Wednesday, November 05, 2008

ALWAYS Write a Thank You Note

Show your gratitude for gift givers by sending out thank you cards. It’s a great way to show your appreciation for the gift they gave as well as the thoughtfulness of their generosity. Whether you receive gifts for a wedding, shower, or birthday, all gifts and acts of kindness should be reciprocated with a thank you card.

-from Thank You Card Etiquette
by Concrete Abstract

Dear Bush Administration,

I received your gift of President Obama yesterday, and I LOVE IT!

Now don't act shy. You've been too modest about your generosity in the past. Why, I remember when that Valerie Plame thing showed up on the front steps one day. You were all like, "Where did that come from?"

I knew it was you!

But not this time. You're going to take a turn in the spotlight even if I have to shackle your legs and frog march you out there! ;-)

Because I want everyone to know that we owe the outcome of this election entirely to you.

You see, some people would say this election proves that America has changed. That we're ready to acknowledge that complicated problems require nuanced solutions. That courage is trumping fear. That we're finally stepping into a post-racial future.

Bzzzzt! Wrong!

What's remarkable about this election is the mind-boggling amount of coercion, brow-beating, and finally the all-encompassing catastrophe that it took for America to even consider changing course!

What administration but yours could have kept its eyes on the prize and made it happen?

The storm warnings of your first term elicited yawns. The rising waters of the second term, shrugs. And even in the week before the election, polls showed that 12% of the bloated corpses bobbing on the flood you caused were still not sure how to vote!

It's not for lack of effort on your part. You've been trying to give this gift since the moment you came to power. You tortured people, denied habeas corpus, committed election fraud, wallowed in corruption, and spied on your own citizens. You wasted hundreds of billions on a pointless war. You bungled attempts to get Osama Bin Laden. You sat on your hands while an entire city was washed away.

Any ONE of these things ought to have been sufficient to assure the election of ten Barack Obamas. And yet, at the end of the primary season, he was running no better than even with McCain. A candidate barely palatable to his own party!

You must have been wondering, "Christ! What is this going to take?!"

I know I was.

A better administration would have thrown in the towel. But you didn't give up!

There were only two options left: to have the House Republican caucus drink the blood of Christian babies on prime time national television, or to hurl the country into a depression.

Personally, I think the former option would have shown a lot of style.

But that's quibbling.

So, sure, special gratitude has to go out to all the politically-appointed heads of regulatory agencies who were supposed to be patrolling the financial sector, but instead, with a knowing wink, kept a protective vigil at the front door while a circle jerk of hedge fund CEO's did belly shots from the navels of trashy mortgage derivatives.

You know who you are. I love you guys.

But ultimately, this was a team effort. And while the contributors were too numerous to mention here, I've got to give a special shout out to the committed few that did more than just break our laws and betray our trust. They made that extra effort required to rub America's face in it, just to be sure we'd notice.

To Larry Craig, David Vitter and Mark Foley. You knew that anybody can get themselves busted with their pants down. So you were sure to be moralizing, holier-than-thou crusaders right up until the moment they snapped the cuffs on you. Way to dazzle 'em with the depravity, then send 'em to the canvas with the hypocrisy!

Take a bow!

To Karl Rove and his corps of political assassins. You could have just played dirty when the score was close. But you went for the groin again and again and again--cold-cocking Don Siegelman in Alabama, canning U.S. attorneys, outing covert operatives--even when you had the game in hand! Talk about dedication!

Take a bow!

To Dick Cheney--there just are no words. You are the ultimate bureaucratic ninja. You could have quietly dismantled our democracy and no one would have even noticed until the unopened mail at the Rayburn House Office Building started piling up. But you played out of your head for eight straight years! It was like you were everywhere at the same time! The overreaching, the surliness, the swagger. You lied us into a war. You tortured innocents. You crapped on the Constitution. And then, like some kind of geriatric James Dean, you looked us in the eye and dared us to do anything about it.

Wow. That's giving 110%.

Take a bow.

OK. Now take another.

And last but not least, to you George.

For exhausting America's seemingly-limitless reserve of cowardice by pressing the fear button over and over, so that when John McCain went to that well to warn of a black man named Hussein, the bucket came up empty.

