The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle
Commentary on the Flux of Events
by Jim Kunstler
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July 21, 2003
The stress of leaving the modern age behind and sailing into uncharted territory of history is beginning to show very clearly in the level of public distraction and delusion as illustrated in three current issues here in the United States.
The first is the current hoo-hah over the lack of evidence for Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destructions. The upshot of the hoo-hah is that since no WMDs have been found, they must have never existed and therefore the entire Iraq adventure was a shuck, and that Saddam was a harmless and distant despot of no account to American interests. I find this position inane on several counts.
Saddam had a good ten years to obtain, study, experiment with, fabricate, distribute, sell, lend, or hide all kinds of deadly devices and substances. The fact that we haven't found fissionable material or stockpiles of smallpox or sarin gas should not necessarily lead to the conclusion that they never existed. Rather, I'd wonder to whom might they have been given or sold, or where they were stashed. The failure to turn up WMDs also does not mean that we had no reason to invade Iraq and topple Saddam. He was a pathological presence in the world's most geopolitically sensitive region. He was a megalomaniac totalitarian who started several wars, who tried and almost succeeded in gaining control over most of the remaining oil in the world, and openly wished to lead a kind of secular jihad against the United States -- in tandem with the parallel religious jihad being waged by various Islamists, Wahabis, al qaedas, mullahocracies, Talibans, Hezbollahs, and freelance Muslim maniacs.
A nation of people devoted to a car-dependent, oil-addicted lifestyle -- namely, US -- has to be responsible for the fact that the security of the Middle East is directly in our interest -- either that or start reforming how we live in this country, which no credible American leader currently on stage is willing to talk about. Since we won't begin to think about giving up our oil addiction, the necessity to turn Iraq into a regional police station then becomes manifest.
As I said more than a few times lately: my friends spent much of the spring driving their SUVs to the peace marches. I can't take them seriously on the subject of peace. And the fact that many of these people belong to our educated and supposedly "progressive" elite troubles me, because if they are so confused imagine what the lumpen proles will come up with when the stress builds.
A second related issue now is the hoo-hah over President Bush's squishy assertion in the State of the Union speech that Saddam Hussein had acquired uranium from Niger. It turned out to be based on faulty intelligence. However, there seems to be some illusion among the same class of American progressives that the spy game is an utterly transparent and rational enterprise, and that we should be able to clearly understand everything it presents to us at every step along the way. Nothing could be further from the way the world really works. The spy game is murky and riddled with deception and the best minds in the world of any ideological stripe are challenged at any given time to understand what the fuck is really going on. So what this complaint boils down to is something that Paul Berman describes so lucidly in his excellent book Terror and Liberalism -- the failure of western progressives to consider that the world is not perfectly rational, a habit of thinking that leaves us profoundly vulnerable to the homicidal and totalitarian impulses lately stirring through the Islamic societies who happen also to control most of the world's remaining petroleum.
The third issue is the increasingly spreading belief -- in my opinion completely delusional -- that high American officials knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks and allowed them to happen in order to advance their wicked agenda of world domination, or something like that. I have heard several otherwise intelligent people express their interest in this idea lately, and it prompts me to wonder what it means about the collective mental health of our culture -- that is, how scared and crazy are we below the seemingly "normal" surface of the world's highest standard of living?
July 14, 2003
When observers and commentators write about economic affairs there is almost always an assumption of certain basic continuities -- for example the idea that the numbers may rise and fall from year to year but the activities such as house-building, auto sales, and Big Box retail will remain in place, permanent institutions just waiting to be tuned back up. Thus, housing starts, auto sales, and WalMart receipts fall, and that's a recession. They go up, we call it "growth." But what I see coming down the pike at us is very different and I think it will be characterized not by the rising and falling of the same old things but by gross discontinuities in those activities themselves.
That is, after a certain point in the peak oil drama, there will no such thing as production house-building anymore, auto sales will no longer be a democratic phenomenon, and WalMart will founder as international mischief cuts off its12,000 mile merchandise supply lines. For practical purposes, we won't have these activities anymore. Since those activities have been the foundation of our economy in recent years, the questions arise: what will we replace them with? How difficult will that transition be (or will it happen at all)? And what kind of political friction is the process liable to generate?
My own sense is that the discontinuities will be so gross and distressing that the US will slip into an era of psychotic politics in which all the enterprise needed to accomplish a transition into a lower-energy, locally-based collection of regional economies will be wasted in the futile attempt to prop up the insupportable old economy at all costs. This is one of the reasons that I can't join my cohorts in excoriating George W. Bush -- because I'm convinced that he will look mild and sane in retrospect compared to the kind of maniacs that Americans might elect ten years from now when the Clusterfuck is in full swing.
A lot of my yuppie cohorts are also indignant over "the media," but it seems to me that they are very confused in what they mean about it. The TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and Internet are certainly loaded with trivia and stupidity, but there is no shortage of information from which one might draw reasonable conclusions about what is happening in the world. There has been plenty of news about the looming natural gas crisis in North America, yet raise the subject at a backyard BBQ and I receive vacant stares, as from a a herd of Holstein cattle. The prospective discontinuity simply doesn't register. It can't be processed. I suppose it is in the nature of cultural discontinuity that thinking is also interrupted.
A lot of my yuppie cohorts are consumed with loathing and emnity for George Bush, but not a single one of them is making plans to live more locally or drive less or invent an economic role for themselves based here in the community.
If educated America is having so much trouble, imagine how lumpen America will cope when all the persumed permanent conditions of the WalMart economy cease to perform.
Here are some conclusions that one might reasonably draw from information easily available: Finance is not in and of itself an economically productive activity. The suburban project has reached its terminal stage. America does not need more retail. Driving more each day will not make us a happier society. If you expect to depend on Middle Eastern oil, then be prepared to spend a lot of money and shed a lot of blood to stabilize, pacify, or dominate the region, and after a while military adventuring may be America's chief activity, though it may destroy more wealth than it generates.
What a strange time in history this is.
July 1, 2003
So, the other night on NPR, movie critics Leonard Maltin and Bob Mondello were being grilled by one of the senior commentators as to how come this new movie The Hulk which is, after all, just another brainless, meretricious, recycled comic book and TV show, broke records for money-making in its opening week. The two critics, who are both essentially decent and intelligent men, struggled desperately to answer this question. In fact, they never did even come close.
