Timeline/Stages for Collapse of our Way of Life
6-15-2010 The Obama Oil Speech….
President Obama seemed to buy in to the conspiracy that big oil and big government are in cohorts to prevent other forms of so-called clean energy from being developed, mass produced, or even revealed. “Time and again, the path forward has been blocked, not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor,” he said.
“The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight,” he said referring to the fact that drilling for oil entails such risks that any oil spill ends up testing “the limits of human technology.”
In his speech President Obama tried to play up alternative “clean energy” but muffled an acknowledgment that this was still very much in early days and won’t make a bit of difference for a while. “This is not some distant vision for America. The transition away from fossil fuels is going to take some time,” he said appearing to contradict himself. If the “vision” of clean energy is not some distant promise, they why will the transition from fossil fuels “take some time?” Clean energy is simply in no position to replace oil, he seemed to be saying, and electric cars are still just a novelty.
So, apart from telling Americans that he was going to wave a big stick at BP and make it pay for everything and anything to do with the Gulf Oil spill, and promising to root out “corruption” in federal oil regulators, President Obama basically said we are stuck with risky drilling operations for the foreseeable future until someone can figure out what can replace oil.
At the same time he appeared to warn Peak Oil was nearly upon us, which seems a contradiction in terms. The world is running out of oil but we will be reliant on it for quite some time?
Translated, President Obama said in his speech we are all in very big trouble, and that is why he delivered his message from the White House Oval Office.
A zombie stupor is the preferred state of being for the vast majority.
….the ideal in the culture of empire is a state of numbness. No feelings–sorrow, fear, anger, and even joy, are acceptable. People are esteemed for abiding in a state of numbness which is defined as sane, stable, and even-tempered. While following the recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there was a public outcry for President Obama to become outraged regarding the devastation BP had created, but the ideal perpetuated by political pundits and advisors was for Obama to remain “cool-headed”. They and the President knew that any passionate display of any emotion would result in a decrease in popularity and a perception of him as “irrational.” The desired and only acceptable state in the culture of empire is numbness, and any variation from it is frequently perceived as “drama.”
Curiously, Callahan talks about drama in the book but uses the term “low drama” to describe any action that is designed to avoid responsibility. Actions like this are legion, but we could say that any time we avoid feeling our feelings, we are engaging in low drama because the abdication of responsibility begins with numbness.
… If we had no oil and were “thrown back to the Middle Ages” would that mark our end as a species, or rather just a transition back to an earlier state?
Here’s what I think right now. The President and Congress should declare an energy emergency. Some of you are old enough to recall the great oil shortage of 1973, when the OPEC countries shut us off. The national speed limit was reduced to 55 mph. Daylight savings time continued year-around. In Chicago’s Loop, the skyscrapers no longer burned their lights all night long. At the Sun-Times, every other light was turned off. Automobiles grew so much smaller that many young people today can hardly believe the size of, say, a 1969 Cadillac.
That was long ago. Modern housing uses track lighting to beam spotlights into every nook and cranny. Kitchen appliances do everything that was once done by hand. I don’t even want to know how much energy an electric dishwasher consumes. For the first 35 years of my life I washed the dishes by hand, and didn’t feel particularly inconvenienced. People used to use clothes lines. I know it sounds incredible. My dad had a mantra: Turn out the lights when you leave the room! Now you drive down a street and see whole houses illuminated, room after room.
Obama could ask us to turn out our lights. He could move up a deadline for mandating hybrid and electric automobiles. He could impose restrictions on needless public lighting. He could make a real effort to improve rail transportation. He could pour money into alternative energy. We could learn to open the damn windows when it’s a mild day outside. All of this would only be the beginning. Big changes are coming, sooner than we want. They have nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats. They have to do with learning to live without greed–in our personal lives, in our corporations, in our government.
I mentioned I’ve started a program of reading books again. I just finished that novel by Dickens. Good to the last word. It takes place just as the railroad was being introduced. The characters walk around London, or sometimes use carriages. Rooms are heated individually. Nobody thinks about these hardships; they’re more concerned with their own happiness or sadness.
To get away from the internet, I find it works to physically leave the room with the computer in it and sit in another room. Last night, finishing Dombey and Son, I settled into a nice chair and turned on the floor lamp. I turned off no less than six lights that were embedded in the ceiling. I began to read, and it felt good. I realized I was seated in a warm cone of light just exactly right for my purposes. I remembered such a reading space from my childhood, when I sank into my dad’s big old chair and started on some Edgar Allen Poe horror stories. They were better without a lot of light.
…What’s worse is that the higher in society one goes, the more dilute the consequences of failure tend to become, until we rise up to those exalted places whose existence is safeguarded by the magic incantation “too big to fail.” This incantation is quite effective: many people are hypnotized by it. It prevents them from seeing something quite obvious: when serial failures are continually rescued, this allows them to bloat up until they are too large for the rescuers to deal with, at which point they become too big to not fail. When any one of them can no longer be rescued, the result is a cascaded failure that overwhelms the rest, and failure becomes crippling. Past that point, nobody gets to try much of anything ever again: society has checkmated itself.
