Saturday, 31 January 2009
It's Matthew Hayden referring to Matthew Hayden as Matthew Hayden.
Since the Queenslander retired from cricket earlier this month, a vacuum has appeared in Australian sport. Suddenly no elite Aussie sportsperson remains who consistently refers to themselves in the third person.
"People still remember how the young Hayden would poke grimly round his front pad," Hayden once said of himself, seemingly living his whole life as an out-of-body experience. "Matthew Hayden was created in India in 2001," he said more recently, meaning Matthew Hayden turns eight some time this year.
To be fair, Hayden isn't alone. Indeed, the cricket world is full of People Referring Autobiographically in the Third Person, or PRATPs. (As an acronym, it's a mouthful. Let's lose the second "P".)
The ex-Aussie captain Mark Taylor was a renowned PRAT. "Mark Taylor was one of our best batsmen last summer," Taylor famously said. "If this season is Mark Taylor's turn to miss out, so be it." Presumably he was so detached from himself that he wouldn't have minded one way or the other.
"Michael Clarke will be fine," said Michael Clarke, shortly after he was dropped from the Test team.
On another occasion, he said: "I'll always be Michael Clarke and I hope that I can be successful being me."
Such versatility: third person and first person in the same sentence!Cricket's PRATs aren't just Aussies. "The best thing [for England] is to get Michael Vaughan fit and playing well," said ex-captain Michael Vaughan, showing that he is equally adept with immodesty and willow.
"Sreesanth's way is to be aggressive," said the Indian bowler. "Sreesanth will always remain Sreesanth."
Very Zen. The sound of one hand clapping itself, you might say.
It makes you wonder. Perhaps Hayden et al have been making some sort of philosophical statement. Perhaps in their peculiar grammar they are eschewing egocentrism and solipsism, promoting instead a profound, noble egalitarianism.
By using the third person, perhaps they are saying that, sure, they may be highly-paid and indulged, but on an intrinsic level they're just like everyone else.
Or maybe they are revealing something even deeper. Maybe their manner of speaking is a subtle indicator that they ascribe to the Buddhist precept of anatta, which holds that there is no such thing as permanent self.
Or maybe they're all tools and tosspots. That's what Mike Atherton thinks.
"When cricketers refer to themselves in the third person, my antennae twitch," says the ex-England captain.
"It suggests a certain self-regard - talking about themselves almost as if they were describing a person they admire from a distance."
At this point, I must admit that my daughter used to refer to herself in the third person. She grew out of the habit a year ago, when she was two. So perhaps it isn't just a sign of arrogance. Maybe it's also a sign of immaturity.
Apart from cricket and the creche, the trait can be found in rugby league. "The Benji I know plays with confidence," Benji Marshall said last year.
Taking it all further, his fellow leaguie Greg Inglis refers to himself with only initials. "People say that when big stages come, G.I. comes out, G.I. comes out to play," he said.
Predictably, boxing is full of it. "I hate that Jeff Fenech," said the Marrickville Mauler last year, referring to the Marrickville Mauler of yesteryear. "I love what he represented … But I don't like him."
Even basketballers dabble.
"This is a such great day in the life of Andrew Bogut, the family of Andrew Bogut," said Andrew Bogut.
By contrast, the British cyclist Chris Hoy is an island of sanity. "In the past 24 hours everyone has been offering an opinion on Chris Hoy," remarked a journalist after Hoy won gold at the Beijing Olympics. "But what does Chris Hoy think of Chris Hoy?"
To which the cyclist responded: "Chris Hoy thinks that the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day that Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse."
So, what are we to do? Inspired by Hoy, should we take steps to eradicate PRATs?
In many sports, digital technology is being harnessed to allow decisions to be more closely scrutinised. Video refs and third umpires pore over replays to make determinations - but are third umpires enough? Perhaps it's time for third person umpires.
That would be one approach. It would, however, be the wrong approach. Because it's time for us Aussie sports fans to admit how much we love to laugh at the linguistic oddities of sportspeak.
It's time to 'fess up to our love of garbled grammar and strangled syntax - which is not just funny, but far preferable to all the bland PR-isms that are becoming increasingly common. In particular, it's time to acknowledge how much we loved to hear Matthew Hayden talking up Matthew Hayden.
Sure, these competitors with a penchant for the third person may be arrogant, immature and unhinged, but since when have we wanted sports stars who are sane?
There's something more. My guess is that in the final months of his long, celebrated career, Hayden began referring to himself in the third person less often.
I would suggest that when Haydos became sane, his batting suffered. More research is required, but I'm convinced that PRATs are better at sport.
It is here that our sports development programs are failing us. It's all very well for coaches and trainers to focus on talent, technique and mental fortitude, but where is the emphasis on grammar? On the turns of phrase that precipitate sporting glory?
We don't just need an Australian Institute of Sport. We need an Australian Institute of Pronouns for Sporting Greatness.
Only then can there be hope of finding a promising youngster in the mould of Matthew Hayden, a gifted upstart equally adept at winning matches and mangling interviews.
Friday, 30 January 2009
Energy Scarcity and the Path to Energy, Economic, and Environmental Recovery
Post Carbon's proposal for the Obama Administration's response to economic, environmental, and energy challenges.
by David Lipsky
He was six-feet-two, and on a good day he weighed 200 pounds. He wore granny glasses with a head scarf, points knotted at the back, a look that was both pirate-like and housewife-ish. He always wore his hair long. He had dark eyes, soft voice, caveman chin, a lovely, peak-lipped mouth that was his best feature. He walked with an ex-athlete's saunter, a roll from the heels, as if anything physical was a pleasure. David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live." Readers curled up in the nooks and clearings of his style: his comedy, his brilliance, his humaneness.
His life was a map that ends at the wrong destination. Wallace was an A student through high school, he played football, he played tennis, he wrote a philosophy thesis and a novel before he graduated from Amherst, he went to writing school, published the novel, made a city of squalling, bruising, kneecapping editors and writers fall moony-eyed in love with him. He published a thousand-page novel, received the only award you get in the nation for being a genius, wrote essays providing the best feel anywhere of what it means to be alive in the contemporary world, accepted a special chair at California's Pomona College to teach writing, married, published another book and, last month, hanged himself at age 46.
"The one thing that really should be said about David Foster Wallace is that this was a once-in-a-century talent," says his friend and former editor Colin Harrison. "We may never see a guy like this again in our lifetimes — that I will shout out. He was like a comet flying by at ground level."
His 1996 novel, Infinite Jest, was Bible-size and spawned books of interpretation and commentary, like Understanding David Foster Wallace — a book his friends might have tried to write and would have lined up to buy. He was clinically depressed for decades, information he limited to family and his closest friends. "I don't think that he ever lost the feeling that there was something shameful about this," his father says. "His instinct was to hide it."
After he died on September 12th, readers crowded the Web with tributes to his generosity, his intelligence. "But he wasn't Saint Dave," says Jonathan Franzen, Wallace's best friend and the author of The Corrections. "This is the paradox of Dave: The closer you get, the darker the picture, but the more genuinely lovable he was. It was only when you knew him better that you had a true appreciation of what a heroic struggle it was for him not merely to get along in the world, but to produce wonderful writing."
David grew up in Champaign, Illinois. His father, Jim, taught philosophy at the University of Illinois. His mother, Sally, taught English at a local community college. It was an academic household — poised, considerate — language games in the car, the rooms tidy, the bookcase the hero. "I have these weird early memories," Wallace told me during a series of interviews in 1996. "I remember my parents reading Ulysses out loud to each other in bed, holding hands and both lovin' something really fiercely." Sally hated to get angry — it took her days to recover from a shout. So the family developed a sort of interoffice conflict mail. When his mother had something stern to say, she'd write it up in a letter. When David wanted something badly — raised allowance, more liberal bedtime — he'd slide a letter under his parents' door.
David was one of those eerie, perfect combinations of two parents' skills. The titles of his father's books — Ethical Norms, Particular Cases — have the sound of Wallace short-story titles. The tone of his mother's speaking voice contains echoes of Wallace's writing voice: Her textbook, Practically Painless English, sounds like a Wallace joke. She uses phrases like "perishing hot" for very hot, "snoof" for talking in your sleep, "heave your skeleton" for go to bed. "David and I both owe a huge debt to my mother," says his sister, Amy, two years younger. "She has a way of talking that I've never heard anywhere else."
David was, from an early age, "very fragile," as he put it. He loved TV, and would get incredibly excited watching a program like Batman or The Wild Wild West. (His parents rationed the "rough" shows. One per week.) David could memorize whole shows of dialogue and predict, like a kind of plot weatherman, when the story was going to turn, where characters would end up. No one saw or treated him as a genius, but at age 14, when he asked what his father did, Jim sat David down and walked him through a Socratic dialogue. "I was astonished by how sophisticated his understanding was," Jim says. "At that point, I figured out that he really, really was extraordinarily bright."
David was a big-built kid; he played football — quarterback — until he was 12 or 13, and would always speak like an athlete, the disappearing G's, "wudn't," "dudn't" and "idn't" and "sumpin'." "The big thing I was when I was little was a really serious jock," Wallace told me. "I mean, I had no artistic ambition. I played citywide football. And I was really good. Then I got to junior high, and there were two guys in the city who were better quarterbacks than me. And people started hitting each other a lot harder, and I discovered that I didn't really love to hit people. That was a huge disappointment." After his first day of football practice at Urbana High School, he came home and chucked it. He offered two explanations to his parents: They expected him to practice every day, and the coaches did too much cursing.
He had also picked up a racket. "I discovered tennis on my own," Wallace said, "taking public-park lessons. For five years, I was seriously gonna be a pro tennis player. I didn't look that good, but I was almost impossible to beat. I know that sounds arrogant. It's true." On court, he was a bit of a hustler: Before a match, he'd tell his opponent, "Thank you for being here, but you're just going to cream me."
By the time he was 14, he felt he could have made nationals. "Really be in the junior show. But just at the point it became important to me, I began to choke. The more scared you get, the worse you play." Plus it was the Seventies — Pink Floyd, bongs. "I started to smoke a lot of pot when I was 15 or 16, and it's hard to train." He laughed. "You don't have that much energy."
It was around this time that the Wallaces noticed something strange about David. He would voice surprising requests, like wanting to paint his bedroom black. He was constantly angry at his sister. When he was 16, he refused to go to her birthday party. "Why would I want to celebrate her birthday?" he told his parents.
"David began to have anxiety attacks in high school," his father recalls. "I noticed the symptoms, but I was just so unsophisticated about these matters. The depression seemed to take the form of an evil spirit that just haunted David." Sally came to call it the "black hole with teeth." David withdrew. "He spent a lot of time throwing up junior year," his sister remembers. One wall of his bedroom was lined with cork, for magazine photos of tennis stars. David pinned an article about Kafka to the wall, with the headline THE DISEASE WAS LIFE ITSELF.
"I hated seeing those words," his sister tells me, and starts to cry. "They seemed to sum up his existence. We couldn't understand why he was acting the way he was, and so of course my parents were exasperated, lovingly exasperated."
David graduated high school with perfect grades. Whatever his personal hurricane was, it had scattered trees and moved on. He decided to go to Amherst, which is where his father had gone, too. His parents told him he would enjoy the Berkshire autumn. Instead, he missed home — the farms and flat horizons, roads stretching contentedly nowhere. "It's fall," David wrote back. "The mountains are pretty, but the landscape isn't beautiful the way Illinois is."
