The Worst of Times

1.
Idiot Nation

It’s not only a meltdown, it’s recession but no politician, even economists would dare use the term, lest the global fear becomes palpable, real: the financial whiz kids have been found out & Wall Street is Main Street.

Will this cause a social upheaval in America? Will a revolution – in the classic Leninist formulation – occur in the heartland of capitalism?

The people are screwed: their houses expropriated, their credit lines cut, their pension fund turned Mickey Mouse, & oldtimers expect to work beyond their retirement years. The word fun, the daily Hollywood mantra, suddenly turns toxic.

But no! The poor will not mount such wished-for offensive: North America is in the grip of the Hegelian master-slave dialectics; & they will loathe only the superrich who run off with their money on the sly, not the kind that creates – in their mind – jobs to sustain the middleclass. Far be it from them to scrutinize the complexity of labor-capital problematics: money in the pocket is the only sure thing they are comfortable with, the rest is Marxist abstraction & agitprop. That they are subliminally complicit to the exponential growth of capital isn’t a big deal.

How does exploitation become real & evident in their own eyes?

No such possibility, perhaps, as explained by Michael Moore’s Idiot Nation, where “there are forty-four million Americans who cannot read and write above a fourth-grade level – in other words, who are functional illiterates” & this makes things “scary… [for America that] goes out of its way to remain ignorant and stupid… [It] is a nation that should not be running the world – at least not until a majority of its citizens can locate Kosovo (or any other country it has bombed) on the map.”

& These dolts constitute the blue-collar class: how could they see clearly through the economistic fog of credit squeeze & the Janus-faces of Obama & McCain?

Surely, in the words of Brad Stones: “they can resent the enormous riches generated on Wall Street. At the same time, they can venerate other kinds of wealth – Silicon Valley’s, for example.”

He goes on to stress the pragmatism of the labor class which is blind to its enabling act on supercapital… “people can actually see and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Donald Trump builds office towers and puts his name on them. Steven Spielberg makes movies with nice special effects. Martha Stewart [who was imprisoned for insider trading] decorates our lives and homes. Tiger Woods, on course to be sports’ first billionaire, hits a golf ball really, really well.”

On the other hand, they would resent those perceived to be dysfunctional, a threat to their practical well-being: “Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers, Alan Schwartz of Bear Stearns and Robert Willumstad of American International Group, three troubled companies that might have tremendous records of innovation” but are, to the public, beyond comprehension, like “option derivatives” is to “particle physics.”

& what did this crème de la crème inflict on the system?

New York Times is quick to defend it. It is “the people” that failed.

“The anti-regulation disciples of the Reagan Revolution have eliminated vital laws, blocked the enactment of much-needed new regulations, or simply refused to exercise their legal authority.”

The boys were allowed by Washington to play, ride the bubble on their actuarian ploys until it burst – & nobody would be left standing to explain the calamity: subprime losses? option derivatives? They may have been triggers but the real score is that market money was siphoned off helpless workers on funds & stocks that inflated expectations of individual growth.

The UP School of Economics may be able to explain the mechanics of the crisis, but they stonewall as to where the federal bail-out would lead. They chorus (Diokno, de Dios, Paderanga, et cetera) “we’re on an uncharted course,” thus exposing the vulnerability of their theories & credentials that have served them well in bureaucratic posting – much like the once-cultic Greenspan & Bernanke who are now moping in the doghouse.

In the US, the Republicans & Democrats are religiously into the blame game, but both houses should be cursed since Reagan, through Clinton, then eventually Bush were sucking up the market windfall, until loses turned up on charts.

Party is over, time to call it a day?

Obama & McCain are two faces of the same coin: both were caught flatfooted by the downturn, yet the labor class still pins hope on either of them for their systemic/ideological deliverance.

The two, of late, have been spouting desperate rhetorics… of change, but neither is up to the task. They will be true to their capitalist training & ideals, like the NY Times, & expect everything to play out eventually.

B.

How did this phenomenon of Yankee invisibility start to erode? How can they insist that “Pax Americana” would prevail in this century?

The September 11 attacks did send them a signal that war close to home is an omen of dark days coming? A preview of what’s in store for a nation that sees itself as above suspicion – despite the evidence of Guantanamo, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Kosovo, etc?

Joan Didion, in Fixed Ideas: America Since 9-11, traces this persistence of imperium to the “theory, or fixed idea, which not only predated September 11 but went back to the Reagan Administration and its heady dreams of rollback, had already been employed to provide a rationale for the President’s tendency to exhibit a certain truculence toward those who were not Americans.”

This is classic racism, but nobody dares call it that: Manifest Destiny is more like it, conflating it with the moral & divine.

