INDEX - KAUAI POLITICS
SUBJECT: AMERICAN EMPIRE
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN email@example.com
Hugo Chavez UN Speech
24 September 2006 - 9:00pm HST
Hugo Chavez delivering speech at UN General Assembly
Remarks to U.N. General Assembly, New York
20 September 2006 courtesy of Forest Shomer & Hypatia Popol
by HUGO CHAVEZ
PRESIDENT OF THE BOLIVARIAN REPULIC OF VENEZUELA
Madam President, Excellencies, Heads of State, Heads of government and other government's representatives, good morning.
First, and with all respect, I highly recommend this book by Noam Chomsky, one of the most prestigious intellectuals in America and the world, Chomsky. One of his most recent works: Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (The American Empire Project). It's an excellent work to understand what's happened in the world in the 20th Century, what's currently happening, and the greatest threat on this planet; the hegemonic pretension of the North American imperialism endangers the human race's survival.
We continue warning about this danger and calling on the very same U.S. people and the world to stop this threat, which resembles the Sword of Damocles over our heads. I had considered reading from this book, but for the sake of time, I shall just leave it as a recommendation. It reads easily. It's a very good book. I'm sure, Madam, you are familiar with it.
The book is in English, in Russian, in Arabic, in German.
I think that the first people who should read this book are our brothers and sisters in the United States, because their threat is in their own house. The devil is right at home. The devil -- the devil, himself, is right in the house.
And the devil came here yesterday.
Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.
Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.
I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the president of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.
An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: 'The Devil's Recipe.'
As Chomsky says here, clearly and in depth, the American empire is doing all it can to consolidate its system of domination. And we cannot allow them to do that. We cannot allow world dictatorship to be consolidated.
The world parent's statement -- cynical, hypocritical, full of this imperial hypocrisy from the need they have to control everything.
They say they want to impose a democratic model. But that's their democratic model. It's the false democracy of elites, and, I would say, a very original democracy that's imposed by weapons and bombs and firing weapons.
What a strange democracy. Aristotle might not recognize it or others who are at the root of democracy.
What type of democracy do you impose with marines and bombs?
The president of the United States, yesterday, said to us, right here, in this room, and I'm quoting, 'Anywhere you look, you hear extremists telling you can escape from poverty and recover your dignity through violence, terror and martyrdom.'
Wherever he looks, he sees extremists. And you, my brother -- he looks at your color, and he says, oh, there's an extremist. Evo Morales, the worthy president of Bolivia, looks like an extremist to him.
The imperialists see extremists everywhere. It's not that we are extremists. It's that the world is waking up. It's waking up all over. And people are standing up.
I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare because the rest of us are standing up, all those who are rising up against American imperialism, who are shouting for equality, for respect, for the sovereignty of nations.
Yes, you can call us extremists, but we are rising up against the empire, against the model of domination.
The president then -- and this he said himself, he said: 'I have come to speak directly to the populations in the Middle East, to tell them that my country wants peace.'
That's true. If we walk in the streets of the Bronx, if we walk around New York, Washington, San Diego, in any city, San Antonio, San Francisco, and we ask individuals, the citizens of the United States, what does this country want? Does it want peace? They'll say yes.
But the government doesn't want peace. The government of the United States doesn't want peace. It wants to exploit its system of exploitation, of pillage, of hegemony through war.
It wants peace. But what's happening in Iraq? What happened in Lebanon? In Palestine? What's happening? What's happened over the last 100 years in Latin America and in the world? And now threatening Venezuela -- new threats against Venezuela, against Iran?
He spoke to the people of Lebanon. Many of you, he said, have seen how your homes and communities were caught in the crossfire. How cynical can you get? What a capacity to lie shamefacedly.
The bombs in Beirut with millimetric precision? Is this crossfire?
He's thinking of a western, when people would shoot from the hip and somebody would be caught in the crossfire.
This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire and Israel firing on the people of Palestine and Lebanon. That is what happened. And now we hear, 'We're suffering because we see homes destroyed.'
