center vanishing.

While recent presidents, unlike Trump, have still attempted to look for points of compromise, the truth is that they have usually failed. Much of what presidents do these days is focus on their party, and in doing so appeal to the activists and organizations who are loudest and most influential within their coalition. Working for Karl Rove in 2004, adviser Matthew Dowd popularized a strategy that appealed to the base. The assumption of Bush’s reelection campaign was that much of the country, those counties in blue, would never be turned, so best to increase the turnout of core supporters.

 

In congressional politics, appealing to the base has become a standard tactic in an era of ever-present primary challenges. The rhetoric of partisan polarization vilifies opponents, and imagines a political universe where it is impossible to agree with what the other party has spread through the elaborate partisan media that shapes much of our conversations about Washington. In many respects, the way that President Trump thinks about politics is utterly conventional and, in fact, makes sense given how our system works. We have been witnessing partisan polarization for so long that we should have expected a president who would drop the pretense and embrace this reality without hesitation.

Sometimes using the term “unprecedented” is just a mistake and limits our historical vision. When Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake attacked President Trump, warning of dangerous instability in the Oval Office, many pundits were quick to describe a moment unlike anything we had seen before. The truth is that there have been numerous intra-party feuds that unfolded before the public. One of the most legendary of these fights took place between Franklin Roosevelt and the conservative Southern Democrats who ruled Congress in 1938. FDR actively campaigned against legislators like Georgia Senator Walter George in the primaries, hoping to “purge” them from the party. He failed, and there was hell to pay on his domestic agenda in the years to come. The personal and political tension between Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter became severe. When asked by a congressman about a challenge from Kennedy in the 1980 Democratic primaries, Carter replied: “I’ll whip his ass.”

When President George H. W. Bush accepted tax increases as part of a 1990 deficit-reduction package, House Republican Minority Whip Newt Gingrich was outraged. He bolted out of the budget negotiations in fury and publicly castigated the president, never forgiving him for this sin. The president was so upset with his fellow Republican that he refused to shake hands at a White House ceremony. The language of the conflict in these cases was not nearly as personal. But bitter intra-party tensions between presidents and legislators have happened before, and often the damage to the party has been severe.

The temptation to blurt out “unprecedented” will continue to remain strong. President Trump will continue to test our ability to even pause before uttering this word. But it is crucial to show restraint in our commentary, to offer a clear understanding of when President Trump has truly done something that we have never seen before or, rather, when he is exploiting parts of our political institutions and traditions in a manner that exposes the troubling ways in which our democracy has evolved.

+++++

So, Halloween is coming up, lots of candy and trick-or-treaters out, so be careful driving out there…always lots of little goblins lurking in the shadows.

KingAir

Ghost On A Canvas

I know a place between life and death for you and me
Let’s take hold on the threshold of eternity
And see the ghost on the canvas
People don’t see us ghost on the canvas
People don’t know when they’re looking at souls

In between here and there there’s a place that we can grow
Spirits make love in a wheat field with crows
Like a ghost on a canvas people don’t see them
Ghost on a canvas no oh oh oh
They never see souls

Ring around the rosary pocketful of prosary
Ashes to ashes we all fall in love
With ghost on the canvas

We dream in colour others they colour their dreams
Takes one to know one a Spirit always knows when it’s seen
Like a ghost on a canvas never can happen
Ghost on a canvas
It’s the soul that makes them go
People don’t know ohh ohhh ohhh
When they’re looking in souls
Better take hold
I’m the ghost on the canvas

Glen Campbell, 2011 (April 22, 1936 – August 8, 2017)

Thanks for the memories, Amigo.

Sunday in the Sun + c. 22 October ’17

CC Hdr

I was never a big fan of Sonny & Cher (or their music, for that matter), yet one of their most popular songs – The Beat Goes On (1967) – has certainly lasted longer than they did, and it’s arguably one of the Sixties’ so-called signature songs. The lyric’s major theme, to me, anyway, is “the more things change the more they stay the same,” and events of late certainly seem to bear that out. The last eight or so months have been a nightmare, yet the times, they are a-changin’…

‘The Sixties,’ the good part, I might add, seemed to me to be about exploration – mixed with a growing sense of repudiation. The ‘times’ were as much about recognizing that things weren’t all rosy in La-La-Land – and that it was high-time to do something about the mess we were in – as they were about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Pollution was certainly one of the things that qualified as part of that mess, and if you lived in a city like LA or anywhere around Jersey or Philly you probably remember what smog could do to your eyes, but there was also Vietnam, the civil rights movement, JFK, RFK, MLK, Kent State, Woodstock…and then…to top it all off, there was Tricky Dick.