She continues: “Within the theory, any such truculence could be inflated into ‘The Bush Doctrine’ or the ‘New American Unilateralism.’ The theory was this: the collapse of the Soviet Union had opened the door to the inevitability of American preeminence, a mantle of beneficent power that all nations except rogue nations – whatever that might say on the subject – were yearning for us to assume. ‘We run a uniquely benign imperium,’ Charles Krauthammer had written in celebration of this point in a June 2001 issue of The Weekly Standard. ‘This is not mere self-congratulation; it is a fact manifest in the way others welcome our power’.”

Relatedly, there was a CNN panel discussion titled “Are We [Americans] Still the Best Hope on Earth?” & its Americo-centered thematic has been engrained in the American psyche through decades of colonial expansion & bloody intervention which however they would innocuously term “benevolent assimilation.”

[A panelist from Yale University, of Jewish extraction, would aver US is a most moral country, as exemplified by the civil rights movement which in the first place was precipitated by lynchings & the like. He hasn’t heard about Samar this side of the world, turned into howling wilderness. & when, for instance, an “American Idol” contestant couldn’t distinguish Turkey, a nation, from turkey, a fowl, we no longer wonder why Third World educators are imported to man their high-school departments & teach American kids the sciences, math, et cetera.]

But does this worry your typical redneck?

They couldn’t care less, more so if it’s pointed out that Democrats & Republicans are interchangeable terms of filiation: both parties are protective of Israel in relation to Palestine. They would pull out of Iraq & redeploy however troops in Pakistan & Afghanistan, on the pretext of carrying the war against terrorism to its logical conclusion. Of course, Didion would sneer that Bush mistook terrorism for a state, not a skill – which explains the very widening terrain & its limitless possibility of war & intervention.

Yet for Jacob Heilbrunn, Bush is not the ultra-conservative he is projected to be, but also a part-time Democrat with “hist Patriot Act enacted after September 11 attacks, the No Child Left Behind education policy and, specially the costly Medicare prescription drug benefit for elderly Americans,” which Democrats also subscribe to, anyway, with qualified variation.

“Bill Clinton,” moreover, was not your liberal who would ruffle conservative feelings [in his watch he pried off Kosovo from Yugoslavia], but actually “was more of a conservative president than Bush” because Clinton “balanced the budget,” says Michael Tunner, “a senior fellow at Cato Institute, a non-partisan public policy research institution.”

The root cause of American conservatism however is traced to “Irving Kristol who as early as the 1970s identified a new question for conservatives – not to destroy government but rather to wrest control of it from a ‘new class’ composed of professors, educators, environmentalists, city planners, sociologists and others trying to steer the economy toward ‘a system so stringently regulated in detail as to fulfill many of the traditional anti-capitalist aspirations of the left’.” [In reference to the Democrat’s base, which is anti-Marxist, leery of socialism, & celebratory of capitalism as the very end of history.]

Hence, the “mission to transform power to private enterprise by slashing taxes while also fostering a religiously based moral vision for society,” is sheer irony.

Religious fundamentalism & the Far Right, after all, may conflict with the Democrats’ liberal notion of them, but when Biden & Palin both said No! to gay marriage, the boundary between the two parties was erased.

McCain wants to cut taxes & allow the market [based on responsible laissez-faire] to stabilize itself; Obama prefers raising taxes to squeeze private enterprises to energize governance. The ploys are tactically contradictory but strategically unitary in salvaging the system whose source of aberration precisely is overconsumption & overproduction backstopped by international monies.

Be that as it may, the American worker doesn’t know which road to take – although he is intuitively informed of the “disconnect between the government and the citizens.” For Didion, most people seemed catatonic: “seemed resigned that the prospect that we would nonetheless [in respect of the Iraq venture, which basically underlines the psychological strain among the majority of the underclass] go to war… many [even] mentioned a ‘sense of inevitability or dread’.” & this attitude of paralysis, of breaking the glass ceiling, Didion would note, “as waiting to see. At a remove.”

Stasis in an intellectual vacuum seems to characterize the hegemonic ideology on Main Street – in the absence of course of an alternative party to redirect loose energies.

Consequently, the meltdown would still witness people clinging on to the White House – whoever be its occupant – to lead them to the promised pie in the sky. If the crisis is squarely & successfully placed at the door of the Bush regime, Obama would still end up waiting for the golden parachute to bail out his administration.

The $10 billion grant in Iraq, rechanneled to Afghanistan & Pakistan in a new war front could only sink American treasury: & the question raised is, Can it still sustain its military missions without loans from international banking syndicates?

The Third World, suckered into espousing dependency economics, would suffer immensely for its puppetry & valorization of private entrepreneurship.

The Philippines is no exception. While Washington tinkers with regulations to recover its bearing, Malacañang dizzily parrots the orthodoxy of deregulation – & never has the oil monopolists had it so good, with the regime sharing in the petroleum loot.

[Screw the people, secure yourself.]

Thomas Friedman’s humorous twist is instructive for the anxious & depressed:

“Our government [the US] is so broken that it can only work in response to a huge crisis. But now we’ve had a huge crisis and the system still doesn’t seem to work.”