Emergencies come and go, and people get used to the fact that the beaches are black and sometimes catch fire and burn for weeks, or that there is a ravine running through the center of town where the riverfront used to be, or that electricity is only on for a couple of hours a day. Dogs and children turn feral, but nobody remembers when that started happening, so everyone assumes that that’s the way it’s always been. Nor does anyone remember when it became fashionable to tattoo corporate logos on one’s scalp, or to proudly display one’s naked buttocks in public. An expatriate who leaves and later comes back might think that this now is a completely different country, but those who stay would be at pains to detect the difference because for them changes were too slow to rise above the threshold of perception.
The population can dwindle quite rapidly, but this too is often imperceptible. Large swaths of the landscape become depopulated, but that is not noticed by anyone because nobody goes there any more. When births exceed deaths, population increases exponentially. When deaths exceed births, population declines exponentially. There are always some maternities, and there are always some funerals; the change in the ratio of the two is not something that can be directly perceived. Societal extinction doesn’t make any noise when it finally happens. Survivors simply move on. Non-survivors might as well have not existed, and the more gullible survivors come to believe the extravagant ruins they left behind to have been the work of extraterrestrials.
How does a society go about checkmating itself? There is no shortage of real-world examples, but real life is complicated, so here is a simple allegory. Let’s suppose that there is a tribe called the Merkanoids, which remains quite ordinary for most of its history, but which at some point undergoes a strange cultural mutation. An accidental synergy between atmospheric electricity and chemicals in the water produces a strange effect on their minds that causes them to decamp from the towns and villages wherein they had hitherto happily dwelt, and take up residence in little huts scattered throughout the surrounding pasture, fields and woods. They then proceed to move around and switch huts a lot, until few of them know or trust their neighbors. This makes them feel rather unsafe, and the way the Merkanoids decide to make themselves feel safer is by burying land mines about their property and posting signs that read “No trespassing! Land mines!”
This makes them feel a whole lot safer while in fact making them much less so: the social predators among them become reasonably good at avoiding land mines, while the rest of the population generally does not, producing a large subclass of people whose legs have been blown off. These, being relatively immobile and defenseless, present an even more desirable target to the social predators, and naturally compensate by acquiring more and bigger land mines. This cycle repeats a few times, until two-legged people become the minority. Since people who are missing a lower limb or two are somewhat less productive than two-legged ones, in due course the Merkanoid economy can no longer produce the surplus necessary to invest in anything beyond more land mines (which they now find it cheaper to import from China on credit than to manufacture themselves).
The weakest link
“Business as usual has started to read like the end of the world,” wrote Brown in the preface of the book, quoting an article he read in Newsweek.
It’s all about the food supply – something that doesn’t get a lot of attention amidst all the talk of carbon reduction and deforestation. “Food has become the weakest link in our modern civilization,” says Brown. “If we continue with business as usual, such a collapse [collapses of civilization from declining food supply] is not only possible but likely.”
For more than 40 years, Brown has tracked the world’s food supplies. In the late 1960s, Brown, then a US Department of Agriculture official, sketched the impending food crisis and resource scarcity. It was viewed as an alarmist position at the time; now it doesn’t seem so far fetched. He sketches a persuasive argument on how reduced wheat yields in China could affect the price of staple food worldwide, based on data including melting glaciers, rising sea levels and decreasing ground water supplies.
“Almost all of the environmental indicators, falling water tables, melting glaciers and ice sheets, disappearing species, dying coral reefs, are all headed towards the wrong direction,” says Brown. The food crisis may have already arrived, he says: The world’s population suffering from hunger and malnutrition increased from 825 million in the mid-1990s to over 1 billion in 2009. And the prospect is even gloomier: “We now have an integration of the food and energy economies. Rising oil prices will lead to rising food prices. Most economists have not quite realized what’s happening,” says Brown.
To policymakers, not only in Washington, but also Beijing, Lester Brown is a familiar name. “If I were to sit with Premier Wen Jiabao, I would encourage him to look at the world as it is today, not just imitate what the industrial countries built, the fossil fuel based, automobile centered, throw away economy. That is not going to be viable. [The new situation] challenges them to use their imagination to see what kind of economy and society that they want to create,” says Brown.
Though Beijingers only began to see Plan B 4.0 on the shelves of the Bookworm from last week, Brown has already started working on the next version, Plan B 5.0. He changed the title from Mobilizing to Save Civilization to World on the Edge: How to Avoid Environmental and Economical Collapse.
This article pretty much sums up the insanity of our war machine which has usurped our economy:
Boundless military ambitions
The attacks of September 11, 2001, that “Pearl Harbor of the 21st century”, clinched the deal. In the space the Soviet Union had deserted, which had been occupied by minor outlaw states like North Korea for years, there was a new shape-shifting enemy, al-Qaeda (aka Islamic extremism, aka the new “totalitarianism”), which could be just as big as you wanted to make it. Suddenly, we were in what the Bush administration instantly dubbed “the global war on terror” (GWOT, one of the worst acronyms ever invented) – and this time there would be nothing “cold” about it.
Bush administration officials promptly suggested that they were prepared to use a newly agile American military to “drain the swamp” of global terrorism. (“While we’ll try to find every snake in the swamp, the essence of the strategy is draining the swamp,” insisted deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz two weeks after 9/11.) They were prepared, they made clear, to undertake those draining operations against Islamic “terrorist networks” in no less than 60 countries around the planet.
