Too Broke to Bury the Dead — Poppy Harlow for CNN news

[This story is not an Onion parody.  It is another element in the periodic table of Detroit’s decay;  another reason that underscores how appropriate it is for the US Social Forum to be meeting in Detroit in June.  – –  LewRosenbaum]

Detroit: Too broke to bury their dead

Money to bury Detroit’s poor has dried up, forcing struggling families to abandon their loved ones in the morgue freezer.

CNNMoney.com

By Poppy Harlow, CNNMoney.com anchor

Last Updated: October 1, 2009: 10:19 AM ET

detroit_morgue.03.jpg
Unclaimed bodies piling up in the Detroit morgue.

Assignment Detroit

DETROIT (CNNMoney.com) — At 1300 E. Warren St., you can smell the plight of Detroit.

Inside the Wayne County morgue in midtown Detroit, 67 bodies are piled up, unclaimed, in the freezing temperatures. Neither the families nor the county can afford to bury the corpses. So they stack up inside the freezer.

Albert Samuels, chief investigator for the morgue, said he has never seen anything like it during his 13 years on the job. “Some people don’t come forward even though they know the people are here,” said the former Detroit cop. “They don’t have the money.”

Lifelong Detroit residents Darrell and Cheryl Vickers understand this firsthand. On a chilly September morning they had to visit the freezer to identify the body of Darrell’s aunt, Nancy Graham — and say their goodbyes.

The couple, already financially strained, don’t have the $695 needed to cremate her. Other family members, mostly in Florida, don’t have the means to contribute, either. In fact, when Darrell’s grandmother passed recently, his father paid for the cremation on a credit card — at 21% interest.

So the Vickers had to leave their aunt behind. Body number 67.

“It’s devastating to a family not to be able to take care of their own,” said Darrell. “But there’s really no way to come up with that kind of cash in today’s society. There’s just no way.”

The number of unclaimed corpses at the Wayne County morgue is at a record high, having tripled since 2000. The reason for the pile-up is twofold: One, unemployment in the area is approaching 28%, and many people, like the Vickers, can’t afford last rites; two, the county’s $21,000 annual budget to bury unclaimed bodies ran out in June.

“One way we look back at a culture is how they dispose of their dead,” said the county’s chief medical examiner, Carl Schmidt, who has been in his position for 15 years. “We see people here that society was not taking care of before they died — and society is having difficulty taking care of them after they are dead.”

Detroit is not alone. The Los Angeles coroner’s office said it, too, has seen an increase in the number of bodies abandoned. That’s not surprising at a time when unemployment tops 10% in many cities and the median cost of a funeral in America hovers around $7,000. Cremation can cost $2,000.

Little help available

This is an issue of concern, said the Detroit mayor’s office, but the city can’t afford to offer any assistance. “The failure, through inability or choice, to bury the deceased is a reflection of the economic conditions that have arrested this region, where people are now forced to make emotionally compromised choices,” said a spokesman in a prepared statement.

The state, however, does have some funds available to assist with burial costs. For fiscal year 2009, Michigan allocated $4.9 million for assistance, and of that, approximately $135,500 remains. Those in need of assistance can find grant applications at Michigan Department of Human Services offices, most funeral homes, and at Michigan.gov/dhs.

The Vickers did not know about the funds until CNNMoney notified them. But, fortunately, they were eventually able to scrape together the $695 and will be able to cremate their aunt with help from Social Security, social services and their aunt’s church.

The way Darrell sees it, the stimulus package should have helped people in situations like this, rather than to “spark the economy and sell cars. We can’t take care of our own when it comes to laying them to rest and letting them rest in peace.”

‘Reflection of the economy’

Believe it or not, the Vickers are among the fortunate.

Dozens of other bodies remain, some never identified. And they can’t be disposed of until their families come forward or the county’s burial fund is replenished when the 2010 budget is approved. There were 66 bodies before Aunt Nancy’s, and they’ll be interred on a first-arrived-first-buried basis.