Well, here's the reason: these movies are obviously made for children, and the everyday environment in America is now so gruesome and dysfunctional that there is absolutely nowhere else for kids to go except the cineplex (at the mall). Summer is now here. Do you think that mothers in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Dallas actually send their kids out to play in the cul-de-sacs in 116-degree heat.
And even in places that are actually climatically hospitable to human life, say Ohio or Rhode Island, the kids are trapped in a Matrix of motorways. The ordinary daily adventures of childhood are unavailble to them.
"Say, Tommy, why don't you and Sis ride your bikes out on Southeast Connector?"
Forget it. It's either let them park themselves in front of a TV set or video monitor at home in the AC, or ferry their pitifully obese asses across the asphalt wilderness to the movies where they can be happy receptors of product placement strategies -- and then, if it's a really red-letter day, they can stop at WalMart on the way home and pick up a Hulk action figure.
This is the kind of pathetic nation we have become, and the denial manifest in such discussions on NPR would be kind of tragic if we weren't also ridiculous.
June 23, 2003
Coming back from Washington I had a simple plan: cab to Union Station, Amtrak to BWI Airport, Southwest Airlines to home.
I'm a careful traveler. I always build plenty of slack into my schedule in case of trouble.
I got to Union Station a half hour ahead of the scheduled departure for the half-hour train ride to the airport. It was eleven o'clock Sunday morning. There were perhaps twenty-five people in line ahead of me waiting to buy tickets. After five minutes or so, I became aware that the line was not moving.
The line fed into a counter of ticket clerk stations and five clerks were on duty. Each one sat before a computer terminal. Five minutes more and the line still hadn't moved. I focused now on the action up at the counter. The ticket-buyers seemed to be going through some fiendishly complex transactions of the kind your would suffer at the motor vehicle bureau or the visa department of the Ukrainian consulate. After fifteen minutes only one person at one of the five stations had completed his purchase. After twenty minutes only three of the stations had turned over to new customers. There were still twenty people ahead of me -- and now about twenty people behind me. With five minutes to go before my train's departure, there were still at least fifteen people ahead of me in line, You see where there is going, n'cest pas? Finally, the clock ticked past my scheduled departure time. I left the station and caught a cab to BWI Airport. Cost: $60.
Excuse me, but what the fuck is wrong with our country? I am old enough to remember the time when one went into a railroad station, walked up to a ticket clerk, forked over some cash money, and received a printed ticket. What a masterfully ingenius system it was. Now we have a million dollars worth of computer equipment, enterprise software, and training invested in the system and one cannot show up at a railroad station in the nation's capital within a reasonable amount of time and get a ticket. Has the CEO of Amtrak actually gone down to Union Station and checked out how things are running there? If any of you reading this blog are railroad enthusiasts who know the Amtrak higher-ups, please send this along to them.
I was in Washington for the annual hoedown of the Congress for the New Urbanism. This organization and its stalwart members -- architects, town planners, officials, journalists, and property developers -- have been working heroically for eleven years now to deliver the antidote to suburban sprawl to a mostly brain-dead nation. The CNU program includes the comprehensive restoration of public transit. They have made a lot of progress since the organization's founding, but their ideas are still by far a minority view.
John Norquist, mayor of Milwaukee for the last fifteen years, has just been chosen as the CNU's new chief. He is a great choice, a forceful and energetic figure with a great record of accomplishment in his own city, and a deep technical knowledge of urban design. The org will now move its headquarters from San Francisco to Chicago. Anyone interested in joining up to help solve the problems of Clusterfuck Nation, go to this site: Congress for the New Urbanism.
June 13, 2003
The Midwest is so heartbreaking.
I had one of my Mad Dog episodes yesterday as breakfast keynote speaker at a regional planning conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The conference center at Meijer Gardens (built by the chain store moguls way out in the suburban gloaming) has a state-of-the-art computerized audio-visual system. Just as I was doing a rant on the diminishing returns of technology, the system went haywire. One of the two screens in the huge main hall started rolling up, the house lights swelled back on and the gigantic automatic venetian blind system on the glass wall behind the screens started to open. Then my slides vanished from the remaining screen. Basically, the system went into shut-down mode prematurely. The several hundred folks present tittered into their coffee mugs.
The AV guy was a nice, if somewhat frustrated, young man and I assumed he'd get the whole rig going again, but in the meantime I retreated to the podium and began to describe the fossil fuel clusterfuck that the US is sleepwalking into. You've heard it all. Now there is something especially clueless about the civic leadership of the Midwest. Babbitry is truly alive and well in its pure form as first identified by Sinclair Lewis -- that is, the hyper-kenetic boosterism based on savage real estate exploitation with an overlay of hysterical optimism. On the ground, Grand Rapids is just an appalling mess of brainless desconstruction -- Peter Eisenman and Rem Koolhaas would be sexually exicted by it. The downtown has suffered a wholesale removal of great Richardsonian buildings, which were replaced over the last thirty years by Brutalist blank-walled bunkers. Many of the streets were turned into one-way demi-freeways, and apart from a few bars around the convention center there is an eerie absence of normal commerce. I hasten to add that what has happened in Grand Rapids is typical of virtually all small cities in our nation, though Midwesterners go about this kind of destruction with extra added zeal.
Anyway, there I was marooned at the podium with a downer AV system in front of several hundred people so I began maundering into the mic:.
I saw a bumper sticker in my town the other day. It said "War Is Not The Answer." I emphasize: a bumper sticker. On a car. You know, if you really want to live in a drive-in utopia, in a car-dependent, oil-addicted society, and you want to keep those profits flowing into bank accounts of the suburban tract house builders, and the strip mall developers, and you want to build a new freeway link south of town, and a swell conference center like this one miles and miles from anything else in your region -- then war actually is the answer. Get used to it. Get over it. We don't have enough oil to run our own show, and other people in other parts of the world do. So war IS the answer. I've got friends back home who have been picketing down at the Post Office against the war in Iraq for months. They drive their SUVs down there to demonstrate their indignation over US military policy. I've got news for you: we're not going to be able to continue living this way in America, whether we like it or not. . . . At that point, the slides reappeared magically and the screen to my left rolled back down, and the giant wall of blinds closed again, and I was able to resume my didactic presentation about what makes good or bad places.
