Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Day in the Life of the World

It’s been a busy, explosive, perhaps game-changing day on Planet Earth.

For starters, for reasons I don’t know, Congress is in recess this week, which strikes me as odd, considering that we’re in danger of a government shut-down next week, but perhaps legislators feel they can more effectively stir-the-shit in their respective home bases.

President Obama took advantage of their absence to announce that he will no longer instruct the Justice Department to defend the homophobic Defense of Marriage Act, calling it unconstitutional. Will this lead to the federal legalization of gay marriage? White House spokespeople say the President’s position is evolving; encouraging, if not reason for wholesale celebration.

Today’s he said/she said discussion column by David Brooks and Gail Collins in the New York Times (Budget Wars or Culture Wars) reminded me why I have such affection and respect for Brooks. Conservative though he may be, his intelligence, insight, fairness, civility, and sense of humor make him a constructive and valuable pundit. Brooks and Collins take on the events in Wisconsin, each making important points when they say:

Gail Collins: None of this is about budgets. It’s about crushing enemies. Unions. Government programs. The social safety net. Abortion. Contraception.

David Brooks: See how quickly budget issues turn into culture wars? That’s the road to gridlock. We have to keep in mind that these issues are ultimately about money even though the combatants always like to pretend they’re fighting for morality. It’s possible to split the difference on how much people contribute to their health insurance. Things will turn rotten as we start to see this as a holy war. (Italics are mine: MizB)

Well said. In Wisconsin and in other states where protests are being held in response to additional budget holy wars, as well as Congress, where it’s been less about budgets and more about Conservatives killing their favorite cultural bug-a-boos (government programs, the social safety net, abortion, contraception, among others), it’s been impossible for the Left and Right to find accord, because no one is focusing on the biggest budget busters: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I myself am on Social Security and receive Medicare, so I have a personal stake in what happens to them. However, I can’t deny that fraud, waste and mismanagement are making these important programs unsupportable. I want them to survive – so I want them to be improved. If everybody was focused on this sensible goal, we might actually resolve our national financial woes.

Meanwhile, throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa, huge public protests, no doubt inspired by the victory in Egypt, are threatening long-ruling despots: men who have oppressed the people and robbed their countries blind for decades. Regrettably, America’s stock market is only responding to its fears about rising oil prices and the Dow took a 100-point dive today. These people make me sick. What would happen if the market rose in response to worldwide calls for democracy and freedom. Might not such patriotism serve everybody, including investors? But once again my naivety is showing…

Way on the other side of the world, New Zealand is trying to recover from an earthquake that has so far killed nearly 100 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. Indonesia isn’t doing too well either, thanks to natural disaster. Seems either politics and rebellions are pulling the rug out from under people, or Mother Nature is pulling out the very earth. Perilous times, perilous times.

The main story of the day, of course, is the meltdown of Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, certainly one of the world’s ugliest real-life portraits of Dorian Gray, as he desperately tries to hold on to his fiefdom. He’ll likely lose. And then what?

And as I write this, the History Channel plays across the room, re-running its series on Ancient Aliens, a theory I believe, and about which this series makes a strong, plausible case. Given what’s going on these days, I long for contemporary aliens – providing they wish us well and can help us fix what we can’t seem to fix ourselves. Here’s hoping.

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