Wallace had lugged his bags into Amherst the fall of 1980 — Reagan coming in, the Seventies capsized, preppies everywhere. He brought a suit to campus. "It was kind of a Sears suit, with this Scotch-plaid tie," says his college roommate and close friend Mark Costello, who went on to become a successful novelist himself. "Guys who went to Amherst, who came from five prep schools, they always dress a notch down. No one's bringing a suit. That was just the Wallace sense that going East is a big deal, and you have to not embarrass us. My first impression was that he was really very out of step."
Costello came from working-class Massachusetts, seven kids, Irish-Catholic household. He and Wallace connected. "Neither of us fit into the Gatsby-ite mold," Costello says. At Amherst David perfected the style he would wear for the rest of his life: turtleneck, hoodie, big basketball shoes. The look of parking-lot kids who in Illinois were called Dirt Bombs. "A slightly tough, slightly waste-product-y, tennis-playing persona," Costello says. Wallace was also amazingly fast and good company, even just on a walk across campus. "I'd always wanted to be an impressionist," Wallace said, "but I just didn't have an agile enough vocal and facial register to do it." Crossing a green, it was The Dave Show. He would recount how people walked, talked, held their heads, pictured their lives. "Just very connected to people," Costello recalls. "Dave had this ability to be inside someone else's skin."
Observing people from afar, of course, can be a way of avoiding them up close. "I was a complete just total banzai weenie studier in college," Wallace recalled. "I was really just scared of people. For instance, I would brave the TV pit — the central TV room — to watch Hill Street Blues, 'cause that was a really important show to me."
One afternoon, April of sophomore year, Costello came back to the dorm they shared and found Wallace seated in his chair. Desk clean, bags packed, even his typewriter, which weighed as much as the clothes put together.
"Dave, what's going on?" Costello asked.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Wallace said. "I know I'm really screwing you."
He was pulling out of college. Costello drove him to the airport. "He wasn't able to talk about it," Costello recalls. "He was crying, he was mortified. Panicky. He couldn't control his thoughts. It was mental incontinence, the equivalent of wetting his pants."
"I wasn't very happy there," Wallace told me later. "I felt kind of inadequate. There was a lot of stuff I wanted to read that wasn't part of any class. And Mom and Dad were just totally cool."
Wallace went home to hospitalization, explanations to his parents, a job. For a while, he drove a school bus. "Here he was, a guy who was really shaky, kind of Holden Caulfield, driving a school bus through lightning storms," Costello recalls. "He wrote me a letter all outraged, about the poor screening procedures for school-bus drivers in central Illinois."
Wallace would visit his dad's philosophy classes. "The classes would turn into a dialogue between David and me," his father remembers. "The students would just sit looking around, 'Who is this guy?' " Wallace devoured novels — "pretty much everything I've read was read during that year." He also told his parents how he'd felt at school. "He would talk about just being very sad, and lonely," Sally says. "It didn't have anything to do with being loved. He just was very lonely inside himself."
He returned to Amherst in the fall, to room with Costello, shaky but hardened. "Certain things had been destroyed in his head," Costello says. "In the first half of his Amherst career, he was trying to be a regular person. He was on the debate team, the sort of guy who knows he's going to be a success." Wallace had talked about going into politics; Costello recalls him joking, "No one is going to vote for somebody who's been in a nuthouse." Having his life fall apart narrowed his sense of what his options were — and the possibilities that were left became more real to him. In a letter to Costello, he wrote, "I want to write books that people will read 100 years from now."
Back at school junior year, he never talked much about his breakdown. "It was embarrassing and personal," Costello says. "A zone of no jokes." Wallace regarded it as a failure, something he should have been able to control. He routinized his life. He'd be the first tray at the dining hall for supper, he'd eat, drink coffee dipped with tea bags, library study till 11, head back to the room, turn on Hawaii Five-O, then a midnight gulp from a scotch bottle. When he couldn't turn his mind off, he'd say, "You know what? I think this is a two-shot night," slam another and sleep.
In 1984, Costello left for Yale Law School; Wallace was alone senior year. He double-majored — English and philosophy, which meant two big writing projects. In philosophy, he took on modal logic. "It looked really hard, and I was really scared about it," he said. "So I thought I'd do this kind of jaunty, hundred-page novel." He wrote it in five months, and it clocked in at 700 pages. He called it The Broom of the System.
Wallace published stories in the Amherst literary magazine. One was about depression and a tricyclic anti-anxiety medication he had been on for two months. The medication "made me feel like I was stoned and in hell," he told me. The story dealt with the in-hell parts:
You are the sickness yourself.... You realize all this...when you look at the black hole and it's wearing your face. That's when the Bad Thing just absolutely eats you up, or rather when you just eat yourself up. When you kill yourself. All this business about people committing suicide when they're "severely depressed;" we say, "Holy cow, we must do something to stop them from killing themselves!" That's wrong. Because all these people have, you see, by this time already killed themselves, where it really counts.... When they "commit suicide," they're just being orderly.
It wasn't just writing the novel that made Wallace realize his future would lie in fiction. He also helped out friends by writing their papers. In a comic book, this would be his origin story, the part where he's bombarded with gamma rays, bitten by the spider. "I remember realizing at the time, 'Man, I'm really good at this. I'm a weird kind of forger. I can sound kind of like anybody.' "
Grad school was next. Philosophy would be an obvious choice. "My dad would have limbs removed without anesthetic before ever pushing his kids about anything," Wallace said. "But I knew I was gonna have to go to grad school. I applied to these English programs instead, and I didn't tell anybody. Writing The Broom of the System, I felt like I was using 97 percent of me, whereas philosophy was using 50 percent."
After Amherst, Wallace went to the University of Arizona for an MFA. It was where he picked up the bandanna: "I started wearing them in Tucson because it was a hundred degrees all the time, and I would perspire so much I would drip on the page." The woman he was dating thought the bandanna was a wise move. "She was like a Sixties lady, a Sufi Muslim. She said there were various chakras, and one of the big ones she called the spout hole, at the very top of your cranium. Then I began thinking about the phrase 'Keeping your head together.' It makes me feel kind of creepy that people view it as a trademark or something — it's more a recognition of a weakness, which is that I'm just kind of worried that my head's gonna explode."
Arizona was a strange experience: the first classrooms where people weren't happy to see him. He wanted to write the way he wanted to write — funny and overstuffed and nonlinear and strange. The teachers were all "hardass realists." That was the first problem. Problem two was Wallace. "I think I was kind of a prick," he said. "I was just unteachable. I had that look — 'If there were any justice, I'd be teaching this class' — that makes you want to slap a student." One of his stories, "Here and There," went on to win a 1989 O. Henry Prize after it was published in a literary magazine. When he turned it in to his professor, he received a chilly note back: "I hope this isn't representative of the work you're hoping to do for us. We'd hate to lose you."
"What I hated was how disingenuous it was," Wallace recalled. "'We'd hate to lose you.' You know, if you're gonna threaten, say that."
Wallace sent his thesis project out to agents. He got a lot of letters back: "Best of luck in your janitorial career." Bonnie Nadell was 25, working a first job at San Francisco's Frederick Hill Agency. She opened a letter from Wallace, read a chapter from his book. "I loved it so much," Nadell says. It turned out there was a writer named David Rains Wallace. Hill and Nadell agreed that David should insert his mother's maiden name, which is how he became David Foster Wallace. She remained his agent for the rest of his life. "I have this thing, the nearest Jewish mother, I will simply put my arms around her skirt and just attach myself," Wallace said. "I don't know what it means. Maybe sort of WASP deprivation."
Viking won the auction for the novel, "with something like a handful of trading stamps." Word spread; professors turned nice. "I went from borderline ready-to-get-kicked-out to all these tight-smiled guys being, 'Glad to see you, we're proud of you, you'll have to come over for dinner.' It was so delicious: I felt kind of embarrassed for them, they didn't even have integrity about their hatred."
Wallace went to New York to meet his editor, Gerry Howard, wearing a U2 T-shirt. "He seemed like a very young 24," Howard says. The shirt impressed him. "U2 wasn't really huge then. And there's a hypersincerity to U2, which I think David was in tune with — or that he really wanted to be sincere, even though his brain kept turning him in the direction of the ironic." Wallace kept calling Howard — who was only 36 — "Mr. Howard," never "Gerry." It would become his business style: a kind of mock formality. People often suspected it was a put-on. What it was was Midwestern politeness, the burnout in the parking lot still nodding "sir" to the vice principal. "There was kind of this hum of superintelligence behind the 'aw, shucks' manner," Howard recalls.
The Broom of the System was published in January of 1987, Wallace's second and last year at Arizona. The title referred to something his mother's grandmother used to say, as in, "Here, Sally, have an apple, it's the broom of the system." "I wasn't aware David had picked up on that," his mother says. "I was thrilled that a family expression became the title of his book."
The novel hit. "Everything you could hope for," Howard says. "Critics praised it, it sold quite well, and David was off to the races."
His first brush with fame was a kind of gateway experience. Wallace would open The Wall Street Journal, see his face transmuted into a dot-cartoon. "Some article like 'Hotshot's Weird New Novel,' " he said. "I'd feel really good, really cool, for exactly 10 seconds. Probably not unlike a crack high, you know? I was living an incredibly American life: 'Boy, if I could just achieve X, Y and Z, everything would be OK.' " Howard bought Wallace's second book, Girl With Curious Hair, a collection of the stories he was finishing up at Arizona. But something in Wallace worried him. "I have never encountered a mind like David's," he says. "It functioned at such an amazingly high level, he clearly lived in a hyperalert state. But on the other hand, I felt that David's emotional life lagged far behind his mental life. And I think he could get lost in the gap between the two."
Wallace was already drifting into the gap. He won a Whiting Writers' Award — stood on a stage with Eudora Welty — graduated Arizona, went to an artists' colony, met famous writers, knew the famous writers were seeing his name in more magazines ("absolutely exhilarating and really scary at the same time"), finished the stories. And then he was out of ideas. He tried to write in a cabin in Tucson for a while, then returned home to write — Mom and Dad doing the grocery shopping. He accepted a one-year slot teaching philosophy at Amherst, which was strange: Sophomores he had known were now his students. In the acknowledgments for the book he was completing, he thanks "The Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Fund for Aimless Children."
He was balled up, tied up. "I started hating everything I did," he said. "Worse than stuff I'd done in college. Hopelessly confused, unbelievably bad. I was really in a panic, I didn't think I was going to be able to write anymore. And I got this idea: I'd flourished in an academic environment — my first two books had sort of been written under professors." He applied to graduate programs in philosophy, thinking he could write fiction in his spare time. Harvard offered a full scholarship. The last thing he needed to reproduce his college years was to reactivate Mark Costello.
"So he comes up with this whole cockamamie plan," Costello recalls. "He says, 'OK, you're going to go back to Boston, practice law, and I'm going to go to Harvard. We'll live together — it'll be just like the house we had at Amherst.' It all ended up being a train wreck."
They found an apartment in Somerville. Student ghetto: rickety buildings, outdoor staircases. Costello would come home with his briefcase, click up the back stairs, David would call out, "Hi, honey, how was your day?" But Wallace wasn't writing fiction. He had thought course work would be a sideline; but professors expected actual work.
