Dark Clouds Overhead



A snaky, hunchbacked Richard opens Shakespeare’s “Richard III” every time with the intonation “Now is the winter of our discontent.”

At least it’s winter in not-so-merry old England. Now is the summer of our discontent, and disconnect. Not to mention it’s really, really hot and dry.

Now the world, we ourselves in this city, and across the country, sit under a cloud, waiting. The summer is full of irresolution, of something’s-going-to-happen-but-not-in-a-good-way, of portents and omens. In ancient Rome right about now, they would have slaughtered a goat and looked at its liver for signs.

All we can do is wait:

To see what happens with the investigations that are now working their way through the heart of the city government while its leadership—mainly Mayor Vincent Gray—remain silent on the outcome. Gray, City and Council Chairman Kwame Brown are both under a cloud awaiting results of various investigations, a process that seems long, tedious and full of the kind of suspense that can hold the city’s policies and politics hostage.

Meanwhile, the dark, dark cloud of the great 2011 Raising-the-Debt-Ceiling crisis, an exercise in political jockeying that would be fascinating except for the fact that the continuing irresolution is frightening to each and every one of us. Although you could hardly tell by the way the administration, the House of Representatives and Senate and all politicians, elected officials and who knows, interns, are going about the business of solving the crisis.

Out there in the great wide world, the stormy Middle Eastern spring which saw authoritarian regimes fall with dramatic and startling suddenness (Tunisia, and goodbye Mubarek’s Egypt) and others tremble at their core (Libya, Syria, Bahrain,Yemen), has turned into a sultry, violence-driven, and irresolute summer of uncertainty and fear. That particular cloud, which also encompasses other nations and spreads out to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel and the other oil states, not to mention Iran, could turn into a flood-carrying cloudburst at any time.

Irresolution—that helpless feeling that something big is going to happen, hinted at by the nervous flapping of bird wings before a tsunami or earthquake—is the temper of our times in this city. It’s the atmosphere of the times and the talk and silence of the town and the bird food of the chattering classes in the media because here we are, living in the midst of history. It’s a dark cloud that hangs over our local city government, over the meeting rooms at the White House and Capitol Hill, over nervous Embassy Row. But it’s already burst over Minneapolis, St. Paul where they’re living the results of government bankruptcy and insolvency, where the government, and all that it oversees, handles and processes, has shut down.

The investigations were sparked what seems like centuries ago by a very minor candidate in the field of the 2010 mayoral race which saw Gray defeat incumbent Adrian Fenty. That would be Sulaimon Brown, who, after getting fired from a job given to him by the administration, charged that Gray aides had paid him to stay in the race and continue his attacks on Fenty. Nothing has been the same since for Gray, who had swept into office with a “one city” dream and a reputation for high integrity – a reputation which has taken some hits.

The story is by now familiar and yet madly resists resolution. The city government and the city council are plagued not only by Gray’s troubles, but by those of Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. and more importantly by chairman Kwame Brown, whose 2008 campaign finances and activities are now being probed by the Feds. A council investigation climaxed in a circus-like testimony by Sulaimon Brown, decked out in dark glasses and insisting that the mayor is a crook, a litany he’s repeated all over the city. A recent Washington Post has shown that only 47 percent of D.C. Democrats have a favorable opinion of Gray, down from 60 percent, and that his unfavorables have jumped by 24 percent. Meanwhile, a grand jury is looking at the Gray campaign’s activities, including the Brown charges. In addition, there’s at least one website calling for Gray’s recall out there.

All of this has resulted a feeling of both foreboding and lethargy in the government. No doubt, there are folks out there planning their 2014 campaigns for mayor. While there is grumbling, gossiping and chatter in the neighborhoods, there is mostly silence at the top. The mayor has studiously avoided talking to the press or made any compelling statement on the whole mess.

The cloud, in short, stays put, stays dark.

The debt ceiling cloud remains also, amid some dire predictions that the country may default on its debt if the ceiling isn’t raised, which it has been for decades, almost routinely. The battle is taking place in negotiations between President Obama, the house leadership and the senate leadership. It’s a political battle in which the GOP, sensing opportunity, wants huge budget cuts in the trillions for next to nothing, not even closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and for corporations.

The GOP stalwarts, especially die-harder Mitch McConnell in the Senate cry “tax hike” and “job killer.” Obama hands out deadlines. The president and House Leader John Boehner came very close to reaching a startling comprehensive agreement which included major cuts AND tax hikes, which freaked out the Tea Party stalwarts in both houses, causing Boehner to give it up. Maybe its time to golf again.

The background, of course, for all concerned, is the 2012 election and a hostile intransigence that hard to figure.

It’s a black cloud, looming, coming soon to an unemployment line (up to 9.2 percent) near you.

In the Middle East, you can see the fear and irresolution. If Syria, which has always thought to be one of the more solid repressive regimes in the region, can tremble—in spite of government forces firing on demonstrators—then anything can happen. It’s an ongoing process – Yemen very nearly fell to opponents, the Egyptian revolution has given way to further demonstrations, the situation in Libya has turned into a bloody and unresolved civil war which has sucked in NATO and the Obama administration.

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