Their military ambitions, in other words, knew no bounds; nor, it seemed, did the money and resources which began to flow into the Pentagon, the weapons industries, the country’s increasingly militarized intelligence services, mercenary companies like Blackwater and KBR that grew fat on a privatizing administration’s war plans and the multi-billion-dollar no-bid contracts it was eager to proffer, the new Department of , and a ramped-up, ever more powerful national security state.
As the Pentagon expanded, taking on ever newer roles, the numbers would prove staggering. By the end of the Bush years, Washington was doling out almost twice what the next nine nations combined were spending on their militaries, while total US military expenditures came to just under half the world’s total. Similarly, by 2008, the US controlled almost 70% of the global arms market. It also had 11 aircraft carrier battle groups capable of patrolling the world’s seas and oceans at a time when no power that could faintly be considered a possible future enemy had more than one.
By then, private contractors had built for the Pentagon almost 300 military bases in Iraq, ranging from tiny combat outposts to massive “American towns” holding tens of thousands of troops and private contractors, with multiple bus lines, PXs, fast-food “boardwalks”, massage parlors, water treatment and power plants, barracks and airfields. They were in the process of doing the same in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, in the Persian Gulf region generally.
This, too, represented a massive in what looked like a permanent occupation of the oil heartlands of the planet. As right-wing pundit Max Boot put it after a recent flying tour of America’s global garrisons, the US possesses military bases that add up to “a virtual American empire of Wal-Mart-style PXs, fast-food restaurants, golf courses and gyms”.
Depending on just what you counted, there were anywhere from 700 to perhaps 1,200 or more US bases, micro to macro, acknowledged and unacknowledged, around the globe. Meanwhile, the Pentagon was pouring money into the wildest blue-skies thinking at its advanced research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), whose budget grew by 50%.
Through DARPA, well-funded scientists experimented with various ways to fight science-fiction-style wars in the near and distant future (at a moment when no one was ready to put significant into blue-skies thinking about, for instance, how to improve the education of young Americans). The Pentagon was also pioneering a new form of air power, drone warfare, in which “we” wouldn’t be within thousands of miles of the battlefield, and the battlefield would no longer necessarily be in a country with which we were at war.
It was also embroiled in two disastrous, potentially trillion-dollar wars (and various global skirmishes) – and all this at top dollar at a time when next to no money was being invested in, among other things, the bridges, tunnels, waterworks and the like that made up an aging American infrastructure. Except when it came to victory, the military stood ever taller, while its many missions expanded exponentially, even as the domestic economy was spinning out of control, budget deficits were increasing rapidly, the governmental bureaucracy was growing ever more sclerotic, and indebtedness to other nations was rising by leaps and bounds.
In other words, in a far wealthier country, another set of leaders, having watched the Soviet Union implode, decisively embarked on the Soviet path to disaster.
In the autumn of 2008, the abyss opened under the US economy, which the Bush administration had been blissfully ignoring, and millions of people fell into it. Giant institutions wobbled or crashed; extended unemployment wouldn’t go away; foreclosures happened on a mind-boggling scale; infrastructure began to buckle; state budgets were caught in a death grip; teachers’ jobs, another kind of infrastructure, went down the tubes in startling numbers; and the federal deficit soared.
A new president also entered the Oval Office, someone (many voters believed) intent on winding up (or at least down) Bush’s wars and the delusions of military omnipotence and technological omniscience that went with them. If George W Bush had pushed this country to the edge of disaster, at least his military policies, as many of his critics saw it, were as extreme and anomalous as the cult of executive power his top officials fostered.
But here was the strange thing. In the midst of the great recession, under a new president with assumedly far fewer illusions about American omnipotence and power, war policy continued to expand in just about every way. The Pentagon budget rose by Bushian increments in fiscal year 2010; and while the Iraq War reached a kind of dismal stasis, the new president doubled down in Afghanistan on entering office – and then doubled down again before the end of 2009. There, he “surged” in multiple ways. At best, the US was only drawing down one war, in Iraq, to feed the flames of another.
As in the Soviet Union before its collapse, the exaltation and feeding of the military at the expense of the rest of society and the economy had by now become the new normal; so much so that hardly a serious word could be said – lest you not “support our troops” – when it came to ending the American way of war or downsizing the global mission or ponying up the funds demanded of the US Congress to pursue war preparations and war-making.
Even when, after years of astronomical growth, Gates began to talk about cost-cutting at the Pentagon, it was in the service of the reallocation of ever-more money to war-fighting. Here was how the New York Times summed up what reduction actually meant for America’s ultimate super-sized institution in tough times: “Current budget plans project growth of only 1 percent in the Pentagon budget, after inflation, over the next five years.” Only 1% growth – at a time when state budgets, for instance, are being slashed to the bone. Like the Soviet military, the Pentagon, in other words, is planning to remain obese whatever else goes down.
Meanwhile, the “anti-war” president has been overseeing the expansion of the new normal on many fronts, including the expanding size of the army itself. In fact, when it comes to the “war on terror” – even with the name now in disuse – the profligacy can still take your breath away.