Not writing was the kind of symptom that presents a problem of its own. "He could get himself into places where he was pretty helpless," Costello says. "Basically it was the same symptoms all along: this incredible sense of inadequacy, panic. He once said to me that he wanted to write to shut up the babble in his head. He said when you're writing well, you establish a voice in your head, and it shuts up the other voices. The ones that are saying, 'You're not good enough, you're a fraud.' "
"Harvard was just unbelievably bleak," Wallace said. It became a substance marathon: drinking, parties, drugs. "I didn't want to feel it," he said. "It was the only time in my life that I'd gone to bars, picked up women I didn't know." Then for weeks, he would quit drinking, start mornings with a 10-mile run. "You know, this kind of very American sports training — I will fix this by taking radical action." Schwarzenegger voice: "If there's a problem, I will train myself out of it. I will work harder."
Various delays were holding up the publication of his short-story collection Girl With Curious Hair. He started to feel spooked. "I'm this genius writer," he remembered. "Everything I do's gotta be ingenious, blah, blah, blah, blah." The five-year clock was ticking again. He'd played football for five years. Then he'd played high-level tennis for five years. Now he'd been writing for five years. "What I saw was, 'Jesus, it's the same thing all over again.' I'd started late, showed tremendous promise — and the minute I felt the implications of that promise, it caved in. Because see, by this time, my ego's all invested in the writing. It's the only thing I've gotten food pellets from the universe for. So I feel trapped: 'Uh-oh, my five years is up, I've gotta move on.' But I didn't want to move on."
Costello watched while Wallace slipped into a depressive crisis. "He was hanging out with women who were pretty heavily into drugs — that was kind of alluring to Dave — skanking around Somerville, drinking himself blotto."
It was the worst period Wallace had ever gone through. "It may have been what in the old days was called a spiritual crisis," he said. "It was just feeling as though every axiom of your life turned out to be false. And there was nothing, and you were nothing — it was all a delusion. But you were better than everyone else because you saw that it was a delusion, and yet you were worse because you couldn't function."
By November, the anxieties had become locked and fixed. "I got really worried I was going to kill myself. And I knew, that if anybody was fated to fuck up a suicide attempt, it was me." He walked across campus to Health Services and told a psychiatrist, "Look, there's this issue. I don't feel real safe."
"It was a big deal for me, because I was so embarrassed," Wallace said. "But it was the first time I ever treated myself like I was worth something."
By making his announcement, Wallace had activated a protocol: Police were notified, he had to withdraw from school. He was sent to McLean, which, as psychiatric hospitals go, is pedigreed: Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton all put in residences there; it's the setting for the memoir Girl, Interrupted. Wallace spent his first day on suicide watch. Locked ward, pink room, no furniture, drain in the floor, observation slot in the door. "When that happens to you," David said, smiling, "you get unprecedentedly willing to examine other alternatives for how to live."
Wallace spent eight days in McLean. He was diagnosed as a clinical depressive and was prescribed a drug, called Nardil, developed in the 1950s. He would have to take it from then on. "We had a brief, maybe three-minute audience with the psychopharmacologist," his mother says. Wallace would have to quit drinking, and there was a long list of foods — certain cheeses, pickles, cured meats — he would have to stay away from.
He started to clean up. He found a way to get sober, worked very hard at it, and wouldn't drink for the rest of his life. Girl With Curious Hair finally appeared in 1989. Wallace gave a reading in Cambridge; 13 people showed up, including a schizophrenic woman who shrieked all the way through his performance. "The book's coming out seemed like a kind of shrill, jagged laugh from the universe, this thing sort of lingering behind me like a really nasty fart."
What followed was a phased, deliberate return to the world. He worked as a security guard, morning shift, at Lotus Software. Polyester uniform, service baton, walking the corridors. "I liked it because I didn't have to think," he said. "Then I quit for the incredibly brave reason that I got tired of getting up so early in the morning."
Next, he worked at a health club in Auburndale, Massachusetts. "Very chichi," he said. "They called me something other than a towel boy, but I was in effect a towel boy. I'm sitting there, and who should walk in to get their towel but Michael Ryan. Now, Michael Ryan had received a Whiting Writers' Award the same year I had. So I see this guy that I'd been up on the fucking rostrum with, having Eudora Welty give us this prize. It's two years later — it's the only time I've literally dived under something. He came in, and I pretended not very subtly to slip, and lay facedown, and didn't respond. I left that day, and I didn't go back."
He wrote Bonnie Nadell a letter; he was done with writing. That wasn't exactly her first concern. "I was worried he wasn't going to survive," she says. He filled in Howard, too. "I contemplated the circumstance that the best young writer in America was handing out towels in a health club," Howard says. "How fucking sad."
Wallace met Jonathan Franzen in the most natural way for an author: as a fan. He sent Franzen a nice letter about his first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City. Franzen wrote back, they arranged to meet in Cambridge. "He just flaked," Franzen recalls. "He didn't show up. That was a fairly substance-filled period of his life."
By April of 1992, both were ready for a change. They loaded Franzen's car and headed for Syracuse to scout apartments. Franzen needed "somewhere to relocate with my wife where we could both afford to live and not have anyone tell us how screwed up our marriage was." Wallace's need was simpler: cheap space, for writing. He had been researching for months, haunting rehab facilities and halfway houses, taking quiet note of voices and stories, people who had fallen into the gaps like him. "I got very assertive research- and finagle-wise," he said. "I spent hundreds of hours at three halfway houses. It turned out you could just sit in the living room — nobody is as gregarious as somebody who has recently stopped using drugs."
He and Franzen talked a lot about what writing should be for. "We had this feeling that fiction ought to be good for something," Franzen says. "Basically, we decided it was to combat loneliness." They would talk about lots of Wallace's ideas, which could abruptly sharpen into self-criticism. "I remember this being a frequent topic of conversation," Franzen says, "his notion of not having an authentic self. Of being just quick enough to construct a pleasing self for whomever he was talking to. I see now he wasn't just being funny — there was something genuinely compromised in David. At the time I thought, 'Wow, he's even more self-conscious than I am.' "
Wallace spent a year writing in Syracuse. "I lived in an apartment that was seriously the size of the foyer of an average house. I really liked it. There were so many books, you couldn't move around. When I'd want to write, I'd have to put all the stuff from the desk on the bed, and when I'd want to sleep, I would have to put all the stuff on the desk."
Wallace worked longhand, pages piling up. "You look at the clock and seven hours have passed and your hand is cramped," Wallace said. He'd have pens he considered hot — cheap Bic ballpoints, like batters have bats that are hot. A pen that was hot he called the orgasm pen.
In the summer of 1993, he took an academic job 50 miles from his parents, at Illinois State University at Normal. The book was three-quarters done. Based on the first unruly stack of pages, Nadell had been able to sell it to Little, Brown. He had put his whole life into it — tennis, and depression, and stoner afternoons, and the precipice of rehab, and all the hours spent with Amy watching TV. The plot motor is a movie called Infinite Jest, so soothing and perfect it's impossible to switch off: You watch until you sink into your chair, spill your bladder, starve, die. "If the book's about anything," he said, "it's about the question of why am I watching so much shit? It's not about the shit. It's about me: Why am I doing it? The original title was A Failed Entertainment, and the book is structured as an entertainment that doesn't work" — characters developing and scattering, chapters disordered — "because what entertainment ultimately leads to is 'Infinite Jest,' that's the star it's steering by."
Wallace held classes in his house, students nudging aside books like Compendium of Drug Therapy and The Emergence of the French Art Film, making jokes about Mount Manuscript, David's pile of novel. He had finished and collected the three years of drafts, and finally sat down and typed the whole thing. Wallace didn't really type; he input the giant thing twice, with one finger. "But a really fast finger."
It came to almost 1,700 pages. "I was just terrified how long it would end up being," he said. Wallace told his editor it would be a good beach book, in the sense that people could use it for shade.
It can take a year to edit a book, re-edit it, print it, publicize it, ship it, the writer all the time checking his watch. In the meantime, Wallace turned to nonfiction. Two pieces, published in Harper's, would become some of the most famous pieces of journalism of the past decade and a half.
Colin Harrison, Wallace's editor at Harper's, had the idea to outfit him with a notebook and push him into perfectly American places — the Illinois State Fair, a Caribbean cruise. It would soak up the side of Wallace that was always on, always measuring himself. "There would be Dave the mimic, Dave the people-watcher," Costello says. "Asking him to actually report could get stressful and weird and complicated. Colin had this stroke of genius about what to do with David. It was a much simpler solution than anyone ever thought."
In the pieces, Wallace invented a style writers have plundered for a decade. The unedited camera, the feed before the director in the van starts making choices and cuts. The voice was humane, a big, kind brain tripping over its own lumps. "The Harper's pieces were me peeling back my skull," Wallace said. "You know, welcome to my mind for 20 pages, see through my eyes, here's pretty much all the French curls and crazy circles. The trick was to have it be honest but also interesting — because most of our thoughts aren't all that interesting. To be honest with a motive." He laughed. "There's a certain persona created, that's a little stupider and schmuckier than I am."
The cruise-ship piece ran in January 1996, a month before David's novel was published. People photocopied it, faxed it to each other, read it over the phone. When people tell you they're fans of David Foster Wallace, what they're often telling you is that they've read the cruise-ship piece; Wallace would make it the title essay in his first collection of journalism, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. In a way, the difference between the fiction and the nonfiction reads as the difference between Wallace's social self and his private self. The essays were endlessly charming, they were the best friend you'd ever have, spotting everything, whispering jokes, sweeping you past what was irritating or boring or awful in humane style. Wallace's fiction, especially after Infinite Jest, would turn chilly, dark, abstract. You could imagine the author of the fiction sinking into a depression. The nonfiction writer was an impervious sun.
The novel came out in February of 1996. In New York Magazine, Walter Kirn wrote, "The competition has been obliterated. It's as though Paul Bunyan had joined the NFL, or Wittgenstein had gone on Jeopardy! The novel is that colossally disruptive. And that spectacularly good." He was in Newsweek, Time, Hollywood people appeared at his readings, women batted their eyelashes, men in the back rows scowled, envied. A FedEx guy rang his bell, watched David sign for delivery, asked, "How's it feel to be famous?"
At the end of his book tour, I spent a week with David. He talked about the "greasy thrill of fame" and what it might mean to his writing. "When I was 25, I would've given a couple of digits off my non-use hand for this," he said. "I feel good, because I wanna be doing this for 40 more years, you know? So I've got to find some way to enjoy this that doesn't involve getting eaten by it."
He was astonishingly good, quick company, making you feel both wide awake and as if your shoes had been tied together. He'd say things like, "There's good self-consciousness, and then there's toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness." He talked about a kind of shyness that turned social life impossibly complicated. "I think being shy basically means being self-absorbed to the point that it makes it difficult to be around other people. For instance, if I'm hanging out with you, I can't even tell whether I like you or not because I'm too worried about whether you like me."
He said one interviewer had devoted tons of energy to the genius question. "That was his whole thing, 'Are you normal?' 'Are you normal?' I think one of the true ways I've gotten smarter is that I've realized that there are ways other people are a lot smarter than me. My biggest asset as a writer is that I'm pretty much like everybody else. The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever almost made me die."
It had been difficult, during the summer, to watch his sister get married. "I'm almost 35. I would like to get married and have kids. I haven't even started to work that shit out yet. I've come close a few times, but I tend to be interested in women that I turn out to not get along very well with. I have friends who say this is something that would be worth looking into with someone that you pay."
Wallace was always dating somebody. "There were a lot of relationships," Amy says. He dated in his imaginative life too: When I visited him, one wall was taped with a giant Alanis Morissette poster. "The Alanis Morissette obsession followed the Melanie Griffith obsession — a six-year obsession," he said. "It was preceded by something that I will tell you I got teased a lot for, which was a terrible Margaret Thatcher obsession. All through college: posters of Margaret Thatcher, and ruminations on Margaret Thatcher. Having her really enjoy something I said, leaning forward and covering my hand with hers."
