May 02, 2008

El derecho de vuelta

I suppose it's because of a spasm of nostalgia that has seized me in the wake of the creation of an alumni website for my high school, but I've been giving more thought to this curious phenomenon of "shifting frames" which confounds our ability to comprehend contemporary reality in, well..., real terms. I think I will call this effect "age parallax" because it's kind of cool to create a term and it sounds erudite as all hell, don't you think? Parallax: "Simply put, it is the apparent shift of an object against the background that is caused by a change in the observer's position. The term is derived from the Greek παραλλαγή (parallagé), meaning alteration".

So, sifting around in old pictures of elementary school classes, in a Northern California suburb where I lived in the 1950s, I found one of a fourth grade class circa 1958. There was nothing special about the subdivision where I grew up, nothing special about the school, nor the weather, nor anything at all, really. It was one of those places thrown up during the post-War building boom on land "reclaimed" from San Francisco Bay (filled in, in other words), and the houses were stuffed up with families as fast as the homes could be tacked together. There was no history or lore associated with this subdivision, laid out on a wavy grid of dog-legged streets, nothing like the colorful associations of old neighborhoods on the East Coast. They were utilitarian and abstract, as opposed to organic. It's special in our memories only because it's where we came of age.

So in that picture there are 30 students, boys and girls. Every single student is white, the teacher is white and matronly, and everyone looks clean and presentable, in that Eisenhower Era way. Looking for a picture of the school on the Internet, to post on the alumni site, I found instead a description of all schools in the city, including demographic composition. For my old elementary school, I found the following. The school is now 12% white, 5% black, 5% Asian/Chinese, a smattering of South Seas (Tongan, Samoan, mainly)...and 65% Hispanic. This shouldn't be that surprising, really. California is about 40% Hispanic/Latino, and those are just the official numbers. My old neighborhood represents a good entrance-level domicile for immigrants, as perhaps the Lower East Side of Manhattan did in another era. It's down at heels now, the curbs crowded with cars, comprised of houses that probably had a useful life of 50 years when they were built and have now been around more than 60. Much of California was built that way, including vast tracts of older Southern California neighborhoods, constructed only to endure the mild California winters, light wood frame construction, asphalt shingle roofs -- it all starts going to hell after a few decades, but it starts becoming "affordable," in the California sense, as a kind of makeshift low income housing.

It behooves us Anglos to remember that America, as a First World nation, is unique in sharing such a long, essentially unguarded border with a Third World country. Look around the globe; you won't find many comparable situations. And unlike the tribal grounds of the Native Americans, whom we mostly exterminated with disease and war, the land we stole from its Mexican owners (who in turn had displaced the California Indians) remains adjacent to a large population of the relatives of the Californios, the people we stole it from. Such luminaries as Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams and Henry David Thoreau (remember his night in jail?) protested the war with Mexico as an unjustified war of aggression, carried out under the fig leaf of Manifest Destiny, whatever the hell that means. It began with the Texas rebellion, supported by Southerners who wanted another slave state to add to their side. There's the glory of the Alamo for you. It then opportunistically spread, about a decade later, to California and the rest of the Southwest, and the United States, at long last, stretched from sea to shining sea.

It would appear that our Mexican neighbors have been exercising a kind of ad hoc derecho de vuelta - a "right of return." No one knows how many Hispanics are actually in California illegally. In a way it doesn't matter, because they're not going anywhere. They're an integral part of life in the Golden State, even if I sometimes miss the full impact of that phenomenon because of age parallax.

May 01, 2008

A fantasy cross-examination of President Bush

I was watching some of President Bush's Rose Garden press conference a couple of days ago (thought: why don't they call these confabs "Rose Bush" conferences?) and was struck again by the docility and compliance of the press corps and the ease with which they are manipulated and controlled by W. I suppose part of this effect has been achieved over the years by a process of winnowing, denying access, ignoring, browbeating, teasing and intimidating the ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate. Bush is an effective bully, that's hard to deny, and these reporters are certainly worthy of his contempt.