The president of the United States came to talk to the peoples -- to the peoples of the world. He came to say -- I brought some documents with me, because this morning I was reading some statements, and I see that he talked to the people of Afghanistan, the people of Lebanon, the people of Iran. And he addressed all these peoples directly.
And you can wonder, just as the president of the United States addresses those peoples of the world, what would those peoples of the world tell him if they were given the floor? What would they have to say?
And I think I have some inkling of what the peoples of the south, the oppressed people think. They would say, 'Yankee imperialist, go home.' I think that is what those people would say if they were given the microphone and if they could speak with one voice to the American imperialists.
And that is why, Madam President, my colleagues, my friends, last year we came here to this same hall as we have been doing for the past eight years, and we said something that has now been confirmed -- fully, fully confirmed.
I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let's accept -- let's be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It's worthless.
Oh, yes, it's good to bring us together once a year, see each other, make statements and prepare all kinds of long documents, and listen to good speeches, like Evo's yesterday, or President Lula's. Yes, it's good for that.
And there are a lot of speeches, and we've heard lots from the president of Sri Lanka, for instance, and the president of Chile.
But we, the assembly, have been turned into a merely deliberative organ. We have no power, no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world. And that is why Venezuela once again proposes, here, today, September 20th, that we re-establish the United Nations.
Last year, Madam, we made four modest proposals that we felt to be crucially important. We have to assume the responsibility, our heads of state, our ambassadors, our representatives, and we have to discuss it.
The first is expansion, and Lula talked about this yesterday right here: The Security Council's expansion, both regarding its permanent and non-permanent categories. New developed and developing countries, the Third World, must be given access as new permanent members. That's step one.
Second, effective methods to address and resolve world conflicts, transparent decisions.
Point three, the immediate suppression -- and that is something everyone's calling for -- of the anti-democratic mechanism known as the veto, the veto on decisions of the Security Council.
Let me give you a recent example. The immoral veto of the United States allowed the Israelis, with impunity, to destroy Lebanon. Right in front of all of us as we stood there watching, a resolution in the council was prevented.
Fourthly, we have to strengthen, as we've always said, the role and the powers of the secretary general of the United Nations.
Yesterday, the secretary general practically gave us his speech of farewell. And he recognized that over the last 10 years, things have just gotten more complicated; hunger, poverty, violence, human rights violations have just worsened. That is the tremendous consequence of the collapse of the United Nations system and American hegemonistic pretensions.
Madam, Venezuela a few years ago decided to wage this battle within the United Nations by recognizing the United Nations, as members of it that we are, and lending it our voice, our thinking.
Our voice is an independent voice to represent the dignity and the search for peace and the reformulation of the international system; to denounce persecution and aggression of hegemonistic forces on the planet.
This is how Venezuela has presented itself. Bolivar's home has sought a nonpermanent seat on the Security Council.
Let's see. Well, there's been an open attack by the U.S. government, an immoral attack, to try and prevent Venezuela from being freely elected to a post in the Security Council.
The imperium is afraid of truth, is afraid of independent voices. It calls us extremists, but they are the extremists.
And I would like to thank all the countries that have kindly announced their support for Venezuela, even though the ballot is a secret one and there's no need to announce things.
But since the imperium has attacked, openly, they strengthened the convictions of many countries. And their support strengthens us.
Mercosur, as a bloc, has expressed its support, our brothers in Mercosur. Venezuela, with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, is a full member of Mercosur.
And many other Latin American countries, CARICOM, Bolivia have expressed their support for Venezuela. The Arab League, the full Arab League has voiced its support. And I am immensely grateful to the Arab world, to our Arab brothers, our Caribbean brothers, the African Union. Almost all of Africa has expressed its support for Venezuela and countries such as Russia or China and many others.
I thank you all warmly on behalf of Venezuela, on behalf of our people, and on behalf of the truth, because Venezuela, with a seat on the Security Council, will be expressing not only Venezuela's thoughts, but it will also be the voice of all the peoples of the world, and we will defend dignity and truth.
