Wrecking crew’s done its work, there and here
We are a debtor nation, and it’s just gotten a little more dire.I learned this from a National Public Radio news segment this week, when it was announced that Congress is raising our debt limit to $9 trillion. That’s $9,000,000,000,000. The zeroes alone are enough to make a banker start looking for a high ledge to leap from.The NPR reporter said the need to raise our debt ceiling is so that we can borrow enough money to keep the government in business, but we all know what that really means. It’s so we can continue to pour billions into everything from the War in Iraq to the War on Drugs to the war on the environment to, well, you name it. Our government is at war with everything and everyone, even our own population.What do these numbers mean? For one thing, it means that if the foreign powers who are our creditors were to call in the markers on the money they have loaned the United States, it would mean the equivalent of $30,000 out of the pockets of every man, woman and child in the U.S. of A.The fact we don’t have the money to pay off our elected leaders’ foolishly exorbitant spending habits would translate into complete economic chaos. Banks would collapse, the federal reserve would have to declare bankruptcy, interest rates would start climbing toward the stars and our national treasury would become a busted piggy bank. The Great Depression of the 1930s would look like a fiscal picnic compared to the misery and pain we’d be living and dying through.I’ve been trying to come up with ways to picture this in real terms, to compare it to our local governments, to find some way to explain it in terms we here at the ground level can understand. All I can think of is the alarming fact ours is a nation living on borrowed time, borrowed prosperity, borrowed agricultural bounty, borrowed everything.The U.S. Forest Service wants to sell off chunks of our national treasures, swaths of public land that are our inheritance from the past and our bequest to future generations. In return for the pathetically small benefit of balancing the budget of a couple of puny bureaucracies, we would in effect be handing over our future. It’s just another land grab to fatten the purses of George the Younger and his wealthy cronies, and further impoverish our nation. And letting it happen will increase the corporate theft of our national land heritage, meaning our descendants will look back at what we’ve enjoyed with a jaundiced despair.It occurs to me that we’ve been acting in a similar fashion here in Aspen and Pitkin County. This small corner of the Rocky Mountains is an undeniably precious resource, and we’ve watched be swallowed up by an elitist, gilded behemoth with a rapacious appetite. What once was home to a small, ragtag bunch of misfits has become nothing less than a trading chit in the game of greed.Those of us who did not have the right combination of foresight, money and avaricious myopia and just plain luck, which is to say far too many of us, are being left in the dust. We are consigned to the daily commute through a magnesium chloride haze on an asphalt ribbon of death so we can reach our appointed cubbyhole in the grand economic combine that keeps this town humming along.This regrettable chain of events, of course, was inevitable from the first days of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke’s revitalization of Aspen back in the 1940s. Paepcke, an optimistic and opportunistic Chicago industrialist, and his sparkly, witty socialite wife went to work turning a forgotten backwater mining town into the Athens of the Rockies. But the basic economic realities – the rich get richer, and the poor foot the bill – were not altered one whit. The new American religion – the theocracy of money – doomed this town before it truly could catch its breath.As soon as Aspen became trendy, its fate was sealed. Spasms of electoral independence, and regulatory resistance – Hunter S. Thompson’s candidacy for the sheriff’s job, the downzonings of county ranch lands and the creation of the “affordable housing” mythos, laws forcing development to “pay its own way” – were merely ineffectual gasps of a forsaken remnant of democratic idealism. The die was cast, and it took on the shape and hue of a dollar sign. Real estate agents, land-use attorneys and hawkers of baubles and fur coats knew they would one day have the upper hand.And thus was our pitiful mimicry of the national trends that we deplored and vilified in the local bars and honky-tonks. We were living on borrowed time, and the bill was about to come due. For all our derision of the foibles and falsehoods of the wider world outside the valley, we had already seen the seeds of our destruction sown in the fertile, highly valuable soil of the Roaring Fork Valley.And just as George the Younger and his wrecking crew are dismantling any vestige of humanistic, progressive thinking and politics in Washington, D.C., and around the nation, so are the self-interested profiteers doing their best to turn this place into a desert landscape where money rules the barren roost.Welcome to the 21st century, folks.Reporter and columnist John Colson is a longtime observer of the valley’s ups and downs who knew the piper would have to be paid, and has enjoyed the dance despite that painful knowledge.
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Amid the pre-Thanksgiving gloom of grim pandemic news here in Aspen, across Colorado and the mountain west came a small but significant dose of hope in the unlikely form of an Aspen Music Festival and School announcement.