This emotional indifference manifested itself vividly after the disclosure of the My Lai Massacre, when dozens of Vietnamese infants and children were killed by the men of Charlie Company, their tiny, butchered corpses stacked in ditches. After the trial of Lt. William Calley, more than 70 percent of Americans believed his sentence was too severe. Most objected to any trial at all. In the end, Calley served less than 4 years under house arrest for his role in the execution of more than 500 Vietnamese villagers.
Twenty-five years later, American attitudes toward child deaths had coarsened even harder. When it was revealed that US sanctions on Iraq had caused the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, icily argued that the deaths were “worth it” to advance US policy in the Middle East. Few Americans remonstrated against this official savagery done in their name.
Now the guns are being turned on America’s own children and the rivers of blood streaming out of US schools cause barely a ripple in our politics. If the Columbine shooting (1999) was a tragedy, what word do you use to describe the 436th school shooting since then?
Don’t look for an answer or even solace from any of our political leaders. All you’ll get is cant, hollow prayers and banal vituperations of the sort we’ve been hearing for two decades from the likes of Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s most restrictive gun control proposals wouldn’t have stopped any of the recent shootings. She plays politics with the blood of children as cynically as the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre. Both are adept at fundraising off the bodies of the dead.
Even the RussiaGaters seized the opportunity to turn Vladimir Putin into one of Nikolas Cruz’s co-conspirators. Democratic blowhard Eric Boehlert, formerly of Clinton defense team Media Matters, tweeted: “key Q: how much $$$$$ did @NRA accept from Russia in 2016?”
In these moments of national trauma, Donald Trump can be counted on to open his mouth only to extract one foot and insert the other. This week his creaky mandibles got quite the workout. First, he was goaded into mumbling his generic opposition to wife-beating. Then only a day later he had to summon the energy to sputter out scripted condolences for the victims and families of the mass shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
In the past, Trump has railed against what he—or Steve Bannon—called the “American carnage.” Of course, this week’s slaughter isn’t the kind of “carnage” that Trump was referring to, since it was committed by a MAGA-hat wearing teen from the suburbs, who was trained in the proper use of rifles by an NRA grant funded shooting program. From an operational perspective, the only thing missing was the silencer hawked by Trump’s idiotic son, Donald Jr. Trump’s urban villains, naturally, use knives, brass knuckles and switchblades.
One might be tempted to cut Trump some slack. After all, his political options were constricted. He couldn’t possibly be expected to talk about the fact that this is the 239th school shooting since Sandy Hook (2012). He couldn’t speak about the 438 people who have been shot in schools since Sandy Hook. Or the 138 people who have died in school shootings since Sandy Hook. Why? Because most of Trump’s hardcore base don’t believe the Sandy Hook massacre really happened. They believe it was a fake shooting staged by the gun cops of the Deep State. Next week, they will be saying the same thing about the Parkland slayings. The Trump presidency levitates on such dark fantasies. Better to keep the messaging simple.
So Trump could only say that the killings were the work of a teenager who was “mentally disturbed.” His bland, six minute homily deftly avoided the word “gun.” It couldn’t have slipped Trump’s mind that one of his first acts as president was to sign into a law a measure over-turning an Obama-era ban on the sale of guns to people with mental disabilities. Thus, instead of endorsing any measure to restrict the sale of guns to the insane, Trump called on his American subjects to become mental health snitches, to profile potential psychopaths and report suspicious “instances to authorities, again and again!” Can we start with the president? Do we dial 1-800-Deranged? Will Jeff Sessions pick up the line?
By most accounts, Nikolas Cruz was a troubled kid, who led a creepy life that was spiraling into acts of increasingly sadistic violence. Both of his adopted parents had died and Cruz was living a dead-end existence in a friend’s basement, while working a nothing job at the Dollar Tree store. He had apparently been treated for depression, but walked away from his therapy sessions. There’s no word yet on whether, like so many other shooters, he’d been fed anti-depressants. It’s when you come off the serotonin uplifters that the real trouble usually starts.
Society had turned its back on Cruz. He was one of the expendables, cut adrift by his school, which wasn’t equipped to deal with his deep psychological problems, to freefall without any safety net to catch him. But when he hit bottom, he returned with a vengeance to the very institution that had rejected him. Now we’re told to keep watch for others just like him. How many are out there, one bad experience from snapping and going full-auto at a mall or a schoolyard?
I try to summon some empathy for Nikolas Cruz, but can’t. Cruz tortured animals, threatened fellow students and openly bragged about his desire to kill people. This man should never have possessed even an pop gun, but on his minimum-wage job he was able to walk into a gun store and legally buy an AR-15 assault rifle and multiple magazines of ammunition. He made no effort to conceal his simmering animus or his arsenal of weapons. It’s all up on Youtube and Facebook. Cruz was even reported to the FBI, which, typically, didn’t pursue the lead. The FBI prefers to devote its resources to investigating crimes it orchestrates itself.
