Tuesday, August 2, 2011

800 Words: The Weekend America Was Young - Part 2

For Part III: Read Here

For Part IV: Read Here

For Interlude I: Read Here

For Part V: Read Here

Jacopo: So one day the people of the United States simply woke up to find that their culture was over?

Esteban: Not exactly. All the signs of our culture dying were there. And on some level, we all knew it.

Jacopo: How did you know that your culture was dying? How can anyone know?

Esteban: Because things are too good. Nobody can live so well for so long the way we Americans did.

Jacopo: I still don’t understand.

Esteban: We were too busy enjoying ourselves to notice how the fun was destroying everything we built. It wasn’t simply a matter of us all spending too much money, though that was a symptom. We expected too much of life.

Jacopo: What did you expect?

Esteban: That all society’s problems could be ended. We wanted to end racism, end poverty, end illness, end crime, end abortion, end inequality, end sexism, end war, end child abuse, end homosexuality, end dictatorships, end drug addiction, end drugs, end taxation, end government. And what was amazing about the America of my youth is that there were times when every one of those things seemed possible to the majority of us. Our country had come so far already that all our most desired dreams seemed attainable. We were a civilization risen so high that all our great accomplishments seemed like failures because they fell so short of ideal.

Jacopo: And the citizens of the United States could never agree on what their ideals were.

Esteban: If 90 years of living has taught me anything at all, it is that people have no ideals. The only thing people think about is what situation will work best for them. And once they achieve the situation that works best, they will wish for something that works still better. The United States of the 20th century was easily the greatest society the world had ever seen. Sure, by the late-20th century the standard of living was higher in Western Europe, but Western Europe’s high life was only made possible by the fact that America had loaned hundreds of billions of dollars to repair countries which they managed to destroy with little help from America.

Jacopo: Europeans still don’t like to be reminded of that.

Esteban: Europe has too much history to be reminded of anything about it

Jacopo: So does America now. But how did everybody in the United States of your time know that the end was coming?

Esteban: Because nobody’s ideals were being met. Everyone either had ‘issues’ which never concerned them in any meaningful way, or they didn’t care one bit for anything that happened in the world.

Jacopo: Which were you?

Esteban: Most definitely in the first camp. If there was a cause, I probably used it as a reason not to do work in high schoool. Then in college, I was convinced that I’d matured, so I decided that all these causeheads who were exactly like me three years before were directly responsible for the ruination of liberty and freedom in the world. So when I was a college student I supported causes like the Second Iraq War and warrentless wire-tapping - both were notions which many of us believed was the only pragmatic option int he face of a mad world. I was disabused of both notions quickly by much of the American history that followed.

Jacopo: How did you come to believe in either of those?

Esteban: After the September 11th attacks on New York City and Washington DC - as they were then called - the United States was a paranoid nation. It is difficult after the World War we’d later experience to imagine the searing impact of 9/11. 3,000 deaths and a couple buildings collapsing seems like a pretty good day during a world war that costs two billion lives. But this was the beginning of the 21st century. The world was hardly worry-free, but world peace had fundamentally been kept since 1945. The Soviet Union was the America’s only lethal rival, and it no longer existed. America seemed more dominant at the beginning of the 21st century than the combined forces of early-twentieth-century England, France, Austria, Germany and Russia. The only people who could destroy us were ourselves. We were so dominant that we’d convinced ourselves that the rest of the world hated us because we were so dominant, and there was absolutely nothing we could do that would make non-Americans stop resenting us. And because we’d convinced ourselves of that, we also convinced ourselves that we had to govern the world with an iron fist. Because if we didn’t, we’d become be the most vulnerable nation on Earth.

Jacopo: The logic is a little circular.

Esteban: Indeed it is. But I suspect that underneath all our fear was a piece of knowledge which we all in some way had. We were a decadent society on the verge of collapse. Our every whim was catered too, our vision for what was possible had atrophied. We had simply risen too high, and it was past time for us to fall to Earth. And like all decadent places, no enemy could ruin us as effectively as we could ruin ourselves.

