Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Going to Extremes

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is a multidimensional study in contrasts and similarities.

The battered seaside estates of the obscenely wealthy and the flooded inner city housing projects of the neglected poor vie for our split screen attention.

Polished Mercedes Benzes and battered Ford pickups are equally vulnerable, it turns out, to falling trees and bricks and metal signs.

A Democratic Laurel and a Republican Hardy are equity actors in post-disaster consolation theatre. Even though Halloween was cancelled in New Jersey, Thanksgiving came early. They spoke their lines with barely a prompt, in what some critics are calling a blatant plagiarization of that disaster hit from yesteryear, "Heckuva Job Brownie."

Chris Christie: "And I cannot thank the President enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state. And I heard it on the phone conversations with him, and I was able to witness it today personally."

Barack Obama: "At the top of my list, I have to say that Governor Christie throughout this process has been responsive; he has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm. And I think the people of New Jersey recognize that he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before. So I just want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership and partnership."

While the presidential wannabes of 2012 and 2016 respectively were careful to avoid Bush-like photo-ops of themselves peering at the New Jersey devastation from aboard their cushy helicopter, Mitt Romney was more ham-handed. His production company made the mistake of buying up all the diapers and infant formula and canned goods from a local Walmart SuperCenter to ship directly to the scene of the storm. If there is one thing the Red Cross always stresses during national disaster appeals, it's "Don't send STUFF. We don't have the time to sort and distribute it. Send MONEY."

If there is one thing Mitt Romney stresses during a national campaign, it's "Don't send money. We don't have the time to give some of it to the national treasury and distribute it for the common good." In Romney World, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, especially if the dog is tied to the roof of your car. (Sorry, Gail Collins.)

For me, the iconic image of Frankenstorm is the partially collapsed crane dangling dangerously over Manhattan. It is attached, sort of, to what has become the symbol of obscene wealth in this country -- a residential luxury skyscraper with units so expensive that only billionaires can afford to live in them. It is a pinnacle of the plutocracy, a monolith of greed. The crane is like a perverse Sword of Damocles misdirected at those hapless victims far, far below. Should it fall, it will plummet to earth like a bunker-busting bomb, tearing open the concrete, exploding gas and water mains, sending projectiles of concrete and steel to slash and impale any of the hapless lesser people lingering below.

It is just what happens when the top one percent of the population owns more than 40% of all the wealth. When wealth is disproportionately distributed toward the extreme top, the whole structure becomes unstable. Just as the lethal crane clinging precariously to the luxury high-rise threatens to destroy both the structure and what lies beneath, economic inequality leads to inevitable collapse of the whole society.

Frankenstorm is just one more freak of nature, one more indication of what happens in a society where regulations are few, where capitalism is unfettered, where the rich get rescued, and the poor just drown.

1 comment:

James F Traynor said...

Funny! Oh God!
Karen, you have to be on a shit load of lists.