Why America Suffers From One Catastrophe After Another and Why It Will Keep Happening

Why America Suffers From One Catastrophe After Another and Why It Will Keep Happening
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9/11. Enron. Katrina. Wall Street. The BP spill. There seems no end to it, and the reactions are always parallel. Obama is no different in how he excuses and explains away catastrophes. It was completely unprecedented. Now is not the time to fix blame. We must make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

The problem is that no catastrophe repeats itself exactly. It's always something new. The next disaster won't be an oil spill. We will have promised to fortify our resources against that particular disaster and then something "unprecedented" will strike in a different realm. Perhaps a nuclear meltdown, erasing another great American city. The pattern of excuses will be the same afterward.

It all began with the Florida election theft in 2000 (all of the now-familiar excuses were first used in full force, in total conjugation, for this first disaster). It gave a signal to everyone managing and regulating and overseeing any kind of operation, public or private, that henceforth it was the day of the jackals, that accountability and honesty and certitude were out the door.

It's a very postmodern series of disasters we're living through, and I see no end in sight.

At no point has the circuit been broken. Obama, if he'd prosecuted officials in the previous administration for war crimes, would have slowed down the flow of disasters. How is BP connected to torture? In every way imaginable. Once this administration took charge, it refused to send any signals that those who committed crimes against the people would be brought to justice. Nothing has changed after the BP spill. Obama's lackadaisical attitude, until he was forced to put on an act he clearly doesn't believe in, told everyone that this too--destroying the Gulf waters for generations--is okay, that even this doesn't rise to the magnitude where things should fundamentally change. He may now say some of the right things, but the message has already gone out that you can get away with it.

In a way, we love disaster. We desperately need it in order to function as a coherent society. We have completely run out of intellectual steam, and need a terrorist attack, an environmental calamity, or economic ruin simply to go on. Our response to disaster is to desire it even more desperately by taking precisely those steps which will ensure a recurrence on an even greater scale. We have done it in response to every one of the great disasters of the 2000s.

What we need is nimble, flexible, adaptable, humanly scaled, spontaneous, and imaginative. What we get is big, rigid, sclerotic, dull, inhuman, reactive, slow, brutal, repressive, and turgid. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11--Joseph Lieberman's great legacy--was a terrible idea. Such a conglomeration of conflicting missions and philosophies was never meant to work. This is something Obama should have sought to dismantle, back into its constituent units. As long as DHS is in existence, it will respond in the same plodding manner--always too little too late--to every disaster that comes along. We needed to have made the elements of DHS even smaller after 9/11. Instead we went the opposite way.

After both Katrina and the BP spill, well-meaning individuals with resources who wanted to help were turned away; this should be a very significant clue to why these disasters occur in the first place, and what the system wants to get out of these events.

After every half-imagined terrorist attempt, there is yet another compounding of the intelligence bureaucracy, yet more layers hiding themselves from the others. The process seems meant to guarantee failure.

No heads rolled after 9/11. The same has been true after each of the other disasters. Banks should have been allowed to go bankrupt after the financial collapse. They are bankrupt in reality, but this fact hasn't been acknowledged. In such an open culture of deceit, why do we expect BP not to cut corners, or to be afraid of being brought to account should its recklessness go awry? Nobody has been held responsible for the eight years of war crimes under the Bush administration. Everyone knows that you can get away with whatever you want, and if you mess up on your watch, it's all right. You're certainly not going to jail.

The two illegal wars started by Bush were and are being continued. When illegality at that level--trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands dead in the attacked countries, thousands of American soldiers dead--goes on at the highest levels, what does it matter if Wall Street or BP look for some short cuts, some illegitimate profits?

Who is going to jail, who is paying the price for all these years of disasters? The poor, the immigrants, the innocent workers--they're losing their health, security, and guarantees of due process and constitutional rights. After every disaster they suffer more than ever before. It's a perverse situation. We've created a system where we give more power to the wrongdoers after every disaster.

We're always told that each of these disasters was unforeseeable. That's just completely wrong, because it turns out that each of the disasters was preventable. But the system has become so bloated, so grotesquely large, so redundantly overlapping and inefficient that the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, and moreover, we don't want it any other way. We want these shielding armors, because there is no more philosophy of common public good. Bureaucracies have become fiefdoms. It's a terrifyingly postmodern feudalism.

Throughout the last decade, we wanted desperately to be terrorized, to be attacked. As for the "homeland"--apart from the anomalous 9/11 attack--we could never manage to invite the terrorists to do the dirty deed to us. We tried desperately, we went to unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we incited more than a billion Muslims to come after us, but there was so much goodwill among Muslims in this country that they weren't willing to do us harm. In the last year, there have been a couple of instances of Muslims losing it--they're more appropriately called madmen than terrorists, judging by their behavior and mentality. But nearly every ballyhooed arrest and prosecution of "terrorists" during the last decade was a case of informants inflaming ridiculous madmen to dream up impossible deeds. In other words, self-created imminent disaster publicity. The kind of publicity empire thrives on in its last days, lacking all intellectual justification for the grotesquely excess power it has accumulated.

So the question can legitimately be asked, Are we really interested in preventing a serious terrorist attack?

Bureaucracies swing into action, the presidential phalanx seeks the limelight, and every crisis/disaster/emergency becomes an opportunity for the government to seize more power, to blame and suppress more people, to redistribute further wealth and power upward toward those people who already have more than enough of it.

Was New Orleans rebuilt? Did we ever resolve the basic grievances of the Muslim world? Has Wall Street been put on notice? Has the oil industry got the message? Of course not, because there is absolutely nothing in the system to allow for any of these corrections.

And so, get ready for a continued series of calamities, until all the power simply drains out and there is nothing left to throw around anymore.

The administration's non-response to the Arizona immigration law is another example of the same principle. The administration never showed the slightest support for Luis Gutierrez's humane immigration legislation (judging by the way he's bucking the system, it should only be a matter of time before the poor congressman announces he has to resign to spend more time with his family). And because they never signaled that they would go after the Arizona law to strike it down as unconstitutional (and haven't to this day), it opens the floodgates for many other states to pull off similar lawless capers. It invites states, localities, police chiefs, Homeland Security folks, and TSA officials to try to get away with all sorts of short-cuts against constitutionality.

It is a huge, unmistakable signal that lawlessness is all right. It goes back to Florida, the original sin, it really does, and there's no putting this Humpty Dumpty back together again. The entire liberal establishment sat back and let the stolen election happen. After that, all certainty was off the books. Again, the system desires this chaos, it thrives and profits from it, it doesn't want reality, humanity, flexibility.

These disasters are merely the exclamatory end points of this particular bloated empire. Get ready for the next "completely unprecedented," even larger one.

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