Consider, for instance, the $2.2 billion Host Nation Trucking contract the Pentagon uses to pay protection money to Afghan security companies which, in turn, slip some part of those payments to the Taliban to let American supplies travel safely on Afghan roads. Or if you don’t want to think about how Americans tax dollars support the Taliban, consider the $683,000 the Pentagon spent, according to the Post, to “renovate a cafe that sells ice cream and Starbucks coffee” at its base/prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Or the $773,000 used there “to remodel a cinder-block building to house a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant”, or the $7.3 million spent on baseball and football fields, or the $60,000 batting cage, or a promised $20,000 soccer cage, all part of the approximately US$2 billion that have gone into the American base and prison complex that Obama promised to, but can’t, close.
Or what about the US Embassy in Baghdad, that 104-acre (42 hectares), almost three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar, 21-building homage to the American-mall-as-fortified-citadel? It costs more than $1.5 billion a year to run, and bears about as much relationship to an “embassy” as McDonald’s does to a neighborhood hamburger joint. According to a recent audit, millions of dollars in “federal ” assigned to what is essentially a vast command center for the region, including 159 of the embassy’s 1,168 vehicles, are missing or unaccounted for.
And as long as we’re talking about expansion in distant lands, how about the Pentagon’s most recent construction plans in Central Asia, part of a prospective “mini-building boom” there. They are to include an anti-terrorism training center to be constructed for a bargain basement $5.5 million in … no, not Toledo or Akron or El Paso, but the combustible city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. And that’s just one of several projects there and in neighboring Tajikistan that are reportedly to be funded out of the US Central Command’s “counter-narcotics ” (and ultimately out of American taxpayers’ pockets).
Or consider a particularly striking example of military expansion under Obama, superbly reported by the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe in a piece headlined, “US ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role.” As a story, it sank without a trace in a country evidently unfazed by the idea of having its forces garrisoned and potentially readying to fight everywhere on the planet.
Here’s how the piece began:
Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret US war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials. Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year.
Now, without opening an atlas, just try to name any 75 countries on this planet – more than one-third, that is, of the states belonging to the United Nations. And yet US special operatives are now engaging in war, or preparing for war, or training others to do so, or covertly collecting intelligence in that many countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and . Fifteen more than in the Bush era.
Whatever it is or isn’t called, this remains Bush’s “war on terror” on an expansionist trajectory. DeYoung and Jaffe quote an unnamed “senior military official” saying that the Obama administration has allowed “things that the previous administration did not”, and report that Special Operations commanders are now “a far more regular presence at the White House” than in the Bush years.
Not surprisingly, those Special Operations forces have themselves expanded in the first year-and-a-half of the Obama presidency and, for fiscal year 2011, with 13,000 of them already deployed abroad, the administration has requested a 5.7% hike in their budget to $6.3 billion.
Once upon a time, Special Operations forces got their name because they were small and “special”. Now they are in essence being transformed into a covert military within the military and, as befits their growing size, reports Noah Shachtman of the Wired’s Danger Room, the army Special Forces alone are slated to get a new $100 million “headquarters” in northern Afghanistan. It will cover about 17 acres and will include a “communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility … dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs … Supporting facilities include roads, power production system and electrical distribution, water well, non-potable water production, water storage, water distribution, sanitary sewer collection system, communication manhole/duct system, curbs, walkways, drainage and parking.”
This headquarters, adds Shachtman, will take a year to build, “at which point, the US is allegedly supposed to begin drawing down its forces in Afghanistan. Allegedly.” And mind you, the Special Operations troops are but one expanding part of the US military.
The first year-and-a-half of the Obama administration has seen a continuation of what could be considered the monumental socialist-realist era of American war-making (including a decision to construct another huge, Baghdad-style “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan). This sort of creeping gigantism, with all its assorted cost overruns and private perks, would undoubtedly have seemed familiar to the Soviets. Certainly no less familiar will be the near decade the US military has spent, increasingly disastrously, in the Afghan graveyard.
Drunk on war as Washington may be, the US is still not the Soviet Union in 1991 – not yet. But it’s not the triumphant “sole superpower” anymore either. Its global power is visibly waning, its ability to win wars distinctly in question, its viability open to doubt. It has been transformed from a can-do into a can’t-do nation, a fact only highlighted by the ongoing BP catastrophe and “rescue” in the Gulf of Mexico. Its airports are less shiny and more Third World-like every year.
Unlike France or China, it has not a mile of high-speed rail. And when it comes to the future, especially the creation and support of innovative in alternative energy, it’s chasing the pack. It is increasingly a low-end service economy, losing good jobs that will never return.
In 1991, the Soviet Union suddenly evaporated. The Cold War was over. Like many wars, it seemed to have an obvious winner and an obvious loser. Nearly 20 years later, as the US heads down the Soviet road to disaster – even if the world can’t imagine what a bankrupt America might mean – it’s far clearer that, in the titanic struggle of the two superpowers that we came to call the Cold War, there were actually two losers, and that, when the “second superpower” left the scene, the first was already heading for the exits, just ever so slowly and in a state of self-intoxicated self-congratulation.
Nearly every decision in Washington since then, including Obama’s to expand both the Afghan War and the “war on terror”, has only made what, in 1991, was one possible path seem like fate itself.
Call up the politburo in Washington. We’re in trouble.
