Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bleak House

Is this symbolic of America today or what?
Cancer-stricken Ground Zero worker Edgar Galvis has finally received a compensation check — for zero dollars.

The 51-year-old Queens man, who suffered sinus problems and then throat cancer after months of removing toxic debris from the World Financial Center, was relieved to get a check in the mail for his court settlement with Merrill Lynch, whose offices he had cleaned.

But he was stunned when he saw the amount: $0.00.

His award had been $10,005, but his lawyers at the firm Worby, Groner, Edelman & Napoli Bern lopped off $2,579 for unitemized legal expenses.

Then they took a 33.3 percent fee of $2,124.

They also subtracted a $352 fee to the lawyer who referred him.

The remaining $4,950 was withheld for unspecified “liens,” the letter says. Galvis thinks this was repayment of workers’ compensation for aid.

There’s a sentiment I’ve been hearing expressed more and more frequently lately, and it’s coming from solid, patriotic citizens who previously never had an anti-American thought. It goes something like this, “Hey, I’ve got news for you, this country sucks.”

These aren’t pinko ne’er-do-wells like me. These are moderate, middling, ‘vital center’ types who avoid extremism of any kind. They wave the flag and support the troops. They’ve always worked hard and played by the rules. Now they are waking up to a clear, awful, unambiguous, undeniable, inescapable truth: they are being screwed, openly, gleefully and deliberately screwed, and it’s being done to them to the tune of God Bless America.

There’s a deep loss of morale that distinguishes this period from the hard times of the past. My grandmother had horror story after horror story about the Great Depression, but the idea of criticizing this country in any fundamental way would have been unthinkable to her. Same with my grandfather. He possessed an indestructible core of patriotism that was an integral part of his character. It just was. He may not have agreed with this or that political party or this or that president, but his faith in this country, its structure, its laws, its institutions, its essential virtue, was absolute.

I don’t think we have that anymore. There are a lot of theatrical displays of nationalism, lots of self-congratulatory chest thumping, but very little genuine patriotism, which is a healthy, even generous, frame of mind. The sad thing is that our country doesn’t really deserve it anymore. If America wants to be loved, she must make herself lovable. In general, hyper-militarized kleptocracies don’t inspire much affection. Our business and political elites (redundant?), our “successful’ class, openly flout the elementary rules of good citizenship and common decency. They’re trashing the place and leaving us with the mess. How are we supposed to respond, just wipe off our chins and recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Being a patriotic American these days is the psychological equivalent of being a battered wife.

The Dickensian villains at Worby, Groner, Edelman, and Napoli Bern were, I’d guess, the brightest boys in class, the apple of their mommy and daddy’s eyes. When other kids in the neighborhood misbehaved, their angry parents probably said, “Why can’t you be more like little Worby?” “I bet Napoli Bern never talks back to his mother, does he?” Now they extort sick people and laugh all the way to the bank. Sure, they’re a bunch of slimy ambulance chasers, somebody we can all agree to hate, but that wouldn’t stop one of them from getting into the Senate, would it?

Our cynicism is not only fully justified but, to these prematurely jaded eyes, morally proper as well.

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