Over and above all of this, Madam President, I think there are reasons to be optimistic. A poet would have said 'helplessly optimistic,' because over and above the wars and the bombs and the aggressive and the preventive war and the destruction of entire peoples, one can see that a new era is dawning.
As Silvio Rodriguez says, the era is giving birth to a heart. There are alternative ways of thinking. There are young people who think differently. And this has already been seen within the space of a mere decade. It was shown that the end of history was a totally false assumption, and the same was shown about Pax Americana and the establishment of the capitalist neo-liberal world. It has been shown, this system, to generate mere poverty. Who believes in it now?
What we now have to do is define the future of the world. Dawn is breaking out all over. You can see it in Africa and Europe and Latin America and Oceania. I want to emphasize that optimistic vision.
We have to strengthen ourselves, our will to do battle, our awareness. We have to build a new and better world.
Venezuela joins that struggle, and that's why we are threatened. The U.S. has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela, and it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere.
President Michelle Bachelet reminded us just a moment ago of the horrendous assassination of the former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier.
And I would just add one thing: Those who perpetrated this crime are free. And that other event where an American citizen also died were American themselves. They were CIA killers, terrorists.
And we must recall in this room that in just a few days there will be another anniversary. Thirty years will have passed from this other horrendous terrorist attack on the Cuban plane, where 73 innocents, in a Cubana de Aviacion airliner, died.
And where is the biggest terrorist of this continent who took the responsibility for blowing up the plane? He spent a few years in jail in Venezuela. Thanks to CIA and then government officials, he was allowed to escape, and he lives here in this country, protected by the government.
And he was convicted. He has confessed to his crime. But the U.S. government has double standards. It protects terrorism when it wants to.
And this is to say that Venezuela is fully committed to combating terrorism and violence. And we are one of the people who are fighting for peace.
Luis Posada Carriles is the name of that terrorist who is protected here. And other tremendously corrupt people who escaped from Venezuela are also living here under protection: a group that bombed various embassies, that assassinated people during the coup. They kidnapped me and they were going to kill me, but I think God reached down and our people came out into the streets and the army was too, and so I'm here today.
But these people who led that coup are here today in this country protected by the American government. And I accuse the American government of protecting terrorists and of having a completely cynical discourse.
We mentioned Cuba. Yes, we were just there a few days ago. We just came from there happily.
And there you see another era born. The Summit of the 15, the Summit of the Nonaligned, adopted a historic resolution. This is the outcome document. Don't worry, I'm not going to read it.
But you have a whole set of resolutions here that were adopted after open debate in a transparent matter -- more than 50 heads of state. Havana was the capital of the south for a few weeks, and we have now launched, once again, the group of the nonaligned with new momentum.
And if there is anything I could ask all of you here, my companions, my brothers and sisters, it is to please lend your good will to lend momentum to the Nonaligned Movement for the birth of the new era, to prevent hegemony and prevent further advances of imperialism.
And as you know, Fidel Castro is the president of the nonaligned for the next three years, and we can trust him to lead the charge very efficiently.
Unfortunately they thought, 'Oh, Fidel was going to die.' But they're going to be disappointed because he didn't. And he's not only alive, he's back in his green fatigues, and he's now presiding the nonaligned.
So, my dear colleagues, Madam President, a new, strong movement has been born, a movement of the south. We are men and women of the south.
With this document, with these ideas, with these criticisms, I'm now closing my file. I'm taking the book with me. And, don't forget, I'm recommending it very warmly and very humbly to all of you.
We want ideas to save our planet, to save the planet from the imperialist threat. And hopefully in this very century, in not too long a time, we will see this, we will see this new era, and for our children and our grandchildren a world of peace based on the fundamental principles of the United Nations, but a renewed United Nations.
And maybe we have to change location. Maybe we have to put the United Nations somewhere else; maybe a city of the south. We've proposed Venezuela.