He tended to date high-strung women — another symptom of his shyness. "Say what you want about them, psychotics tend to make the first move." Owning dogs was less complicated: "You don't get the feeling you're hurting their feelings all the time."
His romantic anxieties were full-spectrum, every bit of the mechanics individually examined. He told me a joke:
What does a writer say after sex?
Was it as good for me as it was for you?
"There is, in writing, a certain blend of sincerity and manipulation, of trying always to gauge what the particular effect of something is gonna be," he said. "It's a very precious asset that really needs to be turned off sometimes. My guess is that writers probably make fun, skilled, satisfactory, and seemingly considerate partners for other people. But that the experience for them is often rather lonely."
One night Wallace met the writer Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose depression memoir, Prozac Nation, had recently been published. She thought he looked scruffy — jeans and the bandanna — and very smart. Another night, Wallace walked her home from a restaurant, sat with her in her lobby, spent some time trying to talk his way upstairs. It charmed Wurtzel: "You know, he might have had this enormous brain, but at the end of the day, he still was a guy."
Wallace and Wurtzel didn't really talk about the personal experience they had in common — depression, a substance history, consultations at McLean — but about their profession, about what to do with fame. Wallace, again, had set impossible standards for himself. "It really disturbed him, the possibility that success could taint you," she recalls. "He was very interested in purity, in the idea of authenticity — the way some people are into the idea of being cool. He had keeping it real down to a science."
When Wallace wrote her, he was still curling through the same topic. "I go through a loop in which I notice all the ways I am self-centered and careerist and not true to standards and values that transcend my own petty interests, and feel like I'm not one of the good ones. But then I countenance the fact that at least here I am worrying about it, noticing all the ways I fall short of integrity, and I imagine that maybe people without any integrity at all don't notice or worry about it; so then I feel better about myself. It's all very confusing. I think I'm very honest and candid, but I'm also proud of how honest and candid I am — so where does that put me?"
Success can be as difficult to recover from as failure. "You know the tic big-league pitchers have," his mother says, "when they know that they've pitched a marvelous game — but gee, can they do it again, so they keep flexing that arm? There was some of that. Where he said, 'OK. Good, that came out well. But can I do it again?' That was the feeling I got. There was always the shadow waiting."
Wallace saw it that way too. "My big worry," he said, "is that this will just up my expectations for myself. And expectations are a very fine line. Up to a certain point they can be motivating, can be kind of a flamethrower held to your ass. Past that point they're toxic and paralyzing. I'm scared that I'll fuck up and plunge into a compressed version of what I went through before."
Mark Costello was also worried. "Work got very hard. He didn't get these gifts from God anymore, he didn't get these six-week periods where he got exactly the 120 pages he needed. So he found distraction in other places." He would get engaged, then unengaged. He would call friends: "Next weekend, Saturday, you gotta be in Rochester, Minnesota, I'm getting married." But then it would be Sunday, or the next week, and he'd have called it off.
"He almost got married a few times," Amy says. "I think what ultimately happened is he was doing it more for the other person than himself. And he realized that wasn't doing the other person any favors."
Wallace told Costello about a woman he had become involved with. "He said, 'She gets mad at me because I never want to leave the house.' 'Honey, let's go to the mall.' 'No, I want to write.' 'But you never do write.' 'But I don't know if I'm going to write. So I have to be here in case it happens.' This went on for years."
In 2000, Wallace wrote a letter to his friend Evan Wright, a Rolling Stone contributor: "I know about still having trouble with relationships. (Boy oh boy, do I.) But coming to enjoy my own company more and more — most of the time. I know about some darkness every day (and some days, it's all dark for me)." He wrote about meeting a woman, having things move too easily, deciding against it. "I think whatever the pull is for me is largely composed of wanting the Big Yes, of wanting someone else to want you (Cheap Trick lives). . . . So now I don't know what to do. Probably nothing, which seems to be the Sign that the universe or its CEO is sending me."
In the summer of 2001, Wallace relocated to Claremont, California, to become the Roy Edward Disney Chair in Creative Writing, at Pomona College. He published stories and essays, but was having trouble with his work. After he reported on John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign for this magazine, he wrote his agent that it would show his editor that "I'm still capable of good work (my own insecurities, I know)."
Wallace had received a MacArthur "genius" award in 1997. "I don't think it did him any favors," says Franzen. "It conferred the mantle of 'genius' on him, which he had of course craved and sought and thought was his due. But I think he felt, 'Now I have to be even smarter.' " In late 2001, Costello called Wallace. "He was talking about how hard the writing was. And I said, lightheartedly, 'Dave, you're a genius.' Meaning, people aren't going to forget about you. You're not going to wind up in a Wendy's. He said, 'All that makes me think is that I've fooled you, too.'"
Wallace met Karen Green a few months after moving to Claremont. Green, a painter, admired David's work. It was a sort of artistic exchange, an inter-disciplinary blind date. "She wanted to do some paintings based on some of David's stories," his mother says. "They had a mutual friend, and she thought she would ask permission."
"He was totally gaga," Wright recalls. "He called, head over heels, he was talking about her as a life-changing event." Franzen met Green the following year. "I felt in about three minutes that he'd finally found somebody who was up to the task of living with Dave. She's beautiful, incredibly strong, and a real grown-up — she had a center that was not about landing the genius Dave Wallace."
They made their debut as a couple with Wallace's parents in July 2003, attending the Maine culinary festival that would provide the title for his last book, Consider the Lobster. "They were both so quick," his father says. "They would get things and look at each other and laugh, without having to say what had struck them as funny." The next year, Wallace and Green flew to his parents' home in Illinois, where they were married two days after Christmas. It was a surprise wedding. David told his mother he wanted to take the family to what he called a "high-gussy" lunch. Sally Wallace assumed it was Karen's influence. "David does not do high gussy," she says. "His notion of high gussy is maybe long pants instead of shorts or a T-shirt with two holes instead of 18." Green and Wallace left the house early to "run errands," while Amy figured out a pretext to get their parents to the courthouse on the way to the lunch. "We went upstairs," Sally says, "and saw Karen with a bouquet, and David dressed up with a flower in his buttonhole, and we knew. He just looked so happy, just radiating happiness." Their reception was at an Urbana restaurant. "As we left in the snow," Sally says, "David and Karen were walking away from us. He wanted us to take pictures, and Jim did. David was jumping in the air and clicking his heels. That became the wedding announcement."
According to Wallace's family and friends, the last six years — until the final one — were the best of his life. The marriage was happy, university life good, Karen and David had two dogs, Warner and Bella, they bought a lovely house. "Dave in a real house," Franzen says, laughing, "with real furniture and real style."
To Franzen's eye, he was watching Wallace grow up. There had been in David a kind of purposeful avoidance of the normal. Once, they'd gone to a literary party in the city. They walked in the front door together, but by the time Franzen got to the kitchen, he realized Wallace had disappeared. "I went back and proceeded to search the whole place," Franzen recalled. "He had walked into the bathroom to lose me, then turned on his heels and walked right back out the front door."
Now, that sort of thing had stopped. "He had reason to hope," Franzen said. "He had the resources to be more grown-up, a wholer person."
And then there were the dogs. "He had a predilection for dogs who'd been abused, and unlikely to find other owners who were going to be patient enough for them," Franzen says. "Whether through a sense of identification or sympathy, he had a very hard time disciplining them. But you couldn't see his attentiveness to the dogs without getting a lump in your throat."
Because Wallace was secure, he began to talk about going off Nardil, the antidepressant he had taken for nearly two decades. The drug had a long list of side effects, including the potential of very high blood pressure. "It had been a fixture of my morbid fear about Dave — that he would not last all that long, with the wear and tear on his heart," Franzen says. "I worried that I was going to lose him in his early 50s." Costello said that Wallace complained the drug made him feel "filtered." "He said, 'I don't want to be on this stuff for the rest of my life.' He wanted to be more a member of the human race."
In June of 2007, Wallace and Green were at an Indian restaurant with David's parents in Claremont. David suddenly felt very sick — intense stomach pains. They stayed with him for days. When he went to doctors, he was told that something he'd eaten might have interacted with the Nardil. They suggested he try going off the drug and seeing if another approach might work.
"So at that point," says his sister Amy, with an edge in her voice, it was determined, 'Oh, well, gosh, we've made so much pharmaceutical progress in the last two decades that I'm sure we can find something that can knock out that pesky depression without all these side effects.' They had no idea that it was the only thing that was keeping him alive."
Wallace would have to taper off the old drug and then taper on to a new one. "He knew it was going to be rough," says Franzen. "But he was feeling like he could finally afford a year to do the job. He figured that he was going to go on to something else, at least temporarily. He was a perfectionist, you know? He wanted to be perfect, and taking Nardil was not perfect."
That summer, David began to phase out the Nardil. His doctors began prescribing other medications, none of which seemed to help. "They could find nothing," his mother says softly. "Nothing." In September, David asked Amy to forgo her annual fall-break visit. He wasn't up to it. By October, his symptoms had become bad enough to send him to the hospital. His parents didn't know what to do. "I started worrying about that," Sally says, "but then it seemed OK." He began to drop weight. By that fall, he looked like a college kid again: longish hair, eyes intense, as if he had just stepped out of an Amherst classroom.
When Amy talked to him on the phone, "sometimes he was his old self," she says. "The worst question you could ask David in the last year was 'how are you?' And it's almost impossible to have a conversation with someone you don't see regularly without that question." Wallace was very honest with her. He'd answer, "I'm not all right. I'm trying to be, but I'm not all right."
Despite his struggle, Wallace managed to keep teaching. He was dedicated to his students: He would write six pages of comments to a short story, joke with his class, fight them to try harder. During office hours, if there was a grammar question he couldn't answer, he'd phone his mother. "He would call me and say, 'Mom, I've got this student right here. Explain to me one more time why this is wrong.' You could hear the student sort of laughing in the background. 'Here's David Foster Wallace calling his mother.' "
In early May, at the end of the school year, he sat down with some graduating seniors from his fiction class at a nearby cafe. Wallace answered their jittery writer's-future questions. "He got choked up at the end," recalls Bennett Sims, one of his students. "He started to tell us how much he would miss us, and he began to cry. And because I had never seen Dave cry, I thought he was just joking. Then, awfully, he sniffled and said, 'Go ahead and laugh — here I am crying — but I really am going to miss all of you.' "
His parents were scheduled to visit the next month. In June, when Sally spoke with her son, he said, "I can't wait, it'll be wonderful, we'll have big fun." The next day, he called and said, "Mom, I have two favors to ask you. Would you please not come?" She said OK. Then Wallace asked, "Would your feelings not be hurt?"
No medications had worked; the depression wouldn't lift. "After this year of absolute hell for David," Sally says, "they decided to go back to the Nardil." The doctors also administered 12 courses of electroconvulsive therapy, waiting for Wallace's medication to become effective. "Twelve," Sally repeats. "Such brutal treatments," Jim says. "It was clear then things were bad."
Wallace had always been terrified of shock therapy. "It scares the shit out of me," he told me in 1996. "My brain's what I've got. But I could see that at a certain point, you might beg for it."
In late June, Franzen, who was in Berlin, grew worried. "I actually woke up one night," he says. "Our communications had a rhythm, and I thought, 'It's been too long since I heard from Dave.' " When Franzen called, Karen said to come immediately: David had tried to kill himself.
