Out of the blue
and into the black
You pay for this,
but they give you that
And once you’re gone,
you can’t come back…
Neil Young, from “Into The Black”
The final stage of a star, going into stellar death, is the supernova – the core ceases producing energy, and the surrounding layers collapse inward at the loss of pressure. The release of energy as it explodes is a dazzling flare that can outshine a galaxy for a brief time, a few days. Then, burnout; the star becomes a neutron star, or a black hole.
What is happening to the United States of America?
In its increasingly erratic behavior, its insistence on its own “specialness” and exceptionalism, its stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality – instead remaining determined to “shape the narrative” and replace it with an alternate and fabricated reality – are we seeing the beginning of core collapse and the onset of burnout?
All empires eventually collapse upon themselves, what sustains them at their core no longer capable of projecting power outward as they succumb to overreach and a misplaced belief in their own invincibility. Is this process already underway?
More and more signs say yes, it is. Not just internationally, where respect for America has slipped steadily, but domestically, where Americans themselves gloomily offer their belief, in polling results, that the world is getting fed up with the USA throwing its weight around. A Rasmussen poll released a year ago suggests only 23 percent of Americans polled believe America is “on the right track”. The percentage of working-age Americans who are part of the U.S. workforce is at its lowest level since 1978, if you can believe it, with one in every three working-age Americans unemployed. In 2011, American debt passed 100% of GDP.
According to The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The U.S. workforce has experienced downward pressure on wages and benefits over recent decades. Median and average wages have stagnated for thirty years, while the availability and quality of health insurance and pension benefits have substantially eroded. By contrast, the concentration of wealth at the top of U.S. society has skyrocketed, to levels unseen since the 1920s.”
Well, the reference cited earlier suggests President Obama does not know that. Because he says, “It’s fair to say that America has the best cards when you look at other countries around the world. There’s no other country you’d rather be than the United States. Nobody can compete with us when we’re making the right decisions.” I suppose that’s not exactly a big fat lie, but it is curious that he would say nobody can compete with America “when we’re making the right decisions” when he is…umm…the decision-maker for America. Because clearly the “right decisions” have not been made in America for quite a long time. An IMF working paper entitled ““An Analysis of U.S. Fiscal and Generational Imbalances: Who Will Pay and How?” forecast that U.S. government debt would rise above 400% of GDP by 2050, owing heavily to unfunded liabilities such as Social Security. Despite the fact that economic projections so far out are little more than informed guesses relying on everything staying the same as it is now, it did not remain for long in the public domain.
Ms. Polaski, author of the Carnegie document, goes on to say, “The golden age of broad-based economic expansion and opportunity for Americans was the quarter century after World War II. Large parts of the industrial capacity of Europe and Japan had been destroyed in the war. The U.S. manufacturing sector, scaled up for wartime production, was left unscathed and ready to satisfy demand in both domestic and hungry world markets, with purchases in the latter financed in part by the Marshall Plan.”
Sounds almost like another world war would be just what the doctor ordered as far as a return to American expansion of influence and a return to prosperity go, doesn’t it? Is that why the USA is pushing Europe so hard to accept further sacrifices to its own economic prosperity – to kick-start another massive land war in Europe, between NATO and Russia, fought over Ukraine?
In a word, no. Because there is no possibility of a repeat of the golden age of economic expansion for Americans, at least not based on the same model, because American manufacturing has been outsourced to a fare-thee-well, and is moribund in the land of its birth. Some fast talkers will tell you the death of American manufacturing is liberal fearmongering, that American manufacturing has had one of its best (pick your window) months ever – but they are just tap-dancing you past the graveyard, because manufacturing’s share of the American economy had shrunk from 28.5% in its postwar heyday to only 12% by 2010. Doing great in a sector that has shrunk by more than half is not a gain.
