Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Modest Proposal

Since U.S. politics appears to have become completely unstuck, with the Democrats fearful of doing anything that will make Glenn Beck sweat and the GOP locked into bull-goose-crazier-than-a-shithouse-rat-looney mode, it is clearly incumbent on the ordinary citizen to suggest a way out of some of our current troubles.Ahem.

So, allow me to suggest a couple of quick ideas for the U.S. to consider.

Clear the hell out of central Asia, and that includes the Middle East. Honestly, other than petroleum and fanatics, what the hell is there for us? The fanatics we do perfectly fine right here, and the petroleum...well, I'll talk about that in a moment. But the bottom line is that sending maneuver units to wander around occupying and fighting factional wars in the taint of Afrieurasia is like wearing candy pants to Parents Night at the Oregon State Correctional Institution for Men. You just invite everything from insult to felony and the chances of emerging with anything like dignity are extremely poor.We cannot solve the problems of central Asia and the Middle East (poverty, the resource trap, bad government left over from a legacy of bad history and poor choices, a preference for theologic claptrap over secular logic); only Middle Easterners and central Asians can solve those problems. We can, however, act like a large neocolonial lump of idiocy perfectly placed to be blamed for everything that goes wrong including everything that happens hundreds of miles from the nearest GI.

What the taint of Afrieurasia - from the Horn of Africa to the Paimirs, from the Bosphorus to the shore of Coromandel - needs is an Enlightenment. We cannot give them that, either. But we can retard it by giving them a Western invader to go all crusade-y on.

It's no surprise that the original Crusades helped pull the broken Islamic Caliphate together and produce the Ottoman Empire.

No, we need to let them figure this out for themselves. We can send out our spies (hopefully smarter spies than the ones we seem to be stocking lately) and our diplomats, both the helpful, open, friendly kind that talk to you over innumerable cups of strong coffee or sweet tea as well as the nasty backstairs kind that show up at your home late at night to remind you that one thing that stupid and intransigent gets you is dead. We can trade goods with them. We can bribe, suborn, threaten, cajole, bullshit, and palaver with them.

But standing around fighting with them is like wrestling with pigs for slops. The reward is negligible, the effort exhausting, the position ridiculous, and the pig enjoys it way more than you do.

Oh. And the time has come to cut loose from Israel, too. That goes with the "clear out" territory.

It's time to accept that Israel and its neighbors will always be like one of those toxic couples that just want to make each other suffer but won't divorce. They will never really get along, they will always try and drag you into the argument on their side, and always blame you for anything you do for the other no matter now insignificant. Not to mention that Israel is the most geopolitically worthless "ally" in history. A mouthy little sectarian state squatting on land they took by force, an eternal irritant to most of the neighbors, a 21st Century Principality of Odessa? Who the hell needs that?

Nope, it's time to accept that we fucked up in 1948, that if we wanted to offer some craptacular piece-of-shit desert real estate to Jews because we were feeling all guilty about the whole not-saving-you-from-the-death-camp thing that we had Utah and Nevada just sitting there and we missed that opportunity like a blind man bouncing on a trampoline.

We could have let Ben Gurion and Meir go all UFC on the Mormon Church and see who were the baddest ass conquerors. We could have a whole southwestern desert full of wicked glossy sabra girls and kibbutzniks growing oranges. But, no. We had to take part of the uber-fucked Ottoman Empire and make sure it was double plus ungood fucked up until the tenth of whenever and then promise to bankroll the damn stramash.

Sometimes you have just got to stop digging.

Have an adult talk about finances. For thirty years we've been running on smoke, mirrors, laughing gas, fumes, and self delusion. We've gotten to the point where we want to have everything but don't want to pay for it. The wealthy are getting over like they haven't since before the Great Depression and yet all they want to do is whine about paying taxes. Everybody wants medicine for Grandma, bullets for bin Laden, tanks for the Army, ships for the Navy, American Patrol but fuck all figuring out what we need rather than what we want and double fuck all actually accepting that taxes are the price of all this civilization.

The Unites States is still a crazy rich country. We're still sucking up a massive portion of the world's wealth, resources, and human capital. But we're not as rich as we were, and we're starting to show some real signs of sickness.

