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Should we despair, giving up on America?

5 May 2012

Summary:  On this Sunday we’ll interrupt the FM website’s flow of information, insight, and exhortation for something different.  A moment of reflection on America, where we are and where we’re going.  The situation looks bleak, so it’s time to consult the pros.

It’s an article of faith on the FM website that only cold analysis can provide the basis for accurate diagnosis and treatment of the Republic, to restore our lost liberties and return us to the path of prosperity.  With 2,060 posts since September 2003, and almost 21 thousand comments, the authors, guest authors, and commenters have provided analysis totalling millions of words.  Combined with the work of greater writers (such as Glenn Greenwald), if words alone sufficed then the Republic would be saved.

But, as Spock reminds us, “logic is only the beginning of wisdom” (Star Trek IV).  Not only does it provide no motivation — no energy, no drive — but it can lead to despair.  And reading the FM website can easily induce despair, especially in its authors.  We turn to the sages for a wider perspective than reason alone can give.  First we consider the wisdom of despair, then the necessity of hope — perhaps our greatest resource.

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Despair is a sin against the First Commandment:

By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins.  Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy.

— Article 2091 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Thomas Aquinas asks”Is Despair the Greatest of Sins?”  His answer:

If, however, despair be compared to the other two sins {disbelief or hatred of God — or, in this context, Liberty} from our point of view, then despair is more dangerous, since hope withdraws us from evils and induces us to seek for good things, so that when hope is given up, men rush headlong into sin, and are drawn away from good works.

Wherefore a gloss on Proverbs 24:10, “If thou lose hope being weary in the day of distress, thy strength shall be diminished,” says: “Nothing is more hateful than despair, for the man that has it loses his constancy both in the every day toils of this life, and, what is worse, in the battle of faith.”

And Isidore says (Sententiarum seu De summo bono, ii, 14): “To commit a crime is to kill the soul, but to despair is to fall into hell.

The Summa Thologica, Part I – Treatise on the Theological Virtues, section I, Question 20 – About Despair, Article 3


Pop-cultural reference deserve attention.  Even Homer and Shakespeare were such to their contemporaries.

Despair or Folly?  It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.

— Gandalf, in the Fellowship of the Ring, Book 2, Chapter 2 – The Council of Elrond

About Hope

Do not cast all hope away. Tomorrow is unknown. Rede {Council} oft is found at the rising of the Sun.
— Legolas, in The Two Towers, Chapter II – The Riders of Rohan

The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others. There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.
— Aragorn, in The Two Towers, Chapter II – The Riders of Rohan

For thus it is spoken: “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”
— Legolas in The Return of the King, Chapter IX – The Last Debate

Further thoughts about despair and hope

Other posts about hope

  1. Some good news (one of the more important posts on this blog), 21 December 2007 –  I do not believe we need fear the future, despite the tough times coming soon.  This remains a great nation, not because of our past but because of us and our polity.  We differ from almost every other nation.  The difference consists of our commitment to our political order, of which our Constitution is the foundation.  In this we are like Athens more than our neighbors …
  2. An important thing to remember as we start a New Year, 29 December 2007 — As we start a New Year I find it useful to review my core beliefs. It is easy to lose sight of those amidst the clatter of daily events. Here is my list…
  3. Is America’s decline inevitable? No.. 21 January 2008 – Why be an American if one has no faith in the American people?  How can you believe in democracy without that faith?
  4. Let us light a candle while we walk, lest we fear what lies ahead, 10 February 2008 — Many people look to the future with fear. We see this fear throughout the web. Right-wing sites describe the imminent end of America: overrun by foreigners, victim of cultural and financial collapse. Left-wing sites describe “die-off” scenarios due to Peak Oil, climate change, and ecological collapse – as the American dream dies from takeover by theocrats and fascists.  Most of this is nonsense, but not the prospect of massive changes in our world. But need we fear the future?
  5. Experts, with wrinkled brows, warn about the future, 2 May 2008 — Experts often see the future with alarm, seeing the dangers but not benefits. That gets attention, from both the media and an increasingly fearful public. Both sides feed this process. It need not be so, as most trends contain the seeds of good and bad futures. This post considers two examples.
  6. Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off, 8 May 2008
  7. Good news about the 21st century, a counterbalance to the doomsters, 9 May 2008
  8. A snapshot of our engines of innovation, as they develop new energy sources, 12 May 2008 – There are many solutions under development to the energy crises.  These things just take time, even decades, to mature.
  9. Some thoughts about the economy of mid-21st century America, 12 January 2009 — Optimistic words from the greatest economist of the 20th century.
  10. Good news: air quality in the US has improved!, 12 March 2010

Other posts giving inspiration

  1. Washington’s Gift, 24 December 2007 — A summary of and link to an article by the author Thomas Fleming, published on the Opinion Page of the Wall Street Journal.
  2. A crisis at the beginning of the American experiment, 27 December 2008 — Looking at the problems looming before us, it is easy to forget those of equal or greater danger that we have surmounted in the past.
  3. “America’s Greatest Weapon” , 25 May 2008
  4. An effective way to support our Troops: help the Blue Star Mothers of America, 8 June 2008 — There are ways to support our troops, actions more effective than a bumper sticker on your car.
  5. Support the USO – more effective than a bumper sticker, 5 July 2008 — Another way to support our troops, more effective than a bumper sticker.
  6. A Thanksgiving Day note, 26 November 2010 — About the Medal of Honor presented to SSG Giunta.

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54 Comments leave one →
  1. Thomas Moore permalink
    5 May 2012 2:20 am

    Studies by psychologists Alloy and Abramson (1979) and Dobson and Franche (1989) conclude that depressed people appear to have a more realistic perception of their importance, reputation, ability to control their environment, and learned skills than those who are not depressed.

    The studies found that people who are not clinically depressed are more likely to have inflated self-images and view the world with excessive and unwarranted optimism, due to cognitive dissonance, anchoring effects, and a variety of other cognitive biases first identified by Kahneman and Tversky (1984).

    References: “Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: Sadder but wiser?”. Alloy, L.B., Abramson, L.Y., Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 108, 1979, pp. 441–485.

    “A conceptual and empirical review of the depressive realism hypothesis,” Dobson, K., and Franche, R.L., Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Vol. 21, 1989, pp. 419–433

    “Choices, Values and Frames,” Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, American Psychologist, Vol. 39, No. 4, 1984, pp. 341-350.

    Like

    • 5 May 2012 4:00 am

      I had to laugh (in agreement) at this one, this report and the studies. Like “conscience” is an essential part of the human, I think optimism is also essentially imbedded in us. I mean once one looks around and shorts the mind’s incessant internal conversation….my goodness what a wonderful night it is outside! Despair and Hope are not mutually incompatible; mere emotions arising in the course of a time period

      Realism is essential to a well-ordered life. We will get to that Point in the USA. Ask anyone who has lived under a Communist Country; ask a Polish person how they did it. Have a fine evening.

      Breton

      Like

    • aguest permalink
      5 May 2012 11:25 pm

      “Ask anyone who has lived under a Communist Country; ask a Polish person how they did it.”

      Those who had the practical means did what a lot of people under every stifling regime depriving them of meaningful perspectives historically did: vote with their feet (I actually knew a few colleagues of Polish and East-German origin who went through that).

      Emigration rates are increasing dramatically in those European countries that are being ransacked by austerity (Ireland, Greece, Portugal), and have been going at a high rate for quite some time among some demographics (Baltic countries, young educated people of North-African origin in France). We are not talking about big corporation expats with posh relocation packages here.

      Once you observe a durable increase in emigration rates among citizens of the USA, then this will a strong sign that people have started “giving up” on their country. Perhaps another interesting statistic to track.

