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Rotting Fish

Congress has just failed to pass the 9/11 health care bill, which would have compensated and provided medical care for thousands of first responders, those who have become gravely ill from breathing toxic dust at the World Trade Center nearly nine years ago. Hundreds have already died. At the time, our government declared the air at Ground Zero safe, just as it had vouched that Agent Orange was harmless several decades earlier, or Corexit innocuous now. Soon enough, thousands of BP clean up workers will have to litigate, and many, if not most, will die before they’ll see a penny. Same old, same old.

Opposing the 9/11 bill, many congressmen complained about its 7.4 billion price tag. Enough of big government, it’s belt tightening time! We’ll only loosen our purse string, of course, to assist distressed banks. In 2008, Washington gave $12.9 billion to Goldman Sachs, which came to $42 for every American man, woman and child, including the unemployed and the homeless. Come on, man, don’t be so stingy! It’s Goldman Sachs, dude! The 9/11 health bill would have cost each of us 24 bucks, but you must get your priorities straight, and our leaders, whether Republican or Democratic, always know who they must take care of first, last and always. Pennsylvania Avenue and Wall Street run in a loop.

Unlike Salahi or Lewinsky, Goldman Sachs alumni don’t need ruses or tricks to party inside the White House. Guess whose head’s been bobbing all this time? Speaking of noggins, here are some good news: Unlike in the Third World, where there’s corruption at every level, where nearly everyone with any power, whether a policeman, fireman, clerk or teacher, uses it as leverage to earn a few extra bucks, we are, for now, only rotting at the top. Only our head stinks.

And boy, does it stink! This week, we learn that the Pentagon has “misplaced” $8.7 billion in Iraq reconstruction fund, money made from the sale of Iraqi oil and gas, and from assets frozen before we invaded. We stole their money, in short, and they are suing to get it back. White-collar thieves normally tweak ledgers, but the Pentagon was so corrupt, it didn’t even bother. Billions have disappeared before without provoking an outrage. With our beer and SUV peddling media spewing nonstop garbage, nothing of consequence can stay in focus for long. Today’s headline: “Animal Experts Debunk the Alpha-Dog Myth.”

Until now, corruption has remained an abstraction to most Americans. That’s why it doesn’t quite hurt. Soon enough, however, expect to experience it up close. As all of our governments, from federal on down, continue to operate in the red, municipal wages will fail to keep up with costs of living. That’s why petty graft will become a part of daily life, just like in the so-called developing world.

In fact, we are already a part of the undeveloping world. Are we not men? We are undevo. As we unravel, be prepared to pay traffic cops when they stop you for any violation, real or imagined. “Speeding? But I wasn’t speeding, officer!” “Of course you were speeding.” Be ready to tip teachers so they will give your kids a better grade and won’t ignore them in class. As we slide, government will become much more inefficient, to the point where you must pay a bribe to get anything done. If you need a passport or a driver’s license, there’s no harm in greasing the palm of that unsmiling clerk.

The poorest Americans already know about the insolence, contempt or brutality of some petty officials, for they have longed experienced Third World conditions inside this “greatest of nations.” For most of us, that sucker punch still coils. We’re still number one, if only in our minds. Why, there’s an impressive new skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, catty corner from the site of the World Trade Center. It’s the new headquarters of Goldman Sachs. With a timely assist from American working stiffs, the world’s leading swindling outfit is not doing too badly, it is clear. Should this gleaming edifice ever blow up, however, I’d advise future first responders to think twice before inhaling the pulverized banksters. These silk-suited gentlemen are more toxic than anything you can imagine.

LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, with a novel, Love Like Hate, scheduled for July. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.

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Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.

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