Hurricane Ian and What We Owe to Each Other
Disasters ought to remind us that there's only one real team, and we're all on it.
Every week I highlight three newsletters that are worth your time.
If you find value in this project, do two things for me: (1) hit the Like button, and (2) share this with someone.
Most of what we do in Bulwark+ is only for our members, but this email will always be open to everyone.
This is the last weekend for our Fall Special and we’ll give you two weeks of Bulwark+ for free, so you can try it out. I think you’ll like it. But if not, just cancel. It’s easy—a button click.
And you can always sign up just to get on the list for our free stuff.
1. Matt Labash
Look, I get the desire to shiv your political
enemies opponents in times of hypocrisy-inducing crisis. Watching Republican leaders who stoked outrage about “government tyranny” over vaccines and masks get frustrated as their constituents resist evacuation orders. Watching socialism-obsessed-by-your-bootstraps types lining up for government assistance from FEMA. Watching the guy whose entire MO is trolling Democrats gratefully accepting help from Brandon.
I get it.
But here’s the thing: We’re not talking about abstract ideas. We’re not talking about debating points. We’re talking about human beings. Who’ve had tragedy visited on them. And the only responses should be empathy, charity, and love.
Matt Labash has the words we all need to hear about Florida and Hurricane Ian:
[I]t’s tempting to crack wise about Florida, which has become a safe place to snub out the butt of our jokes. It’s the news-of-the-weird capital of the world, “a sunny place for shady people” as the unofficial marketing slogan goes. And if you’re of a certain centrist stripe like I tend to be, it also seems to attract every bomb-throwing crackpot of the modern political age, from Matt Gaetz, the pride of the western panhandle’s first congressional district (if by “pride,” you mean “shame”), to the tangelo-flavored real estate developer who runs a golf club/classified-documents storage facility in Palm Beach. Hell, when it became apparent that Hurricane Ian was coming, I made plenty of gallows jokes to friends myself, wondering if Governor/Professional Culture-Warrior Ron DeSantis now wished that the migrants he’d sent to Martha’s Vineyard had saved him a seat on his taxpayer-funded publicity-stunt charter.
But as the day wore on, and as I watched footage of what looked like an angry whitewater river running down the streets of Naples, Fla., cars bobbing along it like corks, the dark comedy dried up. You realized what you were witnessing: scores of people’s lives coming undone. Our fellow Americans losing everything they own. There’s not a damn thing funny about that.
I covered Katrina on the ground, and I remember, in the days and weeks that followed that devastating storm/levee failure, a lot of victim-blaming going on: “Why would those morons build The Sliver By The River in low-lying floodlands?” The same will get said, if it already hasn’t been, about Florida residents who build dream houses on the barrier islands or more modest dwellings in the myriad canal-cities. The human eye/heart never ceases to seek out beauty to lighten the load, no matter how closely that beauty cozies up to peril. They just want what so many people naturally desire in easing the drudgery of life: the sun shining on them, water proximity, maybe a fishing boat to escape the pressures of this world. Which, whether you live in the tropics or in the Minnesota tundra, nobody ever manages to escape. Not entirely.
We can’t all live in the Midwest. And besides, plenty of coastal types like to discount their misfortunes, too: “Why do those people choose to live in Tornado Alley?” To which I say we all live in a Tornado Alley of one sort or another. There’s some disaster, natural or otherwise, with all of our names on it. Don’t be arrogant, and pretend you’re above it. Because if you do, that’s all you’re doing, is pretending.
Read the whole thing and subscribe. As a bonus, Matt gives you the entirety of his 2005 piece where he went to New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. This piece will knock you flat. It’s one of the great magazine essays of the ‘00s.
Also: There’s something comforting about it now that we know how the Katrina story ends: New Orleans came back. It took years. It wasn’t the same. People were lost. Those who survived suffered.
But New Orleans came back.
And Florida will, too. So long as we pull together.
If you can, please consider donating to one of the relief efforts underway. World Central Kitchen is my go-to, because right now they’re in the field feeding Floridians who have no homes and the workers who are manning the rescue efforts.
You can help World Central Kitchen feed people in Florida, right now, by donating here.
2. Popular Information
Judd Legum continues to get the kinds of scoops that illuminate the cravenness of modern politics on the right.
Last June he reported on they hypocrisy of corporate America:
Since the murder of George Floyd, Verizon has been an outspoken advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement. In dozens of tweets and statements, Verizon has said that, as a company, it is not enough to express support for racial justice. The company has repeatedly said that it's committed to backing up those words with action.
"The events unfolding across the country that are rooted in hate are contradictory with our beliefs as a company and leave me with a feeling of regret and sadness. Verizon is fiercely committed to diversity and inclusion across all spectrums because it makes us and the world better...We cannot commit to a brand purpose of moving the world forward unless we are committed to helping ensure we move it forward for everyone," Verizon CEO said in a June 1 statement.