For valuing intuition over intellect. We watched you thrust your arm into one political wood chipper after another. And each time you'd regard your mangled digits with bewilderment, and then commit the same boneheaded mistake again! What less-numbing display could have driven the great unwashed into the arms of some brainiac college professor to be drearily lectured on economics?

And finally, thanks for exhorting us to aspire only to our basest instincts. For urging us to shop for trinkets, to suspect our neighbors, to get all we could get while the gettin' was good. By offering not a scrap to quell our pangs for more wholesome fare, you ensured that an ethereal menu of hope, change and unity would be welcomed as the starving welcome biscuits and gravy.

When I think about the effort you made. The commitment. I just...

I promised myself I wouldn't cry.

I will not cry.

Some people will say I should just display my new Barack Obama on a shelf. And sure, if I left the shrink wrap on, he'd be worth plenty on eBay in 2016.

But no sir! I can't wait to start using my Barack Obama to reverse every policy and repeal every law you've supported in the last eight years. And each time he does something smart, something competent, something Constitutional--or even when he commits mere misdemeanors in the places where the felonies used to go--I will think of you. And smile.

There may come a time when the destruction you've caused seems no more than a bad dream. When agencies are run by skilled professionals rather than political hacks. When other countries laugh with us, not at us. And when, with the wiser eyes of a Jimmy Stewart saved by an angel, we delight in the modest charms of our old, exasperating, imperfect, break-down prone jalopy of a government as it chugs unsteadily into the future.

Indeed, there may come a time when my Barack Obama has erased virtually every trace of the mess you've made.

But there's one thing he'll never erase: my gratitude.



p.s.--tell Barb and H.W. to send Thanksgiving pics!

Friday, October 31, 2008

It's a Good Thing My Former Boss Can No Longer Fire Me

An email came to me by a circuitous route the other day, a shrill cry of horror at the prospect of an Obama Presidency.

Normally I would pass on responding to something like this--particularly since the specifics have been rebutted by others more effectively than I dilettante such as I could ever manage.

But this one is special--it comes from a person that I worked with very closely for many years. This person was a veteran of business affairs. A longtime senior executive. And I was his right hand.

We spent much time together in foxholes, but never talked about politics.

It turns out that was a wise decision.

I wrote lengthy replies to all the specifics in his missive, which included a potpourri of trite attacks on Obama's patriotism, his Marxist political philosophy, and his thinly veiled revolutionary black anger.

In response, my critique of media bias was groundbreaking, my debunking of his supposed terrorist associations, irrefutable. My defense of ACORN's voter registration efforts was a seminal work on the topic. I demolished the attempt to brand him a socialist. And my treatment of the issue of race was so nuanced and sensitive, that it brought even me to tears.

Yet none will ever bask in that brilliance. Because it was too long, and boring as hell. So I deleted it.

Tragic, really.

Yet I think that enough remains below, that were my former boss ever to read it, he still would never speak to me again.

And so...

Dear friend, what the fuck? You're smarter than this.

I can't respond to all the points in your email. I tried and it gave me writer's cramp. You listed a host of smears that you suspect bespeak the tips of icebergs, and which I think point only to desperate Republicans with their backs to the wall.

I don't think either of us is likely to persuade the other.

But all these little points you make. You seem to be winding up to deliver the lethal blow. To say that Obama is anti-American, some kind of alien mole trying to worm his way into the White House so he can execute a long-planned Manchurian Candidate strategy to destroy America from within.

Is that it?

Than why don't you just say it?

Why all this veiled suggestion, this collection of minutia worth nothing individually, adding up to nothing when combined?

Colin Powell, Richard Lugar, and Chuck Hagel, all seem pretty comfortable with Obama's intellect, loyalty and patriotism. If these impressionable innocents are being conned, hadn't you better reach out and show them all the startling truth you've discovered on the Internets? Before it's too late?

Bad enough to attack someone's character rather than their policies. But to do so in this roundabout way, and then refuse to own it. Well, as you were always so fond to say:

For shame.

I know you prefer traditional conservative policies to what you perceive as liberalism. I can respect that and find plenty of room for dialogue.

But what about competence?

Nobody knows better than I how you do business. The attention to detail. The steadiness. Your respect for ability.