Still, however much the liberal blogosphere and other critics like to approach the vexatious problem of Bush by labeling him an "idiot" or "moron" or whatever (and I have succumbed to the temptation myself, out of frustration), in fact he's not. His mastery of the press conference is one indication of his above-average intelligence. One trick he's learned is the rambling, disjointed response to a question which eats up 5 or 6 minutes of a half-hour conference, followed by another extended soliloquy soon after so that any thread in the questioning is lost. There is no rapid fire give-and-take in a Bush "press availability." He controls the languorous pace, and the digressions are an important part of this manipulation. Lawyers skilled in cross-examination know that forcing a witness into an admission or contradiction depends on the ability to move the Q&A so rapidly that the witness can't see where the questions are leading. Before the witness can regain control, he has admitted a series of premises which, syllogistically speaking, permit only one logical conclusion. Bush doesn't really allow follow-ups and he doesn't admit anything he doesn't feel like admitting, which is usually nothing. This has allowed him to escape some very gnarly situations while appearing to answer questions in an open manner, most notably during the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame matter. To a virtual moral certainty, one can say that Bush was fully informed in June/July 2003 about Cheney's program of retaliation against Joe Wilson; yet, despite all the evidence adduced at Libby's trial about what a hot topic of conversation Plame's blown cover was in the summer of 2003, Bush escaped with the lame cover that he was outside the loop, uninformed by his own Vice President and his own Special Assistant (one of Libby's titles) and his own political handler (Karl Rove) about all this critical information.

Suppose, just once, that he'd taken the stand, sworn to tell the truth and was unable to control the pace because of the presence of a presiding judge. Could the transcript read something like this?

Q: Mr. President, you've testified that you had no knowledge, in the summer of 2003, that members of your inner circle disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame to the press; is that correct?
A: Yes.
Q: And that this ignorance must have continued until at least September 30, 2003, because you were making public statements to that effect?
A. Yes.
Q: And you would not deliberately lie to the public, would you?
A: No.
Q: In fact, you promised that you would get to the bottom of the leak, because you disapproved of behavior contrary to the national security of the United States; correct?
A: Yes.
Q: And you did disapprove strongly, did you not?
A: Yes.
Q: In fact, you initially said that anyone "involved" in the leaks would no longer be part of your administration, right?
A: Yes.
Q: We've read transcript excerpts from the Libby trial in open court; would you agree with me that those excerpts prove conclusively that Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, and Karl Rove were all aware that they were the sources of leaks to the press about Valerie Plame?
A: Well, I don't know what you mean about "proving..."
Q: Establish the fact. There's no doubt, is there? They were involved?
A: I suppose that's true.
Q: And since they were sources, they must have known June through September, 2003 who the sources were, because they were the sources?
A: That follows, yes.
Q: And they knew this at the same time you were speaking publicly about wanting to get to the bottom of the leak?
A: I guess they did, right.
Q: Why do you guess? You know, right?
A: Yes.
Q: And they allowed you to state publicly that you didn't know who leaked the Valerie Plame information, didn't they?
A: What do you mean "allowed"?
Q: They didn't correct you, they didn't say, "Mr. President, stop saying those things in public, we're the ones, we know who did it"?
A: No, they didn't.
Q: Other than when you weren't in the White House, away on business, did you meet daily with Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby during the period between July 1, 2003 and September 30, 2003?
A: Probably, when I was in the office, yes.
Q: That's your practice, isn't it, an early morning meeting every day?
A: Yes.
Q: You pride yourself on discipline and regularity?
A: I don't want to talk about my bowel habits..
Q: Regular business habits.
A: Yes.
Q: So that all of these meetings in that period would have completely overlapped the period when you were making public statements about your ignorance of the Valerie Plame leak source?
A: It would have been the same period, I guess.
Q: So that when you found out, in the course of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation and the trial of Scooter Libby, that Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were all involved, you realized that your own staff had engaged in acts of rank insubordination and disloyalty to their superior?
A: They should have told me, right.
Q: And what were the consequences to them of not telling you?

Well, a lawyer can dream. Such a forum, such an interrogation, will never happen. It will all go down the memory hole, a casualty of our sloppy, complicated, indifferent times. No one really cares enough to get at the truth anymore. That's another thing our smarter-than-you-think President has taken into consideration.