Jacopo: For Alicia’s sake, and mine frankly, can you give us a basic history of World War Three?

Esteban: Surely. I’ve always said that the war began five years before it’s usually said to have begun: on August 3rd, 2011 at exactly midnight.
What happened was this: A bill to extend America’s debt ceiling, or credit limit, had passed through the House and almost through the Senate. But a young senator named Rand Paul decided to implement what’s called a Filibuster - continuous talking - so that the United States Senate would not be able to pass the debt limit increase. The reason Senator Paul did this was because he believed with the passion of any religion that a government should never force its citizens to pay taxes. As a result, the United States was stuck with 14.3 trillion dollars of debt which it had to pay off before it could borrow any more money.
Our President, Barack Obama, tried to order an increase in the debt limit. But the United States Supreme Court struck down his order, saying that a president could order the government. By September, it was clear that America was stuck in debt and that there was no way to borrow more money without paying it off.
People doubted it at the time, but Barack Obama was a very great man, as great a leader as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. So he did what any great leader would do, and asked the American people for an enormous sacrifice. The United States would have to raise taxes to the highest rates in their history, meanwhile shrinking their spending to less than it had been in 50 years - including the complete elimination of the Universal Health Care which he fought so hard to establish in the first two years of his tenure. He knew that this would easily cost him his re-election, but he also knew that it was the right thing to do.
In 2012, Obama was defeated by a Republican named Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney was not a great leader, but he was a fine politician, and managed to get a lot of the credit for Obama’s achievement. He spent the entire campaign railing against Obama’s requests for sacrifice. But when he was elected, he enforced all of Obama’s plans. Romney knew that it was the right thing to do, but he also realized that he’d get credit for the rebound which Obama instated.
Romney’s problem was that he had to appease the right-wing base of his party, which we then called the Tea Party, who never trusted him. The American right wing believed, like Senator Paul, that a government should never force their citizens to pay taxes. Romney knew that he had to do his best to appear as one of them, or else they would form a separate party of their own. So he told Americans that their country could pay off their debts without raising taxes. And Americans wanted to believe him, so they did.
To show the right-wing that he was really one of them, he picked his principle rival in the party - a congresswoman named Michelle Bachmann - as his running mate. Bachmann was a person who believed not only in low taxes, but also that abortion is murder, homosexuality is a disease, and that God had told her to run for President. Romney was not a great leader, but he was a competent administrator who understood what needed to be done to fix America’s debt. He may have campaigned against Obama’s plan, but he did not change it an iota.
The Tea Party cried foul betrayal at Romney. It became a point of faith for them that Romney was a liberal who had clothed himself as a conservative to get elected. Complicating this further was the fact that Vice-President Bachmann was ignored, it was widely thought that she would be dumped in 2016 for a more pliant Vice-President. But the ever-cautious Romney kept her, knowing that he still needed the Tea Party’s support if he wanted to be sure to beat Bill Clinton’s wife Hillary in the 2016 election. He needn’t have worried, President Romney carried all fifty states, with a completely Republican congress. The sole electoral votes to go for Hillary Clinton were the District of Columbia, which was not even a state.
President Romney was assassinated three weeks after that election, so Vice-President Bachmann immediately became President. Within a month, she had passed a bill to repeal the Obama plan. Taxes would be lowered to the lowest rate in American history, half of what they were under George W. Bush. In order to pay for this, she then demanded that China release America of its debt obligations. China refused, and talk of an war between the two largest world powers was imminent. It was only under the threat of nuclear war that President Bachmann ceased her demands for China cancelling America’s debt.
As a result of President Bachmann’s tax decrease, every credit agency in the world lowered America’s credit rating to junk bond status. American banks could not borrow money, and the government had no way to stimulate the economy. Nearly every person in the country attempted to take their money out of banks, and President Bachmann prevented it, declaring a bank holiday which she extended from week to week - even going so far as to send the US Army to patrol the bank vaults.
The American people had no access to money, and before long, that didn’t matter either. Because of America’s credit crisis, the Chinese government went into hyper-inflation. With trillions of dollars in America’s debt outstanding, the Yuan’s purchasing power was more meaningless than ever, and its value went into free-fall. Anarchy spread around China and the government was powerless. The Chinese nation, which the Central Committee had built so carefully over fifty years, became untenable. Regional governors had to use their local armies to maintain order. Not long after that, order was restored, brutally. So many regional governors then decided to defect from China and declare themselves rulers of their own nation states. Not long after that, the separate nation states of China were warring amongst each other for control over key resources.
Meanwhile, President Bachmann gave the sanction for an operation which every president from Clinton until Romney had denied. She told Israeli Prime Minister, Benny Begin, that she would support Israel in its bombing of the Iranian nuclear program. Begin wasted no time, and within two months Israel had dismantled the program with a series of tactical nuclear weapons designed to destroy material far below ground.
Iran’s response was swift. Since it no longer had nuclear weapons of its own. Within two weeks of the bombing, there was an air war with Qassam rockets launched from Southern Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai Dessert. Dirty bomb devices were attached to an untold number. The loss of life from these dirty bombs (including Arab life) numbered nearly a million. Prime Minister Begin responded with tactical nuclear attacks in all the regions where Qossam rockets were fired, which resulted in the lost of hundreds-of-thousands of Arab lives in addition to thousands of Israelis living in border towns who were unable to get to safe areas. Within a year, the apparatus of Israeli security had been dismantled and demoralized. All Iran had to do was arrange a series of nuclear weapons to be smuggled into the various border territories from Pakistan. The weapons would be attached to Qossam rockets, and rockets would detonate in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon Le’Zion, Ramat-Gan, Rehovot, Netanya, Bat-Yam, Be’er Sheva, Dimona and Ashdod. The first wave of these casualties was estimated at 1.5 million. Another 2.4 million Israelis later died from radiation poisoning.
Prime Minister Begin responded from Jerusalem, the only remaining outpost, by detonating nuclear devices in every major Iranian city: Tehran, Mashhad, Esfahan, Tabriz, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Qom, Kermanshah, Zahedan, Orumiyeh. Because the destruction was unremitting, because Israel would not respond to petitions for a cease-fire, because of the certain death which threatened other major Iranian cities, President Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered a nuclear attack on Jerusalem. Russian atomic bombs are far larger than those manufactured in Pakistan. So another seven-hundred thousand people lost their lives in the attack, followed by a million across the West Bank dead from radiation complications. Though the majority of the fallen in these attacks were not Jews, we Jews now refer to this entire series of atrocities as Shoah Bet. Jacopo, I hope this isn’t too dark for Alicia.

