Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Mother of All Debts

USA Today, whose articles normally exhibit a degree of blandness that would rival anything put out by Reader's Digest, has finally gotten down and dirty when it comes to the national debt – not the one advertised by the Obama administration, amounting to $14.3 trillion -- no trivial sum – but the real national debt, which takes into account all unfunded obligations and entitlements. The beyond-princely sum in question, according to an article in the June 7 issue, is $62 trillion, which is as hard for me to wrap my brain around as Einstein's model of the universe. It is, in fact, more money than we have now, and more than we will ever have. (It may be more money than there is in the entire world, but I'd have to check on that.) And yet, in some mysterious way, we “owe it” to... well, just about everybody, but mostly to holders of “entitlements”, which can briefly be defined as government-guaranteed income. The article goes on to state that the sum in question amounts to over half a million dollars per household – which adds up to the fact that the United States, in the aggregate – including all of its hapless citizenry – is not only bankrupt, but bankrupt in the extreme. For how many households are worth even one-tenth that much? Precious few, I would say. And yet, in some mysterious sense, they all “owe” over a half million dollars to... some aggregate something-or-other. Which means that every child born is born owing some fantastic amount of money to that same aggregate.

Now, this situation is nothing less than total enslavement, in my opinion. If a person can be born in this country, on this day, already owing, let's say, over $100,000 to other people or entities, that is as good a definition of slavery as I've yet run across. But! -- you'll say – isn't the vast bulk of this simply obligations that we have taken on voluntarily? Don't we “owe it to ourselves”, as the old reassuring saying goes? Well, yes... and no. The “taken on” part is the responsibility of elected representatives, who are notorious for putting off until tomorrow what should be taken care of today. Their primary task, throughout their tenure, is to, in effect, bribe their constituents with ever-new and ever-expanded benefits, handouts, and entitlements, with no thought for the morrow. And that's just simple politics at work. You cage all the money you can, and give it to the people who you hope will vote for you; that's the American way. So while the average citizen cannot be said to have voted directly for all these entitlements and obligations, he certainly can be faulted for having voted for whoever did.

But then there's the other problem, which is the lag, or delay, between a given entitlement program and its consequences. Social Security, for example, has been around for as long as anyone can remember – but its Ponzi-scheme features are only now coming to light. Medicare has been around for less time, but its use and abuse by the medical/health care profession and its facilitators is only now going into overdrive. If each generation had to pay for whatever it mandated – directly or indirectly – we would see a much more sober picture. But as it is, one generation can gamble away billions, or in this case trillions, and not live to suffer the consequences. Later generations, who may or may not be equally guilty of delusional thinking, have to suffer the consequences nevertheless. But it's a curious quality of the politically-conditioned mind of our time that we seldom, if ever, think of the impact of any present-day legislation on future generations. They will take care of themselves... somehow. And this, in the face of the suffering we are already undergoing as a result of the follies of past generations, starting at least as far back as the New Deal. Back then, all legislation of any sort was predicated on a perpetual-growth model, according to which the prosperity and productivity of future generations would be more than enough to take care of the debts incurred by the present generation. No one, in that age of optimism, would have dreamed that there might be limits to “growth” and “progress”. And so, now that we are living in what I call the Age of Rebuke – rebuke of starry-eyed optimism, especially of the urban sort... rebuke of the notion that “technology” will solve everything, and cure all human ills... rebuke of the secular humanistic model of economics and society – we see that all of the old idols of the prior age have feet of clay. And yet, we cannot simply wash our hands of all of those delusions, and shake the dust from our sandals. No, we “owe”, based on obligations we never undertook, and economic failures that we never dreamed of.

And there is another problem besides, which has not been concealed from the public, and that is that much of our debt is, in fact, not owed to ourselves, but to other entities... like other countries... like China, for instance. And that can't possibly be good. We could cancel out all the debts that we owe to each other, but that would remain as one very large elephant in the drawing room. And the leverage this gives China, and its allies, is incalculable.

