Report From| The Heartland

     It’s a big, beautiful country to drive across. I’m in Southern California after an endless 5-day drive from Vermont.
     I left the morning after the big snowstorm that shut down the East Coast. When I got to Washington, D.C. to stay with my brother on night 1, I learned that people there were furious at President Obama. But not for what you might think.
     It seems that after school was called off in the District on Monday, the president was heard to say, “They call off school for 3 inches of snow? In Chicago my kids would be playing in it at recess.”
     So on Tuesday, which ordinarily would have been a snow day too, everyone had to go to school.
     Now the kids think they’ll never get a snow day again.
     Know who else is mad at the president? The teachers.
     My brother is a teacher.
     Next day I drove past the Stonewall Jackson Shrine in Virginia.
     I can understand a memorial, a monument, but a shrine?
     Richmond was suffering record cold of 9 degrees – plus those 3 inches of snow. Snow! The radio warned people that when it warmed up, snow would fall off the trees. Be careful, the announcers said – snow might fall on you!
     The road crews in South Carolina didn’t know how to handle it. They’d cleared the roads by shoveling the snow right onto the white lines at the shoulders. Amateurs. They knew how to do one thing, though. On the shoulder of the fast lane at the Georgia state line, they’d built a snowman.
     That was the last lighthearted moment of the trip. In the 3-day, 2,200-mile sprint from Atlanta to Southern California, I listened local radio.
     People are hurting and people are angry. They are angry at banks that got billions of dollars in bailouts without having to account for how they spent a penny of it – and that are holding onto it, or buying other banks with it, while people are suffering.
     On each day in February 10,000 people’s homes entered foreclosure.
     Twenty thousand people have lost their jobs each day for more than six months.
     Seventeen banks have collapsed this year and been taken over by the feds – one bank collapse every four days.
     Twenty percent of U.S. homebuyers owe more on their houses than the houses are worth – 55% of homeowners are in that situation in Nevada.
     Twelve thousand people in the newspaper business have been thrown out of work.
     And – speak of the Great Depression – there’s drought from Georgia across the Great Plains to California’s Central Valley.
     Wheat that sold for $9 a bushel last year in Oklahoma is going for $5 today – and there is less of it.
     And what is the Oklahoma Legislature offering its suffering citizens? Well, lawmakers introduced 11 bills this year attacking lawyers. Several bills would cap punitive damages at $300,000 – for anything. One bill would abolish the Oklahoma Bar Association – though the Oklahoma Bar was not created by the Legislature.
     The human cattle who run Oklahoma can introduce any sort of bill they like, I suppose, but I do not see any problems on that state’s endless horizon that those lawyer-bashing bills would solve.
     Local talk radio is hard to listen to, for the same reason rock radio is hard to listen to – the people shout all the time.
Christian radio is no better. There are more Christian FM radio stations than rock stations from Atlanta to California, and the Christians shout just as loud as anyone. But they shout about ridiculous stuff. They shout about how other people have sex; they shout about what scientists do, and about how scientists think.
     It seems to me we have greater problems than that, and I believe that even if the Christians got what they wanted, it wouldn’t solve anything.
     For an entire day, as I drove across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, Christian radio announcers denounced Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback – one of their own – because he had congratulated Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for being nominated for Secretary of Commerce.
     Brownback – one of the most right-wing troglodytes in Congress – wished his governor luck in her new job.
     “How can a Christian support this?” one Christian shouter asked.
     How can a Christian wish luck to a Cabinet secretary from his own state, who has to face the biggest economic crisis in 80 years?
     I dunno. But I know that Christian radio sounds like hate radio. And I don’t know why Christians have to shout. All across the country, they shout and denounce and wail and moan. If that’s what religion provides us, I don’t see why anybody would want it.
     We have become a nation of shouters. I presume people do it because they think it sounds exciting – it’ll catch our attention. But it’s rude. It’s annoying. It’s uncivilized.
     The country is in sad shape. People are suffering real pain, and broadcasters in positions of power are pouring salt on wounds we don’t even have, and shouting at us about ridiculous stuff.
     We have become an extremely unpleasant country. We are violent and aggressive to others, and rude to one another. It’s a damn shame.
     We seem to have become a beautiful country full of ugly people.

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