      Like

  2. themurr permalink
    5 May 2012 4:15 am

    I’m not sure it works for many people, but I fall back on Camus (and Sartre) when all looks lost. Hope is not essential to persevere, and sometimes embracing the loss of hope can be the best route to avoid despair. I’m also a sucker for lost causes, so I may be way off base. Anyways, the whole point of this post was to share one of my favorite bits of poetry {by Dyan Thomas, full text}:

    “Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

    Or for a dramatic presentation:

    Like

  3. Pluto permalink
    5 May 2012 1:17 pm

    First, FM, I want to reiterate my oft-stated opinion that your blog is one of the most valuable and useful parts of the blogosphere today. I may not respond to every article but I read them and pass them on whenever I think they will sway people towards a more fact-based view of the world. Your impact, at least in my part of the world, is ever-expanding.

    Second, I’m a firm believer of the same school of wisdom as Gandalf and Spock. Failure to take the facts into account turns your dreams into failures. I’ve seen some amazing feats of willpower and persuasion that briefly forced reality to change but permanent, long-term good is based on recognizing the facts, no matter how bleak, and going from there.

    Third, based on your articles, you seem to be based in DC. There is much more to America than the US government (especially in its current demented state) knows about or can touch. Most of it is surprisingly good. For example, in spite of the persistently negative economic situation in the lower tiers of society, people constantly surprise me with the intelligence and integrity. I imagine that the view in DC is all Federal Government all the time but the view from the hinterlands of society is that Feds are an increasingly distant and confused group of people that we pay to go away and increasingly ignore.

    This is probably not accurate assessment of the situation but there is a real and palpable sense in the outer reaches of this country that the decreasing interest by the Feds in maintaining the status quo is creating a power vacuum and many people and organizations are beginning to fill that vacuum. For better or for worse.

    Fourth, should we give up on the US? NO!!! But we need to recognize the changing times and adjust our tactics accordingly.

    Your persistently voiced goal of having a mass uprising of the American people who take back government is not a realistic goal anymore. This is the worst nightmare of the plutocrats and they have developed thousands of plans to prevent it from happening. If, by some miracle, you managed to marshal the American people toward such a goal, the assault would look considerably more like the battle of the Somme than the first Gulf war. The current situation favors small groups of knowledgeable people over enthusiastic mass marches. We need to view politics as fourth generation warfare by another name.

    For example, the plutocrats are not unified and prefer to operate in the shadows. You’ve got an astonishing array of knowledge resources at your disposal. The country needs to know who the plutocrats are and the positions each faction prefers. This action alone will have an incredible impact on the struggle for the soul of the US government.

    As always, I salute you and look forward to your next article.

    Like

    • 5 May 2012 3:51 pm

      All your points are (as usual) powerful, and we can only guess about these things. Some thoughts in reply:

      (1) “There is much more to America than the US government (especially in its current demented state) knows about or can touch. Most of it is surprisingly good.”

      This is a commonplace of political and social commentary throughout western history: the core (centers of power) are weak/corrupt/tyrannical, but the countryside retains the old virtues. Blah, blah, blah. It almost never matters.

      (2) “that Feds are an increasingly distant and confused group of people that we pay to go away and increasingly ignore.”

      Yes, delusions are comforting. What do they ignore? Refuse to file with the Selective service? File with the IRS? Ignore summons from the EPA, OSHA, FBI, SEC, etc? Or is this just big talk? We’re stronger than those striped-pants effete weaklings in the Washington and NYC.

      Also note that the regional structures of power have been to a large extent destroyed since 1930. Local corporations taken over by multi-nationals: local HQs closed, local leaders replaced by VPs. Local banks replaced by a few giant investment banks, so that lending authority is concentrated. And the power of the Federal government vs. that of State and Locals is far greater.

      (3) “decreasing interest by the Feds in maintaining the status quo is creating a power vacuum”

      That is probably the most false statement I’ve seen in many years. The Federal government has become an engine for overthrowing the status quo and building a new America, the very opposite of a power vacuum.

      (4) “But we need to recognize the changing times and adjust our tactics accordingly.”

      Agreed. See the headline of the FM website on the top of the page.

      (5) “our persistently voiced goal of having a mass uprising of the American people who take back government is not a realistic goal anymore.”

      Agreed, probably. That’s the point.

      (5) “If, by some miracle, you managed to marshal the American people toward such a goal, the assault would look considerably more like the battle of the Somme than the first Gulf war.”

      That’s beyond absurd on two levels (but you get bonus points for creative despair, which seems to be the primary political activity in America today).

      1. We have elections every two years.
      2. As for your Mad Max scenario (far out today because of the above), do you believe that the US police and military would fire into crowds if the US population did a mass uprising? I suggest talking with some vets in your neighborhood.

      (6) “the plutocrats are not unified and prefer to operate in the shadows.”

      That was true, but no longer. Now that they’ve gained so much power and wealth, they’re coming out of the shadows. For this week’s top example see “Adam Davidson Parrots Disinformation as He Extols Rule by the Top 0.1%“, about the horrifying article about Edward Conrad (Romney’s former Bain partner) in the NY Times.

      Like

    • Pluto permalink
      5 May 2012 5:14 pm

      We appear to have a failure to communicate. But it is interesting enough for me to continue the experiment and see what happens.

      (1) Perhaps I am talking about the tired old bromide, I don’t know.

      All I know is that I talk to people of all walks of life all the time about how their lives are going and the people who are the worst off are usually the people who are most willing to help somebody else out in a pinch.

      Does it matter? On an obvious macro level I have to agree with you, it doesn’t. But on lower level it makes me much more willing to continue the fight.

      (2) and (3) I have to disagree with you again, FM. I live in a state that receives a lower return on our federal tax dollar than almost any other state in the nation. When we ask the Feds for assistance it is usually rejected out of hand.

      When our state government asks the Feds for guidance on how something can be accomplished they are getting such contradictory sets of answers that they are doing whatever they want. And the Feds let them get away with it even if it directly contradicts some Federal mandates.

      “Refuse to file with the Selective service? File with the IRS? Ignore summons from the EPA, OSHA, FBI, SEC, etc?”

      Um, no. We don’t need to refuse to file with the Selective Service because it will never interact with us. We don’t need to ignore summons from the EPA, OSHA, FBI, SEC, etc. because they will never, ever summon us. Even if a crime has been commited and we witnessed it. Nor will they necessarily protect us from criminals, even if we directly request their assistance.

      Failure to file with the IRS? Why? I always file honest tax returns with the IRS because it is so easy to legally reduce my taxes so far below what I should be paying that there is no point in fraud.

      But I’m hearing increasing and unverifyable rumors about successful fraud against the IRS. Nothing more than big talk? Probably. But it is also indicative of a rising wave of sentiment.

      You are right that the Feds are recreating the country but it is a much smaller country than previously existed and tens of millions of people seem to be slowly falling out of the system. That is generating the vacuum that I described earlier.

      (5) When I spoke of an assault on Washington, I was speaking of a political assault, not a physical one, Mad Max need not apply (at least not yet). But my battle of the Somme analogy IS replayed every two years in the elections you mentioned in your point (i). Every election cycle smart talented people with good intentions feed themselves into the election machine and either lose or come out so shredded and re-processed that their previous intentions are meaningless and they wind up serving the machine instead of changing it.

      The powers that be identify and nullify anything in the political landscape that does not correspond with what they want heard. As a result, the official American political process is now the most ineffective method for bringing about change that can be imagined.

      But that does not mean the game is up, it just means that the old rules don’t apply any more and it is time to learn the new rules and figure out how to convert them to our advantage. Kind of like doing your taxes…

      (6) The article you linked was interesting and I haven’t finished absorbing it yet. But I can safely tell you that people who think they know everything about something as big as the economy and who believe in it with a holy intensity are almost always wrong. But you know that already as you constantly respond to the commenter of this blog.

