You kind of wonder here in the flash-frozen northeast if, a few days from now, scores of dead bodies will be found in unheated trailers across the county. The Weather Channel said 20-below-zero this morning in upstate New York. I know there are people so desperately poor out there because a couple of weeks ago I overheard a supermarket worker say she couldn't afford to buy propane. And she had a job!
I haven't left the house myself for two days and a Snow Leopard installation put my iMac into a hang-up deepfreeze all its own (I'm on the MacBook now). But enough about me.... I wonder if Barack Obama himself is sleeping in a casket in the White House basement these days, waiting for fairer conditions before facing a nation spinning into the dark unknown. Of course he has to put in the annual appearance before a mostly hostile joint session of congress later in the week. I can't imagine that coming off as anything but an orgy of self-congratulation for our national wonderfulness - especially on the occasion of a multiple slaying - and cheerleading for the marvelous restoration of the set of revolving rackets we call "the economy." I pray to all the Gods that assorted heroes du jour will not be planted in the balcony of the House Chamber and subject to the Reagan-style show-and-tell, which the Gipper's managers so astutely used as a sly distraction from straight talk about where we are at as a polity.
The bloodbath in Tucson completely obscured a momentous development in Mr. Obama's executive sphere, when he brought on JP Morgan factotum William Daley as White House Chief of Staff, for Gawdsake, and nobody in the news media so much as coughed into his (or her) sleeve. He also hired recent Goldman Sachs errand boy Gene Sperling to direct the National Economic Council. At Goldman, Sperling was charged with running self-esteem workshops for Third Worlders - an obvious public relations ploy. You wonder now whether he'll be carting American "99-ers" off to the Aspen Institute for weekends of buffet line cruising and "ideating" - to use a popular new vapidity from the lexicon of Big Business.
Last Thursday, Mr. Obama actually flew up to my home territory to visit the headquarters of General Electric and sign on its CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, as yet another White House special economic advisor. Notice, by the way, that GE was the recipient of untold billions of TARP pixie dust. I wonder if the president got a good look at GE's home base, Schenectady, New York, a once-vibrant industrial dynamo now so sclerotic that it makes the former soviet Magnetogorsks and Traktorgrads sound like El Dorados.
Meanwhile, GE only incidentally makes electrical things anymore. Mostly, like everything else in America, they became a financial company, looking for ways to make money off of money, and mostly losing heaps of money in the process - for the excellent reason that it's really not possible to get something for nothing in this universe, though we wish it were. Likewise, GE's vaunted new battery initiative, which is aimed mainly at the idea that we can run the whole US vehicle fleet on electricity (mostly powered by coal, you understand, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels) is another quixotic project based on something-for-nothing wishes.
The weird part is that a president can journey to a place like Schenectady - once a fine, small-scaled walkable city with first-rate public transit on a major waterway (the Mohawk River / Erie Canal system) plus the New York Central Railroad main line - and never notice that the future of this society waits in realms and actions other than the tragic habit of Happy Motoring. He certainly didn't use the occasion to make a single remark on that theme, which is probably the only true alt.energy scenario that might prevent America from sliding into a dark age.
The appointments of Daley, Sperling, and Immelt show not just the total "capture" of Obama's government by sociopathic corporate interests (which, after all, have the sole mission of rewarding their shareholders, boards of directors, and executives), but it also shows the astounding poverty of imagination at the center of American political life. This is a fatal vacuum that invites something like revolution, because the only thing this vacuum seeks to do is suck things outside of itself into its own darkness.
Revolutions come in many styles. This one is shaping up to look rather red-and-slippery, because the grift has really amounted to the wholesale theft of a generation's future. There are 21-year-olds out there right now laboring under massive burdens of college loans that they were swindled into signing at a time when the parts of their brain concerned with judgment had not fully developed, and they are every bit as smart as the men running the predatory corporations today. Even after they eventually give up paying their debt-peonage tuition loans, they are going to be very pissed off at the way the older generation ran their country into the ground. Let's just hope that the mental torture inflicted on them doesn't turn them into a legion of Jared Lee Loughners.