[personal profile] llbbooks
(Originally posted at Facebook on March 19th, 2009.)

[I wrote this on 9-30-08.]

- Ani DiFranco

Lately, watching the news has been a damn dangerous thing to do, the few stories contained within are far from light. The keepers of our debt, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, collapsing under their own weight, only the first domino of many financial institutions to fall. And those institutions won't be the last, you can rest assured.

Individually, nearly all of us lost money today. Retirement funds declining, gas prices rising, food prices rising, everything but wages rising, and we all sit and wonder, where the hell did we go wrong? Why is this happening?

We haven't changed, you know. We as a country have not learned a damn thing from September 11th, 2001. We still picture ourselves as the clean, blonde-haired kid bringing Jesus and hamburgers to the rest of the uncivilized world. We still patronize institutions that modernize themelves and their image by shedding the hyphen in the middle of their logo, and bring it to one word because their prices can't be beat, and complain about those Messcans and towelheads we see while we're there. Why can't they just go back to their own damn country, anyway?

Our rhetoric and our action don't match.

It is possible to pull ourselves out of all this. However, we will have to make many changes to do so, and yes, sacrifices. What am I talking about?

I'm talking about changing our lifestyles. I'm talking about the fact that we don't have to wait for any particular food to come in-season anymore like we used to, we can blaze down to the store year-round and get it. I'm talking about how large sections of America largely don't have non-chain stores anymore. Our landscape is marred with the same stores, over and over and over again. Almost like the amino acids that form DNA strands. Wal-Mart, Cingular, Subway, and Starbucks. With the occasional Fashion Bug tossed in to throw off the sequence. A true chain, stretching all the way to the ocean, but not before it chokes away all that makes this country good. I'm talking about the fact that we live sprawled out, slathering this beautiful earth in asphalt, building things at the edges of our cities and then building other businesses and other houses out to it, using asphalt like it was air. Except for, you know, the fact that the substance we're using to take us everywhere is Pac-Man'ing our atmosphere and sickening all of us. I'm talking about airplanes, boats, every sort of transport you can imagine polluting our earth to bring us cheap imported crap that we don't even have the money to buy. I'm talking about not having the money to buy anything else.

For all of our sprawl and the planes trains and automobiles that make the distance between us negligible, however, we exert our bodies, finely-tuned machines in their own right who need that physical exertion to thrive, at a roughly inversely-proportional rate. That is to say, we invented all these machines and labor-saving things to do the work for us, leaving us free to lead sedentary lifestyles. And boy, do we ever. Our society has accounted for this, though, and for every little thing that ails, there are companies that can cure it, and they tell you so on TV. Some even give you free coupons or cards to try their product. 7 free nights. What they don't tell you is that after those 7 free nights, your insurance, assuming you're lucky enough to have it, won't pay for the other 21 nights. What they don't tell you is that the same people telling you about that medication on TV are also whispering in your doctor's ear. Giving them pizza, giving them freebies, asking nothing but for her to hear them out. When you come in for your appointment, your doctor writes you the prescription.

We have built ourselves this culture. In times past, if someone said they were on 4-5 different medications, you feared for their livelihood, but in these times we live in, the cure-what-ails age, there's a pill for everything that bothers you. Hell, there's pills to cancel out the side effects of those pills! All the new medicine you want. Just don't expect your insurance to cover them.

I'm talking about making our walk match our talk. You want to know why those damn furriners don't just go home? In most cases, they can't go home because, especially in the case of Mexico, their government has run the country into the ground so far that it is mostly uninhabitable. And why would they, when we provide everything for them at little to no cost? There's no incentive for them to leave. I'm talking about ending illegal immigration, and to do that, you have to eliminate the cause. I'm talking about taking action with the governments of these ruined countries, to make them not-ruined anymore. What action, I don't know. I don't know what would be effective, from what I can tell Mexico's government isn't interested in fixing things. Without their cooperation, nothing we do will be successful. With or without governmental cooperation, though. we can take other steps. We can reduce each and every such company found to employ such people to cinders and smoke, and jail all management who knowingly allowed it to happen. We can stop giving automatic US citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

Ending Illegal Immigration is only one side of the coin, though. The other side is bringing our jobs, our factories, our businesses, back home. If we make it here, and pay people to make it, then we don't have to pay to have products of often negligible quality brought to us. And think of what it would do for our environment. That will only work if we stop populating the big box stores and companies begging us to buy it. More and more people can't afford to shop anywhere but places like Wal-Mart because everything else costs so much. And they always have low prices. Always. They can afford to have always low prices because they are the biggest company in the world. In the world! Their prices are so low because they pay the Chinese woman who toiled to make your $5 shirt a pittance. But even China is too expensive for many corporations these days- they're picking up their toys and moving to Vietnam. In addition, because Wal-Mart does so much business, because they move so many units, they can afford for each one to be inexpensive, they more than recoup the cost in volume. Non-chain businesses have no such luxury.

