What collapsing empire looks like  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Glenn Greenwald has a story referencing the gravel roads story from a last month - What collapsing empire looks like.

As we enter our ninth year of the War in Afghanistan with an escalated force, and continue to occupy Iraq indefinitely, and feed an endlessly growing Surveillance State, reports are emerging of the Deficit Commission hard at work planning how to cut Social Security, Medicare, and now even to freeze military pay. But a new New York Times article today illustrates as vividly as anything else what a collapsing empire looks like, as it profiles just a few of the budget cuts which cities around the country are being forced to make. This is a sampling of what one finds:
Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further -- it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation.

Many transit systems have cut service to make ends meet, but Clayton County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, decided to cut all the way, and shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

Even public safety has not been immune to the budget ax. In Colorado Springs, the downturn will be remembered, quite literally, as a dark age: the city switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters.

There are some lovely photos accompanying the article, including one showing what a darkened street in Colorado looks like as a result of not being able to afford street lights. Read the article to revel in the details of this widespread misery. Meanwhile, the tiniest sliver of the wealthiest -- the ones who caused these problems in the first place -- continues to thrive. Let's recall what former IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson said last year in The Atlantic about what happens in under-developed and developing countries when an elite-caused financial crises ensues:
Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or -- here's a classic Kremlin bailout technique -- the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk -- at least until the riots grow too large.

The real question is whether the American public is too apathetic and trained into submission for that to ever happen. ...

Does anyone doubt that once a society ceases to be able to afford schools, public transit, paved roads, libraries and street lights -- or once it chooses not to be able to afford those things in pursuit of imperial priorities and the maintenance of a vast Surveillance and National Security State -- that a very serious problem has arisen, that things have gone seriously awry, that imperial collapse, by definition, is an imminent inevitability?


Bob Wallace   says 3:15 AM

Over the top much?

Collapsing, or downsizing a bit?

Collapsing, or working through a very deep recession?

Well - maybe the point to take out of it is that spending priorities seem a bit misplaced...

Indeed they are here in my home country of the good ol' US of A. As a young student myself, I am feeling the pinch of all the budget costs to public higher education here. I just wish more Americans were politically active/acute. When talking about these misplaced budget priorities, sometimes I get people responding to me saying "priorities are always fucked up". I wish they'd learn some history....sigh

Bob Wallace   says 12:46 AM

I read it again.

It's not about misplaced priorities. It's not even honest.

The Deficit Commission is not "hard at work planning how to cut Social Security, Medicare" etc. It's tasked with looking for how to cut the deficit.

There are a couple of conservative members on the 18 person commission who have made statements about cutting social programs, but those are just ideas from the most conservative. They are not what is likely to come out of this commission. And Congress has to vote the commission's findings up or down before they go into effect.

We are in at the bottom of the worst financial time since the Great Depression. State, county and municipal budgets are badly hurt. Those are the entities not paving roads and closing libraries. The Afghan War is not taking money away from those governments. They are in trouble because state and local income, sales, and property taxes are way down.

Furthermore, the US deficit does not come mainly from our foreign wars. The budgetary problem comes from the drastic Bush cuts on tax for the rich.

Greenwald does a terrible job of attribution in this piece. He seems to start with a desire to speak out against wars with which he disagrees and then creates a fantasy to build his case.

I imagine Greenwald would ask you what caused this particular financial crisis (which will take you back to the idea that the empire is the root cause of the problem).

Bob Wallace   says 4:42 PM

What caused this recession is fairly clear.

We had a runaway financial bubble headed by real estate (fueled by terrible mortgage practices) and out of control derivative-based gambling.

And helping it right along was a massive tax cut for the wealthy.

This very deep recession needs to be laid at the feet of Ronald Reagan who sold the bogus idea that less regulation was good and cutting taxes on the rich was excellent.

We allowed our greedy to grab too much and gamble with the stakes too high. And then when we went down we didn't have the tax revenue needed to snap back fast.

The US, IMHO, has had its turn on top, economically. We came out of WWII with brand new factories, lots of raw materials, and war-hardened 'serious' people ready to go to work. The rest of the developed world had been pretty much smashed up in the conflict.

We've lost our manufacturing superiority due firsts to cheap labor and then by spreading education.

We're settling down into 'just another leading country' and our people are seeing their lifestyles drop a bit.


Empire? The US has never been big in the colony business like many European countries have been.

We're trying to get ourselves out of an illegal war in Iraq. And a very badly mangled war in Afghanistan. But we've absolutely no desire to 'own' either place.

Just like we handed back Japan and Germany as quickly as possible.

I won't disagree with much of what you say, however :

1. There are more ways to maintain an empire than the colony based approach - how many military bases does the US maintain around the world and what is the purpose of these ?

2. The real estate boom was fuelled by low interest rates that were put in place after September 11. September 11 was a form of blowback to America's dominance of / interference in the middle east (ie. the bust the US is now experiencing is a result of maintaining the empire).

Bob Wallace   says 2:44 AM

1. There are more ways to maintain an empire than the colony based approach - how many military bases does the US maintain around the world and what is the purpose of these ?

I don't know. I do know that we have bases in countries such as South Korea and Japan because their governments want us there.

The bases in Germany are staging areas for our role as "world policeman", which lots of us would like to hand over to someone else.

Military bases propping up non-elected governments, could be. Can you think of some?

2. The real estate boom was fuelled by low interest rates that were put in place after September 11. September 11 was a form of blowback to America's dominance of / interference in the middle east (ie. the bust the US is now experiencing is a result of maintaining the empire).

I really don't get that connection.

Low interest rates were not what drove the boom as I recall. It was easy access to money.

By lowering the requirements to get a loan (and requirements were dropped to almost nothing) the market was flooded with new buyers. Lots of new buyers drove up prices.

Lending agencies made really crappy loans to many of these buyers. People got very low interest loans for the first few years and then rates reset to much higher rates.

Housing prices were greatly inflated by too many buyers and speculative greed.

C'mon Bob - surely you know America has bases throughout the world - basically everywhere that isn't a client state of Russia or China (along with a few rogues like Venezuela). From Chalmers Johnson a few years back, who dubbed the empire an "Empire of bases" :



As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize -- or do not want to recognize -- that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire -- an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can't begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.

Our military deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations. ... We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another. ...

At Least Seven Hundred Foreign Bases

It's not easy to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and HAS another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. Pentagon bureaucrats calculate that it would require at least $113.2 billion to replace just the foreign bases -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic product of most countries -- and an estimated $591,519.8 million to replace all of them. The military high command deploys to our overseas bases some 253,288 uniformed personnel, plus an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employs an additional 44,446 locally hired foreigners. The Pentagon claims that these bases contain 44,870 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and that it leases 4,844 more.

These numbers, although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally.

As for interest rates, no one would have been able to push prices up to the levels they reached if interest rates hadn't gone so low...

"I don't know. I do know that we have bases in countries such as South Korea and Japan because their governments want us there.

Why did we go into SK to begin with? You don't think it had anything to do with imperial interests ;)?

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