"The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence."
- Charles Bukowski
In retrospect, what I should have done five days ago was buy a case of Jameson, find the most conveniently-located boulder, crawl under it, and wait for this filthy disaster zone of a week to pass me by. Any week that starts with a guy getting shot to death in Florida by a retired police captain for the crime of texting his daughter's babysitter during the previews in a movie theater is not going to be a good week. I did not listen to my instincts, eschewed the boulder and the booze, and had to encompass one of the worst five-day stretches in America I can remember.
The man who was shot was named Chad Oulson. The man who shot him was named Curtis Reeves, Jr., a former cop who clearly believed that cell phones in theaters are a terrible thing, but having and then using a .380 semi-automatic pistol in a theater is just fine as paint. Chad Oulson's last words on Earth were, "I can't believe..." before he began choking on his own blood. He was dead in minutes, and his three-year-old daughter will likely have no coherent memory of knowing him. He's a picture to her now, and a pained look on her mother's face. Reeves is, of course, preparing to deploy Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, because, well, Florida.
Chad Oulson was not the only person shot this week. Curtis Reeves, Jr. also shot Oulson's wife, Nicole, in the hand, when in an act of pure love and pure instinct she reached up and tried to block the bullet that killed her husband. Two middle-schoolers were shot by a fellow student in New Mexico, the first school shooting of the new year. A union thug teacher named John Masterson put his body between the other students and the shooter, and was able to talk the shotgun out of his hand. A gunman shot two women to death in a supermarket in Indiana before being shot to death himself by the police. A five-year-old girl in Omaha was killed by a stray bullet while eating her breakfast. A three-year-old Arkansas boy was shot and killed by his father. A four-year-old boy in Detroit was shot and killed by his four-year-old cousin, who found a loaded rifle under a bed.
In other incredibly terrible news this week, Wikileaks released the environmental section of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, also known as "NAFTA on steroids and meth and in a very bad mood." The upshot of the released documentation is that the deal as written makes a lot of good noises about protecting the environment, but the deal itself contains almost no significant means to enforce the sentiments behind those good noises. "This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues," Sierra Club president Michael Brune says, "oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections - and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts."
But wait, there's more. The Senate opened the week by re-re-re-screwing more than a million unemployed Americans by failing to cut a deal on extending their benefits. The procedural vote to end debate and advance the bill got 55 votes, a clear majority, but because it needed 60 votes to advance thanks to every Republican in that chamber, all those unemployed workers were invited to go pound sand, or eat it if need be, because food costs money.
The glitterati of the "mainstream" news media hailed the very extremely super-duper bi-partisanship on display in the passage of the $1.1 trillion federal spending bill this week, chuckling into their sleeves about the marginalized cabal of Tea Party House Republicans who were reduced to howling about doom and Jesus in the wake of its passage. Wonder where this sudden snuggly camaraderie in Congress is coming from? I'll give you three guesses, but the first two don't count. Ready? The answer, according to the Los Angeles Times, is that this spending bill "significantly reduces White House requests for funding of two key Wall Street watchdogs." Can't bite the hand that feeds you, after all.
Oh, and did you hear? The whole internet thing is pretty much over, thanks to a ruling by the DC Appeals Court overthrowing the FCC's "Net Neutrality" rules. The ruling, in short, opens the door for a sea change in how the internet operates: instead of a free flow of information unimpeded by corporate interests or political sway, the internet will become a pay-to-play system in the vein of cable television. If a provider disagrees with a particular website's opinions, and that website does not have a brace of Congressmen in their pocket, that website can be squeezed out. The FCC can fix this in a day if it chooses to, but I got out of the habit of holding my breath waiting for the right thing to happen a long time ago.
There were two winners this week of the Headline That Makes Me Want To Break A Glass And Eat The Pieces Award: House Republicans Are Pushing a Bill That Would Force the IRS to Audit Rape Victims, which would "empower the government agency to have the final say over what 'counts' as a sexual assault or a life-threatening situation. And that, in turn, would force victims to prove their case." Not to be outdone is Sen. David Vitter's Bill Would Require Food Stamp Recipients to Display Photo ID to Get Food, because according to Vitter, "Food stamps have more than doubled in cost since 2008 and continue to grow in an unsustainable way," because it's the cost of food stamps, and not corporate welfare or pornographic "defense" spending or bank fraud or Wall Street thievery, that is unsustainable.
