NORTH POLE - Of Kringleshire, renowned from time immemorial as an elfin wonderland at the top of the world, only slush and traces of crushed peppermint remain.
As predicted a year ago by clan chief Kris Kringle, a forced exodus was imminent. His house, toy workshops and warehouses had already been fitted with pontoons, in anticipation of the moment when they would otherwise sink. It came last July. Also towed southward then were staff cottages, reindeer barns and the library, from which priceless archives -- some dating
from Kringle's earliest years in public life (when often confused with a pagan sky god, an early Turkish saint and the Yule Goat) -- had been evacuated by airlift.
Now moored off an Icelandic island, the relocated enterprise looks more like a
half-sunk container ship than anything, having been assembled harum-scarum to minimize downtime. July, as you know, falls during the busiest season for Kringle's organization, including the "Santa Claus" and "Father Christmas" divisions most familiar to Anglophones. Their rush to satisfy inflexible deadlines, despite unprecedented disruption, meant my annual visit had to be delayed.
I arrived shortly after the new year, when all deliveries were done except to Old-Calendrists. Their gifts were ready for distribution on Twelfth Night, so elves enjoying a well-deserved vacation joined us, as Kringle escorted me around the floating village. "We'll never rival Venice, but this place will be a lot prettier soon," he vowed. Besides beautification, he projects a factory expansion that will tap into the area's
abundant geothermal energy and employ hundreds of local sprites left jobless by the collapse of fantasy finance, which beggared Icelanders before getting around to the rest of us.
The famed philanthropist didn't care either way, but deferred to his PR director's temporary ban on photography. The latter -- young Mustardseed Gorseblossom XXVII, lately elevated to the post when his nearly eponymous dad took early retirement at 400 -- deemed the current setup "way too Cannery Row" and thus a peril to brand image. He even swore me to secrecy on the new location, which was silly. Once you're vaguely in the area, you can't miss it, due to Kringle's constant glow that pierces the winter darkness. Even so, Gorseblossom means to withhold the address until the place is presentable enough to hold a gala open house. According to an ambitious agenda, that event may occur as early as midsummer, thanks to the superfluity of available talent. A first load of laid-off architects and decorators will arrive next week from Dubai.
Exciting as all that is, I was glad when the crowd turned to Reindeer Games (snow polo in a nearby field) and Kringle steered me toward the libe. He'd promised a look at some documents with special relevance today, but we found the whole building missing. It was being towed by tug into a spot by his house from an ill-favored one near the drum works. A private chat in his home office wasn't in the cards for us, either. His wife was ensconced at his desk, poring over sketches hot off the fax, rolling her eyes and, with labored patience, telling someone on the phone, "No palm islands. None. Yes, we understand you're wildly good at them, but we really aren't going to change our minds. Think Christmas cookie shapes, please: stars, snowmen, holly --"
Leaving her to tussle with the design team, Kringle lifted the wreath off their front door, put it with me into a seaplane and took off for the Pole. There, amid the drilling platforms and ice floes that mark his former homesite, we laid his wreath and picked up a stranded bear cub. I managed to capture the scene by paddling out in a rubber dinghy, since Mustardseed the Twenty-Whatsit wasn't around to stop me.
After I'd dried my tears and helped reload the dinghy, we took flight again. While Kringle circled for a long look below, I observed his reactions and turned on my recorder.
"Don't even think about it," he muttered.
"You know I'd never -- "
"But you're thinking."
There's no point in arguing with the supreme "naughty and nice" sleuth. "Okay," I agreed. "Asking victims of irreparable loss how they feel about it should be banned by obscenity law. But how can we talk about what's happening and omit emotion entirely?"
"Don't waste any on me. We had centuries up here, but home is home. I'm no more attached to mine than anyone. Less, really, since Kringlefolk have all it takes to start over, even immortality."
"So you're content with the move? That isn't just a brave face?"
He answered slowly, carefully choosing his words. "The cause of our being uprooted is serious and there are many things we'll miss, but our continuity is a given. In that, we're more like a corporation or monarchy than all the poor schmoos who get one chance and are usually too innocent to know how foul their odds are."
Reading my thoughts once more, my host flashed a wry grin. "Yeah.
Crush 'em this blatantly and some start to catch on. We'll call that the 'up' side."