I've been doing this road show for ten years. I wonder if there's really any point to it anymore. The American public -- and these Midwesterners are the very soul of that public -- are going to keep on doing their thing until circumstances make it impossible. They're not interested in making good towns and cities. They just want to make money the way they know how. They're going to keep the pavers rolling, and keep the framers knocking up the McHouses, and keep putting in the Meijer hyper-stores, until the big red "TILT" sign lights up the sky. And then they'll become a nation of vengeful crybabies, shooting things here, there, and everywhere. You heard it here first.
On another topic, the Road Map peace initiative in Israel: The news-chatterers on NPR yesterday afternoon went on and on deploring the most recent "cycle of violence," conveniently omitting to state that each of these cycles, including the latest, was started by Palestinian terror groups devoted to the complete destruction of Israel and nothing less than that. In every instance the past 25 years when Israel attempted to initiate some kind of cease-fire, it has been broken by determined Islamic terrorists. That's the simple fact. They will not permit any peace settlement to happen. It is part of the current American consensus fiction that both sides want peace. The truth is, only Israel wants peace.
The more interesting question is what this Road Map initiative really represents for us. I'd call it a PR campaign by the US to make us look better in the eyes of the Islamic nations whose oil we desperately depend on. Because we know if events spiral out of control in Isreal and Gaza and the West Bank that all bets off regarding the regular supplies of moderately-priced Arab oil that this country can't function without. A point may be reached soon where other Islamic nations in the region feel compelled to come to the aid of the Palestinians, and this could lead to events as epochal as the overthrow of the Saudis, who have, at least, been extremely accomodating to the US in terms of keeping the price of oil within reasonable levels -- even while they subsidize Hamas, al Qaeda, and other Jihadista activities. What would happen, one has to wonder, if the bounty of armaments we sold to the Saudis over the years -- including jet bombers -- fall under the control of new Jihadista Arabian regime?
June 3, 2003
The Association for the Study of Peak Oil threw a major conference last week in Paris. The org is lead by Colin Campbell, retired chief geologist for Shell Oil, and the board members include an impressive roster of geologists who have worked both for Big Oil and acadamia, for instance, Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton, retired exploration manager of France's giant Total company Jean Laherrere, Pierre-Rene Bauquis, VP of the French Energy Institute (IFP), and others like Matthew Simmons, the Houston-based investment banker specializing in energy companies.
The message emerging from the meeting is that the world may have already entered the unchartered territory of global oil depletion -- that is, the downside of "Hubbert's Curve," the bell graph first used by Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert in 1956 to describe the destiny of the world's oil supplies. Here are some of the salient points presented (thanks to Michael C. Ruppert reporting for the Fromthewilderness.com).
-- Deffeyes repeated a claim he made in April that, based on production figures for the past three years, the world seems to have passed peak oil production in 2000.
-- The once-hoped-for Caspian Sea bonanza has proved to be a major bust. British Petroleum and Exxon/Mobil have already pulled out.
-- Reserve figures have been uniformly overstated for decades by both major oil companies and national governments -- for tax advantages in the case of US companies and to evade export quota regulations in the case of OPEC members. Saudi Arabia's reserves may be substantially lower than the 250 billion barrels claimed, and in fact Saudi Arabia may be producing now at 100 percent capacity, meaning they may now be passing peak.
-- Oliver Appert, Chairman of the IFP, declared there are no more major significant reserves to be discovered and that the world oil depletion rate is between five and ten per cent per year, requiring 60 million barrels a day in new production to meet demand.
-- Auto sales in China jumped 50 percent in 2002 alone.
-- Matthew Simmons told the group that the US natural gas supply is near a crisis point. By 2001, with record drilling, there was no increase in supply, and by 2003 production was in serious decline. New Texas gas wells, he said, are in decline an average of 83 percent one year after drilling. "The world has no Plan B," he said.
--Dutch economist Maarten Van Mourik told the group that deep water drilling would not add significantly to the world's oil reserve, that it did not make sense economically, and ultimately could only produce five billion barrels -- equal to a 60-day world demand at current levels. Van Mourik also made the interesting observation that, "it may not be profitable to slow decline."
-- All speakers addressing the issue stated that no combination of alternative energy sources can replace hydrocarbons, and none even dreamed of will be implemented in time to avert major disruptions in industrial civilization.
-- Dr. Jorg Wind, representing auto giant Daimler / Chrysler told the conference that his company did not view hydrogen as a viable alternative to petroleum-based engines. He stated that fuel cell vehicles would never amount to significant market share. Hydrogen was ruled out as a solution because of intensive costs of production, inherent energy inefficiencies, lack of infrastructure, and practical difficulties such as the extreme cost and difficulty of storage. The Daimler / Chrysler representative dismissed ethanol out of hand as "not energy efficient."
-- Pierre-Rene Bauquis remarked that commercial production of hydrogen is two to five times the cost of fossil fuels used to produce it.
-- Other French presenters stated that ethanol used in France enjoyed a 300 percent government subsidy.
-- Physics Professor Kjell Aleklett told the conference that exploiting the Canadian Tar Sands would be a financial and economic disaster, insofar as the amount of natural gas needed to create steam to process the mined sands, as well as the massive amounts of water used and polluted in the process.
-- Chris Skrebowski of the UK's Institute of Petroleum noted that by 2007 Britain will be in its second year of natural gas imports and its first year of oil imports, having severely depleted its North Sea reserves by that time.
Go ahead and draw some conclusions.
May 26, 2003
The American nation rebuilding project in Iraq seems to have lost its way in the past two weeks as the US occupying force has so far failed to restore some basic services, to muster an Iraqi police force to stop the continued systematic looting of the nation's innfrastructure, to restore other civic offices and agencies, and most curiously to find Mr. Saddam Hussein or his sons, who are said to be hiding out in a Baghdad suburb.
Meanwhile, in the interest of promoting democratic free speech, we've given free reign to the shi'ite mullahs to agitate for an Islamic regime (and to get rid of us meddling Americans in the process). There seem to be plenty of freelance troublemakers of the Jihadista persuasion working to keep the anarchy level high. I'm not so optimistic right now that we can succeed in fabricating a stable government there. It would be unfortunate for both the Iraqi people and us if the project failed, but it might fail nonetheless. And there are many parties and persons determined to make it fail. If so, it would mark an historic turning point where US could no longer pretend to be able to control the Middle East and its oil.
