Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I'm done

We've had a pretty good run, here in the US. At least, since the Great Depression, things have been remarkably stable. My feeling, and that of others, is that the time for relative peace and economic growth has come to an end. You can see the signs everywhere, if you look for them. Unfortunately, too many people refuse to look, or refuse to recognize them for what they really are.

The bailout is not the problem. Sub-prime lending is not the problem. The credit crisis is not the problem. Unemployment, foreclosures, and defaults are not the problem. They are merely symptoms of the real problem. The real problem lies in our paradigm, the problem lies in our belief that things will, or must, always grow, always improve, and that tomorrow will always be better than today. This blind faith in inexorable progress is belied by the simple fact that our growth is simply unsustainable. Daily, more proof arrives that the tremendous march of "progress" since the industrial revolution has been purchased at a tremendous cost- one that the planet can scarcely bear for much longer. Or, as award-winning journalist Chris Hedges argued yesterday in a brilliant article, "It's not going to be OK".

Many will wonder why nobody tried to warn them what was coming. The reality is, there are voices out there that are telling you what is coming, but it's not a pretty picture and so you choose to ignore them. For myself, I listen to those who have been right all along. I choose track-record over happy thoughts. Since the current economic crisis really picked up steam in September of last year, the "experts" have been wrong time and time again, while those few voices in the wilderness have been saying that this downturn will be worse than anyone's expecting, will last longer than anyone's expecting, and the consequences will be far worse than anyone's expecting. Those are the voices I choose to listen to now. It certainly is not the politicians that have been saying that nobody could have predicted the current crisis, ignoring the fact that plenty of people did predict it. No longer comparing the current crisis to milder recessions of the 70's, 80's or 90's, expert economists are now calling for an unprecedented depression.

Journalists are starting to realize that they've been far too complicit. Lost in all the news about why newspapers are shuttering their doors around the country is the simple fact that they have been wrong, horribly wrong, for far too long. The rise of the internet has delivered undreamt of resources to those of us who demand truth, and that truth has come at the expense of the so-called opinion makers and spin-doctors. When the media only quotes those who say that we've reached a "bottom", and it becomes clear within days (or hours) that there is no end in sight, it becomes clear that both those sources and the media themselves are no longer worthy of attention. At the same time, they are useful as they ferret out a small portion of the corruption in our modern age. A staggering amount of wrongdoing exists in all levels of government, and if the populace were truly paying attention, the government would have already been overthrown. Taking one small glance at the news of the day reveals that two of Obama's cabinet level appointees (or 17%) have suddenly remembered that they forgot to pay taxes on perks or income they received, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Luckily, they remembered just as Obama won the election! Geithner has been confirmed, and Daschle is expected to be. These two people should have been disqualified on that basis alone, and yet nobody seems to think it's a problem.

Politicians only have themselves to blame, both for the current crisis and the fact that nobody is yet grasping the gravity of the situation. Like the boy who cries wolf, decades of overheated rhetoric has numbed the public to pronouncements of genuine seriousness. A week ago Friday, our new president had this to say: "Look, we are all political animals here. If we don't do this, we may lose seats. I may not be re-elected. But none of that's going to matter if we don't pass this because the economy will be in a crisis and the American people will be hurting." Ignoring for a moment the fact that his solution is unlikely to work, and just listen to the raw appeal for desperate measures. "I may not be re-elected. But none of that's going to matter." When have you ever heard a politician say that getting re-elected does not matter? It's a half-step away from admitting (as a British minister did last week) "
The banks are fucked, we're fucked, the country's fucked."

Iceland's government has fallen in this crisis. It will not be the last. Civil unrest is spreading rapidly throughout Eastern Europe and China
, and there have been many predictions that it will strike in America before we're done. We've thrown trillions of dollars at the problem, close to 30 banks have failed (with hundreds or thousands more poised to fail at any moment), unemployment has been rising at over half a million per month, and still we are no closer to anything resembling a solution, or even a slowing in the bloodbath.

I'm not asking anyone to take this all on faith. Read both sides of these arguments. Then go back and read the counter-arguments. Read opinions that disagree with yours, read about subjects that you ordinarily would not. Rely as much as you can using direct evidence, or any statistics you can find. The reporting of statistics can be spun, but the raw numbers themselves do not lie. Obama was indisputably correct during his inaugural speech when he said "
the time has come to set aside childish things." Stop watching "American Idol", or whatever mindless drivel masquerades as entertainment these days. Are you prepared to provide for yourself and your family should the grocery stores suddenly be empty of food- or closed due to bankruptcy? Or if water stops coming free from the tap, how will you conquer thirst?

