“Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth.
The unmentionalble odour of death
Offends the September night.”
–W.H. Auden, “September, 1939”
Historians may look back on September, 2008 as America’s economic 9/11. Major financial institutions are collapsing—to use a bitter analogy–like the twin towers: first, Bear Stearns (already 6 months ago!); and now, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and the insurance giant A.I.G. Just like 7 years ago, we cry out: What hit us? Who did this? Why?
Merrill Lynch helped finance the cotton trade before the Civil War! Say it was an essential “linch-pin” in the rise of the South on the backs of black slaves. Say that “free-market,” deregulated capitalism is now getting its due; if I am in steerage on the Titanic and I hear that the swells who have been dancing above our heads are about to take a dip in the sea, Schadenfreude doesn’t calm my queasy stomach.
NBC begins its broadcast with the news that I am now the proud owner of the world’s largest insurance company. Bull!. If I own something I can determine how to dispense with it; I can decide who will oversee my assets. Obviously, I and millions of other American taxpayers do not own a particle of A.I.G.; we’re just bailing it out. A.I.G. will be owned by America, Inc. and managed by people very similar to its former managers. The question is, Who owns America, Inc.?
It has become clear by September, 2008 that Americans own less and less. In the past year, hundreds of thousands have lost their homes. Millions no longer own their jobs. Jobs have been shipped overseas by the real owners of America, Inc.—our corporate bosses and their political shills. With our jobs went our job-related health care. We do not own our own health in W’s “ownership” society.
As I write this, some 3 million Americans are without power in Houston/Galveston and along the Gulf Coast. At least 50 Americans died as a result of Hurricane Ike. Cuba, far poorer than Texas, was hit much harder–and they lost 4 people. Cuba managed to safely evacuate 1 million people from its coasts. A couple of years ago, Texas tried to evacuate people before Hurricane Rita and more than 100 died along the roads—there wasn’t enough gas to supply the evacuees’ cars, and ambulances, etc., couldn’t get through the traffic. Do Americans collectively own their roads, their ambulances, FEMA, gas stations, oil refineries? What do we own except a ton of personal and national debt? “Americans” are trillions of dollars in debt to Japan, China, Western Europe, Russia and Middle East sheikdoms. Hail the New World Order!
I put “Americans” in quotes because we are no longer who we were. We can no longer claim to live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” There is nothing free here except the “free-market” our corporate bosses have foisteed on us and the rest of the world to open up foreign markets to our brand-name companies so that foreign workers can make products that “Americans” will buy at exorbitant prices. How did that happen? Hypnosis through the mass media that “Americans” were supposed to own—hypnosis through repetition, spectacle, diversion.
This September I am supposed to believe Press Secretary Dana Perino: “The president’s economic advisors had determined that some of these companies were so big—that to allow them to fail would have caused even greater harm … .” Unstated: apparently the president does not believe that the 50 million Americans without healthcare are “so big” that allowing them to fail would cause greater harm.
I am supposed to believe that John McCain is a “war-hero.” On the campaign trail, this decrepit muppet cannot get through his set speech without looking at his notes, but he repeats the mantra tirelessly. Frankly, I see nothing “heroic” in dropping bombs on civilians thousands of feet below. The true heroes of the Vietnam War died at Kent State, trying to stop that illegal, imperialist war. Say their names with reverence: Jeffrey, Allison, William, Sandra.
This September I am sick of the Reagan Revolution that comandeered our economy and our good sense over two decades ago. We’ve had Reagan’s orgy of deregulation, Bush Sr.’s “Gulf War,” Clinton’s backtracking on NAFTA and bombing of Serbia, and we have had more than enough of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption. And what have we reaped? What Chalmers Johnson calls the “blowback” of 9/11; and, dereliction of duty by elected officials; the abrogation of constitutional protections against government abuse and police powers; public media used as weapons of mass deception.
Isn’t it time to think in terms of a new revolution? What about a new constitution? Can’t we eliminate this ponderous, ludicrous electoral college? Must we have Palin-like surprises at the end of an 18-month process? Perhaps a parliamentary system in which we have a government-in-waiting, constantly vetted, makes better sense? Can we not institute referenda, as in Venezuela, so that scofflaws like Bush and Cheney do not run riot for four years (after stealing one, probably two, elections)? Must we have life-time appointments for Supreme Court “justices”? Can we not have a Bill of Economic Rights?
On the day Hitler invaded Poland Auden wrote that he was “Uncertain and afraid / As the clever hopes expire / Of a low dishonest decade.” And that: “I and the public know/ What all schoolchildren learn: / Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.”
Is it not past time to take back America? Or is Auden right: “The habit-forming pain, / Mismanagement and grief: / We must suffer them all again.”
I want to believe he is most right here: “All I have is a voice / To undo the folded lie … / … the lie of Authority. …” And here: “ … no one exists alone. … / We must love one another or die.”