Monday, January 25, 2010

It's just not that funny any more

Maybe it's middle age really setting in, but like Dennis Perrin, I find it practically impossible to "laugh in the face of American insanity" like I might have a decade ago.

Check it: by the time the kabuki theatre surrounding the health bill is done, the best case scenario is that health insurance companies get a bailout under a different name, but at least some 30 million people who might not have otherwise had access to health coverage within the parameters of the current system would get covered. I'm not optimistic about the best case scenario, and am not really sure I truly ever was. More likely, the 40-50 million who currently have no health coverage will continue to do without, remaining one serious injury or illness away from bankruptcy. And, for more and more of us who still have some insurance coverage, we can look forward to increasing premiums and reduced benefits (also putting millions more at the risk of being one injury or serious illness away from bankruptcy). The health "care" system, which is already dysfunctional and stressed will simply become more so. Whether it completely crashes and burns in five or ten years hence, who knows. But be rest assured, when that particular house of cards crumbles down, the insurance companies' CEOs will be flying to DC in their private jets begging for bailouts - and those who are unable to access adequate health care will get to pay the bill. Funny stuff.

Actually, just look at our infrastructure in general - not only the physical infrastructure, but the folks who deliver vital social services every day. That infrastructure is in bad shape. It was a decade ago, back when I could still crack a few jokes about it, and has only grown worse. Just sticking to the physical infrastructure, all I have to do is step outside my house and walk a few feet and I can show you how rapidly it's crumbling (although there are formerly paved areas of my street that offer a hint as to what formerly populated areas might look like within a few years of the end of our species). We have a rail system that would be considered an embarrassment to relatively impoverished nations like Bulgaria. Our highways and bridges are in seriously bad shape. Our sewers and electrical grids are likewise in need of an extreme makeover. State governments teeter on the brink of insolvency - state legislators vary in their reaction to their plight with indifference or impotence. Same can be said for our federal legislators.

Our political system is now almost completely incapable of passing meaningful legislation, unless of course it has something to do with increasing war funding or further eroding our civil liberties. It's a state of affairs that was already noticeable in the 1990s, that has only grown worse. And of course, in the best of times, there was a certain perverse entertainment value to the impotence of the legislative branch. In times of crisis, it doesn't seem quite as amusing.

Nor does there seem much entertainment value in the various corporatist attempts to either exploit or manufacture "populist" rage - the "Tea Party" nonsense springs readily to mind. Seriously, the puerile racism and conspiracy theorizing that was encouraged by its leaders was more depressing and disturbing (assassination talk and packing heat at town hall meetings like last summer spring to mind). I have no doubt that there are a lot of people who are anxious and alienated, who ended up being hustled by a bunch of carnival barkers.

Let's not even get started on problems we are facing with regard to various natural resources, or climate, the on-going wars, etc. What I do know is that I've lately offered some words to my son, who is now old enough to understand the world he's facing. Basically, about the best I can offer is to explain that my generation and the two generations before me really made a mess of things (admittedly an understatement), and that I hope his generation is up to the task of cleaning up our mess and salvaging something of a pleasant enough existence for themselves and the planet.

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