It was recently uncomfortably hot and humid in New York City (and much of the northeast, I understand) for about ten straight days.   The air was thick, heated to a sickening degree, and walking through it for more than a short stretch was like walking through warm vaseline.   It left a filthy slime on the skin that was most unpleasant.   The air went down hard to those trying to breathe it.   I would go out for a listless limp every evening slightly shaking my head.  Walking through it was like being slowly and deliberately punched in the face over and over by a giant, sullen, slimy fist.

We Americans have reason to be skeptical about a century of escalating pollution due to refining and burning fossil fuels having anything whatsoever to do with the warming of the atmosphere, and the oceans, and the catastrophic climate emergencies: floods, droughts, catastrophic hundred year storms and raging wild fires,  popping up with horrific frequency on every continent.   Our reason for skepticism has been bought and paid for by the refiners of the dirtiest, most polluting form of crude oil, primarily Koch Industries who invested three times more in “climate change denial” than even Exxon.  They certainly have nothing to gain by mounting this vigorous campaign against scientific consensus, easily observable catastrophic events and common sense.   I have to tip my hat to fucking Charles Koch, what an enormous and stunning cunt the man is.

Anyway, I was walking down Broadway one evening, at around my breaking point.  I’d been philosophical during the first week of the heat wave, summer in New York City has always been famous for airless humidity, certainly by day.  It began getting to me big time by day eight or nine.   I dragged myself down Broadway and looked toward a favorite bench, which was thankfully empty.  I sat down on the metal bench to check the score of the Yankee game on my phone.  I was damp from the short walk, my Hawaiian shirt stuck to my back.

From the south, without any warning, a cool breeze suddenly blew, and it kept coming.  I sat there like an old Jew in a sweaty shirt, two hundred years ago, my eyes closed and a big smile on my face.  “Oy,” I said to myself, or possibly out loud, “a MEHCHAYA!”   This Yiddish word indicates a pleasure that comes in the form of a great relief.  A cold drink to a parched throat– a mehchaya.  This beautiful, magnificent, life and hope restoring breeze, a mehchaya.  A fucking mechaya.

The breeze was actually wicking the dampness from my shirt.  It was indescribably beautiful.  It got me thinking, after the breeze finally died down and I made my way back up Broadway toward my apartment, that a mehchaya like that inevitably reminds one of other mechayas.

I recalled my father, at the dinner table one night when we were somehow not fighting, describing a woman he’d met recently, I have no recollection of who she was.   My father described her as a mehchaya.   A person as a mehchaya!   He had met her, possibly with some hesitation, and she had turned out to be a mehchaya.  Like a cool breeze on a hot, airless night.  A mechaya.


A Cause for Optimism about Democracy

I thought I had possibly dreamed this, but apparently not.  

Our president, the man who can’t seem to stop bragging about his historically large 106,000 vote Electoral College mandate (take those close votes in three states and flip them and Hillary wins), was rebuked 98-0 by a viciously divided senate the other day.

It happened like this.  He met with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin last week in Finland.  The strongman apparently easily lifted our large president over his head several times during their secret meeting, greatly impressing our great leader.   After the meeting Putin was wearing the smile of the cat with the canary in its mouth and our president seemed even more childish, confused and foolish than usual.   Putin apparently asked that he be allowed, in return for granting the Mueller team access to twelve recently indicted Russians, to interrogate a similar number of American diplomats including the former American ambassador to Russia.  Our president said he would consider it.   The Senate, bitter partisans who can agree on nothing, immediately voted 98-0 to “shut the fuck up, you imbecilic asshole!”

I find a reason for optimism in that unanimous vote by hacks for both supremely corrupt pay-to-play parties.  There is a limit, ladies and gentlemen, to what someone who has contempt for democracy, fairness and even honesty can be allowed to do, even if he’s the almost unanimously elected president of the United States.  I like to think so anyway.

Here’s a short article about the vote.