And as a result of all this stuff, our generation was going to change the world, remember?

Turns out that it’s always been easier to sell out than work for real change, and who knows, maybe the Boomer generation will turn out to be among the biggest sell-out generations of all time, but our day of reckoning is coming, and soon. Because Trump is one of us, isn’t he?

So, the question is: will the beat go on?

The whole climate change “debate” we seem to be having right now was at the forefront of activist’s minds, in Berkeley and elsewhere,  back in 1967. Books like Inadvertent Climate Modification were making the rounds as little things like DDT and agent orange crept into the national consciousness, then Love Canal slipped into the newspapers and onto the evening news – and a kind of awakening took place. Even Nixon couldn’t ignore the political implications, which is why and how the EPA came to be…

But Nixon was a different kind of animal. He, like Reagan and Carter, lived within a political world where things like Duty, Honor, Country still meant something. These days, in Trumptopia, the words ring hollow because they’ve been overused in the sound-bite theatre of the politically absurd we now call home. So many people read or hear those three words these days and think they’re being manipulated, yet the sad truth of the matter is far more complex, for things didn’t get like this way overnight. W’s team unmercifully manipulated war imagery for political gain, yet both Clinton and Obama did too, though never to the extent Bush II did, which only goes to show people get can get used to just about anything, I guess.

And the beat goes on? Will we get used to Trump – and stop caring?

One gets the impression words like Duty Honor and Country may not have ever occurred to Donald Trump – until quite recently – say, perhaps, last Monday. Even Trump’s word salad denials ring hollow these days…his denying ‘I guess he knew what he signed up for’ comment hardly surprise us anymore (and the new line on this? Knowing “what you’re signing up for” is a badge of honor among families of special ops personnel). Trump is a pathological liar, or so the popular mytholgy in the media goes, yet he’s hardly the first politician to be so-labeled, though perhaps, arguably, the first to make it to the White House. Yet, even so, the newness of all this blatant, pathological dishonesty kind of shocks some in the media – like they can’t believe a politician would actually lie to their face. Or, at least it gives them the opportunity to behave as if they’re shocked – yet you’d think that after a year of finding yet another Trump lie the newness would kinda be over by now. But that’s the Liar’s Paradox for you. How do you know when the Lying Liar is telling the Truth? And…what happens if, in this case, the man speaking can’t tell the difference anymore?

Do you think the Fat Kid with the Bad Haircut knows?

And, speaking of, take a look at this image, would you?

CCBoomer

What kind of launchers are those behind the sail on that boomer arriving in SK last week? If indeed they are launchers…? And what about Tillerson’s comment that we will keep up the diplomatic efforts – right up until “the bombs start falling”? And then word creeps out that US personnel in SK are practicing evacuating in case of imminent action by…somebody?

Anyone have any ideas what China or Russia might do if we attack NK? Even with provocation? And just what happens if the Fat Kid with the Bad Haircut decides to lob an ICBM towards Guam? Or Hawaii? Or…the US east coast? People are going to die, a lot of people – in NK, in SK, or the US. I wonder if Trump sees that as a thing to be avoided, or if it appears to him as a way out of his Russia problems.

And the beat goes on, right?

CCIreland

And now we, as in all of us, everywhere, get to face this whole climate change thing together. Because for the past fifty years we’ve – collectively – ignored it ’til we were all blue in the face. This week a category three hurricane hit Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, an unprecedented event and one entirely absent from the media landscape in the US. The climate change deniers don’t miss a beat, either: it’s just normal climate variability, so move along folks…nothing to see here.

Funny, though, reading through accounts of evangelicals in Beaumont, Texas as they struggle with reconstructing their churches after Hurricane Charley visited. They’re kind of, oh, I don’t know, experiencing a little epiphany all their own down there…like maybe climate change is a wake-up call from God…that maybe we’d better get our act together, and real soon like, because these weather phenomena might be signs that God is mighty upset with us for ruining His creation. Funny, too, how people can bend their philosophies to fit in with changing realities. Like, maybe, there are no fallacies in your original philosophy. Maybe we just need to fine-tune it a little?