And this is not to say that a few good, solid pieces of legislation could not cure, or at least alleviate, many of these ills. Anything that can be made into law can be un-made. This notion that the vast bulk of the federal budget is “non-negotiable” is nothing but a hoax and a lie. But our legislators are a quivering, fear-ridden bunch, and anything even remotely approaching political courage is simply not on their radar. They are no more capable of making “tough political decisions” than a two-year-old is capable of putting money away for college. So with the vast bulk of our elected representatives being hobbled by “political considerations” -- AKA cowardice – we can hope for little relief from that quarter.

So the citizenry wind up victimized – but can one really claim that they are suffering innocents? After all, they have voted these incompetents into office for decades now, knowing full well that their promises were empty and impossible to keep. But greed kept the system humming along – the notion that if I can only “get mine” before the system collapses, than I'll have succeeded... well, isn't that basically the mind set? And yet it isn't all the citizens' fault, since the politicians reinforce this mind set, as do the media. “It's all a zero-sum game, and if I let the other guy get to the federal teat before I do, then I'm a loser.” Isn't that really what it's all about? Wanting to get more out of the system than one put in? So in that sense, we're all guilty. Anyone who expects anything unearned from the government is guilty. So in that sense, we deserve the catastrophe that has already happened – and the ones to come.

I have to, again, return to the contemplation of the broader question, namely: What is the good, proper, and just standard of living for an American citizen? And what has it been in the past? Have we been living better than is just? Are we the spoiled brats of the world? Sometimes it seems that way, when we consider the proportion of the world's total energy and resources that we require to sustain our lifestyle. And I don't have to go into detail as to our long history of exploitation when it comes to, e.g., Latin America, and also various parts of Africa and the Middle East. But if we've been living “high off the hog” for generations now, it seems that has still not been enough. We want to live not only within those relatively privileged means, but beyond those means – by, apparently, many times. We are in the position now of the person who thinks of his aggregate credit card credit as an asset – we can spend all of it, and borrow more if need be... and this is our right, and our just due. And it's tacky and impolite of anyone to ask for an accounting, or that it be paid back. And the key here is – again, like the credit card junkie – nothing that we borrowed and spent on was “bad” per se. It was all good stuff. But we couldn't afford it! (I use the “not bad per se” idea for the sake of argument, but the truth is entirely different -- not for individuals but when it comes to the nation.)

So again – if living “beyond our means” includes the “exploitation factor” as well as the borrowing factor, then we have clearly been living beyond our means for... decades now, if not generations. But what would it be like – what would it feel like – to live within our means? What would it mean for the average person, the average household? Well, one clue is to look at people who really do live within their means – namely the Amish. They are certainly not poverty-ridden, or living in squalor. But they are “plain” people -- “simple” in a way. And they do, it must be admitted, enjoy the protection of the larger society – a protection which they, by and large, do not have to pay for. But as a model, they can be highly informative. If everyone lived like they do, would we have the titanic deficit, and national debt, that we do now? It's highly unlikely. But the Amish have a highly-integrated, consistent value system – which cannot be said for the society as a whole. And – most importantly, perhaps – they all work. Parasites are not tolerated. No one feels “entitled”, and this is, perhaps, the major part of the Achilles heel of our society – the fact that a huge proportion of the citizenry feels “entitled” to a decent standard of living, regardless of any effort they might exert. And the problem with the “entitlement mentality” is that it knows no bounds – it is not bound by income, or budgets, or any laws of economics, or by the laws of space and time. It is, in fact, virtually infinite, and is never satisfied. An “entitlement junkie” who is living better than almost anyone in Afghanistan, let's say, will still take to the streets on the slightest provocation and demand more. And even this would not be a fatal flaw in our system if it were limited to a few pathological cases – but it's an attitude that afflicts vast reaches of our society, cutting across racial, ethnic, gender, and generational lines. When we see the rioting that breaks out in Greece over reductions in entitlements and “benefits”, we are not seeing something alien, but only our own society writ small. But this mentality stands in direct opposition to traditional American values -- self-sufficiency in particular – and is a blatant invitation to those who would make themselves our slave masters.

