Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kleptocracy and its discontents

We may be seeing more here than a shocking failure of America to agree to the ransom demands, we may be seeing the end of days for the the vast and extraordinary collective hallucination of people crazed, like Lope de Aguirre floating down the Amazon, by visions of El Dorado. Right-wing America may be approaching the moment of reckoning when they (and we) are going to have to acknowledge, in the words of a Buddhist confession, "all our ancient twisted karma, from beginningless greed, hate and delusion," which in this case has led an army of Wall Street conspirators flying the skull and crossbones of the (since Reagan) completely unfettered and unregulated and untethered free market to help themselves to untold billions while reassuring the Republican base, also parties to delusion, that if they love America enough and hate their enemies enough, they can continue to buy something for nothing forever and ever, world without end, amen.

Some of those very people, and all of us who can remember how many houses (if any) we own, and everyone who works hard and who lives from month to month or week to week, and who buys only necessities, and those necessities sometimes with great difficulty, may be understandably angry at the turn of events that has led Wall Street and the Republican kleptocracy to deliver its extortion note to those of us who can keep track in our heads of the number of our real estate holdings. This includes most of the Republican base, of course. Let us pray that this shock will bring some of them to their senses.

"Pay us or we will kill your retirement plan," said the kleptocrats. Most of America said "screw you," liberals and conservatives alike. I was surprised. Most of America may have been ill-advised in that, but...maybe not. I think our retirement plans (if any) are going south anyway, and I am not sure that the taxpayers shoveling billions into the Swiss bank accounts of the folks who stealthily emerge from the back doors of the long black limousines that pulled up before the door of Morgan Stanley as they met to try to figure out how bilk us out of more, is a good idea, or will help us in the long run.

It seems to me that most of America rose in fury at the extortion note, and this scared the bejeezus out of many of the House members, who are all up for reelection.

But I think a more muted ransom note will reappear in a few days, and its demands will not be as extreme--at least not overtly--and probably a few more congressmen will be coaxed into voting for it.

From what I have read, a lot of economists don't seem to think this will actually help our real economy, what is left of it, but I am not myself qualified to judge. But I think I am qualified to judge that it will shore up the stock prices of the financial sector long enough for the major players to bail, as they say, out, and put their rescued monies into a safe European currency, or if worse comes to worst, gold in a Swiss safe deposit vault.

Whether we have a bailout or not, we all may end up living more simply. This would not have to be a bad thing, though it would be a lot more agreeable to the poor if some of the grotesque and ill-gotten wealth of the kleptocracy were redistributed downward.

I know. I know. But one can always dream.


Update: As we all now know, the Congress was ultimately stampeded into passing the bailout bill, and the recipients apparently are bent on using a good deal of the money for executive bonuses, and to pay dividends as if these companies had made a profit.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Ubi sunt

Ancient chant
“Ubi sunt”

Where be’th they, beforen us weren?

Where have they gone, who went before,
Who followed the hounds, forevermore?
Whose falcons turn and stoop* no more,
Their woods and fields now they lie within,
And we must become, as they have been;
As they are now so we shall be...

daffodils in the Red Rock Cemetery

This poem belongs to a genre popular both in Latin and vernacular languages in the Middle Ages, "ubi sunt" (where are they now) verse. I started with the idea of translating a well-known Middle English poem, whose first line I have retained, but what you see is as far as I got.

* "stoop" is a falconers' term for the hawk's descent on its prey. I considered using "swoop" but thought it too hackneyed. A good friend of mine with excellent literary taste told me I made the wrong choice. She now lies within the woods and fields herself, so I know I wrong her by ignoring her view. Nevertheless, it is here as I wrote it, unfinished.