At the same time, the corrupt and despotic kingdom of the Saud clan seems poised for toppling in Arabia. A report on NPR this morning described a condition of roughly 30 percent unemployment among young Arabian men. On top of this enforced idleness and anomie, the kingdom forbids young men to mix socially with women, forbids the showing of movies or other performance arts, and forbids the use of alcohol -- all on pain of extremely severe punishment. The young men of Arabia can't even go out and play soccer in the daily 100+ degree heat. What other outlet do they have besides revolution and Jihad? The income differentials between the royal elite and the growing number of unemployed non-elite is reaching a tipping point. There is no evidence that the US could do anything to prevent a revolution against the Saudis.
The limits to American power may soon be manifest.
And yet here we are back home on Memorial Day weekend acting as though the life of perpetual happy motoring, and the preposterous economy that relies on it, would go on indefinitely. There does not seem to be one faction of any political party, or one political figure on the national scene, actively questioning our national behavior and the hazard that we have placed ourselves in.
On the extreme margins of media consciousness, recognition is starting to seep in that the US also faces an imminent natural gas crisis. We cannot drill wells fast enough to keep up with the demand for natural gas, and the new wells we do drill are depleting with remarkable speed. The US electric generation grid has been shifted substantially from coal, oil, and nuclear power to natural gas over the past 20 years -- a response to the oil shocks of the 70s plus the nuclear disasters of Chernyobl and Three Mile Island -- and we have now overshot our capacity to fuel these plants.
Sometime this year, we could find ourselves in a double resource crisis -- both oil and natural gas. Will the American public be surprised and indignant if and when it happens. And how will they regard the governing party leaders who let them sleepwalk into it?
May 16, 2003
Of course it's about the oil.
American "crusader infidels" in Arabia now appear to be the the prime focus for the Jihadistas. How long will it be before America's pipeline to 17 percent of our oil imports is compromised? If attacks like this week's three-car-bomb extravaganza continue, will America "fight back?" Well, what does "fighting back" mean? The United States can't mount aggressive police-like counter-terrorist operations within the Saudi kingdom. (We can't even count on the Sauds to do it themselves.) We can't occupy Arabia -- certainly not while we're busy occupying Iraq and Afghanistan -- and even if we tried, we do not have enough soldiers to guard the pipelines, refineries, and port facilities against sabotage.
The large, extended Saud royal family -- including hundreds of princes -- is starkly divided. Those allied to the country's nominal leader, Prince Abdullah, would renounce support of al Qaeda-style anti-western terror in the interest of keeping the current game going (the game being their regime and the riches accruing from the orderly sale of their chief resource). Another large faction panders to the Jihadistas for fear of losing legitimacy and hence power. Another faction supports Jihad outright, knowing the valuable oil will be there under the hot sands regardless of who buys it and when it gets sold.
My sense of things is that there is little the US can do about the Arabian situation right now except cross our fingers and whistle. My further sense is that the Saud family regime is doomed, and that we will see a radical islamic regime take its place within the next 18 months. Any American military meddling, overt or covert, will only accelerate the process.
An Islamic Arabian regime could 1.) shut down oil production altogether for a while, which would throw the global economy into chaos; 2.) could sell its oil more selectively, namely to Asia, which would also clobber the global economy since Asia depends on sale of its goods to a solvent west; or 3.) neck down production to jack up the price-per-barrel for everyone and conserve what is liable to be their only source of wealth ever. The Arabs have previous success models in the 1973 embargo and the 1979 price-jacking. Number 3 would probably be in their best interest, but what they actually will do depends on how pissed off they are.
Bottom line: I think we in the US can count on an Arab oil fiasco of some kind pretty soon. The public is not even dimly aware of this or prepared for it.
Meanwhile, speaking of the American public, I made a trip to the archetypal drive-in utopia this week: Orange County, California, to sit on a panel at a conference of High Speed Rail proponents. My mission was to rouse some sense of urgency among them. The harsh part for me was being marooned in the Garden Grove Hyatt hotel for an additional night, since I opted to not take the torturous "Red Eye" flight back home right after the panel concluded.
Just for the hell of it, I set out on foot up Harbor Avenue to see what the pedestrian experience was like. Understand, this whole county is a massive assemblege of Big Box strips under the spaghetti wad of freeways -- a grid of six and eight-lane "surface" boulevards lined by strip malls, freestanding chain restaurants, hotel pods, and muffler shops all disaggregated from the housing pods, of course. But here there is little pretense that people will get around by means other than the automobile, and the scale of urban design reflects this. My trip up Harbor Ave. therefore soon took on a flavor of the Bataan Death March, a mindless punishing tromp through nowhere to nowhere, so I gave up after a half mile of encountering nothing and nobody and returned to the hotel.
There I discovered during a chat with the concierge that Disneyland -- Walt's original Magic Kingdom -- was within striking distance of the hotel's complimentary shuttle. It so happend, too, that the Disnoids had lately built an adjoining attraction called Disney Downtown, so I set out on the shuttle to check it out.
The good news was that there was no entry charge to get into Disney Downtown. The bad news was that it amounted to little more than a third-rate shopping mall on Prozac -- and by that I mean the lame mix of pseudo shops and restaurants (all homogenously managed by Disney), was accessorized by an especially oppressive mix of piped-in up-tempo muzak and an excess of fake wholesomeness as reflected by the smiling anthropomorphic cartoon architectural doo-dads, the creepily over-friendly "cast members" (employees), and the grinning Disney character dolls, plush toys and effigies for sale in every window. All this forced wholesomeness was a strange contrast to the actual customers -- since even supposedly middle-class Americans today are tattooed, pierced, and otherwise gotten up like characters out of sadomasochistic porn flick. Whole families went by dressed in leather.
Since Orange County has no discernable real downtown, one can see why Disney tried to supply a simulation of one, both as a civic good and a money-making operation. The amazing thing, given the company's vaunted imagineering abilities and deep pockets, is how limited and lifeless their version is. The decrepitating main street of little Schuylerville (population 5,500) ten miles east of here in upstate New York has a better retail mix than Disney Downtown.
My ostensible destination once inside "Downtown" was the cineplex -- the only movie venue reachable to a non-driver marooned at the Garden Grove Hyatt. I stood in line behind three college-age boys who were trying to buy tickets for the next day's showing of The Matrix Reloaded. The transaction took fifteen minutes. I don't know what the fuck they were doing or how many credit cards were involved. But this seemed to be an example of how the computerization of retail trade has so hopelessly over-complicated things that the simple transaction of buying three movie tickets becomes as time-consuming as renewing a driver's license. So much for "increased productivity."
