Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Forecasts, Predictions and Prognostications For A New Year
With pseudo-apologies to one of my least-favorite bands, I can’t think of a more-fitting title for this piece. Reason? It’s where we’re headed – either by rocket-sled or on roller-skates, depending on one’s point of view.
Let’s get to the show….
Politics – Whether it’s the Dems in Charlotte or the Reps in Tampa, both conventions are already prime targets for the Occupy movement. This is shaping up to make the Kodak Moment of Chicago, 1968 look like a church picnic. It’s a foregone conclusion that the Dems are going to nominate Obama for four more years of pandering and selling out to the variant grifters, hacks and hucksters on Wall Street, plus caving in to the remnants of the Bush-era terrorism-paranoiacs. The Reps are going to nominate Romney in spite of the gyrations of Paul, Gingrich, and the rest of the evangelical goat-rodeo which has come to symbolize the majority of the Republican party nowadays. The money-people won’t put cold, hard cash behind someone who believes that pushing the button down is part of ‘god’s plan’; they’ll look the other way on the whole magic-underwear bit as long as the rest of the man is docile and compliant – which is Romney, to a ‘T’.
Genuine change? Fuggetaboudit – that’s not going to happen. (I’ll issue a caveat here – there’s a chance that some random blue-uniformed corporate-stooge is going to overstep his orders and shoot a protester or three; absent that, count on the pepper-spray and tear-gas to be delivered in carload-lots to both convention locations well in advance, with orders not to open or use until things get dicey. As they learned well in ’68, even the mainstream media gets heart-flutters when they see the truncheon or the pistol used in lieu of conversation - but they don’t give a damn about anything else.
Culture – America is a moral wasteland. Our version of a national religion reflects the nation as a whole; a small minority of thinkers still preach a message of concern, while the big bucks go to the hacks and virtual racketeers who stand-up megachurches at a rate of one per day here in the Land of the (not so) Free – in fact, religion is one of the last growth-industries in America. We’ve got a bigger religious footprint than any other nation in the industrialized world (for all the actual good it’s done us) – and on a routine basis, we read about corn-fed white guys (and some black ones, too) who’ve looted the church treasury for hair gel and hooker-payments. Meantime, the nation has become little more than an agglomeration of pimps, ho’s, reality-TV ‘stars’ and other petty (and not-so-petty) criminals, taking their cues from their religious and business ‘leaders’ who’ve simply proven that if you do it long enough, you’ll make the big time, and if you ask, all will be ‘forgiven’.
Most of you are too young to remember a time when America actually exported culture – the State Department sent the likes of Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and other scions of jazz to the rest of the world. We were trying to prove why America really was a decent country. Who’d we send now, I wonder? Regardless, the rest of the world doesn’t respect us – and looking at what passes for ‘American culture’ nowadays, it’s not hard to wonder why.
Employment - We’ve no more industrial base to employ people at honest work; those jobs went south to Mexico or east to India and China. (Those three countries are looking pretty iffy right now, too, but that’s another story). What’s left is populated by PhD’s flipping burgers and standing at the front-door of WalMart with a smile while the legions of the dwindling middle-class whistle along with the Muzak past the graveyard of their American dream to buy cheap crap from China in a sort of economic self-immolation. Ask any one of them why they’re doing this, and they’ll tell you, “It’s cheaper.” Meanwhile, the guy who runs the sandwich shop or the local grocery can’t compete, and the vague sucking-sound overhead is the collective wealth of Midtown, America headed in the general directions of Bentonville, Arkansas and Beijing. Actual unemployment is just north of 22% in the U.S. of A; the government will only own-up to around 9%, but that figure, along with most of the rest of the government’s economic ‘news’, is complete horseshit.
Count on this getting worse, as the People in Charge have done a great job of convincing nearly everyone that shipping jobs overseas and eating our own future is a good idea.
Housing – First off, with apologies to the masses of former schoolteachers and other Americans late of the middle-class who’ve decided to cash in their master’s degrees for a certificate in real-estate, anyone who buys a house in this country today is a rank moron. The numbers are there if you care to do the research – one mortgage in four is underwater, and a fair number of those (about one in two) are going to cry ‘uncle’ this year and give those houses back to the bank – it makes no sense to make payments on something based on a value which went well-and-truly out the window on that sunny afternoon in October, 2008 when the rules changed and the financial systems melted down.
The value of real estate in every market in America is poised to sink without a trace; we’ll never see those numbers again; in fact, start looking for people in the real-estate industry to begin talking about things like ‘revised expectations’, and a ‘renaissance of urban renewal’, along with government hacks telling us that we’ll need to ‘reinvent the American dream’ or some such. The current housing-stock in America – suburban homes sprouting up like so many toadstools on the flatland – is obsolete where it stands. Count on living closer to where you work, if you're lucky enough to have a job when this is all over. Get used to using what land you have (or patio space) to grow vegetables. Forget the supermarkets; they're also unsustainable. Might as well get used to canned goods in the wintertime.
Transportation – It doesn’t matter a hang how many gel-battery plants are built in America; how many rare-earth metals they drag out of the ground in Utah, and how many solar or wind farms they stand up on the prairie – we are not going to be able to zip around in electric cars in a tawdry replication of the golden age of Packard and Pierce-Arrow. The era of cheap transportation is over. Why?
