The Changes And Chances Of This Mortal Life
Because there was of course the radio. And the Internet. And the short, clear signals that would arise out of the dull hum as, waiting in line at the grocery store, I would pick up scraps of conversation from other persons seeking to secure their daily bread before it becomes unavailable, unaffordable, or made entirely of coal tar, poplar chips and fungicide.
And now that I'm back, my battered old ridge-top aluminum antenna firing its weak signal down the coax, through the box, the sweet sine waves filtered and chopped and channeled into strings of either-or, now that I can have it all again (or all but channel eight which, transmitting a bit off-axis from the compromise direction I use to haul in the rest, is often just a few frozen pixels), I find it all, again and still, more unwelcome than worthy. It's nice to have Bill back of course. And Dwight K. Schrute.
About twenty years ago my little town voted nearly unanimously (I opposed it) to abandon paper ledgers and card files and do all our collective business on computers. It was an expensive and complicated change and appeared to me to be driven by no observed or reported fault in the traditional system. But one argument, given voice again and again as residents rose to speak in favor of the change, proved terribly convincing: It's time to move into the Twenty-First Century.
And so, now, we have. Literally. And I even did a one-year tour as treasurer, poking the keyboard and mousing through the screens and fields, using a pen only to sign the checks the machinery produced. We are well started on this century. I see little evidence that we have discovered or invented a way of looking at the world and of carrying ourselves in it that will take us anywhere except deeper into the trenches we dug during our worst lapses of the century now gone.
George Bush is gone. And that, as they say on the television, is a good thing. Our new president is smarter, smirks less, curtails his ridiculous religious beliefs better in public, and does not have a receiver in his brain tuned to Karl Rove's transmitter or a servo-motor that causes his jaws to grind out the pronouncements of Richard B. Cheney. We do still have both the Republican and Democratic parties to our dismay, and the members thereof. President Obama often expresses his desire that they might be combined into the happier and more efficient form known as the Bipartisan party. For most practical purposes, of course, they have so been for some time. That he does not see this might make one wonder if he's as startlingly smart as his friends at the various anchor desks tell us he is.
We are now engaged in a great economic upheaval that pretty much everyone says is "the worst since the Great Depression." It was caused, they tell us, by "the housing bubble" or "the credit crunch." These are imprecise terms. As any old Dodgers fan will tell you the absquatulation of the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957 did not happen because of "market forces", but because a businessman named Walter Francis O'Malley willed it so. Likewise, your inability to get a loan or a job or to sell your house or to pay your debts must be laid to men and women who caused this recession of their own free will. Some did so ignorantly, some deliberately; all operated for their own gain. Many did their work on Wall Street; many more were housed in banks and insurance companies; several hundred critical players were and still are members of Congress.
The junk bond kings and day traders and deal makers and mortgage bundlers and instrument-inventors were only doing what it was their nature to do. They were slipping around and through the cracks in our economic edifice seeking leaks and weaknesses they could exploit. Any rat in any alley will work his dumpsters the same. They ought not be blamed for what they are. Most should be put out of business, many should be jailed, some should probably be killed. They are vermin, but they will exist and function and prosper so long as we run by a system that gives them openings.
But when this class of non-productive, margin-living lice infiltrated the meeting rooms of our policy-making classes they were not treated to a quick dose of termination powder; they were instead welcomed, told they were essential participants in our great collective journey, and asked how their lives might be made easier and more satisfying. Why, we only need less regulation, they cried, fewer restrictions, no oversight! And so it came to pass that Congress said, Go and be free! Let the banks speculate; let the insurance companies be banks; let the blessed Free Market, wise beyond any man or institution, work its magic.
And here we are. Now the Republicans are greatly disturbed by the prospect of an unbalanced budget. So are a few conservative Democrats. No matter that for eight years we ran enormous deficits fighting and financing unnecessary and illegal and immoral wars while nearly eliminating the taxation of the very rich-those were prudent and necessary deficits to keep us safe from the Axis Of Evil.
Democrats, of course, did virtually nothing to obstruct or oppose either of our present wars or the transfer of wealth upward or the dissolution of oversight while greed tore out our economic footings. This raises the question of whether it is worse to be a psychopath or to stand by eating sandwiches and reading tabloid newspapers while members of the psychopath club in your neighborhood eat all the children and strut about the streets taking credit for it.
But now we are blessed with the Change We Can Believe In. The operative word here, I fear, is believe. You can believe Jesus will help you into Heaven or you'll be born again in a better world or John Frum will fly to your island with a splendid load of wonderful cargo. I guess that can carry some satisfactorily all the way through life, but it doesn't help me get through even one hard-earned day
I see President Obama, having surrounded himself with advisors well-schooled in the very principles and practices that have landed us in unending war and unraveling economy, doing what members of that class have always done-rewarding wealth, incompetence and malfeasance, shifting blame to the victims and passing the bill to the future.
Last fall we were shocked at the prospect of throwing away seven hundred billion dollars on bad bankers and broken businesses. We are now so many bailouts down the line that we accept the inevitability of multiple trillions of dollars going nowhere to do no one who needs help any good. Congress and President Obama will give AIG whatever it wishes. America must help its troubled insurance companies. We shall lubricate the shotgun wedding of Chrysler and Fiat. It's just the right thing to do.
Oh, when the rabble gets agitated about having its tax money given out as million-dollar bonuses to corporate bosses, Obama can put together a nice speech about just how darned angry it all makes him, but a few days later, a few score billion more are spooned into the conduits.
And we are not leaving Iraq. We've established a timetable for removing combat troops, but the privateers and mercenaries and advisors and trainers and millions and billions and trillions of dollars are not coming home. And we're going back into Afghanistan, the destroyer of empires, to root out remnants of the same bogeyman George Bush used so effectively to scare us out of our money and rights for six years. And in Pakistan (which the President curiously and annoyingly calls Pockyston) we open a new front, antagonize a bigger, better-armed, and nuclear nation.
New century, new president, new Congress. Same old, tired, failed ideas. Give public money to private interests. Reduce oversight and remove accountability. Feed the military-Industrial complex as much wealth as it demands; console the widows and orphans with condolence letters, casket flags and lies. Flog the myths of "Clean Coal" and "Energy Independence."
And while we're building roads with "Stimulus" money for cars we won't be able to buy, and while the promise of universal health care will be diverted and subverted and turned into another boon to the same insurance companies that have made health care unaffordable and impossible, and while the very organizations that beat up on poor old G.W. for his warmongering are silent while Barack Obama escalates (MoveOn approving, apparently, Democratic wars), and while Public Radio gives air time to a conventional-wisdom-afflicted public affairs moderator named Diane Rehm who whines to a guest advocating an inquiry into the Constitutional abuses of the administration just retired, "We must move on!", while we are encouraged to buy more crap we don't need to refire the engines of consumer demand, while we prove incapable of learning from our errors and excesses, we lurch forward into a world we cannot see coming.
This is the Twenty-First Century. It will be hot. The storms will get worse. The water will run out and the food will fail. Money will not save us; not your stock portfolio, not your precious 401K, not the boxes of bills delivered to General Motors. Our wars will be a bloody and expensive sideshow of no consequence except to our victims. In this new century, in our lifetimes, in the years so close that our middle-managers already have meeting dates marked in their daily planners, we will come up against population and pollution and natural systems overloaded and uncontrollable by any military or economic or industrial firepower or religious faith we will own. No less than after 1492 we enter an unknown New World.
We will know the Change We Cannot Avoid.
Expect no bailout.