You know that my personal doctor had to stay in the plane. The chief of security had to be left in a locked plane. Neither of these gentlemen was allowed to arrive and attend the U.N. meeting. This is another abuse and another abuse of power on the part of the Devil. It smells of sulfur here, but God is with us and I embrace you all.
May God bless us all. Good day to you.
SUBJECT: AMERICAN EMPIRE
SOURCE: JUAN WILSON firstname.lastname@example.org
The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion,
Oil & Borrowed Money in the 21st Century
15 March 2006 - 10:00am HST
A "B" Film worthy of the title "American Empire"
Decline and fall
By Michelle Goldberg on 16 March for Salon.com
Kevin Phillips, no lefty, says that America -- addicted to oil, strangled by debt and maniacally religious -- is headed for doom. In 1984, the renowned historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Barbara Tuchman published "The March of Folly," a book about how, over and over again, great powers undermine and sabotage themselves. She documented the perverse self-destructiveness of empires that clung to deceptive ideologies in the face of contrary evidence, that spent carelessly and profligately, and that obstinately refused to change course even when impending disaster was obvious to those willing to see it. Such recurrent self-deception, she wrote, "is epitomized in a historian's statement about Philip II of Spain, the surpassing wooden-head of all sovereigns: 'No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.'"
Though the last case study in "The March of Folly" was about America's war in Vietnam, Tuchman argued that the brilliance of the United States Constitution had thus far protected the country from the traumatic upheavals faced by most other nations. "For two centuries, the American arrangement has always managed to right itself under pressure without discarding the system and trying another after every crisis, as have Italy and Germany, France and Spain," she wrote. Then she suggested such protection could soon give way: "Under accelerating incompetence in America, this may change. Social systems can survive a good deal of folly when circumstances are historically favorable, or when bungling is cushioned by large resources or absorbed by sheer size as in the United States during its period of expansion. Today, when there are no more cushions, folly is less affordable."
For all her prescience, it seems likely that Tuchman, who died in 1989, would have been stunned by the Brobdingnagian dimensions of American folly during the last six years. Just over 20 years after she wrote about the Constitution's miraculous endurance, it's hard to figure out how much of the democratic republic created by our founders still exists, and how long what's left will last. The country (along with the world) is in terrible trouble, though the extent of that trouble is both so sprawling and multifaceted that it's hard to get a hold on.
It's not just that America is being ruled by small and venal men, or that its reputation has been demolished, its army overstretched, its finances a mess. All of that, after all, was true toward the end of Vietnam as well. Now, though, there are all kinds of other lurking catastrophes, a whole armory of swords of Damocles dangling over a bloated, dispirited and anxious country. Peak oil -- the point at which oil production maxes out -- seems to be approaching, with disastrous consequences for America's economy and infrastructure. Global warming is accelerating and could bring us many more storms even worse than Katrina, among other meteorological nightmares. The spread of Avian Flu has Michael Leavitt, secretary of health and human services, warning Americans to stockpile canned tuna and powdered milk. It looks like Iran is going to get a nuclear weapon, and the United States can't do anything to stop it. Meanwhile, America's growing religious fanaticism has brought about a generalized retreat from rationality, so that the country is becoming unwilling and perhaps unable to formulate policies based on fact rather than faith.
At any time, of course, one can catalog apocalyptic portents and declare that the end is nigh. Obviously, things in America have been bad before -- there has been civil war, depression, global conflagrations. The country seems to have exhausted its ability to elect decent leaders, but some savior could appear before 2008. One doesn't want to be hysterical or give in to rampaging pessimism. Books about America's decline in the face of an ascendant Japan filled the shelves in the 1980s, and a decade later, the country was at the height of power and prosperity.
Yet just because America has endured in the past does not mean it will in the future. Thus figuring out exactly how much danger we're in is difficult. Are things really as dire as they seem, or are anxiety and despair just part of the cultural moment, destined to be as ephemeral as the sunny mastery and flush good times of the Clinton years? It's human nature to believe that things will continue as they usually have, and that we'll once again somehow stumble intact through our looming crises. At the same time, it's hard to imagine a plausible scenario in which the country regains its equilibrium without first going through major convulsions.