Although we still make a lot of the world's stuff, we make less of it per person than we did, and we're rapidly shedding jobs that build and make things not intended for immediate consumption. The U.S. you and I grew up with was largely built on a broad prosperity that resulted from being the last economy standing after WW2 and a massive investment in physical and human resources - from freeways to the G.I. Bill - between 1945 and 1965. That U.S. is badly frayed. Real wages have stagnated, and the only way people kept spending in the Nineties and Oughts was putting the country on their charge card and taking out mortgages to pay for trips to Disneyworld. We're seeing a fairly impressive concentration of wealth and power, and I needn't remind you that heritable wealth is as crucial to republican governance as bicycles are to fish. No, more like rotonone is to fish - a toxin that helps deaden the brain stem and allow the few to reap the corpses of the many.

Many of our citizens are plainly too fucking poorly educated and defiantly ignorant to figure this out. But we're going to have to, and soon, before we find ourselves busted and surrounded by other people who have worked harder and smarter than we have.

We need to get our education shit together. We need to get our jobs and employment shit together. We need to get our tax shit together. We especially need to find a way to find more people decent work, work that pays a living wage, work and wages that will build a solid bourgeoise, a sensible, independent middle class, a 21st Century equivalent of the self-reliant farmers, shopowners, and small businessmen the Founders considered indispensable to republican government.

One thing we're going to have to do to do this is figure out a way to control our southern borders, because the downward pressure on wages that results from a constant influx of desperately poor noncitizens isn't healthy or supportable in the long run. And its a symptom of some very sick polities to the south, whose sneezing may well catch us cold in the future if we're not careful. Which leads me to my third suggestion,

We need to take a hard look around and realize that we cannot be destroyed from without, only from within. And this means every aspect of our nation. Right now our foreign and military policy seems way too wrapped up in worrying about a bunch of raggedy-ass theocrats living in caves in West Buttfuckistan. We're in a swivet about implausible terrorist and Iranian nuclear fantasies. We're goldplating everything in the defense budget to fight an opponent we can't even define. While a footstep away Mexico shares an utterly indefensible border with us - short of Hadrian's Fucking Wall - and is at forseeable risk of state failure or at least significant internal breakdown.

And that goes for our "security state" as well. We seem to want to be terrorized about every damn thing but don't seem to have the time to think about genuinely threatening problems. Why are we wetting our pants about "terrorists"? We're the baddest nation on the planet. What the hell are we so afraid of? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, people!And, finally, Get serious about figuring out the next internal combustion engine. This may be more important than anything else I've suggested here. I'm not kidding. Really.

Our entire civilization is designed - not just socially and economically but physically, where we live and what it looks like - on the premise of cheap, quickly convertable, easily portable energy. The internal combustion engine (and I include in that aviation turbine engines as well) has completely transformed our world.

I get up and drink coffee grown in Columbia, get into a car made in Japan, and drive over a bridge made from steel made in China, eating a pastry made from sugar grown in Florida and berries grown in Chile as I drive past the offices, strip malls, porn shops and pawn shops and nail salons where people used to grow the food they needed to survive here in the Pacific Northwest.

Everything; our clothes, our diets, our work, our entertainment, our schools, depend on being able to put people and things in small moving vehicles - cars, buses, trucks, and airplanes - and move them quickly and cheaply over long distances by burning fossil hydrocarbons.

And that is going to change, and fairly soon.

Because we're running through our petroleum.

No, it won't be tomorrow. Or next week. I'm not worried about "peak oil" turning the lights out five years from now.

But the geologic process that takes biological hydrocarbons and turns it to keratin and then to petroleum takes a minimum of several thousand years, and some pretty specialized conditions. And to locate, prove, extract, refine, and consume the product takes tens of years at most. So we're going to collide with the mathematical certainty of two orders of magnitude; ten to the first or the second at worst to consume it, ten to the third or even the fourth to produce it.

Big power - fixed generators, oceangoing vessels, railroad engines - can run on a number of renewable or alternate fuels such as wood or coal for steam. But the automobile and the internal combustion engine is so critical, so essential, to the way we live, to the design of our cities, to what we eat...if we had to spend a couple of decades reconfiguring to use some different means of transportation...

It'd be very ugly.