And, so, the beat goes on?

CCTanker

It’s the old parable about the frog in the pot of water, isn’t it? You know the one…toss a frog into a pot of boiling water and he’ll hop right out, but put him in warm water and slowly turn up the heat and he’ll stay put until he boils to death…? Is it just me, or does the whole climate change thing boil down to that? Reading about the church-going-set in Beaumont, I was struck by one thing most of all. It always comes down to the economic argument, every time. As in, we can’t afford to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, because what do we do after that? These are, by and large, oil-field workers, so, of course, that’s probably just natural, but when do we – as a people, as a species – wake up to the emergent reality that we may be running out of time. That we might not have the resources to hop out of the scalding water…?

The federal government resolutely claims that less than 40 people died in Puerto Rico, but Puerto Rican officials claim the number is over 400. Three and a half million US citizens living under bare survival conditions – yet some members of the federal government are disavowing their responsibility almost every day. At what point does the federal government lose credibility? What happens when the people of Puerto Rico say ‘enough!’ – and walk into the arms of some other country willing to step in and take over. Say, for instance, China?

This is a grand time to be an opponent of America. Never in our history has our place in the world (that we created!) been so tenuous, never has sentiment turned so rapidly against us, yet, even so, the question still remains unasked: Why? What happened?

Well, isolationists have been with us ever since there’s been a Republican Party (just ask FDR about that when you see him next), but Americans always had the good sense to ignore them, until 2016, anyway. Now we’re stuck in Crazyville, lock, stock, and barrel, and the world is coming apart at the seams. It seems those stuck-up, snobby elites actually went to school and studied this shit, so they know (knew?) how to handle it. Trump comes along and shows them the door and guess what? Garbage-in, garbage-out. You throw away seven decades of institutional experience at the State Department and what happens to your so-called “diplomatic solution”? It’s gone.

It’s gone, and the beat goes on.

So, you downplay the intel coming to you from your intel agencies and guess what? Bad stuff is going to happen to you. Like…Republicans have demonstrated a remarkable propensity for destroying government, leaving the rest of us sitting around dumbfounded when Russia does this or China does that. Especially when we turn to government to fix the many ills we’re confronting as a result of someone’s hubris. Turns out one thing the government is still real good at is throwing people in jail (aka, privatized prisons) so the whole civil disobedience thing might not be in your best interest these days, either.

So…bad stuff happens while the beat goes on. Don’t step on anyone’s toes, don’t you know. Don’t make waves if you don’t know how to swim.

So, yeah…one political party has demonstrated a remarkable propensity for destroying government, leaving the rest of us sitting around in open-mouthed wonder when unprecedented rains fall and government is actually, like, ya know, needed. When the lights don’t turn on when you flip the switch, say, or when you turn on the tap and not even hot air comes out…?

So, taking stock for a moment, we’ve got bored accountants with interesting gambling habits setting up thirty semi-automatic “hunting rifles” in a hotel room and shooting over 600 people in ten or so minutes. We have four “unprecedented” hurricanes in about as many weeks, doing “unprecedented” damage from Texas to Ireland, and then “unprecedented” firestorms in California leveling whole cities – and still, many of our intrepid Republican senators deny the existence of man-made climate change. Still, they deny guns are a problem. Still, they vote to kill off mental health coverage in the ACA, then go on to blame systemic mental health problems every time a new massacre shows up on CNN. Like…does anyone remember when Reagan systematically defunded state mental health coverage – back in the 80s? I do. I saw the impact every day on the street – as a cop. We watched as state mental health hospitals were shut down all over Texas, watched as patients drifted out onto our streets and into our jails, and our morgues. I was on the front lines of that little war, and it was ugly, yet somehow the Republicans never take ownership of that little issue.

I do. I saw the impact every day on the street – as a cop. We watched as state mental health hospitals were shut down all over Texas, watched as patients drifted out onto our streets and into our jails, and our morgues. I was on the front lines of that little war, and it was ugly, yet somehow the Republicans never take ownership of that little issue.