For you see, when a society “owes” $62 trillion to someone – anyone – it is already enslaved. Every American citizen alive today is already a slave, and everyone born from now on will be a slave, until the system collapses of its own weight. Sure, the government could, starting Monday morning, start printing bogus notes in ridiculously high denominations, the way the governments of Germany and Hungary did after World War I – or Zimbabwe more recently. We could pay off this debt in a heartbeat – but it would be the end, for all time, of the “full faith and credit” of the United States. And this is clearly not what the Regime wants. They don't want the slate to be wiped clean – now or ever. They want the United States in a kind of debtors' prison, where we are eternally obligated, and eternally under the shadow of impossible-to-repay debt, and therefore eternally coerced to serve their every whim – which means, first and foremost, serving as a source of military cannon-fodder and other forms of slave labor.

The United States prides itself – though not often explicitly – on having built an empire upon which the sun never sets. This is certainly true in terms of military bases and CIA "activities". But think about what that empire consists of – nothing but trouble. Iraq? Afghanistan? You call that an empire? Please. The Romans would have laughed – as would the British, the French, the Germans – any of the old-time colonial powers, in fact. For some reason – which escapes me so far – we are absolutely lousy when it comes to playing the empire game. The old colonial empires brought nothing but riches to the mother country. But to us, it brings nothing but bankruptcy. Even the most cynical empire builder is regularly rebuked by reality. We invaded Iraq to get their oil. Then why is Iraq an oil-importing country at this point? What went wrong? But when one distances oneself from the situation, one realizes that this, too, is part of the plan to reduce the United States to the role of a slave or servant to a higher power. What you do is lure us into unwinnable conflicts, then move in once we become weakened. It seems that, these days, every foreign venture, or adventure, that this country engages in is ill-advised and goes wrong from the very start – as witness the latest folly in Libya. Can this be coincidence? I say no – it is part of a master plan, in which our government is – not always wittingly – complicit. When the Republicans accuse Obama of doing things that “weaken” the United States, they are right on target – except that they have done the same sorts of things themselves, and with gusto. We are right now on a downward spiral like a heroin junkie that, on some level, knows he's killing himself but can't stop. And can we accuse our politicians of treachery and treason when we are the ones who voted them into office, and who approve – if tacitly – of every scheme they come up with? No – there is enough guilt to go around for all to get their fair share. And we have to ask ourselves, from whence comes this intense drive toward self-destruction? We are, in short, committing national suicide – economically, militarily, and culturally – and very few have the perception or courage to point this out. Was the “American experiment” really that bad of an idea, that it deserves to be crushed to dust in the view of all the world?

I think what's more likely is that the American experiment, while a noble cause on one level, was deeply flawed. (I've detailed some of those flaws in past posts, and am not going to go back into it at this point.) And it must be admitted that the “noble” part did prevail for a season – and a fairly long one, as modern history goes (in which everything is accelerated beyond human capacity to maintain an accurate view). But the thing about hidden flaws, and what I call the “heart of darkness”, is that they will out, eventually – and in our case this began as early as the Civil War, but reached a kind of culmination in the Vietnam conflict. That is the point at which the American ideal turned to ashes and crumbled – and was replaced by darkness, chaos, and absurdity. And everything since then has been burdened by this same absurdity – by the divorce and separation of American “policy” from anything remotely approaching ideals or values. I say “ideals” as opposed to “ideas” -- because there have been plenty of “ideas” proposed as rationale for our various follies overseas – but they are invariably distorted and wrongly-applied if not totally wrong. So, “spreading democracy”, for example, has turned into some sort of sick joke – as if burning the skin off of Afghan children had something to do with an idea called “democracy”.