Food banks around the country are reporting a 30% increase in demand, double the increase from six months ago. Last week, on Monday- in a single day- approximately 80,000 Americans lost their jobs, and the stock market rejoiced, if only briefly. That's 15% of the total loss for December, and it came in a single day. Where will you go for food when you have job, no money, and the food banks are empty? I hope you won't be part of the rising numbers of Americans taking their own lives.

For what it's worth, the government now admits that we have essentially ignored global warming for too long- it's now irreversible. The twin crises of global economic collapse and climate change are more interrelated than most people realize. In any case, it's too late to do much to solve either- the time has now come to focus on ways to mitigate the fallout. This is what collapse looks like. A slow-motion collapse is now occurring, and time is short for you to figure out how best to weather it.

As I said, rely on those whose predictions have been proven correct, not those who tell you comforting lies. Consider this from a 2006 Maclean's article:
And when the truth can no longer be obscured, the price will spike, the economy nosedive, and the underpinnings of our civilization will start tumbling like dominos. The U.S. -- Consumer No. 1 in the lingo of Leggett's book -- will be the most vulnerable, having allowed its citizens to pile up mountains of debt. "The price of houses will collapse. Stock markets will crash. Within a short period, human wealth -- little more than a pile of paper at the best of times, even with the confidence about the future high among traders -- will shrivel." There will be emergency summits, diplomatic initiatives, urgent exploration efforts, but the turmoil will not subside. Thousands of companies will go bankrupt, and millions will be unemployed. "Once affluent cities with street caf├ęs will have queues at soup kitchens and armies of beggars. The crime rate will soar. The earth has always been a dangerous place, but now it will become a tinderbox."

By 2010, predicts Leggett, democracy will be on the run. As with the Great Depression, economic hardship will bring out the worst in people. Fascists will rise, feeding on the anger of the newly poor and whipping up support. These new rulers will find the tools of repression -- emergency laws, prison camps, a relaxed attitude toward torture -- already in place, courtesy of the war on terror. And if that scenario isn't nightmarish enough, Leggett predicts that "Big Oversight Number One" -- climate change -- will be simultaneously making its presence felt "with a vengeance." On the heels of their rapid financial ruin, people "will now watch aghast as their food and water supplies dwindle in the face of a climate seemingly going awry." Prolonged droughts will spread, decimating harvests. As oceans warm, fish catches "will fall off a cliff," and protein will become a luxury.

The first paragraph reads like recent history or current newspaper headlines (see hyperlinks for examples, or your local newspaper), the second paragraph is yet to come. If you wish, there are plenty of others out there that have made similar arguments. Contrast the words of these prophets with the statements of your politicians, you will find very little overlap, if any. One of these groups has been consistently correct, the other group repeats lame excuses that "nobody could have anticipated the reach, depth, or severity of the current crisis" and then proceeds to promise you a return to "normal" in short order, if you only vote for them or agree with their decision to throw trillions of dollars at the crisis.

How can I begin to explain to you the insanity of politicians? They advocate spending close to a trillion dollars in a stimulus package in which they argue that every $1 of stimulus results in $1.50 in economic growth. If that were true, then why not spend like this every day? Why not spend quadrillions of dollars, and make everyone in the US wealthy? Or why has nobody noticed that every four years we have this masturbatory celebration known as an election- new politicians come to power promising change, vowing to tackle corruption and to solve the really hard problems; and yet, nothing ever changes, corruption is endemic, and the really hard problems are only growing in severity? Frankly though, we're all to blame. We keep looking to them for solutions to problems that they caused in the first place. Well, those days are ending, soon they will no longer be able to pretend that they have solutions- in fact, you can hear that in their statements right now if you are paying attention. The word "unprecedented" is used all too frequently for them to really know what they are doing. Even economists seem eager to get the stimulus on, as it will solve for them the debate over whether fiscal stimulus really works or not. Although politicians worldwide seem to act as though that debate was already settled, in fact, it's not. And what are we to do if we throw trillions into this black hole, and it doesn't do anything after all? Is anyone even asking that question? The Wall Street Journal quotes Rahm Emanuel as saying, "Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before." This frank admission is chilling to anyone familiar with Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. In short, the frightened masses which would normally oppose this type of reckless endangerment of their fiscal health (not to mention that of their children and grandchildren) can be persuaded that "desperate times call for desperate measures." Left unsaid is the fact that the desperate measures will tend to benefit the upper class of society disproportionately.