We have allowed our corporations to bring us to this point. Our large corporations are throwing us, all of us, both as consumers and employees, away. They are throwing our future away for nice paydays now. It's a cycle. Here's a simplistic explanation of how it works. First, a company notices labor and personnel costs soaring. It's hitting their bottom line, so they move their manufacturing division overseas, where workers don't earn as much an hour. You then close the factory in the States and send the workers home, maybe with severance and notice, maybe not. Because workers overseas make less per hour, you can afford to hire more of them, and you can produce more product. Sure, you have to pay for shipping the finished product back to the States, but the cost is negligible compared to the greater profit because you can make more units, and you don't have to worry with those pesky retirement plans. The money rains down from the skies, meaning you can take a little more for yourself. You run this company. You deserve it!

Doesn't sound bad from a business point of view until you consider the American employees you fired. See, our job market right now is horrible, and many of us are unemployed. Some of us team up with another breadwinner, a husband or wife, and scrape through it together, but that doesn't help as much as it used to. The worth of our dollar is based on how much we import as opposed to how much we export. Because the companies we used to work for fired us and moved our jobs overseas, we don't make it here anymore, we get it from China. Because China and many other countries are holding a shitload of our debt, our dollar doesn't stretch nearly as far as it used to, so you need more dollars to buy things. If you were just fired, you don't have the dollars to buy anything, no matter where it was made. And if your would-be customers can't afford to buy what you're selling? No money for you. Thank God for the Golden Parachute.

It's all a cycle. But we can break that cycle. Buy local. Buy independent. Don't feed the machine, because our machines are what got us in this damn mess, and it's going to take a lot to get us out.

~~~

I'm looking out over a sea of people. You, my friends. My co-workers. Even a few family members. I'm looking out over my country, over everyone, and if you're paying attention, I see one common theme: fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear for your pensions. Fear for your children. Fear for yourself down the road. Fear of many things, same song, different key.

I'm seeing a tendency to close ranks. One of the many things that got us into this mess was our incompetent leadership. Yes, I'm talking about George Bush. I'm talking about George Bush and his entire administration. They were the ultimate embodiment of the businessmen I discussed earlier, people who are willing to throw away the future of billions of people, of untold numbers of nations, for the profit of themselves and those they know today. It would be disingenous to lay it entirely at their feet, though, because while they were a major factor in all of this, who allowed it to happen, encouraged it, looked the other way, they didn't start this. One of the common criticisms as people realized we were overextended, were involved in too many things overseas while our home was suffering, was that we needed to back out of foreign affairs. That we need to fix things at home before we go poking into the way other countries run things. For the record, I am a strong believer in this. How can we tell other countries that our ways are right, that they should grow up, clean up, and be more like we are, if we can't keep our own shit straight? The problem with this is that it may be hard to stop there. There is a tendency in this country to look back at the past, at the way things were, and wish for a return to those times. I see a lot of people wanting to close ranks, shut out the rest of the world, and just... be. Which is, of course, impossible. We cannot return to what was.

When I look out over my country, I see the people that live here with me divided in a way that I have never seen before, and have only heard of once before, in a story that was supposed to be fiction. We are now very much a country divided into what John Steinbeck saw coming in 1939, the Haves, and the Have Nots. Both sides are feeling embattled, besieged, feeling that their morals and values are being called into question, and I'm seeing scores and scores of people talking about "returning to basics," talking about concentrating on our home fronts, both as a country and as a member of a family. I'm seeing people stop watching the news, stick their heads in the sand, endorsing cutting ties with other countries and other people, throw their hands up, and give up on finding a solution, trusting that someone in the sky is watching them, that they'll fix it.

When I look out over my country, I see a forgetting. I see us as a country forgetting what it was like, what it took, to be winners. I see us forgetting what it is like to have to do the dirty work to stay on top, and not coast on the reputation the generations that came before us fought so hard for. I see a forgetting how to question the people who seem to hold some authority. Most distressingly, I see a forgetting why.

I see a forgetting what it is to be an American.

Folks, religion is not going to get us out of this. Pretty words aren't going to get us out of this. Sticking our fingers in our ears and saying "LALALALALALA I CAN'T HEEEEEEAR YOU" isn't going to do it either. The other countries sure as hell aren't going to do it: we've cherrypicked the parts of their countries and their culture that was most useful to us, scornfully dismissed the rest, and proceeded to build our country, a country of audacious bombast and big shoulders, with them. This has been coming for a long time.

The only thing that will get us out of this shitstorm we've created for ourselves is us. And we do it by learning to think for ourselves again. We do it by ceasing to reward underachievers. We do it by being better inhabitants of our environment, and strengthening our relationships with other countries, so that we don't have to close ranks. We do it by bringing our factories and jobs home, by paying our people enough to make things so that they can also afford to buy others. We do it by buying locally, and not feeding the machines that got us here. I'm talking about enduring a little discomfort now to ensure good things later.

In short, by making our actions match our words.
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