Franzen spent a week with Wallace in July. David had dropped 70 pounds in a year. "He was thinner than I'd ever seen him. There was a look in his eyes: terrified, terribly sad, and far away. Still, he was fun to be with, even at 10 percent strength." Franzen would sit with Wallace in the living room and play with the dogs, or step outside with David while he smoked a cigarette. "We argued about stuff. He was doing his usual line about, 'A dog's mouth is practically a disinfectant, it's so clean. Not like human saliva, dog saliva is marvelously germ-resistant.'" Before he left, Wallace thanked him for coming. "I felt grateful that he allowed me to be there," Franzen says.
Six weeks later, Wallace asked his parents to come to California. The Nardil wasn't working. It can happen with an antidepressant; a patient goes off, returns, and the medication has lost its efficacy. Wallace couldn't sleep. He was afraid to leave the house. He asked, "What if I meet one of my students?" "He didn't want anyone to see him the way he was," his father says. "It was just awful to see. If a student saw him, they would have put their arms around him and hugged him, I'm sure."
His parents stayed for 10 days. "He was just desperate," his mother says. "He was afraid it wasn't ever going to work. He was suffering. We just kept holding him, saying if he could just hang on, it would straighten. He was very brave for a very long time."
Wallace and his parents would get up at six in the morning and walk the dogs. They watched DVDs of The Wire, talked. Sally cooked David's favorite dishes, heavy comfort foods — pot pies, casseroles, strawberries in cream. "We kept telling him we were so glad he was alive," his mother recalls. "But my feeling is that, even then, he was leaving the planet. He just couldn't take it."
One afternoon before they left, David was very upset. His mother sat on the floor beside him. "I just rubbed his arm. He said he was glad I was his mom. I told him it was an honor."
At the end of August, Franzen called. All summer long he had been telling David that as bad as things were, they were going to be better, and then he'd be better than he'd ever been. David would say, "Keep talking like that — it's helping." But this time it wasn't helping. "He was far away," Franzen says. A few weeks later, Karen left David alone with the dogs for a few hours. When she came home that night, he had hanged himself.
"I can't get the image out of my head," his sister says. "David and his dogs, and it's dark. I'm sure he kissed them on the mouth, and told them he was sorry."
[From Issue 1064 — October 30, 2008]
Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."
President-elect Bush vows that "together, we can put the triumphs of the recent past behind us."
"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."
Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.
During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.
"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"
On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.
Wall Street responded strongly to the Bush speech, with the Dow Jones industrial fluctuating wildly before closing at an 18-month low. The NASDAQ composite index, rattled by a gloomy outlook for tech stocks in 2001, also fell sharply, losing 4.4 percent of its total value between 3 p.m. and the closing bell.
Asked for comment about the cooling technology sector, Bush said: "That's hardly my area of expertise."
Turning to the subject of the environment, Bush said he will do whatever it takes to undo the tremendous damage not done by the Clinton Administration to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He assured citizens that he will follow through on his campaign promise to open the 1.5 million acre refuge's coastal plain to oil drilling. As a sign of his commitment to bringing about a change in the environment, he pointed to his choice of Gale Norton for Secretary of the Interior. Norton, Bush noted, has "extensive experience" fighting environmental causes, working as a lobbyist for lead-paint manufacturers and as an attorney for loggers and miners, in addition to suing the EPA to overturn clean-air standards.
Bush had equally high praise for Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, whom he praised as "a tireless champion in the battle to protect a woman's right to give birth."
"Soon, with John Ashcroft's help, we will move out of the Dark Ages and into a more enlightened time when a woman will be free to think long and hard before trying to fight her way past throngs of protesters blocking her entrance to an abortion clinic," Bush said. "We as a nation can look forward to lots and lots of babies."
Soldiers at Ft. Bragg march lockstep in preparation for America's return to aggression.
Continued Bush: "John Ashcroft will be invaluable in healing the terrible wedge President Clinton drove between church and state."
The speech was met with overwhelming approval from Republican leaders.
"Finally, the horrific misrule of the Democrats has been brought to a close," House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters. "Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."
"For years, I tirelessly preached the message that Clinton must be stopped," conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said. "And yet, in 1996, the American public failed to heed my urgent warnings, re-electing Clinton despite the fact that the nation was prosperous and at peace under his regime. But now, thank God, that's all done with. Once again, we will enjoy mounting debt, jingoism, nuclear paranoia, mass deficit, and a massive military build-up."
An overwhelming 49.9 percent of Americans responded enthusiastically to the Bush speech.
"After eight years of relatively sane fiscal policy under the Democrats, we have reached a point where, just a few weeks ago, President Clinton said that the national debt could be paid off by as early as 2012," Rahway, NJ, machinist and father of three Bud Crandall said. "That's not the kind of world I want my children to grow up in."
"You have no idea what it's like to be black and enfranchised," said Marlon Hastings, one of thousands of Miami-Dade County residents whose votes were not counted in the 2000 presidential election. "George W. Bush understands the pain of enfranchisement, and ever since Election Day, he has fought tirelessly to make sure it never happens to my people again."
Bush concluded his speech on a note of healing and redemption.
"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."
"The insanity is over," Bush said. "After a long, dark night of peace and stability, the sun is finally rising again over America. We look forward to a bright new dawn not seen since the glory days of my dad."
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
Icelanders, beginning shortly after the government intervened and nationalized the three largest banks upon their collapse, signaled their displeasure with the government and week after week were demanding that the entire cabinet step down, en masse. Well, they now have and it is a victory for democracy lovers everywhere.
Icelanders did it in their own peculiar way, though. While daily reports of violence in the Greek streets dominated foreign news coverage here, I sat in bemused fascination as the travails of one single rock was being debated with the intensity of a grainy JFK assassination video and the moral indignation of a soul-searching nation stunned at its new-found loss of conscience. What a contrast! It seems that in mid-December one police officer had allegedly been scratched by a rock tossed by an angry protestor. Home videos were scrutinized as to whom might have been the attacker and talk show hosts wondered aloud at the moral state of the nation, fearing the direction protests might be turning, and what that might mean for their people who are not known as a violent sort.
While Iceland has had more than its share of a violent past (can anyone say, Vikings?) it seems that the insularity and isolation of the country (and the occasional intervention of its Scandinavian neighbors over the years) has tempered the Icelandic temperament. This has forced typical tension releasing into arenas such as skiing, regular gym workouts and, for the insistent, drunken revelry from Friday to Sunday.
But even the latter rarely descends into more than early morning shouting matches as displays of violence are rarely countenanced. In fact, in a recent conversation with Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, she asked this writer to consider if Iceland had in fact, made the remarkable transition from a dominator mode of social relationship to a partnership mode. I will leave that discussion for another time, but the results are stunning. In just over three months, Icelanders have stopped cooperating, withdrawing their support for a coalition government seen as more concerned with holding onto power than working in the people’s legitimate interests. So the people took to the streets. Tentatively, of course, and with an Icelanders typical reserve, holding protests in front of the Parliament building on Saturdays, promptly and peacefully at 3pm. But the people came together.
While Athens burned into a maelstrom of ungovernable chaos, Icelanders, in roughly the same time period, politely listened to long speeches and, as the weeks progressed, increased their venting with the occasional egg toss and curse word. (One newly coined expression of their frustrated rage was “Fokking fokk!” laughable perhaps at first listen, but as near a violent expression as I’ve heard hear in nearly 7 years). A couple of times small bonfires were lit and, as reported later, appeared to be evidence of violence against the Parliament.
No such violence occurred, though. And as the recent tensions came to a head and the frustration boiled over even more, many protestors took to wearing orange ribbons signifying their “legitimate” protestor status, as opposed to the occasional drunken lout eager to fight or create mayhem at will, something most Icelanders, pro or against the government loathe. Still the protests continued onward and Icelanders, oblivious to the cold and rain soldiered on bravely until, last week, on January 20, as the Parliament resumed meeting, the protests culminated in between 7-8000 people gathering (the US equivalent of 7-8 million). (This was the second time such a large gathering had happened in the course of this crisis.)
Apparently, the die was cast: within a few days, the Business Minister resigned and the political blogging hit a fevered pitch, letting the politicians know their time was up. It has now precipitated the collapse of the government and the frenzied assembling of a caretaker government to lead until elections are held in May.
Where this will go in the next few months is uncertain, (the Left-Green Alliance is certainly to be a major player in the new government) but the Icelandic example provides powerful instruction that, when a people reject violence and take up a struggle together, they can still actually win.
Rev. José M. Tirado is a poet, priest and writer finishing a PhD in psychology while living in Iceland.
In November/December 2006, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's (FAIR) Steve Rendall explained that "Hugo Chavez never had a chance with the US press." It's been a constant since his December 1998 election, and hasn't let up to this day, with language all too familiar:
-- a "would-be-dictator;
-- an autocratic demagogue;
-- a modern caudillo;
-- a divisive and demagogic leader;
-- a communist;
-- (his) increasingly authoritarian tilt;
-- (his) militariz(ing) the government;
-- (his) terrible human rights record;
-- (his) consolidated one-party rule;
-- emasculat(ing) the country's courts;
-- intimidat(ing) the media;
-- hollow(ing) out Venezuela's once-democratic institutions;
-- erod(ing) confidence in (its) economy;" and
-- the latest accusations in the run-up to a constitutional referendum to let presidents, National Assembly representatives, governors, mayors, and state legislators run indefinitely for re-election.
Under Article 230 of Venezuela's Constitution: "The presidential term is six years. The President of the Republic can be re-elected, immediately and only once, to an additional term." Currently, Chavez can't run again when his term expires in 2012.
Under Article 192: "Deputies of the National Assembly shall hold office for a term of five years, with eligibility for re-election to no more than one additional term."
Other elected officials are also restricted to a two-term limit.
Last December, Chavez proposed February 15 for a national referendum to let Venezuelans vote up or down for constitutional change. He chose this date because it's when Simon Bolivar spoke at Angostura, "in the recently inaugurated congress of the city in 1819." At the time, presidential elections weren't held, and Bolivar warned against lengthy rule. The opposition is using this in its "Angostura" campaign in spite of how different Venezuela is today - a participatory democracy where people choose and can recall their presidents and other elected officials.
Article 72 of Venezuela's Constitution states:
"All magistrates and other offices (including the president) filled by popular vote are subject to revocation. Once half (their) term of office....has elapsed, 20% of (registered) voters (by petition may call for) a referendum to revoke such official's mandate. When a number of voters equal to or greater than the number of those who elected the official vote in favor of revocation (provided the total is 25% or more of registered voters), the official's mandate shall be deemed revoked...."
Try finding that explanation in the dominant media or how near-impossible it is to remove US elected officials regardless of popular sentiment. No US president was ever removed by impeachment, and short of a national convulsion, none likely ever will be - even one as reviled as George Bush.
Chavez supporters collected 4.7 million signatures for a national referendum to current constitutional law. On January 14, the National Assembly modified and approved it (156 - 6) without naming a date.
The provision reads:
"Do you approve amending articles 160, 162, 174, 192, and 230 of the Constitution of the Republic, as submitted by the National Assembly (AN), to expand the people's political rights with the goal of allowing any citizen, in his or her function as a popularly elected official, to run for office as a candidate for that same office, for a constitutionally established time period, as long as their election is the exclusive result of the people's vote?"
On January 16, AN President Cilia Flores submitted the proposal to the National Electoral Council (CNE). It has 30 days to organize and convene a referendum. Sunday, February 15 is the scheduled date.