I saw the impact every day on the street – as a cop on some pretty mean streets. We watched as state mental health hospitals were shut down all over Texas, watched as patients drifted out onto our streets and into our jails, and our morgues. I was on the front lines of that little war for a while and it was ugly, yet somehow the Republicans never take ownership of that little issue. When you’ve been around long enough you see patterns, you recognize a lie for a lie. Like…

Homelessness was never a big problem in this country until Reagan came along, but Republicans had a ready answer to that issue, too. Pretend it doesn’t exist. I remember at one point, during the first Bush presidency, the feds reported there were fewer than 15,000 homeless in New York City, (like 15,000 is a number to be proud of) yet about that time a book came out – called The Mole People – that described homeless ‘villages’ in abandoned subway lines under the city – that police were terrified to enter, and that contained upwards of 50,000 people (some estimates were a lot higher). Yes, the population of homeless people exploded after mental health facilities were boarded up during the Reagan years, but who cares, right? If you repeat a lie often enough, it kind of becomes the truth. Right, Ms Conway?

What’s that called? Willful ignorance? Politically motivated duplicity? But why is it that we’re so overrun with problems that our media organizations can’t cover such systemic political deceit? You kill off government services that exist to shelter a very vulnerable segment of our population (the mentally ill, the developmentally challenged), and then, when the consequences of your actions become a little too in-your-face to ignore, you cover it up by saying there really isn’t a problem? You can’t do that without a willfully corrupt, and complicit, media, but you tell me…is that what’s meant by “corporate control of media,” or are we simply too tired to fight for the truth anymore?

And, so, is that what it means when…the beat goes on?

Maybe, when you stare Death in the eye you develop the backbone necessary to tell it like it is. To call a lie a lie, and a liar, a liar.

Enter John McCain, one more time. Watch the video at the link, think about what he has to say about certain trends overtaking events in this country, then think about Mr. Trump’s response:  “I’m being very, very nice but at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.” So said Mr. Trump to reporters when responding to questions about McCain’s comments earlier in the week. This may be one of the most coherent sentences of his presidency, too, or at least that I’ve heard our president speak so far. Ain’t that a peach?

Alas, Senator McCain then said, when asked by journalists about Mr. Trump’s remarks: “I have faced tougher adversaries.” If that’s the epitaph of his political career, it ain’t bad…but somehow I don’t think John McCain is gone quite yet.

McCain has, one assumes, experienced more as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, but I wonder what Mr. Trump had in mind when he spewed forth with that nonsense? Dueling pistols at dawn, perhaps, but to paraphrase another senator, Stuart Symington, if memory serves, “Have you no shame, Mr. President?” Of course, that was at the Army-McCarthy hearings, when yet another crazy Republican was on the loose, but Trump makes Joseph McCarthy look like a saint.

So, gee, see any patterns yet?

A few more instances of this week’s partisan mirth come to mind, in case the meaning of all this isn’t clear yet:

Most Republicans Think the U.S. Has Done Enough for Gender Equality

– The Federal Response In Puerto Rico Has Been Adequate, Many GOP Senators Say

– Sebastian Gorka: “The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens.”

And, well, I could go on and on, like the Louisiana senator (GOP) who thinks Trump’s healthcare overhaul (price increases, higher deductibles) will be better for American families, or the Missouri congresswoman (GOP) who thinks emergency rooms ought to be able to refuse people who don’t have insurance, but I think that’s about all I have the stomach for.

But…the beat goes on…’cause we’re gonna wake up soon and it’ll all be over. Because nightmares always end, don’t they? Just like all stories have happy endings, and the bad guy always wears a black hat.

CC PR

Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air
About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare
Where the seeds have withered, silent children shivered in the cold
Now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold
I’ll be there
I’ll be there
I will be there

Suffering in silence, they’ve all been betrayed
They hurt them and they beat them, in a terrible way
Praying for survival at the end of the day
There is no compassion for those who stay
I’ll be there!
I’ll be there!
I will be there!

There must be someone who can set them free:
To take their sorrow from this odyssey
To help the helpless and the refugee
To protect what’s left of humanity
Can’t you see?
Can’t you see?
Can’t you see?

To heal their sorrow
To beg and borrow
Fight tomorrow!

Step inside, hello! We’ve a most amazing show!
You’ll enjoy it all we know
Step inside! Step inside!

We’ve got thrills and shocks, supersonic fighting cocks!
Leave your hammers at the box
Come inside! Come inside!

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up!
See the show!

Left behind the bars, rows of Bishops’ heads in jars
And a bomb inside a car
Spectacular! Spectacular!

