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Works and Days

We Are All Pods Now

March 30th, 2010 - 10:53 am

Were we Podded in Our Sleep?

I think I went to sleep about a year ago, just woke up, and realized that either I or the world has been changed, snatched as it were. [1]

Once upon a time, cars were just cars.

Like most Americans on the West Coast I began buying Japanese cars after a host of mishaps with American brands — chronic alternator failures on a Chevy S-10 pickup; a Chevy Malibu whose brakes lasted about 10,000 miles, and whose air conditioner went out every six months; a Dodge Dakota whose electrical system failed three times, twice on mountain roads — once in a rain storm, the other at night … and so on. Like millions of others, I reluctantly started buying either Hondas or Toyotas. But suddenly in this new pod world, I am noticing cars are now becoming political statements — and buying them a political act. Toyota has been demonized over what empirically seems to be an isolated accelerator problem. The subtext, however, is that the now number one automaker threatens U.S. union jobs and the now federal GM brand. Indeed, buying a GM product is becoming patriotic, at least more so than Ford, which did not participate in the federal bailout. Indeed, the evil GM Corporation of Michael Moore’s fantasies within a year has transmogrified into something akin to Social Security or Medicare. What will Palo Altoans or Carmelites do with those Priuses? A year ago, they were signatures of environmental caring, replete with Obama bumper stickers and fading  “No blood for oil” slogans. Now, however, are not they anti-American, anti-union, anti-Obama administration, anti-consumer, pro-corporate greed fetishes?

Borrowing from Uncle Sam

Student loans will never be the same again.  Apparently unnoticed in the health care fight was that the Obama administration simply absorbed the multibillion-dollar student loan program. Students will be delighted to see their interest rates, in a low interest market, perhaps go down a point or so — unconcerned that the resulting waste and inefficiency will in the long term devolve into something like Freddie and Fannie (e.g., the minister of student loans will now become a plum sinecure for retiring apparatchik politicians in the manner of Franklin Raines; yes, maybe the retiring NEA or NEH or Education head will accept a Student Loan czardom for the duration?)

An Empty Mailbox

Suddenly there are to be no more Saturday mail deliveries. The Postal Service is broke; unquestioned is any substantive move to freeze union salaries or lay off large numbers of employees. I doubt FedEx cancels Saturday service. The cynical public wonders whether, with 1/6th less service to the public, we can expect either a budget 1/6th smaller or a work force comparably reduced? No, of course not; it would be lunatic to think that. Did we all just sleep through no more private student loans and no more Saturday service?

The Evil Private Health Care Insurer

I expect both my Blue Cross and Health Net medical HMOs  very soon to send me some sort of letter, either advising me about new tax exposure, advising me about new rate hikes, or advising me about reduced coverage. And in time I imagine the number of private physician groups will shrink, and the number of public clinics will expand. I’ve used both, and can attest in the former people are happy and competent, and in the latter more likely to be demoralized and going through the motions. In one a doctor wants to build a practice by expert care; in the other a doctor knows that whatever he does, he is still paid the same — survival, not competence, being the formula for promotion and pay raises. (And soon suing a GS-15-Step 10 Dr. for malpractice is no John Edwards picnic)

And just as California DMV employees now wear to work purple SEIU T-Shirts with “solidarity!” emblazoned on one side and “organize!” on the other, so too I expect that expression of progressivism with millions of new health care bureaucrats and loan officers. The only mystery is whether, when the bodysnatching process is over, the new alien health care plan’s outward stationary, cards, and logos will still look and sound like Blue Cross and Health Net?

The New Rules of Racial Tolerance

There is a new racial tension not present a year ago, one having nothing to do with the election of the nation’s first President of partial African ancestry. Instead, never in my experience have officials of the federal government, both in the campaign leading up to their governance and once in office, so deliberately chosen to polarize the country along racial lines.

In retrospect, it seems a sort of nightmare these now serial outbursts of our officials — “typical white person,” “clingers,” “cowards,”,police who “stereotype” and act “stupidly,” “wise Latina,” “white polluters,” framed by the President’s pastor and once spiritual Audacity-of-Hope mentor screaming “God D— America,” bookended by hyper-racial comments of a Harry Reid or Joe Biden about Negro accents and cleanliness.

And, of course, soon followed the slurs and smears of those in the media accusing almost every opponent at sometime of being a “racist,” a word that now has as much currency as a German Mark around 1929.

Opposition to health care, cap and trade, illegal immigration, everything I think soon, is being reformulated as antipathy to some sort of Civil Rights issues akin to the legislation of the 1960s. Almost daily now a major media columnist writes an essay alleging someone is racist, or there are subtle racist thoughts behind a type of opposition or protest. “Racist” is a 1950s sort of allegation, an instantaneous judge/jury/executioner/no-appeal condemnation. How Orwellian that the most racist members of American society, who built entire careers of fabricating evidence and defaming opponents — an Al Sharpton, for example — have become go-to national referees of suspected bias. How weirder that one just pledges allegiance to the new agenda, and suddenly one is both more likely to say something racist in Reid- or Biden-fashion, and yet it is not racist at all.