So how scared should we be?
Kevin Phillips' grim new book, "American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century," puts the country's degeneration into historical perspective, and that perspective is not conducive to optimism. The title is a bit misleading, because only the middle section of the book, which is divided into thirds, deals with the religious right. The first part, "Oil and American Supremacy," is about America's prospects as oil becomes scarcer and more expensive, and the last third, "Borrowed Prosperity," is about America's unsustainable debt. Phillips' argument is that imperial overstretch, dependence on obsolete energy technologies, intolerant and irrational religious fervor, and crushing debt have led to the fall of previous great powers, and will likely lead to the fall of this one. It reads, in some ways, like a follow-up to "The March of Folly."
"Conservative true believers will scoff: the United States is sue generis, they say, a unique and chosen nation," writes Phillips. "What did or did not happen to Rome, imperial Spain, the Dutch Republic, and Britain is irrelevant. The catch here, alas, is that these nations also thought they were unique and that God was on their side. The revelation that He was apparently not added a further debilitating note to the later stages of each national decline."
There's a sad irony to the fact that Phillips has come to write this book. His 1969 book, "The Emerging Republican Majority," both predicted and celebrated Republican hegemony. As chief elections and voting patterns analyst for the 1968 Nixon campaign, he is often credited for the Southern strategy that led to the realignment of the Republican Party toward Sun Belt social conservatives. Today's governing Republican coalition is partly his Frankenstein.
Phillips has been disassociating himself from the contemporary GOP for some time now -- his last book, "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush," attacked the presidential clan as a corrupt threat to American democracy. His concern with the growing power of religious fundamentalism was evident then. As he wrote in the introduction, "Part of what restored the Bushes to the White House in 2000 through a southern-dominated electoral coalition was the emergence of George W. Bush during the 1990s as a born-again favorite of conservative Christian evangelical and fundamentalist voters. His 2001-2004 policies and rhetoric confirmed that bond. The idea that the head of the Religious Right and the President of the United States can be the same person is a precedent-shattering circumstance that had barely crept into national political discussion."
Since then, there's been much more attention paid to the role of evangelical Christians in the Republican Party. In "American Theocracy," though, Phillips brings something important to the discussion -- a global historical perspective on the relationship between growing religious zeal and the end of national greatness. "[T]he precedents of past leading world economic powers show that blind faith and religious excesses -- the rapture seems to be both -- have often contributed to national decline, sometimes even being in its forefront."
To tell the story of the impending end of American supremacy, Phillips ranges through history and across subjects, going into detail about seemingly tangential matters like the production of whale oil in 17th century Holland. It can be a slog -- Phillips is sometimes a dry writer who builds his arguments by slapping down numbers and statistics like a bricklayer. (At least he's self-aware -- at one point in his section on religion, he notes, "By this point the reader may feel baptized by statistical and denominational total immersion.") Much of what he writes in individual chapters has been covered elsewhere in numerous books about peak oil, the religious right and economic profligacy.
But Phillips' book is very valuable in the way he brings all the strands together and puts them in context. He has a history of good judgment that affords him the authority to make big-picture claims: In 1993, the New York Times Book Review wrote of him, "through more than 25 years of analysis and predictions, nobody has been as transcendentally right about the outlines of American political change as Kevin Phillips." Other recent books foresee American meltdown; James Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency" deals with some of the same gathering threats as "American Theocracy." Kunstler is a far more engaging writer than Phillips, but he's also more prone to doomsday speculation, and he sometimes seems to relish the apocalyptic scenario he conjures. It's Phillips' sobriety and gravitas that gives "American Theocracy" ballast, and that makes it frightening.