Jacopo: We’re Jews, we love dark. Please keep going.

Esteban: Very True. What happened next was that President Bachmann began to make speeches in which she blamed the nuclear attacks on both American Muslims and Jews, whom she claimed were a fifth column responsible for the destruction of the State of Israel. At the beginning, she reserved special praise for Orthodox Jews, but when the vast majority of Orthodox Jews denounced her as a ‘Rasha’ she began to lump them in with the rest.

Jacopo: This has always mystified me. How could she blame Jews for the destruction of the Jewish State?

Esteban: Bachmann claimed that American Jews had sold out their bretheren in Israel. Both Jewish and Arab students would often be arrested at protests and then indefinitely held in prison without trial. Our family was lucky. Everyone we knew, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were worried for what was to come. But not everybody could get out. I had lots of family in Argentina and your grandmother had family in Brazil. So we came to Rio shortly after we were married and opened the Brazil branch of the family business, which we ran for thirty years before your father took it over. Your Greycer Onkles - Jordán and Etán - went to Buenos Aires, and until five years ago ran the central office from there. But most Jewish families had to stay in America. Fortunately, things never got as bad as they did in Israel. At least no worse for Jews than anybody else....Y’know Jacopo, I’m getting rather tired.

Jacopo: Why don’t you take a nap before the party. I’m sure we can finish this later.

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