      Like

    • 5 May 2012 6:31 pm

      Pluto,

      I’m sorry, but you are kidding yourself. The Federal government’s influence has grown steadily over time. It’s far greater than it was a decade ago, and many times greater than it was a generation ago. I don’t know what you are hearing, but its delusional. Literally so, probably as an escape mechanism.

      Reporting requirements and computer technology allow Federal agencies to monitor national activity on a scale unimaginable a generation ago. Bank transactions are routinely reported on large scale. Regulatory reach is far great, esp so as multinational corporations dominate local economies — and respond much more to Federal regs than local corporations did to local regulations.

      “We don’t need to ignore summons from the EPA, OSHA, FBI, SEC, etc. because they will never, ever summon us”

      That’s to silly to comment on. People obey the laws even if they’re not arrested, due to the high costs of being arrested.

      (2) Living in Washington.

      Your guess was wrong. Totally so. In fact I have lived in 6 cites, visited every large city in this nation, worked in Applachia, oand traveled extensively in the rural areas on both coasts.

      Like

    • 5 May 2012 6:35 pm

      “We appear to have a failure to communicate.”

      No, you were quite clear. We have a failure to agree on the facts.

      “But my battle of the Somme analogy IS replayed every two years in the elections you mentioned in your point (i). Every election cycle smart talented people with good intentions feed themselves into the election machine and either lose or come out so shredded and re-processed that their previous intentions are meaningless and they wind up serving the machine instead of changing it.”

      (a) You are attempting to say, it seems, that we’re oppressed because we vote for the wrong people.

      (b) The Battle of Somme analogy is daft, IMO. In what sense are our elections like the Somme, with the Somme’s indecisive results AND million-plus casualities?

      Like

    • Pluto permalink
      5 May 2012 7:12 pm

      “No, you were quite clear. We have a failure to agree on the facts.”

      That’s odd because I think I’m mostly working from your facts.

      “The Federal government’s influence has grown steadily over time.”

      Agreed. But the number of people over which it is interested in applying that influence is dropping. This is becoming a government by, of, and for the very wealthy. The rest of us are just along for the ride and can do anything we want as long as it doesn’t upset a wealthy person.

      “Regulatory reach is far great, esp so as multinational corporations dominate local economies — and respond much more to Federal regs than local corporations did to local regulations.”

      Agreed again. But what if the government is disinterested in enforcing the regulations? That is what I’m seeing. For example, there has been a large increase in the number of drugs and medical devices being recalled because the corporations that made them were allowed to manufacture them with insufficient testing. The robo-signing scandal is another instance where the government didn’t enforce the laws on the books until after it turned into a titantic mess.

      There are many instances where large companies decide to knowingly break the rules (I’ve seen it happen from the inside) because they calculate that the gain will be considerably larger than the negotiated penalty if they are caught. In my experience, the companies are right most of the time.

      “(b) The Battle of Somme analogy is daft, IMO. In what sense are our elections like the Somme, with the Somme’s indecisive results AND million-plus casualities?”

      Do you really have to ask that question after watching the increasingly titantic struggles to get elected and the decreasingly effective government we are getting? There are no physical casualties, I’ll grant you, but the increasing amounts of cash and emotions spent on the campaigns that derive fewer and fewer useful results have a very Somme-like feel to me. The only difference is that the political landscape is being churned to mud rather than the physical landscape.

      I don’t know where such useless struggles lead us but your comments on converting citizens to serfs or sheep seem reasonable.

      “(2) Living in Washington.

      Your guess was wrong.”

      Okay, it’s hardly the first time I’ve been wrong and it most likely won’t be the last.

      Like

    • 5 May 2012 8:05 pm

      OK, that narrows the disagreement. But it remains fundamental.

      (1) “But the number of people over which it is interested in applying that influence is dropping. … The rest of us are just along for the ride and can do anything we want as long as it doesn’t upset a wealthy person.”

      I doubt you can support that statement in any meaningful way. I don’t suggest you test it by violating laws and regulations to see what happens; if caught (often by being turned in by a fellow subject) you might find the results unpleasant.

      (2) “This is becoming a government by, of, and for the very wealthy. … ut what if the government is disinterested in enforcing the regulations? That is what I’m seeing. For example, there has been a large increase in the number of drugs and medical devices being recalled because the corporations that made them were allowed to manufacture them with insufficient testing. The robo-signing scandal is another instance where the government didn’t enforce the laws on the books until after it turned into a titantic mess. There are many instances where large companies decide to knowingly break the rules.”

      What you are seeing is the difference between thus and them, as “equality before the lies” dies as a governing principle. See Glenn Greenwald’s articles at Salon for more examples, esp of government officials breaking the law with impunity. They have privileges that we do not. As above, I suggest you don’t break the law because a multinational bank or CIA official can do so.

      (3) “the increasingly titantic struggles to get elected”

      I don’t see “titantic” struggles to get elected. I see expensive marketing campaigns. Do you compare each new product introduction, like THE NEW COKE to the battle of the Somme, with a million casualties.

      I see our ruling elites spending money to maintain the power. It’s a trivial expenditure, a small fraction of US marketing expenditures — with massive paybacks.

      (3) “decreasingly effective government we are getting?”

      That’s a funny statement, in a sad sort of way. Our government is very effective at producing benefits for its stakeholders — things like lower taxes for wealthy individuals are large corporations, federal spending, foreign interventions to open markets and maintain patent rights. It’s police powers help maintain social order, such as the Federal government coordinating the crackdown on the Occupy protesters.

      It’s decreasingly effective for you and I. But we’re subjects, so that’s irrelevant.

      (4) “I don’t know where such useless struggles lead us”

      To subjugation, the natural state of sheep. When we decide to become men and women again, perhaps things will change.

      Like

    • Pluto permalink
      5 May 2012 8:36 pm

      “I doubt you can support that statement in any meaningful way. I don’t suggest you test it by violating laws and regulations to see what happens”

      Eh, I’m not sure you’re right on that first statement. How about every news article about every person who is squatting illegally in a foreclosed house? But I’ll take your advice and not choose to break the law, I’ve never had much faith in my luck at not getting caught.

      “Do you compare each new product introduction, like THE NEW COKE to the battle of the Somme, with a million casualties.”

      No but a Coke marketing manager might, and he’d have his dead career to prove it (I’m trying to be funny here).

      More seriously, the marketing campaigns DO compare themselves to the battle of the Somme. “Vote for ME or you’re going to suffer a horrible fate!” And they are very skilled at manipulating their target audiences who sometimes take the message too much to heart.

      On a similar note, the Republicans started using a lot of gun-oriented images (opposing candidates in crosshairs, etc.) during the last election cycle. I’m very interested in what they will do this year. They are usually an election cycle ahead of the Democrats in manipulating their voters.

      Like

    • 5 May 2012 11:20 pm

      Pluto,

      I’m confused. It seems you have abandoned efforts to support your interesting (if, IMO, delusional) theory.

      (1) “How about every news article about every person who is squatting illegally in a foreclosed house?”

      Crime rates have come down substantially from their peak during the crack years. The variation of frequency of individual types of crimes seems a weak basis to claim that “the number of people over which {the federal government} is interested in applying that influence is dropping”, especially given the massive expansion of the Federal regulatory machinery since WWII — and that continues today (note the massive expansion of homeland security, and the almost as large increase in monitoring of financial transactions).

      (2) “a Coke marketing manager might (compare marketing campaigns to the Battle of the Somme)”

      Perhaps, but that’s a guess. It also ignores my primary point, which is that our election campaigns are marketing campaigns — rather than actual contests over US public policy (as you stated). That’s easily seen by the high degree of continuity in US public policy despite changes of party control. As seen by the strong similarity between economic, security, and military policy between the Administrations of Bush Jr and Obama.

      Like

  4. Thomas Moore permalink
    5 May 2012 10:54 pm

    Pluto’s claims seem so flagrantly contrafactual that it’s hard to tell whether they’re intended as satire.

