Perspectives: A Review of 2013
(Swans - December 16, 2013) A Grand Cru is a vineyard classification for a small area (about 1,400 acres) in the French Eastern region of Burgundy. There is no higher classification than a Grand Cru. The closest English translation would be a great vintage or a banner year. Of course, it's all about wine, not years, but ask yourselves: Was 2013 a great vintage, a banner year? Take a compass, look at it 360 degrees from North to East, South to West, back to North and anywhere in between. What can you observe? Disorder, confusion, disarray, commotion, turmoil, violence, mayhem, poverty, socioeconomic crises without end, climate disruptions, as if we had entered a period of great turbulence and incertitude to which nobody in position of power offers any answer. Let's take a little tour.
Why not start with the good old USA and stay with this grandiose country. Here the public believes it is the center of the world, the indispensable nation, the wealthiest and strongest country in the stratosphere, and on, and on. In reality, 2013 has been an annus horribilis for President Obama and his administration, both domestically and internationally. Domestically, whatever his friendly and attractive populist rhetoric, his charm, and his great smile are, he has not accomplished anything except consolidating the hold on wealth and power by the happy few. The public, the great American people, is fully unaware that since Mr. Obama entered the Oval Office, 85% of income growth has gone to the top 1% of the population. Through baby Bush's administration it was 65%, and 45% under Clinton's.
There has been no real growth in the economy except thanks to the influx of FED money into the banking system (quantitative easing) that makes a 3% free interest return and as a result, the literal, actual, disgusting, bleeding of older savers through the zero interest policy. On top of this, inflation is creeping up, adding to the squeeze on the whole for the benefit of the increasingly smaller few. Perhaps when there is no longer blood in our veins, the leeches will disappear. Certainly, Mr. Obama will write a book explaining the necessity of such drastic and fundamentally devastating policies for the commons. Steal from the poor, give to the rich -- check the Dow Jones. Mr. Obama will be well taken care of in his early retirement thanks to our tax dollars, his speeches, and whatever consultancies for which he will be handsomely paid. He won't be concerned by the zero interest policy. He'll have an army of accountants and financial aides. Making some $1,000,000 a year in retirement, he won't think much about inflation -- his retirement is indexed on it. And he'll also get free cars, free chauffeurs, free plane, free secret services. His smile will remain Mandela-like. His daughters will also be well taken care of, as will the beautiful Michelle. No worries. We all applaud. We love royalty, black or white, as the song goes.
Now, if you've read Mark Leibovich's This Town (Blue Rider Press, July 2013), an entertaining, yet deeply depressing book on the corruption of a political class in Washington D.C. (this includes the pundits, the alligators, the lobbyists...anyone who is in or around the government, all fully owned by the big money owners of the country), you must have an idea of the dysfunction of the US government, all branches combined. No sensible legislation is passed, whether on agriculture, commerce, housing, infrastructure, and the like. They even managed to shut down the government -- each evening joining together in a fancy bar and over martinis having fun about the joke. Shutting down the government had nothing to do with them. They kept being paid anyway. If you think the polity was not incensed, you should think again. The polity is simply ignored. Write a letter to your representatives and you get a form letter back, paid by your taxes, that does not even address the issues you submitted. Forget about town hall meetings. It did not take long for those folks to learn it was safer to avoid the ire of their constituents.
Mr. Obama, then, unveiled his chief legislation, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare or O-care, a poorly-crafted insurance policy designed to -- what's new? -- further enrich the insurance industry. He had a window of opportunity to fight for Medicare for all, but he is not a fighter; he is a compromiser who knows the source of the bacon he eats for breakfast every morning. So, we ended up with a monstrous legislation, which would take a full year to read (especially the loopholes). But here we were, ready for the big launch that was supposed to happen through a magnificent Web site. The dilemma is that the Web site did not function in spite of the millions of dollars spent building it. Those guys, with all the government's financial resources, could not build a Web site and could not hire the right people to make it work. You'd think they would have asked Edward Snowden to fix the problem instead of trying to haul him to jail.