Healthcare as a human right

The radical right is consistent, most of the time, I have to say that for them.   They latch on to something like “Right to Life” (no abortion under any circumstances) or “Right to Work” (the legal right of the employer to fire your ass at any time, with or without cause) and ride it to the end.   Their disciplined relentlessness is impressive, even if it’s not always good for democracy, people, animals, plants, children, old people, babies, the environment, health, human dignity, human survival.   The important thing is that they give their supporters a rallying cry to scream, a cry that never changes, if it works.   That these phrases may not bear much scrutiny as ideas in the marketplace of ideas is not the point.  Winning is the point, the only point.

As Republican icon Ronald Reagan said, either being pithy or already in the first throes of dementia: “the right to life ends at birth.”   “Right to Life” means that the right of a fetus to be born is absolute, more absolute than a mother’s right not to die from complications of pregnancy, far greater than the right of a fourteen year old girl not to have to go through the trauma of giving birth to her rapist’s baby.   Like every right extended, except to wealth that has perpetual life (corporate folks, persons just like you and me except they never die) it terminates at a reasonable time.   In the case of an unwanted baby, the right to life ends as soon as the poor bastard is born, breathing air and crying.   When the unwanted child is born society says “you’re on your own now, motherfucker, we protected you for nine months, your own mother wanted to kill you, but we saved you from that murderous bitch.  Now get the fuck out and get a job, asshole. And try not to stink so much… can’t you change that sagging diaper already?  No self-respect, you little shitass…”   Nothing to see here.

The way America’s wealthiest and least scrupulous organized themselves to make sure Obama was not able to get bipartisan support for anything, especially his hated plan to give access to healthcare to more Americans; priceless.  Jane Mayer reminds us that when Ted Kennedy’s death in 2009 left a vacancy in the Senate, a flood of dark money was unloosed immediately before the special election in Massachusetts.   After that election unknown Republican Scott Brown would sit in the seat occupied by a Democrat (a Kennedy, in fact, Ted took over JFK’s seat in 1962) from time immemorial.   Read all about it here.  

The Koch influence machine (the Kochtopus, as admirers dubbed it)  had secretly pulled off a stunning, history defying upset in a blue state that hadn’t had a Republican senator in generations.   Wikipedia is pretty even-handed about the invisible tentacles of the Kochtopus:

As of January 8, 2010, Martha Coakley raised over US$5.2 million in total, and had $937,383 cash on hand. Scott Brown had $367,150 cash on hand. Brown spent $450,000 on television advertisements, while Coakley spent $1.4million.[99] A week before the general election, Brown raised $1.3million from over 16,000 donors in a 24-hour fund-raising effort. Reports also indicated that Brown raised an average of $1 million per day the week prior to the election.[100]

The effect of this historic upset was that the Senate, with Brown, was now 59-41 Democratic, meaning Obama’s majority in the Senate, although impressive, was no longer filibuster-proof.   The loophole now existed for the entitled vulture class to defeat the hated president’s hated, albeit mostly conservative-think-tank-created, healthcare proposal.   The compromise that became known as the Affordable Care Act, when it was passed, had many, many faults, none of them ever fixed.  The ACA contained a few huge improvements over America’s past ruthless health insurance regime, the biggest being the abolition of the vicious “pre-existing condition” loophole that allowed health insurance companies to only insure people who were good bets not to need massively expensive healthcare.   The business of America is business, how it is fair that some fuck with cancer expects to get all those expensive treatments and drugs paid by insurance?   Pre-existing condition, totally unfair to make the insurer pay!

Some socialist types, and others, believe that included among the rights of citizenship in a wealthy society is the right to decent, affordable health care, administered through a publicly supervised health care system.   Americans pay by far the highest prices for our health care, far more than the citizens of other wealthy, industrialized nations, yet our health outcomes are no better than most places, except, arguably, at the very top end of American medical care.   Wealthy patients can always seek out and buy that top high-end healthcare, if they want to pay for it (and why not? they deserve it).  

