The American Empire Is Bankrupt

The cost of daily living, from buying food to getting medical care, will become difficult for all but a few as the dollar plunges. States and cities will see their pension funds drained and finally shut down. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities—think Enron—for what was once regulated and subsidized.

Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless. Our corporate-controlled media, already banal and trivial, will work overtime to anesthetize us with useless gossip, spectacles, sex, gratuitous violence, fear and tawdry junk politics.

America will be composed of a large dispossessed underclass and a tiny empowered oligarchy that will run a ruthless and brutal system of neo-feudalism from secure compounds. Those who resist will be silenced, many by force. We will pay a terrible price, and we will pay this price soon, for the gross malfeasance of our power elite.

Chris Hedges |

Waterboard the Fed?

In a democracy, it is difficult to justify a situation in which the most important economic policy making body is, by design, more answerable to the banking industry than democratically elected officials. The Federal Reserve Transparency Act is a step toward making the Fed accountable. It would simply require that the Government Accountability Office audit the Fed’s books and report to Congress on the bailout and other issues.

While more than 130 Republican members of the House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, just over 30 Democratic members are co-sponsors. No one in the Democratic leadership has signed onto the bill. It is difficult to reconcile the Democrats’ position with President Obama’s often- repeated commitment to transparency. The resistance to transparency at the Fed will only encourage the public to believe that there actually is something to hide.

The Fed bears primary responsibility for the economic collapse. Alan Greenspan failed to take any steps to rein in the housing bubble and arguably even promoted it. It was inevitable that the collapse of an $8tn bubble would lead to a serious downturn of the sort that we are now seeing.

This incredible failure of the Fed should raise fundamental questions about its structure. Certainly it would be a positive step if the Fed were more answerable to democratically-elected officials and less accountable to Wall Street bankers. A GAO audit would be a big step in the right direction.

Dean Baker |

The Big Takeover

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but theyre not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup détat. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grâce: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve — “our partners in the government,” as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout.

Matt Taibbi via The Big Takeover : Rolling Stone.

The End of Agriculture

Our food production system is approaching crisis. There’s no way we can continue the petro-agriculture system of farming and the Cheez Doodle and Pepsi Cola diet that it services. The public is absolutely zombified in the face of this problem — perhaps a result of the diet itself. President Obama and Ag Secretary Vilsack have not given a hint that they understand the gravity of the situation. It is probably one of those unfortunate events of history that can only impress a society in the form of a crisis. It also happens to be one of the few problems we face that public policy could affect sharply and broadly — if we underwrote the reactivation of smaller, local farm operations instead of shoveling money to giant “agribusiness” (or Citibank, or Goldman Sachs, or AIG…). I maintain that this may be the year that the crisis gets our attention, because capital is suddenly harder to get than fossil-fuel-based fertilizer.

Jim Kunstler via Clusterfuck Nation.

When the Music Stops

Last week my wife and daughter flew down to California to spend a week looking at colleges. She’s a junior, so this is about an event that’s more than a year away. Yet, despite all that’s happening in our world, we’re still trying to plan as if life then will be the same as life now, so all that matters is: does she like the campus, can she get in, and can we afford it.

In the ten days that they were away, four airlines went out of business (Aloha Airlines, ATA, Skybus, and Champion Air), two of the remaining large airlines (Delta and Northwest) announced a desperation merger, and two others (Southwest and American) were embroiled in money-losing maintenance scandals. As this was happening, the lifeblood of the industry — oil — got ever more expensive, while the major providers of that lifeblood, for a variety of “shoulda seen it coming” reasons, showed increasing reluctance to deal with America as a priority trading partner.

So, though my daughter does not want to hear it, my firm and fixed contribution to the “where should I go?” question is, “Any place that doesn’t involve air travel.”

Americans are playing one huge game of musical chairs — everybody flying and driving from this place to that, travel-nation, America-on-the-move — all fueled by ever-more-tenuous and no longer cheap oil. It seems inevitable that a tipping point will occur and most all the travel (except for the very rich) will STOP.

When that happens, wherever you happen to be is your new home. Chances are the locals in your new home will be woefully unprepared for global economic collapse and not at all happy adding the care of strangers to their mounting problems.

My daughter’s not listening — she’s always seen herself going to an East Coast school, and is especially taken with the prospect of living in New York City (that sound you heard was her mother’s head exploding). So we’re all in “wait and see” mode — I would love nothing more than to be utterly wrong about all of this and smiling wide as I put her on a plane to embark on her exciting new life.

Doesn’t hurt to dream. Until the music stops….

Michael Sky

The Doom Thing

Way back in the 20th century, long before this internet thing, I used to publish a quarterly newsletter. In one of the first issues, twenty-two years ago, I wrote:

A good friend asked the other day if I was still into “the doom thing.” I both cringed and chuckled at the sound of her words, paused for a few moments, inwardly sighing, and then answered, “Yes, I guess I am.”