If you follow me there’s a speciality
Some tears for you to see
Misery, misery

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up!
See the show!

Next upon the bill in our House of Vaudeville
We’ve a stripper in a till
What a thrill! What a thrill!

And not content with that
With our hands behind our backs
We’ll pull Jesus from a hat!
Get into that! Get into that!

 

Emerson Lake & Palmer | Karn Evil 9 | Brain Salad Surgery | 1973

Get into that…while the beat goes on.

Sunday in the Sun + 15 October ’17

Sunday fires

So, let’s sit back and take stock for a moment. Four major hurricanes in about a month’s time, and as I write there’s another one headed for Spain and the UK (yes, you read that correctly), but on the other side of the U.S. a storm of another sort hit this week. A firestorm.

Snnday vinyard fires

Given that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Bay Area over the years, and that I have friends & family living there, I’ve been chatting with them as the week went by – and here are a few observations…

– the air in Oakland is smokey enough to make eyes water, and that’s miles and miles away from the center of the fires.

– people are generally more nervous now about a hotter climate future, and the immediate consequences thereto, than they ever have been – even in eco-conscious California.

– residents in Mill Valley, just north of the Bay, are now reporting more instances of street flooding as (local) sea-levels begin rising.

So, need some context?

california_tmo_2017282_lrg

This NASA image covers most of the California coastline, from Ventura (lower right) almost all the way to Eureka on the Oregon border. The San Francisco Bay Area is just about dead-center in this image, the various Sonoma County/Santa Rosa fires just above, the Calistoga fires further north. The main smoke plume is almost 250 miles long, and keep in mind this image was acquired on the 9th, at mid-week, and the fires have only grown larger since.

Further context?

California just experienced it’s hottest summer on record, with a September 1st temperature in San Francisco of 106ºF breaking all kinds of records. Now, according to NASA:

CalFire and local officials reported that at least 1,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed, and thousands more are being threatened. In some places, entire neighborhoods burned to the ground. Cellular and land-line phone communications have been lost in several areas. Authorities are still accounting for deaths and people reported missing. As of the morning of October 10, none of the fires were even partially contained, according to CalFire bulletins.

While the causes of the fires are still under investigation, we do know what helped them spread quickly: abundant dried vegetation and seasonal wind patterns.

“After more than a decade of drought, the fuel levels—dry brush and grasses—across California are exceptionally high,” said William Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Last winter’s welcome rains created more vegetation that, over the past six months, created more fuel.”

The fall season also typically brings hot, dry, and gusty winds. These Diablo winds are driven by atmospheric high-pressure systems over the Great Basin (mostly in Nevada). Winds blow from northeast to southwest over California’s mountain ranges and down through the valleys and coastal regions. These downslope winds can quickly whip up a fire and carry burning embers to the next neighborhood or patch of woodland.

“The simple formula is fuel-plus-meteorology-plus-ignition equals fire. The catalyst is people,” Patzert added. “The fires erupted in areas where wildlands meet urban and suburban development. Californians have built in what are historical fire corridors, and these high-density developments are particularly vulnerable to fast-moving, destructive fires.”

Though it is not visible in this imagery, wildfires also broke out on October 9 in Southern California’s Orange County. That fire was fanned by strong gusts of Santa Ana winds.

Some further context, from the LATimes Editorial Board, may be in order here:

Big deadly fires are nothing new to California, particularly during fire season when the Santa Ana or Diablo winds blow hot and dry, making tinder out of trees and bushes that have been baking all summer long. But the firestorm now raging through Northern California isn’t the typical wildfire. For one thing, it’s not just one fire but close to two dozen. For another, these fires are not only threatening hard-to-reach rural or mountains area, but they also have torn through suburban neighborhoods. More than 3,500 homes, commercial buildings and other structures have been reduced to ash. The Tubbs fire jumped across the 101 Freeway in Santa Rosa, for heaven’s sake.

The flames moved so fast that they caught people unaware and unprepared to flee. As of Wednesday, when the wind picked up and shifted the flames toward more populated communities, the death toll stood at 21 people, with more than 500 still missing. By Thursday morning, fire officials believe, some of the individual fires may meet and merge into one mega-fire.