The New York Times reports on the discovery by American geologists that Afghanistan contains “vast riches” in untapped mineral deposits: at least $1 trillion worth — including huge troves of lithium, “a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys,” as the paper breathlessly relates.
Unfortunately, given the realities of our world, one’s first reaction to such news is not a cheery “How nice for the Afghan people!” but rather a heart-sinking, dread-clammy “Uh oh.” For what this discovery almost certainly portends are many more decades of war, warlordism and foreign intervention, as the forces of greed and power fight like hyenas to tear off the juiciest chunks of this windfall.
It also guarantees many more years of American military occupation (in one guise or another); there is absolutely no chance that our Beltway banditti (and their corporate cronies) are simply going to walk away from a stash like this, not when they’ve already got “boots on the ground” — and billions of dollars in war pork invested in the place. It’s payback time, baby! (Or rather, double-dip time, as most of these “investments” are just pass-throughs of public money to private profiteers). And hey, finder’s keepers and all that, right?
The Times story is the usual splattered mess of regurgitated Pentagon PR and imperial spin, with a few small bits of pertinent information here and there.
The story first displays its “savvy” cred by noting the possible downsides of the find. (“Hey, we’re not just cheerleaders, you know!”) It could make the Taliban fight even harder. It could exacerbate the corruption of the American-installed Afghan government. It could set off conflicts between Afghan tribes and warlord factions to control the mining. It could wreak environmental ruin. And it seems it could tempt grasping greedy foreigners to prey upon the war-ravaged Afghans and steal their wealth:
At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.
Oh yes, the great danger is that China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth! They’ve already got one copper mine and they want more, the greedy bastards!
This passage gives us a vivid display of the quintessential NYT stew of PR, spin and tiny fragments of reality. First comes the head fake toward the Yellow Peril, then we get a bit of truth: the Washington believes the United States should dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, “given its heavy investment in the region.” China can’t have it, because we’ve got it. We’ve spent a lot of money and we’ve killed a lot of people to get it (including wads of our own cannon fodder) — and by God, we’re going to keep it!
Of course, the Times accepts this as the natural state of affairs. The possibility that the mineral find might exacerbate the rampant American corruption in the Afghan war is not mentioned, or even hinted at. The idea that it will make thePentagon fight harder — and nastier — to secure control over the stash is not even considered.
Instead, we get another bashing of the Afghan government for its corruption — as if this is occurring in some kind of vacuum, as if the billions of dollars being siphoned off, socked away or spread around to cronies by the American-appointed, American-backed, American-supplied Afghan officials were not being doled out to them by …. the Americans, who are happily kicking back billions more to their own cronies, contractors and profiteers.
We also get — yet again — the myth that the American empire acts solely out of altruism. American officials, we are told, are gearing up to help the Afghans exploit the find with technical expertise, business plans and industry contacts. But strangely enough, this kindness is not being provided by, say, the State Department or some aid agency; it is being carried out by … the Pentagon. It is the Pentagon that is “helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall” and facilitating the development of the trillion-dollar flush.
In other words, the warlords of a foreign power will develop the mining operations in order to keep them out of the hands of, er, foreign powers and warlords.
Another nugget of truth buried deep in the story is the fact that the “discovery” of the huge trove of mineral deposits was actually made a few years ago. It is being trotted out now because the Obama Administration needs some good news about its ever-expanding quagmire in Central Asia — and perhaps also to send a signal to its corporate backers and foreign allies (such as Britain, now making noises about possibly winding down its Afghan involvement) that the game is most definitely worth the candle. And worth the lives of thousands and thousands of more Afghans — and Pakistanis, Americans, Britons and others — in a mad, murderous mineral scramble. The Pentagon businessmen say that Afghanistan could become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium” — but it is far more likely to become “the Congo of Central Asia”: a zone of decades-long, hydra-headed, multi-sided, society-gutting, atrocity-producing, money-grubbing war over “vast riches” of mineral deposits.
But hey: as long as the BlackBerries and laptops keep rolling in, who cares, right? Those things are just so darn cool.
There are times when I must admit that to belong to the great group of uninformed people, or perhaps uncaring people, or unthinking people, would be a much easier way to get through life. The developed countries of the world have the wealth to create systems of distraction for the populace, systems generally called the media ranging from the old standard television through to the modern mind-trivia pursuits of Twitter and Facebook, controlled by the corporations that require a non-critical unthinking participation in the diversions that are there to keep the populace amused, distracted, entertained, pseudo-informed, patriotically biased, and generally blasé about the world around them. This cocoon of media hype provides a few glimpses of various man made and natural disasters around the world to provide conversational talking points, but seldom if ever with any context or depth of research, and always isolated one from another as if each incident exists entirely in its own sphere to be ‘ooh’ed and ’ahh’ed at and then forgotten in the daily drive to be the richest sexiest best-looking most consumptive pawn on the block.
Somehow I cannot do that, and it leaves me ‘dazed and confused’ when the mass of information that is available reveals quite transparently that all the major disaster news items are related and that the sum total of them all is that on our current course, we are all facing dramatic and perhaps traumatic changes to our lifestyles. Today’s news items that leave me dazed and confused run the full spectrum of scary items: Euro devaluation; massive oil pools in Gulf of Mexico heading towards Gulf Stream; Arctic long term ice rotting away; 145th Canadian and 1000th U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan; Israel continues occupying Palestine.
