R.I.P.: Fun

     The U.S. newspaper business is in a parlous state, from which it never will recover.
     This makes me sad. Not for any breast-beating, bogus constitutional reasons, but because it means Americans will have less fun.
     Before the industry collapsed, there was no way to have more fun and get paid for it than being a newspaper reporter.
     Thirty years ago, when I signed up, the bosses were just starting to clear out the cranks and misfits – like me: people who like to make trouble for good reasons.
     Now that “reporting” for U.S. newspapers has become, far too often, regurgitating news releases and waiting for orders, who would want to be a reporter?
     I loved the stories the old news guys told – true stories. And I loved accumulating my own.
     One of my own favorites was when I was a Mexico correspondent in Sonora, in the days before the PRI ceded power.
     I heard that a 380-year-old village in the Sierra Madre was about to get electricity. The governor would go there to flip the switch.
     Oh boy!
     I did my homework by driving up there the week before. The new telephone poles lay along miles of vile dirt roads, holes dug for them, coils of wire dumped here and there. I drove all over town interviewing people, then returned the day the governor was due.
     The people in the old town – Suaqui Grande – waited for the governor. And waited.
     Eventually, the mayor and the City Council decided to improve the time by throwing half a dozen cases of Tecate into the back of an enormous pickup and gunning it around town while swigging beer.
     The big old Ford (DINA) pickup disappeared into the Sierra Madre, City Council in tow, and the crowd drifted away. Except for a 90-year-old man and his family and me.
     “Thieves, is what they are,” the old man said of the PRI.
     “Grandpa, no!” a pretty young woman said, pointing at the gringo reporter.
     “What do I care?” the old man said. “I saw the government carry the Yaquis out of these mountains like lions during the Revolution, tied hand and foot to poles. Who remembers the old days now?”
     By the time the governor showed up, the mayor and City Council were nowhere in sight: drunk somewhere in the Sierra Madre. The only people left to greet the governor were me and the old man, and a vanload of PRI photographers and press people, there to celebrate the glorious occasion.
     Actually, the whole scene is not much different, except in scale, from what’s going on in the United States today.
     I learned a lot when I lived in Mexico. Elected officials from the PRI and PAN assured me that U.S. concepts of conflict of interest do not apply there.
     “A congressman who is also a representative of a business or a union is expected to introduce legislation to benefit them,” a PRI congressman told me. “What else would he do?”
     That’s a more honest form of government than we have in the United States. Probably cheaper, too. Fewer bribes to spread around. Excuse me, I mean campaign donations.
     When the PRI ran Mexico as a de facto one-party state, it was no more corrupt than the two political parties that run the United States today.
     Nor are Mexico’s bought-and-paid for newspapers and TV any more corrupt, or dishonest, than many major U.S. media powerhouses have become.
     Before the PRI ceded power 12 years ago, Mario Vargas Llosa called Mexico “a perfect dictatorship.”
     Actually, the perfect dictatorship is the United States.
     Our two major parties have a lock on power with just as corrupt and just as firm a hand as the PRI ever did.
     Now the PRI has won the presidency again, with a cute candidate with poofy hair.
     I wish them well.
     Here in the United States, we may soon be in the same situation.
     Then the fun will really be over, and not just for beat-up old newspaper reporters.

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