A wicked vibe rattles the mental furniture in men's minds these days. Against the dreadful normality of American life - the morning traffic on I-495, the mayhem awaiting in some school cafeteria or motor vehicle office, the household awakenings to a new dawn of foreclosure here, there, and everywhere - all this ceremony of the familiar is like a stage backdrop that conceals the awful crush of history. Things are swaying and crashing outside the magic theater of the normal, where we act out our tragicomedy of "Waiting for Recovery."
I have never lived in a time when so many false narratives competed for supremacy of the collective mind-space. Omnipresent as it is, reality seems to elude us, and certainly its supposed interlocutors - figures such as presidents, his highest appointed officials, their voluble, strutting opponents in the other party, the glamorpusses behind the Cable TV news desks, poor dim Bill Keller at The New York Times, and, of course, the necromancers of economics on campuses from Cambridge to Palo Alto.
A more primitive radar would conclude that the planet Earth is angrier than usual this year. Japan is still in a radioactive daze from the seventeen inch shove it suffered and lots of people in Carolina are surely shaking their heads over this weekend's visitation of wrath. Is it possible that climate change and Jesus are one and the same? Let them figure that out in the little cinderblock roadside chapels next Sunday before they all trundle over to the Nascar track.
It was heartening at least to see a few signs of life "out there" in the karmic interstices. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan sent a memo to the Attorney General of the US - viz: something has been going on in Wall Street that merits your attention. As in most seemingly crucial turnings lately, echo answered. Can someone please check to see if Eric Holder over in the Department of Justice is leaking sawdust? He must be stuffed something. Styrofoam would just make him look lumpy. Could he be a computer graphic? Or is he just a simple slab of cardboard with a photo glued on. Perhaps Senator Levin's next memo might be in the form of a subpoena to Mr. Holder, requesting his testimony as to how many trillions of dollars were snookered, swindled, and Ponzied out of the US public for the benefit of about a thousand guys in and around lower Manhattan (with branch offices in suburban Connecticut and New Jersey). (Cue: sound of Timberwolves howling.)
Gretchen Morganson and Louise Story over at The New York Times put out a related query last week, asking how come nobody went to jail for misdeeds in the banking sector after several years of incidental revelation through things such as senate hearings, Web journalism, and a few vagrant strolls down the Maiden Lanes of the Federal Reserve's balance sheets. How did "the newspaper of record" come to wait so long to ask that question? Not even the Times's Op-Ed viziers have essayed to ask why Lloyd Blankfein is not parked in a court of law instead of a limo. Morganson and Story appeared to conclude that the web of turpitude in finance was too complex for anybody in a disciplinary role to understand, and that was that. Run up the white flag. We give up.
Last week, Eliot Spitzer called out the US attorney general, the alphabet agency regulators, and the secretary of the treasury on Anderson Cooper's nightly CNN slot. Spitzer, you will recall, the New York attorney general, then briefly governor, was discovered to have had relations with a prostitute. How unfortunate. But consider this: it was at least an honest commercial transaction. Of all the complaints lodged in the matter, none involved any failure to pay the required fees. Spitzer now has his own TV show - which is truly one of the miracles of our time (and I mean that it's a good thing). He was joined on Cooper's slot by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, who has done the bravest and most truthful reporting by far on our national clusterfuck. Taibbi reported last week - one of a now-long string of pithy, revalatory articles going back a couple of years - that two bimbo wives of Morgan Stanley executives set up a hedge fund with $14 million in "walking around" money from their hubbies, and parlayed it (no doubt with help) into a $200 million-plus TALF bailout drop. Now that the story is out, will any regulators or prosecutors have a look? Nobody in the public arena has even suggested it.
Of course, I continue to marvel that the Hamptons have not been burned down by an angry mob of "99ers" marching down the Sunrise Highway. Perhaps that kind of action is yet-to-come during the summer when the Federal Reserve will have to decide to either destroy American currency, or watch the S & P sink to 200... when various sun struck nations around the Mediterranean move to stiff the banks of northern Europe... when the Tea Party ventures to prang the operations of the US government over the debt ceiling sometime in July. Meanwhile, consider how many people will get shot in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and other places around the center of the World's oil production capacity. Business may be down at Walt Disney World this coming vacation season.
To me, the outcome of all this was clear a while ago: a world made by hand. Incidentally, watch Japan lead the way, as they give up on the industrial meth trip and return to a traditional society. Readers think I'm kidding about this. We're heading there, too. The signs are unmistakable. It's not as bad you think, either. We'll become reacquainted with that fugitive experience, reality. Disillusion is not the worst thing that can happen to people. We can re-direct all the effort that we put into gaming our own asses and cast off the awful weight of pretending to be what we no longer are.
Barack Obama has waited a bit too long to change the national storyline using the authority of his high office. It's not about "growth" and "recovery." It's about managing contraction and becoming a different sort of American society. Observers of the scene have made a mistake about Obama. He's not "eloquent." He's merely respectable. Being able to speak in grammatical sentences is not the same as having anything to say. It will be a sorrowful day when he is replaced by a genuine idiot like Michele Bachman, but it will happen because he wasn't able to set the tone for his times with something like a straight story, or a memo to his chief law enforcement officer.
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