Have you ever noticed how the vim seeps out of any New Year’s Eve party at around 12:10am? It’s as if to say, “Okay, well, we had some champagne and kissed a flu virus shamelessly around the room, and now what?”
I’ve always thought of New Years as the stupidest holiday; the one on which we celebrate the fact that for about the next three weeks we’re going to mess up every check we write and have to initial all those sloppily corrected dates. But then, I’ve always been sort of a premature curmudgeon. Perhaps I’m the Benjamin Button of curmudgeons, only I’m not getting any younger (or prettier) – nor, frankly, as would complete the metaphor, am I discovering optimism. No, I just started out as a cynical old fart and I’m growing into the part.
This New Year is lacking an awful lot of “Happy.” Here’s where 2009 begins, and if you find the happy in it, you’re dreaming (or functioning on the one thing I have none of: faith):
The nation’s most important manufacturing industry is teetering on the brink of collapse, and while I applaud whatever support the government has begrudgingly given GM and Chrysler, I fear (with substantial evidence to back me up) that those companies will use every free dime to move more factories to Canada and Mexico. And Congress won’t do a thing about it. So, should you be in the fortunate position of shopping for a new car this year, and should you consider one of the excellent American car models available (I hope you will), make sure it’s American beyond the name; most of them aren’t. Better yet, verify that it’s a union-made model. The UAW is one of the last bulwarks against the final dismantling of organized labor begun in 1981. It’s really up to you.
The year also begins with Israel bombing the bejesus out of Gaza, ostensibly in retaliation for the missiles launched out of Gaza that, incidentally, injured no one. (perhaps Halliburton needed some orders to create as-yet unrealized stock depletion in Israel’s armories, so Cheney gave the go-ahead for some all-out carnage before leaving). Even Egypt is getting in on the act (tacitly supporting Israel, because they can scarcely afford the potential refugee onslaught of Gazans, nor do they want to lose their cut of the annual US foreign aid lottery), in spite of the fact that Gaza was technically taken from them by Israel in 1967. Yes, it is all about money, and money is that heartless.
First, admit to yourself - this instant! - Israel does not start a war without US approval. Can’t happen! And as bad as Bush & Cheney’s popularity numbers are upon exit, please remember these are scorch-and burn guys, and 21 more days can bring a lot more char. Skeptic that I am, I anticipate a few more scams on their way out the door, beyond the urgent two-trillion dollar (and counting) bank heist, the attempted UAW busting, and an extra war (two wars aren’t enough, so this proxy war on the side will do). They are going to see to it that Obama & Biden inherit the most devastated America since the one Buchanan left Lincoln.
Here at home, of course, the Israeli-Palestinian carnage is the painful sideshow distraction for an already very pissed-off Jewish community – pissed-off, that is, at one of their own. The number of very wealthy American Jews, as well as their foundations and charities, who were invested with Bernie before he Madoff with their money, is staggering, and the one – the only - distraction that will always divert the entire Jewish community from its own troubles: violence in Israel (as if there’s ever a moment without tsuris in Israel).
If you are a member of any minority group (or, like me, several) you know that hands-down the worst possible aberration for everyone within that group is public airing of its own dirty laundry. For the Jewish community, Madoff is a stain beyond dirty laundry, and not even dry cleaning can remove the dreaded soil that triggers the repetition of the most painful stereotypes.
Meanwhile, vis-à-vis the aforementioned, President-Elect Obama has put together a foreign policy team to keep the status quo in place, so expect much of the same Middle East policy and a dubious economic team of the very geniuses that virtually invented the modern commodities bubble, whence came Mr. Madoff himself (who actually was the head of the Nasdaq exchange).
The Inaugural Scam
Obama spit in the eye of the civil rights activists who inexplicably projected onto him the mantle of Gay Rights savior. For all his talk of unity, Obama has selected the divisive fundamentalist Christian preacher Rick Warren to give an invocation at his inauguration. Frankly, I don’t think any religious invocation is appropriate at an inauguration, but, in this case, if the Gay community wasn’t listening last year when Obama made clear how he feels about same-sex marriage, now they know: Warren was an outspoken supporter of California’s Proposition 8, and should have no place on that podium. Obama was honest about his position on the matter, but, as with so many other issues, his supporters have projected what they wanted to believe of him rather than listening to what he actually said. Now, based on this first display, the Gay community can expect the same level of worthless lip-service from Obama that they got from Bill Clinton for eight years. LGBT community: You’ve been had!
The Change that isn’t coming
If this is change, Obama seems to be refining the word. Do you anticipate him telling Israel to shut up their ultra-orthodox extremists? Doubtful. Do you suppose that Obama will lift the hiring freezes and do-nothing practices of the SEC to make sure that the oligarchs are playing fair? Hold not thy breath. Do you think that there will be no American forces left in Iraq in May 2010? Nonsense!
With any luck, some stability will come to the economy, though not this year, as hopes for a new New Deal should be given a few years to play out. But that might be too optimistic as well, because if you want to know what the Bush clan is willing to do with New Deal types, remember that Prescott Bush participated in a very real plot to assassinate FDR in 1934 (if you don’t know the incident in question, Google: “Smedley Butler and Prescott Bush” and do yourself some learnin’ about just how far the rich in this country will go to maintain what they’ve got, deny it to others, and still get away with it all). No doubt Obama is well aware of the danger of rattling too many cages on Wall St., lest one of the heirs (direct or otherwise) of Prescott Bush try again, and lest there are few real patriots like General Butler still around.
And the Prescott Bush/Smedley Butler story, of course, is precedent to why you should expect absolutely no trial or punishment for any of the traitorous, thieving criminals who have been running this country for the past eight (or 28) years. It won’t happen. Like Prescott, some may yet achieve higher office.
Meanwhile, the rest of us continue living in a police state of such suspicion and terror (not of the intended bogeyman, but of the government itself) previously envisioned by guys like Kafka and Dostoyevsky. I expect that four years from now, you’ll still need a pedicure just to get on an airline flight, for no reason other than keeping everyone in perpetual panic. This will not change, either.
Death of La Vie de Luxe
All that said, we are in the second year of a depression (not a recession), and the only thing that seems to put a smile on my face is the daily stories of yet another few b/millionaires losing it all. Schadenfreude? Perhaps, but f*ck ‘em - these are the very people from whom the much lauded trickle-down never trickled. Let them eat Spam! (Spam, by the way, is actually one of the few consumer products showing significantly increased sales)
The big surprise this season was that “luxury goods” sales were down 43%, and this was the one sector that anticipated being immunity from the depression. So Chanel and LVMH are having layoffs. Quel domage. Meanwhile, Vanity Fair reports that many of the very wealthy are cutting back hours for their staff, rather than giving up some of their valuable stuff. (Never mind that many of these women carry handbags that are worth more than what they pay the maid for a year, and have closets full of such bags).