April 30, 2008

The ultimate horror - $4 for a gallon of gas

I'm so grateful to John McCain for proposing a way out of the morass of high gasoline prices. It's this sort of creativity that bodes well for our nation's future in the unlikely event Captain McQueeg takes the helm of the Good Ship USA in a few months. And we've actually got two chances out of three because Hillary Clinton, displaying the same kind of originality that impelled her to sign on to the Iraq War Authorization and the Kyl-Lieberman Bomb-Iran-Now permission slip, has said "me too!" with that trademark toothy grin. It's simple, really: suspend the federal excise tax of 18 cents a gallon for the summer.

Wow. That ought to do it. Let's see, my car has a 14-gallon tank, so every time I fill up I will save $2.52. With prices so high, I've been driving a lot less, so a tank lasts about two weeks these days. So I'll save that $2.52 six times! That's $15.12. You know what? With that kind of bonanza, I think I'll fill up every week so I can save $30.24. If I don't use the gas, I'll just siphon it onto the ground before I fill up, because I want in!

As I understand it, the excise tax is used to maintain federal highways and bridges, like the one that fell down in Minnesota not too long ago. Have you driven on an interstate freeway lately? Try I-5 between San Francisco and L.A. If you hit a pot hole at 75 miles per hour, as I have, you'll need a lot more than $30.24 to put your axle back together. I assume that McQueeg and Hillary, both ready to rock on Day One, are not seriously suggesting that the federal government is going to stop maintaining the roads. So they'll still maintain the roads but without the funding, as with so many federal programs these days, like war. Thus, McCain/Hillary are going to borrow money to fix the roads while encouraging Americans to drive their cars on vacation this summer.

I thought those two were the big global warming experts. America has three hundred million people and two hundred million cars, more than any other nation on Earth. Of worldwide usage of 87 million barrels of oil a day, we use about 20 million because (a) we drive pigs, (b) we drive too much, and (c) we don't bother to provide any other way to get around. If The Maverick is serious about global warming, why doesn't he propose something more lasting to deal with one of those problems instead of a three-month gimmick to make himself look good before the election?

We're envious of the Germans, naturally, because they pay only $2.27. Of course, that's per liter. They pay about $8.60 per gallon. They tax the hell out of their gasoline, but then driving on the autobahn doesn't require a chiropractic adjustment when you're done. And they subsidize mass transit, which they have a lot of. They were once paying about $4.07 per gallon, too. Back in 1996.

The repeal won't happen, even if Chuckie (The Hedge Fund Manager's Best Friend) Schumer says "it's in the works." Here's an idea. Let the worldwide, borderline shortage set the price of oil, and pay the price you have to pay for gasoline. Get used to it, because it's not going to get better on a permanent basis. It's going to get a lot worse. If the federal government wants to subsidize someone (and that's what the "gas tax holiday" is, a short-term subsidy, just like the "stimulus package" of Chinese money sent to American citizens), subsidize the trucking industry. They're the ones getting hammered because they have to drive. Keep collecting the 18 cents and give some of it to them. Tell everyone else they're lucky they're only paying 4 bucks a gallon. Walk somewhere. Ride a bike if you can. Trade in the Yukon EarthDestroyer for a car shorter than a city block.

Look, Captain, I know it's not Day One yet, but try leading for a change.

April 29, 2008

Obama's Reverend Wright Problem

The way to play the religious angle in these presidential campaigns is Hillary's way. She doesn't actually go to church, she probably thinks (deep in her private thoughts) that religion is a load of crap, but she recognizes that a God-struck country like this one is not going to tolerate any ambivalence about piety. Believe or die, it's just that simple. And no cop-outs with a gauzy "theism" of the sort true intellectuals like Thomas Jefferson were able to pawn off, that kind of nebulous "spiritual sense" that smart people who don't want to go so far as to claim a relationship with an imaginary friend often resort to when pressed on the issue. This is modern America, which is to say, in the main a very obscurantist and anti-intellectual society. So: tell us about your belief in the God of the New Testament or get the hell out of the race.

I was kind of hoping that Barack Obama might have been signaling this sort of ruse when he made his now infamous remarks in that Gomorrah of the West, San Francisco, not too long ago. You know, when he talked about desperate people "clinging to guns and religion." See, if his faith was real he wouldn't put it like that; if you actually believe in God, then He's there whether you're in the chips or not. You "cling" to illusions when reality is overwhelming. I took that as Obama's subtext. So naturally Barack rose in my estimation, the sort of paradoxical effect you'd expect when dealing with a contrary crank like me.

