Today Arizona, tomorrow the US

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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  1. says

    Perhaps it is not as bad as you think. If we could only boost the amount of new jobs and the average wage by 20% many problems would fade away.

  2. says

    I too feel that the US is nearing the end of its reign as the world power. We will likely give up our throne within the next fifteen years to China. In Arizona, California, and many other states, our love of spending is just adding to the fire.

  3. says

    Hello Mano,

    you bring up so valid points. what we need to do is reel everything back in sort of speak. we have too many things going on and way to many of them don’t make sense any more(not that they every did).


  4. says

    I have to say, respectfully, that the reasons for this countries failings are not due to some right wing cabal or wealthy elite but the kind of world view and perspective people like you have. The problems in Arizona are real and the recent attempts by it’s people and government to try and mitigate these issues (border security in particular) are what you will be seeing across the US. I agree that this country is on it’s way down but I disagree on the remedy, we need to completely jettison all of the unconstitutional public give aways and return to a society and economy that favors and encourages personal responsibility. Just my 2 cents.

  5. says

    “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.”
    I can whole heartedly say that I disagree with this type of logic as it just does not seem to work out for the betterment of the whole. Regardless of having a swimming pool, we all need state parks. Just because you buy a book doesn’t mean you don’t need a library. Just because someone can afford private schools does not mean that all can.

  6. says

    It is truly sad to see such a dynamic state run amok. AZ has a history of political short sightedness 2nd to none. Remember Evan Meacham and MLK holiday?

  7. says

    We are handing our county over, one right at a time, because we are afraid of hurting someones feelings. Remember the good ole days when the person who one first place received a trophy and the loser cried. He learned from that and stop loosing. It all starts at home in our local communities. Please vote out all incumbents in the next election and hurt their feelings.

  8. says

    Interesting post.

    You make a point that I whole heartedly agree on that being there are too many looking to the public treasury for their well being. The oligarchy of the past is now being replaced by the masses of today. Both fighting for control to gain ready access to the public treasury. It is wrong for the few rich elite and it is wrong for the masses of do withouts to look to the public treasury for their well being.

    RE – the “they” there is no “they” it would be nice if there were a “they” then we could point to a specific group to reign in this mess. The “they” you speak of is everyone in any position of authority. Unfortunaely “they” are all acting as individuals for individual advancement.

    We need some cohesion and unity and to right this ship.


  9. says

    Clearly the U.S. is in decline. Not sure I could point at a specific date or action, but I don’t know there are any here who would argue.

    I think that you are complaining about the wrong people here. Just a few thoughts:

    1. Anti-tax people – maybe they are tired of paying for the wasteful behaviors of the politicians. If you have a child, you discipline him/her so that they do not continue bad/destructive behaviors. If they steal candy you do not give them more. A spoiled child undisciplined only gets worse and expect everything their way then next time as well. A politician given more money will only waste it and then want more.

    2. The politicians. Sadly, they are politicians and not statesmen. But, these politicians are elected. WE THE PEOPLE made the choice. And if we don’t like it, then we should “throw the bums out.” Part of the politician problem is that they are busy doing what they think will get them re-elected and not necessarily work to correct the problems (because that might be unpopular).

    3. What percentage of the population is “rich” and what percentage is on welfare? When it comes to an election, each only gets one vote. You can’t blame this on the rich looting the poor. If anything, maybe you should consider it is the poor (of attitude moreso than of bank-account) who are the ones perpetrating damage to the rest of us.

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