Published in the Sept. 23 edition of The Moscow Times. Annotations and sources are available here.
The sea was pink with sunset, the last light draining as high tide slowly reclaimed the beach. A huge harvest moon, flecked with clouds, was hanging just above the horizon in a sky still barely blue. On the distant line where the world curved away, you could see the white speck of the Channel ferry, bound for Calais.
Standing on the high seawall – with no one around, no sound but the insistent boundless roar of the waves – you watched and waited, waited for the hint of wind to rake the clouds away from the moon. The pink sea shaded into gray, first one and then another of the seawall steps was covered by the swarming tide: the waves and the darkness were advancing together. You waited. A horsehead cloud flashed black against the vast yellow presence, then bowed its neck, drifted on – and the moon emerged.
A rapier of light appeared on the surface of the water, a restless, shifting dazzlement, reaching all the way to the foot of the seawall, the edge of the tide. Wherever you stepped it followed, a pointillist blade aimed straight for your eyes. Imperceptibly but swiftly, the moon rose higher, grew harder and smaller, while the band of light, paradoxically, widened: now a broadsword, now a road, now a river of diamonds pouring through the middle of the waves.
Astonishing, unlooked-for, this eruption of beauty, so perfect in its meaninglessness. It was just there, portending nothing, without signification. There was no goddess in the moon, no spirit in the sea: just form, line, curve, light – combining, dissolving, recombining at every moment. A truth emptied of all utility, all contention, all continuity, of everything except the eternal imprint of reality.
How far removed from this realm of ordinary miracle is the sordid world of politics and power. There, meaning and agency, instrumentality and exploitation rule the day. There, the wordless roar of the sea gives way to the ceaseless howl of lies. To deal with politics is nothing more or less than waste management, a necessary evil to preserve public health, trying to keep the corruption down to a reasonable, endurable level.
Of course, corruption is just another word for greed; and greed – self-serving -- is endemic to human nature. No political system is antiseptic in this regard – nor should it be. A little corruption is not fatal; some built-in slack for human failure keeps a system from becoming merciless and inhumane. But when the level of graft rises too high, when it overtops and breaks down the levees of law itself, when it swarms the land, rips out communities and families, when it kills and crushes, when it exalts the mighty few beyond all reason and justice – then it must be resisted, exposed, and condemned. Then, in order to carve out some space for meaningless beauty and reality's truth to flourish, we must plunge into the muck again.
And so here we go: George W. Bush's plan to reconstruct the Gulf Coast is the biggest crony cash-cow in American history (aside from the pork-orgy he's throwing for his pals in Iraq). Bush is using his emergency powers to strip American citizens of their legal protections against exploitation, handing out no-bid contracts to his pals and paymasters and allowing them to pay coolie wages to build their new commercial empires on the bones and blood of the hurricane's victims.
All of this is aimed at "changing the demographics" of the region, especially New Orleans, as the city's wealthy white elite have openly admitted to the Wall Street Journal. They want to scatter the poor – especially the black poor – to the four winds, and rebuild New Orleans as a playground for the rich, a malevolent corporate fantasyland patroled by heat-packing private goons.
While Bush is handing fat federal deals to his biggest contributors, to his former aides – and, as always, to the ubiquitous Halliburton – he has suspended regulations that would have paid the countless thousands of displaced natives a living wage to rebuild their communities and their region. Instead, as investigator Jeremy Scahill reports, the Bushist elite are bringing in migrant laborers – legal and illegal – to work, unprotected and ill-paid, under the watchful eye of hired guns from the Blackwater mercenary agency, many of them fresh from the privatized killing fields of Iraq and now under direct federal contract, with shoot-to-kill powers, in the streets of New Orleans.
Bush now has a honey-pot of some $200 billion to dole out to his cronies and his caporegimes. Despite the crocodile, or rather, alligator tears he's shed for the poor flood victims -- some of whom were reportedly eaten by the gators that poured into the city through the breached levees that he underfunded – Bush showed his true contempt for the "reconstruction" effort by putting his porcine political fixer, Karl Rove, in charge of it. A more brazen act of sneering cynicism can hardly be imagined. Rove has zero experience in organizing government relief efforts; but he is the master of the age when it comes to servicing cronies – and knee-capping opponents – for his witless boss in the White House.
Like the war in Iraq, the "reconstruction" of the Gulf Coast is just another monstrous flood of sewage and corruption, churning through lives and communities for one purpose only: the aggrandizement of the Bush Faction and their elitist kind. The suffering of many thousands – and the good will and hard work of many others – will be ruthlessly turned to the advantage of the mighty few. The political filth will rise, blocking out the pointless beauty, the river of light that should be our reality.