“There are many people with sad lives,” said Schmidt. “But it is even sadder when even after you are dead, there is no one to pick you up.”

And in a town with so much need, Schmidt noted one more cause for concern: The increase in unclaimed bodies is not due to an increase in murders — though the rate remains high — but due to natural causes. Schmidt speculated that many of the deceased didn’t have health insurance or could no longer afford medication for the chronic medical conditions.

“If anything is a reflection of the economy, that is a reflection of the economy,” he said.

But this messy reality is shielded behind the Wayne County morgue’s perfectly trimmed hedges and pristine brick walls.

“I feel sadness because I can recall when it [Detroit] was really booming,” said investigator Samuels. “I don’t think a lot of people are really aware that these types of things are happening in such a wide area.” To top of page

First Published: October 1, 2009: 9:58 AM ET

Haiti Brings Baseball to Life — John Pilger

[Roxanne Amico,who sent this article, is an artist and an activist: a visual artist, a writer, an independent audio & radio producer, with an online radio podcast. She writes: “Only WILLFULL IGNORANCE could facetiously ask the question, ‘What could the US ‘possibly’ want in Haiti?’ The evidence is EVERYwhere…”  “When I was last in Haiti,” John Pilger tells us in the article below, “I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing binding machines at the Superior baseball plant in Port-au-Prince. Many had swollen eyes… and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out. Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pyjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti’s sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the town and jerry-built housing. Year after year, Haiti was invaded by US marines, infamous for atrocities that have been their speciality from the Philippines to Afghanistan. Bill Clinton is another comedian, having got himself appointed the UN’s man in Haiti. Once fawned upon by the BBC as “Mr Nice Guy . . . bringing democracy back to a sad and troubled land”, Clinton is Haiti’s most notorious privateer, demanding deregulation that benefits the sweatshop barons. Lately, he has been promoting a $55m deal to turn the north of Haiti into an American-annexed “tourist playground”.” ]

John Pilger

Published 28 January 2010

With US troops in control of their country, the outlook for the people of Haiti is bleak

The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured “formal approval” from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to “secure” roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in a US naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.

The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is now a US military base and relief flights have been rerouted to the Dominican Republic. All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US air force dropped bottled water to people suffering dehydration.

A very American coup

The first TV reports played a critical role, giving the impression of widespread criminal mayhem. Matt Frei, the BBC reporter despatched from Washington, seemed on the point of hyperventilating as he brayed about the “violence” and need for “security”. In spite of the demonstrable dignity of the earthquake victims, and evidence of citizens’ groups toiling unaided to rescue people, and even a US general’s assessment that the violence in Haiti was considerably less than before the earthquake, Frei claimed that “looting is the only industry” and “the dignity of Haiti’s past is long forgotten”.

Thus, a history of unerring US violence and exploitation in Haiti was consigned to the victims. “There’s no doubt,” reported Frei in the aftermath of America’s bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003, “that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East . . . is now increasingly tied up with military power.”

In a sense, he was right. Never before in so-called peacetime have human relations been as militarised by rapacious power. Never before has an American president subordinated his government to the military establishment of his discredited predecessor, as Barack Obama has done. In pursuing George W Bush’s policy of war and domination, Obama has sought from Congress an unprecedented military budget in excess of $700bn. He has become, in effect, the spokes­man for a military coup.

For the people of Haiti the implications are clear, if grotesque. With US troops in control of their country, Obama has appointed Bush to the “relief effort”: a parody lifted from Graham Greene’s The Comedians, set in Papa Doc’s Haiti. Bush’s relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 amounted to an ethnic cleansing of many of New Orleans’s black population. In 2004, he ordered the kidnapping of the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and exiled him to Africa. The popular Aristide had had the temerity to legislate modest reforms, such as a minimum wage for those who toil in Haiti’s sweatshops.