Assembly representative Luis Tascon said he voted to proceed because no suitable Chavez successor has emerged. "Given that reality, I'll stay with Chavez." Another lawmaker explained he's for it "so that all legally able citizens can run for election and the people can choose from them without limitations of any kind."
After their 91st Plenary Assembly, the (right-wing allied) Bishops'' Conference of Venezuela asked Chavez to reconsider his proposal to be seek indefinite re-elections. They accused him of "extending power into the future (by) illegitimate means."
Chavez said his intention isn't to stay in office indefinitely. "What we have here is a national independence project that still needs more work to consolidate....They say my personal goal is to perpetuate myself in power; nothing could be further from the truth."
Longtime Latin American expert James Petras agrees in his January 11 article titled: "Venezuela: Socialism, Democracy and the Re-Election of President Chavez:"
At a time of "world recession/depression, the collapse of the neo-liberal model and the incapacity of capitalist economists to offer any viable alternative, there is all the more reason to re-elect President Chavez who backs a socialist, publicly directed and controlled economy, which protects and promotes the domestic market and productive system."
Given today's dire state of things and no expected change under Obama, "the world looks to President Chavez as the world's foremost humanitarian leader, the outstanding defender of freedom, peace and self-determination." Much more is at stake than a referendum vote. "With its outcome rides the future of democracy and socialism in Venezuela and the hopes and aspirations of hundreds of millions who look to (this leader as an inspiration and) example in their revolutionary struggle(s) to overthrow militarists and depression-racked capitalist states."
Anti-Chavez Media Rhetoric
Marc Plattner is co-editor of the "Journal of Democracy, vice-president for research and studies at the National Endowment of Democracy (NED), and co-director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies. NED is a US government-funded body that functions to subvert democracy, help oust popularly elected leaders, and serve the interests of captal.
On January 13, Plattner got Washington Post op-ed space for his article titled: "Democracy's Competitive Edge - Why Authoritarian Economies Could Have More to Fear From (the current economic) Crisis." His view is that no matter how discredited global capitalism is, "the economic crisis could bring gains for democracy (against) the emergence of nondemocratic (authoritarian) political systems that can claim to offer attractive models. He cites four examples: China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela and says "until late last year (they) were riding high." No longer as the global crisis affects all nations to one degree or other.
Nonetheless, Plattner claims that "authoritarian capitalist regimes," not based on "a coherent ideology" with wide popular support, will fare worst. "As long as they deliver the economic goods, most of their citizens may be willing to accept the accompanying limits on their political freedom."
Plattner ignores Venezuela's model democracy, Chavez's overwhelming popularity, 10 years of social progress, the reduction of poverty, and the uplifting of millions of Venezuelans unlike anything ever before in the country. No nation anywhere runs freer elections. No president better serves his people, who directs more of his nation's resources for social needs, who's an example for leaders everywhere, who shames America's sham democracy, publicly denounces tyranny and repression, opposes foreign wars, doesn't invade his neighbors, practice torture, or undermine other heads of state. He supports human rights, seeks conciliation, rejects conflict, and serves all Venezuelans admirably.
Yet Plattner calls Venezuela "undemocratic" and says American-style "democracy has often displayed a remarkable ability to reform and renew itself....to take a punch and outlast its glass-jawed competitors (and prove its) resilience that may (be) decisive in the competition with its more brittle authoritarian challengers."
Plattner's NED spent the last 10 years trying to undermine Venezuelan democracy, the kind unimaginable in America.
The Wall Street Journal's Mary O'Grady never met a democrat she didn't bash with Chavez again targeted in her January 12 op-ed headlined: "Dictatorship for Dummies." She's deeply disappointed that low oil prices haven't weakened him and notes how defeating him "remains a formidable task."
Even in today's global economic climate, "the jackboots of the regime (are) still firmly planted on the nation's neck (as) popular discontent with chavismo has been rising as oil prices have been falling." Why so? Because Chavez "used the boom years to consolidate power and destroy all institutional checks and balances." As a result, he "has little incentive to return the country to political pluralism even if most Venezuelans are sick of his tyranny." Watch out - he may "become more aggressive and dangerous as the bloom comes off his revolution in 2009 and he feels more threatened."
It gets worse. Venezuelan elections don't matter. "Mr. Chavez now controls the entire electoral process, from voter rolls to tallying totals after the polls are closed. Under enormous public pressure," he accepted constitutional defeat in 2007 to "make him president for life." With another referendum coming, he'll "repeat this exercise until the right answer is produced. All police states hold elections (but they) quash dissent. Venezuela is a prime example."
It's a "military government. (He) purged the armed forces" and installed his own loyalists. He's "taken over the Metropolitan Police in Caracas, imported Cuban intelligence agents, and armed his Bolivarian militias, whose job it is to act as neighborhood enforcers. (He indoctrinates school children) in Bolivarian thought, stripped the media of independence and dominates all free television in the country."
He stirs up trouble "against foreign devils like the US, Colombia and Israel." He lets "Iran use Venezuelan aircraft for arms trafficking and Venezuela gets military aid in return. (Besides this), his most effective police state tool (is his) control over the economy. The state freely expropriates whatever it wants....economic freedom is dead....The private sector has been wiped out, except for those who have thrown in their lot with the tyrant."
What to say about such rubbish - so bad, it's not even poor fiction. O'Grady is a Wall Street tool. Her style is agitprop. Her space is a truth-free zone. Her language - hateful and vindictive. Her tone - malicious and slanderous. Her manner - bare-knuckled thuggishness. Her material - mendacious, calculating, and shameless. Yet it appears weekly in her Americas column, and she wins awards for it. Wall Street takes care of its own.
O'Grady fronts for power and highlights the state of today's journalism and why growing numbers turn elsewhere to be informed. Imagine the difference if everyone did.
On January 12, Patrick Esteruelas' Foreign Policy Magazine article headlined: "Hugo Chavez rolls the dice." He says 2009 may prove tough for Chavez with low oil prices "sap(ping) the country's economic strength and compromis(ing) the president's ability to maintain the lavish spending that buttresses his government's popularity."
"This is a crucial moment for Chavez and Venezuela, because (he's) about to put his popularity to a crucial (and very public) test. He called a national referendum (most likely for February to win voter approval to) remove presidential term limits." Earlier he failed. "Chavez will probably lose again. Most Venezuelans like their president (but not enough to make him) president for life....So why is (he) doing this now? (It) may be (his) last chance to extend the life of his presidency."
"If he loses, he won't recover easily." His hold on power will be weakened enough to give the "opposition an opportunity to gain new political momentum. But the larger worry is that a 'no' vote (will threaten Chavez and) could undermine Venezuela's democracy. If he loses (he may consider) more radical and authoritarian" measures.
Esteruelas isn't O'Grady, but his article is painfully inaccurate about Venezuela and Chavez. Chavez wants to strengthen democracy and enhance Bolivarianism, not be "president for life." He's also gracious in defeat and showed it December 2007. When his constitutional referendum failed to pass, he said: "To those who voted against my proposal, I thank them and congratulate them....Venezuelan democracy is maturing (and) I understand and accept that the proposal was quite profound and intense." Changing 69 constitutional articles in one bite proved too much and too easy for opponents to attack.
This time is simpler. The National Assembly approved a single question referendum asking voters up or down on whether to end term limits for presidents, National Assembly representatives, governors, mayors, and state legislators.
On January 9, the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer headlined: "Chavez, allies manipulating anti-Israeli views." Chavez and Hamas' "main state sponsor," Iran, are exploiting the Gaza conflict for political advantage. Why so? "He is in trouble because of falling oil prices, and needs a conflict with Washington to justify his increasingly authoritarian rule."
Oppenheimer berates some Latin American journalists for "failing to remind their audiences that Hamas is waging a religious war that officially calls for the annihilation of the state of Israel, constantly launches rockets into Israeli territory and triggered the latest conflict by breaking a cease-fire....Unlike Israel, Hamas terrorists intentionally target civilians....and then use the civilian population as human shields...."
This type rhetoric mirrors much pro-Israeli agitprop. It mischaracterizes Hamas, supports Israeli war crimes, and in this case, accuses Chavez for condemning the aggressor, not the victims.
Francisco Toro is a Caracas-based contributor to The New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, and was editor of the English language version of Veneconomy, a leading Venezuelan bilingual business magazine. Last December, he headlined an article titled: "Why Chavez Wants To Be President for Life" in which he sounds much like O'Grady.
He calls Chavez a "narcissist-Leninist president, (but) 14 years (isn't) long enough to crush capitalism....Will Venezuelans (give him what he wants) the second time around? It's not at all clear (as he's) genuinely popular," but polls show he's vulnerable. Most voters like him, but far lower numbers "express confidence in his ability to solve the country's problems. Majorities dislike his endless televised rants, question key parts of his socialist ideology, reject the Cuban model (and criticize him) on all kinds of bread-and-butter issues. (They also) get a serious case of the heebie-jeebies (about) this enormously volatile and endlessly pugnacious leader potentially run(ning) the country for life..."
Anyone who disagrees with him "is instantly identified as an agent of evil: a fascist running dog of American imperialism, and more than likely, a traitor on the CIA's payroll. Chavez's basic MO is....dissent = treason." Yet, he's "clearly popular and keeps winning elections. What could possibly be so undemocratic about that?"
For Toro, it's not about democracy or dictatorship but rather an "old fashioned cult of personality....something that doesn't have a name yet....(a combination of a) leader's megalomania and his followers' atavistic drive to submit to his tsunami of histrionics....for the benefit of a political sect masquerading as a revolutionary movement (calling itself) a democracy." Now they want "open-ended re-election." Their "worldview" only holds as long as Chavez stays president and continues "this mad experiment."
Toro lives in Caracas and can follow Chavez close-up. But he hasn't a clue about Venezuelan democracy and a decade of impressive social achievements. Its why Chavez stays popular, not about "megalomania, histrionics, (or an) old-fashioned cult of personality." His new referendum may pass this time because Venezuelans support Bolivarianism and the leader they trust to pursue it.
Students Rally to Support the Referendum
On January 22, thousands of university and high school students marched in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities to support passage of the February 15 referendum and against anti-Chavez provocations. Higher Education minister Luis Acuna joined them.
Student leader Andrea Pacheco said re-asserting the student movement was also at issue. The Chavez government "swapped repression for scholarships, inclusion, and new universities." Everyone has access to free education. Millions of Venezuelans want to keep it and have Chavez remain president. Opposition groups have demonstrated violently against him with more likely planned in the run-up to mid-February.