The rest of us believe we have a right to not die of the many preventable and treatable diseases that are always stalking us.  A “right to life” if you will.   50,000 or more dead Americans every year who die because their only access to health care is an emergency room where the ER doc will say to a family member “oh shit, if only we’d seen him two years ago…”   These unfortunate American dead and their loved ones unwittingly make a sacrifice for all of us, a small price to pay for the freedom of eternal, legally created “persons” to live in perfect liberty, enjoying maximum profits protected by a friendly government, with the populist cover of a manipulated mob of confused, angry, powerless people chanting “USA!   USA!!!”.

I get my health care through the problematic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  I can tell you dozens of ways the law sucks, and have written about many of them here (click the category Obamacare to read ’em).   Top of my list is the difficulty of actually finding care in this corrupt, lobbyist-written regime.   After years of rabid Republican opposition to the law, and more than fifty attempts to repeal it in its entirety (check ’em out), some elected Democrats are organizing to fight back with the hated “public option” (something that already exists and works pretty well for millions of Americans 65 and older, as well as in most other wealthy nations).   Seventy Congressional Democrats have apparently formed a caucus to discuss lowering the age of Medicare to cover even that fucking unwanted baby who selfishly insists on its right to care after the government has already zealously protected its ungrateful little ass for nine long months.

Here’s the petty detail that bugs me today, as I work on rehabbing my aching knees.  It took me about a month to find and get an appointment with a sports medicine doctor for a referral to Physical Therapy (PT).   A rep for my health-insurance company (think of how fucking asinine it is to give people health care via private, profit-driven insurance companies…) assured me that referrals are no longer required by their company for things like PT.   Every place I contacted about PT disagreed.  Obviously, they said, you have to have a doctor’s referral before we can give you PT.  Made sense.   I finally was able to see the sports medicine doctor who immediately referred me for PT.   Then it was a few weeks of searching, not getting calls back from the “in-network” PT offices where I left  messages, until I finally hobbled over to a place I could walk to that accepted my insurance and where I could have PT.    

Note this:  every week I searched, without finding service, every obstacle I had to crawl over to get to the next step in finding treatment, was money in the pocket of the insurance company.  Multiply my search by a few thousand searches, by a million, and you begin to get the idea of how lucrative it is to make this basic of medical care, finding and seeing a doctor in your “network”, so difficult.

There was one last hoop to jump through on my ailing knees, now weeks and weeks, months, in fact, after they’d become acutely painful.  I’d have do be “evaluated” for PT for my knees, by doing a half squat with my back against the wall of the PT room.  I did the half squat and was told now all I had to do was go home and wait to see how many sessions my insurance company would approve.  You see, the doctor is not the one who decides what’s medically necessary, nor is the physical therapist, it is someone at your insurance company who decides exactly what course of treatment, under the current law, you are entitled to.  Fair is fair, they’re the ones paying, you dig.

They decided I was entitled to seven sessions of PT, twice a week.  If you do the math, the approved PT would last just over three weeks.  Not much time to fix a problem that had taken a year or more to get this bad, now I just had to wait until they got the go ahead from my insurance company.  A week later I was able to start PT.  It is slow going, physical therapy.   No long-festering physical ailment can be cured in seven sessions.   After session six I asked the receptionist at the PT place what I had to do to get more sessions.  Another referral, she told me.   I contacted the office of the sports doctor I’d seen for a second time a week or so earlier.  After session seven of PT I was told that once the referral arrived I would have to be re-evaluated.

Stand against the wall in the room where you’ve completed your seven sessions of PT and squat as far down as your creaky knees will take you, then just go home, without further treatment of any kind, and wait.   In about a week, if all goes well, they would get the OK from the insurance company, if your particular insurance policy authorized more physical therapy for you.  Then, the following week you could continue your PT, with only, at most, a short one or two week gap.   You see, it’s impossible to determine if you’ll need more than seven sessions until you’ve completed seven sessions, right?  That’s just basic logic, right?   No matter what your fucking know-it-all sports medicine doctor might have to say about it (the rehab could take several months of hard work, she told me sympathetically).  No matter what.

God fucking bless America, boys and girls!