Thinking of Snowden, Manning, et al, brings you to an ever bigger scandal to which we in the boonies have long have been accustomed. In 2013, you know for sure that you cannot go anywhere, drive, phone, e-mail, even walk, without being under surveillance. People must feel more secure having a snitch watching them naked at night. Welcome to our Orwellian world. John Le Carré ought to write a new novel, hopefully with some humor. But, seriously, Mr. Obama has been relentless in pursuing whistleblowers and adding layers after layers to our secrecy state.
Mr. Obama is also hailed for his great foreign policy. He got the U.S. out of Iraq (actually this was in 2011 after almost nine years of insanity, following an agreement made by G. W. Bush with the Iraqi government). Iraq is such a violent mess nowadays that the Main Media don't even want to cover it. Next move is to get out of Afghanistan and welcome the Taliban, financed by the Saudis, back home. A man of peace, as Mr. Obama kept saying during his repeated eulogies to Madiba (who will be out of the news by the time you read this). Problem is Nelson Mandela was not the hero who ended Apartheid. Apartheid ended with economic sanctions, the end of the USSR, and the US government no longer having use for South Africa and telling de Klerk to get the best deal he could, Mandela being the man of compromises -- he'd stay within the neoliberal camp, which he did. (Today, black South Africans are economically worse off than under Apartheid -- but, at least, they can vote -- with no food in their stomachs, poor housing, no health care, and miserable education. Mandela makes one think of Obama: Great rhetoric, wonderful words, still more poverty. At least Mandela was a better speaker than Obama, even if the bromide was similar.)
Then there is the Middle East, where the Obama administration has no idea what it is doing, promoting and arming religious and political extremists against secularists because the latter do not want to bend to Washington desiderata. Even the secretary of defense is raising an alarm. Al-Assad may not be up to our liking, but are we up to the other side or the dissolution of the country? Even the Israelis are scratching their heads. In Iran, it looks like one-step forward, the other back. The US government seems totally clueless -- something that can be observed from the poor response to China's move in the East China Sea. China, one hopes, will exercise restraint (the U.S. has a more formidable military power), but China is sending a strong message to a country that is in deep moral and economic trouble -- a status that deeply afflicts those of us, or at least a few of us, who live in the U.S. Drone attacks have increased drastically, attacks that are not even authorized in international law -- but the U.S. makes its owns laws, which simplify the quandaries. Guantánamo remains opened in spite of Mr. Obama's promise to close it. The African-American community is worse off than before he got on the throne. Cities, like Detroit, are in bankruptcy. Others struggle to keep access to clean water. This is disheartening.
Let's pass on the African continent, such a wealthy land, yet mired in increasing violence that boggles the mind...and the European Union is scrambling to remain a union that cannot afford to break up but is facing enormous cultural and socioeconomic challenges. It's hard not to mention with compassion those thousands of African and North African migrants who desperately trying to escape destitution and misery embark on shoddy boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea to find refuge in a Europe that does not want them -- many of them, by the thousands, end up drowning in this tragic sea. This too is a part of 2013.
Of course, there are other tidbits. Here is an amusing one. The Catholic Church elected a new pope, Pope Francis from Argentina, following the resignation of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. This is worth noting for three reasons. First, popes don't usually resign. They stay on the throne till they die. Second, the new pope is the first one coming from South America. Third, the new man is charismatic and has a great PR team. Time Magazine has elected him the man of the year, with the article explaining the decision written by...a Protestant. Worth a smile, no?
We've also seen The Washington Post being sold to Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos for a meager $250 million (this paper used to be worth several billion dollars years ago). Maybe Bezos will rename the paper The Washington Kindle and make it digital. He actually said that within 20 years the printed press wouldn't exist anymore. Talking about name changes, The New York Times Company decided to rename the venerable International Herald Tribune, The International New York Times. So, you may say goodbye to that revered publication. Why? Because they don't know what they are doing. For cause: The company bought The Boston Globe some 10 years ago for one billion dollars. It was sold recently to a local billionaire for $70 million. Will Bezos's prediction turn out to be correct?
It would be ill mannered not to remember those few we were honored to keep company with in one way or another, notably, Isidor Saslav who graced Swans pages with his extraordinary musical talent. Other names come to mind: Hugo Chávez, Stéphane Hessel, Chinua Achebe, Doug Henwood, Peter O'Toole, and above all André Schiffrin, whose tribute you can read courtesy of Peter Byrne.
No, 2013 was not a banner year, but I survived it.
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