The Dog Days of September

“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.”

Gary Corseri's work has appeared at Dissident Voice, Common Dreams, CounterPunch, the New York Times, Village Voice and hundreds of other venues. His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum. His books include novels and poetry collections. He can be reached at: gary_corseri@comcast.net. Read other articles by Gary.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. David said on September 20th, 2008 at 10:31am #

    Gary,

    Nicely done article.

    Let me try to answer your primary question of “Must we…?”

    It’s yes, sadly. Why? Most of us simply don’t live long enough to become wise enough to see what’s going on. If we do live long enough, we don’t have the wherewithal to do something about it. For when the light finally comes on, for most of us our spirit and hopes and dreams are ground down to nubs, our bodies are tired, and the “fear of the universe” spoken of by William James which has haunted us for so long in our brief lives has taken its toll.

    A. E. Housman knew this and so he wrote:

    And how am I to face the odds
    Of man’s bedevilment and God’s?
    I, a stranger and afraid
    In a world I never made.

    Thanks.
    David

  2. HR said on September 20th, 2008 at 1:10pm #

    Only one problem with this article: use of the empty phrase, “… take back America …,” a phrase far too bandied about by the “left”. Tell me, when did common people ever HAVE this country? It has from the beginning been ruled by the upper class, as it was designed to be.

  3. bozhidar bob balkas said on September 20th, 2008 at 1:28pm #

    gary asks, “is it not past time to get back america?”
    this question is linked w. many salient facts. one is, did working blacks, latinos, indigenes, whites ever own america?
    in order that working class be excluded from decisions making, the ruling class took care to establish and allow only one party.
    i only have limited knowledge about what each member of the one party (or one goose w. 2 wings) thinks/ says/does, but of what i know, one cld find many dems to the right of repubs and repubs left of many dems.
    and nearly all of them r right of most fascists.
    how else to explain slavery? lynching? mandatory basic schooling in order to rally children around the flag which demanded instant answers and obedience to it; ie, the ruling class?
    how else to explain the fact higher education was available only to those people who cld afford it?
    and in early days only the sons of nobles (ruling class member’s) cld obtain higher education in order to manage the country.
    so what adams, hamilton, jefferson, et al did was to do nothing different than what Peter the Great, Bismarck, Napoleon, Caeser, Alexander the Great did.
    why have bns of people not seen that structurally (but not cosmetically) not much changed over millennia?
    to my knoweledge, tyrants ruled then and despots rule now. only despots/terrorists cld have waged wars against palestine, afghanistan, korea, vietnam, iraq.
    it’s not just amers who need their country back. in every country it is the same;exception being a socialist land like cuba.
    bush is no meaner than stalin, jefferson, clinton, blair, caeser, kaiser, tsar, kennedy; he is (read uncle) just more powerful thus can kill more people than polk or kennedy cld.
    in schools, as far as know, it was always important to have answers and blink time but studioulsy avoiding to teach the children to ask questions.
    true, nature is stingy with answers but we can only learn from nature (of which we r a part) by asking questions.
    clerico-political-educational class have all the answers but few if any questions, doubts, ifs, etc.
    naturally, politicians know or have been tutored to ansewr a well chosen questions. thank u

  4. Jim Crittenden said on September 20th, 2008 at 6:41pm #

    Sir,

    This is the most refreshing essay I have read in twenty-eight years. I still think that, properly regulated, instant runoff voting could end many of the evils we face today. Thanks.

  5. Max Shields said on September 21st, 2008 at 4:53am #

    Jim Crittenden,
    Just change pluality to majority and voila. Add IRV to provide the results “instantly” and watch the third party candidates spring eternal.

    Increases voter turnout, provides choices, keeps the campaigns focused on real issues, eliminates “spoiler” and eliminates the “calculus” of lesser of two evils, and the “winner” has broad support. Utterly changes the dynamics of politics in America with its one party of war and imperial pursuits.

    Instant run off – it’s a beautiful thing!!

  6. BRUCE TYLER WICK said on September 21st, 2008 at 2:52pm #

    (FOR GARY CORSERI)

    RE: KENT STATE and HEROISM

    <>

    Dear Mr. Corseri:

    Finally, someone has made the link, not only between Kent State and Vietnam, but between protest and heroism!

    Students called the noonday assembly that fateful day to consider the invasion and occupation of the Kent State campus by armed men, Ohio National Guardsmen, and more generally, to protest the condition of their lives.

    Not all of course attended. Bill Schroeder, a ROTC Cadet, was shot dead on his way to a PT class. But in death Schroeder joins in sympathy, and even in interest, the others shot dead or wounded that day. Why? Because Governor Rhodes and University President White had made the decision at their firehouse meeting to keep the University open and functioning WITH the assistance of armed men (the Guardsmen)–AND to prevent or disperse all (unapproved) assemblies.

    Yet, the common law duty of a presiding officer, in this case University President White, was to ADJOURN any meeting or assembly at which he could not guarantee the participants’ safety, and to send the participants safely home–not to try to carry on in the presence of soldiers armed to the teeth.

    No one examining the photo of Bill Schroeder, which hangs in the Student Union, could fail to agree he belongs with the protesters. Bare chested, muscled yet pensive; Schroeder is fully engaged, open to life and to the world and ready for both. He plays the part assigned him in this drama wrought by the gods of war. Soldiering off to class as instructed, oblivious to his danger despite his training; Schroeder perseveres in his duty in the face of adversity and distraction, only to be murdered for his tenacity.

    Thank you for again reminding me of history’s sometimes circular paths.

    Respectfully,

    BRUCE TYLER WICK
    Cleveland, Ohio

  7. Lloyd Rowsey said on September 22nd, 2008 at 4:29pm #

    Gee, my thanks to Gary and David, followed by my quotation from WB Yeats offended somebody?

  8. Lloyd Rowsey said on September 22nd, 2008 at 4:33pm #

    Or was it that I said “I love” Auden and Housman? This publication is TOO much.

  9. Lloyd Rowsey said on September 23rd, 2008 at 2:20pm #

    In any case, I’ll try this again, by personal request:

    “Thank you, Gary and David.

    And although I love Auden and Houseman, presently I bow down only to the master:

    And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
    Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
    Heart mysteries there, and yet when all is said
    It was the dream itself enchanted me:
    Character isolated by a deed
    To engross the present and dominate memory.
    Players and painted stage took all my love
    And not those things that they were emblems of.

    WB Yeats, The Circus Animals’ Desertion”

  10. Gary Corseri said on September 23rd, 2008 at 3:06pm #

    When has there been so much good poetry quoted back and forth at Dissident Voice?

    Sure beats the diatribes and personal vindictives one reads at too many sites!

    Maybe we’re on to something?

    I’m honored to think I may have precipitated such elevated discussion.

    Thanks to all who took the time to write.

    Jim, thanks for the most refreshing, most balmy, feedback I’ve had in 28 years!

    Bozhidar, you’re right to take me to task for the phrase “Take back America.” When writing, one strives always for the original phrase, an encomium, maxim or trope. And, still, despite one’s best efforts, one occasionally falls back on the crutch of a bromide. Thanks for your expansive exposition.

    Thanks, too, to Bruce Tyler Wick for reminding us of what true heroism means–the cost and sacrifice of it. If we must honor the soldiers who do the bidding of Empire, let us honor and never forget those brave, enlightened souls who have opposed Empire and its atrocities.

    We are in for some very dark days and years ahead. Many of us with some vision have predicted this Collapse for years or decades. Many more have striven to pooh-pooh such predictions. We’d best pull together and row now. Thanks to Dissident Voice, and sites like it, for providing the wherewithal to build connections.