America is making big with the bellicose war talk, strutting and pounding its chest and blabbering crazy talk about arming Ukraine as its proxy against Russia. But it is not only Russia which is the issue – a developing threat is the lifting of sanctions on Iran. It can hardly have escaped notice (I know some of my commenters have highlighted it) that Iran’s acceptance back into the western fold, while it might be a welcome boon to a Europe urgently seeking gas supplies that do not originate in Russia, is a source of increasing alarm to America’s conjoined little brother, Israel. In a moment of unintentional comedy last year, Israel’s always-entertaining leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, actually warned world leaders not to ease up on Iran in the hope of winning its cooperation in the fight against Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL or whatever the acronym-of-the-moment is) because Iran was fighting against IS “out of their own interest”!!! Said the leader of the wealthy country that benefits from an annual $3.1 Billion in foreign aid from the USA. More ominous was the open letter to the Republic of Iran from 47 Republican senators, warning Iran’s leaders that any agreement negotiated between Obama and Iran without Congressional approval would be considered merely an executive agreement that would cease its effect as soon as Obama is out of office. Mild-mannered lunatic Lindsey Graham went even further off the map, using a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to press U.S. SecDef Ashton Carter on who would win a war between the United States and Iran. Atlantic Magazine points out that the USA was sure of winning the war with Iraq, as well, and it did. Sort of. But it cost Trillions with a capital “T” and thousands of dead Americans, and resulted in what is about as similar to a prosperous western-oriented market democracy as an igloo is like a brush fire. America cannot afford any more victories like that one, yet it seems uncommonly eager to fight everyone on the planet who will not kneel to it and let it be the boss.
Which brings us to its loyal ally, Europe. American pressure turned off the sale of two MISTRAL Assault Carriers to Russia by France, and now France is on the hook for about €1.2 Billion and has a pair of white-elephant warships it will probably sink – as the cheapest option – without their ever having been delivered to the customer. Paris expects to fund the penalty from €2 Billion Poland will pay for French helicopters. France will see a return of less than €800 million in compensation for €2 Billion worth of aircraft sales and will probably have to sink two brand-new warships, all because of American pressure. And that’s on the heels of French fury in 2013, when Snowden’s disclosures revealed the NSA had “collected” more than 70 million French phone calls just in one 30-day period. Rising anti-Americanism in Germany is the more disconcerting – for American policymakers – in that it is becoming mainstream. After a half-decade of the most severe austerity budget in Britain since World War II, Britons have suffered the worst decline in real wages since Victorian times. That last is not Washington’s fault, of course; but it bodes ill for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the mammoth free-trade deal Washington is trying to get signed with Europe. British shopkeepers are not going to be thrilled with the concept of opening their markets to American goods so that Americans can get richer while British businesses go under because they can’t compete.
And they can’t; the European Commission – which is fast evolving into a de facto Government Of Europe – predicts that without comprehensive economic reforms, living standards in the Eurozone will be lower, relative to those in the USA, in 2025 than they were in the mid-1960’s.
Just ponder that for a moment. Living standards, in Europe, when your children are the workforce, lower than they were when your parents were the workforce. That’s quite an accomplishment, when you think about it. Now consider that your good friends in Washington want to erode your living standards further by using you as a pawn in the Great Game against Russia, which Washington must stop at all costs.
Which brings us full circle back to Washington, and the coming leadership race on the staggering deathstar America has become. Right now – and I’m well aware things can change quickly in a presidential election, you only have to say the wrong thing to go from front-runner to done-like-dinner, but just as a snapshot of the moment – it’s a race between BusinessTwit Donald Trump and send-in-the-Army warhag Hillary Clinton. Just think about that for a minute – the finest America has to offer, its glittering gladiators in the arena of public service, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. What has happened to you, America?
Another clue is tucked away in Ms. Polaski’s excellent research work on American living standards: “While the United States continues to be the only military superpower, the economic world has become decidedly multipolar“.
Washington would like to send in the dollar to beat the shit out of all comers, the way it has become used to doing since Bretton Woods. But it doesn’t work any more – Washington is up against the BRICS now, an economic bloc which numbers nearly half of the world’s population, a combined nominal GDP which is nearly a quarter of the world’s total and about $4 Trillion in combined foreign-currency reserves. As this bloc moves to more comprehensive de-dollarization and conducts more transactions in its national currencies, the dollar’s clout will only weaken further. Kicking countries out of SWIFT, the international electronic hub of worldwide financial transactions, was never really a solution; the USA did it to Iran, but Iran did not collapse, and European courts twice found the action illegal on behalf of separate Iranian banks. That notwithstanding, the west could not afford to kick such a large economic bloc out of SWIFT, or even only one member, because it would lose the capability to monitor those financial transactions. And the Sino-Russian international SWIFT alternative is firming up fast. America will learn, to its great sorrow, that the “petrodollar” without the “petro” is a paper tiger.
Economic warfare is no longer a viable alternative. That leaves the USA’s giant military machine.
Elton John might not live long enough to sing “Candle in the Wind” for the United States as global whip-wielder, but you can nearly see that moment. Just keep in mind the part about blazing up to be the brightest explosion in the galaxy first.