Bill Totten's Weblog

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Nervous Nation

Clusterfuck Nation

by Jim Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency
(Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005) (November 03, 2008)

This is a nervous nation. Though I'm usually allergic to paranoia, something makes me think that there's a back office in the US Treasury that is buying the entire Dow Jones Industrial Index at opportune moments - like fifteen minutes before the closing bell - at the direction of Mr Paulson. He seems to easily spend $50 billion a day on other dubious hand-outs. At that scale, buying the whole Dow would just take his walking-around money. The idea behind it, my paranoid fugue goes, is to jack up the stock market enough around election day to give the dimmer members of the voting public the idea that the financial fiasco is over and happy days are here again. You can't put this past the Republican party, despite John McCain's friendly turn on Saturday Night Live, consorting with "the enemy" for laughs.

Apart from that, McCain has run the flat-out most scurrilous campaign I've ever seen, despite his reputation as a war hero and a sterling fellow among the senators. He's run a campaign of malicious innuendo and slander, seemingly aimed at voters who would have trouble qualifying for the Special Olympics. And you have to wonder whether he actually requested Vice-president Dick Cheney to lay that "kiss-of-death" endorsement on him at the last moment. It could only have been better if Mr Cheney borrowed some trick-or-treater's Darth Vadar costume for the grand occasion.

What many people are nervous about, of course, is the chance of shenanigans with the voting tally. Just one minor feature of the general paralysis gripping this society has been our inability to get rid of those mischievous Diebold computerized voting machines that leave no paper trail. By the way, these touchscreen voting units are an example of the diminishing returns of technology. There was nothing wrong with the old mechanical units, but by making over-investments in complexity we've just created more problems for ourselves. This ought to be a warning to those in the thrall of techno-triumphalism.

People are nervous not just because Mr Obama might be swindled out of a victory, but because John McCain might get elected. Credibility in his judgment dissolved about eleven minutes after he picked the Bombshell from Wasilla to be a heartbeat away from the oval office. Anyway, the Republican Party needs to crawl off to a dark hole somewhere and either pupate into something better or die - as the Whigs did in 1856. The Republican Party is not through wrecking America. They have three more months to destroy the US dollar and the economy that runs on it. And with Mr Paulson shoving out pallet-loads of bundled dollars to the likes of JP Morgan, so they can continue doing the very thing that provoked this financial fiasco - lending money recklessly to anyone with a pulse - they might just "get her done"!

Other people are afraid that Mr Obama will hand out bales of money, too, only to a different class of people. I suppose he will. I hope he will show restraint and apply it to public works that benefit all Americans - such as my pet project of restoring passenger railroad service so people don't have to drive, for instance, from Atlanta to Louisville or Cleveland to Columbus. Even so, the new President will face not only a tide of woes created by his predecessor, but very likely, too, an obese and ineffectual federal bureaucracy unable to carry out even well-intentioned programs.

He will take office in what may be the darkest economic year this country has ever faced. 2009 shows every sign of being worse than this one, with house foreclosures and car re-pos accelerating, companies hemorrhaging jobs, oil prices heading back up (with shortages possible), and a large new group of the formerly middle class growing restive and sore in the background. It will be an historic act of governance if he can keep the lid on all this. Many people will be worrying, of course, whether he will even survive. The ghost of JFK and the dashed hopes he represented (however real or illusory) still haunt this nation.

Apart from the awful debt deflation and probable rebound hyper-inflation that will whipsaw the nation cross-eyed, the new president will face the energy question. I hope he learns the fundamental lesson: that the only way we can hope to become "energy independent" is to severely reform our car-dependent living arrangements and live more locally. Anybody who believes we're going to run the interstate highways and WalMart on solar, wind, tar sands (which belong to Canada, by the way), oil shale, methane gas, algae-diesel, or used fry-max® is going to be disappointed. We'll have to inhabit the terrain of North America differently - in traditional towns, villages, cities (scaled smaller, to a lower energy diet), as well as a productive agricultural landscape that will require more attention from live human beings (and maybe help from our friends, the animals).

Much of the real work of the next president will be guiding a transition out of obsolete habits, practices, and expectations that we must shed whether we like it or not. The painful downscaling of the financial sector, from a bloated twenty plus percent of the US economy back to something more in the five percent range, is only the first of these agonies. The transition away from suburbia - our tragic misallocation of resources in an infrastructure for daily life with no future - will be even more harrowing because of the psychology of previous investment, which will provoke a misguided effort to sustain the unsustainable, and squander our dwindling resources in the process.

I reject the label "gloom-and-doomer" where these difficult transitions are concerned. There's a lot about the way we live now that is disgusting, degrading, demoralizing, and socially toxic - from our suicidal diet of processed fat, salt, and corn syrup byproducts to the spiritually punishing everyday realm of the highway strip to the fantastic loneliness and alienation of a people made hostage to a TV-consumer nexus of corporate colonialism. Were done with that. We just don't know it yet. Mr Obama may not know it, either, but he is a trustworthy soul to hold our hands as we enter this unknown territory.

Bill Totten


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