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View from US: Declaration emergency!

November 13, 2011

Front gardens of America’s suburbia have on display skeletons, grave headstones, coffins, witches, headless coachmen, inflatable giant black cats and Draculas meant to create mock terror. A walk around the block this past one month has left me wondering why the Americans religiously practice this pagan rite. Community after community competes for the title of the best ghost-haunted home. Don’t kids spook out with the ghoulish paraphernalia their parents bring out at this time of the year? Hollywood too cashes in on Halloween horrors. Its new releases are timed to unnerve the audience with stories of haunted houses and ghosts of little girls visiting homes where they have met a violent death. Halloween parties and parades are the norm. Kids and their teachers dress in costumes that go on sale months before October 31, the day of Halloween.

The make-belief horrors of Halloween turned real this time. Millions of homes across the East Coast plunged into darkness catching the people unprepared. As the snow storm continued its battering without a break, night fell and with it came the mass power outage. The graceful trees, that only a day earlier showed off their fall plumage with leaves a delicious gold, burnt amber and cherry red, began the dance of death. The snow was sticky. It refused to let go of the leaves. With too heavy a burden to bear, one by one, the trees began to fall. Some on the panoply of faux-death mummies making them look scarier; others on the rooftops while some petulant ones decided to hit the power poles. In a flash, residents were left without heating, water, and electricity.

The demons of Halloween had come alive.

Trick-or-treat is the chorus heard when your door bell rings. It means the kids are here to collect candy. “Nature has tricked us this Halloween,” said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie while declaring emergency in the state. “The snowstorm that hit us has left millions of home without power.” Christie is a heavyweight, literally and metaphorically. Good enough to be elected the next president of America, Christie’s weight is a real spoiler. It blocks his path to the White House. Some of his detractors poke fun at him saying he needs two seats to sit on an airplane. Weight apart, the governor is a hands-on administrator who is everywhere when emergency strikes. Governor of New York State Andrew Cuomo was equally vocal, active and alert. He knew exactly the number of homes in his state that had lost power; he knew exactly what action was being taken and updated his listeners on the radio; he knew exactly when the power would be restored. Central Park, Manhattan’s most famous landmark was covered in snow breaking all past records. Never before has the park worn a mantle of white in October and that too on Halloween!

Governor of Connecticut Dan Malloy was the loudest of the three. He demanded of President Obama to declare ‘National Emergency’ and let Connecticut be helped out by the Federal Government.

As a Pakistani who has suffered like the rest of the 180 million compatriots the ugly scourge of load shedding for four years and counting without a respite, I am amazed that America today, according to many, has become a “Third World” country. “I am without hot water, cold water, heating, electricity, Internet…nothing,” I hear many complaints at the shopping mall where people have come to get out of their ice-cold homes and enjoy few hours of heating. My downstairs neighbour’s bathroom is in big demand. Her shower-starved relatives have turned up to take a bath. As a quid pro quo, they cleaned her car covered in snow. “We recently put up our gazebo on our deck,” her brother tells me while lifting sheaths of ice from his sister’s car, “last night the new gazebo collapsed under the weight of snow”!

Schools are closed. Halloween parades have been cancelled. Commuters travelling on trains are stuck at home. And listen to this: the University in our area which was to host Gen Pervaiz Musharraf is without power! At Drew University in Madison, I saw students waiting to leave. “We have told their families to come fetch them as the university is closed,” the office of the public safety tells me as I drive around. I see two men cooking meat in a makeshift open-air barbeque. “I have to cook for the overseas students who have no place to go,” one tells me. “I’ve been here for years but have never seen this kind of power outage before.”

I find it ironical that Musharraf who left us in the dark, literally, for not producing a single watt of power during his 9 year term, should now become a casualty of power shutdown in New Jersey.

I was looking forward to Musharraf’s lecture on security. Darn I paid good money to attend. I wanted to hear him tell these American students and intellectuals assembled why terrorism spawned during his rule. Why he agreed to the NRO. Why the Pentagon and State Department accused the Pakistan army under his command for cooking its books when the US audited their accounts. Oh my list was endless… I may still meet him if his lecture is rescheduled.

America is not doing well. It may have deep pockets but the $2 billion a week hemorrhaging in Afghanistan prevents the US from fixing its outdated utility services back home. Americans are still cleaning up after Hurricane Irene that left them broken down. “We are a failed state because there is no accountability to the people by corporations or by government at any level, whether state, local, or federal” says Dr Paul Craig Roberts, a former assistant secretary of US Treasury in Reagan government. America’s “hubristic attitude” that is bereft of any “remorse over the one million Iraqis killed; four million Iraqis displaced by a US invasion and occupation that were based entirely on lies and deception” and the “countless numbers of Afghans who have been cavalierly murdered by the US military, or for the Pakistani civilians murdered by US drones and ‘soldiers’ sitting in front of video screens” will be America’s downfall.

Hail Halloween!