She was alluding to my belief that we are living at a time of vast planetary change — our entire world shifting toward a long-awaited age of peace and honest relationship — and that necessary to the shift is a certain degree of personal and global upheaval; a time when social and political uprisings, economic dislocations, and extreme environmental difficulties all were fairly unavoidable; and a time when pain would surely follow every old refusal to let go and change.

Though I prefer terms like “planetary transformation” and “quantum leap in consciousness” and “global evolution,” I recognize and accept that there is a dark side of human suffering to all such possibilities, hence my association with “the doom thing.”

My tendency toward apocalyptic thinking goes all the way back to the early ’70s when it seemed there was no way to undo the problems of American culture short of a total breakdown. Yet somehow we sailed through Viet Nam and Nixon’s impeachment and the gas crisis of the Carter years with barely a hitch.

The Reagan years saw similar seemingly intractable problems — Star Wars and the rest of the Cold War money drain; trading arms with the enemy and other political fiascos; and such economic troubles as the Savings and Loans swindle — so again I looked toward massive breakdown as inevitable and again was wrong.

At that point I pretty much shelved the “doom thing.” I would soon become both a parent and a homeowner and, frankly, the status quo no longer seemed all that terrible.

As Y2K approached, I was fairly persuaded by the doom argument, but practically speaking, there was little my family could do about it. We had no extra income to spend on stocking up food and such, and even if we’d had the money, we had no place to put it all. So we just hunkered down, and were relieved when yet another doom train failed to arrive.

But here we go again. This time we face a number of doom-bringers, each of which looks to have the power to bring down civilization all by itself. Peak oil, global warming, global warring, the collapse of free-market capitalism, super viruses and other modern plagues — and through it all the feeling that we have seen the end of America’s amazing resiliency.

So, grimace and sigh, yes, I still believe in the doom thing, more than ever.

I just wish I  knew what to do about it.

Michael Sky

End of an Error

For some time I’ve been finding it hard to sit down and write. I’ve tried to ignore it as simple writer’s block, figuring the muse would wake up at some point and I’d be back at it.

But here’s my real problem: I just can’t waste another moment thinking about the powers-that-be in government, the media and big biz who are destroying this country, and with it the world; am not willing to spend one more iota of my precious consciousness on the contemplation of George W Bush and his cohort of war criminals; and, frankly, must concede that none of my writing has made an effing bit of difference.


Those of you who have sent emails over the years telling me I was too angry and too consumed with Bush-bashing were right, mostly. Though I don’t want to ever be the sort of person who could witness a major crime against humanity without getting angry and needing to do something to stop it, I’ve known for some time that my writing wasn’t resolving the anger or solving any problems.

So, I’m going to try to take the advice that was usually added to those emails: I will focus on the issues of personal, social, and environmental healing. I will never mention Bush again, nor will I participate in the endless, screeching noise-fest that passes for political commentary in this country.

I continue to believe that the vast majority of people are good, decent, and naturally inclined toward living in peace; that our problem is with a very small percentage of “dominists” who will do anything to retain wealth and power; and that our quandary is that we can not defeat them using their methods: force begets force, violence begets violence, domination begets domination.

This has been the doom of every right-intentioned revolution or resurrection in human history — as good as it feels to turn the tables on the dominators, any use of dominating force only results in another dominist system.

I see two ways out of this conundrum. The first requires that those who hold the power voluntarily and with full sincerity choose to share that power. No war, no fight, no struggle for dominance. Rather, the very people with the most power to effect change come to their senses and do the right thing.

Solution number two requires that global dominism suffer a total collapse, with millions dying in the ensuing chaos. If we’re lucky, out of the ashes something better emerges.

Much as I would like to believe in the first possibility, I think we all should start preparing for latter.

Michael Sky

All Fall Down

With so many signs of a nation unravelling —

  • the budget-squandering, shame-spawning militarism;
  • the self-serving foolishness of American unilateralism;
  • the kowtowing to religious fundamentalists;
  • the age-old campaign against the rights of women;
  • the rampant “all-american” xenophobia;
  • the fubar demise of our so-called free market economy;
  • and, our idiot inaction in the face of urgent environmental concerns….

— isn’t it great that our presidential hopefuls are devoting their campaigns to media-manufactured hullaballoos over which advisor said what offensive-to-somebody-somewhere-thing or which old friend is not a media-approved perfect American citizen?

As Kurt Vonnegut once remarked: “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.”

When they write the history of the fall of the American empire, they will point to this time and note how in one election after another we managed to avoid all of the critical issues of the day. Or at best dealt with monumentally complex problems with farce debates and sound-bite electioneering.

Actual candidates who have clue are quickly branded as unelectable. Which leaves, inevitably, politicians, not leaders. Which means that the actual governance of a great nation is all about the political game, rather than the issues of the day.