Is that really what you've seen from McCain and Palin?

What goes through your mind when you see McCain swing from talking about cutting taxes to offering to buy a country's worth of worthless mortgages? When he trumpets the importance of experience over all, and then selects a small-town Alaskan mayor whose biggest strengths are her boobs and her appeal to religious extremists to be his running mate? When he sacrifices the national interest in favor of petty political gamesmanship, suspending his campaign and rushing to Washington where his indiscretion promptly torpedoes a deal to resolve what you yourself just said was a genuine crisis of the highest order?

I know what you would have said about a business associate who behaved this way. Your disdain would know no limits.

Meanwhile, Obama runs an efficient juggernaut of a campaign, puts out some of the most detailed policy proposals that we've seen from a presidential candidate in ages, and demonstrates nothing but sense, stability and competence.

But you find that "empty" and "confusing." I don't think it's the message you have a problem with. It's the messenger.

You say it's not racism. I won't say it is.

I think it all comes down to your last words: You're scared. And what you're scared of is not policies you don't agree with. It's people who aren't like you and ideas that differ from yours.

I'm sure you would say that the mess the country finds itself in right now is not the result of your philosophy. I think you would argue that the underlying philosophy is sound. That the problem has been incompetence.

I don't buy it.

You have no problem with the opacity of conduct, with the authoritarian style, with the unalloyed rule of wealthy white guys who hire their fishing buddies for cabinet posts.

Well I've got news for you. That's the petrie dish that bred the incompetence. And that petrie dish will breed incompetence 100 times out of 100.

The fact that you would have the gall to suggest you know what's best when what you think best is such a monumental and self-evident failure is beyond presumptuous.

You're scared of what will happen if Obama gets his way? Well, I don't need to agonize over some ill-defined fear of what might happen if the country was run your way. I'm living it.

And frankly, it blows.

No Job? No Family? Sounds like you've got time to burn. Read the way-too-long version of this post so you can impress people at parties. If you're ever invited to one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A VP's Only Job: Rule the Universe!

Sarah Palin was an idea John McCain believed just crazy enough to work. That now seems too fond a hope. But hold your head high John. No one will ever accuse you of scrimping on the crazy.

From the moment Palin entered the race I've maintained unswerving confidence in her ability to kill the Republican ticket. I don't know how anyone could say anything negative about this woman. She has exceeded my wildest expectations, and I will be indebted to her until the day I die.

The media was slower to take her proper measure, but it's easy to see why. She presents a baffling array of conflicting cliches, this feminist dominionist with the smart glasses, sweet ass, and reality-tv family. Even now it's not clear whether she can best be used to sell advertising for bibles or lingerie.

So they poked her warily with sticks until she showed her true colors. She's a talking bobble-head figurine! And if you keep pushing the button, there is no end to the riotous absurdities she will utter. The pretensions of foreign policy expertise. The cringe-worthy attempts to don the ill-fitting mantle of reformer and maverick. The tortured fragments of syntax spilling off her assembly line like forgings from no mold.

And now, to keep this story on it's wobbling legs, the media informs us that our mockery on all these counts must cease. Jocularity has its time, but this matter has passed from farce to threat, and nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake. With that in mind, we must all pull together and henceforth mock her exclusively for her belief that the Constitution grants significant authority to Vice Presidents.

The press' outrage is manufactured, but valid nonetheless. Constitutionally, the vice President is our great government's sole spare part. Its job, like all spare parts, is to sit on the shelf and to cost too much. Thus, historically, those who have been most comfortable in the role are those that don't feel the need to be productive... well, pretty much ever.

So let us do our patriotic duty and mock Mrs. Palin. She may not have been smart enough to demur when McCain asked her to be his running mate, but I'm pretty sure she's not mentally disabled. And that means we can laugh at her with a clear conscience.

But remind me what exactly is so far-fetched about the possibility of Vice Presidential authority? Has everyone forgotten old you-know-who? The most powerful person in the world for the last eight years?

True, Dick Cheney had and has no formal authority. But like some diabolical political acupuncturist, he has altered history with a few pin pricks.