When I was last in Haiti, I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing binding machines at the Superior baseball plant in Port-au-Prince. Many had swollen eyes and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out. Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pyjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti’s sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the town and jerry-built housing. Year after year, Haiti was invaded by US marines, infamous for atrocities that have been their speciality from the Philippines to Afghanistan. Bill Clinton is another comedian, having got himself appointed the UN’s man in Haiti. Once fawned upon by the BBC as “Mr Nice Guy . . . bringing democracy back to a sad and troubled land”, Clinton is Haiti’s most notorious privateer, demanding deregulation that benefits the sweatshop barons. Lately, he has been promoting a $55m deal to turn the north of Haiti into an American-annexed “tourist playground”.

Not for tourists is the US building its fifth-biggest embassy. Oil was found in Haiti’s waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington’s “rollback” plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela’s abundant petroleum reserves, and sabotage of the growing regional co-operation long denied by US-sponsored regimes.

Obama’s next war?

The first rollback success came last year with the coup against the Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya, who also dared advocate a minimum wage and that the rich pay tax. Obama’s secret support for the illegal regime in Honduras carries a clear warning to vulnerable governments in central America. Last October, the regime in Colombia, long bankrolled by Washington and supported by death squads, handed the Americans seven military bases to “combat anti-US governments in the region”.

Media propaganda has laid the ground for what may well be Obama’s next war. In December, researchers at the University of the West of England published first findings of a ten-year study of BBC reporting on Venezuela. Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of Hugo Chávez’s government, while the majority denigrated his extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler.

Such distortion and servitude to western power are rife across the Anglo-American media. People who struggle for a better life, or for life itself, from Venezuela to Honduras to Haiti, deserve our support.

Movie Favorites from the Secretary of Defense — Tom Engelhardt comments on Robert Gates’ taste in cinema.

Tomgram: Engelhardt, Movie Favorites from the Secretary of Defense
Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 7:30pm, January 31, 2010.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers:  In May 2005, Howard Zinn graduated TomDispatchers into the world via a commencement address posted at this site.  He had delivered it at Spelman College, the school that, decades earlier, fired him as chair of its history department because of his civil rights activities.  It had the perfect Zinnian title that summed up the man: “Against Discouragement.” When, that September, I sat down with him to conduct the first ever TomDispatch interview, I wrote: “At 83 (though he looks a decade younger), he is… a veteran of a rugged century and yet there’s nothing backward looking about him. His voice is quiet and he clearly takes himself with a grain of salt, chuckling wryly on occasion at his own comments. From time to time, when a thought pleases him and his well-used face lights up or breaks out in a bona fide grin, he looks positively boyish.”

In August 2009, when I last saw the man who put Americans back in their own history, he seemed thinner and a little more stooped, but no less vibrantly alive, no less eager to face the world to come.  He was talking with gusto and amusement about a TV show based on his classic book A People’s History of the United States, which he lived to see broadcast.  He spoke about being amazed that the History channel would agree to do such a show — until he met its new chief, a woman who told him she had been in a class of his 30 years earlier.  That was Howard.  He had an everyday way of inspiring and he stuck with you.  He died last Thursday at 87.  I can almost see him now and I feel filled with sadness.  Tom]

Seven Days in January
How the Pentagon Counts Coups in Washington
By Tom Engelhardt

Sometimes it pays to read a news story to the last paragraph where a reporter can slip in that little gem for the news jockeys, or maybe just for the hell of it.  You know, the irresistible bit that doesn’t fit comfortably into the larger news frame, but that can be packed away in the place most of your readers will never get near, where your editor is likely to give you a free pass.

So it was, undoubtedly, with New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, who accompanied Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as he stumbled through a challenge-filled, error-prone two-day trip to Pakistan.  Gates must have felt a little like a punching bag by the time he boarded his plane for home having, as Juan Cole pointed out, managed to signal “that the U.S. is now increasingly tilting to India and wants to put it in charge of Afghanistan security; that Pakistan is isolated… and that Pakistani conspiracy theories about Blackwater were perfectly correct and he had admitted it. In baseball terms, Gates struck out.”

