Monday, January 4, 2010

Two Bon-Bons

Two of my most favorite guys in the whole wide world have hugely enjoyable and informative columns out. Of course neither is going to make you shout "Hooray! Things are going to be so much better in 2010! A new decade is just what we need!" No, these reports are not likely to spur that kind of reaction. What they will do, however, is impress you with the quality of the writing and reporting still possible in the swamp of mediocrity and mendacity that the once-honorable profession of journalist has sunk into. These pieces--and you should definitely treat yourself to reading them in their full glory--will probably stir a welter of different emotions, none of them happy, at the state of the nation. I guess it's my job to keep you posted on these things, lest someone in a burst of hallucination gets the idea that matters in the good ole US of A are improving and that we can look forward to a return to "normal" any time soon. Indeed, what is "normal" is in the process of being redefined. And we don't know what it's going to be yet.

Matt Taibbi first, on the ongoing financial catastrophe. There's more than enough blame to go around, he says, and trying to pin the mess on Fannie and Freddie, as some are now attempting is simply wrong. But before the details, he's got this wonderful description:

. . . what we’ve learned in the last few years as one scandal after another spilled onto the front pages is that the bubble economies of the last two decades were not merely monstrous Ponzi schemes that destroyed trillions in wealth while making a small handful of people rich. They were also a profound expression of the fundamentally criminal nature of our political system, in which state power/largess and the private pursuit of (mostly short-term) profit were brilliantly fused in a kind of ongoing theft scheme that sought to instant-cannibalize all the wealth America had stored up during its postwar glory, in the process keeping politicians in office and bankers in beach homes while continually moving the increasingly inevitable disaster to the future.

And now Glenn Greenwald on the general subject of the corrosive fear of terrorism and what it's doing to the country. Here's the general thesis:

Demands that genuinely inept government officials be held accountable are necessary and wise, but demands that political leaders ensure that we can live in womb-like Absolute Safety are delusional and destructive.  Yet this is what the citizenry screams out every time something threatening happens:  please, take more of our privacy away; monitor more of our communications; ban more of us from flying; engage in rituals to create the illusion of Strength; imprison more people without charges; take more and more control and power so you can Keep Us Safe. . . .

What matters most about this blinding fear of Terrorism is not the specific policies that are implemented as a result.  Policies can always be changed.  What matters most is the radical transformation of the national character of the United States.  Reducing the citizenry to a frightened puddle of passivity, hysteria and a child-like expectation of Absolute Safety is irrevocable and far more consequential than any specific new laws.  Fear is always the enabling force of authoritarianism:  the desire to vest unlimited power in political authority in exchange for promises of protection.
Not a pretty picture at all, is it? But that's where we are now and where we're going, friends. Read this piece. It's scary.
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