He hunched down, even before I started shouting. "You can be glib about Obama turning out to be Shrub with a grownup vocabulary and a tan?!!!"
"Sugarplum, you voted for him."
"I knew banksters were backing him, but Hilary seemed scarier, based on Bill's track record -- NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO, PNTR for China, junking Glass-Steagall, giving the Iran-Contra crew a pass, yada-yada. That the media delusion machine gave Democrats only Obama and a Clinton to choose from was no accident. Even so, nobody thought things could get worse, either way!"
"It was a reasonable bet," Kringle offered mildly once I fell silent. "Trouble is, reason's down for the count."
He put the plane on autopilot, rummaged for a map and a bookmarked in-flight mag and tossed them to me.
The map showed every country holding territory in the Arctic Circle, a geological Fort Knox opened for plunder by "climate improvement" -- as Air Greenland's chirpy magazine styled it. Below, all sorts of service vessels could be seen plying between drilling rigs, icebreakers morphed into cruise ships probed obscure inlets and it didn't take much imagination to picture the undersea rush for further riches: submarines charting the
ocean floor in support of rival resource claims.
Over Greenland, Kringle pointed to a new mining operation on a receding glacier and let out a caustic ho-ho. "Everybody wants to be the richest twit on the Titanic."
Dwindling polar ice was no more a fluke than which politicians snag media legitimacy -- or what befell Iceland. The small nation hove into view again through geothermal mists: clean energy now being eyed for export via subaqueous cable to Europe and increasingly harnessed in situby the hellish smelting industry, notable for gorging on cheap power and labor and spewing carcinogens among the hapless.
Yet these particular unfortunates enjoyed the world's top-rated place to live less than two years ago, until their own and outside banksters imploded it (aided by corrupt debt rating agencies and hedge-hogs) and left some 320,000 citizens to pay the thieves' multi-billion-dollar debt to foreign depositors wooed by ultra-high interest rates. Icelanders have also seen their personal debts skyrocket, since their mortgages and car loans were often structured in foreign currencies against which the krona dropped dramatically.
Gauging the level of distress they'll tolerate at the hands of their prospective "saviors" -- mainly the venomous International Monetary Fund -- is a test case with obvious application to other advanced societies. A highly educated, cohesive and famously democratic group whose legislative assembly is the world's oldest, Icelanders overturned their bankster-enabling government last January, so the screws are tightening more slowly on them than elsewhere. Sadly, many Icelanders still fail to grasp how much looting lies ahead, despite fewer jobs, lower pay, higher taxes and living costs, increasingly propagandized media, early assaults on public services and mounting pressure to adopt the Euro and join the EU.
In wordless gloom, I reflected on how this reverse-Robin Hood act has deepened global poverty for 30 years, by luring poor nations into further debt and then privatizing and exploiting their resources, compelling them to rely on trade even for food and starving them, if need be, to extract interest payments. Fittingly, the IMF had almost no customers left, until better-off countries began failing -- thanks to the vast hole left in the world economy when the banksters' bubble burst (not coincidentally the same size as the payouts they took when it was fizzing). Now their eat-dirt-and-die show is on the road again, blessed by the G-20's April decision to revive the IMF/World Bank wrecking crew with $1.1 trillion in loans (to be augmented by Fed-style bond sales and creation of a new IMF-label international currency). A first installment of $108 billion was quietly squeezed out of U.S. taxpayers last summer, alongside $83 billion in supplementary funding for the wars we voted to end in 2006. Congress didn't like the deal, so Rahm twisted arms. Hard. And it was the only bill Obama had his champ thug go to the mat for, all year.
"You never blogged about that," Kringle reminded me.
I didn't need reminding and, frankly, the mind-reading was getting on my nerves.
"You haven't written in months," he went on. "You."
"It's too huge, too convoluted --"
"But I don't know your way of saying it. Which means you don't, either."