    “…The Feds are an increasingly distant and confused group of people that we pay to go away and increasingly ignore.”

    Let’s take some specific examples contradicting this bizarre claim:

    [1] USDA “rabbit police” now stalk magicians (!) for not having a license to use live rabbits in their performances. The magicians are fined large sums. John and Judy Dollarhite were assessed a fine of $90,640 last year because they sold more than $500 worth of rabbits in a year without a license. Source: “USDA `rabbit police’ stalk magicians”. Orchid importers are now being sent to prison for long terms because they failed to fill in all the proper information on the import forms they used for their orchids.

    [2] “THREE pickup trucks pulled up outside George Norris’s home in Spring, Texas. Six armed police in flak jackets jumped out. Thinking they must have come to the wrong place, Mr Norris opened his front door, and was startled to be shoved against a wall and frisked for weapons. He was forced into a chair for four hours while officers ransacked his house. They pulled out drawers, rifled through papers, dumped things on the floor and eventually loaded 37 boxes of Mr Norris’s possessions onto their pickups. They refused to tell him what he had done wrong.

    “It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that,” he recalls.

    “Mr Norris was 65 years old at the time, and a collector of orchids. He eventually discovered that he was suspected of smuggling the flowers into America, an offence under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This came as a shock. He did indeed import flowers and sell them to other orchid-lovers. And it was true that his suppliers in Latin America were sometimes sloppy about their paperwork. In a shipment of many similar-looking plants, it was rare for each permit to match each orchid precisely.

    “In March 2004, five months after the raid, Mr Norris was indicted, handcuffed and thrown into a cell with a suspected murderer and two suspected drug-dealers. When told why he was there, `they thought it hilarious.’ One asked: `What do you do with these things? Smoke ’em?’”

    Source: “Too many laws, too many prisoners,” The Economist, 22 July 2010.

    [3] “You are right that the Feds are recreating the country but it is a much smaller country than previously existed and tens of millions of people seem to be slowly falling out of the system. That is generating the vacuum that I described earlier.”

    This is simply bizarre. It’s so thoroughly the opposite of observed reality that one suspects we’re dealing with satire here.

    The NSA and FBI and DHS are now engaged in the largest program of surveillance in human history. The information on every American that’s being gathered and stored on giant server farms in the Nevada desert far outstrips the information in the files of the Stasi or the KGB. Every email, every phone call, every bank transaction, and very soon now every post or message made on Facebook or MySpace by every American is being stored and recorded and analyzed by the NSA and FBI and DHS. Americans are now subject to sneak-and-peak raids by police and FBI and DHS in which their doors are jimmied and their homes searched without any indication that federal agents have been there. (This is now being done under FISA “sneak and peak” authorization, but the overwhelming majority of such sneak-and-peak raids are now being conducted because of the War on Drugs.)

    Most drug prosecutions are now based on NSA warrantless wiretap information which defense lawyers cannot dispute because the information is classified.

    The TSA is currently expanding its search operations from airports into train stations, bus depots and most recently, unannounced freeway roadblock car checks. Very soon the TSA will stop every pedestrian, every bicyclist, every skateboarder in America. You won’t be able to travel 50 feet without being stopped and searched and encountering a federal agent who demands to see your papers and a reason why you’re traveling outside your home.

    Sources:

    1. “The NSA is building the country’s biggest spy center (watch what you say),” Wired magazine, 15 March 2012
    2. “FBI wants backdoors to Facebook, Twitter immediately,” Tomsguide.com, 4 May 2012
    3. “TSA hassling drivers of nation’s highways: Mission leap, not mission creep,” infowars.com, 9 November 2011
    4. “Big Brother Wants to Look in your Bank Account: The US government is constructing a system to track all financial transactions in real-time – ostensibly to catch criminals. Does that leave you with the warm fuzzies – or scare you out of your wits?”, Wired magazine, 1.06

    “The government is using its expanded authority under the far-reaching law to investigate suspected drug traffickers, white-collar criminals, blackmailers, child pornographers, money launderers, spies and even corrupt foreign leaders, federal officials said.

    “Justice Department officials say they are simply using all the tools now available to them to pursue criminals — terrorists or otherwise. But critics of the administration’s antiterrorism tactics assert that such use of the law is evidence the administration has sold the American public a false bill of goods, using terrorism as a guise to pursue a broader law enforcement agenda.”

    Sources:

    1. “U.S. Uses Terror Law to Pursue Crimes From Drugs to Swindling,” New York Times, 28 September, 2003
    2. “The most important chart about the Patriot Act you’ll ever see,” New York magazine’s “9/11 encyclopedia.”
    3. Scroll down on this timeline of NSA programs since 2001 to the entry “September 2002: NSA’s ‘Other’ Data Mining Program Strongly Resembles ‘Total Information Awareness’”

    [4] American citizens are now being arrested and tried and imprisoned using classified warrantless wiretaps which defense attorneys cannot see (because they are classified top secret) and which judges cannot examine.

    “The government is using its expanded wiretap powers under the PATRIOT Act to bypass the Fourth Amendment in criminal cases involving United States citizens, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a friend-of-the-court brief filed here today.”

    Source: “Government is Illegally Using Evidence from Secret Court Wiretaps in Criminal Cases, ACLU Charges.” 19 September 2003.

    [5] Under president Obama, the United States government has now set up a program to murder American citizens using UAV drones which is so secret that the government refuses to confirm or deny its existence in court, even though it has boasted about these operations in public.

    “The ACLU is suing the Obama administration under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking to force disclosure of the guidelines used by Obama officials to select which human beings (both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals) will have their lives ended by the CIA’s drone attacks (“In particular,” the group explains, the FOIA request “seeks to find out when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the United States ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killing”). The Obama administration has not only refused to provide any of that information, but worse, the CIA is insisting to federal courts that it cannot even confirm or deny the existence of a drone program at all without seriously damaging national security…”

    Source: “Obama takes Bush’s secrecy games one step further — After repeatedly boasting about it in public, Obama officials tell courts it cannot confirm the CIA drone program,” Glenn Greenwald, salon.com, 26 March 2012

    [6] The networks of spy organizations and internal security Stasi-type secret police in America have been so unaccountable and so large since 9/11 that no one even knows how many spy programs are siphoning up information on innocent Americans, how many innocent Americans have been caught up in these Kafkaesque American stasi spy agencies’ webs, or how many Americans are being prosecuted or held without charges on the basis of secret evidence which cannot be revealed in court and secret laws which cannot be revealed in court.

    “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”
    — Source: “A Hidden World, Growing Beyond Control,” Washington Post (see below for links)

    Source: Washington Post series “Explore Top Secret America” detailing the vast explosion of unaccountable secret surveillance and enforcement programs created to spy on and kidnap (detain without charges or a court order for indefinite periods of time in “black” top-secret prisons) ordinary Americans since 2001. See projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america for links to the newspaper articles, a video overview, and more.

    Sources:

    1. “15 Democrats Join Republicans to Give Military Power to Imprison Suspects Indefinitely,” allgov.com
    2. “Oregon judge dismisses lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of no-fly list,” The Oregonian, 5 May 2012

    “A federal court has dismissed a Fourth Amendment lawsuit filed by The Rutherford Institute challenging the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) airport security screening policy of requiring air passengers to either submit to virtual strip searches involving advanced imaging technology (AIT), which exposes intimate details of a person’s body to government agents, or submit to highly invasive pat down searches during which TSA agents may go so far as to reach inside a traveler’s pants. U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., justified his dismissal by declaring that the court has no jurisdiction over the case, citing a secret order issued by the TSA which requires that the D.C. Court of Appeals hear any reviews of TSA orders. Insisting that it contains “sensitive security information,” the government has yet to make public the order embodying the TSA enhanced screening procedures.”