Most of the masses take some comfort in the fact that doomsdayers have been wrong before, a point I freely grant. However, doomsayers only have to be correct once. Additionally, those who believed their empires would last forever have also been wrong-- 100% of the time, historically. As the great Roman society was poised on the brink of destruction, did anyone alive at the time really believe what was happening, did they recognize the signs for what they were? Or any of the great civilizations that have sprang up to dominate their world- Mayan, Incan, Egyptian, Norse- did any of them recognize the coming collapse? Clearly, not in time to prevent it. Are we any different?

Of course, the end of the world has been promised by Jews, Christians, Muslims and assorted crazies with sandwich boards for as long as there has been a human world to end. But those doomsdays were the product of faith; reason always used to say the world will continue. The point about the new apocalypse is that this situation has reversed. Now faith tells us we will be able to solve our problems; reason says we have no answers now and none are likely in the future. Perhaps we can't cure cancer because the problem is simply beyond our intellects. Perhaps we haven't flown to the stars because our biology and God's physics mean we never can. Perhaps we are close to the limit and the time of plenty is over.

The evidence is mounting that our two sunny centuries of growth and wealth may end in a new Dark Age in which ignorance will replace knowledge, war will replace peace, sickness will replace health and famine will replace obesity. You don't think so? It's always happened in the past. What makes us so different? Nothing, I'm afraid.

If we manage to escape the current crisis relatively unscathed, will we heed it for the warning sign it is? Jared Diamond's amazing book Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed poses an interesting question: What did the person on Easter Island who cut down the last tree think about as he was doing it? You see, deforestation was a major factor in the collapse of Easter Island society. Diamond spotlights several other once-mighty societies that collapsed because of their stupid, short-term, profligate use of natural resources. Put simply, they used their resources until they were gone, and then they died. Their societies crumbled surprisingly quickly, often within only decades from reaching their peak. There is nothing to suggest that American society is any different, or has learned the lessons of the past. Quoting Diamond:

"One of the disturbing facts of history is that so many civilizations collapse. Few people, however, least of all our politicians, realize that a primary cause of the collapse of those societies has been the destruction of the natural resources on which they depend. Fewer still appreciate that many of those civilizations share a sharp curve of decline. Indeed, a society's demise may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth and power."

If we assume this is not the great collapse, then it will certainly arrive within decades if we continue on our current path, and probably even if we make radical changes. The deniers have been far too successful, and we are utterly unprepared for the implications. They have postponed action on the most pressing of problems, citing potential damage to the economy (which after all, must continue to grow, at all costs). Well, they've succeeded, and gained the ultimate pyrrhic victory. The economy is now in the process of being destroyed, and it's too late to solve the environmental problems we will be facing. Scientific consensus is now that the human race, if not all life on Earth, will go extinct within the next 100 years. It takes a bit of connecting the dots, but they are all well-regarded scientific studies. Or, if you choose not to believe that one, how about the NASA scientist and climate expert that says Obama has only 4 years to save planet earth? I, for one, am not optimistic that he can muster the will to do so, even if we grant that it's not yet too late.

In any case, I am not going to be spending much more time chronicling this collapse. I'm definitely done posting about political and economic corruption within the US, as there are far too many articles and I have too little time. I urge you to spend whatever time and resources you can muster in preparing yourself for what's to come. I am not going to point you in the direction of "recommended reading" or some similar list. If you are interested, you can find such information on your own, but I suspect that most of you are not interested enough to even try. Pity, but consider this parting thought: before the rise of the age of oil (a mere two centuries ago), the earth was able to support approximately 1 billion people. There are now approximately 6.7 billion. If there is the slightest chance that any of our most respected scientists are correct then the coming wars, pandemics, droughts, famine, and extreme weather are set to reduce that number dramatically, if not totally erase it. Mankind has proven itself to be a parasite, remorselessly feeding on the resources of our host planet. Like a parasite, we may just be killing ourselves along with our host. Or perhaps a cancer is an apt description- growing exponentially, eventually choking out and destroying the healthy parts until the whole organism dies.

Thanks to all who have taken the time to read my postings over the past year or two, and I'm very sincerely wishing you good luck.



THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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