Bill Totten's Weblog

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rehearsals for a Civil War

Clusterfuck Nation

by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency
(2005) (February 22 2010)

Amid the general incoherence of the Tea Party rebels and the failure of progressives to recognize the structural changes underway in a peak oil world, lies a deadly swamp of paradox where all parties may drown in the quicksand of their own muddled intentions.

The Tea Party appeals to the swelling numbers of the new former middle class angry at the sudden vanishing of their accustomed perqs and entitlements to a predictably comfortable suburban existence. They're mad at the government and hot for "liberty". But how do they propose to maintain the hyper-complexities of suburban life without taxes to pay for fixing the countless roads their lives depend on or to run the gold-plated central school districts that seem to exist solely to provide Friday night football? As for liberty, a handful of despotic corporations from McDonalds to WalMart have been granted the liberty to destroy the Tea-bagger's bodies and the economic fabric of their communities - and they seem to want more of that kind of liberty, based on the recent decision of a "conservative" majority on the Supreme Court allowing corporations to buy elections. The Tea-baggers also apparently crave the liberty to push other people around, especially on questions of abortion and religion. That's an interesting kind of freedom.

As more and more of them lose jobs and incomes, will they resent their government-issued extended unemployment benefits? I doubt that you'll see them burning their own checks in big public demonstrations the way the Vietnam War protesters burned their draft cards. And of course this also goes for the retiree Tea-baggers who show up at their Tea Parties to inveigh against the government - except the agency that prints their social security checks, or the other one that pays for their liver transplants (while forty-million unretired, un-insured Americans under sixty-five get slammed with extortionary hospital bills for twenty-thousand dollar routine appendectomies that end up bankrupting them).

Meanwhile, the progressives led by President Obama are doing everything possible to deny the deep tectonic changes thundering through our economic arrangements. They have embarked on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable that will only aggravate and accelerate the more destructive effects of the historic changes underway. For instance, the financial crisis is nature's way of telling us that banking occupies too much space in our economy - especially the "creative" kind of banking which thrives on innovations in fraud and swindles. Yet the progressives are shoveling the nation's accumulated savings (and way beyond that to earnings not yet saved) into a handful of gigantic banks whose employees live in a separate universe of luxury, and the bail-outs only guarantee more financial mischief based on efforts to get something for nothing - in the absence of an economy that turns capital investment into things of value.

Faced with the multiple threats of peak oil, the progressives are pounding billions into the automobile makers and shoveling tons of stimulus money into highway improvement projects, while the railroads we will desperately need in the future continue to be starved to death, and no effort is made to promote walkable communities - including a federally-led reform of our insane zoning laws which mandate a suburban development outcome in every corner of the country.

Faced with the hangover of a housing bubble, the president's team has insidiously nationalized the racket and is doing everything possible to keep housing prices unrealistically inflated, so that nobody still lucky enough to have a median income can afford the median price of a house. Meanwhile, the agencies used to facilitate this accounting shell game - Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, et al - are choking on worthless mortgage contracts and generating ever more new toxic mortgage paper.

Then, there is the question of our military adventures half a world away in Afghanistan and Iraq, where both parties are unwilling to face the basic conundrum of what happens when our troops leave those places. Even if we stamp out the current Taliban leadership there are countless avid up and comers burning to take their places, and numberless mountain valleys for them to hide in. Al Qaeda, of course, exists mainly as an international computer network. Good luck stamping that out. And if it's oil we're after in Iraq, there are three main possibilities after the last US soldier packs out: one is the unlikely possibility that a competent Iraqi national oil company decides to dole out drilling licenses to "preferred" companies (don't hold your breath Exxon-Mobil); another is that Iraq cracks up into smaller ethnic units lacking the capital or coherence to get their oil out of the ground; and a third is that neighboring Iran comes to control the major oil-producing region around Basra. So, what's it all about, Alfie? - besides squandering a trillion dollars we don't really have.

Homeland security? Neither party is serious about defending the borders or limiting immigration, and anyway there are "soft" targets beyond counting all over the USA and small arms galore available to get the job done. Three guys with automatic rifles set loose in the Mall of America would be enough to push the retail sector over the edge into oblivion, taking with it the commercial real estate market and all the banks involved in financing it - in short, destroying the tattered remains of the so-called "consumer economy".

My own guess about where this all leads is in the direction of more anger and incoherence by all parties involved - which will itself generate yet more anger in a spiraling centrifugal feedback loop that could eventually tear this nation apart. It will be instructive to see how some of these forces play out in the Health Care Reform "summit" that President Obama has called for this week. The Republicans will be rope-a-doped into the uncomfortable position of trying to explain why they have no ideas whatsoever about fixing the hopelessly cruel and unjust medical system that everybody except government employees suffers under. The Democrats will be juked into the equally unhappy position of explaining how a bankrupt US Treasury pays for a more equitable system - and the insurance companies will sit smirkingly on the sidelines watching both parties fail to address the necessary severe disciplining of the insurance racket.

In the background of even these momentous deliberations, the foundations of capital creak and shatter, the stock market infarcts and the bond market fibrillates, and all the accounting tricks ever dreamed of in the fantasies of Harvard MBAs and MIT math PhDs, and all the newly-evolved species of grifters and shysters who pull the levers of the system will not avail to hold back our inexorable journey into new circumstances that will really determine the outcome of these predicaments.

Bill Totten


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