But Barack has tried to have it both ways. Identifying himself strongly with the United Church of Christ in Chicago, even writing up and quoting Rev. Jeremiah Wright in chapters of his book, Dreams of my Father. I've been told I'm wrong, that Barack's faith is real and I'm simply idealizing him as an atheist on the basis of one passing remark. It doesn't matter now, because from here on out Barack is going to spend increasing amounts of his time dealing with the random declamations of a decidedly loose cannon. Bummer for Barry.

I see Rev. Wright as a kind of African-American Noam Chomsksy. He likes wallowing in American iniquity. Here's the main part of the "God damn America" sermon in context: "And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing God bless America? No, no, no. Not God bless America; God damn America!"

There's a lot in this speech which is pretty uncontroversial. It all depends on whether you're in the mood to walk down a Nightmare Memory Lane; the United States did effect a genocide and massive displacement of American Indians. The United States, during World War II, did intern Japanese citizens unfairly. The United States did maintain the "peculiar institution" of slavery for over two hundred years, and then supported systematic discrimination for about another one hundred years beyond the Emancipation Proclamation. But after you repeat all of this, where are you? It's too late to do anything for the Native Americans we essentially wiped from the face of the Earth, but we did acknowledge the error with respect to the Japanese in a series of Supreme Court cases (although not with full restoration of property rights) and, in the case of African-Americans with the Civil Rights Act, we codified societal progress in the field of race relations.

Is the point that the United States should get over itself? Sign me up; I think that's the essential problem, often unacknowledged in the controversy. Those like Noam Chomsky and Jeremiah Wright gain a great deal of notoriety because there's something deliciously, refreshingly seditious about forcing the U.S. to acknowledge that it behaves more or less exactly like other great powers which consolidate and extend their material advantages. The war in Iraq is simply a case of using American military might (our remaining hole card) to gain advantages in the largest remaining (mostly) untapped oil field. This doesn't play well in the diner down in Pasacougla, so

we turn everything into a debate about flag lapel pins. Young men are dying, after all; what are we supposed to do, insist that people wear the ExxonMobil logo on their lapels? But for Barack, a guy who has to appeal to the delicate sensibilities of Main Street America and navigate through a blizzard of sound bites, a guy like Wright is a nightmare, especially because Wright obviously venerates the outspoken anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan (if you don't think Farrakhan is an anti-Semite, just read his own words helpfully collected on the website of the Anti-Defamation League - his main beef seems to be that Jewish agents in Hollywood have figured out how to keep black entertainers and athletes in chains. Very ugly stuff, whatever he's saying.).

Do I think Obama is responsible for everything Wright says? Hell no, not at all. Nor do I think the more arrantly loony pronouncements of Wright actually affect Obama's outlook. Barack is too smart and too canny for that; however, the Faustian bargain these nationwide pols have to make with organized religion often come back to haunt them, and this one is biting Obama mighty hard in the ass.

April 28, 2008

Captain McQueeg, Probably the Wrong Man for this Typhoon, Too

"Ah, but the strawberries! That's, that's where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist."

In the penultimate scene of "The Caine Mutiny" Captain Queeg breaks down under the clever cross-examination of Officer Maryk's defense attorney and reveals himself a combat-fatigued emotional basket case who, in fact, did pose a risk to the Caine during the typhoon where he was relieved of his duty. In the highly choreographed theatre of presidential politics, we're unlikely to see our own Captain McQueeq, John McCain, undergo a similar dissolution. True, he has a bad temper and a querulous personality generally, his inconsistency on key issues looks a lot like mental instability, and he's hiding his medical records, which is ominous given his history of recurrent melanoma and his age. Nevertheless, we would have to wait for the equivalent of a national typhoon to see how Johnny Mac would respond to a crisis, and one thing is certain: between the Januaries of 2009 and 2013, there are going to be a whole bunch of crises.

As far as I can see, McCain's popularity rests on his now legendary ordeal as a POW in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. Any reference to McCain must be preceded or immediately followed by the honorific "war hero." It is bad form, except in the "radical" precincts of the Internet, to mention that McCain was shot down over Hanoi while dropping bombs on the civilian population in a war that, in retrospect, is now regarded as useless at best or immoral at worst. Had he not been captured and imprisoned, then his war service record would be vulnerable to Swift Boat tactics of Rovian operators. The North Vietnamese apparently found out McCain was the son and grandson of John Sidney McCains I&II, who were both four star admirals in the Navy, and that they had on their hands John Sidney McCain III. They wanted to release him as a publicity stunt but McCain demurred. His canonization followed.

