17 October 2007

Past dreams, future nightmares

It pops into my mind occasionally – even frequently, these days – to wonder what the world will be like 20 years from now. Perhaps it’s my age. I’m solidly in the middle of my life now, perhaps a bit past the center point. And the last 20 years have gone unbelievably fast. But I don’t recall wondering very often what they’d be like when I was 31. I was still young enough to feel immortal, I guess. I was also inexperienced enough to think that my world would remain a pleasant and safe place, world without end, amen. That’s a conceit of the young.

Back then, my daughter was still a tiny sprite, just starting first grade. I was on an adventure, the first of six exciting, endlessly interesting years in Germany behind me. I had a putty-colored, rotary dial European telephone that gave three short, brassy rings when someone called my five-digit telephone number (you have no idea how that delighted me. Go figure). An hour-long phone call home cost about DM100, so we only called once a month. I didn’t have a computer at home, and no-one but some egghead engineer-types working on something strange and futuristic called the Internet had anything even resembling e-mail. Letters took two weeks or more to move between my third-floor flat on Ekleinjartenstrasse and my parents’ ranch-style home in northern California. The Cold War was still cold, but there were changes taking place in faraway Moscow. Terrorism of the European sort was still a threat. The Army guards at the post I worked on used mirrors on sticks to check the undercarriages of every car allowed through the gates. And we still seriously worried about bombers – giant Russian Tupolevs, not the human variety --carrying nukes from Russia to drop on major European cities. Cable TV had been around for less than a decade back in the states, and we didn’t have it in Germany. I watched CNN on Armed Forces Network, which was sprinkled with public service announcements, or German channels, which was a challenge. I was desperately trying to learn German, taking a total immersion course through the local Volkshochschule, struggling along with people from Ghana, Turkey, Italy, and other countries all over the world. We sounded like the UN delegates during potty breaks. I was having a ball.

Those six short years flew by. As you might have noticed, they remain bright and shining in my memory, intensely personal and treasured, memories to back up to like a hearthfire where I can warm myself when I’m feeling chilled by the present.

Like today. I read in the morning headlines Bush has appointed a woman who’s against both abortion and contraception to take charge of the part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services that deals with birth-control. Before working for HHS, Susan Orr was senior director for marriage and family at the Family Research Council, a conservative group created in part by James Dobson that favors abstinence-only education and opposes federal money for contraception. This bodes ill.

I get the feeling that Bush and his nutty right-wing cronies are working as fast as they can to create a theocratic government that will be incredibly hard to change once Bush is out of office. That scares hell out of me. My daughter and my stepdaughter are both of childbearing age, and neither of them are ready or even want to have children of their own just yet. They should have that choice, just like I did. I fear that in a few years, they may not.

They should also have the choice of whether or not to be religious, and the choice of which religion they wish to follow. They should have the right to choose, as I have, not be religious at all. Bush and the fundamentalist right-wing would take away that choice, take away their right to choose whether to bear children, and take away their opportunities for intellectual growth and even personal freedom. What a horror these people are. What a terrible threat they pose to all of us.

The five-year anniversary of the day Congress gave Bush the go-ahead to wage war against Iraq just passed. Our soldiers are still there, caught up in a massive fuck-up of a war that didn’t have to happen, and there is no end in sight. Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have died; many thousands more have come home maimed and broken for life. Tens – even hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens have died or have been ruined for life as well. And there’s no stopping the carnage, it seems. Bush is determined to leave his vanity war for the next president to clean up, if he or she can. There aren’t enough American soldiers there to do the job. They’re still poorly equipped. We’re relying on mercenaries to do the things we haven’t enough soldiers in our volunteer military to do, and the mercenaries are behaving as mercenaries have always behaved in wars, time out of mind, killing indiscriminately and without consequences. In the meantime, America has become a country that tortures people and holds them captive without a fair trial or hope of release. We’ve spent some $460 billion of our national treasure on this war and will have to spend billions more – and a great deal of that money is going to corrupt corporations and individuals rather than for what it was intended to. The Iraqi people lack fresh water, electricity is still intermittent, and they’re starting another harsh winter without adequate food and many, without adequate shelter. This is our fault. Our shame.

Here at home, our government listens to our telephone conversations and looks at our e-mail. Our economy is beginning to suffer as the housing bubble that kept things copacetic for so long deflates. People are losing their jobs, their homes, their chance at a decent life while the rich among us cash in. Many thousands of people have no health insurance for themselves or their children, and Bush is determined not to allow the government to at least provide adequate health care for kids. Our Congress, in spite of last November’s election that put (we hoped) sane adults in charge, hasn’t come through. They’ve been a monstrous disappointment. The war continues. The erosion of our civil rights continues. The destruction of the Constitution and of America herself, continues. And the people who’d like to end the separation of church and state, and turn America into a theocracy, continue to be supported by an administration that is terribly, tragically out of control. We’re not doing a damned thing about it.

Yesterday, the price of oil broke another record high, ending at an almost unbelievable $87 bbl. We’re facing the end of the Oil Era and we haven’t prepared. It hasn’t ended yet, but the cost of energy may soon be beyond the means of the average American citizen. When that happens ... well. It’s hard for me even to imagine, as dependent as we are on our cars to take us 20 miles or 50 miles or more to work each day. The cost of food will rise along with it, as will the cost of electricity. How will people pay their mortgages, their rent, their utilities and for other necessary things without jobs? Where will they go when they lose their homes? What will they do when they can’t work in their own communities because there are no jobs for them? What will they do when they can’t buy food?

People who can’t work can’t pay taxes. How will the government continue to run without funds?

Mr. Wren and I have a little spot of land, enough for a cottage garden. Properly cared for, carefully nurtured, we might produce enough for ourselves and one other family. More, if we extend it. We have a few chickens for the luxury of fresh laid eggs. We have a conventional mortgage, thank goodness. I was wary of ARMs and said no when the broker offered us that wonderful deal – it seemed to me that while interest rates were low at the time we purchased our house (1997), they could always go up, like they always do eventually. I didn’t want to get stuck with a house payment that suddenly shot skyward because I was conned into magical thinking. I’m glad I did my homework, particularly since Mr. Wren has since become disabled and is unable to work. But I’m still unemployed too, right now. While we’re managing each month, that has to change soon. What happens if I can’t find work and my meager nest egg is gone? How do I help my kids, who will be facing problems just as serious as my own?

I’m not sure what the future holds. What I am sure of is that it won’t be like the last 20 years have been. And that makes me sad for the young people who have just reached their most productive years as adults, a time when they’re still full of energy, hope for their futures and that heady sense of immortality. And their children. Oh, my, the children.

I have hope, still. I hope that a level-headed, sane adult wins the next presidential election. Whoever that person is won’t be able to fix things quickly, though. We have many years – perhaps 20 more, or 40 more, or 50 – ahead during which life will be much different, and much harder, for most Americans thanks to Bush and his minions. Some of the changes put in place by the Bush administration may remain in place. If there’s another Republican president, we can be assured those changes will be permanent and that our lives will continue to get even worse.

So I wonder what my life will be like 20 years from now, assuming I live that long. I wonder how it will be for my daughters, and their children, if they have them. I hope things get better, but experience shows me that they just might not. We’ll see.

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