One of the things that seems obvious to me but most people seem unaware of is that the US is a country in deep decline and if no corrective action is taken soon it will end up just like many other failed empire in history, collapsing from within due to a combination of hubris, arrogance, and greed.
The facts are clear. The country is engaged in two simultaneous, expensive, never-ending wars, in addition to maintaining a costly global military presence. It is spending way beyond its means, running up huge deficits by avoiding raising taxes to pay for its military while simultaneously enriching the already wealthy. It has become an oligarchy where a small elite loots the public treasury for private gain while the people are distracted with the stupid and trivial and hateful. (Hey, look over here, we need to stop someone getting an abortion! Over there, a couple of gays are trying to marry! The borders are being overrun by dangerous brown people! Let’s post the Ten Commandments on every public building! Obama is a Muslim/Kenyan/Socialist!)
Such behavior has typically been the precursor to the end of past empires (the Roman one immediately comes to mind) and there is no reason to think that this time it is going to be any different. But it is also a sad truth that the oligarchy of declining empires never recognizes that the end is nigh and that they need to change course. They think that either this time is unique, that this empire is too big and too powerful to fail, or they think that they can continue their looting for a little longer and let someone else fix the damage.
The current situation in the state of Arizona is a good leading indicator of what the US as a whole will be like in the near future. Writing in the July 2010 issue of Harper’s magazine (subscription required), Ken Silverstein describes a state in which we can see the results of anti-tax, pro-elite, tea party policies run amok, and which has resulted in a legislature “which is composed almost entirely of dimwits, racists, and cranks.” As a result, the state’s public sector is crumbling and they have no resources to deal with the collapse of the private sector as a result of the mortgage debacle and the resulting decline in the economy.
[T]he capitol’s dingy, unshaded plaza is bare save for a few small rosebushes and some patches of dry grass. The buildings themselves have been plagued by plumbing problems and leaks.
Recent figures show that 61.5 percent of Phoenix mortgages are “underwater,” with commercial real estate in even worse shape. It is unlikely that a major office building will be erected in Phoenix in the next five years. Since its peak in 2006, the state’s construction industry has lost roughly 113,000 jobs, a drop of almost 50 percent. The official unemployment rate is above 9 percent, but that figure nearly doubles when people who can’t find full-time work and people who have given up are factored in.
The anti-tax zealots in Arizona have created a major crisis:
A horrific budget deficit has been papered over with massive borrowing and accounting gimmickry, and the state may yet have to issue IOUs to employees and vendors. All-day kindergarten has been eliminated statewide, and some districts have adopted a four-day school week. Arizona’s state parks, despite bringing in 2 million visitors and $266 million annually, have lost 80 percent of their budget, with up to two thirds of the parks now in danger of closure. The legislature slashed the budget for the Department of Revenue, which required the agency to fire hundreds of state auditors and tax collectors; lawmakers boasted that these measures saved $25 million, but a top official in the department estimated that the state would miss out on $174 million in tax collections as a result.
The three state universities have scrapped whole degree programs and may soon have to shutter entire campuses. Funding for GED programs and adult-education courses has been reduced to zero. Arizona has furloughed more than 15,000 state employees and has closed thirteen of eighteen highway rest stops.
Meanwhile, Arizona removed more than 300,000 adults from state health coverage and terminated one health-care program for 47,000 poor children. Funding was slashed at the agency that deals with reports of child abuse and neglect, and also at Children’s Rehabilitative Services, so that parents of children with cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, and a number of other conditions are now required to pay 100 percent of treatment costs.
To plug the budget deficits, the state has resorted to short-term and short-sighted measures like selling off public assets.
[T]o raise cash, the legislature has pursued a series of wild sell-offs and budget cuts. It privatized the capitol building and leased it back from its new owner, an arrangement that brought in substantial revenue but over time will cost Arizona far more. The legislature has sold off numerous other state properties at bargain prices, and has put up future lottery revenues as collateral on a $450 million loan.
In addition to selling the state capitol, the legislature has examined auctioning off dozens of other properties—among them the house and senate buildings, the offices of the secretary of state and the treasurer, and most of the state’s prisons, including maximum-security units and death row.
With the state facing such a huge budgetary crisis, what has the legislature of ‘dimwits, racists, and cranks’ been focused on? I’m glad you asked. The measure that has received the widest publicity is the new law that requires police to stop suspected illegal immigrants and demand to see their papers; anyone not carrying acceptable proof of citizenship can be arrested for trespassing and thrown in jail for up to six months. But they have also banned the funding of any ethnic-studies programs in the public schools, prohibited “intentionally or knowingly creating a human-animal hybrid.” declared February 8 the “Boy Scout Holiday,” provided discount fishing-license fees for Eagle Scouts, and approved a constitutional right to hunt.
They are presently considering measures to allow faculty members to carry guns on university campuses and to force President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate to state officials if he runs for re-election, and are seeing if the use of prison inmate labor can solve some of their infrastructure problems by getting them to fill potholes, keep golf courses open, and refurbish public buildings. And of course, they are debating that cherished staple of nutty politics, whether to post the Ten Commandments at the entrance to the old state capitol.
The trouble with an oligarchy running things is that they have no commitment to the public good. Silverstein quotes one local resident: “People who have swimming pools don’t need state parks. If you buy your books at Borders you don’t need libraries. If your kids are in private school, you don’t need K-12. The people here, or at least those who vote, don’t see the need for government.”
That’s how the oligarchy thinks and if they are allowed to continue to run the country, the decline of the US will be slow but not imperceptible. The signs are already there. Pollution of water supplies, decaying roads, unrepaired bridges, public transport reduced, parks closing, library hours and services cut back, public education funding cut, and so on. And once all those options are exhausted, the selling of public assets. It is just a matter of time before naming rights are sold to national institutions. The Lincoln Monument, brought to you by Goldman Sachs! The Budweiser Grand Canyon!
Arizona is the future.
POST SCRIPT: Polluting our water supply
The destruction of natural resources goes on apace. There is a new documentary out on HBO called Gasland that talks about how allowing companies to freely use a new method of extracting natural gas called ‘fracking‘ has resulted in people’s water supply across enormous parts of the country being polluted with concentrations of natural gas sometimes strong enough to cause the water to catch fire, as well as containing poisonous chemicals.
The Daily Show had an interview with the director Josh Fox.
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