The global economy appears to be nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme that will fall apart as soon as a critical person, institute, or mass of investors stops believing they can reap more profits from it. Finance capitalism displays its fault lines all across Europe as the EU in conjunction with the IMF and World Bank – the Washington consensus – bailed out Greece. This imposes on Greece an austerity program that has long proven that it does more to impoverish the middle and lower classes offering more regressive taxation accompanied by a decline in social services and social benefits ranging from medical services, through education to pensions and income assistance.
The bailouts in Greece and the resulting market chaos from a frightened financial sector will take its toll, as usual with the masses absorbing most of the losses in the form of higher taxes and degraded services, public and private. With one big thump, neo-liberalism and its finance capitalism has arrived in Greece, soon perhaps to be followed by Spain, Portugal, Italy and who know what others to join Latvia, Estonia, and Iceland as failing Euro-states.
For all the rhetoric spewed out by global economists, it only goes to strengthen my long held belief that economists are essentially useless and the “science” of economics is an oxymoron as it is based on invented formulas from imagined markets. It also strengthens my fear that sometime soon, combined with all the other elements in the economic news concerning banks and mortgages and employment stats, something catastrophic will happen to make everyone’s savings and earnings next to worthless.
Oiling the Military
And then when it costs an estimated one million dollars a day to maintain one U.S. soldier in the Middle East, it only emphasizes how the military is very much involved with our current global economy, in more ways than one. Along with the cost of the war – in the hundreds of billions of dollars, leading into the trillions – are the costs to the occupied countries from a wide range of parameters including civilian infrastructure (housing, water, electricity, schools, and hospitals), chemical poisons (from various ordinances including depleted uranium and white phosphorous), internal refugees, and the destruction of local economies, increasing the chances of graft, oppression, and criminal activities.
Which still omits the purpose behind the wars in the first place, supposedly based on a global war on terror, and the spreading of democracy and freedom throughout the Middle East…while the reality of the wars is the opportunistic events of 9/11 enabling an excuse to become a global military hegemon trying to capture the oil, gas, and mineral wealth of the region at the same time containing the rising power of China and the re-assertiveness of Russia.
Of course the part of the military news reported this week is the 145th Canadian soldier and the 1000th U.S. soldier to die in Afghanistan, most of them from IEDs buried at roadside or in car bombs, as with this incident in Kabul. Broadly suggested on the patriotic front is that we must all support our troops, something I find hard to do when Canadian troops are not much more than allies for the U.S.’s intent on military control of the world. Seldom is mention given to the thousands, hundreds of thousands, of the local populations killed directly from military action or indirectly from its many collateral consequences. An indigenous person who fights against foreign occupation immediately becomes a terrorist, yet the real terror being spread comes from the reported imminent assault by U.S./NATO forces against Kandahar, even though similar actions in the much less populated villages of Marjah has been an understated failure.
Another tie in militarily is of course Iran and Israel. With Israel thumbing their collective noses at the U.S. administration, unthreatened by U.S. military strength as it has its own finely tuned military – supported in a large part through U.S. ‘aid’ and supplies of high tech military equipment – the U.S./Israel/Iran triangle creates the fearful situation of another impending military action, perhaps leading into the use of nuclear weapons depending on the fierceness or not of Iranian resistance. That scenario is currently tempered by the news report of Brazil’s Lula reaching a limited agreement with Iran and Turkey on the transportation and servicing of enriched uranium, but it waits to be seen how the U.S. and Israel argue their way around this diplomatic action that bypasses their efforts at control.
And then on into Pakistan, ‘Obama’s war’ of choice, undeclared, fought through covert operations within the population and within the government agencies, while a large clear majority of the citizens see the U.S. as the biggest threat to the country. It is also fought through high tech warriors at computers well away from the actual situations, relying on nothing more than their own gut level despisal of the indigenous populations. The Pakistan situation goes to show that the main U.S. response to its declining global economic role, its reliance on oil for the vast majority of its economic demands, its only true method of resolving any situation it does not like, is to send in the military. Who’s next? Iran? Venezuela? Korea? As the U.S. empire becomes even more aggressive militarily, I can only think again, we’re all facing something quite dramatic and traumatic!
Totally unrelated to all this military and economic garbage, at least as presented by the media, are the two news items this week that supposedly have an impact on the environment. Which they do, but their impact and significance go far beyond the reporting of the actual information as narrowly presented in the news and most commentaries.
The biggest news is that of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It has had no real impact on the economy, other than the regional economy of tourism and fisheries along the Gulf Coast, but no earth shaking effect on the dollar or the overall economy, perhaps more significant if it reaches the Gulf Stream and on into the Atlantic…. Yet it is all too representative of the overall economy. The necessity for oil in our high energy, easy energy economy, the disdain for environmental safeguards, placing profits above the environment we live in, the ignoring of information concerning the drilling operations such as the partial failure of a rubberized protective pressure gasket signals that the corporate world, the supra-national corporations that have effectively superseded governments in many areas, could care less about anything but their own profits.
