Friday, January 31, 2014

Eichmann in Salt Lake City or the Banality of School Lunches

So I spent quite a bit of time today getting caught up on the story of the 40 children at the Uintah Elementary School in Salt Lake City who had their lunches taken from them and thrown out because the parents did not have enough funds in the kids' school lunch accounts.

It's a sordid story revealing, as it does, the seamy underbelly of early 21st-Century America.

A couple observations: here's how the rocket scientists at Uintah (or maybe the Salt Lake City School District at large) ran their cafeteria line. They let the children go through the line and get a tray full of hot lunch. Only when the children reached the cash register would the cashier or other functionary determine that the child did not have adequate funds. At that point, the food  would be taken from the child and replaced with a piece of fruit and carton of milk. But here's the kicker: the food would be thrown out in the presence of the children. Supposedly there's a law that says the food has to be discarded and can't be given to any other child. Just like there's a law that says the child has to have adequate funds. It's all legal, you see.

There's so much wrong with this vignette that I hardly know where to start. I think it is the ritualization of cruelty that grabs my attention, the fact that students -- 10 and 11 years old apparently -- are allowed to proceed through the line as if nothing is amiss, only to find out, at the end of the line, that the repo man stands ready, wiilling and able to snatch it all away. Nothing to see here, just move along.

But as I continued to think about this it struck me that a lot of adults had to give their explicit or tacit consent for this ritual of cruelty to transpire. (Apparently, similar scenes have happened recently in other schools around the country, from Minnesota to Houston, based on anecdotal reports I came across today.) And what is required for these adults to give their consent is an attitude, a mind-set if you will, that places bean counting and Mammon above the interests of nurturing children. I am no sentimentalist  but, for Christ's sake, if some inner-city crack addict denied his or her children food, in order to use the money for his or her habit, we'd call it CHILD ABUSE. Right?

And so now I'm thinking about how fucked up this country has become, how the Uintah administrators initially said it was unfortunate IF some of the children were upset. (Oh, they were upset all right, as was at least one of the cafeteria workers detailed to serve as food police who reportedly wept inconsolably in front of the children.) And about how the cafeteria workers had no way to know ahead of time who was short lunch money before the kids reached the register. Just all this shit swirling around in my head about what this county has come to.

As is often my wont in cases of emotional turmoil like this, I fall back on books I've read in the past. In this instance, the book that immediately jumped to mind was Hannah Arendt's Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report on The Banality of Evil. Arendt covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for The New Yorker and her reportage was subsequently published in a modest book. The thing I most remembered from the book was that Eichmann was not some raving psychopathic lunatic and, in fact, several of the Israeli psychiatrists who examined him prior to the trial testified to his utter normalcy. Eichmann testified that he had simply been doing his job, obeying the orders of his superiors (Reinhard Heydrich, among others) and above all, obeying the law. And what was Eichmann doing? Merely organizing the trans-shipment of Jews, a lot of Jews, (467,000 from Hungary alone) from various transit centers in Nazi-occupied Europe to the killing centers in Poland. Just a mid-level bureaucrat doing his job. Ordinary. Banal, even.

Arendt's point, as I took it, is that mass murderers in the modern age will as often as not be functionaries of the state, mere bureaucrats in the service of institutional imperatives whose reach exceeds the individual's contribution.  In other words, utterly ordinary. Banal, even. And then I came back to the events of Salt Lake City and understood in a way I never had before exactly what Arendt was getting at. Before the publicity brought this sordid episode to light, each of the adult players involved probably imagined that he or she was doing nothing wrong, merely obeying orders to keep a job in a society where keeping a job requires total unquestioning compliance at all times with the demands of the system. What they were doing in their minds was completely legal. They weren't doing anything wrong.

I'm still pondering this. The school district has apparently, as of this writing, placed a couple low- and mid-level functionaries -- can you say scapegoats? -- on 'paid leave.' (One of those placed on leave is reportedly the cafeteria line worker who was weeping as she confiscated the lunches. But not the superintendant of schools. No, never the Super.) I thought about writing a post that named names and sought to lay specific blame. But is that really germane? Here a system was performing with beautiful brutality, each functionary merely playing his or her assigned role in the infernal scheme. If there is a Hitler hiding behind the layers of the Salt Lake City School District bureaucracy, he or she has yet to be revealed. Hitler wasn't really necessary for this to take place, though, just a whole chain of people just following orders, just doing their jobs. Ordinary. Banal.

