Monday, September 11, 2006

Billmon, Summing Up

Billmon gets in the last word:

Five years after 9/11, this is what Ground Zero looks like (or will, once the NYFD removes the jerry-rigged memorial "pool" it created for Shrub's photo op):

Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, ground zero remains a 16-acre, 70-foot-deep hole in the heart of Lower Manhattan. High above it, a scaffolded bank building, contaminated during the attack, hulks like a metal skeleton, waiting endlessly to be razed . . ."The problem," as John C. Whitehead, 84, the former chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said baldly in an interview last spring, "is the 16-acre ditch."

If you had told me, five years ago, that on the fifth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in history Ground Zero would still be nothing but an enormous hole in the ground, I wouldn't have believed you -- just as I wouldn't have believed that a major American city could be thoroughly trashed by a Category 4 hurricane and then left to moulder in the mud for a year while various federal, state and local bureaucrats and hack politicians tried to make up their minds what to do.

I would have said that while those kinds of things can and do happen in Third World kleptocracies or decaying Stalinist police states, they're simply not possible in the richest and most powerful nation in history. Even if the voters could somehow be bamboozled into accepting such incompetence, the wealthy elites and corporate technocrats who own and operate the world's only remaining superpower would never stand for it.

You can learn a lot about a country in five years.

What I've learned (from 9/11, the corporate scandals, the fiasco in Iraq, Katrina, the Cheney Administration's insane economic and environmental policies and the relentless dumbing down of the corporate media -- plus the repeated electoral triumphs of the Rovian brand of "reality management") is that the United States is moving down the curve of imperial decay at an amazingly rapid clip. If anything, the speed of our descent appears to be accelerating.

The physical symptoms -- a lost war, a derelict city, a Potemkin memorial hastily erected in a vacant lot -- aren't nearly as alarming as the moral and intellectual paralysis that seems to have taken hold of the system. The old feedback mechanisms are broken or in deep disrepair, leaving America with an opposition party that doesn't know how (or what) to oppose, a military run by uniformed yes men, intelligence czars who couldn't find their way through a garden gate with a GPS locator, TV networks that don't even pretend to cover the news unless there's a missing white woman or a suspected child rapist involved, and talk radio hosts who think nuking Mecca is the solution to all our problems in the Middle East. We've got think tanks that can't think, security agencies that can't secure and accounting firms that can't count (except when their clients ask them to make 2+2=5). Our churches are either annexes to shopping malls, halfway homes for pederasts, or GOP precinct headquarters in disguise. Our economy is based on asset bubbles, defense contracts and an open-ended line of credit from the People's Bank of China, and we still can't push the poverty rate down or the median wage up.

The Sixteen Acre Ditch

As always, please click through and read the whole thing. This year, the elections will be a referendum on the American people. Are you really, truly stupid enough to affirm the power of a regime that is destroying your lives and your honor at an incredible clip? I want to think no, that while my fellow citizens may not share my specific views on, say, gender equality, they would at least be able to figure out when they are being screwed.

Perhaps not. It may take a shock on the level of the Great Depression to make people understand that the Republicans are not their friends. But we live in a different world, one where we are the aging super power, not the slumbering up-and-comer. The comparison to Rome's unraveling is not unwarranted.

9/11 was a catalyst. It could not help but be. A different outcome in 2000 and it might have been a catalyst for something else, for a radical change in a better direction, but it was going to force the nation one way or another.

The hole in the ground in New York and the wasteland near the levies in New Orleans may be the precursors, not the outliers, if we do not face up to the rot at the heart of the republic.


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