Eventually, I got my ticket to the movie Identity and went in. The trailers for the summer's attractions were on. Virtually every movie coming this summer is some kind of a kung fu epic, with a lot of added explosions. Charlie's Angels Two. That kind of crap. There is apparently a direct correlation between the social destitution and monotony of suburbia and the craving after sheer violent sensation. The sound was absolutely deafening.
The next day I had an early morning flight out of John Wayne Airport. When I got there at six a.m., the place had just come out of "lockdown" due to a "security breach" and a line nearly a quarter-mile long had formed to get through the metal detector. It took an hour an a half to get through the line. A lot of people missed their flights. I just made mine -- since I follow a "two hour rule" for arriving at airports these days. How many more casual disruptions like this can the airline industry take? Surely some of the people I was in line with will not want to fly again.
May 6, 2003
As much of a shock as it was to hear that William Bennett (The Book of Virtues) dropped $6 million-plus on the gambling tables over the past ten years was just the sight of the big blubbery whale getting out of his limousine in front of some Washington citidal of power today on CNN during my morning romp on the eliptical trainer. Not only does he have a gambling problem, but he is a big fat slob.
Bennett, fromer Secretary of Education and Drug "Czar" in the Reagan and Bush One administrations, was one of the most zealous media prosecutors of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Bennett's protectors are now trying to make the point that his gambling activity was perfectly legal under the current laws. An interesting fine point. Last time I checked, a blow job between consenting adults was also legal.
There are several things we ought to find disturbing about Bennett's gambling behavior. One is the sheer size of the nut he has dropped at the tables $6 million ! Do we presume that he was raking in this kind of income as an influence peddlar (that is, lobbyist) in Washington during the Clinton years? Where does that sort of sleazy vocation fit in on the table of Sins and Virtues? Another facet of this is the kind of psychology behind compulsive gambling -- the idea that it is possible to get something for nothing: unearned riches. (I don't believe that old bullshit about people gambing for "the excitement.") It basically boils down to a character flaw. Is there any recognition of the fact that his gambling losses eventually make their way into the pockets of organized crime? -- because make no mistake, the mob runs gambling in this country; they are the only people willing to use extra-legal methods of enforcement to keep their workers in line where so much loose cash in changing hands. In other words, the only way to keep the employees from stealing is to make it known that their fingers will be broken with ball-peen hammers if they get caught. Yet another disturbing thing is the comparison between Bennett's behavior and his "war" against middle-class drug dabblers who were not hurting anybody by smoking pot in their own homes (though they too were enriching criminal syndicates).
What Bill Bennett deserves now is to suffer a long spell of good old fashioned disgrace.
He says now that he intends to stop gambling. Really? Is he going stop eating pie, too? I can't wait to find out.
I believe the traumas that lie ahead for America -- driven by the global oil peak event -- will lead to a severe reevaluation of our national behavior, and that gambling will once again come to be highly restricted. In my opinion, it ought to be. It is tremendously destructive, especially to the poor who can least afford to lose (and make up the bulk of the losers). It's dangerous for a whole nation to believe that it is possible to get something for nothing.
April 25, 2003
It's unfortunate that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is now pretending the US will not establish military bases in Iraq once (or if) a coherent civil administration can be installed there. Establishing bases there has been very obviously Part B of the agenda (Part A being the removal of that vicious prick Saddam Hussein). The Iraq operation has been very much about putting a western police station in a geographically pivotal part of the Middle East. The reason for the police station is transparent: to monitor the activities of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Pakistan, and intimidate freelance organizations within those states who are intent on carrying out a Jihad against the West (and the US in particular).
Well, I said "unfortunate," but what's the alternative? To declare our intentions? Islamiscists of all stripes would go batshit. The Shiites are already going batshit, with a lot of prompting from Mullah Central next door in Iran.
Ironically, a substantial fraction of the American public misunderstands our intentions in Iraq, too. The Progressive / Anti-war / Leftist residue of my generation (the hippies) believes that the war was fought for the benefit of Exxon & Friends. While there's no doubt that America wants that Iraqi oil getting into the global market, there is no need for it to get there via American companies. There would also be not a prayer of protecting the oil extraction infrastucture from sabotage if it was owned and operated by American companies. So there was never any question that oil production would be left to the Iraqis themselves. Whether they can get their shit together to resume production is a question apart from that; and the answer (also in two parts) might well be that A.) even with help it will take the Iraqis a long time to restart their wells, refineries, and port terminals, and B.) that they will never again return to the production levels they enjoyed years ago.
The rest is a terribly important public relations exercise to demonstrate the good intentions of western "Enlightenment" culture -- that is, our attempt to construct a civil society based on the rule of law rather than the caprices of maniacs. It is unclear whether the Iraqis themselves can even function in what we call a free society, but it is clearly the hope of this experiment that they might.
In the meantime, the United States finds itself in a multi-layered predicament at home that hardly anyone in the media is paying attention to, and it goes something like this:
Due to the phenomenon of the global oil peak having been passed around the year 2001, the US economy is unlikely to enjoy "growth" rates of between 2 and 5 percent that have been considered both normative and necessary for the past 100 years of oil-based industrialism. That translates, more or less, into permanent recession. Helluva political problem.
What's more, the United States is not much of an industrialized nation anymore, since we outsourced the making of things to other countries. What is sometimes referred to as "post-industrialism" is really a skeezy blend of suburban sprawl creation (i.e. ongoing misallocation of resources), "service" jobs (tanning parlors and fingernail extension boutiques), mindless motoring, and a massive financial fraud revolving around hallucinated wealth (credit), much of it in the form of mortgages attached to the aforementioned suburban sprawl.
The American people themselves show no sign whatsoever of apprehending the trouble we are in at home, and show every intention of trying to keep the racket going. The big questions are: How long will circumstances permit this illusion to be sustained? How much pain will Americans feel when the credit train wreck occurs? And what kind of extreme social, economic, and political behavior will be generated at game's end?
Here are some of the things to watch out for. The price of a barrel of oil has not gone down since the end of the Iraq campaign. 2003 is turning out to be a piss-poor production year, with Venezuela crippled, Nigeria in chaos, Iraq closed for repairs, and the Saudis pumping at 100 percent of capacity. Global peak is probably behind us. A contest for the remaining oil now ensues between America, Europe, Japan and China. Virtually everybody else is shit out of luck.