Monday, January 20, 2014

When Mickey Met Christie

Yesterday ABC News (and, specifically, Candy Crowley) insinuated that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was fabricating claims when she said yesterday on MSNBC that Christie's administration tried to strong-arm her in order for Hoboken to receive Sandy aid. OK, just so everyone understands the Christie administration's lies (and those of its enablers at ABC News):

The $70 million Christie's team and ABC now variously claim that Hoboken received or was approved for consists almost entirely of payments from the FEMA federal flood insurance program directly to residents and business owners whose properties were damaged by the flooding from Hurricane Sandy and for which those residents had previously paid insurance premiums.. These are monies over which Christie's team has NO, repeat ZERO, control.

In addition, the U.S. Congress appropriated some $100 million in one-time disaster relief funds for communities damaged by Sandy to fund flood abatement and flood control projects. These are funds whose disbursement Christie's team does control (but which ABC conveniently neglected to mention).

The city of Hoboken (which was 80% under water after Sandy) made a $127 million claim against that special Congressional program (whose disbursements Christie's team controls). To date, Hoboken has only received $327,000. Not $70 million (the Christie lie) and not its $127 million claim.

To recap: Two programs, the first a FEMA insurance program from the federal government directly to Hoboken homeowners that has paid substantial sums to Hoboken home- and business owners, BUT over which Christie has NO CONTROL. The second a special program approved and funded by Congress which Christie's team does control and used to try to extort the Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer into approving a development project favored by Christie. IOW, the Christie administration was playing politics with disaster relief funds from the U.S. taxpayers and probably committing various felonies along the way.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has offered to take a lie detector test and to testify under oath. Why won't that shitstain Christie and his goons do the same? Probably because they are all too busy lawyering up and "taking the Fifth." Why doesn't ABC mention that salient fact in its character assassination of Zimmer and propping up of the Outlaw Jersey Whale?

My suggestion: boycott Disney and ABC News until and unless ABC issues a  retraction and makes a public apology to Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer. ABC News cannot be allowed to propagate right-wing lies as truth and get away with it. This is absolutely outrageous.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Christie's Targets: The Who and The Why

We still do not know for sure whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (and\or his staff) targeted solely Ft. Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, or whether he hoped for a two-fer: Sokolich and Democratic State Senator Loretta Weinberg. Although the timing of the initial email closely follows upon an outburst by Christie wherein he called New Jersey's senior Democratic leadership 'animals' and promised 'serious ramifications" (Weinberg is one of several senior Dems), the substance of the emails mocks and taunts Sokolich.

So until the underlings begin to testify under compulsion and grants of immunity, we may not be able to say precisely whom Christie's ham-handed vendetta was targeting.

In like manner, we cannot say with certainty yet exactly 'why' Christie and\or his minions chose the targets they did.

Initial speculation was that Christie had targeted Sokolich because Sokolich refused to endorse Christies' re-election bid. Both Chrstie and Sokolich himself cast serious doubt upon this motive, Christie by dsmissing Sokolich as a 'nobody' whom he'd never heard of, Sokolich by saying his endorsement had never been sought, much less refused. However, Sokolich had earlier complained that Port Authority police (over he had no jurisdiction) were telling angry motorists that the traffic delays were Sokolich's fault.

Attention turned the next day to Rachel Maddow's theory that Christie sought to retaliate against Senate Dems because they were blocking and obstructing his judicial nominations (after Christie had broken with long-established precedent and declined to re-nominate the sole African American on the Supreme Court to a lifetime appointment). According to this theory, Christie wanted Senator Weinberg, the Democratic Senator whose consituency encompassed Ft. Lee, to feel the fury of his wrath and the negative consequences from inconvenienced motorists living in the district. The timing of the first email lends credence to the theory; Weinberg seems intrigued by it, even if other NJ Dems like Senator Sweeney (an early Christie) endorser express skepticism.

Today, on MSNBC, Steve Kornacki explores yet a third possible motivation: a massive billion-dollar development project at the foot of the GW Bridge. The 'Hudson Lights' project featured two 47-story residential structures and 165,000 feet of ground-floor retail space. The company doing the redevelopment project, Tucker Development Corporation, was a major donor to NJ Senator (and former Newark Mayor) Cory Booker's campaign. Booker, as most should know, is a Democrat.