Stalin was right in this sense at least – that he decided, at some point, to focus on making Russia the exemplar of communism and let the rest of the world take care of itself (for a time, at least). This was in opposition to Trotsky's more “international” approach, in which Russia would not have gotten any particular preference but only have been one of many revolutionary societies. One could make the same claim in the case of Mao – how anxious was he, really, to spread the blessings of communism abroad, other than supporting like minds in places like Vietnam and Korea? Maybe I'm giving them too much credit, but it's at least possible that they realized that every society – every culture – has to find the political system (or, at least, the variation on communism) that is the “best fit” for that society or culture... and that the “best fit” may not be the same for everyone. So in that sense, they were way ahead of us, because we persist in believing that our version of “democracy” is not only the best, but is the system of choice for all the world's societies – regardless of tradition, custom, mores, religion, ethnicity, race, and all the rest of it. We can transplant democracy – like transplanting a face – on any society or any nation, and it will somehow magically work; there won't be any significant resistance. So what we wind up with is a few sorry-assed nominal “democracies” like Iraq, that only pretend to honor our example because that's where the big bucks are. And everyone else agrees that it's a fine idea, then once the foreign aid checks are cashed go back to their old ways.

Plus, when we talk about “spreading democracy”, which version of democracy are we talking about? The Constitution, which everyone ignores? The Republican version? The Democratic version? I mean... what's more important, getting foreign countries up to snuff on tort law or getting them up to snuff on the rights of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered persons? I'm serious! This is the sort of thing that occupies vast armies of bureaucrats in the State Department, for example. Is environmentalism and “greening” more important than property rights? We don't know the answer in this country – so why are we trying to tell other countries what they should think?

So really – to cut to the chase – this whole notion of spreading democracy, and “American values”, and so on, is a farce and a hoax. It never worked, and it's never going to work – for the simple and sad reason that our “values” are not so “universal” after all. We look at “women's rights” -- well, it's obvious, isn't it? Not if you're living in one of the “tribal areas” of northern Pakistan or Afghanistan. Their “values” have sustained them for eons – for much longer than the United States has existed. So what could possibly entice them to change? And the same thing, to some extent at least, happens every time we march out, with our missionary zeal, to try and change the hearts and minds of the unenlightened. Because what do we, after all, have to offer? Ideas, and only that. But we are competing with race, ethnicity, tradition, custom, religion – all of those things that we have sloughed off as not being a vital part of the American dream. We are also competing with the land – with a sense of place. We fancy that we have a sense of place -- “this land is your land” and all that – but it pales in comparison to the sense of place that is found in any traditional society. Yes, there are nomadic tribes, but the vast majority are solidly rooted in one place, and value it far beyond anything we can imagine. In a sense, Americans are all nomads – we are all refugees, displaced persons... so we owe and feel no loyalty to place, or time, or anything else. In fact, we pride ourselves on that quality – that we are infinitely “flexible” and “adaptive”. But what it means is that we have lost everything that traditional societies see as the groundwork for identity. Our identity is, once again, confined to “ideas” -- but we see (or should see) how readily those ideas become shopworn, and rebuked by the rest of the world. “Secular humanism” is not the natural state of mankind – and neither is any one political system. Our version of democracy – which has descended into farce – may have been as close to a natural state as we ever got as a society. But now that it _is_ farce, what do we have left? We have long since disavowed the value and significance of race (at least of the majority), ethnicity, religion, and even sexuality; we are living in what is, in effect, a Tower-of-Babel society, where every idea, position, or stance is given equal validity – except for any that imply absolutes. And it's this that we have to carry, with missionary zeal, to all corners of the earth? The rest of the world must look upon us as damned fools – and well they might. Because we are using a quickly-diminishing military power to impose our will on whomever we please – and yet that “will” consists of nothing more than raw power – the power to dictate, and to brutalize – at least for a season. There is nothing behind it, in other words – no ideas that have any validity beyond our shores (assuming they have any at all)... nothing that serves to strengthen, only that which destroys and disperses. Our impact on other nations – other cultures – is invariably destructive. I'm not sure this was always so, and I'm not sure it has to be so now, but that's the way it is. And I think it's because we have become an empty vessel – with residual power, surely, but empty nonetheless. We have nothing to offer but the boot – but we pretend that that boot is benign... and that if only other people would see it that way, we'd get along fine.