    Source: “Citing Secret Order, Federal Court Dismisses Airline Passenger Lawsuit Against DHS & TSA Over Scanners, Virtual Strip Searches & Full-Body ‘Rub-Downs’,” 8 July 2011.

    In this case, not only can American citizens not sue the federal government for forcing them to undergo groping, patdowns, strip-searches, body scans, and the like, but American citizens cannot even see the law requiring them to submit to these invasive searches because the law itself is secret.

    Like

    • 5 May 2012 11:46 pm

      Thank you for posting this detailed and IMO definitive rebuttal.

      As to why so many people refuse to see what’s so obvious — sometimes the truth is too painful to see. We shade our eyes from it, as if from the sun — taking refuge in dreams.

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 12:48 am

      Many thx Thomas for this. I will take the time to source and check the links; some of thois I had known and some is simply beyond my experiences.

      I used to travel to Europe three times a year sadly that is in remission. Now it is to western Canada and it is an adventure via auto both crossing and re-entering. Now the gendarmes on here, thye are in your city….watch for and notice the Black DHS Tahoes cruising the streets

      Now hopefully we can be spared FM’s diatribes about “voting every two years” and the snarling insults about sheep and serfs. The forces arrayed against the former USA we liked to be coddled with in Elementary School is not a figment of anyone’s imagination!

      The USA IS a failed experiment. Now deal with it in a realistic orientation and be done with the “Despair ” and “Hope” treatises.

      Breton

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 12:59 am

      epagbreton: “The USA IS a failed experiment.”

      Perhaps it would not have failed if Americans spent less time seeking reasons to surrender and more seeking ways to make it work.

      Perhaps it would have failed if Americans stopped whining, got off their butts, and worked its political machinery.

      BTW — we still have elections. The CIA will not send Preditors to bomb your home if you organize your neighbors, friends and relatives. They CIA will send their black ops killers after you if they don’t like how you vote. While the current situation shows ominous trends, none is more ominous than Americans eagerness to embrace every possible reason to surrender.

      Like

  5. Pluto permalink
    6 May 2012 12:25 am

    While I never argued that the government didn’t have the capacity to do these things it appears that I was incredibly poorly informed about the level of their actual activities. Thanks for the links to the articles.

    Like

    • 6 May 2012 12:45 am

      Darkness slowly falls over America. You are not alone in well-intended reluctance to see it.

      What happens next is more important. What happens when you realize what’s happening? So one by one, individual by individual, the fate of America will be decided.

      Like

  6. Matt D. permalink
    6 May 2012 3:02 am

    I agree with Pluto to the extent that he senses the natural difficulties in turning the established political process against its masters. If a counter-movement is successful, the political process will be a mere ceremonial tool that is leveraged once the real battle is practically won. A real change in direction must rely on the construction or capture of extra-electoral institutions– only once these gain sufficient strength can any influence be exerted through the electoral process.

    The powers-that-be are able to exert power through elections because they have institutional strength. It’s not as simple as just “waking people up”– as the FM has said repeatedly, organization is crucial.

    Like

    • 6 May 2012 3:25 am

      I agree on all points.

      “as the FM has said repeatedly, organization is crucial.”

      Organization is important, but motivation preceeds organization. And love of liberty is the core of a Republic.

      Like

  7. Zemtar permalink
    6 May 2012 5:29 am

    Thomas’s post is one of the best yet on this cite. I have, on occassion, taken a devil’s advocate position with FM to try on counter arguments and walk them around and have found FM to often be dismissive in a conclusory fashion. However, Thomas presents a wall of facts in support of FM’s position which deserves acclaim.

    While it may be self evident to those who frequent this website, perhaps the question really presented is how to motivate the vast majority of people who will never have their door kicked in for selling orchids, never face government surveillance for the crime of being a muslim, never have be arrested and tortured for posting on a websites such as FM, who aren’t black and incarcerated, who won’t, by dint of their race, creed, and station, never face the crushing power of the state, to take the political action necessary to stop the creeping fascism.

    While I can think of several reasons (for example, “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me– and there was no one left to speak out for me.”), what is the most effective call to action for the majority of Americans?

    Like

    • 6 May 2012 5:48 am

      (1) “While it may be self evident to those who frequent this website, perhaps the question really presented is how to motivate the vast majority of people who will never have their door kicked in for selling orchids, never face government surveillance for the crime of being a muslim, never have be arrested and tortured for posting on a websites such as FM, who aren’t black and incarcerated, who won’t, by dint of their race, creed, and station, never face the crushing power of the state, to take the political action necessary to stop the creeping fascism.”

      Well-said! That’s a great expression of the problem. I wish I had an answer.

      (2) “FM to often be dismissive in a conclusory fashion”

      That would impress me more if the passage of five years have not proven my fears correct (but too optimistic) about the gathering darkness. That would impress me more if most of the objections given on this site look like expressions of complacency, or servitude, or cowardness (plus the many which look like auditions for the gestapo). Of course, we can only guess at such things; only God can look into people’s soul and answer “why”.

      Now I fear we’re approaching the brink, after which recovery requires a miracle. The last inning of the Republic’s life. The end-game.

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 6:29 am

      None of this (and Thomas’s litany of offenses) is a surprise. It simply takes time and a willingness to question for the illusions to slowly evaporate. Realism is essential to freedom. Revisit the Milgram Experiments and you will see how 60% of the people (in the USA) will be your captors, guards and judges. Your neighbor……….

      Read the SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR. Or this: THE PSYCHOPATH – The Mask of Sanity.

      Celebrate your conscience. Align with those who exhibit the super conscience. Lead with personal strength garnered from accurate analysis and grounded in a simple appraisal of what culturally underlies the realm we exist in. Quietly confront the evil you encounter by word and example.

      Love, shared brotherhood, confidence and a sense of grace coupled with a freedom from wage slavery can turn the Mountain! Hope arises after small personal actions enlighten the rest of us.

      Breton

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 6:34 am

      Another point about Zemtar’s playing Devil’s Advocate (this is the comment thread to which he refers). He is playing, while other people discuss serious issues. This is the behavior described as a troll. From Wikipedia:

      Troll: internet term for a person who, through willful action, attempts to disrupt a community or garner attention and controversy through provocative messages

      Saying “just kidding” thousands of words later does not make it better. As for his description of my replies (he said much worse in that thread), I believe I was too polite to him. Here is a sample of his assertions (I’ll leave it to our readers to judge for themselves):

      “You talk about the bill of rights having decayed. I am arguing that you are factually wrong and that our rights are stronger now than they were 100 years ago.”

      It’s several steps beyond daft (unless said by one of the too-many groups strongly oppressed in 1912, such as Blacks).

      Like

    • Zemtar permalink
      8 May 2012 1:25 am

      I would not waste my time trolling and put substantial effort into my posts arguing against your assertion that the bill of rights or the Republic is dead. I greatly appreciate your website and respect your viewpoints, but sometimes I think you are overly dismissive of other points of view. While that may be a symptom of the hard work you put into responding to all the comments, I am not sure that it helps foster debate. I don’t know how you ignite the American people if you tell them they are daft whenever you disagree with them.

      In any event, I don’t refute the assertion that we are in a period of creeping fascism. I was attempting to refute your conclusion that the Republic is dead by trying to put things into perspective by highlighting some of the abuses of the past and talking about how those things were overcome (with much of that progress made since 1950). I think your comment “unless said by one of the too-many groups strongly oppressed in 1912, such as blacks” is telling.

      What is scarier about the current oppression as opposed to the past repression is the government’s sheer capacity to oppress through modern technology.

      Finally, you should have cited the wikipedia link for Devil’s Advocate, not troll. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_advocate

      “In common parlance, a devil’s advocate is someone who, given a certain argument, takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with, for the sake of argument. In taking such position, the individual taking on the devil’s advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative discussion process. The purpose of such process is typically to test the quality of the original argument and identify weaknesses in its structure, and to use such information to either improve or abandon the original, opposing position.”

