For What It’s Worth (What’s that sound?)

Fri. Nov. 26
I can’t help it. In the last week that feels like a year I’ve collapsed following four months of non-stop intensity, job change, world change, culture shock, etc. Slept for days, woke up and purged everything inside me for three more days (not my own choice, believe me), and feel refreshed, relaxed, and rejuvenated now… with an awful lot on my mind… I remember a painting, a caricature hanging in our house in Dallas when a child. A souvenir, I assume, painted of my dad while he was working in Pakistan just before my sister was born. He was big, and in the (Indian) ocean, and yelling “Tsunami!” I’ve only been in the water once since I got here two months ago, and I’ve only seen it two other times, both from the air on trips to renew tourist visas. Culture shock…Typhhons in Taiwan, massive floods in the Phillipines and here…

(big political rant follows)
I sit here on my couch late on what for many is Thanksgiving Friday. Steven Stills is singing “Almost Cut My Hair” 30 years ago on my stereo right now. For the last seven years on this night I’ve been chatting in the dark basement with my cousin Mike, or up in the kitchen in Danbury with Meme and mom and sometimes Claude, and it’s often gotten political… in lieu of that chat here goes… It was thirty years ago that we finally got out of Vietnam. Both the 30 years and my dad revisited me via BBC World news today. The dollar hit 1.89 to the pound today. I don’t believe it’s been that high since my family moved to London when I was eleven, and the Nixon-Ford-Carter combo was doing its damage. It topped two dollars at that point, and my dad was very concerned. That was my first lesson in exchange rates, and I remember learning to be very happy that my allowance was in Sterling, and not pegged to the less and less valuable dollar, like my Dad’s salary apparently was. So now it’s today, and MY salary,and Mason’s investment in this school, are pegged to the dollar, the trade deficit’s huge, and the Federal deficit, we all know, doesn’t seem to be within the current regime’s realm of concern. Greenspan’s been worried for years now (and don’t we know by now that he’s the guy we have to listen to?).

Officially, the White House thinks the weakening dollar will provoke what it always provokes: repairs in the trade deficit because our exports will be cheaper… thus curbing the threat of inflation and raised interest rates… but most of our debt is financed by China and Japan, which, like everything else in the world is an act of self-interest on everybody’s part… but for how long will it be in China’s self-interest?… and China’s finally started dumping its US bonds, which means they’ve finally decided they don’t trust the US to get its house in order anytime soon. And speaking of China, there’s the IBM thing… Over here in Jakarta, the news is ALL China replacing the US as the dominant force in the region. Cultural and educational funding no longer comes into the regional US diplomatic missions here, and the void is easily filled by booming China. Add that to reports of Chinese influence spreading throughout Latin America, and Latin American leaders seeing better likenesses of themselves in the China mirror than the US one. And let me tell ya, maybe a higher percentage of US kids go to college, but even if only two per cent of Chinese kids go to college, that’s a huge brain trust being developed, and I don’t think I’ve met a single Chinese college student who didn’t have a sharply trained mind and a disciplined work ethic. These are good thinkers…

While on the subject of my worries about the US in the world today, just what is this Congress? On the one hand, in the two weeks since the election, the White House has dramatically reduced Pell Grant funding (read: far fewer poor kids doing college) and attached some Pro-Choice hospital arm-twisting legislation to an unrelated bill heading through Congress. Meanwhile the House might as well be owned by the Pentagon if it can’t withstand the dissent of two of its most conservative and entrenched GOP committee chairs on something like the 9/11 Commission bill. But on the other hand… Congress deep-sixes Bush’s hopes of building new-age strategic nukes… BRAVO. I’m sincerely thrilled that at least there’s a block on that isolationist impulse. The Senate spokespeople say, rightly, that they can’t let the US appear hypocritical as we try to keep the rest of the world adhering to non-proliferation principles. Next step: the environment and the International Court thing…

Now, anyone who isn’t in the Pentagon or White House and is reading this knows just by watching TV that as a nation, we’re getting dummer every year. And we all (including ex-pat me) still believe we live in the best country in the world. But I doubt we all think we live in the smartest country in the world. And we certainly know that conventional military wisdom hasn’t brought most of us the sense of security, the prosperity, or global understanding we might have wished for from the Korean conflict onward to the modern day (with the possible exception of Desert Storm). And yet here we are… reducing education funding yet again, our children forced to endure the Government’s complete disregard of Educational science with both No Child Left Behind and Bi-lingualism policy, cutting taxes while increasing the deficit and forcing Congress to spend billions on the Iraq nightmare…

Call me Son of Nostradamus (and Cortez, I guess). This is it, folks. This is the twilight of the American Empire. 15 years after the other superpower forfeited, we shoot ourselves in both feet while the successor makes love to the regions of the world we shun. Here in Indonesia (4th largest country, 3rd largest democracy, most bio-diverse), China’s just committed to investing billions over the next five years in infrastructure. I assume they’re trying to make it cheaper for themselves to get to the minerals and employees who spend so many man-hours in traffic and in hospitals sick from the fumes and water. We’re saying goodbye to the world… a world many Americans were only vaguely aware of anyway, I guess… When we wake up from our deficit crises (which we can’t blame China for exacerbating by dumping increasingly worthless bonds), we’ll feel like England did when India finally forced them out… only worse. At least the Brits were relatively friendly to their colonies, built universities and cultural centers, exchanged traditions and blood and diseases and all that… India’s not far behind China, either, and Asia’s just had a major political pow-wow pledging to all work together over here… Goodnight Meme, Mike, Mom, Claude…
(end of political rant)

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