Note on hastily sending out something not yet completely fit to read

Substantially rewritten, the thing I sent you the other day.  I was excited at having cleared the mental deck to start writing it, and in my mild euphoria, sent it a day too soon.   There were a lot of sloppy, shit lines in there begging for the axe, or the doctor.  I obliged the malformed little fuckers, saving the ones I could.

Working on part two now, just thought I’d take a minute to e-check in.    Hope your work is going well and you’re whistling while you do it.


Book review preview: Dark Money by Jane Mayer

first draft of my first book review since elementary school:

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,  Jane Mayer (January 2016)

Dark money is tax deductible, it turns out.  If you anonymously contribute a very large sum of money to a political cause, funneling the cash through a non-profit corporation, in the worst case scenario you get a gigantic tax deduction against your income.  If you advance your political agenda with a skillful bet on the right politicians, you can reap an even higher return on your tax deductible investment. Win-win, if you know what I’m sayin’.

It is hard to empathize with somebody you will never share an experience with.   Being born into generations of vast, inherited, well-invested wealth means you have no need to ever make contact with the great unwashed, heading home in crowded subway cars with their grubby little problems.   The world of the super-wealthy, the top 0.01%, is hard for the rest of us to picture.  It is apparently also very, very challenging to be that rich in ways the rest of us cannot begin to imagine.  

Some indomitable men in this tiny group of the very richest, very best American families, led by the secretive Charles Koch, autocratic son of a founding John Birch Society member, realized that in order to eventually own literally everything in America, without interference from parasites of every stripe, they would need to control the government that was trying to put tyrannical limits on their freedom.   Charles Koch’s wealth, now highly diversified, was originally, and mainly, from oil refining.  His family had a process for refining the cheapest, dirtiest, source, the most energy intensive to extract, and selling it for much higher profit than their competitors could.   The EPA, in particular, was a bone in the reclusive billionaire’s throat.   Government was the only thing standing in the way of virtually unlimited profits.

It would take thirty or more years for Charles Koch’s radical agenda to yield a bumper crop (The Year of Trump), but the beneficiaries would be very happy with the results and well-reimbursed for their tax deductible political spending over the decades: abolished profit-killing “environmental” and “safety” regulations, pushed for a shrunken, mistrusted government of severely limited powers, decimated labor unions, “primaried” all moderates out of office and out of politics, ended ‘class warfare’ decidedly, redistributed wealth steeply upward to themselves.  Along the way they crafted and sold a larger, widely accepted public narrative that justifies all this as right and proper, even highly moral and exceptionally American.  It isn’t that all this pollution is doing anything bad to the environment, you understand, fellow sophisticated skeptics, it’s a conspiracy by rich liberal eco-hypocrites to kill jobs using fake science to do so.

Dark Money, by the  great Jane Mayer, pulls together a million details of how and what this tiny, infinitely wealthy group did to ensure that their privilege is preserved in perpetuity.  Mayer details the more than thirty year strategic campaign, mucho, mucho dinero very productively spent in a brilliant, deliberate, coordinated, disciplined long game of lobbying, swaying public perceptions and spending fortunes to put people in power who would advance their cause.  This largely successful campaign to bypass electoral democracy and take control of the government directly, by other means, is finally paying off big time.   All perfectly legal, these extraordinary means, the Supreme Court said so in a series of indisputable 5-4 decisions.   Extra-democratically grabbing power makes it sound so harsh, so dirty, almost fascistic, like a tiny, secretive clique imposing their will on the other 99.9%.   Let us simply say, these intrepid protectors of the 0.01% deployed their oceans of money very wisely.    

A lot of the world Jane Mayer lays out is sickening stuff, but, damn does she lay it all out.  It is one skill to be a good researcher, to dig up and read everything and to find and master a lot of interesting, complicated material, selecting and organizing the most crucial of it.  Being able to weave the raw materials into a flowing, compelling narrative is another skill entirely.   Reading a book like Dark Money it hits me over and over — this writer is really fucking smart.  I think it’s the sense that, in addition to the book being beautifully written, everything you are reading has been set so perfectly in context by everything you’ve learned to that point in the story.  It is an immensely complicated, yet, on another level, elementally simple, story.  Jane Mayer tells it clearly, smoothly and with virtually no editorializing.  I offer this example, as a placeholder for a more detailed review I will complete at a future time.