McCain apparently graduated in the bottom five of his class at Annapolis. His appointment to the Academy was naturally a forgone conclusion, given his lineage. I'm inclined to think that the squandering of his opportunity derived more from native incompetence than a lack of diligence. He just doesn't seem very smart at all. For all the hoopla that surrounds his "maverick" imago, I've never actually heard him say anything particularly intelligent. His questioning of Rumsfeld and the military during Abu Ghraib and the military budget hearings for Iraq was dull, clumsy and feckless, even by Senate standards, and that's saying a lot. He tried for a photo op type moment in his questions ("What were the instructions to the guards?," as if that would trap someone) and he got nowhere. If I had to guess, I'd say he's got less going upstairs than the present resident of the White House, a chilling thought indeed. Other than flying jets and being a fairly easily corrupted Congress guy, he doesn't seem to have had any real life experiences that would equip him to oversee the economy or redirect our technological future. This American infatuation with dumb guys as president seems like a luxury we just can't afford anymore.

There are jarring contradictions between the folksy persona he cultivates and his real life. While he plays the part of a populist, in reality he's rich by way of his second wife, the beer distribution heiress. (I thought beer distributorships were given exclusively to former NFL linemen after retirement.) He travels around in her private jet and bunks down in one of her eight homes, depending on his mood. He rails against corporate influence in Washington while maintaining a campaign staff full of lobbyists. He denies any impropriety in his relationship with the lobbyist Vicki Iseman, but she has disappeared into some sort of private witness protection program arranged by "her" lawyer, Robert Bennett. McCain is the big "campaign reform guy," lending his name to McCain-Feingold, but he was one of the slimeballs caught up in the dirty racket of the Keating Five, going to bat for the serial fleecer Charles Keating during the S&L crisis. His multi-hued positions on the torture question, which was supposed to be one of his signature issues given his background, are nearly impossible to follow. He appeared to acquiesce in Bush's signing statement vitiating the whole purpose of restricting non-military interrogators to the rules of the Army Field Manual. He's called the Evangelical Right "agents of intolerance," but avidly seeks the endorsement of End Times nut jobs like John Hagee. He now characterizes his previous opposition to the Iraq war as simply a disapproval of Donald Rumsfeld's leadership style, and is probably the most hawkish Washington pol found outside Dick Cheney's office.

His economic program, especially the tax cuts, are reminiscent of Captain Queeg's refusal to right the ship during the typhoon. McCain's fundamental dishonesty in calling a scheduled sundowning of the Bush tax cuts a "Democratic tax increase" was highlighted recently in Paul Krugman's column. Bush's Congress lowered the top marginal income rate to 35% from the Clinton era 39.6% and also lowered the effective estate tax. The tax cutting, as passed, was intended to be temporary, expiring in 2011. McCain now says that if the Democratically controlled House does not pass a new bill to make the tax cuts permanent that they are "passing a tax increase." This is fraudulent; Congress is under no obligation to pass new legislation to enable Bush (and now McQueeg) to pretend that temporary legislation was in fact permanent from the get-go, and that, therefore, a failure to change Bush's plan amounts to a bill to repeal the tax cuts. The repeal was built into the original amendment of the tax code. Anyway, if McCain is such a populist, why doesn't he ruffle the feathers of the hedge fund industry and subject their billionaire managers to ordinary income tax rates instead of allowing them to use the capital gains rate?

Everything about McCain's platform is essentially rooted in the failures of the past, and the country can't afford that approach. His strategy will deepen the financial quagmire of the national debt and the Iraq war at a point where we're running out of international creditors to float our boat. The dollar is faltering because its petro-dollar stability is now undermined by global competition for oil. McCain wants to increase military spending at a point where we already outspend all potential threats combined; other nations are moving on to dealing with what is called outside U.S. borders "objective reality."

Just go back to the Senate and roll your ball bearings, McQueeg. The country really can't afford another experiment in faked personality.