Our easy energy economy relies on oil and its derivative products. Everything we do, everything we have, is all related to the easy energy provided by oil, a resource that is at or very near its peak, with not a slow rundown on a bell curve at the end, but a roller coaster style drop off as extraction becomes more difficult for a variety of reasons. Our agriculture runs on oil, from the fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides through to its transportation thousands of miles away to the homes of those that can afford the luxury of thousand mile meals. Our health structures, medicines, tourism, our whole civic structure based on the automobile, the world of plastics, the energy needed to make and use all the consumptive demands of our society rely on oil.
All that consumption is expressed in the other news item concerning the Arctic ice cover. The climate change deniers will not go away, but there is irrefutable evidence that the climate is changing. That evidence comes in part from the Arctic ice, now with only twenty per cent of it remaining as long term multi-year ice, the rest is new annual ice. The surprise comes from the awareness that although the winter ice appeared to have regained its cover – as it had – the multi-year ice had diminished greatly and what was left was a conglomeration of rotten ice and new ice. More evidence comes from the indigenous people, the Inuit, who have lived there for millennia and now are unable to read the ice and weather patterns as they change rapidly from their long ancestral observations. The culture changes with it as new names for new phenomena of weather and flora and fauna are being introduced.
All that oil, coal, and natural gas, our natural heritage from millions of years ago when the climate created an enormous energy bounty harvested naturally from the sun, we have squandered on an easy fast paced uncaring life in the short term for a decidedly undetermined, uncertain, and freaky future. The developed countries bounty comes from the easy energy domination of oil and the corporate structures controlling global wealth and global finances. Our changing climate with its wider range of variability is very much still an unknown…but what is known is that the ice cover, which was forecast to be gone in a century or so from the Arctic ocean, is now possibly going to disappear completely (except for winter ice cover) within a decade or so.
There in the Arctic is the confluence of our oily greed, our uncaring effluent affluence, our military solutions to world problems. When I look at the responses to natural and man made disasters around the world I shudder to think what would be the consequence of another major military action that could result in the use of nuclear weapons. I shudder to think what the climate might throw at us as it continues along its unpredictable responses to the carbon energy we are pumping back into the atmosphere. The economy, which in the news is generally front and center, becomes a matter of worthlessness when faced with what could be large and sudden changes in the status of global energy and weather systems.
I sometimes wonder if there are any realistic solutions given human nature, its short term perspectives, its vanity, and its supposed intelligence that somehow always seems to create some form of blowback for its actions. There are solutions, ones that would still create dramatic change but hopefully soften the trauma for everyone. The changes need to be significant and not just the cosmetic panaceas that cover – and conceal – the symptoms but do little for the actual underlying problem of living in a militarized consumptive finance-oriented society
In no particular order, as they are all complementary actions, there are several ideas that need to be put into action, hopefully through a rapid evolution of common sense intelligence toward the planet and its inhabitants, as revolutionary ideas while founded on good ideas and great plans, often create a deterioration into violence that nullifies the intent of the actions in the first place.
Israel/Palestine/Iran and the rest of the Middle East
Israel/Palestine are the symbolic focus of the militarized activity in the Middle East and South Asia. The tie in between the Israeli and U.S. military in all its components (industry, politics, technology, finance) demonstrates the perversity of human nature in relation to a falsely created ‘other’. The ‘other’ for the Israelis occupying Palestinian lands are the Palestinian ‘terrorists’ conveniently supported by the U.S. designation of any thought or action against their occupying forces as being terroristic. The solution to any problem for both countries has proven to be some kind of military violence, neither truly wishing to negotiate, with its implications of equal bargaining rights and acknowledgement of legitimate grievances on the part of the occupied and subjugated peoples.
This part of the solution is simple but I do not see it happening. The occupiers need to go home. The brief spate of democracy that went awry – with Hezbollah gaining recognition in Lebanon, Hamas defeating Fatah in Palestine, the Shia’s gaining power in Iraq with a challenge to U.S. occupation, and Egypt cracking down violently on its renewed opposition to autocratic rule – challenged the very theoretical philosophical rhetoric of democracy and freedom that these countries pretend to uphold. This part of the solution should happen, but it won’t, as the other imperial factors of resources and finances are slowly nibbling away at the security and wealth of the ‘homeland’. The empire will not go away peacefully.
Another solution not likely to happen due to the power structures involved and the political and military tie ins is that of controlling the corporations. The supranational corporations – many larger than governments, most having entitlements to sue, threaten, lobby and challenge national governments that even the local citizens do not have, all provided by agreements that were decided upon in thoroughly non-democratic fashion – need to be shut down. Perhaps not totally disbanded, but they need to have their political and legal powers greatly curtailed if not abolished.
Corporations are set up for one purpose – to create wealth for the owners and avoid legal responsibility for anything else while doing so. The big corporations need to be brought under national civilian control, meaning essentially under national law based on human rights, social rights, and environmental responsibility. Responsibilities for the environment, workers conditions and rights, product recycling should all be implemented at both the global and national level. The cost of doing business should include the real costs on the environment and the people that work and live in that environment. Failing that, they should simply be disbanded – nationalized and broken apart.