      I think there is value in that, especially when I am not completely sure where I stand as far as whether the Republic is “dead” or not. Comments like Mr. Moore’s certainly help move things in a certain direction, however.

      Like

    • 8 May 2012 3:43 am

      {I’ve deleted this comment of mine, and attempted to write a better reply below.}

      Like

    • 8 May 2012 5:09 am

      I’ve taken a deep breath, reminded myself never to write with anger, and will attempt to write a better reply to Zemtar’s comment.

      (1) “I think you are overly dismissive of other points of view.”

      Probably so. I’ll put it on the list of things to do remember while running this website, but it’s a long list.

      (2) “I don’t know how you ignite the American people if you tell them they are daft whenever you disagree with them.”

      You are probably correct. Bu it may arouse anger (this has been discussed extensively on the FM website). However hopeless at tactic, it’s the only idea I have — so it will do until somebody suggests something better.

      (3) “your assertion that … the Republic is dead. … I was attempting to refute your conclusion that the Republic is dead”

      That’s not what I said, here or elsewhere. On another thread you even put it in quotes (see here). Please try to more accurately state the content of my posts. Try replying to quotes (I find that helpful). I have said that the Constitution is dead and the Republic is dying. It’s an important difference; see the below comment for an explanation.

      (4) “In any event, I don’t refute the assertion that we are in a period of creeping fascism.”

      That’s stronger than I express it, but probably accurate. {On another thread you said “I am arguing that you are factually wrong and that our rights are stronger now than they were 100 years ago.”

      (5) “you should have cited the wikipedia link for Devil’s Advocate, not troll”

      I disagree, and consider your behavior on that thread to be textbook troll. Not so on this thread.

      Like

    • 8 May 2012 12:18 pm

      FM offers: “I think you are overly dismissive of other points of view.” Probably so. I’ll put it on the list of things to do remember while running this website, but it’s a long list. (2) “I don’t know how you ignite the American people if you tell them they are daft whenever you disagree with them.” You are probably correct. Bu it may arouse anger (this has been discussed extensively on the FM website). However hopeless at tactic, it’s the only idea I have — so it will do until somebody suggests something better”

      Nice “come clean”, Maximus. But I will offer even the idea that one can awaken the citizens right now is quite dreamy. See this one: “The American character“, By Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 7 May 2012 — “Fareed Zakaria warns the war on terror will never end. Obama and Romney still won’t debate our surveillance state”.

      Many, many people like the USA just exactly how it is!

      Breton

      Like

    • 8 May 2012 1:01 pm

      I agree, in detail!

      (1) I, and others greater than I, have tried many methods to strike sparks with the American people. Nothing seems to work (of course, these things often take time). As this post notes, we do what we can irrespective of the odds of success.

      (2) Glenn Greenwald is the brightest light on the American stage today. He deserves to be on the top of everybody’s reading list. Note that he does reporting and analysis. Little diagnosis, and no prescriptions for arousing America.

      (3) “Many, many people like the USA just exactly how it is!”

      That is a concise statement of the problem. Plus, most of those that don’t like it will do nothing to change it. Both of these groups are well-represented in the FM comments.

      Like

    • 8 May 2012 1:30 pm

      FM, you are a great seed-planter.
      Many thanks.
      A real service and a real conscience.
      “We are the Republic”
      It is so well-noted when you say it over and over again.
      And away we go…………….

      Breton

      Like

    • 8 May 2012 1:34 pm

      I repeat it because I have to remind myself.

      Thank you for the comments.

      Like

    • 8 May 2012 5:10 am

      I’ve said this many times, but bears repeating. We are the Republic. So long as the spirit of liberty burns in our hearts the Republic will live. This form, the second republic, might fall, but we can build a third and better republic on its ashes.

      Here is the conclusion to the first post on this topic on the FM website: Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006

      “There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.”
      — Marcus Aurelius, in the movie “Gladiator” (2000)

      … The coming years might test America more than anything in our past, including the Revolutionary and Civil wars. America might lose both what defines it and what we hold most dear: our Constitution, our vast wealth, and our role as global hegemon. This transition will be like a singularity in astrophysics, a point where the rules breakdown – and beyond which we cannot see.

      Such trials appear throughout history. Consider Russia in 1942. Ruled by a madman. Their government had betrayed the hopes of the revolution, killed tens of millions, and reduced the nation to poverty. Most of their generals were dead, their armies were in full retreat, and vast areas were controlled by a ruthless invader. The mark of a great people is the ability to carry on when all is lost, including hope. We can learn much from the Russian people’s behavior in WWII. I doubt we will fall into such peril. But no matter what happens, there is no cause for despair.

      • Our wealth is just things (“hardware”), an inheritance from past generations. What we lose we can work to replace. Our aspirations to global hegemony were revealed as a mirage in Vietnam and Iraq, lasting less than two generations after WWII.
      • Our culture is a collection of discordant ideas, mixing lofty and base elements in a manner despised by much of the world — a disgust easily understood by watching our TV shows and movies, or listening to some of our popular music.
      • Our Constitution is just an idea inherited from the founders. We created it, and its death will give us the experience to do better with the next version.

      We are America. We are strong because of our ability to act together, to produce and follow leaders. We are strong due to our openness to other cultures and ability to assimilate their best aspects. We are strong due to our ability to adapt to new circumstances, to roll with defeat and carry on.

      People, Ideas, and Hardware. “In that order!” the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences.

      We will be what we want to be. The coming years will reveal what that is.

      “There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius.”
      — Maximus Decimus Meridius, in the movie “Gladiator”

      Like

  8. 6 May 2012 6:37 am

    Our elites still haven’t figured out how to make us (in local, individual, and practical decision making) choose foolish action. In aggregate, nationally, impersonally, based on demented analysis, yes, we keep being fool(s,ed).

    For example, if one explains objectively to the local hospital that a $20,000 medical bill is never going to be paid, while pointing out that insurers pay nommore than $3200 for the same service rendered the hospital may agree to take $3200 as a best offer, but then the hospital has to file a 1099 for forgiveness of debt creating a tax liability to IRS which kills the deal. At the main street level, this Kafkaesque bullshit is happening every day. As the system winds down our elites buy time by allowing rapid expansion of social security disability. My estimate is the current system has stopped working for 1/3 of the population. We are approaching a tipping point where real economic decision making will be so disconnected from the will of central authority one will have to yield to the other. My money is on local decision making trumping top down authority.

    Not a devolution to the individual level, but I expect to see a lot of cities telling the state and federal authorities to kiss off. I don’t see how our elites will be able to subdue these impulses once they can no longer buy each errant city off because there are too many. A great renegotiation is coming between our communities and the central government. Maybe a break up of the union will make sense too. We see it happening in Europe, we saw it in Russia, it could certainly happen here.

    Like

    • 6 May 2012 6:58 am

      “Our elites still haven’t figured out how to make us (in local, individual, and practical decision making) choose foolish action”

      That is, unfortunately, factually incorrect. Large numbers of big cities in America have been run in an almost insane manner. Buffalo from WW2 – 1980 is a fine example, as is Oakland CA. The rust belt cities had tough economic shocks, but many were grossly misgoverned.

      On a larger scale, many states have been run in a manner that makes the Federal government look like a collection of Einsteins.

      1. See “American States on the brink of financial catastrophe” for some examples of fiscal incompetence.
      2. For crazy public policy, see how the Tea Party runs AZ: “What’s The Matter With Arizona? A conversation with Senator Rebecca Rios“, Ken Silverstein, blog of Harper’s, 16 June 2010 — It’s a short version of this must-read but subscription-only article: “Tea Party in the Sonora“, Harper’s, July 2010

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 7:34 am

      There is a continuum from federal to state to city to borough to ward to individuals. If the collapse is severe enough we could I suppose devolve down to the individual level choosing between personal destruction and even local allegiance. The conclusion remains because individual rational actors will understand the implications of going along to get along. We humans typically band into like minded groups before the choice between rational action and blind obedience to authority is existential at the individual level. If the cities can’t govern then to the boroughs, or the wards. Stone knives and bearskins trading on street corners and guilds if we must. Human self interest and rationality are potent forces, not easily subsumed by strutting authority.