If you’re looking for the tragedy in all of this, it’s to be found in the fact that the same implements of mass death used at My Lai are entirely legal to buy, sell and own in the US fifty years later. In fact, these weapons are sanctified in American culture. AR-15 medallions hang like crucifixes from the necks of thousands of Americans. We have stepped in death so deep we’ve made a virtue of it.
The American moralists are always carping about personal responsibility. Well, Nikolas Cruz will be tried for his crimes and will likely spend the rest of his miserable life in one of Florida’s hellhole prisons. But who will be held accountable for allowing a monster like Cruz the means to commit them? Those are the people who should be reported to the authorities. The problem is: they are the authorities.
+ While we’re (momentarily) speaking of gun violence, it’s 45 days into the new year and already 154 people have been killed by police.
+ If 17 kids died in a school bus crash and the driver tested positive for marijuana, what do you think J. Beauregard Sessions would blame?
+ In the live-action version of Kafka’s “The Trial,” the part of Joseph K. is being played today (as it has been for the last 2,067 consecutive days) by Julian Assange…
+ It looks like Operation Mockingbird never ended. The CIA is arguing that the agency has the authority to selectively declassify secret files and leak them to favored reporters, while denying access to the same documents to other journalists.
+ Trump’s EPA cited an industry-funded study to rationalize its rollback of diesel emissions. That study is now under investigation for academic fraud. But the rollback rolls on, for those who have $250,000 to exploit the loophole…
+ This just in from Hamid Karzai on why the US continues to occupy and bomb Afghanistan: “The United States is not here to go to a party. There is no need for them to build so many bases just to defeat a few Taliban. They are here because all the great American rivals are in the neighborhood, and we happen to be here, too. They are welcome to stay but not to deceive us…Too many Afghans are dying for an uncertain future,. We are too small and poor to ask the U.S. to stop, but we are a country, and our interests must be respected.” Of course, Karzai’s precise understanding of the metrics of US foreign policy is derided in the western press as a “dark theory.”
+ Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats gleaned praise from Democrats this week for doubling down on his assertion that the Russians meddled in the 2016 elections. But lest anyone conclude from these endorsements that Coats is a “rational actor” consider the fact that he followed up those observations with a threat to bomb North Korea, warning that “decision time” is near at hand…
+ The corporatization of weed is well underway in California, which means, among other things, that the state is moving to make sure Native Americans don’t get a cut of the action. Same as it ever, ever was…
+ Meanwhile, Berkeley just became the nation’s first “marijuana sanctuary city.” As if J. Beauregard Sessions didn’t have enough crises on his plate…
+ Blow up the deficit on tax cuts for billionaires and pork for the weapons lobby, then blame the old, the poor and the sick…
+ Newsflash from the Karma Wire: election reforms enacted by Democrats in California may end up costing Democrats control of the US House of Representatives in 2018 elections.
+ On January 27, hikers in Olympic National Park discovered more than 100 towering old growth trees mysteriously toppled. Sasquatch or climate change?
Comrade Barbie: No, I have an assignment tonight at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton. The memo says it may involve wetwork.
Comrade Ken: Gun, garrote or knife?
Comrade Barbie: Not that kind of wetwork, Ken.
+ So Trump’s military parade may cost $30 million–that’s if the Abrams’ Tanks don’t crumple the pavement on Pennsylvania Avenue. Perhaps Trump consigliere Michael Cohen could write the check?
+ Cohen admitted that he paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket to keep the porn queen quiet about her assignations with Donald Trump, the alleged entanglements of flesh occurring shortly after Melania gave birth to Barron. Don’t know yet if that figure includes a lifetime subscription to Forbes magazine or the rights to Stormy’s shiny gold dress, but one hopes that Trump at least pitched in for the tip…
+ The pentimento (literally: “I repent”) under that Obama portrait….
+ Where we see drones, Sean Hannity sees something that he finds much more unnerving: sperm…
+ Another dubious record for the Peace Prize Prez: Obama’s arms exports more than doubled Bush’s.
+ The gap between black and white home ownership is wider now than at any time since the end of Jim Crow. This grim trend is not happening by accident…
+ Newsflash from the Karma Wire: Elk in Utah downs helicopter.
+ Meanwhile, back at Uday and Qusay’s gun club the neighbors are suffering from PTSD.
+ Remember when Don Jr. became a pitchman for “silencers” so that “little kids can get into the game”?
+ In the latest magical pronouncement from the Wizard of the Soundproof Booth, EPA director Scott Pruitt declares the burning of wood products to be “carbon neutral.”
+ Pruitt the Snowflake insists on flying first class, because he’s been subjected to angry critiques of his previous magical pronouncements from the plebes back in coach, where the atmosphere is “politically toxic.” One passenger scolded, “Scott Pruitt, you’re fucking up the environment!” The truth hurts, doesn’t it Scott?