There would be of course much screeching and crying about the loss of wealth and the loss of employment and the crashing of the global GDP and all the other economic ills that our current finance capitalism and debt burdened financing are creating anyway. With the environment threatened and in return giving humanity a literal unexpected blowback, with the economy teetering on the edge of chaos, the main solution will come from taking away the power of the corporations over the legitimate concerns of a country’s citizens.
Many of these corporations rely on the ‘hidden fist’ of the military for their survival, both for capturing and harnessing resources and markets, but also as part and parcel of the militarily financed corporations that create so much havoc globally. To think they will go peacefully away when their very foundation is threatened by the shrinking energy resources of the world is illusory. Citizens and duly elected governments need to stand up for their integrity and get rid of the power of the corporations that truly rule our lives.
Think skeptically, act positively – live locally, think globally
The foundations of a soft-landing for the restructuring of our relationship with the environment and the decreasing ease of carbon based energy resources needs to start with information and education. With human intelligence and craftiness much could be done to alleviate any hard landings from environmental change, economic collapse, and the loss of easy energy. I have to question whether any government, whether any group really has the power to do this as the inertia within a society based on fast fuel and ease of transportation and manufacturing energy will be hard to transform.
The elites in society will wish to remain the elites and hoard as much wealth and power they can retain as events change around them. Very few people will be accepting of giving up their privileges, very few will be accepting of giving up their easy entertainment and comfortable thoughtless manners that lead us closer and closer to an ultimate need to change and restructure. Change is certain. The environment will dictate that to us very soon, denial or not. The loss of carbon energy will dictate that to us very soon, denial or not.
I expect the news not to change much. What I can hope for is that as many citizens as are able will read and inform themselves about all the global concerns by comparing and contrasting the words with the actions of the current powers, corporate, political, and military. They truly create a dissonant sound, confusing, obfuscating, lying and concealing. Read, be informed, think skeoyically, act positively (act actively – be an activist, let your voice be heard), live locally while thinking globally. In the meantime, I remain, still, dazed at the possible significance of it all for my future and current and future generations of my family, confused by the apparent inability of others to see that action and not complacence is needed to make real progress towards a successful future.
Once again Mike thanks ……………..dazed and confused
“The definition of a terrorist is somebody who’s stopping America from taking their natural resources”
Is it no longer uncouth for our corporatocracy to openly promote war to the American public as a resource grab?
…Reading this week’s New York Times headline – “U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan” – many probably wondered how this information was being presented as “news” in 2010. After all, humanity has long been aware of the country’s vast natural resources. As Mother Jones magazine’s James Ridgeway said after recalling past public accounts of the ore deposits, “This ‘discovery’ in fact is ancient history tracing back to the times of Marco Polo.”
The intrigue in the Times dispatch, then, is not Afghanistan’s “huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals” that the paper quotes Pentagon officials gushing about – it is the gushing itself. Indeed, the real question is: What would prompt the government to portray well-known geology as some sort of blockbuster revelation?
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder proffers a convincing answer. Noting the military’s coordinated quotes in the Times piece, he writes that the Pentagon is probably trying to bolster Americans’ support for the flagging Afghanistan campaign by “publicizing or re-publicizing valid but already public information about the region’s potential wealth.”
This assertion, mind you, is not coming from some antiwar ideologue in a “No War for Oil!” t-shirt. On the contrary, Ambinder is a quintessential buttoned-down establishmentarian far more interested in covering political process than in pushing a pet cause – which means his charge (later echoed by other Washington journalists) is a particularly powerful one. And if he’s correct, we may be witnessing the final spasm of a radical shift.
Remember, the idea that the U.S. invades countries to pilfer natural resources was once written off as an inflammatory insult and/or an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, irrespective of corroborating facts (like, say, pre-9/11 Pentagon plans to divvy up Iraqi petroleum, State Department proposals to privatize Iraq’s oil fields and top government officials insisting Saddam Hussein’s overthrow was “essential” to protect oil supplies). The assumption, of course, was that the public opposes resource conflicts and that therefore labeling wars as such is nothing but disreputable slander designed only to harm a political opponent.
This manufactured construct, though, began eroding as soon as George W. Bush started turning the “war for oil” aspersion into a proud clarion call.
In 2005, the Associated Press reported that the president “answered growing antiwar protests with a fresh reason for U.S. troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country’s vast oil fields.” During a press conference a year later, Bush three times pitched petroleum as a rationale for war, criticizing “extreme elements” who “want to control oil resources,” insisting that “we can’t tolerate a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East with large oil reserves” and warning that we must stop insurgents from gaining “the capacity to use oil as an economic weapon.”
Now, under President Obama, we get leaked Pentagon memos cheerily promising that Afghanistan will become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium” and generals touting the minerals’ “stunning potential” – the implication being that America is morally obligated to exploit such potential through armed occupation.
The theater of battle is different but the paradigm is the same: Whereas it was previously considered uncouth for anyone to even suggest that economic hegemony might motivate U.S. military action, our leaders are now boldly selling wars as commendable instruments of such profit-focused imperialism.
Importantly, this revised message relies on the new assumption that the public now sees resource conflicts not as detestable – but as worthy and even admirable. And should that assumption prove true, it would mean that this latest exercise in martial propaganda represents more than mere marketing innovation. It would signal a disturbing change in what the population thinks is – and is not – a just reason for war.