Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Qualm before the Storm

Apprehension doesn’t begin to describe the way I feel about our country’s prospects for the future. To say that I have a qualm or two doesn’t begin to quantify my trepidation; widespread complacency among the citizenry and their mass inability to overcome inertia does nothing to assuage my fears or overcome my doubts.

While a perfect storm of ineptitude and neglect threatens to overwhelm the commonwealth, complacent Americans continue their embrace of 20th-century ideology at the expense of 21st-century reality. With blinders firmly in place, they pursue unsustainable lifestyles fueled by conspicuous consumption and driven by hope that the vague feeling of something amiss festering just below the level of consciousness is only a phantom. Living in denial of global climate change, peak oil, a looming recession, widespread corruption, and myriad other warning signs, they miss the big picture, the one that shows America is an emerging third-world nation desperately clinging to its first-world superpower status.

Signs of the imminent failure of the once-great nation known as the United States of America are plentiful and pervasive—and unmistakable. Our government, a former republic now well into its conversion to fascism, is riddled with corruption and failing the people at every level. In the manner of foxes tasked with guarding the chickens, control of the very agencies meant to protect the people has been handed over to the corporations the agencies were designed to protect against.

Under government protection, the environment has now degraded to a point where it might as well be called an international disaster area. Global climate change and air, water, and ground pollution push ocean ecology to the edge of collapse and threaten food and water security for most life on the planet.

Poor fiscal policies reduced the economy to a shambles. Fractional reserve banking made possible the growth of a debt-based economy, which became an impediment to accumulating real wealth for millions of people. Add to that a massive federal deficit, the decline of U.S. dollar value against other currencies, the off-shoring of jobs and the concomitant loss of our manufacturing base and subsequent rise in unemployment, stagnant wages, the long-predicted collapse of an unsustainable housing market (see Petey’s Pipeline E-zine, issues #16 & #22) and what we have are a few of the main ingredients in a recipe for global economic disaster.

U.S. energy policies haven’t been anything to brag about, either. Beyond high gasoline prices, few people seem to know anything about peak oil, and of those that do few seem inclined to do anything about it. Easy, quick and dirty are the corporate and political rallying cries for energy solutions, with petroleum, coal, and nuclear benefitting the most from political influence and absorbing the bulk of energy investment dollars. Renewable fuels and alternative energy resources, while making solid advances, still struggle to earn respectable seats at the energy solutions table. Wrong choices here will only add to environmental woes and increase the drag on the economy.

Security & defense are also grossly mismanaged. The war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq siphon 43 cents of every tax dollar away from infrastructure maintenance and social programs, such as health care and education to benefit Americans. Money that could be used to build up our country is instead being used to destroy others. With the military under-equipped and overextended and with National Guard units deployed overseas, critical areas of US defense are severely compromised.

At what cost do we wage war in the Middle East? More than we can afford. More than our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren can afford. The cost of Bush’s Folly is truly astounding: Over $5 billion every week; $720,000,000 every day; more than $30 million every hour; $500,000 every minute; $8,333.33 every second. But, hey, it’s okay, because we’re doing it all on credit.

Conservative analysts estimate the final costs of Bush’s Folly at something over $3 trillion. Less-optimistic analysts predict final costs in the range of $5-7 trillion, which, in my opinion, is a more realistic estimate. Since when have there ever not been cost overruns?

But the costs of Bush’s Folly go far beyond those of wasted lives and misspent treasure. Neglected critical infrastructure—roads, bridges, dams, power plants, shipping ports, rail transportation, public transit, schools, libraries, hospitals, and water and sewage treatment facilities—continues to erode; deferred maintenance and extended construction startup times drive the costs ever higher. These, too, must eventually be paid for—or abandoned.

Nor do U.S. social policies and programs escape scrutiny and criticism. Due to years of neglect, misplaced priorities, bad practices or unintended consequences, a broad spectrum of social programs, services, agencies, systems and issues has fallen into states of disrepair, with Social Security, education, health care, the justice system, and many others in various advanced stages of crisis.

Over the next 20 years some 70 million Boomers are expected to retire from the workforce, making a huge impact on Social Security solvency. Had not various administrations raided the Social Security trust fund time and again to prop up military spending or general fund shortfalls, Social Security would be in fine shape.

Thanks to NAFTA, CAFTA and SHAFTYA, a huge wave of illegal aliens exacerbates immigration problems and threatens to overwhelm a wide range of human services, particularly those related to housing, public education, and health care. The price of cheap corn is paid not in dollars, but in human lives and livelihoods. Bush’s solution for illegal immigration? Build a fence!

Other signs that the nation has lost its collective sanity and soul include having the largest per capita prison population in the world, the second-highest level of infant mortality among industrialized nations, and a rank of 29th in the world for life expectancy—among the worst of industrialized nations. It’s not a record anyone can or should be proud of.

Compounding all of the problems mentioned in the preceding paragraphs is the ongoing erosion of the Constitution, and of the rights and liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Taken individually, each of these problems could be addressed and overcome. That all of these problems (and many lesser ones) converge at a single point in time exponentially increase the difficulties in successfully dealing with them and cast serious doubts about the nation’s ability to survive.

Suffice to say that no nation that subverts its Constitution and ignores the welfare of its citizens on so many levels can long endure.