Disasters are live-action infomercials for big government…


Comedian Nato Green writes about Hurricane Sandy, the NYU hospital evacuation, and the contrast between the merit of big government and the villainization of all things public.


I was scheduled to fly from San Francisco to New York on Sunday night to resume writing Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell on FX. Hurricane Sandy cancelled my flight and I was spared the anxiety of flying directly into the fifth, soggiest circle of Hell.

Watching the news coverage from afar, Hurricane Sandy has provided a welcome relief from the unyielding tsunami of vacuous electoral blather. Mother Earth rained a golden shower of truth down the gullet of every pundit.

The backup generators went out at NYU hospital. This should not be possible. The electricity should never go out at the most vital civic institutions—the hospital, prison, and the taqueria. Nurses evacuated the hospital by carrying PICU and NICU patients down nine flights of stairs in the dark.

People are quick to call first responders heroes. But I spent years working for the nurses union and am married to a nurse practitioner, and saw time and again that they don’t call themselves heroes. They won’t let a patient die if they can help it. It’s that simple. The fact that we call nurses and firefighters heroes for doing their jobs just shows how selfish the rest of us are. The rest of us rose up to cry in one unified voice: “I’ve been posting George Takei pictures all day! What more do you want from me? No, I can’t go volunteer. The rain will aggravate my trench foot.”

Remember the NYU hospital evacuation next time a politician demands a cut in pensions or benefits. Remember it when the likes of Scott Walker and the Chris Christie skip across the land complaining how front-line service workers have it too good and taxpayers can’t afford it. I kinda think that if you’re willing to run down nine floors with a premie baby on a battery-powered respirator into the armageddon, you’ve earned a pension and a low deductible on your PPO.

Disasters are live-action infomercials for big government. A crisis will flex and strain the muscles and tendons of big government until government’s nipples bleed under their racing tank-top: the taut glutes of regulation, the shredded abs of infrastructure investment, the rippling quads of highly-trained and well-paid unionized workers with real safety standards.

At one extreme you have the ripped, disciplined, and prepared Michael Phelps of government springing into action. At the other extreme you have the malnourished, drug-addled, and skittish government wholly unable to prepare or respond to a disaster. Think Haiti after the earthquake.

There are plutocrats who in their pillow talk believe that if you are poor enough to be hurt by a storm, then that is the natural consequence of your foolish choice to be poor. If natural disasters create the occasional Malthusian spike in immiseration and death, then it will be good for dividends. At best, human suffering that doesn’t affect me is not my problem. The stalwarts of the 1% would gladly replace FEMA with the Federal Country Club Maintenance Administration.

Right now the merit of big, burly, over-reaching, centralized, government contrasts sharply with the exuberant villainization of all things public by both parties. Both parties love austerity while loathing debt, spending, regulation, public workers, and taxes. Both candidates wring their hands about the debt and compete over who is most on the free enterprise system’s nuts. The difference between Obama and Romney is in degree.

Republican talking points could sustain years of research by psychologists seeking to understand the boundless capacity of the human mind to contain contradictions. In the debates, Romney attacked President Obama for not creating enough jobs, and then said the government can’t create jobs, and then said that we need to create jobs by cutting government spending. He said these things without bleeding from his ears or fainting from the dizziness of contradicting himself in the same sentence.

Romney may not be aware that the President is totally part of the government. He’s like in charge of it and whatnot. Also, government spending is mostly spent on jobs. Yes, they’re government jobs, and maybe you don’t like what they do, but then say that. Sending reasonably-paid government employees to work at Hot Dog on a Stick isn’t a net gain for the GDP.

You know who was no help at all during the storm? Job-creators. Small businesses. This election has been an epic love sonnet to the glory of the American entrepreneur. We’ve heard a lot about them, until this week. Turns out they’re not that rad if you need to fistfight Neptune. They’re great if you want to invest in a timeshare. Totally useless if you’re chest deep in seawater without electricity or food.

Next time they dust off the canard about the noble job-creator, feel free to throw the NYU nurses in their carbo-loaded faces. Nurses carry your baby to safety. Entrepreneurs don’t carry shit. Bankers don’t rescue dick. Bankers carry golf clubs.

Meanwhile, the lights stayed on at Goldman Sachs. Every floor. Never mind the children, they had to keep Sheldon Adelson’s offshore accounts on life support.

San Francisco native Nato Green is the country’s only semi-functional hybrid of comedian, writer, and union organizer. In 2018, Nato Green released his second comedy album The Whiteness Album on Blonde Medicine Records, appeared in the film Sorry to Bother You, and lived in Cuba for six months. The Whiteness Album was named by NPR show Bullseye with Jesse Thorn one of the best comedy albums of 2018. Nato’s writing has appeared in the LA Review of Books, the San Francisco Examiner, In These Times, VICE, Truthdig, Huffington Post, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Rumpus, and The Bold Italic. Nato has been named San Francisco’s Best Comedian by the SF Weekly, Huffington Post, SFist, and CBS. More from this author →