Who was the prime mover of the wars that cost trillions? Of the belligerent anti-diplomacy that has destroyed our international standing and which hastens the twilight of pax Americana? Of an altered balance of power that favors an authoritarian executive?

Sure, the orders came from a smiling puppet with a Texas twang. But in this production, Lady Macbeth is the one with a pace maker.

So it's embarrassing to watch the media haggle over Constitutional fine print like rabbis hashing out Talmudic arcana. Would somebody please ask the only question that matters?

How the hell did Dick Cheney happen?

The answer of course, is that Vice Presidents can wield exactly as much power as their wit, charm, connections, experience, and evil powers of sorcery can command. And as the President will cede.

Thus, Dick Cheney's successful conquest of the universe prompts two conclusions.

First, has there ever been a President more suggestible than George Bush? Mother of God, who reminds him to breathe out after he breathes in? Does he get hypnotized by the windshield wipers when he drives in the rain?

Second: Dick Cheney must have wit, connections, experience, and satanic power in spades, cuz' he sure didn't do it with charm.

Our experience with Mr. Cheney is germane. It tells us that Sarah Palin is more than just ignorant about the Constitution. She is also deeply deluded about her potential authority as a VP.

Sarah Palin is a simplest of one-trick ponies, a mere tool for getting John McCain elected. Her job is to smile, wave, praise Jesus and bash liberals. In the increasingly unlikely event that the guy that's always standing next to her--the one that looks like her grandfather--actually wins this thing, she will become invisible. Not because of anything the Constitution says, but because of who she is: an unconnected, unconvincing half-term Governor of an insignificant state who can't use the word "Machiavellian" in a sentence. No one in Washington knows her, respects her, or fears her. John McCain least of all. She'll be lucky if she can score Redskins tickets.

Sarah Palin the next Dick Cheney? As any movie goer knows, only the Dark Lord can wield the One Ring.

So if McCain is elected, and miraculously manages to keep senility and cancer at bay for the duration of his term, we won't need the Constitution to insure that Sarah Palin is one of history's most irrelevant Vice Presidents.

Though if John McCain is elected, Palin will be the least of our worries.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

America: Right of Center or South of Stupid?

Obama devotees (and I am one) may be inclined to see the ascendancy of their favorite as a great reawakening of the American body politic to its true self.

But I'm not so sure.

It's been 40 years since a significant portion of the populace shook off their torpor to inquire what the fuck, exactly, is going on here?! It was a volatile time, but that's not a bad thing. As lawful and tolerant as this country has typically been compared to just about anywhere else in the world you can think of, there's never been a shortage of black folks hanging from trees or support for murderous repressive foreign regimes. Rioting in the streets is an indication that at least somebody notices.

But that brief interval of optimism dissolved into successive decades of cynicism, jingoistic belligerence, superficial materialism, and finally--icing on the cake--the last eight years during which our country turned into your reprehensible cousin Todd, who lies, cheats, molests children, hits his mom and manufactures meth in the garage. Or at least that's what he was doing last time you visited and he stole your credit cards and ran up all those Internet porn charges.

So it's only natural that anyone eager to see the nation embrace ambitions loftier than gettin' rich and killin' A-rabs would speed to lash their dreams to this Democratic star from the windy city. That they would squint to see in this moment just what they so desperately want to see: the return of the true America of tolerance, moderation, compassion, and respect for intellect and accomplishment. This, they imagine, is not an America rendered temporarily placid by the anti-psychotic medications the international community begged her for years to take, but America casting off an evil magic spell and being itself again.

How very charming.

But forgive me. That's not what I see.

Perhaps I'm embittered beyond salvation. Give me lemons and I will take the seeds and the pith and make something so sour and rancid that it will blister your lips before it even hits your tongue. Or perhaps it's the profound discomfort with which I regard good times. When society is at rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up. But if this is a shining renaissance, duck and cover, baby.

No, the thing that I find so striking about America inviting Obama into their living rooms is the mind boggling degree of coercion that was required to get them to unbolt their front doors.

I mean, yes, it looks like he's going to be President. But he's been staked to such an overwhelming advantage that it seems a bit odd to call what he's doing "winning."

How stacked is the deck in Obama's favor?