This means a great deal of pain in the third world and the semi-third world (e.g. Latin America). It means more extreme oscilliations in price and supply and probable military maneuvering. If the Big Kahuna of Saudi Arabia goes down (that is, gets taken over by religious maniacs), then all bets are off. The US economy -- namely, suburbanites driving thirty-five miles each way to their office at a sub-prime mortage office on the other side of Atlanta -- gets crushed. Otherwise, look for the so-called economy to continue staggering. Look for tremendous fiscal distress at the state level, expressed in things like the inability to fix highways or fund schools. Look for the continued disintegration of the airline industry (and zero action at any level on the reconstruction of a national passenger rail network). Look for the tanking real estate market as saturation and exhaustion finally set in even among the cash-out re-fi for lunch bunch. Look for dismal sales figures from the chain stores. Keep an especially watchful eye on the natural gas situation, since a failure to replenish stocks after a very severe winter could lead to electrical brownouts by the end of the year.
And, of course, be prepared for another terrorist atrocity because despite the clownishness of the color-coded alert system, the danger is real. This is still a free country, easy to move around in, and the world is full of dangerous small arms, explosives, contraband poisons and germs, and an inexhaustible number of lunatics aching to use them.
April 18, 2003
It's always a pleasure to see Brig. General Vincent Brooks conduct the daily 7a.m. CentCom briefing while I work out like a gerbil at the gym. His manner is calm, reassuring, compassionate, authoritative, and competent -- all with a dash of youthful elan. Brooks is everything you would want in an American military leader. He'll surely get a second star soon.
But something worries me about the picture he presents: the disparity between the competence of our operations in Iraq and the utter cluelessness about our behavior back home. The US campaign in Iraq has been so technically elegant that our delusions about the way we live back home are only being reinforced by a false sense of super-competence.
We've tried to be extraordinarily careful and considerate of the Iraqi civilians and their property in flushing out the Saddamite administration. We're pulling out the stops trying to restore their electricity, water, and police services. Under a US military occupation, they've got the fairest shot at setting up a decent government that they will ever get. All this is heartwarming.
So if we're so competent overseas, working the Iraq operation, how come we are living in a futureless clusterfuck at home? Well, what do I mean by clusterfuck, you might ask. I mean an economy based on cheap oil addiction, hallucinated wealth creation, unsustainable and out-of-control suburban development, and the idea that its possible to get something for nothing -- in short, a living arrangement with no future.
Before I answer the question I have posed, let me interject a few points gleaned from a recent talk given by Kenneth Deffeyes at Ohio University in early April. Deffeyes is the Princeton geologist who authored the book Hubbert's Peak in 2001 about the coming permanent oil crisis that the industrialized world faces. Global Public Media
In his lecture, Deffeye's said that the global peak production event very likely already occurred by 2001. Production in 2002 was slightly lower. 2003 is already off to a poor start with Venezuela and Nigeria crippled by civil disorder and Iraq totally out of service. (Expect more of this, by the way, as the peak has its own destabilizing properties.) The Saudis, he says, are pumping at 100 percent of capacity. The good news is that OPEC no longer can control the price of oil; the bad news is that nobody does. Deffeyes observes that post-peak supply will never again keep up with demand. One ineluctable conclusion is that industrial economies will never again experience 2 to 5 percent annual growth. That means permanent recession or depression (depending on your stomach for the terms). It means that an economy based on the "growth" of oil-dependent suburban infrastucture is in especially deep trouble. It means that the kind of reorganization we have to do of life in the United States is so massive that it will make the Iraq operation look like a shave and a haircut.
So how come we're so clueless? A false sense of tremendous technical competence. We probably think that any problem America faces will be tackled by the kind of suave, cool competence exemplified by General Brooks. This is precisely why nobody questions the hollowness of our pretensions about "alternative fuels." Techno-hubris.
Interesting to note, by the way, in this particular talk Ken Deffeyes himself appears to have been taken in by the idea that the American automobile fleet can keep running on some clever combination of fuels. It never occurs to him that walkable communities, public transit, and local economies might be part of the real answer.
April 14, 2003
Quote of the week: "America is a patient, generous nation. We have a long fuse -- but there's a big-ass bomb at the end."
-- Dennis Miller
The amazingly cluelessness of the American public and media on the coming end of the cheap oil age continues, Yesterday's lead story in the New York Times Business Section, "Oil's Pressure Points; As Demand Rises, So Does the Industry's Volatility," by Neela Banerjee contained some remarkable howlers.
One was this statement: "The American Economy is not as reliant on oil as it was 20 years ago because of significant improvements in energy efficiency and a shift away from heavy industry to service businesses."
Where does the Times find such clucks?
The Times has apparently failed to notice that the American economy has shifted from industry to the creation of suburban sprawl. What do they think suburbia runs on? And how do they suppose it is going to run on the downside of world peak oil production?
By the way, what are the "service industries" Banerjee refers to? Tanning parlors? Repossession agencies?
The next howler: "The Bush administration has backed long-term research into hydrogen to replace crude oil, but that technology -- at a competitive price -- is still 15 to 20 years away."
That one is really rich. I especially like the "15 or 20 years away" as though the deus ex machina express had already checked in at stations farther down the line on its way up to save our asses. Note: the alternative fuels hope is a fantasy right now. Any enterprising nine-year-old could do a thirty-minute search on the internet and discover why it ain't gonna happen (especially hydrogen). And what does Banerjee suppose the world (and the US) is going to do in the meantime?
Well, I'll tell you what: they will descend into economic and political turmoil.
Another really funny thing: a chart accompanying the story lists Canada as possessing the world's second largest oil reserves (behind Arabia). With an asterisk. That asterisk says that about 90 percent of Canada's putative oil wealth is embedded in the tar sands of Alberta. Banerjee apparently doesn't know that it takes huge amounts of energy to get useful distilates out of these tar sands (they have to be mined first and then rinsed with boiling water before they can be refined).
Banerjee obviously got her information from Daniel Yergin's Cambridge Energy Research Associates, cited by name. Yergin is the author of The Prize, an excellent history of the industry. He has now mutated into a shill for that industry.
April 9, 2003
The War in Iraq has probably gone better than most of us expected. No gas attacks. No blown-up dams. Few fired-up oil wells. Complete surrender of the skies. An Iraqi military leadership that seems to have come straight out of an old Peter Sellers movie. American casualties not much more than one hundred so far. And now jubilation (plus looting!) in the streets of Baghdad.