Israel — We Hardly Knew Ye?

A year ago, I thought Israel was a trusted ally. What happened? Did racists and bigots suddenly emigrate there? It used to be that both Democrats and Republicans supported the uniquely pro-Western, capitalist, democratic, and tolerant society surrounded by radical Islamists, autocracies, and terrorists.  The rest of the world calculated oil, fear of Islamic terrorism, 300 million in the Middle East, and anti-Semitism; we alone valued consensual government, an enlightened society, and freedom as the basis of our support for a tiny state in a very hostile world — and protected the democracy against its countless enemies (there was a Holocaust once, after all, as the world slept).

But suddenly the U.S. government sends friendly videos to a theocracy that promises Israel’s destruction while snubbing the Prime Minister of the Jewish state? If a Middle East state leader wished to be courted by the United States by reverential protocol, an occasional bow, or kind words, then should not he be Iranian or Syrian, with the blood of American soldiers in Iraq on his hands? It is almost as if all the multicultural “anti-Zionist” campus and UN rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s is now reified in Washington.

A year ago I had a vague idea that abroad to be democratic, pro-Western, capitalist, and friendly to the U.S. — a Britain, Colombia, Czech Republic, Honduras, Israel, or Poland — was considered good. And to be authoritarian, anti-Western, statist or  communist, and anti-American was worse: a Cuba, Gaza, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria, or Venezuela was considered, well,  in the words of Robert Gibbs, “problematic.” No mas.

New Words, New Ideas?

A year ago I had never heard of “overseas contingencies operations” (what possibly could that mean?), much less “manmade disasters.”  (Power failures? Overfishing? Oil spills?). And before January 2009 I thought Khalid Sheik Mohammed was an enemy monster, who had planned the murder of 3,000 Americans, beheaded Daniel Pearl, and promised more mayhem if let loose — not a civil rights, water-boarded symbol of suffering, to be tried in a civilian court a few yards from the scene of his mass murdering.

From Subversion to Thank God We Have All This

A little over a year ago, I think I had it straight: an evil Bush and the nefarious Halliburton puppet Cheney destroyed the Constitution by wiretapping, intercepting, the use of rendition, tribunals, Predator assassinations, and fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I knew this to be true because of serial Hollywood movies, outbursts at televised awards ceremonies, novels, documentaries, comedy routines, constant exposés in the media, the provocative rhetoric (“if they bring a knife to a fight, we bring a gun”) of statesmen like Barack Obama, and outbursts from the likes of Sen. Durbin that our own soldiers at Guantanamo were akin to Nazis or Pol Pot’s monsters.

But then I woke up and suddenly all of these anti-terrorism protocols, founded in such crime and hatred, had now evolved into necessary tools to keep us safe. Iraq is now good and the greatest achievement of the administration. Predator target killings have quadrupled; tribunals and renditions are legitimate. Afghanistan is no longer lost. We won’t see another Rendition or Redacted from Hollywood (Iraq movies now win Academy Awards!). Justice Department officials who sign off on targeted assassinations are still former sober and judicious Ivy League Law Deans and Professors.  The New York Times no longer leaks information about our criminal government’s anti-terrorism efforts, and surely does not headline with IED of the day stories from Afghanistan. Wow, what a difference a year makes.

Go to Sleep, Wake up a Pod

I am catching on to this new year-old society; I think I am at least. Paying an underwater mortgage is sort of what wealthy and dubious people do; defaulting on one is proof of legitimate victimhood. There is no more immigration law — unless you are a foolish German, Russian, or Aussie who overstays his visa without claim on a proper -ism.

Budgeting for your private health care plan is proof of privilege; a maxed out credit card is better proof of corporate conspiracy. And paying no federal income taxes is evidence that you belong to the good 50% of Americans — or are mega-rich, savvy, and able enough to pay on your income instead at the capital gains rate.

There is no more interest on your meager passbook account; just on your mortgage: you pay the bank 5% for a house loan; they pay you a tenth of that at .5% for having $10,000 in your savings. They are dubbed “evil” by Washington and given more perks and latitude than ever before. You are to pay higher local, state, federal, payroll, and heath care taxes, with the assumptions that you will not help to pay down the debt and you, the greedy bastard, should pay even more taxes than you do.

Wake up, and get with it, reader: either you are a pod now — or everyone else is.


[1] Some things, of course, never change. The filibuster is always bad when a party is in power; good when out of power. Recess appointments in power are necessary antidotes to the shanghaiing of Congress; when out power, proof of anti-constitutionalism. Street protests are subversive when in power; and grass roots democracy when out.

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