In any case, here are the last two paragraphs of Bumiller’s parting January 23rd piece on the trip:

Mr. Gates, who repeatedly told the Pakistanis that he regretted their country’s ‘trust deficit’ with the United States and that Americans had made a grave mistake in abandoning Pakistan after the Russians left Afghanistan, promised the military officers that the United States would do better.

His final message delivered, he relaxed on the 14-hour trip home by watching ‘Seven Days in May,’ the cold war-era film about an attempted military coup in the United States.”

Just in case you’ve forgotten, three major cautionary political films came out in the anxiety-ridden year of 1964, not so long after the Cuban Missile crisis — of which only Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick’s classic vision of the end of the world, American-style, is much remembered today.  (“I don’t say we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than ten to twenty million people killed.”)

All three concerned nuclear politics, “oops” moments, and Washington.  The second was Fail Safe, in which a computerized nuclear response system too fast for human intervention malfunctions and fails to stop an erroneous nuclear attack on Moscow, forcing an American president to save the world by nuking New York City.  It was basically Dr. Strangelove done straight (though it’s worth pointing out that Americans loved to stomp New York City in their fantasies long before 9/11).

The third was the Secretary of Defense’s top pick, Seven Days in May, which came with this tagline: “You are soon to be shaken by the most awesome seven days in your life!”  In it, a right-wing four-star general linked to an incipient fascist movement attempts to carry out a coup d’état against a dovish president who has just signed a nuclear disarmament pact with the Soviet Union.  The plot is uncovered and defused by a Marine colonel played by Kirk Douglas.  (“I’m suggesting, Mr. President, there’s a military plot to take over the government, and it may occur sometime this coming Sunday…”)

These were, of course, the liberal worries of a long-gone time.  Now, one of the films is iconic and the other two clunky hoots.  All three would make a perfect film festival for a Secretary of Defense with 14 hours to spare.  Just the sort of retro fantasy stuff you could kick back and enjoy after a couple of rocky days on the road, especially if you were headed for a “homeland” where no one had a bad, or even a challenging, thing to say about you.  After all, in the last two decades our fantasies about nuclear apocalypse have shrunk to a far more localized scale, and a military plot to take over the government is entertainingly outré exactly because, in the Washington of 2010, such a thought is ludicrous.  After all, every week in Washington is now the twenty-first century equivalent of Seven Days in May come true.

Think of the week after the Secretary of Defense flew home, for instance, as Seven Days in January.

After all, if Gates was blindsided in Pakistan, he already knew that a $626 billion Pentagon budget, including more than $128 billion in war-fighting funds, had passed Congress in December and that his next budget for fiscal year 2011 (soon to be submitted) might well cross the $700 billion mark.  He probably also knew that, in the upcoming State of the Union Address, President Obama was going to announce a three-year freeze on discretionary domestic spending starting in 2011, but leave national security expenditures of any sort distinctly unfrozen.  He undoubtedly knew as well that, in the week after his return, news would come out that the president was going to ask Congress for $14.2 billion extra, most for 2011, to train and massively bulk up the Afghan security forces, more than doubling the funds already approved by Congress for 2010.

Or consider that only days after his plane landed, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its latest “budget outlook” indicating that the Iraq and Afghan Wars had already cost the American taxpayer more than $1 trillion in Congressionally-approved dollars, with no end in sight.  Just as the non-freeze on defense spending in the State of the Union Address caused next to no mainstream comment, so there would be no significant media response to this (and these costs didn’t even include the massive projected societal price of the two wars, including future care for wounded soldiers and the replacement of worn out or destroyed equipment, which will run so much higher).

Each of these announcements could be considered another little coup for the Pentagon and the U.S. military to count.  Each was part of Pentagon blank-check-ism in Washington.  Each represented a national security establishment ascendant in a way that the makers of Seven Days in May might have found hard to grasp.