Maybe Obama’s just playing the game to win, and once in office will dazzle us all with sweeping progressivism. You gotta hope!

Or maybe Vonnegut’s right and we should be concerned about the mental health of anybody who wants the job of cleaning up George W Bush’s mess.

Michael Sky

Looking For Daylight

They are pretending to have money and desperately cadging loans from all comers to keep appearances up, but the loans can’t come in fast enough. The appearance of confidence is crucial (as it is, of course, in any “con” game) to keep the investors (depositors) at bay. If a bunch of investors (depositors) all got nervous about the solvency of a given bank, they might try to slip in there during business hours and withdraw or redeem their “money” and perhaps translate it into items of value like gold coins, bottles of vodka, or cases of 9 millimeter pistol ammunition. —Jim Kunstler

I’ve always been optimistic, easy to believe in all things “new age,” and happily naive when being realistic meant feeling awful. As the father of a teenager, who I will too soon be releasing into the wilds of modern America, I want nothing more than to feel that steady optimism — to look her in the eye and tell her about the exciting wonders that await her and to go on and on about how much I envy her.

It’s getting to harder and harder to sustain such feelings these days. I find myself saying things like, “Sounds great, honey, if we still have air travel in the future.” And, “You can get into any college you really want to, assuming it still exists.” And, “Sure, you could start a business with that money grandma left you, unless the markets totally tank and the money disappears.”

I feel a little guilty every time I say or even think such things. But I feel even worse about the frikkin mess we’re leaving our kids. Having come awake to the harsh realities of our times I am determined not to go back to sleep.

Which means, among other things, being totally honest, if depressingly so, about the facts of modern life. The nine horses of the likely American apocalypse — militarism, unilateralism, monotheism, sexism, xenophobia, greed, competition, secrecy, and anti-environmentalism — are all in full thunder, stampeding down Main St, Wall St, and every other street, destroying everything that was once good about this effing country. Enjoy your inheritance, sweetie.

Maybe once Bush and his army of rapture-monkeys are purged from the government things will get better, though not everything can be expected to bounce back after eight years of criminal incompetence. And hopefully, before he unites and reconciles everyone, President Obama will see that prominent members of the Bush-Cheney gang are fairly prosecuted and sent to Guantanamo.

Really can’t say I’m optimistic….

Michael Sky

Peak Oil and Healthcare

One of the better examinations of America’s addiction to cheap oil is Jim Kunstler’s blog — Clusterfuck Nation. Author of the book, “The Long Emergency,” Kunstler depressingly outlines the many ways in which American car-culture is doomed as oil becomes more scarce. He cautions that supposed techno-fixes like ethanol will only exacerbate our problems, and that any real solutions must begin with a total rethink of every aspect of American culture.

As Al Gore tried to point out during his run for the presidency (to a big media yawn), our society is now designed to burn oil at every stage: to get us to work and play; to grow, process and move our foods and products to market; to heat our 5,000 sq ft homes and fire up our Hummers; to jet us about the world; and, to run the largest military machine in history, which has as its main purpose — the whole reason we’re mucking up the Middle East — to secure cheap oil into the future.

Even Bush admitted to America’s addiction to oil, though he used the moment to push plant-based fuels, again, not a solution at all.

Now we can add another worry to the “peak oil” list: healthcare. As if there were not already ample problems with American healthcare, Dan Bednarz shows how our fossil fuel dependence is jeopardizing our healthcare system:

Petrochemicals are used to manufacture analgesics, antihistamines, antibiotics, antibacterials, rectal suppositories, cough syrups, lubricants, creams, ointments, salves, and many gels. Processed plastics made with oil are used in heart valves and other esoteric medical equipment.

Petrochemicals are used in radiological dyes and films, intravenous tubing, syringes, and oxygen masks. In all but rare instances, fossil fuels heat and cool buildings and supply electricity. Ambulances and helicopter “life flights” depend on petroleum, as do personnel who travel to and from medical workplaces in motor vehicles. Supplies and equipment are shipped — often from overseas — in petroleum-powered carriers. In addition there are the subtle consequences of fossil fuel reliance.

A recently retired doctor informs me, “In orthopedics we used to set fractures mostly by feel and knowing the mechanics of how the fractures were created. I doubt that many of the present orthopedists could do a good job if you took away their [energy-powered] fluoroscope or X-ray.”

However, just as the shift to more ecologically sound practices is only financially threatening to those too attached to the status quo to move on to something in all ways better, so removing the petrochemicals from our healthcare practices can ultimately result in a better system with better outcomes at a fraction of the cost:

We can avoid collapse, however, by reducing medicine’s present consumption of energy and creating a health-care system that reflects our actual relationship to resources. Ironically, peak oil can be a catalyst for creating a health-care system that is cost-effective, ecologically sustainable, and congruent with a democratic social ethos.

Michael Sky