The other thing to consider ties back to item one. A lot of the places where petroleum is found aren't places we should want to depend on for our economic well being. Many of them are owned, or run, by people who either have good reasons for wishing us ill or whose only interest in us is agricultural. We are the animals from which they can extract money instead of meat or milk. And in either case our weakness is a feature of our inability to depend on this resource.

So if I were the Magic King of America one of the first things I'd do is sit the petroleum people, the automakers, the military and the policymakers down alongside as many crackpots and visionaries and inventors as I could find and tell them; Give me a workable path to an alternative compact mobile fuel source and an engine to use it.

Give me fucking "Mr. Fusion", dammit.Or as close as you can get.

If it means steam engines, let's start working on it now. If it means redesigning American communities to become more internally sufficient to reduce the need to bring in food, let's start figuring out how to make that happen. Hell, if it means conquering the Arctic Circle...we should have some idea of where we can and will go when we arrive at $10.00 a gallon fuel rather than get there with nothing else to turn to.

Just a thought.

So it's late and I'm out of ideas. But how about you? Any notions for what we could, should, or ought to do to try and find a brighter tomorrow? Or thoughts on my proposals? Blow, wind, crack your cheeks and let fly in the comments section!


Ael said...

Chief, you are complaining about the decisions the USA has made lately and suggesting better ones be made in the future.

I agree that poor decisions are being made but the number and depth of the poor decisions suggests that it is the decision making process itself that is broken.

If you can't fix the process, then everything else after that is broken. Looking at the other first world nations, I would suggest that you need to fix the corrupt political system.

And the way to fix *that* is to fix the broken "justice" system where politicians get to use the law as a club to beat their political enemies.

The problem, of course, is that the political/judicial system is the only thing that can change the political/judicial system.

Clearly, those who run the current corrupt system will resist change.

FDChief said...

Ael: My thought was as I was writing this was not that we have been making bad decisions "lately". ISTM - and this is a purely personal observation - that we have been drifting for some time.

I agree that a lot of that has to do with the way the political process has gone.

But a lot of THAT has to do with the fact that We the People haven't made very good decisions. Things like footling around with land wars in Asia, ignoring our southern border/neighbors, and snoozing through the likelihood that we will have to come up with some alternative to the ICE within the next century aren't exactly rocket science. There are a hell of a lot of people, smarter and better known than I am, who have been saying this stuff or similar stuff for a long time.

But the people we choose to rule will never come close to saying anything like it. And the final Jeopardy answer has to be because we've shown that if you tell us the cold truth we will not elect you or re-elect you. The GOP has already gone over that cliff; a Repub. can't even get nominated if he or she accepts ideas like paying taxes, cutting expenses (other than welfare and social programs), and coming up with alternatives to the random market approach to economics. But nobody else other than the real out-there Ralph Nader types, people without a hope of election, are willing to suggest these sort of simple possibilities...

So I don't think it's so much a question of fixing the system...it's a question of fixing ourselves, of being willing to vote for people who will ask and require us to do the hard thinking and make the hard choices ourselves, rather than hoping that the Bad Stuff just goes away.

Mind you, I don't have a lot of hope that will happen...

Ael said...

I don't think that people in the USA are much different than those in the other first world democracies.

And yet, I would argue that the government of the USA has made poorer decisions than its "peer" states as far as the typical citizen is concerned.

Certainly if you look at "quality of life" measurements like life expectancy, imprisonment, wealth, distribution of wealth, etc. the USA comes out behind the pack for the non-elite member of society.

I personally think that this is because the American system has been captured by the elites. And the reason that it maintains its control is that America is running on beta version of representational democracy.

The founding fathers had to make it up as they went along. The fact that they did so well is testament to the truly remarkable men they were, but they messed up on some of the details. Later democracies (essentially everyone else) got a chance to watch the Americans, learn, and tweak the system.

Yes, the Constitution has been amended over time, but notice the rate of change over the centuries. You can't even get the equal rights amendment passed today. The existing two party system has become hopelessly arthritic.

Now, simply hoping for Americans to become smarter won't cut it.
You will need to get a third party (and maybe fourth party) up and running, and into the mainstream.

Luckily, we now have the internet.
People can organize themselves.
The Tea Party is an early example of this. More change will come.

FDChief said...

Sure hope so. It's demoralizing to watch so many smart people - and even the GOP has smart people, they're just trapped in the shithouse-rat craziness their whackos have forced on the national party - do so poorly.