Chavez's 2008 Annual Report
On January 14, Chavez presented it to the National Assembly and a national television and radio audience. He laid out the nation's progress and future plans:
-- since 1999, 2.7 million Venezuelans no longer are impoverished, 437,000 in 2008 alone; extreme poverty stood at 42% earlier in the 1990s; today it's 9.1%;
-- in 2008, 62.9% of Venezuelans bought subsidized food from the Food Market Network (Mercal);
-- in the past year, important agricultural progress was made; seven laws passed for development, including for food sovereignty and integral agricultural health; in addition, the percent of large landowners declined 32% since the early 1990s; over two million hectares were recovered from them, and Chavez sees ahead to "when there isn't even one large landowner in Venezuela;" the government is increasing production of numerous crops and other food products; livestock breeds have been brought in from Cuba, Argentina and Nicaragua; in the past three years, the National Seed Plan created nearly five million kilos of seeds for planting; tractors were distributed across the country;
-- under Venezuela's "Sowing the Oil Plan," 55 additional billion barrels of crude were certified as part of the nation's reserves; Chavez predicted that Venezuela's will soon be the largest in the world; according to the US Department of Energy, they already are, including 1.36 trillion barrels of extra-heavy oil (90% of the world's total) plus over 80 billion proved light sweet reserves;
-- in May 2008, Oil Minister Rafeal Ramirez said proved reserves totaled 130 billion barrels, including heavy oil; in January 2009, HeavyOilinfo.com reported Venezuelan reserves at 152.56 billion barrels in December 2008 (including heavy oil) with a target to reach 316 billion barrels by 2010;
-- the National Electric Corporation was created in 2007; billions have been invested in equipment, centres, transmission, distribution networks, and maintenance; 98% of Venezuelans receive electricity, up 4.3% since 2007;
-- new polyurethane and other factories created 6000 jobs; 11 others are under construction; the government took control of three gold mines; Chavez predicts gold production will almost double this year and said takeovers improved working and living conditions for miners and their families; diamond mines and other nationalizations were made;
-- international currency reserves quadrupled in the past ten years to $43 billion; at the same time, public debt decreased 70% as a percent of GDP; Venezuela's per capital reserves are among the highest in the world at $1700; and
-- 2008 GDP growth was 4.9% at a time most world economies were faltering; social services increased 9%; for 2009 - 2013, $125 billion in oil-based investments are planned as well as another $100 billion in others; Chavez said no economic adjustments are planned in response to the global economic crisis, and unlike America and the West, high finance interests won't get millions or billions in aid; no banks in Venezuela are insolvent; no housing bubble exists; and financial institutions aren't supported by "garbage paper."
A Final Comment
For 10 years under Chavez, Bolivarianism has flourished, and the greater its success the harsher it's critics. America flounders in corruption, economic chaos and decline. Venezuela's star is rising. One man made it possible:
-- its model participatory democracy;
-- its free, fair and open elections;
-- respect for the rule of law and human rights;
-- using the nation's resources for the people;
-- providing essential social services to the needy;
-- promoting global solidarity, equality and social justice;
-- advocating peace and denouncing wars;
-- working cooperatively with his neighbors;
-- building socialism in the 21st century based on "solidarity, fraternity, love, justice, liberty and equality;"
-- rejecting exploitation and capital interests over people; and
-- pursuing a Bolivarian vision that works.
Imagine a future America like Venezuela today. Imagine a caring, not a predatory nation. Imagine a leader in Washington like Chavez. Imagine a groundswell enough to get one.
Stephen Lendman lives is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday through Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Monday, 26 January 2009
David Korten, co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine. He is also a former professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business and the author of several books, including When Corporations Rule the World and The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. His newest book is titled Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth
AMY GOODMAN: President Barack Obama has revealed more details of his $825 billion economic stimulus plan ahead of its introduction on the House floor this week. In his first weekly radio address as president, Obama said the plan would fund a new 3,000-mile electricity grid, computerize the nation’s health records, modernize schools, and repair and modernize the country’s mass transit system.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To accelerate the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy, like wind, solar and biofuels, over the next three years. We’ll begin to build a new electricity grid that lay down more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines to convey this new energy from coast to coast. We’ll save taxpayers $2 billion a year by making 75 percent of federal buildings more energy efficient and save the average working family $350 on their energy bills by weatherizing 2.5 million homes.
To lower healthcare cost, cut medical errors and improve care, we’ll computerize the nation’s health records in five years, saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs and countless lives. And we’ll protect health insurance for more than eight million Americans who are in danger of losing their coverage during this economic downturn.
To ensure our children can compete and succeed in this new economy, we’ll renovate and modernize 10,000 schools, building state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs to improve learning for over five million students. We’ll invest more in Pell Grants to make college affordable for seven million more students, provide a $2,500 college tax credit to four million students, and triple the number of fellowships in science to help spur the next generation of innovation.
Finally, we will rebuild and retrofit America to meet the demands of the twenty-first century. That means repairing and modernizing thousands of miles of America’s roadways and providing new mass transit options for millions of Americans. It means protecting America by securing ninety major ports and creating a better communications network for local law enforcement and public safety officials in the event of an emergency. And it means expanding broadband access to millions of Americans, so business can compete on a level playing field, wherever they’re located.
I know that some are skeptical about the size and scale of this recovery plan. I understand that skepticism, which is why this recovery plan must and will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my administration accountable for these results. We won’t just throw money at our problems; we’ll invest in what works.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama in his first weekly presidential radio address.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration could be planning on spending even more money to bail out the nation’s banks. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, Vice President Joe Biden said Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner will soon report on whether he thinks banks need more bailout money. Speculation is growing that the Obama administration may decide to nationalize two of the nation’s largest banks: Citigroup and Bank of America. Earlier this month, the Bush Treasury Department announced an additional $118 billion infusion for Bank of America. Citigroup recently announced it suffered an $8 billion net loss in the fourth quarter.
For more on the economy, I want to turn now to David Korten, co-founder of Positive Futures Network and publisher of the magazine YES!. He is also a former professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business and the author of several books, including When Corporations Rule the World and The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. His newest book is just out, called Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. In it, David Korten argues the nation faces a monumental economic challenge that goes far beyond anything being discussed in Congress. He writes that now is an opportune moment to move forward an agenda to replace the failed money-serving institutions of our present economy with the institutions of a new economy dedicated to serving life.
Juan Gonzalez and I spoke to David Korten on Friday about the nation’s economic crisis and how it should be addressed.
DAVID KORTEN: Well, it really starts with being clear that we have a failed economic system. And we’ve seen very dramatically the consequences of the financial failure. But what we’re not talking about is the connection to the environmental failure, the destruction of earth’s living systems, and the social failure of an economic system that by its very design, particularly as manifest on Wall Street, is designed to increase inequality. You know, having worked in international development for many years, I’m very familiar with the argument that the way to deal with poverty is, through economic growth, to bring up the bottom. But, of course, what we see—and we’ve seen this for decades—is that, in fact, economic growth tends to raise the top and depress the bottom.
Now, part of it’s coming to terms with the fact that we live on a finite planet. We’ve got finite resources. And the question is, what are our economic priorities? How do we allocate those resources? And it requires a fundamentally different approach to the economy: evaluating economic performance by the things that we really want, in terms of human and natural well-being, rather than a system that is purely designed to increase financial returns to the already very wealthy.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Your book’s subtitle, From a Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth—what is phantom wealth?
DAVID KORTEN: Yeah. This is part of understanding the current Wall Street system, which is built around an illusion, the illusion that money is wealth, which then translates into the idea that people who are creating—or who are making money are in fact creating wealth. And what Wall Street has become extremely expert at is creating money out of nothing through financial bubbles, through pyramiding lending to create fictitious assets that become collateral for more bank lending, and then combining that with the predatory aspects of usurious lending and deceptive lending and the use of credit cards as a substitute for a living wage—all the games that Wall Street is playing. And it’s actually based on a philosophy that says we don’t need to produce anything as a country, if we can—you know, if we can do all this financial innovation that allows us to create financial assets without producing anything of real value. I mean, it’s absolutely insane. And yet, it is the—it’s been the foundation of our economic policy in this country for decades now.
AMY GOODMAN: You have spent your life focusing on issues of sustainability. You talk about excess consumption. What is the model that you could see right now? What is the model that we have right now? And what is the one you want to see built?
DAVID KORTEN: Yeah, well, the amazing thing is that our system is built on driving increased consumption, but particularly it is driving the most destructive and wasteful forms of consumption, of course, starting with war, moving on to automobile dependence, and which is not just about the energy issue, but it’s about the fragmentation of society, as we move out into the suburbs. It’s about the breakdown of the family, as we put more and more stress on the family. So you have to have two or more people in the household working more than one job each just to keep the household together, which means the children are without caretakers and so forth.
You begin to put this all together, you say, well, if we began to really organize our economic activities around the things that really matter, we’d be looking at things—well, how do we organize our economy so that it actually builds human relationships, so it supports families, so it creates an environment in which our children can grow up both physically and psychologically healthy? And we begin to say, well, first of all, it would be a good idea to end war. And, of course, most of our wars are about competition for resources to maintain our wasteful lifestyle. So let’s really get serious about world peace. Then we’ve got to start reducing our dependence on automobiles and recognize that rather than reemploying autoworkers in making automobiles, we should be employing them in building bicycles, building public transportation and so forth, all the things we need. Instead of investing massively in advertising, you know, redirect those creative communications resources to education. You begin to see, in almost every aspect of our economy, the opportunity to redirect resources in ways that actually increase our well-being—they’re not about sacrifice, ultimately—and bringing ourselves into balance with one another and with earth.
AMY GOODMAN: David Korten, author of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth: Why Wall Street Can’t Be Fixed and How to Replace It. We’ll come back to the interview in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with David Korten, author of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth: Why Wall Street Can’t Be Fixed and How to [Replace] It.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You talk about this as a much more holistic and fundamental approach to the crisis we’re facing right now, but a few days ago, in his inaugural speech, President Obama, in the only reference he made really to the market, he said something to the effect that government—without the watchful eye of government, the market can sometimes spin out of control, but that basically reaffirming our markets and our system as the best to offer for the world. Your sense of his response, given the nature of the crisis you think we face right now?
DAVID KORTEN: Well, it’s always hard to tell exactly what that translates into, but I think the bottom line of what he’s saying is that for a market to function efficiently in the service of society, it has to operate within a framework of rules. And it’s interesting. You know, by my understanding of real market economics, that’s a fundamental part of market efficiency. Now, of course, what we’ve been driven by is an economic ideology that claims to be a market theory, but in fact is anti-market, because what happens, if you try to operate a market without rules, you get this consolidation of power, the disconnect of financial power from the real economy of real people and real goods and services, and you develop a totally extractive economy.
You know, theoretically in economics, economists talk about markets as a range, from the purely competitive market, which—you know, the kind of model would be the farmers’ market, like down here at Union Square, where I used to live; at the other end is the purely monopolistic or monopoly market, which has none of the beneficial features of the perfect competition. But they say, well, because the perfect competition works really well, you know, the market economy is the way to go.
I mean, basically, we need to realize we’ve been told that there are only two economic models. One is the capitalist model, and the other is the communist or socialist model. One, the capitalists own everything, and the other, the government runs everything. The real alternative is, in fact, a real market economy that looks a whole lot more like what Adam Smith had in mind, which is—which looks more like a farmers’ market. And I think—you know, we talk about Wall Street and Main Street, and really the solution is to rebuild a new economy based on Main Street, which means local businesses and people who are rooted in their community and working within a framework of community values and a set of public rules that enforce basic conditions of market efficiency.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Isn’t part of the problem—is, here you talk about the—even in the classical style of capitalism, we’ve seen a huge turn away. For instance, so much of our financial system now is in derivatives and credit default swaps and all of these unregulated and almost unknown—
DAVID KORTEN: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —aspects of the financial system, and then the rise in recent years of all of these private equity firms. At least in the classic corporation, there are shareholders, and there are boards of directors, and you have filings with the SEC, and you have some sort of transparency. But now, with these private equity firms dominating so much of investment and with all of these off-the-books financial systems, you really have a system that no one even knows how deep the problem is.
DAVID KORTEN: That’s absolutely right. And, you know, the values have morphed further and further away from any kind of connection to or commitment to a larger public interest. And, of course, underlying this is also this immoral philosophy that says if we each simply pursue our individual financial benefit, that this maximizes the benefit for the society. Now that is about as corrupt a theory as one could imagine. We are seeing the consequences of it.
