I remember a beautiful end-of-summer in Scotland ten years ago. In lovely sunlight the soft breezes carried the lilt of lassies comin' through the rye and lovers takin' th' high road to Loch Lomond.
Back home unemployment was a rising concern; it had reached 4.9 per cent in August, the highest rate in four years. Private employers had just cut 130,000 jobs, ten times the predicted amount, and shipped nearly 50,000 jobs overseas.
Independent economists said the bad news meant the long-awaited economic recovery still was not in sight. Not to worry, "we're about where we should be," said the chief economist at Merrill Lynch, one of the Wall Street firms that was happily selling AAA-rated investment packages that seven years later would be called "sub-prime" and "toxic."
On a hillside east of a small town in the Scottish highlands, a natural waste-disposal field was in its fifth experimental year. Although toxic slush was deep underfoot somewhere, the air was scented only by a profusion of wildflowers. There's more than one way to deal with toxic.
The remains of an ancient Roman fortification crested the hill. Later in the afternoon we would stand in its shade and watch Scotsmen sling a haggis in a traditional festival game. A few days later, we took a leisurely drive toward John O'Groat., stopping often to admire rocky shorelines and the occasional sandy beach.
When we stopped for fuel, the attendant for the single pump recognized us as Yanks. "Did y' hear about the Twin Towers?" he asked. BBC radio told us the latest about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The U.S. national debt was just a shade over $5 trillion.
When he finally emerged from hiding, the President of the United States led a campaign of fear, half-truths, outright falsehood and "cooked" intelligence to launch a war against a country that had nothing to do with the September attacks and whose sleazy dictator had nothing to do with those who organized and financed it.
When he left office, that president and his unfunded wars had doubled the national debt.
Unemployment was over 10 per cent.
The toxic assets Wall Street had sold as prime investments went "Poof!" and the richest banks in the world were on their knees, begging.
A new President printed new money and showered it on the bankers who had brought the world to the brink of depression.
The national debt rose to $12 trillion.
The wars went on.
The unemployment rate remained twice what it had been in 2001. That's not counting millions more jobless who have been unemployed for so long they no longer count as "statistics."
So far only one man running for President has offered a plan intended to provide jobs for some of the unemployed. It calls essentially for tax credits to private employers to encourage them to hire more people. (These are the same private employers who cut 130,000 jobs in August of 2010 and shipped 50,000 of them overseas, causing independent economists to warn that we'd better do something soon about unemployment.)
Last month, the U.S. economy did not add one new job. Zero. Zilch. As soon as John Boehner says it's OK, the President will talk to the nation about jobs.
What he says isn't likely to do much for the millions without work. Talk doesn't buy groceries.
Last month, for the first time in ten years, not one American was killed in Iraq in George Bush's war. However, it was the worst month ever for American deaths in Afghanistan, Barack Obama's war. Nobody reports the losses here and there in the dozen or so clandestine wars we're fighting.
No politician running for President is talking about ending the wars that put us deeply in debt as a nation. Yet all the politicians say the debt is a crisis.
It is such a big, big crisis that we can't afford to create public sector jobs fixing a national infrastructure that has been neglected for so long that it's a risk to life and limb for our common citizens.
But it's not so big a crisis that we need to end the huge tax cuts we gave to our very richest citizens.
This isn't a country. It's a bloody zoo, and the animals are in charge.