Friday, October 07, 2011

No Plan on Wall Street

cross-posted from Dagblog

It's become disturbingly clear that the people occupying Wall Street, and the centers of several other major American cities, have no plan for the future. No vision. No coherent ideas. No sense at all of what to do next.

I'm not talking about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Expecting a protest movement to have a shovel-ready legislative agenda is silly. If there were a bill in Congress or an existing major-party platform that would make these people happy, they wouldn't be a protest movement. They'd be a lobbying movement. I'm talking about the people who occupy Wall Street on normal days. They have been entrusted with a huge influence over our national economy, and heavily subsidized by our taxes. And three years into our economic crisis, they're just plugging along as if nothing had happened, doing the same things they used to do in the boom times. They have no plan at all.

The people occupying the Federal Reserve have no coherent plan. Most of them realize that something is badly wrong with the economy, but they have no actionable agenda for fixing it, and a few of them actually worry that workers' incomes will grow too high. That's just fantasy land.

The people occupying the Treasury Department are callow idlers, more dedicated to maintaining a certain kind of lifestyle than to addressing our structural economic problems. Timothy Geithner expresses his desires for the economy, but has no plan that could actually be put into practice. Geithner apparently has no idea of what to do.

The people occupying Washington, DC have no practical grasp of the situation. They have some incoherent sound bites, they have a grab-bag of small-bore proposals that don't address the big problems, and they have deeply impractical ideological commitments to ideas that would make things worse. They have allowed their encampments to generate into chaotic, directionless debates between people who want to do too little about our problems and people who want to do nothing about our problems. They are not putting forward any sensible or workable program.

The people occupying major newspapers and news channels have an unrealistic and immature grasp of basic realities. They are incapable of articulating solutions to our national problems, or of talking about them in anything but the most emotional and incoherent terms. They don't even know what it is they're asking for.

The people who occupy positions of our power in our society do not have a coherent plan for the nation's future or any idea how to address our economic woes. They have emotional attachments to a certain way of doing things, but no serious or concrete plan for making things better. Some of the people who occupy those positions of power, wealth and privilege fault the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators for not providing the kinds of workable proposals that the leadership class has failed to provide. But the obligation to provide those plans is on the people who occupy the positions of leadership. Angry crowds without a specific plan are understandable. A leadership class without a specific plan is an abdication of duty. And the angry crowds are the natural result of leaders who offer no solutions.

The message of Occupy Wall Street is messy and multivocal and muddled. Different protestors say different things. Of course. But when you step back a little from all those angry voices, you can hear a pretty clear set of demands:





If you occupy a place of power or influence in our country, if you want to preserve that place for yourself, then you would do well to start your to-do list with those items. Nothing else is going to work.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Farewell, Little Phone

I recently changed cellphones, for only the second time in my life. I held onto my first cellphone for five dented, dinged and battered years, and did not replace it until it vanished on me entirely -- possibly because it had at long last dissolved into its constituent atoms -- while I was  traveling.

I bought my second phone on that trip, because I couldn't afford to be out of touch until I got home, and because on the last leg of the trip I was supposed to stop off for a brief visit with someone whom I was not dating exactly, but very tentatively exploring the possibility of dating. Standing said person up with the "lost my cell phone" excuse seemed like it would be an admission that I wasn't really an adult. So I got a new phone and programmed the tentatively-possibly-almost date's number into it.

It felt a bit odd to make such an iffy romantic prospect, if "romantic" was even the right word, the first number in my address book, especially because I temporarily entered her as one of the five close friends that I got to call for free. I wouldn't have anyone else's number until I got home, and there seemed to be no point in paying for cell minutes when I didn't have to. I certainly wasn't going to tell her that she was "in my five", even for a day, because that would have seemed creepy. And I was planning on switching her out when I got back and dug through my address book.

As it turned out, she stayed in the five for the rest of that phone's life. Five days ago, I married her.

Our marriage involves a lot of travel back and forth between the city where I work and the city where my spouse lives. I traded in that second phone, the one that I bought in order to keep our maybe/maybe-not coffee date, for a smartphone that helps make the weekly travel possible. A small part of what it takes to keep my specific marriage healthy is GPS capability, hardcore weather applications, and the ability to cope with my work e-mail (and open attachments) from highway rest areas and truck stops. The new phone also has a handy traffic widget that calculates the length of the commute back to my spouse, so that I can sit in my office late in the afternoon and watch the end of my weekly drive slip further and further away. In an odd way, I recommend it.

The phone I just replaced had one special feature: years of text messages, which I had left unerased, starting from shortly before we began our relationship until a few weeks before our wedding. They started with updates from the road the night before the coffee date, my side of the conversation full of oddities as I fumbled with a new autocorrect system, and then came weeks of flirtatious banter and jokes, gradually settling down into a snapshots from a maturing relationship. By the end, the text messages were mostly prosaic, bits of literal and figurative housekeeping between domestic partners coordinating their errands: picking up dinner, picking up cat litter, picking up the car from the shop. The messages told a story, and eventually that story got dull, because the happy ending had already come by.

I'll miss that little phone, and those hundreds of little messages, much as I occasionally miss our old apartments and our months of courtship. By that I mean: only a little bit, when I'm feeling wistful, with no sense that anything's really missing. The texts that I send these days tend to be simple and boring. Mostly they just say, I am coming home. That's all I want to say.