And one of the things we have to break out of is to recognize that that is a—it’s pragmatically flawed, it is morally flawed, that there is a community interest, and it beholds every one of us in every aspect of our life to recognize not only our personal interest, but also the collective interest, which means we’ve got to create a totally different economy around different institutions and different values.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, as people listen to you, David Korten, they might be saying this is really pie in the sky. But it sounds like you’re redefining it as apple pie in the sky, right? As patriotic.
DAVID KORTEN: It is patriotic. It’s democratic.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying that Wall Street can’t be fixed. How do we replace it? Lay out how the environment fits into this and exactly what you mean when you say, you know, families should be able to do things more together. How do people survive? Why is Main Street more real than Wall Street?
DAVID KORTEN: Well, because Wall Street is totally in the business of creating phantom wealth. You know, it goes back to one of the fundamentals that I realized when I was working in international development and I began to wonder, “Why is it that the more developed the country gets, there’s more and more people living in poverty?” And it comes down to a very simple recognition. All the decisions that we make and official aid agencies are based on, what will maximize the returns to money, which means to people who already have money. And people who don’t have any money basically don’t fit into the equation. And that’s the way our whole economy, the whole Wall Street picture, is defined.
So, you know, part of the shift is recognizing, again, that the whole concept of economic growth is flawed in terms of how we measure it, because in fact what economic growth really measures is the cost of producing whatever level of human well-being, health and well-being, we have achieved. So, in an economy that works, we would start assessing economic performance against indicators of the health of our children, of our families, of our communities, the health of our natural systems, and we would look at GDP as a measure of the cost of that attainment, so we would be trying to minimize GDP rather than maximize it, as we organize economies that are really about—they’re about building community. They are about providing people with meaningful jobs that give us a sense of personal meaning in our lives.
AMY GOODMAN: Give us an example.
DAVID KORTEN: Well, I mean, one of the interesting examples is the data that shows that people who shop in a farmers’ market have ten times the number of conversations of people who shop in a supermarket. And, you know, I know that from when I lived here in New York on Union Square and I did most of my grocery shopping at the farmers’ market. And, yeah, you meet people, and you talk, and you meet your neighbors, and you get acquainted with the farmer that grows your produce and so forth. And this is all about building relationships. And, you know, we have so monetized the economy, and a part of that process is monetizing relationships. And it diminishes our very humanity.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you to put this more in the perspective of our global economy. Clearly, one of the great economic trends of the past fifty years is that the industrial heartland of America has moved from the Midwest to China—
DAVID KORTEN: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —to India, to the developing world. And much of the production of the West is now in countries where the labor standards under which that production is made is far inferior to where it was made when it was here, in western Europe or in the United States.
DAVID KORTEN: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That’s, it seems to me, at this point, an almost irreversible trend. How will that affect the future of American society in twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years?
DAVID KORTEN: Well, in some ways, it is a very reversible trend, because we have been supporting that purely by living off of consumer credit extended by the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is beginning to finally wake up to the fact that the US dollar is not worth as much as we all thought it was, because our own economy is increasingly built on—you know, and this has been an explicit policy—the growth of the financial sector is a percentage of our total economy, so we built an economy that assumes that we can live by simply creating money out of nothing, advertising to sell goods and services produced in China, security services to maintain order in the face of breakdown, health services to make up for the fact that we’re eating crummy non-nutritious food and ingesting all sorts of toxins from the environment, and toxic waste cleanup. Now, this is not the foundation for much of an economy. The rest of the world is at some point going to stop sending us their goods and their food, because they’re going to realize that they’re much better off to eat that food themselves and to produce shoes for their own children rather than shipping to us. So either we get cracking on rebuilding our economy and our capacity to produce, or we’re going to end up in a pretty desperate strait in the not-too-distant future.
And, of course, while we’re doing this, we need to rebuild all that around a model that is environmentally sustainable, which means our total consumption of material goods has to drop significantly. But if you put it in the context of, well, if we get rid of our military-industrial complex; if we begin to roll back our suburbs, to begin to reform ourselves into more compact communities so that we eliminate our automobile dependence; if we start putting more of our energy into education and into primary healthcare and all the things that are essential to a good society; we begin to rebuild the relationships of community, people begin to find satisfaction in their jobs because they’re really producing goods and services that help their neighbors, and they feel like they’re contributing to their community.
Now, you know, the amount of adjustment that we have to make in order for all this to happen is huge, and that cannot be downplayed. You know, we’ve done work in fifty years to create this monstrosity of an economy that runs on a fossil fuel subsidy that’s being withdrawn and that is based on this premise that if we just make more money out of nothing, we are more prosperous. So this is kind of a wake-up call. We’ve been living in a trance.
AMY GOODMAN: David Korten, Inauguration Day, Wall Street experienced one of its greatest dives down. Very interesting. As one said, Wall Street jeered, while Washington cheered.
DAVID KORTEN: As the world cheered.
AMY GOODMAN: As the world cheered. You had, by the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 322 points, below 8,000. S&P 500 Index dropped forty-five points, more than five percent. It rarely goes below one percent. How is the Dow Jones related to real life? When it goes up, is that good for America? Is that good for the world? When it goes down, is that bad?
DAVID KORTEN: Well, the interesting thing is, when it goes up, what it really means is that rich people are getting richer than the rest of us, or they’re getting richer faster. And it’s actually bad. Now, you know, if you really accepted it in the context of the way we’re supposed to think about it, that is generating more and more resources for productive activity. But in fact, most of the Wall Street funding is focused on funding speculation. And, of course, most of the trading, at least 90 percent of the trading, probably more like 95 percent of the trading, that goes on on Wall Street has nothing to do with funding real businesses; it’s just exchanging pieces of paper. So, you know, when the market goes up quickly, that’s a financial bubble. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything related to real wealth. I mean, this is part of the insanity of it, that we have come to believe that a financial bubble is actually creating wealth, where it does absolutely nothing except create additional financial credits. And yet, the business commentators are always talking about, we created so much—so much wealth was created in the market today, or so much wealth was destroyed. That’s the phantom wealth.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what part of some of your prescriptions for a way out of this economic quagmire do you believe that the team that Barack Obama is assembled—Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner and these others—will be able or even willing to try to address?
DAVID KORTEN: Well, certainly, Summers is one of the ultimate neoliberal, free market ideologues.
AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean?
DAVID KORTEN: It means he has been a promoter of the idea of unregulated markets. He was—by my understanding, he was actively involved in the dismantling of Glass-Steagall, so that you could consolidate the depository banks with the investment banks with the brokerages and so forth, which then get us into banks creating money by lending it essentially to themselves. That’s where the system really starts spinning out of control.
You know, Timothy Geithner was head of the New York Federal Reserve, which really is considered to be the lead Federal Reserve organization all during the time that they were going through the processes of deregulating the financial markets and even the Federal Reserve, pouring trillions of dollars that go way beyond the bailout of the Treasury Department.
So it’s hard for me to see that these folks have a framework consistent with where we need to move and that they have a recognition that Wall Street, as we know it, basically needs to be allowed to fail. And, in fact, we should be putting in regulations not only to make it—not to make it work, but to stop the speculation. And if you stop the speculation, if you stop the usury, the excessive interest charges and so forth, Wall Street will in fact collapse. Now, I was fascinated. I hadn’t heard this yet, but you mentioned that the government is starting to actually talk about takeover of some of the big banks. Now that, if they do it right, is potentially a right step.
AMY GOODMAN: Krugman has said nationalize the banks.
DAVID KORTEN: Yeah. Now, my sense of what we really need to do is nationalize the depository banks, let the hedge funds and private equity funds fail, but not with the idea that the government will permanently run the banking system as nationalized banks, but that they go through a transition of spinning those banks off into community banks, in a sense restoring the unitary banking system that we had some decades ago, where the banks were organized and functioned as local financial institutions, where people could deposit their savings, and the banks could make loans to people that were buying a house or running a business, which is the way the system should be structured.
Now, the other piece that we need to deal with is the whole question of how we create money, which is not very much publicly discussed. But moving from the current system, where we essentially rely on banks to create money by lending it into existence, which creates all kinds of financial instability, and it also means that, in a sense, every economic transaction, we’re paying rent to the bank for the money, when it’s quite possible for government to spend the money into existence, as it is needed, to build a much more stable money supply. And that means that—you know, that lowers taxes.
You know, in terms of the Obama stimulus package, people talk, “Where does that money come from?” And it’s very likely, if we do it in the traditional way, we’ll either borrow it from the banks, which means the banks will create it out of nothing and we will be paying interest on it, or if we borrow it abroad, it may be banks in China or Japan creating the money, which then we pay interest on. And it makes a whole lot more sense to develop a whole new orderly system by which the money is essentially issued by the federal government, and then we don’t owe anybody anything.
AMY GOODMAN: What if the banks are nationalized? The taxpayers have to take on the bad debt, the bad assets, and then they reprivatize them when they get healthy.
DAVID KORTEN: Well, that’s an interesting question. I think there’s good reason to say, “Don’t take on the bad debts.” You know? Let them go into bankruptcy, and then take over the assets to restructure. Now, this gets us into a huge additional problem, in that in the creation of phantom wealth—and, of course, many of these derivatives and so forth were ultimately sold off to pension funds or to university endowments or, you know, local municipality trust funds or whatever. You begin to look at that, and what you realize is that the total financial claims that were built up through that process far exceed any real wealth of the planet, which means that they are fictitious. You know, they can never be realized. We’ve been treating money as a storehouse of value. What it really is, it can be a storehouse of expectations.
But those of us who have—we may have comfortable retirement accounts. It’s not clear how we’re going to be able to redeem that, because there’s not enough wealth in the society, real wealth of real people doing real things, to maintain us at the level of our expectations. So all of this needs to be reworked out in this process of restructuring the financial system, and it’s not going to be easy or comfortable.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Because when you talk about letting some of these big institutions go bankrupt, as you say, you’re talking about pension funds of labor unions, government investments as well, universities.
DAVID KORTEN: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Everybody got involved in getting into the markets, and now everyone, to one degree or another, will pay from the unraveling of these markets.
DAVID KORTEN: Yeah. And part of the really insidious nature of it is the way the money managers are running the system. They’re creating all of these fictitious transactions as a justification for collecting fees from the system, such as you know, that some of the highest compensated hedge fund managers were taking home more than a billion dollars a year in compensation. Now, that’s where we need to do some serious taxation to recover that money. I mean, that’s pure theft. What they were really doing was raiding the equity of these funds, which was supposed to be the cushion against risk. And so, again, I mean, this is a form of fraud that cannot be allowed to endure.
AMY GOODMAN: David Korten, what does the end of empire mean?
DAVID KORTEN: The end of empire, this puts it all in a historical context, and it very much relates to democracy. 5,000 years ago, as a species, we moved away from more community-oriented forms of organization, and we began to organize ourselves by dominator hierarchy. I refer to that period of move—the move to empire. And it was not just about one nation dominating another, but it was about a dominator hierarchy at all levels of society, from the relationships among nations to relationships within families, relationships between gender, between races and so forth.
Now, we have gone through some democratizing processes, but the fact is, we are still in that era of empire, of organization of society by dominator hierarchy. And whereas the rulers used to be kings and emperors, they are now corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers. And the system has morphed into where the real rule in society—put aside all our elections, democracy and so forth, the real rule has been by Wall Street institutions through the system of money, as money is a system of power.
AMY GOODMAN: David Korten, author of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth: Why Wall Street Can’t Be Fixed and How to [Replace] It.