06 October 2010

Exit through the gift shop

In times past, much on this blog was concerned with political activities across the pond in the land of the free and the home of the brave. These times also coincided with periods of economic and political stability here at home, and a general lack of domestic issues to direct my wrath and ire towards.

Things were just so much more interesting in America, with honest-to-goodness James Bond-esque super-villains running the country for personal gain and mercilessly crushing anyone foolish enough to get in their way. Here at home all we had was an eejit in an anorak with a pint of Bass, and while we all knew he had his grubby little fingers in every brown paper bag and envelope* within a 500-mile radius the general consensus was, "ah, sure what's the worst harm he could do?"**, and so here on Booming Back, as elsewhere, we allowed ourselves to get caught up in the magical narrative that was the 2008 US Presidential elections and took our eyes off the domestic skulduggery ball, though to be fair I think we did a fair job here of ranting against Lisbon I***.

In these more Interesting of times, and with the constant worry of Peak Wrath*** tugging at my coat-sleeves, I have had to take care not to cast my Net of Grumpiness too far and haul in more wrongness than I can adequately complain about, and thus some time during the Health Care "debate" in the US last year I had to make an executive decision and accept that I could only focus on the woes and injustices of a single country, and to be honest what was happening there was just too stupid to try and write a coherent post about.

But now events abroad almost seems like a bit of light comic relief to take our minds off the everyday horrors at home. The US midterm elections are happening in four weeks, and thanks to the Supreme Court lifting a ban on anonymous corporate donations earlier this year more money has been spent on these elections than in any previous, an estimated $5 Billion in comparison to the paltry $1 Billion spent during the 2008 presidential campaign*****. These corporate donations have had some pretty major effects on the political landscape, with not a single one of the 48 Republican candidates for the Senate publicly accepting the existence of climate change, and with the Republican party almost guaranteed control of Congress and within a hair's breadth of regaining the Senate there are grim times ahead indeed.

Sometimes its hard for those of us outside the US to really understand what's going on inside America. We look at the US and think that when all is said and done its really just the same as us, maybe a little bit larger, a little bit louder, and with shinier teeth, but at its core it cares about the same things we do, and stays awake at night worrying about the same stuff as the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, barring a few pariahs on either coast, this couldn't be further from the truth. Nothing is as important to the US psyche than money, and unfettered capitalism has such a control over the country that for the majority of its citizens any deviation from its mantra is a sign of literal Deviation. This is an environment in which a President a little to the right of David Cameron is labeled a Socialist for suggesting that regulating Wall Street to some degree in light of its recent mis-deeds might not be such a bad idea, a suggestion that has prompted Donald Trump to consider a 2012 Presidency bid because "Somebody has to do something. We are losing this country.", 'We' presumably being the gentlemen in the Monopoly cars with the top hats and the monocles.

I travelled to New York two weeks ago during the UN General Assembly, an annual event met with disdain by many New Yorkers, a TV anchor woman on a morning show asking "what is the UN good for anyway, all they do is keep me stuck in mid-town traffic this morning for twenty minutes?". I took the subway and noticed no delays, travelling to Ground Zero as I do on most trips to New York. I lived through September 11th in the US, it happening just a few weeks after we moved to Connecticut, and it affected me greatly, not in the Christopher Hitchens' "Everything the US does now is justified" way, more due to a sense of deep sorrow for lost opportunities squandered in the weeks and months following the tragedy. The whole world stood shoulder to shoulder in sympathy with America in a unique moment of global solidarity, and instead of building on that and forging a new future, well, we all know what Bush did.

Much had changed since my last visit, Seven World Trade Center is almost fully occupied, a fifty-two story building built on the site of the original 7 WTC building that collapsed completely after the attacks. One World Trade Center, formally known as "Freedom Tower", now rises over forty stories in the air, and work on the other buildings continues at a similar pace. Nine years after the attacks an entire fifty-two story building has been rebuilt and occupied, but the memorial to the victims won't be ready for at least another year. This year again the commemoration ceremonies were held in a half-flooded building site, while office-workers gazed down from their cubicles and water coolers fifty-two stores above.

Gone are the memorials and flowers in the chain-fence that surrounded the site for so many years. A hoarding encircles it and directs visitors to the 9/11 Memorial Preview, an exhibition showcasing the final designs for the site and memorial, just across the road from St Paul's Chapel, an Anglican church that was the focus for many vigils in the day's following the tragedy. You enter the Preview and walk through a series of multimedia presentations showing the heroism of rescue workers, capturing the grief of victims' families and of the city itself, then past a scale model of the finished site and on to exit through a gift shop. Almost half the square footage in the Preview is given over to a gift shop, where Ground Zero mugs and "never forget" key chains jostle for space with FDNY hoodies and NYPD baseball caps. A long list of corporate sponsors and donors of the memorial covers the wall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave $15 million of his own money, Bank of America $20 Million, Citigroup $10 Million and the list goes on. Over $500 million in corporate and major philanthropic donations to build the memorial and they still have a gift shop. Over $500 million in donations and 9 years later the memorial ceremony is still held in an unfinished building site while workers from the donor corporations watch from their reconstructed offices fifty-two stories above.

Everything you need to know to understand the American psyche and the hold of capitalism on this country you can learn by spending an hour at Ground Zero; At the nation's most sacred site, money comes first, memory a distant second.

The mid-term elections, like any US election, are not about parties, or policies, or even politicians. They are about money, the spending of, the preservation of, the glorification of. Money always wins.

To paraphrase Obama, there are no red states, there are no blue states. There are only green states.

I find it easier to write about our own problems here at home than in the US, for even with our own public apathy and inaction, the blatant disregard our politicians have for the citizenry they supposedly represent, with the bankrupting of our lives and the mortgaging of those of future generations, even with all the misery that we are collectively enduring there is still a sense that somehow, someway there remains a chance to change things and take a different path, a better path, that we still have an opportunity to control our own destinies and forge a future based on equality and social justice. It might only be a sliver of hope, but still it remains.

But today in America 'Hope' seems nothing more than just another word.

Another empty word.

And money always wins.

* I believe the technical term for these is "a dig-out"

** Oops. We kinda blew that one, big time.

*** and Lisbon II for that matter, glad to see it all worked out so well for us once we passed it.

**** Peak Wrath being the point at which I have used up just over 50% of all the anger I will ever have in my life. Everything after this is just a slow, gradual descent into senescencial ambivalence, where I sit in my chair drooling, and smiling like a loon at anybody who even acknowledges that I'm still alive. The current economic crisis is eating through my anger reserves at an alarming rate, nothing bad better happen between 2030 and 2040 because I just don't think I'll have the capability to care by then.

***** Interestingly enough, this means that instead of bailing out Anglo-Irish we could simply put forward our own candidates and effectively run America for the next twenty years or so, green cards for everyone on the dole would go a long way to sorting out our current rate of 11% unemployment, and we could put an end to Mr Obama's unhelpful ideas about off-shore tax havens for US multi-nationals. Its funny how everything is on the table in the December budget, except the Corporate Tax rate, which is now a matter of National Sovereignty. I must have missed the bit where Connolly said "The cause of Ebay is the cause of Ireland..."

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At 12:37 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

When I was over with you guys they even sold 9/11 bog roll. I have a picture of it somewhere - should dig it out for you.


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