To the extent that all elections are a referendum on the party in power, the Democrats should be able to store the public disgust with the last eight years and use it to hold the executive branch for the next half century.

Is their anything the Bush administration hasn't bungled catastrophically?

The war in Iraq is an unqualified failure. Don't waste my time with some crap about the surge. Is that shiny penny supposed to distract us from the fact that when it's all over, what we will have obtained for our trillion dollar investment is a distinctly less-desirable strategic position in the middle east, responsibility for thousands if not millions of lives destroyed, and an indefensible squandering of our international prestige?

And maybe it's because we focused all our energies and resources on Iraq that the fabric of our foreign policy is in tatters. Truly critical issues of national security like the Palestinian situation, nuclear proliferation, and global warming have been either ignored or addressed only with the administration's favored pour-gasoline-light-match tactic. Then again, perhaps we should be thankful for the Bush administration's absurd obsession with Mesopotamia. Can you imagine what disasters would have befallen had they reserved more of this monumental incompetence and applied it to countries that matter?

Our Republican-led international failures are, if anything, exceeded by the swath of their domestic destruction. Let's set aside the torture, the domestic eavesdropping, the politicization of the justice department, and the alteration of the balance of powers so that our federal structure more nearly resembles the dictatorship our founding fathers always envisioned. Set them aside because, by modern conservatives, these are counted accomplishments. There's no point in arguing about it here. But what about the things Republicans are supposed to be good at? What about the ballooning size of government? What about the deficit? What about the economy, for chrissakes!?

OK. We know the Bush administration is awful. Maybe the worst ever. But John McCain is a man who has bucked the Republican party time and again, a war hero with a Roman sense of honor and public virtue, right? No wonder then that, despite our pitiful circumstances, more than 43% of our populace will vote against Obama.


The whole idea of John McCain as a formidable candidate has never been more than wishful thinking. He is but the faint distillate of his party's fragmentation. Events have shattered the tenuous alliance between social, political, and fiscal conservatives. To say that John McCain represents all these groups is to call half-full a glass that is all but empty.

McCain is the great compromise, wholly appealing to no constituency of his party. In fact, he doesn't have much in the "appeal" department at all. There are the physical tics. The explosive temper. The jokes that are--to put it generously--off-color. And the man can barely read off a teleprompter. Appropriately or not, these aesthetics impact electability. These things are McCain's "Kucinich ears."

Nor should we forgive McCain his Keystone Kampaign. Have we ever witnessed a more cringe-worthy attempt to become President? Michael Dukakis was every inch the conquering Caeser in that tank compared to Spastic John. Bill Ayers? The Fundamentals of the economy are strong? Sarah Palin? Sarah-freaking-Palin?! He's not just trying to give the election to Obama, he's personally installed it in the Democrat's living room!. And McCain's endless failed attempts at political suicide have rendered him a far more pitiful figure than if he had succeeded the first time he kicked over the chair.

So here is Barack Obama, running for office for the opposition party at a time of almost unprecedented public dissatisfaction, against a despised Republican President and the weakest Republican Presidential candidate in living memory running one of history's most botched campaigns. Yes, Obama appears headed for a solid, perhaps even a landslide electoral victory.

But given the circumstances--how could this thing be so close? What if the collapse of first-domino Lehman Brothers had been delayed for a few months? If you recall, the country was in pretty bad shape before the financial crisis, but could Obama have pulled ahead without that issue coming to the fore?

Perhaps real change is on the way for this right-of-center country, floating behind the cresting wave of the baby boomer die-off. Maybe the brilliance of an Obama administration will be the spark. But it's not here yet. The American majority may be settling comfortably into the Obama camp, but they had to be driven there at gunpoint.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

She's a Breash of Freth Air!

Why in Christ's name would anybody waste 10 bucks registering the domain It has none of the cache of "That one." It practically impossible to spell, much less say--proven by the fact I wasted another $10 registering a misspelling.

I better sell about two million sets of glasses frames and d-cup bras tomorrow, cuz' this thing's got a half life of about ten minutes.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Bit of Optimism Best Expressed Before I Come To My Senses

Ah, our financial meltdown. Could any crisis be better contrived and timed to elicit every unbecoming, cut-off-your-nose, dig-your-own-grave tendency in our national character?