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 10:56 pm

      About peter blog danovich’s comment:

      I hate to quash every hopeful comment. The yearning to find a silver lining, a glimmer of light to pursue, is both powerful and necessary to avoid despair. But clear sight has become a necessity for us. No matter how great our power, how glorious our history — we cannot afford to make many more mistakes, IMO.

      Like

  9. OldSkeptic permalink
    6 May 2012 10:39 am

    Now the US has hard times and, frankly it is going to get a lot worse. The problems it has now have been building up for decades. Culminating in an elite that is as out of touch with ordinary people as any diamond republic in Africa .. and as short term thinking, corrupt and incompetent. Note this applies to many other countries as well, the UK being a poster child at the moment.

    So there are going to be a series of crises, until something major really happens. Who knows what that will be and how long it will take (though I suspect not too long now), but it will happen. And a collapse of some kind … then a rebuilding. And that’s where people like FM and all the readers and commentators come in. You can rebuild badly or rebuild well. Basically that collapse cannot be stopped now, maybe deflected a bit, delayed a touch .. but that is all.

    The important thing is for people to think past it to the next stage at the local, state and national level. What sort of society do you want to come out of the ashes? Only the idealists working with the competent (though of course there are some who are both) can do that, otherwise the corrupt and criminal will grab it all (as per Russia after its collapse).

    On the plus side the US’s assets are amazing. Over and above the huge human skills it has (in the end the only thing that matters) with their incredible depths of knowledge, it still has (sadly far too much wasted or being wasted) vast reserves of resources, in things like water or food.

    I’d also say it has a huge proportion of idealists. And those are the human dynamo of improvement. And it has a huge proportion of competent people, who are the engineers of improvement, once idealists point them in the right direction.

    Never been into the whole optimist/pessimist thing. Me I’m a congenital pessimist in some ways but an unreformed optimist in other ways. You have to be both. You cannot come up with solutions until you really understand the problems, without rose coloured glasses. And good things don’t just happen naturally (my biggest complaint about the ‘optimist’ movement) , they have to be planned and created, usually with lots of hard work, sweat and tears. In fact, always with lots of hard work. sweat and tears.

    And then we are back to hard work again. To do that you need to be ready and in places where you can make a difference. Start getting involved in local politics would be my first advice.

    My experience is when things turn to custard people need leadership. Two kinds: the idealist to grab their hearts and give them aim and hope, the competent to show them how to make it happen.

    Forget party lines, forget traditional politics. What is good and what works is what matters. Personally I find I have more in common politically these days with a Libertarian than some Labor party hack .. and I’m an ‘old leftie’. But then I’m unusual as still being an idealist who is competent.

    I was planning to end this with some uplifting example of great positive changes from the ashes, but better you look them up yourselves. For one example, look at the UK and the Bevereridge Report and the UK creating its health systems, social security and pensions despite being bankrupted by WW2. How did the idealists and competent work it all out? One hint … Keynes (the ever competent) hands were all over this in the background.

    Look more ‘left field’ as well. How Russia, despite its collapse and then further collapse has slowly been pulling itself out of the mire. Or how Lebanon pulled itself together after invasion and years of civil war. Many, many examples of successful rebuilding, from even the direst levels.

    And only you people can do this in the US, we in Australia have our own issues.

    Like

    • 6 May 2012 2:16 pm

      (1) “Now the US has hard times and it is going to get a lot worse … there are going to be a series of crises, until something major really happens. Who knows what that will be and how long it will take (though I suspect not too long now), but it will happen. And a collapse of some kind … Basically that collapse cannot be stopped now, maybe deflected a bit, delayed a touch .. but that is all.”

      That seems an combination of specific (certain collapse) and vague. What kind of collapse? Political, economic, social? I see little or no evidence of any. Economically, the US in far better condition than Japan, roughly equal (perhaps stronger) than northern Europe, and far better than southern Europe. As for social and political, I don’t even see serious cracks. Most social metrics are improving (eg, crime, teen childbirth). And the America public dislikes our politics, but in a mild way — like we dislike a local football franchise or TV show (ie, not enough to do anything).

      (2) “The problems it has now have been building up for decades. Culminating in an elite that is as out of touch with ordinary people as any diamond republic in Africa”

      That’s quite an exaggeration. Can you provide any support for it? For example, re-election rates for congress are very high. It’s a common and long-standing America pattern: we dislike the institution, but like our local representative. Dislike schools, by like my child’s teacher. Dislike police or military, but respect individual soldiers and police. As for the most powerful part of our elite, the super-rich, we venerate them — not despise them.

      (3) “and as short term thinking, corrupt and incompetent.”

      Absurd. Our leaders are doing a good job of running America. My guess is that we’ll see far-reaching reforms after the election. Perhaps you’re confused because they’re running America for its stakeholders, and the citizens subjects are not on that list.

      (4) “Note this applies to many other countries as well, the UK being a poster child at the moment.”

      It certainly applies to Japan (see As Japan sails into the shadows, let’s wish them well and wave good-by, July 2009).

      I have no views about the UK, but recommend reading “Thinking the unthinkable – might there be no way out for Britain?“, Dr Tim Morgan (Global Head of Research), Tullett Prebon (UK brokerage firm), July 2011 (large pdf).

      (5) “we in Australia have our own issues.”
      Economically, Australia is a highly-leveraged subsidiary of China. If the bears are correct and China has a severe bust, Australia will have a severe economic downturn.

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 10:54 pm

      Two important notes about Oldskeptic’s comment.

      (1) A forecast of “collapse” might be an exaggeration, perhaps for dramatic effect (I’ve done that many times). Modern societies have proven themselves highly robust. Nobody collapsed during the long depression of the late 19th century. Nobody collapsed during the Great Depression. Germany and Japan still functioned even when almost bombed to the ground. Emerging Asian nations didn’t collapse during the 1997-98 bush. Spain and Greece have not collapsed (or not yet) despite horrific economic stress.

      But that does not mean that we are in for pleasant days. the economy can get very bad but not lead to collapse. The Republic might die, but not result in collapse.

      (2) Before completely dismissing OldSkpetic’s view, remember he has two entries on the FM Smackdowns page, a record. Twice he was right, I was wrong. Both about important issues.

      Like

  10. More evidence of a new darkness descending on America permalink
    6 May 2012 4:19 pm

    220px-Rep_Joe_Walsh.jpg

    Our leaders increasingly advocate evil. Today’s example: “Congressman Endorses Apartheid, Ethnic Cleansing for Palestinians“, Robert Wright, (senior editor), The Atlantic, 5 May 2012:

    In a Washington Times op-ed, Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party Republican from Illinois, unveils his new plan for solving the Israel-Palestine problem:

    (1) Make the occupied territories part of Israel;

    (2) Give Palestinians who live in those territories “limited voting power” in the new, bigger Israel that they’ll have suddenly become residents of. (Walsh doesn’t define his euphemism, but no doubt the idea is that Jews get one-person-one-vote and Palestinians get something less, so that Israel can remain a Jewish state.)

    (3) Palestinians who don’t like having “limited voting power” can move to Jordan.

    There are, of course, people who say that Israel already practices apartheid. Their argument: Israel has ruled West Bank Palestinians for 45 years, shows no signs of ending the occupation (and indeed keeps expanding the settler population), and doesn’t let these Palestinians vote in Israeli elections even though Jewish settlers in the West Bank do get to vote. The counter-argument is that, since the West Bank isn’t part of Israel, the policies that prevail there can’t make Israel an apartheid state. Joe Walsh’s plan would end the argument once and for all, making apartheid official Israeli policy.