So in this sense, the $62 trillion debt is our karma – it's punishment for our folly and foolishness, both domestically and internationally, over the past decades. And the funny thing about karma is that it's very “Old Testament” in a way – the sins of the fathers will, indeed, be visited upon many generations to come. They will be paying the debt for our folly – but, in fact, since the debt is unpayable, they will be slaves. Our government has constructed a massive debtor's prison on our behalf – and we are all inmates. But in fact, although our own politicians have been collaborators in the matter, the prison has actually been constructed by a higher power – the international, globalist financial cartel, AKA the Regime. The United States, and its economy, are their greatest victory yet – and our hide will be proudly displayed in the great halls of Europe.

But why are they so smart, and we so stupid? Well, it's not a matter of smarts or stupidity as much as sheer cynicism. We are, as discussed above, prisoners of our own delusions, “democracy”, and the American Empire (the present-day version of “manifest destiny”). We spend all of our time and resources pursuing “ideas”, whereas the more worldly, cynical minds of this world spend all their time pursuing power and wealth – at everyone else's expense, including ours. This juxtaposition of their strength and our weakness goes a long way toward explaining events in the world today – why Europe, for all its apparent woes, still seems to be “in charge”, whereas we are rapidly going down the drain. This is the beginning of the Age of Cynicism, where cynicism and sheer materialism rule and “ideas” are headed for the trash can. Yes – our former communist foes are anything but communist now; they have discarded "ideas". But we have not, and that's why we are losing the race. If our ideas were truly universal, and had universal appeal, the situation might not be so dire – but as I've tried to point out, they are not universal and do not have universal appeal. They are the product of a certain time and place in history, and in many ways, in fact, go against typical (if not ideal) human nature. The very idea of democracy, for example, flies in the face of the almost-universal human desire for the "strong man" who will rule with an iron fist.

And do not think that I'm denying that there are common elements in human nature; not at all. Human nature, in its most basic, raw form, is the same everywhere – unfortunately, perhaps. But when we move into the behavior of people in groups – AKA sociology – things become a bit more muddled, complex, and conditional. And yet there are still common elements. Then we have the level of people in society – AKA anthropology – and at that point the differences start to outnumber the similarities. Finally we get to people as components of large political units – nation-states – and that's the point at which “diversity” triumphs – but, ironically, that is the very point at which our neocons and their political stooges start to warm up their war machines and stack up their ammo. I imagine that a small village in the upper reaches of the Amazon would be easier to convert to “the American way” than the entire country of Afghanistan – and yet look at which one we choose to tackle. We assume -- to paraphrase Gertrude Stein -- that a nation is a nation is a nation – but this is no more true today than it was 100 years ago... or 500... or 1000. And it is especially not true in the Middle East, where borders were established not according to ethnic, tribal, or religious divisions but by the European colonial powers, purely as a way to ease administrative burdens. There is, for example, really no such place as “Iraq”, and there is no such place as “Jordan”. They are will-o-the-wisps... delusions that popped into the head of some diplomat in London or Paris. And yet those places – those “nations” -- are expected to be coherent and iron-clad, and to behave as such... and to develop some sort of national pride and unity that cancel out eons-old factors of ethnicity, tribe, and religion. And then we wonder why those made-up countries fail so miserably, and why we fail so miserably in our dealings with them.