To put just the president’s domestic cost-cutting plan in a Pentagon context:  If his freeze on domestic programs were to go through Congress intact (an unlikely possibility), it would still be chicken-feed in the cost-cutting sweepstakes.  The president’s team estimates savings of $250 billion over 10 years.  On the other hand, the National Priorities Project has done some sober figuring, based on projections from the Office of Management and Budget, and finds that, over the same decade, the total increase in the Pentagon budget should come to $522 billion.  (And keep in mind that that figure doesn’t include possible increases in the budgets of the Department of Homeland Security, non-military intelligence agencies, or even any future war-fighting supplemental funds appropriated by Congress.)  That $250 billion in cuts, then, would be but a small brake on the guaranteed further rise of national-security spending.  American life, in other words, is being sacrificed to the very infrastructure meant to provide this country’s citizens with “safety.”  That’s what seven days in January really means.

Or consider that $14.2 billion meant for the Afghan military and police.  Forget, for a moment, all the obvious doubts about training, by 2014, up to 400,000 Afghans for a force bleeding deserters and evidently whipping future Taliban fighters into shape, or the fact that impoverished Afghanistan will never be able to afford such a vast security apparatus (which means it’s ours to fund into the distant future), or even that many of those training dollars may go to Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) or other mercenary private contracting companies.  Just think for a minute, instead, about the fact that the State of the Union Address offered not a hint that a single further dollar would go to train an adult American, especially an out-of-work one, in anything whatsoever.

Hollywood loves remakes, but a word of advice to those who admire the Secretary of Defense’s movie tastes:  do as he did and get the old Seven Days in May from Netflix.  Unlike Star Trek, James Bond, Bewitched, and other sixties “classics,” Seven Days isn’t likely to come back, not even if Matt Damon were available to play the Marine colonel who saves the country from a military takeover, because these days there’s little left to save — and every week is the Pentagon’s week in Washington.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

[Note: My thanks to Chris Hellman, director of research for the National Priorities Project, and Jo Comerford, its executive director, for checking on, and crunching, some Pentagon numbers for me.  A small bow as well to TomDispatch regular William Astore for first bringing up the issue of military coups at this site in mid-January and beating the Secretary of Defense to the punch with this sentence:  “Don’t expect a Seven Days in May scenario.”]

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

Distrust of Political Parties: The Winter of Our Discontent — by Tim Rutten in the NYT

[From my perspective, the democratic party loss in Massachusetts was both understandable and yet shocking.  Understandable because of the Congressional behavior of democrats in the year since they  gained “power.” Shocking because we had come to expect to see a Kennedy in that seat; if not a Kennedy, at least a democrat; and not the least because the old man had become the symbol for (the spirit of previously failed) health care reform for decades. “ It has been more than four decades since the Congress of the United States has been able to summon the will to pass a major piece of social legislation.”  So says Tim Rutten to start off his essay below. Throwing out the democrats is viewed as tantamount to a rejection of what the old man stood for.  And perhaps it was. If you believe, as I do, that Kennedy would be in the forefront of a “bipartisan” attempt to create a health care reform bill — in other words to construct something that would feed health care consumers into the giant and greedy maws of the sickness, insurance, and drug industries.  And thus we come to the debacle of the performance of Congress — and the reason that nearly everybody must try to get elected as an outsider.  How else can you explain the paradox/spectacle of John McCain running as a rebel?

The problem, of course, is that going from tweedle dum to tweedle dummer, as we inevitably do as we oscillate from one party to the other, is that we get another evil.  That is the logic of throw the bums out.  What is undeniable, however, is that Americans are thoroughly disillusioned with their choices.  In Illinois the usual off-year, early primary brought less than a third of registered voters to the polls.  The following article documents the decreasing confidence that ordinary people have with the political parties. The information points  to the possible opening toward a political party that represents the will of the poor and the remainder of the working class rapidly being driven down to the level of the poor; it points just as clearly toward the subversion of this opportunity by the corporate control of our national state.  Rutten argues in the New York Times that we are far from Weimar Germany.  I’d argue instead that this facile statement is built primarily upon political analysis. The economics that takes us so far from Weimar also makes the fascist solution not only different but more thoroughgoing. It is incumbent on us not simply to deride the “tea party” movement, because it can sweep up the disaffected with the same kinds of promises that won the people of Germany to fascism.  — Lew Rosenbaum)

Opinion

The winter of America’s discontent

Tim Rutten

  • Tim Rutten

Dissatisfaction with both political parties runs deep.

