Useful lessons from the blizzard about ourselves & our future

Summary:  Every crisis tells us something about ourselves, and who we’re becoming. This post looks for lessons from the NYC snowpocalypse, so revealing about the state of 21st Century America — its people and leaders. This is a follow-up to Winter Storm Juno warns scientists not to burn away their credibility.

A 21st C American


  1. Typically outrageous actions by our leaders
  2. Obvious but important observations
  3. Putting the pieces together: the big picture
  4. For More Information

(1)  Typically outrageous actions by our leaders

From the smouldering embers at the Left comes this apt summary, by Jerry White at the World Socialist website.

By 6 p.m. Monday night, Cuomo ordered the shutdown of all transportation, saying only emergency vehicles would be allowed on the streets of New York City — and roads in 13 state counties — as of 11 p.m. “If you violate this state order,” he said, “it’s a possible misdemeanor; it’s fines up to $300.” The governor also activated the New York National Guard, which dispatched 260 soldiers and airmen.

As the storm approached, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Thomas Prendergast, said there would be no reason to close the subway system, which is largely underground and protected from the snow, because “We’d be able to run trains.”

By 11 p.m., however, even as it was becoming apparent that the worst snowfall was well to the east and north of New York City, Cuomo, apparently without consulting with Mayor de Blasio or the New York City transit command center, went ahead and shut down the subway system, the only remaining transportation in the city. This was the first time trains were halted because of snow in the 110-year history of the system, which serves more than four million commuters each day.

As it turned out, the subway system actually continued to run in order to keep the tracks clear, just without passengers.

The Brooklyn Paper reported that the subways ran anyway (just without passengers), that closing it was unnecessary even in a severe blizzard, and in the words of an insider “The closure will strand people and put lives at risk, not because the subways can’t run, but because Cuomo wants to look good.”

Modern Americans, as our leaders see us.
21st C Americans, as our leaders see us.

(2)  Obvious but important observations

From Ira Stoll (editor, FutureOfCapitalism) at TIME:

Politicians are on power trips. This is true both of Republicans like the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who honed his command-and-control techniques during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, and Democrats like the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, and New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who appeared to see the storm as an opportunity to distract the public from their political problems. When were mayors and governors given the power to ban travel by individual citizens?

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism goes to the hidden heart of the snowpocalypse debate:

{B}efore the days of cellphones … if you got stuck in your car in the snow, you really could be in serious trouble, particularly since this was a small town/rural area, so it could be quite a while before you’d be rescued. But the officialdom issued plenty of warnings and let people decide for themselves.

… But there is a lot of difference between issuing warnings and taking more forceful measures. … I’m bothered by the continued creep of safety concerns being used to restrict individual movements. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but citizens used to be deemed competent to make prudent choices.

In a follow-up post she explains…

I’m inclined to see the behavior of the authorities {as} a reflection of the creeping, ugly, more authoritarian post 9/11 new normal. Government officials have new tools and new powers at their disposal, and they’ve come to see their use as routine.

A comment made the point more clearly:

{F}reedom of movement — like so many other things — is fast losing its status as a basic right. And there are kids almost in their twenties now who basically assume this is perfectly normal and that it has always been this way.

(3)  Putting the pieces together: the big picture

A crisis shows our underlying character
From the smouldering embers at the Left comes some of the rare bits of political insight, by Jerry White at the World Socialist website.

The response of the authorities follows an all too familiar pattern in “post 9/11 America.”

There is a deliberate effort to keep the American people in a constant state of fear—over terrorism and “national security threats,” and warnings about outbreaks of Ebola and other diseases. Real or exaggerated threats are utilized to declare states of emergency, suspend democratic norms and condition the population for armed troops on the streets.

The national news media … takes up a large portion of its daily reporting with coverage of floods, mudslides, earthquakes, tornadoes and lightning strikes. This sensationalist storm chasing is in lieu of any serious analysis of world events and helps conceal how the decisions made by the ruling elite each day imperil the world’s people.

… After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the city’s then-mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg and the utility giants made sure electricity was quickly restored to the New York Stock Exchange and the luxury high-rise apartments in Manhattan, while working-class and poor residents of the city were abandoned without water and electricity.

Aside from these considerations, the ruling class saw in the storm an opportunity to promote an atmosphere of hysteria and create new precedents for extraordinary state actions. Fearful of the eruption of popular opposition over the immense levels of social inequality and the retrograde policies of both big-business parties, the response of the political establishment to every potential disruption of the continued accumulation of wealth by the super-rich, even uncertain prospects of a heavy snowfall, is police state measures: lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, etc.

This week in New York City, we saw the methods of the “war on terror” deployed to fight snowflakes falling from the sky.

That nails it. As I said back in 2008, the Founders believed that the outcome of the American experiment in self-government depended upon the strength of the American spirit.  We see it tested today as perhaps never before at our airports (indoctrinating people in pointless compliance) and in the increasingly frequent and broad assertions of government power — such as locking down Boston to search for the marathon bombers and this weeks’ NYC blizzard.

These actions, large and small, accustom us to accept arbitrary authority, applied with no rational purpose.  Our passive acceptance of this — it is not even a minor issue in the election — suggests that  in our hearts we may no longer be a free people.

I grow increasingly convinced that there is no solution to this that does not begin with anger. — both at ourselves (at what we’ve become) and at our leaders for their destruction of the Republic’s foundations.

(4)  For More Information

This is a follow-up to Winter Storm Juno warns scientists not to burn away their credibility. Also see all posts about anger as a political lever, and the several dozen posts discussing the mechanics of political reform.

He’s not happy with us

He’s not happy with us. If we don’t shape up soon — regaining control of The Republic — he might resign as our national bird:




1 thought on “Useful lessons from the blizzard about ourselves & our future”

  1. Excellent post. I hadn’t thought about it, but FM is exactly right that our leaders have seize on trivial inconveniences (like snowstorms) to further erode our already diminished basic rights as citizens.

    Extraordinary military/police restrictions imposed “for the duration of the emergency” used to be the telltale warning that banana republics were imposing tyranny. “For the duration of the emergency” has now become SOP for our leaders in post-9/11 America.

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