+ Brave New Democrats! A Pew poll shows that Democrats now view both the CIA and the FBI more favorably than Republicans by wide margins. Only 12 percent of Democrats perceive any stains on the agency.
+ Not the most appalling thing I’ve read this month, but close: “Cops Across America are Getting Thank You Plaques for Helping to Crush Standing Rock Protests.”
+ The rather blasé Oregon congressional delegation, led by Ron “the Weenie” Wyden, has somewhat surprisingly amassed a huge following on Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, most of their fans are fake…
+ Political Science is to Science, What Kenny G is to Jazz, which, of course, didn’t stop Trump from making 31-year-old Michael Kratsios his top science advisor….
+ 80 of Trump’s 87 judicial nominees for the federal bench are white. That’s 91.2 percent. Non-Hispanic whites account for 63 percent of the US population. In other words: Black Robes, White Justice.
+ It is likely that there is less extant sea ice today than at any time since the dawn of human “civilization.”
+ Yes, this woman’s husband is “running” the economy…
+ Trump once called for a travel ban over an outbreak of Ebola virus which had killed no Americans. Now, as a vicious flu epidemic kills 4,000 a week, the president proposes slashing the CDC’s budget by 10 percent…
+ Another case of eviction by execution, this time involving an 84-year old veteran…
+ Did Melania’s parents benefit from “chain migration“?
+ One of the most ridiculous paragraphs ever written. Of course, the author is David Brooks:
In the first half of the 1990s, I worked in Europe for The Wall Street Journal. I covered nothing but good news: the reunification of Germany, the liberation of Central Europe, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the Oslo peace process in the Middle East. Then, toward the end of my stay, there was one seemingly anomalous episode — the breakup of Yugoslavia.
+ The latest trendy fashion among the office-bound tribe of post-modern environmental historians is to postulate that species extinction is no big deal ecologically or morally. The great Carl Safina sets the record straight.
+ Israeli leaders now openly proclaim their darkest intentions to suppress the rights of its Arab citizens in order to maintain a Jewish majority. Here are the defiant words of Ayelet Shaked, who serves as Israel’s Justice (yes, Justice) Minister: “There are places where the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality.”
+ From the “You Can’t Make This Shit Up” Dept.: Virgin Atlantic Airlines removed the word “Palestinian” from the couscous dish on its menu, after complaints from Jewish and Israeli passengers.
+ Beauregard rides again…! Speaking at the National Sheriffs Association, Jefferson B. Sessions rhapsodized over the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” tracing the word “sheriff” back to the reeves of the English shires. But most British punks have a better sense of etymology than the Attorney General. They know that “sheriff” derives from the Arabic “sharif,” as in “Sharif, don’t like it…”
+ Remember that the torturers at Abu Ghraib learned their sadistic craft as guards in US prisons. School’s still in session…
+ Newsflash From the Karma Wire…Poacher eaten by lion pride he was hunting.
+ The Duterte-Trump summit will be one for the ages, the Dark Ages…
+ Being Hope Hicks: “When we landed, it was Hope’s job to steam him. ‘Get the machine!’ he’d yell. And Hope would take out the steamer and start steaming Mr. Trump’s suit, while he was wearing it! She’d steam the jacket first and then sit in a chair in front of him and steam his pants.” From Corey Lewandowski’s Let Trump be Trump.
+ This one’s for you, Hunter: Pot sales in Aspen totaled more than $11 million in 2017, beating out liquor sales for the first time.
+ The abstract expressionist movement was a men’s club, whose critical ascent was boosted by lavish grants from CIA-financed foundations. The painter Sonia Gechtoff, who died last week at the age of 91, didn’t play by those rules. She was as talented as Pollack or DeKooning, but never held her tongue or hid her politics, as her daughter recalled to the New York Times: “She was not an average mother in that we as her children learned to curse from her and to never hold back on our opinion. I remember her cursing at the TV whenever Lyndon Johnson was on talking about the Vietnam War.”
Over to You, Lou
What I’m reading this week…
Surveillance Valley: the Secret Military History of the Internet by Yasha Levine
Pandemic 1918: The Story of the Deadliest Influenza in History by Catharine Arnold
Palaeoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past by Zoë Lescaze
What I’m listening to this week…
Black Panther (Soundtrack) by Kendrick Lamar, et al.
Nameless by Dominique Fils-Aimé
Raw by Typh Barrow
Live at Club 47 by Doc Watson
A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie
Would You Mind?
Terry Pratchett: “I get it,” said the prisoner. “Good Cop, Bad Cop, eh?”
“If you like,” said Vimes. “But we’re a bit short staffed here, so if I give you a cigarette would you mind kicking yourself in the teeth?” (Nightwatch.)
Top photo: Photograph by Lara Vychuzhanina.