    As for whether this plan would also constitute ethnic cleansing: Well, when you

    1. tell members of an ethnic group that the land they live on is being given to another nation;
    2. tell them that neither they nor their descendants will be allowed to vote in that nation’s elections, even though next-door neighbors of a different ethnicity can;
    3. tell them that the only way to avoid this fate is to go to another country–yeah, I’d call that ethnic cleansing, at least of a “soft” variety. (The harder variety, involving physical intimidation, is already practiced by the more extreme settlers — with little success thus far, though it could no doubt work in powerful synergy with Walsh’s subtler approach.)

    Offhand, I don’t recall a member of Congress in my lifetime saying anything so grotesquely at odds with American ideals about ethnic relations and for that matter basic human rights. Will the Anti-Defamation League denounce Walsh? Will the American Jewish Congress? Will AIPAC have anything to say about the congressman whose strongly pro-Israel views its newsletter approvingly highlighted? If not, why not?

    Like

    • 6 May 2012 5:56 pm

      These days, in the upside-down world of Washington, if you do NOT want to oppress Muslims, that makes you racist. The hate must end, but unfortunately this is a thing that is more difficult than getting people to vote in useless elections. You can’t argue or debate hate — it is just evil and it justifies itself. The wars must end. As long as the wars continue, why should I care about anything else. If we fix the political system, wouldn’t this just enable more efficient corpse desecration. Do I want America to be a more effective Death Star — what’s the point of that?

      Maybe being sucked dry by the evil rich is our just deserts. It could be this is nature’s way of sapping the vitality and saving the rest of the planet.

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 6:03 pm

      (1) “The hate must end, but unfortunately this is a thing that is more difficult than getting people to vote in useless elections.”

      The Founders would marvel at how Americans surrender so easily, and despise us. Those useless elections! If only the Blue Fairy would run for President!

      As for the hate, it will not end while it works so well for our leaders. The hate will continue so long as Americans so eagerly embrace it. Nobody can force us to hate.

      (2) “The wars must end.”
      Why? They’re working just fine for our ruling elites, and we have at best mild opposition to them.

      (3) “Maybe being sucked dry by the evil rich is our just deserts. It could be this is nature’s way of sapping the vitality and saving the rest of the planet.”

      That’s almost too depressing to consider. That thought crosses my mind daily.

      Would it help if we posted a picture of a kitten each day, as Yves Smith does at Naked Capitalism?

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 6:16 pm

      Lyrics to Compared To What by Eugene McDaniels:

      I love the lie and lie the love
      A-Hangin’ on, with push and shove
      Possession is the motivation
      that is hangin’ up the God-damn nation
      Looks like we always end up in a rut (everybody now!)
      Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what? C’mon baby!

      Slaughterhouse is killin’ hogs
      Twisted children killin’ frogs
      Poor dumb rednecks rollin’ logs
      Tired old lady kissin’ dogs
      I hate the human love of that stinking mutt (I can’t use it!)
      Try to make it real — compared to what? C’mon baby now!

      The President, he’s got his war
      Folks don’t know just what it’s for
      Nobody gives us rhyme or reason
      Have one doubt, they call it treason
      We’re chicken-feathers, all without one nut. God damn it!
      Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what? (Sock it to me)

      Church on Sunday, sleep and nod
      Tryin’ to duck the wrath of God
      Preacher’s fillin’ us with fright
      They all tryin’ to teach us what they think is right
      They really got to be some kind of nut (I can’t use it!)
      Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what?

      Where’s that bee and where’s that honey?
      Where’s my God and where’s my money?
      Unreal values, crass distortion
      Unwed mothers need abortion
      Kind of brings to mind ol’ young King Tut (He did it now)
      Tried to make it real — compared to what?!

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 6:29 pm

      Cathryn, are you suggesting that we are racist for wanting (convincing ourselves IMO) to defend one race against another? I would suggest that we’ve got a “nanny complex”.

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 6:38 pm

      I cannot speak for Cathryn, but today’s crusade against Islam has even less basis in fact than the original Crusades. We’ve invaded, occupied, and manipulated the peoples of the Middle East for a century. We being the west, and the US since WWII. Overthrowing governments that didn’t suit our political or economic interests. Continuing to aid Israel when its goals evolved from self-preservation to stealing land. Blowback was inevitable, eventually.

      Instead of reprisals and re-evaluation of our policies, we’ve doubled down — helping oppressive governments fight local Islamic insurgencies that have no concern to America. Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Bahrain, Pakistan. More blowback becomes inevitable as our body count of women and children rises. How will we respond to the next 9-11?

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 6:55 pm

      I know that, FM, and I’m not arguing against it. I just think it’s naive to explain everything as “racism” or other peoples motives as “evil”. Arguments about motives aside, it does a cause no good to refer to such actions in such harshly simple terms and buzz words. To me, it makes for an improper orientation of an issue.

      Cathryn, I mean no disrespect.

      Like

    • 6 May 2012 7:03 pm

      Agreed. I seldom discuss “why”, as it is the most difficult of questions. Only God can see into the human heart to read motives.

      On the other hand, hatred of “others” is a powerful and almost omnipresent aspect of human history. I believe Cathryn’s discussion was relevant and appropriate (just my opinion, of course).

      Like

  11. 6 May 2012 4:20 pm

    If you are going to use pop culture, so am I.

    “Nobody said it would be fair
    They warned me before I went out there
    There’s always a chance to get restarted
    To a new world, new life
    Scarred but smarter”
    — Drivin N Cryin, “Scarred But Smarter

    .
    .
    Lyrics in full:

    Well I’m out of work I’m out of hope
    Of what should be of thee I spoke Good times for the undeserved
    Bad times for the ones who work

    I said poor man, rich man, blind man, dead man
    Hoped for more than they had all planned
    Just then they suffered a serious blow
    As the real world cut the line they hold

    I said nobody said it would be fair
    They warned you before you went out there
    There’s always a chance to get restarted
    To a new world, new life
    Scarred but smarter

    Is it right to wish the poor man rich
    Is it right to wish the rich man poor
    To hope all that’s well is fair ends fair
    To wish thy neighbor’s life to despair

    Being so mad that I start crying
    No pay off for all my trying
    To do it right – to never fail
    Wishing for a fairy tale

    Nobody said it would be fair
    They warned me before I went out there
    There’s always a chance to get restarted
    To a new world, new life
    Scarred but smarter

    But when my life it turns all around
    Jobs and things to do that I’ve found
    I think how foolish I must have looked
    To think I could be down for good

    Nobody said it would be fair
    But in the end I think it is
    Karma, justice – whatever you call it
    It’s really there – just keep looking for it

    Like

    • 6 May 2012 4:32 pm

      Pop culture is our society’s folk wisdom. It’s always appropriate to post here.

      This song is highly relevant to this thread. Thank you for posting it! (I’ve added the full lyrics to your comment).

      Like

  12. 7 May 2012 4:28 am

    Try this: “Ernest Callenbach’s Last Words to an America in Decline“, TomDispatch, 6 May 2012 {Callenbach wrote Ecotopia, published in 1979}

    Breton

    Like

  13. 15 May 2012 8:14 pm

    To answer the question I say no we shouldn’t despair. Our situation is dire yet fixable. We have the hardware and ideas to repair America and yet we forgot to have the most important thing first. We forgot people! Colonel John Boyd even gave us the recipe. We need to constantly talk to others about the state of America and rally them to our cause. As Fabius has said if we cannot use logic then we must attack their pride to sway them.
    Obviously, hope is not a strategy but is our situation worse than the fragility of the early republic? Or the trials of the Civil War? Too many people in the comments want to whine about the forces that harm the Republic instead of relentlessly focusing on rallying others to our cause.

    Like

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