It bodes not well.

However, such crises also seem to produce their own opportunities for redemption. Opportunities like anti-matter in a crap-strewn universe, and every bit as elusive.

We'll get to that in a moment. But first, let's spend some time on the ledge.

Collected in the window frame behind us, quietly chanting "jump, jump, jump," is every negative influence ever isolated in the laboratories of self-help science. Fear. Fury. Bewilderment. Vindictiveness. Selfishness. Hate. All the impulses we should strive to hold at bay when it's time to make life-or-death decisions.

Evidence that our most rash and counterproductive urges threaten to win the day is everywhere.

The blogs are alight with cries of "let them fail!" Never mind that the "they" in question are holding your retirement.

In the recent Senate hearings on the crisis, Senator Sherrod Brown informed Treasury Secretary Paulson that not one of the torrent of calls to the Senator's office was in favor of the bailout plan. I suppose we should be pleased that looming disaster has rekindled America's moribund interest in civic affairs. Thanks to all those who paused their Wii's long enough to contact their representatives. But too bad our idea of constructive criticism is a collective wail of hysteria.

Garbage in, garbage out, says an old rule of thumb, meaning bad information produces faulty conclusions. And in the political sphere, our national hissy-fit ensures that we'll get more fluff than substance from the legislative sausage grinder. For example, capping Wall St. salaries is about as important right now as turning off the bedroom lights before fleeing a house fire.

Anyway, relax, I say. We'll all be taking a pay cut soon enough.

This is the allure of all our worst instincts on display. How do we respond? Do we boldly push them away? Do we resist their corrosive attraction? Of course not. We drink them down like shipwrecked sailors gorging themselves on salt water.

Stupid, stupid us. In penny romances, there is a moment when the protagonist recognizes their mistakes, is filled with regret, and sets out to make all well. They've traveled through a dark tunnel but come out to light.

Life is not like that. In real life, we come not to the tunnel's opening, but to a dead end where we realize we're inhabiting a disaster. But before we can set anything to right, we must first hack our way back through the recent track of our own dysfunction, blaming everyone but ourselves, lashing out indiscriminately, and sowing every bit as much misery and pain on the way out as we did on the way in.

Aren't we delightful?

So the question is, where on this trek are we right now? For several years now, polls have shown that most Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps then it doesn't require rose-tinted glasses to think this economic collapse is more of a final comeuppance than a wake-up call.

One other observation justifies optimism. I believe that there is an almost Newtonian physics to two-party politics. That a period of anomalous extremism can involuntarily generate its own antithesis. That out of the reeking, toxic decay of Republican depravity is coming some kind of exotic, mysterious particle of unsuspected positive potential. And its name is Barack Obama.

Look, I have no illusions about what the reality of an Obama administration is likely to be. In all likelihood he will be beaten to a political pulp by the problems he will inherit and will forever be tethered to Jimmy Carter in the revisionist worldview of the 12 consecutive Republican administrations his disastrous tenure will ensure. And who knows what unexpected failings of character he will display. He's as human as the rest of us, and if you think I have an inflated opinion of humanity, well, you haven't been reading very carefully.

And yet one can hardly deny that he is a very different quantity than any candidate to come to the brink of the Presidency in the last 40-odd years. And that his viability is a product of our 8-year-long national catastrophe. Were it not for the lies, the pointless war, the corruption, the disdain for competence, the indefensible use of torture, the disregard for the rule of law and constitutional democracy, and now this great hundred-year-flood of our financial system, is there any chance we would be on the verge of electing a black man whose middle name is "Hussein" President right now? Any chance?


So I think something different is about to happen. Something special. We are on a cusp that has the potential to be transformational, rather than just a slow, dreary crawl back to mediocrity. And it's happening not in spite of the calamity that envelops us, but because of it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Viva La Revolución!

I have no talent for admitting I'm wrong. Not because of any surfeit of pride. But rather because it is a skill I have never had occasion to practice.

Until now.

Recently, I wrote about the coming liberal dictatorship. I foresaw a world in which the instruments of power, sharpened by our current leadership to compel absolute submission, would be wielded by a liberal administration for ends every bit as extreme as intended, but far less palatable to people who live in Texas.