April 27, 2008

Living in the Future

I am indebted to Kevin Phillips for another brilliantly insightful work on the current state of the union (the real one), this time out in a book called Bad Money, which deals with the long-term consequences of a number of converging crises, including the collapse of the housing market, federal debt and trade imbalance, peak oil, and global warming. It's a tour de force.

I've been reading books about the dangers which lie just up the road for as long as I can remember. Paul Erlich's 1968 Population Bomb, for example, which predicted that world population would double every 37.5 years, and that mass starvation would set in within 20 years or so. Erlich was right about population growth for the first forty-year period (3 billion to 6 billion people), but the so-called "Green Revolution" managed to keep pace with the food needs for a rapidly expanding population. It's not surprising that he took a lot of heat from the Pope and from Libertarians such as Julian Simon, who both argued that more humans were a good thing, not a problem.

I first read about CO2 build-up in the atmosphere in Robert Rienow's 1969 Moment in the Sun, who wrote about a 6% increase in greenhouse gases in the troposphere over pre-Industrial Revolution levels (280 ppm). We're now at 380 parts per million, or a 36% rise over such levels.

There have been numerous books about the rapidly increasing national debt and trade imbalances, and lots of others about the phenomenon of "peak oil," that hypothesized level where half the available petroleum has been extracted and the amounts remaining will be increasingly difficult to pump and refine. I've read a bunch of them, too.

Reading the news these days, it becomes apparent we've begun to live in that "future." It's different in many ways from the predictions. The mass starvation hypothesis in the 1980's did not come to pass, but now we're facing serious food shortages worldwide, mainly involving wheat, rice and corn at the moment, but the problem will spread. It would be fatuous to deny that these shortages are related to explosive population growth. The effects of global warming become more patent with shrinking Arctic sea ice, melting glaciers, acidification of the oceans, die-off of marine species and salt water intrusion from rising sea levels. The problem of peak oil is exacerbated tremendously by the emerging (and overpopulated) economy in China, which is now using the wealth transmitted to it by the United States to secure oil access from formerly reliable partners of the U.S., such as Iran, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. The sovereign wealth funds and state-owned oil companies, such as those in the Gulf Arab states, Venezuela and Iran, have eclipsed the former "Seven Sisters" of the American oil heyday and the big investment banks of Wall Street. These titanic business entities (which we have done so much to empower) now threaten our own financial sovereignty.

All of these developments are different in their details from the prognosticators' doomsaying, and in most cases that's because it was perhaps impossible to foresee the interplay between one set of problems (food production, e.g.) and another development such as oil shortages. The writers in the 60's and 70's could not have foreseen Reaganism (a cowboy actor as President?) and his foolhardy decision to run huge deficits while over-investing in the military. Indeed, going back to the era of Erlich's book, 1968, and moving forward, and passing through the Vietnam War and Gulf I&II, along with forays into Panama, Grenada and ten other places -- a serious argument could be made that the huge standing army and conventional armament maintained by the U.S. has been a positive hindrance, with no return whatsoever on money invested, and this misallocation accounts for a large part of the inability to deal with the looming enviromental and energy crises which have gained force. But always, the huge number of variables involved, and the feedback loops among them, leave anyone trying to make an educated guess about what will happen in twenty years vulnerable to large variances in actual outcome.

Those who do not want to change the status quo seize on this inherent and unavoidable inaccuracy as an argument for denying the validity of the futurist's main point. Some technological or "political" fix will solve the problem when it shows up, so calm down. The difficulty is that when the problem finally does manifest itself in all its awful living color, it's not only different, it's almost always a whole lot worse. The "fantasy" bias lulled mankind into thinking the incipient problems would evolve along the gentlest possible path.

So, as Kevin Phillips masterfully demonstrates, here we are. Living in the "future." The United States is seriously broke; we've popped the last bubble remaining to us (housing); the Big Money countries, such as China and the Gulf States, are losing interest in supporting our government or using the dollar as the benchmark for crude oil purchasing; countries which don't necessarily have our best interests at heart (China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran) are forming cooperative alliances; and the U.S.'s one play to carve out a reliable oil supply all to ourselves, the war in Iraq, has turned into a gigantic bust with no payout, while making the problem of insolvency significantly worse.

I'm not even going to mention that we have to deal with all of this while George W. Bush is the President. There's a limit to how many of my own fantasies I care to disabuse.