Because the oil companies have too much invested in keeping us addicted to oil, and then dragging us into a new Dark Age while they count their money.
This is where we could use some executive-order leadership – putting the Department of Energy on a war-footing, as Carter suggested thirty-five years ago – and developing a subsidized, cheap source of renewable energy which could be delivered through a network of government-run stations. Of course, this never happened, and never will, because those in charge any more aren’t elected officials – they’re outfits like Koch Industries and Enron and BP Oil, who’ve been buying our government for a long, long time.
In the meantime, we’d better get used to things like trains, buses and such. Eventually, we’ll have to adopt laws like (shudder!) Cuba, which mandates that no automobile is on the road without at least two passengers, and where it’s illegal not to pick up a hitchhiker.
Energy – While we’re talking energy, we should realize that “Drill; baby; drill!” is just a Conservative dog-whistle; a means of sticking their collective heads in the sand; the idea of polluting the Arctic just like we did the Gulf of Mexico is not only morally wrong, it's a bad idea. The math, meantime, doesn't add up - whether we're at peak-oil now, or whether we reach that point in 2020, the day is coming and coming soon when we're going to have to consider petroleum-based transportation a thing of the past.
(Don’t tell that last one to the Chinese. They’re planning oil explorations in the unclaimed far north, now that the icecap is melting and it’s possible to put drill-rigs in Arctic waters. The Russians want their piece of that pie, too, and it’s quite possible there’d be a showdown of sorts up there. We’ll probably get involved too, under the pretext that anything they pump out of the Arctic will affect our own Alaskan reserves.)
As I mentioned earlier, there is no way – the math doesn’t add up – to make the collective solar, wind, hydrogen and other energy sources we have make up for the lack of oil. The only aircraft which run on electricity are the kind my neighbor’s kid runs with a radio-control joystick. The only cars which run on electricity have a short range and take forever to recharge – and it’s not like you can sell them used; either – not when replacing a battery array is somewhere north of $10,000.
Trucks? Forget it – the technology isn’t there yet to run a tractor-trailer rig on electricity. Trains are a good bet – but we’ll need to invest something akin to the cost of going to the moon, and undertake it as a national priority, to create a nationwide network of electrically-powered mag-lev trains for both people and freight – and for reasons previously stated, that’s not likely to happen.
Economics – The Eurozone is screwed, and all of the accounting shuck-and-jive isn’t going to bring it back. They’ve suffered from a good dose of Chicago School economic theory-made-practice for the past thirty years; they’ve learned before we did that trickle-down doesn’t work. We’re about to see our future there, and it will not be pretty.
(Germany might make it. If you really want to see what we’ll look like in another fifteen or so years, take a look at Russia. They’ve coddled their 1%, and as a result organized crime is rampant while a handful of rarefied Russians take a dump in gold-plated toilets. The Russians are used to this, however – they’ve lived with it for a couple of centuries. We’re a different group.
If you want to see America in twenty or more years, look at the Balkans. The artificial-constructs created by redrawing the map of eastern and south-eastern Europe literally came apart when the Soviet bear had his teeth pulled; they simply went back to being what they’d been all along – nations which formed around cultural, ethnic and religious lines. The place is more peaceful, stable and prosperous that way – a lesson we’ll have to learn, I fear. Anyone who reads a U.S. map not with the notion E Pluribus Unum but along those lines will see six or more separate entities. Some might make it on their own. Others won’t.
There’s still a mountain of debt which the banks never wrote off in spite of the bailouts – they parked that money offshore, betting that they could come back and buy everything for a song. They might be right, until the rough beast I mentioned in a prior post awakens. It’s anyone’s guess whether the banks fail before the government, but when it happens, I don’t know anyone who’ll shed a tear.
Frankly, I’m amazed that the mansions of the 1% haven’t been torched by howling mobs by now, and their occupants hanged in iron-cages – then again, we really do take a lot of crap, we Americans, because we’ve been conned into believing that we’re actually going to be allowed to join their club someday. The 1% isn’t missing any bets, though – they’ve hired private security; built their gated communities where they muse about the rest of us, and wonder why we don’t just eat cake.
Meanwhile, America is ungovernable in any conventional sense, at least, not as those who wrote the Constitution imagined it – ‘recovery’ is going to prove elusive, and when enough people finally see that our ‘leadership’ is really two sides of the same coin, the last great failure of the American experiment will happen – the crisis of confidence which leads to a change in government.
The system is broken; genuine change cannot come from it, and as Chris Hedges said recently, the only real decision we have is whether to be a rebel, or a slave.
I’m willing to bet that while 2012 isn’t going to see the fruition of a stone-age calendar, the ravings of a Harold Camping, or the lunacy of Nibiru, it is, indeed, going to see significant changes in how we view ourselves and the world. For some, that paradigm is going to shift without the benefit of a clutch; it’s going to sound like grinding gears and a shiteating clank in the transmission of everyone’s pet social theories.
I’ve said this before – somewhere, there’s a person; whether that person is a mother who’s watched one of her children die of a lack of medical care, or a fellow who lost his home to a predatory bank deal after losing his job, or a general who’s simply sick and tired of things and rounds up a couple of his buddies to drive across the Potomac and make an end-run around the Constitution – but somewhere, there’s a person who’s going to attract a sufficient power-base to slip the aforementioned rough beast off his fucking leash.
We’re almost there.