That could still happen. But it's like a television program preempted by breaking news: it may be in the can, but it's not what anyone will be watching.

Our constitutional crisis has been supplanted by an economic crisis. We paused momentarily to put our head between our knees and breathe into a paper bag, and when we looked up, we discovered we're having a socialist revolution--engineered by neo-conservatives!

Holy. Fucking. Shit. I'd like to think this is a simple matter of a spectacularly misguided policy coming to a head like an angry, puss-filled carbuncle. But we've been fleeced so many times by the carnies who run this country that we can hardly be faulted for suspecting this catastrophe is just another Republican sleight-of-hand designed to reclaim an initiative that seemed hopelessly lost. Are they once again stealing a march on their political opponents by doing something so unexpected, so out-of-left field, so bat-shit crazy that those who would resist are simply paralyzed with shock?

If so, admiration overwhelms my disgust. I mean... it's just... diabolical! And it's so freakin' BIG that even I never conjured such a thing in my wildest dreams--and I am not in the habit of constraining my imaginings. If you only knew the sick things I am picturing right now...

Just think! In the course of a few days, the people who have for a decade belittled their detractors with the epithet of socialism, who made a sacred mission of kneecapping the mere patina of a welfare state created in the 1930's, who have attempted to demonize Russia in a barely-disguised ploy to reanimate the politically convenient bete noir of world communism--these same people have swarmed to a one trillion dollar takeover of the entire American financial system like sailors on the decks of the battleship Potemkin!

Look! There's Henry Paulson driving the kulak financiers of lower Manhattan into the overcrowded bar cars of the MetroNorth railway. Soon they will disappear into the cavernous conservatories of their Greenwich homes, where they will forevermore consume canapes and cognac in miserable obscurity.

And there! There's Ben Bernake storming the New York stock exchange in a tricolor cockade! It impossible to tell what's happening amidst the cigar smoke and the roar of the press corps, but rumors fly that Goldman Sachs has declared a commune of lower Trinity Place. And who can calculate the human cost? The dry cleaning bill alone will run to six figures!

And now a hush falls on the nation. For returned from his long march to Crawford Texas is Chairman Bush, the Great Leader! For love of him, children expose their parents for shorting T-bills. With a glance and gesture he makes spareribs tender and biscuits moist.

Viva La Revolución! To the barricades! All power to the soviets! Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!


Something feels oh so wrong here. Aren't socialist revolutions supposed to come from below?

That the cries of "Power to the people!" are coming not from the downtrodden peasantry, but from the Tsar and his minions is testimony to the fact that what the people are going to get here is anything but power. It is a whole boatload of grief.

How bad is it? It is all the way bad. The bad, to borrow the idiom of Spinal Tap, will go to 11.

Envision the worthless paper of 10 million home loans that America is buying as the sorriest looking Ford Pinto in the used car lot. It's a colossal lemon. And the problem with lemons is not a philosophical one to be debated by earnest sophomores in bong-hit fueled bull sessions. The problem with lemons is that they break down right on the entrance ramp to the freeway in rush hour while your wife howls in labor on the passenger side and the air conditioning doesn't work and it's 105 degrees and the rest of your little monsters are trying to disembowel each other in the back seat and you feel you have no choice but to do the job for them yourself and that's going to take some explaining if and when the highway patrol ever arrives.

That's the problem with lemons.

For our economy, catastrophe is every bit as imminent as it was before our dear President signed us taxpayers up to bail out his rich friends. More so, perhaps, because those Wall St. wizards--major asshats though they be--actually do know a fair amount about navigating difficult financial straits. But they no longer give a damn what happens. They're off the hook and our fates are now in the hands of a completely different but much less skilled collection of asshats called Congress.

Why do you think there were so many smiling faces on the floor of the stock exchange when the bailout plan was announced and the Dow surged? Because we've been rescued? Of course not. The traders were smiling because they've been rescued.

We'll be sure to write frequently to those former Wall Streeters at their spas in Hawaii and let them know how it's going as the housing market goes from slide to plummet. As credit becomes impossible and business contracts. As pain cascades through the population in the form of sweeping layoffs. As inflation soars because that will make paying back the massive debt we've taken on cheaper.

