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Bad Start to 2010

“Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.” — Benito Mussolini

We’re not genetically designed to walk upright for two-thirds of a century, or to spend our working lives mostly sitting at desks. At least that’s my explanation for the recurrent and increasingly frequent lower-back pain that, when it occurs, lays me out flat, as it did for about ten days just a week after my 66th birthday on December 19, 2009.

There’s no predicting when this affliction will rear its head, or what will trigger it. (In this instance, I simply reached sideways for a tissue.) So I’m learning to live with it, while investigating reliefs and cures ranging from holistic yoga-based exercise routines to cortisone injections. I’d prefer to reduce the frequency and severity of these attacks through non-invasive means, but they’re literally crippling enough that if this approach doesn’t prove effective I’ll go the cortisone route.

As if to test me, Job-like, no sooner did I become ambulatory again and start to catch up on heaps of postponed work than my trusty Apple MacBook Pro began presenting me with psychedelic screen displays and inexplicable system crashes. When it rains, it pours.

Fortunately, the machine remains under a three-year AppleCare warranty. A lengthy phone conversation and diagnostic with the tech division of Apple led to an MLK Day appointment at the “Genius Bar” of the Apple Store on West 14th Street in Manhattan, just two blocks from the railroad flat in the meat-packing district that my family occupied for several years in the mid-1950s. A personable tech there listened carefully to my description of the problems, ran several diagnostic tests, and took the machine in for examination, telling me I’d have to surrender it for 5-7 working days.

Aside from a few out-of-town or overseas trips made before I acquired a laptop, I haven’t lacked access to a computer or the internet for close to 20 years. Just about everything I do nowadays depends on the computer, and much of it is web-related/reliant. I have no substitute machine (though I do back up my files), and I’d no idea what I’d do for the week to ten days in which they’d have my MBP in the shop. Indeed, by the end of the first full day without it I felt like climbing the walls — especially because the back problem restricts my capacity to do any kind of serious physical work around the house. I concentrated on cleaning up my desk and getting some papers filed away.

To my great relief, just two days after I’d turned in my MBP the Apple Store called to tell me they had it ready. I went in the next morning to claim it. They’d replaced the motherboard, the optical CD/DVD drive, and the two fans — everything but the hard drive, the screen, and the case. They threw in a new battery as well. So I got back a radically refurbished “like new” machine (with all my data intact), plus, as a bonus, a heightened sense of my extreme dependence on the computer for most of my projects and activities. While extremely appreciative of the quality of Apple’s tech support and commitment to its extended warranty (which earned back its cost and then some), I’ve now promised myself more frequent data backups and, ASAP, the purchase of a second machine, so as never to get caught short again.

Though I’m a geezer geek, a long-time Mac user, and probably qualified as a Mac addict, this was the first time I’d done more than step into an Apple store for a minute. The experience proved entirely positive, from the bright, airy interior to the efficient organization of appointments at the “Genius Bar” to the tech savvy and interpersonal skills of the Apple expert who handled my situation.

David A. Goldstein

(During those visits I couldn’t help recalling that, when Apple announced its plan to open its first two stores in early 2001, David A. Goldstein, president of the Dallas-based research consultancy firm Channel Marketing Corp., predicted a disaster. “I give them two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake,” Goldstein opined. Not the quickest puppy in the litter, obviously. Apple now has over 200 such stores worldwide; notably, the economic meltdown has not forced them to close even a single one.)

These physical and digital trials and tribulations left me narrow-focused for about a month. Resurfacing this week, I realized I hadn’t posted to this blog for some time. At the same time, I discovered that I’d awakened from my enforced Van Winkle-ish hiatus in a different country, politically speaking. When I took to my bed in December, national health care was a done deal, and Massachusetts was a blue state. Now an undistinguished faux-populist Republican, Scott Brown, represents the Bay State in the Senate, which bodes ill for anything beyond an eviscerated health-care bill dictated by the GOP, Big Pharma, and the insurance cartel.

More significantly, when I crawled under the covers both federal and state laws prohibited corporations from making substantial contributions to political candidates, and Tom DeLay faced serious jail time for violating those laws. All of which surely reflected the intent of the Founding Fathers. “I hope we shall . . . crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and to bid defiance to the laws of our country,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to George Logan on November 12, 1816.