And last but most certainly not least is the ongoing chemical spill disaster in West Virginia. As it turns out, that state had no plan available to deal with a situation like the Elk River spill, even though the Freedom Industries spill site is a couple of good golf shots away from a drinking water intake. This sounds utterly deranged until you realize just how thoroughly West Virginia is owned by the coal industry. Only one member of West Virginia's Congressional delegation - Sen. Jay Rockefeller - came out in favor of tighter regulations in the aftermath of the spill. The rest of them, every single one of them, said no, wait, well, ahem, and hem, and haw, and furthermore no, let's not jump to conclusions...let me get back to you, I have to cash this sooty check.
The site of the spill had not undergone either a state or federal inspection since 1991, so of course House Speaker John Boehner chimed in with the rest of most of the West Virginia delegation by saying, "We have enough regulations on the books," before blaming Obama, of course. Interestingly enough, on the very same day the Elk River spill occurred, Boehner's own GOP foot-soldiers in the House passed a bill gutting a number of environmental protections, effectively putting an end to the "Superfund" program.
And in one last cruel twist of the knife, the officials in West Virginia who had no plan to deal with a situation like this announced midway through the week that the clean-up was doing well, and that residents in certain areas could use the water again. Almost immediately, emergency rooms in those areas were flooded with people suffering from symptoms that happen when you drink 4-methylcyclohexane methanol...and as for the people who sought clean water from tankers brought in to provide relief, well, not so much, because it appears those tankers were filled with the same tainted water that is still coming out of the taps.
Beat that with a stick.
In certain dark corners of the internet where gruesome concepts like "collective punishment" are celebrated, voices of derision were raised against the residents of West Virginia affected by this calamity. You voted for the people who made this policy, they said, and now you're getting the return on your investment. Noted economist Robert Reich laid the stomp on that line of thinking in a Wednesday morning Facebook post that cuts the whole issue to the bone in two paragraphs:
Last week's massive toxic chemical spill into West Virginia Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes. Not only are employees docile, eager to accept whatever crumbs they can get. The public is also quiescent and unwilling to cause trouble. The spill was the region's third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as "Chemical Valley," and repeated recommendations from federal regulators and environmental advocates that the state embrace tougher rules to better safeguard chemicals. But state and local lawmakers turned a deaf ear. As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen's group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia's Bayer CropScience plant in the state, told the Times: "We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia we don't want to do anything that pushes industry out." Exactly.
For years political scientists have wondered why the citizens of West Virginia and other poorer states vote against their economic interests, hypothesizing it's because economic issues have been preempted by others like guns, abortion, and race. But as wages keep sinking and economic security disappears, it's also because people are so desperate for jobs they'll vote whatever way industry wants them to. Bottom line: A strong and growing middle class is the best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility.
And so much for blaming the victims.
So, to recap: a father was shot, his wife was shot, two students were shot at school, two women were shot at the grocery store, the guy who shot them was shot, a five-year-old was shot, a three-year-old was shot, and a four-year-old was shot by a four-year-old. Wikileaks let us know that all the environmental rhetoric emanating from our president is a cloud of hot gas thanks to the trade deal he's just wild about. Screwed unemployed Americans are screwed. The only reason Congress decided to work together for the first time in six years was in service of their Wall Street paymasters. The internet is over, maybe, but probably. The GOP wants the IRS to audit rape victims and make eating harder for poor people. Oh, and the Elk River region of West Virginia is what the rest of the country and the world will be like once we are led, finally and forever, into free-market no-regulations business-friendly paradise.
They give me Saturdays off around here, which is nice. Think I'll lay in that case of Jameson, and maybe buy it a brother or two. If matters continue as they did this week, I'm going to need it. I strongly recommend you do the same. Take all appropriate precautions; this downhill run feels as if it's just getting started.