The recent monsoons have left our part of the Chihuahuan desert with a carpet of yellow wildflowers accented by clusters of pale violet blossoms amid the varying shades of green of the native lechuguilla, mesquite, creosote bush, yucca and ocotilla. Once this was considered the most biologically diverse desert in the world but man and his cattle have seriously degraded it. Ranchers have great political clout in these parts and own a big piece of the congressman who represents us. Efforts to reintroduce the extirpated Mexican gray wolf are failing, off-road riders have savaged huge chunks of fragile desert topsoil and the ocotillo has vanished from areas where cows graze virtually for free on land that belongs to all of us. (The hooved locusts love the sweet blossoms atop the plant's whiplike branches -- which are the plant's reproductive method. No more flowers, no more ocotillo.)
All of this aside, it's a wonderful time of year, with the cooling change-of-season winds announcing autumn, to visit favorite desert walkways and hide-aways. The road across public land to the trails of the Picacho Mountain national recreation area had several wash-outs that required careful navigation when Brandi and I drove out there this morning. I doubt that they'll get fixed any time soon, what with the idiots in Washington refusing to appropriate the money to operate the federal government as of midnight tonight. The Bureau of Land Management, which manages these lands on behalf of we, the people who own them, isn't likely to have money for a 'dozer to come out and make the road right. All across this desert, and all the deserts and all the parks and monuments and scenic and historical sites the People own out here, we common folk will suffer the consequences of the shutdown by the liars and dunderheads who govern us. The little things that make life worth the struggle are the first to be declared non-essential when the idiots shut off the faucet that directs our tax money into the federal agencies and bureaus.
Oh, they'll find the money for all our wars; for the drones that take out Taliban and children alike; for the spooks who read our e-mail, monitor our Facebook pages and listen in on our telepone conversations; and you can bet that Dr. Kidglove and his playpen pals in Congress will draw down their salaries. But park rangers and wildlife veterinarians and the people who process things on behalf of citizens will just have to figure out some other way to put beans in the pot and bread on the table. New Mexico has already cut off any new unemployment benefits for those who lose their jobs, because the state doesn't know when its federal funds will resume.
The pampered nincompoops who hold office in Washington don't give a damn about real people who are jobless or hungry or too old or too sick to fend for themselves. They don't give a damn about parks and things, about programs that bring free or affordable bits of beauty, of music, of art or of healthful recreation into lives otherwise filled only with frantic hours of strife to survive from one meager paycheck to another.
The Congress is full of people like our guy, whose personal worth is said to be about $30 million, and who cavalierly voted to cut off the SNAP funding that saved nearly 40,000 children from his own district from starvation every day. Their families earn on average less than $17,000 a year. Meanwhile, he's comfortable having $40 lunches delivered to his office for himself, at taxpayer expense.
He's part of the financial elite, the handful of plutocrats and oligarchs who run this sorry-assed country. Few if any of them will feel anything when the shutdown of government comes, despite the fact that the stock markets are down because of it. We would like to think -- those of us looking through the window from the outside at the lavish lifestyles of our leaders -- that Wall Street's reaction to the upcoming default would pinch some of them enough to order their toadies in Congress to do the right thing.
"But what if," as Paul Krugman writes today, "even the plutocrats lack the power to rein in the radicals? In that case, Mr. Obama will either let default happen or find some way of defying the blackmailers, trading a financial crisis for a constitutional crisis.
"This all sounds crazy, because it is. But the craziness, ultimately, resides not in the situation but in the minds of our politicians and the people who vote for them. Default is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
The clock is ticking down. Even out there in the peace of our yellow-carpeted desert, Brandi and I can hear it.