Mayer describes the great revelation Charles Koch and his friends had, along with a major change of strategy, after David Koch badly lost his vice-presidential bid in 1980.   Since Koch ran for vice president, rather than president, he could use a loophole in the law to legally finance his campaign with as much of his own unlimited cash as he chose to spend.  One of the planks of his vice presidential platform was abolishing all limits on campaign spending, (which is now the law of the land via the partisan 5-4 Citizens United ruling).   When the Koch platform, skewed toward the freedom of the wealthiest to acquire more while shrinking oppressive government and its socialistic programs to insignificance,  got less than 1% of the vote (ironic– he probably drew 100% of the top 1% vote) the Koch brothers [1] (along with their allies from the best of the top 0.01%) understood that their ideas were too unpopular to ever prevail by electoral means.  

They began to set about influencing public discourse by different means.  They drew up a long-term battle plan, with the help of a cunning graduate student named Fink.  They created a network of influence and public relations operations. They funded prestigious think tanks, numerous non-profits, endowed academic chairs, sponsored courses and student societies in the colleges across America, eventually found their way onto Ivy League campuses (to correct the distressing left-leaning tendency of these influential institutions), unleashed an army of lobbyists, paid advocates, psychological warfare experts like wordsmith-for-hire like Frank Luntz (attack Global Warming “myth” by attacking the non-unanimous scientific consensus– Luntz later recanted this bullshit).   They advised political candidates, funded their campaigns, took over state houses, got odious laws and regulations overturned, drafted model laws in corporate/legislative partnerships that advanced their cause, vetted Supreme Court picks, created and funded non-profits for specific political attacks, like the Swift Boat Attackers, funded the ‘grassroots’ radically anti-Obama Tea Party, and so on.  36 years of hard, dedicated, singleminded work later, et, voila!

Fred Koch, father of all of four battling Koch brothers, like Fred Trump, father of our current president, was a brutal, demanding, loveless autocrat and an admirer of Mr. Hitler who shared many of Hitler’s views on how things should run and who deserved to rule.  Fred Koch performed a heroic, well-paid service for the Fuhrer before the war, building a high tech oil refinery in Germany that ensured  the luftwaffe would have a ready supply of high octane petrol for years to come.   Fred Koch hired a German Nazi nanny (literally, she adored the Fuhrer) to strictly discipline the young Koch boys.   She was apparently very severe in her methods while she was the primary caretaker of the boys for the long stretches when the parents were away.   The nanny proudly returned to the Fatherland after the fall of France.   Talk about Nazi bastards, these boys come by it honestly.

I will amend this review a bit when I am done listening to the book.  It is hard to stop listening to the well-read audio version I have on my listening device.  I’ve already made dozens of notes.  

If we have any hope of fighting back against the monsters now in seemingly locked-down control, a book like this provides essential knowledge we need for understanding the fight ahead.

I highly recommend Dark Money.  Good reading on a subject even more vital to know about now than when she released it in early 2016.   Goddamned good work, Jane, and another very important book (The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Idealsabout Cheney’s torture program, is another, also highly recommended) that deserves to be widely read and talked about.


[1]  A Note on the “Koch Brothers”

The until recently secretive right-wing billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are known as The Koch Brothers.   Their oldest brother, Freddie, was cut out of the picture years ago after an ugly family power play, featuring an attempt at blackmail by his other three brothers.   David Koch’s twin brother, Bill Koch, after decades of savage litigation against his brothers Charles and David, and some chicanery written into their demented mother’s will, finally signed a non-disparagement agreement with Charles and David, formally ending their long, bitter legal wars.  A family of goddamned princes, really.  Of these four brothers, only two have become “The Koch Brothers.”  You could argue that no two brothers have ever had a larger say in the public life of their country.