By Tim RuttenFebruary 5, 2010 | 4:26 p.m.

It has been more than four decades since the Congress of the United States has been able to summon the will to pass a major piece of social legislation. Not since 1965, when Medicare and the Voting Rights Act both overcame decades of opposition to become law, has Congress proved itself up to the task.

Significant healthcare reform is all but dead for this session, and the chances of substantively addressing the regulatory breakdown that allowed Wall Street’s irresponsible speculation to precipitate the worst global financial crisis since the Depression seem to recede with each passing day. So too the prospects for passage of further stimulus measures to remedy the crisis of unemployment and underemployment that continues to ravage the lives of families in states from Michigan to California.

In the face of these daunting issues, what was it that preoccupied the Senate on the eve of its long weekend recess? The legislative drama du jour is the standoff between the White House and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who has put a personal hold on more than 70 executive branch appointments until the Obama administration agrees to fund a couple of pork-barrel projects he has earmarked for his state. One involves tens of millions of dollars for an FBI laboratory focusing on improvised explosives — something the bureau doesn’t think it needs. The other involves contract specifications for an aerial tanker that Northrop Grumman and Airbus would manufacture in Alabama, if they win the deal. (Boeing also is competing for the plane, which it would build in Topeka, Kan., and Seattle.)

Unless the administration agrees to give Shelby what he wants, he intends to invoke an archaic senatorial privilege that allows him to prevent the chamber from considering any of the administration’s nominees to executive branch vacancies, no matter how crucial. Without the 60 votes to force cloture — another archaic convention — there’s nothing the Democrats or the White House can do.

Outside the Senate, Shelby’s conduct would be called extortion; inside the chamber, it’s a “parliamentary tactic.”

It’s also the sort of shabby situation that brings into sharp focus both the sources of congressional dysfunction and the popular discontent on both the left and right with the congressional parties. Earmarks and pork are anathema to a majority of conservatives and independents; the Senate’s outdated, made-for-obstruction rules and susceptibility to special interests are a source of increasing frustration to liberals and some independents. Yet, here we have one senator from one Southern state obstructing with impunity an entire nation’s business — purely for his narrow constituency’s financial interests.

You don’t have to attend a “tea party” convention to see the corrosive effect this sort of otherworldly political navel-gazing has on American attitudes toward the institutions of national government and the parties vying to control them. Evidence of the damage is scattered throughout the recent polls:

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, for example, found that although 52% of the nation’s voters retain a favorable view of President Obama, only 38% have a similar appraisal of the Democratic Party. The Republicans fare even worse; just 30%, fewer than

1 in 3 voters, view the GOP favorably.

A recent CBS News poll found that nearly half of all Republicans, 45%, disapprove of their party’s congressional delegation.

A national Washington Post/ABC News poll found that just 24% of Americans, fewer than 1 in 4, trust congressional Republicans, like Shelby, “to make the right decisions for the country’s future.” (Wonder why?) The House and Senate Democrats didn’t fare all that better, and are trusted by just 32%. Forty-seven percent of those polled — still less than half — have confidence in Obama’s ability to make the right decisions.

When people’s mistrust of their elected officials and the parties reaches these levels, there is little for political leaders to do but take counsel from their own anger and anxieties — and, these days, the popular mood fairly seethes with both those things. Discontent with the present and apprehension about the future have become the background noise of our politics, yet both sides of the congressional aisle seem deaf to the din.

In one of his magisterial explorations of German politics between the wars, the historian Ian Kershaw mused that “there are times — they mark the danger point for a political system — when politicians can no longer communicate, when they stop understanding the language of the people they are supposed to be representing.”

It would be reckless not to insist that this country and its politics remain, in crucial ways, far distant from Weimar. It would be rash, though, to pretend that the distance remains as great as it once was.

timothy.rutten@latimes.com