We've chained ourselves to this falling anvil with the same rash ignorance with which we bought that 10,000 sq.ft. McMansion last year. And now we're living in one of those 1970 conspiracy movies where the hero is killed just before he can save the world, the bad guys get off scot free, and everything is most assuredly not going to be alright.

Looking for a bright spot in all this is like looking for the bright spot in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. The only brightness comes from the roaring flames, which serve to silhouette the doomed figures in the window frames just before they leap.

But let's indulge in a brief bit of Panglossian self-delusion anyhoo, yes?

One upside is that the crackers of middle America, stunned by sudden crisis, will probably not come to their senses until just after they've elected a colored fella President. Boy, will they be grumpy once they realize.

And this: It's true that America will be vomiting and watching our hair fall out for years as a result of the radioactive fallout from this disaster. But can you imagine how this would have been packaged if the Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac / Lehman brothers / AIG mushroom cloud had come even one hour after Barack Obama locked down the election in the predawn of November 5th?

Our present storyline sure wouldn't be about the apocalyptic comeuppance of mindless deregulation. Or the destruction of the myth that the mindless Darwinian churning of free markets is somehow tempered by an inherent goodness. Or about the essential hollowness of a society built on the corrosive notion that wealth is the same thing as virtue.

No sir. If this atomic blast had been delayed, there would be only one storyline trumpeted by the tools of conservatism and a p-whipped (c-whipped?) media: Barack Obama as pilot of the Enola Gay. That's right. We'd be told that an otherwise vibrant economy had collapsed at the mere thought of the prosperity-hating policies he would inevitably implement.

So we can breathe a big sigh of relief that the world is ending sooner rather than later.

This economic convulsion also alters the landscape of political possibility in intriguing ways. Free marketers talk reverently of creative destruction--the rise of new mercantile opportunity from the decaying matter of endeavors that have failed and fallen. But they never considered what might grow from the steaming corpse of their entire beloved system.

For example, though the words "universal health insurance" were spoken in the campaign, only a fool could have believed the idea more than a political pipe dream. But the shattering mental impact of seeing the establishment dissolve, combined with the soon-to-be-palpable effects of unemployment and the credit crunch on our already tenuous access to the proctologist we desperately need may yet give unexpected substance to that dream.

Not all political pigs will fly. But don't be surprised if some sprout wings and, like turkeys, make a whole lot of unforeseen commotion.

And finally this: Conservatives are ever fulminating that Obama---contrary to his voting record or his public statements--harbors secret intentions of outfitting America in Mao jackets and handing out Little Red Books. But now they've been compelled by the deformed product of their own extremism to lurch leftward in advance of his arrival. Will they therefore restrain their urge to tag his administration as the enemy of all that is American? As the undoer of freedom? Will they exhibit that most minimal degree of decency that shames us from accusing others of our own failures?

Don't be ridiculous. Of course they won't. And their misrepresentations will be swallowed hook, line and sinker by a culture whose worldview is shaped and reshaped by no experiences more distant than those of the previous two weeks. By February, Barack Obama will be solely responsible for our metasticizing economy, the plight of Katrina victims, the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the burning of the capital by British regulars in the War of 1812.

Yet some small weight has undeniably been lifted from Obama's shoulders. Centering economic governance will no longer require a massive heave to the left certain to provoke opposition from formidable conservative constituencies. And in the continuing chaos to come he'll find more freedom of action than he could have hoped for six months ago. It's a lot easier to be a builder when the demolition's already done.

And let's be fair (even if it isn't much fun), the real villain here isn't conservatism, any more than the savior is liberalism. The villain is absolutism. It's extremism. It's the absurd idea that if less regulation is good, no regulation is even better. Would any rational person argue that commerce is possible without the regulation of contract law, accounting rules, and the like? And if that's true, shouldn't we just scotch all the scorched-earth, anti-regulatory ranting and start a measured discussion on how to do it right?

So here's to hoping we can get back on track for balance and moderation. That we can enact the kind of regulation that let's us maximize the benefits of the free market while minimizing the risks. That we can stop chasing the chimera of perfecting our system, and settle in to the hard, never-ending, and unavoidably messy task of optimizing it.

Until then, Viva La Revolución, baby!