Now, by fiat, the far-right activist wing of the U.S. Supreme Court has turned the political process over to the corporate world, in one stroke reversing a century’s worth of legislation. If this doesn’t constitute what the arch-conservative Robert Bork used to fulminate against as “judge-made law,” what does? With corporations empowered to bankroll major aspects of the electoral process, democracy ends — without much of a whimper, though I must applaud the dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote, “While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

So, between this effective granting of constitutional rights and a simulacrum of “personhood” to the corporate state abruptly imposed on the land by the Supremes and the bailout of the banks and other corporate entities engineered by the outgoing Dubya regime and the incoming Team Obama, we have entered unreservedly into the world of corporatism — which no less an authority (and authoritarian) than Mussolini declared as synonymous with fascism. As Sheldon Richman reminds us (in his article on fascism in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, as published at the Library of Economics and Liberty), “The word derives from fasces, the Roman symbol of collectivism and power: a tied bundle of rods with a protruding ax.” You’ll see the fasces represented on the left-hand side of the German stamp celebrating the Axis alliance. Our domestic version of it appears in the Insignia of the National Guard Bureau of the United States of America (right).

Richman goes on to say, “Fascism embodied corporatism, in which political representation was based on trade and industry rather than on geography. . . . Corporatism was intended to avert unsettling divisions within the nation, such as lockouts and union strikes. The price of such forced ‘harmony’ was the loss of the ability to bargain and move about freely.”

Richman speaks in the past tense, but his words apply with great precision to the present. How did we get to this moment? “I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office,” George W. Bush told a reporter during a White House interview on May 12, 2008. Out of office for just over a year as I write this, he’s hardly “long gone.” No one asks his opinion on much of anything, a rarity for a recent ex-POTUS. Nor is he much visible, though the sight of him hip-to-hip with Bill Clinton appealing for donations to aid the plight of earthquake-devastated Haiti evokes a definite shudder. Maybe they were never very far apart, IQ level aside. (They look like brothers; in fact, Dubya could play Tom Smothers to Clinton’s, um, Dick.)

You can draw a straight line from the 1961 Operation Coffee Cup Campaign against Socialized Medicine — orchestrated by the right in collusion with the American Medical Association — to the Tea Party Patriots campaign of 2009-10. The Coffee Cup Campaign opposed Medicare and Medicaid, as proposed by the Democrats, employing the right’s poster boy, then private citizen Ronald Reagan, as its mouthpiece. This recording’s script concludes with Ronnie announcing that if listeners did not prevent the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, “one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

But Reagan and the AMA and Big Pharma didn’t go on radio or TV with this. They distributed the record covertly to doctors’ wives, urging them to invite their girlfriends over for coffee while it played, in what was an early experiment in viral media campaigning. The effort didn’t succeed; Medicare/Medicaid passed in 1965, during LBJ’s presidency. But this stealth attack on national health care launched Reagan’s career as a national political figure.

(Full disclosure: I have a vested interest here. I spent several years in the ’70s, and several more in the Oughts, without health insurance. As a freelance, I’ve always had to pay for my own coverage, and just couldn’t afford it for those difficult, risky stretches. I’d have welcomed subsidized health insurance at any age. Now I’m in the Medicare system. I’m grateful to its architects and protectors, and consider its opponents my enemies — not revolutionary, merely revolting.)

The increasingly empowered right no longer feels a need to hide its goals and motives and operations. “What happened inside this Oval Office” during Bush’s administration — the final selling-out of whatever we had left of democracy after the “Reagan Revolution” — has bared its naked face. And it ain’t pretty. As Bob Dylan sings, “people just get uglier, and I have no sense of time.”

The radical branch of the Supremes, as it happens, have a honed sense of timing; they made their decision to put America up for sale exactly one year and a day after Pres. Barack Obama’s inauguration, at which he was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, who voted with the majority in this ruling. Preceding that historic day, to conclude the January 18, 2009 “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial, Pete Seeger joined Bruce Springsteen for a rousing sing-along rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Just about perfect. The left gets the sizzle, and the right gets the steak. In retrospect, that moment at the Washington Mall appears, as a student of mine once wrote, “heart-rendering.”

Democracy requires vertebrates. As I said, we’re not designed to walk upright for a lifetime. And I’m not sure we have exercises that can heal democracy’s damaged spine, or injections that can override its inherent structural weaknesses.

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