So yes, these delusions and the push-back of the world against them have contributed mightily to our economic woes, as has our entitlement mentality and our conviction that our standard of living is, and has been, our just due. But there is more going on here, as I have tried to point out. The “American Era” is over with, and we are nought but a hollow shell, appearances and propaganda notwithstanding. And the people who have placed their thumb firmly on the scale in order to accelerate the process that we began ourselves are, I believe, based in Europe. Because, after all, no matter how huge and powerful an American corporation, bank, mortgage firm, or brokerage firm is, you will find, in most cases, that they ultimately answer to someone off our shores, and that someone is typically someone “over there”. Every pyramid, in other words, no matter where the bulk of it is located, has its top in Europe. Yes, in the very countries where we persist in maintaining military bases, 65-odd years after the cessation of hostilities; but that is part of the plan as well. If Europe were being bled white by having to maintain military bases over here, the argument might run the other way. But that's not the way it is. The “army” of Germany since 1945 has been the U.S. military – ditto Korea, ditto Japan, ditto any number of other places. And again, I set before you all the many blessing of empire – which, basically, do not exist for us. The bigger our empire becomes, the more costly it becomes... but also, the more false, fraudulent, and hollow it becomes. Who, after all, owes us any loyalty these days? No one, basically. Our only 100%, all the time, 24-7-365 ally is Israel, and they insult us every chance they get. So we “don't get no respect”, as Rodney would say. And the reason is that we are, ultimately, a paper tiger that is easily duped and suitable for nought but heavy lifting -- sort of the nation equivalent of Lenny in "Of Mice and Men". We showed major muscle in World War II, but then fought Korea to a draw and lost in Vietnam. Ever since, we've been propping up this Potemkin empire of ours with a lot of “bombs, bullets, and bullshit”, but what has it amounted to? The entire Moslem world hates us... Europe thinks we're fools... China is buying us up like darkies on the slave market... and Russia is biding its time. Meantime, there is a resurgence of Marxism in Latin America and the usual genocidal chaos in sub-Saharan Africa. Quite a record of accomplishment for “the American century”, I must say!

But again I contend that this is all part of a plan, in which our politicians are complicit – which is to knock the U.S. off its perch as “the” power, and render it economically helpless, diplomatically impotent, and culturally moribund. And who would want to do this? “Why do they hate us?” Well, it's not so much a matter of hate as it is of power, and of the endless progress of history. No empire lasts forever, and any nation that is not busy growing is busy dying (to paraphrase Bob Dylan, I think). Europe has survived catastrophes without number over the last few centuries, but has nonetheless emerged prosperous (in the aggregate), stable (ditto), and – most importantly of all, perhaps -- “cynical”, i.e. unhobbled by the grandiose delusions that beset us. And I should add that they never did, even in the worst of times, lose their grip on the world's banking systems – which may, ultimately, be the critical difference. The European financial power runs deep – deeper than we can ever imagine in our relatively “nouveau” world on this side of the Atlantic. And from that power base they can manipulate things pretty much as they please... and I'm not convinced that most of our recent financial “crisis” wasn't the direct result of manipulation by the “gnomes of Zurich”, or Brussels, or wherever. And as to the question of why – again, it was partly to knock us off our perch and teach us a damn good lesson. It was also to show, by demonstration, that the age of “ideas” is long past – and it's ironic that France must have had a major part in all this, since they were the fountainhead for so many of the ideas that still plague the modern world. And it was also, let's admit, that they like money, and power, just like anyone else does. And – it was to keep us alive as a source of raw materials and cannon fodder, just like a colony of old. Because Europe, unlike us, does colonialism right – and we have now become, in many ways, a colony of Europe – not in the old, obvious sense but in the deep sense... the one defined by things like currencies, exchange rates, balance of trade, banking, securities, and so on. So while we continue to throw our weight around the world, like the village bully, there are wiser heads who know better... who know that our time has come. And they fully intend to pick up the pieces of our shattered empire and economy, and use them to their best advantage.

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