At this point, the fires rank collectively as the deadliest blaze in California since the Oakland Hills fire in 1991, which claimed 25 lives. The fires are also unusually destructive; they have burned more structures than the Oakland Hills fire, the Cedar fire that raged through rural communities in San Diego County in 2003, or the Station fire that burned through the Angeles National Forest in 2009. When this is over, it may well be the state’s worst fire catastrophe in recorded history by any measure.

This is not just bad luck. Coming on the heels of other large-scale natural disasters — Houston inundated by a slow-moving tropical storm, swaths of Florida and the Caribbean ripped to shreds by a monster hurricane, much of Puerto Rico leveled by an equally powerful hurricane, a handful of Western states swept by massive fires that burned up millions of acres — one can’t help but see a disturbing pattern emerge. Those superstorms that scientists warned would result from climate change? They are here. The day of reckoning isn’t in the future. It is now.

We don’t yet know what started the fires in Northern California, but we have a good idea of what made them so destructive. Authorities blame a combination of factors: winds so strong they knocked down power lines, extremely dry conditions, and an abundant supply of combustible material from a years-long drought that killed millions of the state’s trees or left them vulnerable to insect infestations. Ironically, this year’s unusually rainy winter probably contributed to the problem by producing burnable new growth.

All of those factors are exacerbated by the warming world. Hotter summers yield more fuel for fires and stronger winds to fan the flames. And this summer was California’s hottest on record, a milestone dramatically illustrated when San Francisco hit 106 degrees on Sept. 1 during a statewide heat wave.

Similarly, scientists say climate change doesn’t cause hurricanes, but it can make them bigger and more destructive. Higher air temperatures mean more evaporation and heavier rains outside of drought zones, and warmer seas intensify the size and fury of the storms themselves. It’s a double whammy that has contributed to an unusually severe hurricane season this year.

Burning fossil fuels is not the only human activity that contributes to the destruction wrought by wildfires and hurricanes. So does the relentless march of humans to develop land in danger spots — a 500-year floodplain, an unstable hillside or a historical fire corridor. And in California, aggressive fire suppression has impeded the natural burn cycle in the state’s wooded areas so that there’s more fuel when the massive fires do take hold.

“These kinds of catastrophes have happened and they’ll continue to happen.” Gov. Jerry Brown observed at a news briefing Wednesday. “That’s the way it is with a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture.”

California is fortunate to have a governor who understands the perils of ignoring climate change and is aggressively pushing policies to mitigate its future harm. Unfortunately, that puts him at odds with a head-in-the-sand president who blithely disregards the obvious connection between the warming climate and the multiple federal disaster areas he’s been forced to declare in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and, now, California.

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Sun fires
So, should we be surprised that Mr. Trump began this week to seriously dismantle previous efforts to reign in greenhouse gas emissions? Or that three weeks after Maria slammed into Puerto Rico Mr. Trump is claiming ‘great, beautiful’ success even as basic social services on the island fail on an epic scale? No one, and I mean no one, has any idea how many people died there, as thousands of collapsed houses have yet to be searched, but even counting people that have died in hospital as a result of the storm is thought to be nearing 435. (Compare that to the death toll in Florida or Texas, or even California.) Or that Republican efforts to obliterate use of the words ‘climate change’ from the federal lexicon continue unabated?

Surprised? No, not in Trumptopia, where the sun is always shining, no matter the weather.

And no fall foliage season in New England this year. Too warm. The leaves just sort of turned away from it all and gave up in a wilted display of brown.

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Maybe now would be a good time to talk about Monopoly. You know, the board game.

Say what?

Well have a go at this essay before you jump all over me

‘Buy land – they aren’t making it anymore,’ quipped Mark Twain. It’s a maxim that would certainly serve you well in a game of Monopoly, the bestselling board game that has taught generations of children to buy up property, stack it with hotels, and charge fellow players sky-high rents for the privilege of accidentally landing there.

The game’s little-known inventor, Elizabeth Magie, would no doubt have made herself go directly to jail if she’d lived to know just how influential today’s twisted version of her game has turned out to be. Why? Because it encourages its players to celebrate exactly the opposite values to those she intended to champion.

Born in 1866, Magie was an outspoken rebel against the norms and politics of her times. She was unmarried into her 40s, independent and proud of it, and made her point with a publicity stunt. Taking out a newspaper advertisement, she offered herself as a ‘young woman American slave’ for sale to the highest bidder. Her aim, she told shocked readers, was to highlight the subordinate position of women in society. ‘We are not machines,’ she said. ‘Girls have minds, desires, hopes and ambition.’

