(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2012)
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.” Bo Derek
So…immediately following and ever since the re-election of President Obama, we have been told day and night by the various media that we, America and her people, are approaching a fiscal cliff. Are we approaching this cliff from the bottom and looking up? No. According to the latest diatribes, we are moving inexorably toward the edge of a cliff over which we will fall to our fiscal doom if the Republicans and the Democrats can’t agree on how to proceed with taxing the American people (while barely taxing the corporations who have most of the money.)
Hmm. Whenever our overlords trumpet something like an impending fiscal cliff or constitutional tsunami or economic donnybrook, I think of Dorothy and Tin Man and Lion and Scarecrow trembling before the scary projection of the Wizard on the gigantic movie screen in Oz, trembling until they discover the projection is the creation of a wimpy old man hiding behind a curtain bellowing, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Which is to say, I wonder what we’re not supposed to be paying attention to while the mass media and her propaganda pundits scare us with fiscal cliff hocus pocus, and by hocus pocus I mean illusion.
America is awash in money. Last week a new kill-as-many-people-as-you-can video game was released and took in close to a billion dollars in just a few days. New iterations of the Iphone and Ipad and Imac rake in billions and billions for Apple. Americans spend billions of dollars a year on lottery tickets and gambling, and the latest beyond-stupid teen vampire movie will gross a billion easy. Meanwhile, America continues to spend trillions of dollars on military operations around the world for the benefit of multinational corporations and continues to hand hundreds of billions of dollars in interest to the owners of our national debt, while many of the largest American corporations and most of America’s wealthiest citizens pay little or no income tax. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of us hand trillions of dollars to amoral health insurance companies that should have been replaced with Single Payer Healthcare a generation ago. So I’m not buying this fiscal cliff nonsense. What we have is yet another charade to keep us baffled and bewildered while tens of millions of Americans who long ago fell off their personal fiscal cliffs are suffering terribly and many more millions are on the verge of falling into bankruptcy and poverty.
“Money often costs too much.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
The American economy today is in large part a consortium of extortion rackets, the largest racket being the oil gas automobile industry, otherwise known as the great engine of global warming. Speaking of which, could the man behind the curtain be global warming? In a report written for the World Bank and published last week by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, the authors declare that humans must immediately impose radical limitations on carbon emissions or prepare for the collapse of entire ecosystems and the displacement and death of hundreds of millions of people. If we do not undertake extreme ameliorative measures, the report concludes, then the planet will inevitably warm by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, with unimaginable disasters wracking the earth long before then.
To quote a bit from Chris Hedges writing for Truthdig, “The 84-page document Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided paints a picture of a world convulsed by rising temperatures…a mixture of mass chaos, systems collapse and medical suffering like that of the worst of the Black Plague…and the tepidness of the emission pledges and commitments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will make such a temperature increase almost inevitable…causing a precipitous drop in crop yields, along with the loss of many fish species, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to abandon their homes in coastal areas and on islands that will be submerged as the sea rises. There will be an explosion in diseases…Devastating heat waves and droughts, as well as floods, especially in the tropics, will render parts of the Earth uninhabitable. The rain forest covering the Amazon basin will disappear. Coral reefs will vanish. Numerous animal and plant species, many of which are vital to sustaining human populations, will become extinct.”
But, hey, surely extinction can wait while all the Chicken Littles rush around screeching, “We’re approaching a fiscal cliff! Here comes the fiscal cliff!” and the bozos in Congress argue about whether to raise taxes a teeny little bit on wealthy people or to keep screwing the middle class and the poor. What a dilemma? Meanwhile, the governor and other top politicos of New York are asking Congress for 32 billion dollars to pay for the damage done by super storm Sandy, money that will no doubt be used to rebuild archaic housing and transportation systems guaranteed to exacerbate global warming and spawn more super storms. And where will Congress get the money for New York if we go over the fiscal cliff? Maybe on the way down the cliff, you know, as we’re falling and falling and falling, our wily representatives will find little caves in the cliff full of money for New York and for waging endless war and stuff like that. Sure. Yeah. Little caves full of money. Okay.
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France
For much of my life I lived on the edge of a monthly fiscal cliff that necessitated my coming up with enough money to pay my rent, my utilities, and for buying sufficient groceries to keep me alive. The fiscal cliff was the last day of every month, which was when my landlords required me to pay what I owed them. I did not own a car, did not have health insurance, bought my few clothes at the Salvation Army, and rarely traveled outside my local watershed. I patched together a living as a laborer, editor, and babysitter, and I tried to give myself a few hours every day to work on my writing and music, which occasionally brought in a bit of money.
When I had an especially good month, I would squirrel away anything extra in my savings account to give me a leg up on the next month, and every once in a while I would get two or three months ahead and allow myself even more time for my creative pursuits. My great fear was that I would hurt myself or get sick and not be able to work, and the few times that happened were frightening times, indeed, times I only survived with the help of friends.
In other words, I lived as many Americans live, one paycheck away from homelessness. For a few years I supported a friend and her daughter and thus needed to treble my income, a feat I was able to accomplish by giving up my artistic pursuits and doubling my workload. The largest expense was always rent, far more than half my income, and I was constantly worried that sickness or injury would render me incapable of working.
So when I hear politicians using the metaphor of a fiscal cliff to keep the American people frightened and unresisting, I am filled with sorrow and anger. There is so much we could do right now to transform our society into a wonderful system for everyone, a system of living and working and learning and sharing that would swiftly reverse the environmental damage done by the current system of senseless greed and plunder. There is plenty of money. There is no fiscal cliff. There are merely choices to be made. Do we use our fantastic collective wealth in ways that will benefit everyone and mother earth or do we continue to flush our wealth down the toilet of greed and selfishness and over the cliff of monstrous stupidity?