"Actions > Words.…[O]ur brand is taking a stand, pairing words with actions, and walking the walk!" Verizon tweeted on June 3. . . .
Verizon, however, hired right-wing provocateur Matt Schlapp to represent the company on Capitol Hill. Schlapp has spent the last few weeks smearing and insulting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Schlapp dismissed Black Lives Matter protests in DC as a political stunt by people who "refuse to hold the [Democratic] elected officials in [Minnesota] to account for Floyd's murder." Schlapp said that "all lives matter," a phrase that is routinely deployed by people seeking to delegitimize the Black Lives Matter movement. . . .
Schlapp has specifically criticized corporations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. He described the Black Lives Matter movement as "hostile to families, capitalism, cops, unborn life and gender." Schlapp attributed corporate support for the movement to "leftists" that have "infected" corporate boards with destructive ideas.
Legum went to Verizon to ask what was up. Verizon responded that they were no longer paying Schlapp. Which is nice, I guess? Though they had given the guy $800,000 since April 2013. (Not a typo.)
This all took place during the summer.
This week, Legum reported on Schlapp’s attempt to shake down these former clients so that he can get back on the teat:
In addition to being a corporate lobbyist, Schlapp is the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which is best known for hosting the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In that capacity, Schlapp wrote a letter to Republicans seeking leadership positions in the next Congress. In the letter, Schlapp says the way to earn the "support" of CPAC is "to reprimand corporations that have gone woke."
Specifically, Schlapp has asked current and prospective Republican leaders to “[p]ledge that you will not meet with these CEOs or their leadership teams, especially their Government Affairs staff, who have been hostile to policies that help all Americans until they change their ways."
Which corporations have gone "woke"? Schlapp says the group includes any corporation that supported the "BLM [Black Lives Matter] movement." He links to an article specifically blasting Walmart for its allegedly "woke" policies. And Schlapp says companies that pledged to cut off donations to Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election qualify as "woke" — those companies include his former clients Verizon, Abbott Labs, and Comcast.
In other words, now that these companies are not paying Schlapp, he wants Republican leaders to refuse to meet with them.
Schlapp's letter appears to be an effort to leverage a potential Republican majority in the House and Senate to revive his struggling lobbying firm.
I’m not sure if this is mau-mauing or a protection racket Schlapp is running.
Read the whole thing and subscribe. Legum does as much impactful journalism in a week as some media companies do in a year.
The irony in all of this is that the entire system would be more efficient if politicians and corporate America could just cut Schlapp out of the loop. Let Big Business pay its protection money to whatever pols are in power, directly. So long as it’s all done in public.
Instead, our set-up incentivizes middle-men like Schlapp to gin up outrage so that they can then get paid by the corporations in order to deliver votes from the politicians.
This arrangement is done in the name of “good government,” so that we don’t have businesses directly bribing the elected officials. And theory, that makes sense.
Yet part of me wonders if we wouldn’t be better off making the direct bribery legal and transparent. The corporations could get their preferred outcomes at a lower price. The public square wouldn’t get polluted by shakedown artists like Schlapp, who’s business is manufacturing outrage so that he can convert it to dollars. The voters would have a better sense of who was paying whom. And the politicians could spend more time legislating and less time fundraising.
It might be better for everyone except Matt Schlapp.
But that’s probably another point in favor of the idea.
3. DMV Pro Wrestling
Here is a category I’ve been waiting for: Substacks about pro-wrestling. I’m not talking about a dirt sheet, but a newsletter about wrestling history. This one, by Jeff Quinton, is about the history of wrestling in the D.C. area.
The only live wrestling show I’ve been to was the 1997 Starrcade at the then-MCI Center in DC. My sister and I got $30 tickets at the last minute and went on a lark. It was . . . underwhelming.
Anyway, in this edition of his newsletter, Quinton talks about the history of events at the Baltimore Arena:
The Baltimore Civic Center (renamed the Baltimore Arena) opened in 1962. It was built on the site of Congress Hall,where the 2nd Continental Congress met from December 1776 through February 1777.
The Beatles played there. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there. Minor league hockey and indoor soccer games have been played there, as well as NBA games when the Bullets were a Baltimore team before moving to Landover and becoming the Washington Bullets. Elvis Presley played there twice - in 1971 and 1977 a few months before his death.
There also is a wrestling history in the building going back to the beginning as well. In April 1965, WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino defeated Gene Kiniski in a return match for the title (see the full card). Kiniski became NWA champion soon after that. In 1997, Sammartino lost that same belt in the Civic Center to Superstar Billy Graham - which you can watch below.
Yes, that’s a young Vince McMahon doing color commentary.
Read the whole thing and subscribe, if you’re into this sort of thing. (I am.)
If you find this newsletter valuable, please hit the like button and share it with a friend. And if you want to get the Newsletter of Newsletters every week, sign up below. It’s free.
But if you’d like to get everything from Bulwark+ and be part of the conversation, too, you can do the paid version.