For someone who lived through -- but didn't fight in -- the Vietnam War, it is quite a contrast, and the sum of it adds up to more than some of the apparent differences -- for instance, the fact that there was no jungle terrain to hide in outside the towns and cities; the lack of sponsorship by other great powers (as China and the Soviets sponsored North Vietnam).
This time, the US military leadership has been open and honest about its operations -- which is probably a lot easier when you are successful. But there is also an aura of clear purpose among them, and a total lack of the irony or cynicism that marked attitudes even among the generals during the Vietnam War.
Meanwhile, the anti-war political Left begins to look foolish and discredited. The answer to their perpetual slogan, War is Not the Solution -- grow up. Sometimes war is the solution.
All this said, what are the prospects in the middle-to-longer term?
A US military occupational force seems capable of restoring order and quickly rerstoring civil institutions like police, fire, and health departments. Setting up a court system with legitimacy will be more difficult since all current judges are Saddam appointees. I don't see why we can't get a civilian government running in six months to a year, and no doubt a massive effort will be made to create some kind of electoral process as a tutorial for other Islamic despotisms.
Certainly some military bases will be established in Iraq, and they are liable to be permanent. Will this make the Iranian mullahs nervous? You bet.
Finally, the Iraqi oil industry will be rebuilt and run by Iraqis. The idea is to get that oil flowing steadily into the global markets. Will it stabilize the world oil situation? Not for long. In fact, robust pumping of the Iraqi fields will only accelerate the speed at which the world attains the tipping point of peak production. And after that the oil markets will automatically destabilize as, inexorably, world demand increasingly outstrips supply.
The US humiliation of Saddam may take the starch out of the Jihadistas for a while -- or it may not. Who really knows. The cover story in the current Atlantic Monthly on the corrupt and depraved Saud family over in Arabia ought to make US policy wonksters very nervous. That regime could be toast five minutes from now. It's flimsy, inept, and despised, and Arabia has far more Islamic maniacs than Iraq does. Would the US attempt to rush into a political vacuum in Arabia? Perhaps. But that could turn into the true Vietnam of the Middle East. Could the US military occupy both Iraq and Arabia at once, and protect the extremely vulnerable oil infrastructure in both places from sabotage? I doubt it. Seven camels and 100 pounds of semtech plastic explosive could disable the Arabian oil industry.
So, there is the prospect that even if the US succeeds in stabilizing and improving Iraq, Arabia will descend into a maelstrom.
Even if the Sauds manage to hang on in Arabia, they may lose their ability to control oil pricing via OPEC. That eventuality is approaching anyway, no matter what happens, because Arabian oil production has been going full bore lately and they may not have the reserve capacity they claim. In which case, the phenomenon of global peak production will take over the pricing power as described above.
Meanwhile, isn't it time for the asinine American Left to put down its ridiculous peace signs and start working for things that matter in this country, such as public transit, railroad service between cities, and preparing for the coming post-cheap oil era in which we will have to all live more locally?
April 5, 2003
Michael Kelly, a fine writer and editor
Quote of the century (so far):
"Our forces are now closer to the center of Baghdad than most American commuters are to their downtown office."
--Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
April 2, 2003
So yesterday Howard Dean, recently retired governor of Vermont who is in a long-shot bid to become president, told an audience of Democratic women that the Democratic party was doomed to lose the next election if they didn't start acting like a responsible opposition with some ideas of their own. I like that call to arms -- since I am officially a registered Democrat -- and I like Dean -- he was a first-rate governor who actually accomplished some things in his cute little state, such as getting all indigent children on a state medical insurance plan. (Dean also happens to be a medical doctor).
It also happens that Dean is pretty vehemently anti-war (that is, anti Iraq War). As readers have probably gathered, I'm not anti-war. I'm persuaded it was necessary to kick Saddam Hussein's ass to remind the Jihadistas of the world, who despise weakness, that the US has not become a cringing, craven, soft-headed culture who will absorb any outrage without striking back. What I am far less sure about is America's ability to exercise hegemony and protect oil drilling equipment over such a vast and faraway territory full of hostile people. But time will tell about that.
Anyway, if this war is effectively over in a month -- and that is a possibility, after all -- Howard Dean nor any other candidate ain't going to ride an anti-war donkey into the nominating convention. There are a lot of ideas that the Democrats could come up with, but I recommend a kind of overarching bundle having to do with the approaching end of the cheap oil age and the urgent need to move America away from a suburban sprawl way of life (and an economy dependant on that insane behavior) as rapidly as possible.
Among other things, this could mean a crash program to establish public transit and especially passenger rail service between cities. Meanwhile, the airlines are in the process of financially crashing-and-burning. Has anyone noticed? They will either be nationalized or re-organized much differently, and the nation would benefit hugely from replacing many current air routes between cities a few hundred miles apart with railroad service. This effort could employ hundreds of thousands of currently unemployed people and save a lot of petroleum.
The Democrats can also begin a national discussion about the huge project of downscaling and re-scaling many of the normal activities of our national life. The North American natural gas situation is approaching a state of permanent crisis, and as that occurs industrial agriculture will be paralyzed. 90 percent of the fertilizer used in this country is made out of natural gas. Plus, any problems we encounter with oil supplies will add to the accelerating instability of that system. Bottom line, if America expects to feed herself in the decades ahead, we're going to have to reorganize farming on a much more local and smaller scale. The federal government has a lot to say about that.
The federal government -- specifically the entities that guarantee mortages -- have a lot to say about what kind of development occurs in America, and where it occurs. We urgently need to stop current incentives that promote farflung suburban housing subdivisions and redirect that investment to towns and cities. That will have the effect of preserving agricultural land that we are going to need desperately, and reduce the total amount of automobile use.
Why haven't the Democratic party leaders already discovered these issues? Why are they running on ideological fumes like affirmative action and "diversity" (whatever the fuck that means)? I wish I knew. At this point I can only ascribe it to consensus trance. They've been sleepwalking into the future just like everybody else.
So, Howard Dean, the ball is in your court. . . .
March 28, 2003
Anyone who has reflected on the idea of global peak oil production and what it implies, cannot fail to observe everything we are doing at home and abroad through the lens of that knowledge. (For an overview, listen to this excellent audio interview with Colin Campbell from Global Public Radio.)