In addition to confronting gender politics, Magie decided to take on the capitalist system of property ownership – this time not through a publicity stunt but in the form of a board game. The inspiration began with a book that her father, the anti-monopolist politician James Magie, had handed to her. In the pages of Henry George’s classic, Progress and Poverty (1879), she encountered his conviction that ‘the equal right of all men to use the land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air – it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence’.

Travelling around America in the 1870s, George had witnessed persistent destitution amid growing wealth, and he believed it was largely the inequity of land ownership that bound these two forces – poverty and progress – together. So instead of following Twain by encouraging his fellow citizens to buy land, he called on the state to tax it. On what grounds? Because much of land’s value comes not from what is built on the plot but from nature’s gift of water or minerals that might lie beneath its surface, or from the communally created value of its surroundings: nearby roads and railways; a thriving economy, a safe neighbourhood; good local schools and hospitals. And he argued that the tax receipts should be invested on behalf of all.

Determined to prove the merit of George’s proposal, Magie invented and in 1904 patented what she called the Landlord’s Game. Laid out on the board as a circuit (which was a novelty at the time), it was populated with streets and landmarks for sale. The key innovation of her game, however, lay in the two sets of rules that she wrote for playing it.

Under the ‘Prosperity’ set of rules, every player gained each time someone acquired a new property (designed to reflect George’s policy of taxing the value of land), and the game was won (by all!) when the player who had started out with the least money had doubled it. Under the ‘Monopolist’ set of rules, in contrast, players got ahead by acquiring properties and collecting rent from all those who were unfortunate enough to land there – and whoever managed to bankrupt the rest emerged as the sole winner (sound a little familiar?).

The purpose of the dual sets of rules, said Magie, was for players to experience a ‘practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences’ and hence to understand how different approaches to property ownership can lead to vastly different social outcomes. ‘It might well have been called “The Game of Life”,’ remarked Magie, ‘as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race, in general, seems to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.’

The game was soon a hit among Left-wing intellectuals, on college campuses including the Wharton School, Harvard and Columbia, and also among Quaker communities, some of which modified the rules and redrew the board with street names from Atlantic City. Among the players of this Quaker adaptation was an unemployed man called Charles Darrow, who later sold such a modified version to the games company Parker Brothers as his own.

Once the game’s true origins came to light, Parker Brothers bought up Magie’s patent, but then re-launched the board game simply as Monopoly, and provided the eager public with just one set of rules: those that celebrate the triumph of one over all. Worse, they marketed it along with the claim that the game’s inventor was Darrow, who they said had dreamed it up in the 1930s, sold it to Parker Brothers, and become a millionaire. It was a rags-to-riches fabrication that ironically exemplified Monopoly’s implicit values: chase wealth and crush your opponents if you want to come out on top.

So next time someone invites you to join a game of Monopoly, here’s a thought. As you set out piles for the Chance and Community Chest cards, establish a third pile for Land-Value Tax, to which every property owner must contribute each time they charge rent to a fellow player. How high should that land tax be? And how should the resulting tax receipts be distributed? Such questions will no doubt lead to fiery debate around the Monopoly board – but then that is exactly what Magie had always hoped for.

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So, what do climate change deniers and end-stage capitalism have in common, besides a hapless propensity for self-delusion? The inability to self-regulate, perhaps? Is it a coincidence that income inequality and imminent, large-scale ecosystem collapse are the two co-emergent trends defining the immediate way ahead. We are all, as the human custodians of this planet, are on the precipice, facing an unknown and unknowable future. The deluded among us blaze forward proclaiming limitless growth potential in some sort of automated utopia, and true enough these folks are buying up Park Place and Boardwalk everywhere we look, but they seem to have overlooked one simple problem…

We all breathe the same air, drink (or breathe) the same water. We all inhabit this planet, and right now it’s the only one we have. Squandering it, without a ready alternative in mind, seems kind of stupid – from a species point of view. And I think I’ve mentioned one of my father’s old maxims more than once, too: “When there’s doubt, there is no doubt,” but just what does that mean?

