Commitments and Obligations

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Published : January 21st, 2013
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( 18 votes, 4.2/5 ) , 4 commentaries
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Category : Editorials

     Conservatives have a legitimate gripe about America's excessive "commitments and obligations" to "unfunded liabilities" but their focus on Medicare and social security misses the larger point: our disastrous commitment to the current national lifestyle, in particular suburban sprawl and everything it entails.

     This point came across vividly in a video recently released by the usually level-headed David McAlvaney titled "The Fuse Is Lit Part 3 - an American Reckoning." In it, the smooth and articulate McAlvaney is shown behind the wheel of his SUV tooling across the picturesque small town in Colorado where he lives inveighing against the public that elects politicians who deliver the voters cash benefits. This dynamic is surely deadly, and implies Democracy's tragic self-limiting nature. But McAlvaney suggests if we could come to grips with the fiscal quandary of "entitlement" spending, American life would just rock on. 

     This is plainly not so, but it also reveals the tragic shortsightedness of even thoughtful conservatives - and there are some out there, indeed we need them, indeed one of the political tragedies of recent American history is the surrender of conservatism to religious hysterics, professional ignoramuses, military chauvinists, and flat-earthers. A true conservative would recognize the land development pattern of the millennial USA as a consequence of tragic collective choices, a living arrangement with no future, a trap every bit as lethal as Medicare and social security.

     The catch is, we're not going to unbuild suburbia and all its accessories. There's no way to legislate it away. We're stuck with it. The suburban entitlement will fail even more dramatically than the social entitlements that conservatives grouse about because there's no way to "print" cheap oil or well-paid livelihoods the way you can monetize public debt to support social spending. You can "print" mortgages, of course, for people with little chance of paying them down, but that only leads to the financial hostage racket called too-big-to-fail banking, and we know where that's gotten us.

      Around the Internet, in the vale of financial podcasting, you can hear voices cheerleading the "return" of the house-building industry. Is it a good thing that real estate speculators are banging up yet more housing subdivisions in the hills around San Diego? I can tell you why they are doing it: because that is the only way they know how to build anything in California. They're stuck in the habits and practices of the 20th century, building more car dependent stuff for a society that is already dying a slow death from living that way.

     In the collapse of all these rackets, bad habits, and brain-dead behaviors that it sure to come, historians will have a hard time sorting out what exactly brought down the empire. The big element that will not be so visible is the poverty of imagination that set the tone for it - especially among public figures and spokespeople who should have seen and articulated these relationships, and extra-especially among self-proclaimed conservatives.

     This happens to be the day when the articulator-in-chief gets his official new lease in office. Genial figure that he is, I don't think President Obama has a clue where all this is heading. I suppose he'll argue for stricter gun laws today, but that horse is already so far out of the barn it's in the next county. We don't seem to realize that America is now fully armed. Additional firearms are just superfluous at this point. And to some degree the people armed themselves in direct consequence as their government tinkered with due process, and sent drone aircraft into the American skies, and commenced computer hacking operations over every business transaction in the system, and voided the rule-of-law against criminal uber-bankers who creamed off the nation's wealth while holding the economy hostage. Since the armed public is not ready to mount an insurrection against this impudence, the dangerous tension is expressed in morbid and tragic episodes of mass shootings by maniacs against the innocent. What I want to know: where is the lone swindled rancher who waits to bushwhack Jon Corzine of MF Global in the parking lots of Easthampton, since the law won't touch him?

     I suppose we'll hear about immigration reform today. It will surely be some cockamamie proposal to legitimize the "undocumented" by shanghaiing them into the military (think: mercenaries), and otherwise keeping the welcome mat down for more newcomers waiting politely at the front door. This is insane, of course. The USA needs to reduce its population consistent with the tremendous economic contraction underway world-wide. There are too many people for the world to support and shifting them into this country from regions more rapidly affected by contraction is just dumb -- but we have our cultural myths to defend... and voting blocs to appease.

     It seems obvious to me that in the, say, four years ahead (one presidential term), we will not come to grips with any of the forces of reality bearing down on us. We will lose control of the money system; we'll go broke trying to keep up our oil supplies; the American public will get more economically desperate and angry; and pretty soon the practical matters of daily life will become rather harsh. And at that point faith in the system finally evaporates and people fight over the table scraps of a failed polity.