& the leaders “could not even agree on a rescue package [they eventually did but on a cautionary note that it is just a tourniquet to stop the bleeding] as if they lived on Mars and were just visiting for the week, with no stake in the outcome.”

“But the story cannot end here. If it does, assume the fetal position.”

In Giorgio Agamben’s text, quoting Walter Benjamin, this smacks of “the tradition of the oppressed [that] teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

Is Hegel the reality, not Marx?

C.

Covering the stock market is like covering Iraq: “you never know what will happen.”

There is admittedly recession in “Japan, Germany and Italy” while the US & UK “are on their way” to the economic conflagration.

Despite the bailout, the credit market is still plunging, & investors are wary to stimulate the market – in the mode that capitalists are wont to analyze market fluctuations. Technocrats are slow to pronounce any certain positivity. The man on the street is a nervous wreck. & never has the system been wildly buffeted by a financial cyclone.

The First World is crashing down, pulling with it the Third. But the alternative package isn’t brought on the table. Conversations in high places run around in circles.

If society in capitalism is a spectacle, in which, says Agamben, “language no longer reveals anything at all,” images are intimations of a habitual nightmare, like the flooding in Asia where government has abandoned its role & people are left to fend for themselves. Their faces, however, betray no emotion: their eyes duly gazing as if at a blank wall, the horizon a door opening into the night.

It is a jungle of monkeys out there: hearing, seeing, speaking no evil. Anger, like hope, has dried up – & the banality of events seemed to “mark the impotence [even] of satire when faced by the becoming-reality of the indescribable.”

“World politics,” he notes, “is nothing more than a hasty and periodic mise-en-scene…”

O how you wish it were the ’60s all over again when resistance makes you feel alive.

2.
Advice
A.

The Master
grinned
when he glanced
at the apprentice’s
backpack
fully laden –
a boulder
on his back,
like Sysiphus
on Mount Halcon:
the brand-name
survival prescription
for scaling
the rocky slope.
The guide however
had only
a water canteen
& a wooden rod
to push himself up
or measure distances
between the ledges…
He would
now & then
sneak a look
at him
who now & then
would slip
stones or flowers
into his bag,
marveling
at the rich fauna
of the forbidden.
At the summit
the sun
ticked off
like water
dropping on stone…
& the novice
on the move,
would remember
painfully what
the elder had
earlier intoned,
as if forced out
of his tongue.
He would drop
what he had
all along dragged up
the perilous incline:
fossilized leaves,
chips of bones,
beer cans,
notebook,
& in his mind
merciless women
who would ooze
down
like drops of tears
on his arms.
“Travel light.
Don’t take anything
even memories.”

B.

But the endline
kept banging
like a drum
in his ears:
“Burn everything
you leave behind.”
As if he were counseled
to smash himself
blind
into a wall
of the future,
totaled like a car
that revved up
over the cliff.
But it was deemed
astute:
no memory
to remember
the pain,
the pleasure,
the nothing
that falls like a leaf –
unseen
unheard –
in the night.
& She finally
wouldn’t be there anymore
to plague him
with her absent presence.
It’s heaven
to hear strange bells
pealing
when nothing
is within hearing distance,
nor in sight.

3.
Finale

Conversations
are just noise,
people pantomime
in every corner of the street
as if something
real & significant
has happened:
O But they’re just
killing time
for another round
of apocalypse
when they can,
in tradition,
keel over
& be done with life.
Nothing in situations
is worth
the trouble of a tear.
Compassion
is a rare find
in junkyards,
& energy misspent
is the only crime
you can point out:
you die for no one.
& she,
who infested
his waking hours,
is as heavy
as a particle of dust
in memory’s
trash can.

4.
A.
The Commuted

He was middle age,
grew up spoiled
& couldn’t hack
the lively noise
of three partygoers
by the roadside
in the dread of night.
O They were
arrogantly festive,
oblivious of him
going solo
to untie his Gordian knot.
Three shots
ripped the air –
& predictable
was the aftermath:
damages,
reclusion perpetua…
But did the public
understand
he was the victim
of all that?
Their joie de vivre
had pulled his finger
to pull the trigger…
The young
must be circumspect,
dare not brag
about the possible
happiness in the world –
the old,
who contemplate
their death,
should not be ambushed
in their solitude.

B.

We were happy
that night.
Is there a law
against it?
We didn’t see him
seeing us
& if we did,
he’s not our business.
We didn’t know him
from Adam.
We were being ourselves.
When shots were fired
we thought
he was just kidding.
Now, we’re lost
forever.
He’s free & off
the hook.
O How do you balance
the equation?
From way up here,
God doesn’t tell us
why.

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One Response to The Worst of Times

  1. Pingback: Ibon at Ibang Impluwensya « Kapirasong Kritika

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