COLUMBUS _ "Got to get some wood in; it's gonna snow," I said as I rose from the couch Saturday afternoon.
"Look at this first," Uncle Chet said, pointing to the monitor across the room, to a headline from the Wall Street Journal: "The dollar fell to its lowest level in four months against the euro and gave up gains against the Japanese yen on Friday, as oil prices topped $104 a barrel, raising investors' worries that high energy prices will hurt growth."
"I know," I said. "I just filled up the truck. Sixty bucks."
"They call it a rise in oil prices, but Americans have it worst because our money's tanking, too," Uncle Chet said. "And the dollar's tanking because of deficit spending, and we're spending too much because the military-industrial complex gobbles up $663 billion a year, occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and policing the rest of the world."
"And social programs, too," I said.
"Yes, we spend a little on Americans," he said. "But after the banksters burned Wall Street, Bush bailed them out, and after the corporate titans closed our factories, Congress gave them a tax break, so what's wrong with spending a little on Americans?"
"We're broke, as a nation," I noted.
"We're only broke because the billionaires and their millionaire lackeys have rigged the tax laws. That's how they got to be billionaires: the old-fashioned way, buying Congressmen, one at time, and off-shoring jobs so fat-cat investors make out like bandits while ordinary Americans have to ask for food stamps, HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) and Head Start to make ends meet."
"The Republicans are trying to get rid of Head Start," I said.
"They don't want an educated working class; it might lead to reform," he said. "You know, other governments help their citizens without bellyaching, but they're not being bled by a corporate hegemony that demands continual war and foreign occupation to keep its coffers full."
"Sure. Didn't Hillary call it the `vast right-wing conspiracy'? They own the weapons factories, the coal mines, the oil companies. They've got Lockheed to knock buildings down, Bechtel to build new ones and Halliburton to get the oil. They're the ones that make sure that `defense's budget' bills every man, woman and child in America $2,200 a year, and that a lion's share of it goes into their pockets."
"For the four of us, that would be almost 10 grand," I said.
"It's on your government credit card," he said. "Our military budget is the world's biggest, six times bigger than China's, in second place, which explains why they continue to loan us money, even though we're a bad risk."
"I've got to get some wood in," I reminded him.
"You know why the dollar's tanking?" he asked as he put on his Jets cap. "Because there's nothing behind it but faith and guns, and we're running short on faith here in the land of the jobless recovery."
"I'm going to be a rock 'n' roll star; I'll be all right, but right now I'm a lumberjack," I said as I rolled out the door. He donned his Carhartt coat and followed.
"You used to be able to say, well, at least there are the government jobs," he said as we walked over to the barn. "But look what's going on in Wisconsin and Ohio. Big money shredding the last of the unions, routing the middle class, turning teachers into mendicants, demeaning all the public servants who don't carry guns.
"Every private-sector worker ought to cheer on the teachers, who are only doing what everyone planned to do when they landed a job: nine-to-five it for 30 years, then enjoy some golden years to play golf and play with the grandkids. Isn't that the American dream?"
"Don't I wish," I said, starting the little diesel tractor with the four-foot bucket.
"For those in the private sector, that's all a mirage now," he said. "Now, a fast-food gig, something we used to joke about, is none too shabby, even though there's no health insurance -- because beggars can't be choosers."
"You paint a pretty picture of American politics," I said.
"And that's the way it is, March 5, 2011."
He donned a pair of work gloves, ambled over to the woodpile and took off the blue tarp. Then I idled over to the pile and we moved a face cord or two into the shed before the storm.
Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit www.thedailystar.com/tomgrace.