For one thing, our army in Iraq is a petroleum-powered mega-machine. It requires so much gasoline that a temporary pipeline is being laid from the refineries in Kuwait clear up the giant armored column to the outskirts of Baghdad. This works, obviously, when an armed conflict is taking place on the site of some of the world's largest oil reserves. But what would happen if the US had to conduct large-scale military operations in some other part of the world where gasoline is not so easy to get? And what would an American army run on fifty years from now when global oil depletion will be a fact of history?
Besides President Bush's fatuous promise to bring America into a hydrogen-fueled economy (ain't gonna happen), what are Americans doing to confront the reality of global peak oil production and what it implies? Even the peace marchers are driving SUVs to their demonstrations. Why aren't they marching for improved public transit, or for rail service between cities several hundred miles apart? (Has anyone noticed that the airline industry is disintegrating?) How many of the peace marchers believe that the world owes them a suburban lifestyle? How many believe they are entitled to the blandishments of WalMart and a food supply featuring 3000-mile caesar salads and lamb raised in New Zealand? How many are preparing to live locally?
Even the politically immaculate academic lefties are going to be shocked at how drastically life will have to change in our country if America intends to remain civilized in the 21st century. (By the way, there will be far fewer academic jobs in the years ahead, but plenty of new openings for farm laborers.)
I am impressed at how every plan I see being made in my little corner of the country is based on the assumption that life twenty years from now will be just like today --only more so. My town, for instance, is currently ramping up for a major investment in new multi-level parking structures, based on the belief that the town's economy will be centered on automobile tourism. The county development office is planning a "high tech campus" -- that is, a suburban-style drive-in office park -- to be serviced by scores of new McHousing subdivisions (on first-rate farmland that is currently seen as having no agricultural value).
This country is just not getting it. Instead, our collective imagintion is crashing into a vortex of static and noise.
March 24, 2003
Thanks to several correspondents who informed me it was Karl Marx who made that crack about history repeating itself first as tragedy and then as farce. Apparently Marx said this in connection with Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew Napoleon III -- which seemed very unfair, since Nappy III (Louis Napoleon, ruled 1851 - 1870) was in many ways a far more beneficent figure than his glorious uncle.
Anyway, this is off the point, which is that Gulf War II -- if that's what we call it -- has now moved beyond its farcical opening hours into the kind of deadly seriousness we expect of real war. The Iraqis have stopped rolling over. American soldiers are dying in combat (or being executed after capture). The mystery of why Saddam failed to fire up his oil wells in the south has not been cleared up yet, and the greater oil fields of northern Iraq are apparently intact for the moment. No nerve gas or bio-weapons have been deployed yet, or even found in the captured zones, but I don't take this to mean that they don't exist. Rather, I assume they are carefully concealed. We seem to be entering a pretty down-and-dirty phase of this conflict.
As it unfolds, a clearer sense emerges of why it is happening.
First, this is the result of brushing the issue of proliferation under the rug for decades. We're now faced with a set of irresponsible states who have the means to fabricate terrible weapons, and the will to either use them directly against American interests or engage and assist non-state proxies to do it. The US has to at least demonstrate the will to oppose them.
It's not an accident that this war is occuring in a place that holds the world's second largest reserves of oil, but it is not the primary purpose of the war. The primary purpose is to occupy forward positions adjacent to Iran and cause Iran to think very carefully about mounting a nuclear arms program, which they are close to starting.
Iraqi oil, if extracted optimally, under the most favorable circumstances, will only postpone the world fossil fuels reckoning by a few years. There is a persistent buzz on the internet -- strangely absent in the other media -- that the war is also about the threat of oil-exporting nations converting their transactions to being euro-based rather than in dollars as has been the standard for decades. Saddam Hussein was in the process of doing just this. It seems abstruse, perhaps, but with the dollar losing value against the euro, dollar-denominated oil sales tend more and more to subsidize American users and penalize non-Americans, who have to get dollars to buy oil. They get dollars by selling us manufactured goods. But the dollars they get are worth less and less every month.
The reason the dollar loses value is because we import much more stuff (including products and oil) than we export. Our global trade account is wildly out of balance, and has been for years. The only thing compensating for it has been the belief -- despite apparent trends -- that the US is still the world's most stable society and therefore the best place to park surplus wealth -- which is done in dollar-denominated investment instruments like stocks. So exported dollars have steadily returned here from abroad, propping up our credibility.
The slow-motion crash of the stock markets has made foreigners think twice about parking their wealth in the US. Meanwhile, we've outsourced our manufacturing capacity to Mexico and Asia so that the American economy has come to be based soley on the creation of suburban sprawl, financed on credit, which is to say hallucinated money. Suburban sprawl is a meta-machine for consumption of resources. It produces nothing of value in and of itself. The world is onto this.
The US economy is therefore in the process of losing its legitimacy. As this occurs, the world will not want to assign the dollar the role as its reserve currency -- i.e. the unit of money presumed to be backed by the strongest society --nor will they want to use the dollar as the basis for oil sales. As more foreign investment is withdrawn from the US and put into euros or possibly even Chinese yuan, the value of the dollar is apt to fall sharply.
By the way, I would not interpret the recent "war rally" in the stock markets as having any significance. The markets, like the world, are onto the true nature of the US economy -- that's why they have been declining steadily since 2000. They are only going through a temporary delirium based on the end of uncertainty about whether war would actually happen.
So, getting back to the internet buzz, the idea was that if the US could get Iraqi oil back onto dollar-denominated transactions, it could halt the world trend against the dollar and postpone the erosion of economic legitimacy. This is said to account for the hostile attitude of France and Germany (the euro's chief backers) toward the Iraq adventure. Europe would benefit hugely from oil sales denominated in their own currency.
Assuming that this theory has something to it, I doubt that the US can halt the trend away from the dollar in any case. OPEC may decide to shift all their oil trade to the euro no matter what the US is able to achieve in the way of controlling Iraq.
And, course, the US is doing absolutely nothing to address our phony-baloney sprawl economy. In fact, the notion that we are entitled to this manner of living is very much conflated (on purpose) with our stated reasons for going to war. And if there is anything evil about our Iraq adventure, it is that. I don't blame George W. Bush for many of things my friends do -- being a shill for big business, etc. -- but I do blame him for failing to understand that our bad living habits are liable to kill our country as readily as any gang of Jihadistas.