     Many of us around the country are hoping for a better outcome in the successful downscaling and re-localizing of American life, but those questions are just not in the arena. Hence, the arena itself will probably have to topple and crash before life is reorganized outside of where it used to stand.

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James Howard Kunstler has worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, and finally as a staff writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975, he dropped out to write books on a full-time basis. His nonfiction book, "The Long Emergency," describes the changes that American society faces in the 21st century. Discerning an imminent future of protracted socioeconomic crisis, Kunstler foresees the progressive dilapidation of subdivisions and strip malls, the depopulation of the American Southwest, and, amid a world at war over oil, military invasions of the West Coast; when the convulsion subsides, Americans will live in smaller places and eat locally grown food.
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Well Mr Kunstler, we may disagree philosophically on many levels, but on this article we agree.

POTUS Coolidge is rumored to have said, "The business of America is business." Ergo we have voted for subsidized business which funds lifestyles. Our tax dollars fund us minus a handling fee.

It doesn't hurt our pocket-books so badly if we share the burden. But now the pocket-books are getting mighty thin and someone thinks the public purse should keep granny alive even though her future contribution to the planet is less than that of a puppy's. That we need better schools in a suburb where only 40% are employed. And of course, fix the roads in suburbia where our children play video-games in their rooms. And we gotta keep the price of oil down by threat of super-power arms. And, ... and, ... . Bread and circuses on borrowed money.

Yes sir, you are correct. The arena will fall under the gross over-load. And the public will blame the entertainment they bought and paid for. Hell, the public even wrote the script.

There is a reason we say, "Don't kill the messenger."

P.S. This has gotta be good for at least 4 downs.

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Hmmm, yeah, Social Security and Medicare and it's all such a waste, big waste. Uh-huh, big waste. Speaking of big waste - the Pentagon and its associated manufacturing enterprises have come up with a sure fire approach to our fiscal difficulties: The F-35 fighter plane. A mere $365 million dollars per plane, it will most certainly insure our victory over the rowdy and hungry masses of peasants now assembling their strike force hordes (underground apparently) in order to disrupt the American Dream and a dream it certainly appears to be as they want to build only 2200 of them. These same military geniuses have also developed a $650 million warship (which doesn't quite work properly at this point of production) which will insure that the hungry hordes with their fleets of sliced-in-half lengthwise fifty-five gallon drums will be intercepted before they reach our pristine shores. The Navy only wants 600 of these still to be perfected craft. Uh-huh, blame it on Medicare and Social Security, foodstamps and nutrition programs for mothers who don't have the ability to share drinks with the members of congress or have been laid off their jobs because guys like Corzine took down a few hundred small businesses on his way to the bank. Personally, I'd rather go broke feeding someone who's hungry or paying for someone's grandma to receive medical treatment that could save her life or funding a special prosecutor to deal with the likes of Corzine. The constant thread? Going broke. Seems to be all the rage these days. Guess it will ultimately come down to having to make a choice. Hmmm...
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So, according to Kunstler, the greater issue facing our civilization is "...suburban sprawl and everything it entails." Seriously????

That single comment illuminates Kunstler's authoritarian mindset: individuals ought not be allowed to make choices of where to live or what life enhancing machine made products to purchase. He objects to the ugliness of strip malls, the grocery store on the corner, automobiles on highways carrying, of all things, single occupants. Had he the power we wouldn't be allowed those choices. Better to live in the woods using leaves for toliet paper, and, even then, praying that neither Mother Nature nor Father Kunstler take offense.

Incidently "what everything it entails" is really freedom from government dictates.

Kunstler voted for Obama -- the most authoritarian President in our history -- and I hope he is enjoying the inaugural today.

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James, you error in saying: " . . . . . . a living arrangement with no future, a trap every bit as lethal as Medicare and social security." There are several of us, including you and me, who have paid into Social Security EVERY WEEK since we started working 45 years ago. Social Security is like a SAVINGS ACCOUNT that none of us would keep up ~ unless we were FORCED to: by a deduction from our paychecks BEFORE we got it. Social Security is only OUR OWN MONEY COMING BACK TO US after all these years. Other than that; I have to rate your article a Solid Five Stars.

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Well Mr Kunstler, we may disagree philosophically on many levels, but on this article we agree. POTUS Coolidge is rumored to have said, "The business of America is business." Ergo we have voted for subsidized business which funds lifestyles. Our tax d  Read more
overtheedge - 1/22/2013 at 9:40 PM GMT
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