Only the most terracidal among us would be willing to admit there’s no such thing as climate change, and I’d like to think that even most Republicans are willing to entertain there’s some DOUBT about the matter, and that, perhaps, as the science isn’t really quite settled the rest of us hope they’d at least be willing to keep an open mind about things. Yet, if there’s DOUBT, why on earth would any sane person be willing to gamble with the future of the human race. Why not come down on the side of caution?

Because it’s too costly?

Seriously?

Extinction may well turn out to be fairly costly, too, I think. In quite personal terms.

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So, one last thing. What is it with Trump and sabotaging things these days? Things like health care? Like the Iran Deal? With anything Obama did? Could it be – dare we say it – over-compensating for small hands? There seems to be a kind of hypocrisy at work in all these things, too, and not just among Trump and his inner circle of the privileged few. No, this seems to be a broadly saturated disease, deeply entrenched within a certain type of deluded psychopath. To wit:

A full-blown humanitarian crisis is still underway in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last month. More than 80 percent of the island is still without electricity, there’s a daily shortage of 1.8 million meals, and hospitals are running low on medication, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In California, uncontrollable wildfires continue to ravage homes and entire economies. People are dying.

The House passed an emergency relief package this week that would direct $36.5 billion toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, California, and other communities affected by natural disasters. But 69 Republicans voted against it.

The excuse: It would be too big a blow to the deficit.

“Up here we use these casual phrases that we are going to write off the debt,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), who voted against the relief package, told reporters. “Whoosh, there it goes. But where does it go? It goes to the taxpayer.”

Brat — like many of his conservative colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus who voted against the aid — said he wanted to see ways to offset the cost of these supplemental relief packages. Those demands, which range from reforms of the National Flood Insurance Program to proposals that slash social safety net programs — would take time, and leave people already in life-threatening situations hanging.

But this wrenching concern over the deficit — particularly when the situation in Puerto Rico remains so dire — is hard for some to swallow when conservatives are simultaneously pushing forward a tax reform package that could leave a more than a trillion-dollar hole in the deficit and have signed on to spending bills that added more than $100 billion to defense spending, without the immediate promise of offsets elsewhere.

But the conservative line in the House doesn’t seem fazed by such dissonance.

“My whole thing is that if it’s emergency funding, then historically we need to look at what we do with FEMA and properly fund it,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who also did not vote for the aid package, said. “FEMA is for emergencies. Why have FEMA there if you are going to have supplementals all the time?”

Those considerations were not raised during the House’s appropriations process, which allocates money to federal agencies like FEMA — which the House Freedom Caucus overwhelming supported.

Even so, fiscal hawks are quick to raise concerns over supplemental spending requests — even emergency relief ones. Last month Congress passed a $15 billion relief package for Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, tying it to a three-month debt ceiling raise and stopgap funding measure to keep the government open. At the time, 90 House Republicans and 17 Senate Republicans voted against the package — citing the deficit, and that the relief aid was tied to the debt ceiling and continuing resolution proposal.

“Hurricane aid shouldn’t be added to the debt,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) opined in the Wall Street Journal this week. “That’s akin to going to the Emergency Room after an injury, putting the charges on a credit card, and then pretending that the Visa bill is never going to arrive.”

For those hoping for relief in Puerto Rico, the hypothetical Visa bill is far from an area of concern. They’re just awaiting electricity, food, and water. (from Vox)

So, tax cuts for the wealthy that’ll blow a trillion dollar deficit hole and that’s okay. Relief for US citizens devastated by multiple hurricanes? Take a hike, pal. Go get your water from the well that’s located under an EPA Superfund site…

Back to Monopoly again for a moment. What if all this healthcare malarky, the back-room coal deals and dismantling the EPA all have a single thing behind them. A ‘last gasp’, broad in scope redistribution of wealth before the big fall. Get all you can while the gettin’s good? A get out of jail free card for only the few, the proud, the politically connected?

BUT…when will a bunch of people come to the conclusion that, well, the game has indeed been rigged against them – no matter who was in power – no matter what promises were made? What happens when there’s no power to run the automated minions of Trumptopia, let alone air conditioning? No food on your local supermarket’s shelves? What happens to the disenfranchised then? Does anyone really think seven billion people are going to just roll over and go away?

One thing seems certain, however. People a hundred years from now won’t be able to get their hands on the people who did this to them.

Happy trails.

A

(oh yes, images today from NASA, the NY Times, and the LA Times)