Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Zombie America - Installment 3

"Where's the work that'll
set my hands, my soul free,
Where's the spirit that'll
reign over me.
Where's the promise from
sea to shining sea,
Where's the promise from
sea to shining sea."
by Bruce Springsteen
"We Take Care of Our Own"
Wrecking Ball 2012.

What is "Zombie America"? It's an America that has lost its spirit, its promise. It's a nation that is a hollow shell of itself, walking around going through the motions, but the spirit has flown. Zombie America is a place that no longer dreams, that has drawn in upon itself, and is retreating into the past as fast as it can.

In the first installment in this series, I wrote about the derelict and demolished towns and urban landscapes of America and Europe. That destruction is powerfully evoked in Bruce Springsteen's "Death to My Home Town" on Wrecking Ball (2012). A destruction not wrought by cannon balls, or bombs, but silently and stealthy by "robber barons" and "greedy thieves."

The second installment spoke of the unpaving of the roads, the retreat of water and sewer systems.

Today I speak of another retreat, the retreat from commitment to universal phone service. Today, in Frankfort, Kentucky, the Senate Committee on on Economic Development, Tourism and Labor approved Senate Bill 12, a bill drafted by AT&T, that if passed by the full legislature would further diminish state regulation of the telephone companies and allow them to end basic phone service in less profitable parts of its service areas.  AT&T also has been pushing similar measures in other state capitals this year. [Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/03/13/2108034/bill-that-could-end-basic-phone.html]

From the 1890's to the 1960's, the push in America has been to extend basic phone service to more and more people. To that end both federal, state and local governments have provided tax breaks, grants, and subsidies to telephone companies to make sure that the poor and elderly could have the basic life-line of a phone in their homes. Kentucky's SB12 is the smoking gun of our retreat from basic services, and our retreat into the past. Should SB12 pass the Kentucky Senate and House, it represents the wholesale abandonment of the communicate needs of poor and rural (poor or affluent) people.
In January of 2011, during the period of time (nearly 2 weeks because of incompetence by AT&T) when my AT&T land line service was disconnected from my old house, but not yet connected to my new house, we were dependent upon alternative voice communication options. Cell phone communication would not work in either of our houses (old or new).  The only spot I could pick up a signal was in the middle of the road  by our house. So I stood outside in 15 degree weather in two feet of snow, making cell phone call after cell phone call. Luckily due to the 2 feet of snow, I didn't have to worry about some one running me down in the middle of the road. On more than one occasion, during long complicated calls, where I'd been shunted from one department to another my cell phone battery would go dead.  I'd have to stop, go back in the house, and warm up while my cell phone completely recharged.  Except for the one day that we also had a power outage (due to that 2 feet of snow), and then all I could do was sit in the snow bank and cry over my dead cell phone.

The thought that this might be our future here in the Kentucky mountains is overwhelmingly depressing. And it makes me wonder...The electric utility company constantly chafes at the expense of maintaining electric lines in the mountains, chafes at the high costs of restoring power after storms bring down trees and electric lines. How long before they too decide that they no longer want to be obligated to provide power to widely scattered rural residents? How long before we stop being a Zombie nation and simply become a dead one?

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