The first section, "Oil and American Supremacy," covers the history of oil in American politics, both foreign and domestic, and what it means for America when oil starts running out. The subject of peak oil has been extensively covered elsewhere, yet it remains on the fringes of much of the political debate in America, despite its massive implications. Essentially, peak oil is the point at which more than half the earth's available oil has been extracted. "After this stage, getting each barrel out requires more pressure, more expense, or both," writes Phillips. "After a while, despite nominal reserves that may be considerable, more energy is required to find and extract a barrel of oil than the barrel itself contains." Before that point comes, scarcity will drive prices to unheard-of levels. If that happens, the entire American way of life -- the car culture, agribusiness, frequent air travel -- will become untenable.
Experts differ about when we might pass the peak, but as Phillips notes, "even relative optimists see it only two or three decades away." Unfortunately, the United States is uniquely unable to grapple with the mere idea of life after cheap gasoline, because the country's entire sprawling infrastructure was built on the assumption that oil would remain plentiful. Writes Phillips, "[B]ecause the twenty-first-century United States has a pervasive oil and gas culture from its own earlier zenith -- with an intact cultural and psychological infrastructure -- it's no surprise that Americans cling to and defend an ingrained fuel habit …The hardening of old attitudes and reaffirmation of the consumption ethic since those years may signal an inability to turn back."
The end of previous empires, Phillips explains, also corresponded with the obsolescence of their dominant energy source. The Netherlands was the "the wind and water hegemon" from 1590 to the 1720s. In the mid-18th century, Britain, harnessing the newly discovered power of coal, became the leading world power, only to be left behind by oil-fueled America. "The evidence is that leading world economic powers, after an energy golden era, lose their magic -- and not by accident," he writes. "The infrastructures created by these unusual, even quirky, successes eventually became economic obstacle courses and inertia-bound burdens."
"American Theocracy's" middle section deals with religion. Once again, the book's value lies not in any new revelations -- Phillips mostly relies on the work of other reporters and analysts -- but in the context provided. In his sweeping overview, he misses some subtleties. He writes, for example, "Opponents of evolution -- successful so far in parts of the South -- are indeed busy trying to ban the teaching of it and textbooks that support it in many northern conservative or politically divided areas." That's not quite true -- Darwin's foes might dream of the day when he's expunged from the schools, but right now, their focus is on having creationism or "intelligent design" taught alongside evolution, not in place of it.
That's a relatively small point, but it's indicative of the rather cursory treatment Phillips gives to the dynamics of the movement he decries. He's much more interested in what it portends -- a kind of soft theocracy that itself is an indication of an empire in decline. What he's talking about is not a Christian version of Iran, but a country ruled by an evangelical party whose electoral machinery is integrated into a network of fundamentalist churches.
Again, the most fascinating part of this section lies in Phillips' comparisons of America with past global powers -- the intolerance of Christian Rome, the militant, expansionist Catholicism of 17th century Spain, the theocratic Calvinism of the mid-18th century Netherlands and the evangelical enthusiasms of Victorian Britain. Toward the end of the Netherlands' worldwide dominance, he writes, "Dutch Reformed pastors called for national renewal and incessantly attacked laziness, prostitution, French fashions, immigrants and homosexuals."
Phillips' final section, about national debt and the increasingly insubstantial nature of the United States economy, follows the model of the rest of the book, offering a summary of others' research on the subject, followed by historical analysis. What concerns Phillips here is not just the country's staggering national debt -- although that concerns him plenty -- but also the shift from a manufacturing to a financial-services economy, which he calls financialization. Instead of making things, Americans increasingly make money by moving money around. Finance, he writes, "fattened during the early 2000s -- this notwithstanding the 2000-2002 collapse of the stock market bubble -- on a feast of low interest enablement, credit-card varietals, exotic mortgages, derivatives, hedge-funded strategies, and structured debt instruments that would have left 1920s scheme meister Charles Ponzi in awe."
Unless the United States proves immune from the economic laws that have heretofore prevailed, this arrangement is unsustainable. As former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker wrote last April in the Washington Post, under the placid surface of the seemingly steady American economy, "there are disturbing trends: huge imbalances, disequilibria, risks -- call them what you will. Altogether the circumstances seem to me as dangerous and intractable as any I can remember, and I can remember quite a lot. What really concerns me is that there seems to be so little willingness or capacity to do much about it."
