You See, Doctor …

     I got a letter from an old friend of mine, a psychiatrist, a jazz pianist, an athlete – no dummy. He wrote me a little about his work.
     He wrote: “Everything one needs to know about a person is available all the time. Their ‘thing’ is manifested in everything … in any random five-minute piece of interaction. … We can’t help it – we are always revealing.”
     There it is: the United States of America.
     Name it – sports, TV, real estate, government, war, high finance, news, sexual relations – what does America reveal about itself every 5 minutes?
     Here is what it reveals: Who cares who gets hurt? Will it make money? Right now?
     Screw tomorrow. What about right now?
     I see it every day, editing stories for this page.
     Just this week, nine of the biggest grocery store chains in America filed antitrust lawsuits against American Express, challenging its anti-steering rules that prevent the stores from suggesting that customers use a different credit card, which will cost the stores less.
     American Express charges businesses more money than other credit companies do. Businesses hate American Express. Trust me on this.
     I’m a natural-born snoop. Every time I go to a store I ask, “How’s business?” You never know when you’ll find a story.
     The story is: Everyone hates American Express. Every business I know.
     Here is a credit-card company that not so many years ago had the market all but sewed up. Today, it is not just losing the market; it already has lost.
     You can’t do business for long if you make your customers hate you.
     You can’t do politics that way, either.
     Well, you can for a while. So long as you have the most immense, exploding stick on the block.
     But even then … Vietnam, Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan – look at our foreign policy. Our “thing” is manifested in everything.
     Pro football? Screw the players, and their concussions, let’s make them play more games every year. Think of the hundreds of hours of TV commercials.
     Finance? Screw the homebuyers. Take their money while they still have it.
     Government? Screw reality and all of its problems. How can we stir people up?
     Texas is facing a $28 billion budget deficit. Its Republican governor, Rick Perry, wants to cut 10 to 20 percent from schools, though Texas is already dead last in the nation in per capita school funding.
     And what is Gov. Perry trying to push through the Legislature as an “emergency measure”?
     A declaration that the federal government must have a balanced budget.
     And a law that requires every woman who wants an abortion to have an ultrasound first, and be forced to look at the pictures.
     Who cares who gets hurt? Will it help Rick Perry? Will it help him right now?
     War? The reason we are still at war is because if we bring the troops home and muster them out, what will that do to the unemployment rate? And how will that look, before the next election?
     TV? Turn it on any time. What do you see? Is there a good show on cable? What’s on the other 153 channels? All the time?
     There are many vile governments around the world. North Korea’s is crazy. China’s is vile. Russia’s is run by gangsters. Israel’s is obnoxious. Most Arab states – all right – all Arab states are corrupt. Mexico and most of Africa are run by kleptomaniacs.
     And our own?
     Most people, they say, get the government they deserve.
     I’m afraid that’s true.
     I’m afraid it is.

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