"Imagine dozens of elves trying to run through a gate at once. And each day's news adds more to the mob. I want to paint the whole picture, but it keeps growing. "
"You want to hear me howl, fine. Can you believe the wretched banksters we bailed out are still trading derivatives -- chimeras that add no value to anything, but promise bigger payoffs than all the real wealth in the world? Bernanke's handing them free cash to do it, trillions beyond the scraps of TARP they're so glad to pay back, thinking we idiots won't expect anything more. Those lunatic bets should've been nullified, not treated as sacred -- like overindulgent bonus contracts and overvalued mortgage notes! Funny how union deals and pension obligations fall into a separate category that doesn't count. The speculators are using our money to run up commodity prices, too! Meanwhile, Washington doles out billions every month to war profiteers upholding the oil industry's right to loot abroad and wants to shovel a fresh fortune at the health insurers that are killing us at home! Obama said he'd tax wealth and bust offshore havens, but hasn't even tried; he sustains the ruinous trade policies we heard him condemn; he blathers about school reform, but means more privatization, militarization, union-busting and test-based, mind-numbing rot; he swore to stop torture, but sends his lawyers to defend court decisions legalizing it; he brags on bringing troops home, but quietly replaces them with mercenaries; he pays
lip service to diplomacy, but keeps demonizing any government to the left of Timmy Geithner! Did you hear about the drone over Venezuela? And what about Obama's idea of environmental reform? He loves the banksters' cap-and-trade scam, their latest plot to financialize hot air and rob us again, while pollution roars on, and he helps greenwash the biofuels boondoggle that set off another Big Ag land grab. They're dispossessing farmers, driving them to suicide, spreading genetically modified Frankencrops faster than ever, depleting water supplies and sending primeval forests up in smoke. And that colossal grid Obama calls "smart" -- it's a gift to utility companies and speculators. We never hear him tout the simple, local solutions that would make power practically free -- or creating jobs by hiring workers, instead of letting companies skim profits off the top -- or saving bankrupt states like California and forbidding them from making things worse by selling public land, water and infrastructure -- or reversing media conglomeration so we can learn the truth without scavenging for it online -- or enforcing the extant anti-trust laws -- or imposing tariffs to rebuild enough manufacturing at least to meet security needs. I mean, how can you build a tank if you can't build a car? Even things Obama could fix with a stroke of his pen don't get fixed: He won't give us back habeas corpus and posse comitatus and stop warrantless spying on citizens in America. We're ranked the world's sixth-worst police state! He's Shrub all over again, like Blair and Brown are Thatcher clones. Everywhere, the ultra-rich are in charge. Governments aren't even puppets now; they're shadow-puppets.
"So how do you put all that -- and plenty more -- in a blog to readers who'll recognize maybe a tenth of it as true? Just compiling footnotes would take weeks! And how do you explain there's really been a Conspiracy of Everything for decades, when respected progressive writers like Naomi Klein and Joe Bageant won't admit we didn't get here through random fits of opportunism? Above all, how do you warn people to fight what the IMF/World Bank/WTO gang have in store for us, when it's kept hush-hush that the IMF's been auditing the U.S. since they were invited on Shrub's watch, provided that no report came out until he was long gone? At their nod, the same crooked raters who helped the banksters gin up their housing bubble and then stomp Iceland, Ireland, Spain and Eastern Europe will threaten to downgrade our credit, unless social spending slows and finally stops. Bye-bye, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, public education. That's what they want next -- every bloody cent, leaving nothing from our taxes for anybody but the thieves. It isn't enough for them that the average American works longer to earn less in real terms than his counterpart did in 1970 and the minimum wage is much lower, so all the gains from 40 years and a 50-plus percent rise in productivity went to corporations and the rich, along with their tax breaks.
"And don't you dare ho-ho at me," I finished as Kringle grinned.
"You could maybe try taking it one or two elves at a time," he suggested.
"Other people are doing that perfectly well; why should I?"
"Should it really be about you?"
Under his singularly beatific glare, I had to shake my head no.
As we splashed down, a cheery din emanated from the reindeer polo grounds, but my mood couldn't have been bleaker. We tied up the plane and crunched along the frosty pier toward Kringle's resituated library. Salt air mingled exotically with the scents of ink and book dust, when he led me in. Here he stored letters received through centuries, each a window on childhood in its time, and the famous "naughty and nice" lists that biographers would kill for.
We settled at a carrel bearing several dozen letters in stacks tagged Extremes of Nature, Extremes of Stupidity and Extremes of Barbarity. The first selection referenced plagues, great fires and floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and so forth; the second was dominated by war themes and witch-hunts; and the third held chronicles of murderous misrule, enslavement, torture, deadly want in the midst of plenty, outright genocide.
After reading a few, I couldn't go on. "Why the 'Furies' Greatest Hits' collection? A lesson in rolling with the punches?"