Again, as Phillips shows, the historical record provides warnings: "Historically, top world economic powers have found 'financialization' a sign of late-stage debilitation, marked by excessive debt, great disparity between rich and poor, and unfolding economic decline."
Looking at the possible crises facing the country, Phillips writes of the "potential for an incendiary convergence if -- a big if, to be sure -- several of the worry-wart camps prove to be correct … I can't remember anything like this multiplicity of reasonably serious calculations and warnings. It is as if the United States, like the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes's 'One-Hoss Shay,' is about to lose all its wheels at once."
For someone who is profoundly uneasy about America's future right now, there's something perversely comforting about reading this from a figure like Phillips. It suggests that one's enveloping sense of foreboding is based on something more than the psychological stress of living under the Bush kakistocracy. A feeling that the world is falling apart is usually associated with neurosis; now, it's possible that it's a sign of sanity.
But if Phillips is correct, the coming years are going to be ugly for all of us, not just blithe exurbanites with SUVs and floating-rate mortgages. With oil growing scarce and America unable or unwilling to even begin weaning itself away, we could see a future of resource wars that would inflame jihadi terrorism and bankrupt the country, shredding what's left of the social safety net. As Phillips notes, a collapsed economy would leave many debt-ridden Americans as what Democratic leaders have called "modern-day indentured servants," paying back constantly compounding debt with no hope of escape via bankruptcy. The prospect of social breakdown looms. The desperation of New Orleans could end up being a preview.
Desperate economic times are not good for democracy. The Great Depression, which ushered in the New Deal, was an anomaly in this regard. In an Atlantic Monthly article published last summer, the Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman wrote, "American history includes several episodes in which stagnating or declining incomes over an extended period have undermined the nation's tolerance and threatened citizens' freedoms." During the Midwestern farm crisis of the 1980s, when tens of thousands of families lost their land due to a combination of rising interest rates and falling crop prices, the Posse Comitatus, a far-right paramilitary network, made exceptional recruiting inroads. One poll had more than a quarter of Farm Belt respondents blaming "International Jewish bankers" for their region's woes.
The right's ideological infrastructure has only grown stronger since then. Kunstler may not have been exaggerating when he told Salon, "Americans will vote for cornpone Nazis before they will give up their entitlements to a McHouse and a McCar."
Eventually, like Spain, England and the Netherlands, the United States, shorn of imperial fantasy, may evolve into something better than what it is today. But terrible times seem likely to come first -- years of fuel shortages, foreign aggression, millenarian madness and political demagoguery. A Democratic president could stop exacerbating the country's problems and could reconcile with the rest of the world, but it's unclear how much he or she could really turn things around. America's economic and energy foundations are too badly eroded to be restored anytime soon. Besides, redistricting and the overrepresentation of rural states in the Senate mean that the GOP will remain powerful even if a decisive majority of Americans vote against it. Zealous conservatives in Congress and the media will almost certainly mount an assault on any future Democratic president just as they did on Bill Clinton. Governmental deadlock, as opposed to flagrant recklessness and misrule, is probably the best that can be hoped for, at least for the next few years.
In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, it was clear to everyone that the United States had suffered a hideous blow, but few had any idea just how bad it was. It didn't occur to most people to wonder whether the country's very core had been seriously damaged; if anything, America had never seemed so united and resolute. Almost five years later, with Bush still in the White House, a whole cavalcade of catastrophes bearing down on us and a lack of political will to address any of them, the scope of Osama bin Laden's triumph is coming sickeningly into focus. He didn't start the country on its march of folly, but he spurred America toward bombastic nationalism, military quagmire and escalating debt, all of which have made its access to the oil controlled by the seething countries of the Middle East ever more precarious. Now the United States is careening down a well-worn road faster than anyone could have imagined.