Kornackit's theory involves some very scummy skulduggery, so bear with me - remember that Bridgegate involves reducing hte number of dedicated Ft. Lee toll lanes from 3 to 1, meaning that the same amount of Ft. Lee traffic was now competing for only one toll lane onto the GW Bridge where before that traffic had 3 lanes. Well, it turns out that the reason the Hudson Lights was a 'billion-dollar project,' is precisely becuase of those 3 dedicated lanes making Ft. Lee commuters' daily commute into Manhattan reasonably easy. Reduce their access to the GW Bridge to one toll lane and suddenly the principal attraction of Hudson Lights - ease of access to the GW Bridge -- loses it luster. Suddenly a 'billion-dollar project' is no longer worth a billion dollars.

My speculation: Who knows whom Christie might have intended to get the tip so as to be able to rush in and scoop up a suddenly deflated asset for pennies on the dollar?. Then, wouldn't you know it, Christie could magically re-open those toll lanes and a billion-dollar project gone bust is suddenly golden again, but now in the hands of Christie cronies.

It's all very 'Chinatown,' isn't it? And it makes the prospect of hearing testimony from Christie's underlings all the more enticing and exhilarating. Maybe Christie hoped for a three-in-one: get Sokolich's constitents pissed at him, send a message to Weinberg, and fuck over one of his political rival's major donors (and maybe give his own cronies an insider tip to a killing to be made). Who knows what songs will be heard when the canaries finally begin to sing?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What Other Dirty Tricks Were Christie's Crew Involved In?

Few Americans now remember, but the revelation that a group of Cuban-Americans directed out of the basement of the White House had broken into Democratic Party headquarters in 1972 was merely the tip of the iceberg, as newspapers and media increasingly revealed that the "Plumbers," as the group came to be called, had engaged in many, may dirty tricks, not least among them breaking into the Los Angeles office of Dr. Henry Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist.

So I've been wondering. Now that the cat is out of the bag about this one dirty trick played by Christie's minions on the people of Fort Lee and its hapless Mayor Sokolich, what other dirty tricks might they have been up to? Because as sure as the sun rises in the East, you know that their hijinks did not start with this little escapade, nor did they end there.

So I think one avenue of inquiry needs to be uncovering any and all acts played by Christie's staff, not just the lane closures for the George Washington Bridge. Pulitzers are earned for lesser work than this. Get busy, print journalists. Start digging and rest assured that, where there's smoke, there's almost certainly fire

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why did Christie's staff order the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge?

So today at his presser, the Great White Whale Christie protested vociferously that he had no motive for ordering the lanes feeding the GW Bridge closed because, as Christie put it, he had never sought Ft. Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's endorsement and barely knew the guy. The more often he repeated this, the more I found myself saying, "Methinks the Governor doth protest too much."

Christie's bluster demonstrates a classic instance of throwing out a 'red herring' in hopes that the press won't dig in to discover the real motivation behind the bridge closure. (Mayor Sokolich himself claimed to be mystified as to why Christie would retaliate against him, since as far as he knows his endorsement had never been sought much less refused to Christie's re-election campaign.)

Forget about seeking Sokolich's endorsement and retaliating for not getting it! That was NEVER the motivation and it will consequently be easy to maintain a denial of a motivation that never existed.

So why did Christie and his minions really order the lane closures? Simple, they hoped to so piss off the voters of Ft. Lee that they would hold Sokolich responsible for the traffic snarls that kept children from school, workers from their jobs and emergency workers from accident scenes and vote Sokolich out in the next election. That's the only motive that makes sense, given the facts we now know. It wasn't retaliation against Sokolich, it was an attempt to damage his relection prospects preemptively, a move taken straight out of Rove playbook.

They stupidly imagined in their hubris that they could get away with the dirty trick. I hope the U.S. Attorney shows no mercy.Update 1 (Jan 10 @ 10:30 a.m.): I have now learned that The Rachel Maddow Show has promulgated a competing hypothesis that is as plausible, if not more so, than mine stated above. To wit, Maddow argues that the timing of the first bridge closure memo closely follows Christie's outburst against Dems whom he called 'animals' for blocking some of his judicial nominees and against whom he promised 'serious ramifications.' According to Maddow, the initial bridge closure message, sent the day after Christie's outburst, was meant to foul traffic in the district represented by Democratic State Senator Loretta Weinberg. If there was any motive to 'get' Sokolich, it was only incidental to the principal motive of sending a shot across Weinberg's bow.

Update 2 (Jan 10 @ 5:00 p.m.): Have now learned from Talking Points Memo that Port Authority police were telling frustrated motorists that the lane closures were Mayor Sokolich's fault, which tends to support my initial hypothesis. So who ordered the PA Police to lay the blame on Mayor Sokolich? Inquiring minds would really like to know.

Link to Talking Points Memo story