"Not a bit. Dire as all those other situations were, we're now dealing with a three-fer."
For a moment, I was dumbstruck. It was true, what I'd begun to think but never voiced, because it seemed so presumptuous.
"Yeah," he nodded, "this time's the worst. Of course, reckoning worst is awkward," he went on. "Nobody can lose more than everything, so that's an ultimate measure that shouldn't be minimized, regardless of cause. But taking a global view, we're on untrodden ground. Wickedness has never been this powerful, nor moral blindness this widespread, nor the stakes this high. And you're doing zip about it."
"I informed myself -- I still learn more every day -- I badger Congress -- I raved regularly online for nearly four years --"
"And stopped, just when hitting your stride. Your blog
explaining derivatives was quoted as far away as France last spring. Hard act to follow?"
"The praise was gratifying, not paralyzing. I was already hung up. That piece was just a flake off the monster thing in progress. It can stand alone, but the other material requires it."
"A brief paraphrase won't serve?"
"Material's too complex."
"Does it have to be ballet?"
"Do I tell you how to make toys?"
That dispute, I'm glad to say, didn't get any hotter, because Mrs. Kringle burst in -- not with lunch (as I'd hoped for an instant, feeling peckish), but with the evident will, albeit too much poundage, to turn cartwheels. "Referendum!" she gasped joyfully, and a conga line of cheering elves paraded in behind her.
Iceland's president, I learned to my delight, had just announced he wouldn't sign the Parliament's latest debt repayment scheme into law. It was a betrayal that removed the minimal protections for Icelanders that were in an earlier agreement refused by the British and Dutch. A quarter of the citizenry had petitioned him and he'd opted for a popular vote that could annul it.
Kringle winked. "I kinda thought he'd come through."
"Democracy. Justice. National sovereignty," I whispered with the awe you'd feel on discovering an ancient palace or forgotten
treasures. At last a leader in the Northern Hemisphere -- Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, may his name be praised -- had said "no" to the grillionaires, "yes" to the people. In the USA, that last happened in the '30s, and the plutocrats let FDR throw my parents' generation a bone to avert revolution. But when my cohort grew up with the gall to expect more -- and even refused to fight their wars -- they started snatching the goodies away. Soon they found they could easily do that on a planetary scale and, once the Soviet Union went down and China went corporate, it was Katie, bar the door. Now a handful of sociopaths are so filthy rich they think nobody can stop them.
"Maybe nobody can," Kringle sighed, as the others continued their frolic around us. "That isn't the sort of thing I'm able to foresee, but I do know most people aren't evil. They've been coarsened by a culture of greed and violence, overworked and dumbed-down by design and deceived on a regular basis, but pain is a mighty Awakener."
"No shit," I
"The big question is what it will rouse, besides awareness of something wrong. Could be a lot of things: outrage, fear, more selfishness, blaming the wrong people, sinking into despair. Could be wisdom and compassion -- a lively, creative compassion. Take your pick."
"Like I can control the outcome," I began, then paused. "You mean the gate?"
"And what you're trying to cram through it. I don't ask you to be less honest, but do that much fury and dolor fit anywhere you'd want to go?" He raised a snowy eyebrow, then extended a hand and we joined the dancers streaming out into sunlight.
It seemed surreal to be celebrating anything, with such malevolence afoot that it even found this remote corner. Kringle's old North Pole digs are gone forever and his new neighborhood has fallen under the unsigned vile decree until such time as voters may abrogate it. The predators are sure to make hay between now and the referendum
in late February or early March, grabbing all they can and doing their best to scare the populace into submission.
Seeming to concur, Kringle said, "Power always has plans. Unless," he twinkled, "it fails to recognize itself."
"Workers of the World, Unite, you're thinking " I had to laugh, and not in scorn. It was only a fancy a century ago, but with present technology we actually could.
Horrors do stop now and then, I considered as we danced on. Hitler didn't win, and it doesn't always take armies. Gandhi and King staged passion
plays that tore the masks off tyrants, McCarthy was quashed with the right four words and, if today's Icelanders do save themselves, it might be the turning point for all of us. If they don't, well, something else will have to be.
As my new year's resolution, I'll try again to speak -- this time with the
calm, patience and respect that are due when one addresses the good children among and within us. I hope this has made a start.
New Year, with Love,