Happy happy fun fun. It’s 9-11, boys and girls. Plague year edition.
As long-time readers know (glad you’re both still with me!), I often do something… commemorative about September 11th on its anniversary. In this case, I am pleased in some sense that the twin beams of light (“Tribute in Light”) launched from the site of the original twin towers of the World Trade Center will be going forward, despite concerns over safety of workers as a result of COVID-19. I mean… concern for the safety of workers at the WTC? Why start now?
And while the “official” ceremony will feature recorded reading of the 9-11 victims’ names at the World Trade Center site, the “Tunnel to Towers Foundation” plans on a nearby “live reading” for participating family members. To be honest, I have never been comfortable with this: even after 19 years, it is unclear if this is public commemoration or private grieving (on public space). The nation has innumerable tragedies, such as the present pandemic that, at over 195,000 dead Americans, has thus far claimed over 65 “9-11’s” in terms of human life, and yet, we can be assured there will be no annual reading of their names. I am not aware that anything similar happens with respect to the Oklahoma City bombing victims, or for that matter, Sandy Hook, Parkland or many of our insanely large number of school shootings. The cynic in me (and that’s pretty much my whole personality) would say that we honor the 9-11 victims because they were in large part affluent and white, often from tony suburbs especially in New Jersey. And of course, affluent white grieving widows (and widowers) and children and parents and siblings do make for excellent local news footage. And of course, what a wonderful face to put on the call for national blood revenge once called “the Global War on Terror,” and then, whatever my college classmate Barack called it (I believed he didn’t call it anything… though it involved a lot of drones and “Terrorist Tuesdays.”) Where was I?
Oh yes. Now I remember where I was going. It has been estimated that the “GWOT” (or “whatever”), representing the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia (and the rest of the planet) are estimated to have cost, as of late 2019 anyway, about $6.4 Trillion. (I should add that “only” around $1.55 trillion of that was “appropriated” by Congress.) That’s roughly a third of the entire US GDP for a year, but, you know, over 18 or 19 years, its probably only around 2% per year or so. But it does seem like a really big number and all since al Qaeda was routed in Afghanistan in 2001 or 2, and Saddam Hussein was routed in Iraq in 2003 or 4… and yet, the blood and treasure continue to flow. And so, it seems appropriate to compare and contrast the cost of the COVID-19 (or COVID-45, as I like to call it) to the American economy, and voila, we have an estimate from the Congressional Budget office of $8 trillion! Of course, the “Great Recession,” which was in large part triggered by a derivatives market involving assets with stated values of hundreds of trillions of dollars, was estimated to cost the economy between $8 and $14 trillion, or perhaps as much as $30 trillion.
You would think that something as big as the COVID pandemic, that not only has resulted in spectacular costs associated with these other earth-shaking events, but has also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans (and quite possibly, hundreds of thousands more) would involve, you know, a really big commitment to research for cures, preventives, vaccines, etc. I can’t quite find figures, but this report published by R&D super-power California suggests that the recent massive multi-trillion dollar federal coronavirus relief acts provide budgeting for such research at less than $10 billion. (Meanwhile, absent federal help, our research universities are kind of in trouble right now, despite being desperately needed to, you know, help with the pandemic!) Priorities! Kind of like the nearly $6 billion spent to date maintaining the Caribbean gulag and kangaroo kourt for Muslim men down in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I should add that the “whistleblower” there is one Gary Brown, the former legal advisor to the GTMO “convening authority,” or Defense Dept. official responsible for the GTMO military commissions, who at the time of his summary termination for having the audacity to try to reach plea deals to end the bullshit was Harvey Rishikoff (my classmate at NYU law school).
Once again… where was I? I guess I was trying to point out that our various handlings of September 11th, a catastrophic global war on everyone, everywhere whose “war prize” seems to be holding 40 Muslim men (some were captured as boys) in a Cuban gulag with the occasional “flawed” ersatz judicial proceeding (both military commissions and what passes for habeas corpus), to the financial crisis of 2007-9 (something like zero bankers and those responsible facing actual jail), or of course, the current pandemic (disastrous handling of everything leading to nearly 200,000 American deaths and counting) show that we are damaged goods as a society (I attribute it to American Exceptionalism in my book of that title), and to the point, seem to know the monetary cost of everything, but the value (or in the reverse case, the actual risks) of nothing.
Hence, the pathological focus on a far-off vaccine for no other reason than it will be expensive and money will be made, rather than on developing a population with its own improved immune systems to lower risk at a lower cost (you might try vitamins B complex, C and D, especially D, zinc, selenium and quercetin, with N-A-C and elderberry optional– at least those are my go-to supplements now). Or of course, “mixed messaging” on mask wearing, even now.
But I digress. This here blog started a week after 9-11. On that day, I was, of course, working a block north of the WTC and got a ringside 16th floor window view of events, which, I confess, have probably traumatized me less than many people who watched it on television. I lost a couple of people I knew, and I lost my job (proximity!) But maybe because it was such a useful event to justify a military action that was already baked into the cake, there seemed to be a consensus that this was “a national moment,” as good-wishes poured into NYC from everywhere, all over the country and all over the world.
Fast forward to 2020 and things are a tad different. Even though the coronavirus death toll in this city (certainly this metropolitan area) is several times that of 9-11, there seems to be little sense of solidarity (even as the rest of the country is now suffering mightily from this pandemic, despite knowing from NYC’s experience how to control it IF THEY WANTED TO). Indeed, especially given the predilection of life-long NYC resident and “President” Donald Trump to spew contempt on his home town, we have instead received some measure of national disrespect, if not actual contempt, for this area’s plight.
In short, Barack was dead wrong in suggesting that there isn’t a red America or a blue America, just the United States of America. I totally call bullshit on that. There may be red pockets in blue states and vice versa, but the events of the last 19 years (and especially the last four) have shown, beyond dispute IMHO, that because polarization serves the rich and powerful far better than solidarity ever did, by God we’re going to be getting more of it! Until we finally crack up one of these days. [And given that there is a highly contentious election in less than 8 weeks time, that crack up could be sooner than anyone imagined, unless we remove a certain mistake that our atavistic slave-owner created electoral system imposed on us four years ago.]
September 11th really isn’t the time for an optimistic message anyway. At one time, we could laud the heroic sacrifice of first responders running toward danger on that day (as they do every day). We could wave a flag and say “support our troops.” Oh, halcyon days of relative simplicity. The last 19 years of global wars, financial crises and pandemics where pain and reward has been distributed anything but evenly, has, IMHO, despite the promise of national solidarity (and indeed, a national mission) instead made September 11th come to symbolize the absolute worst this country has to offer in terms of arrogance and aggression (the words “Rudy Giuliani” make this clear). The cost of our response to the 9-11 events is so extreme that it will likely result in the eventual collapse of our global empire. Among those costs, we are, of course, “enjoying” the inability to nationally come together on anything in the form of the disastrous pandemic, where we lead the world in both coronavirus cases and deaths, and don’t even seem to be slowing down in either. Sigh.
Alrighty then. As we often do, let’s turn it over to the Cheneys.