Fall of An Empire: An Inside View
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
Much has been discussed and written about the decline of America over the last several decades, and increasingly so as time marches on. The latest announcements via the main stream media about rumors of wars and the earth’s damaged environment – damage that absolutely must be repaired if humankind are going to survive as a species – are becoming ever more frequent. I’ve been studying these two interrelated phenomena for the last eight years or so, and achieving world peace and environmental cleanup are the twin finish lines in the race for permanent peace and balanced living globally. So, if this is the finish line to this race for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as it is described in the Declaration of Independence, then where is the starting point? I had to stop typing and just sit and think for a short while before I wrote down any more of this, but if I had to pick a single starting point, it would be American education.
The average student loan debt upon graduation from college with a 4-year degree was $40,000.00 as of 2011. If you are just graduating or recently graduated from college, you will have to go back to school and earn a new degree, or otherwise change vocations, about once every ten to fifteen years over your lifetime in order to keep up with changes in the job market and new technologies. That is a frightening prospect for anybody. I argue that if we have to go back to school that many times in our lifetimes just to stay gainfully employed, then it is the system that is broken. The graduates are doing their part by their years of diligence in school, but the educational system has stopped putting up their fair share, and the results are an educational, financial and vocational train wreck for every new graduate.
Higher education as it stands right now is only for those who can afford it, or only for those who can “qualify” for predatory student loans that bury new graduates under mountains of debt so large that many can never be fully repaid. Unfortunately for these people, it is now standard operating procedure for prospective employers to check the credit of job applicants, and this is a practice that needs to be outlawed because it too is discriminatory. The end result of this is that the further behind one gets on his or her student loan payments due to unemployment the worse one’s credit rating becomes, and so the harder it becomes to find suitable employment, and so on. This is a social injustice that must be vigorously opposed at every turn. It amounts to economic discrimination based on class; in this case employers (those who possess wealth) vs. the unemployed (those who have none), and that is a civil rights issue if ever there was one. And so, to correct this injustice, higher education should be free to everyone who desires it, and it should be available unconditionally. For details on how this can be accomplished simply and without reinventing the wheel, please order my book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”. Thanks so much!
I cannot overemphasize the fact that the loss of housing, jobs, savings, pensions and other investments, plus transportation, access to higher education and the human dignity that goes with them, and the loss of access to health care, are all civil rights issues for the early 21st century. The fact of the matter is that we all have the right to all of the above as American citizens – the fundamental right to shelter, to a livelihood and a living wage, to preventative health care, to free education for life instead of having to pay for it. But instead I’m sure you all have noticed, as I have, that America’s existing constitutional rights are being systematically taken away from us a little bit at a time by the top 1%. The only way to stop this from occurring is to take to the streets in nonviolent protests, to organize and initiate general strikes, to flood the social media in order to better organize, and to keep doing these things until satisfactory changes are made. What will happen if this does not occur? Where will our formerly great country end up if everybody sits idly by and does nothing? Let me paint a portrait for you of what would likely happen in that event, a devastating portrait of a country in ruins. The end, you see, has nearly arrived. In fact, the end of all things as we have known them is a lot closer than you may have previously thought. Allow me to present a few examples.
 The number of Americans that have become so discouraged that they have given up searching for work completely now stands at an all-time high.
 Half of all American workers now earn $505 or less per week before taxes.
 Since 2001, over 42,000 U.S. factories have closed down for good.
 In 2012, 1.6 billion cellphones were sold worldwide. So how many of them were manufactured inside the United States? Zero.
 According to a new study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, if the U.S. trade deficit withChina continues to increase at its current rate, the U.S. economy will lose over half a million jobs this year alone.
 According to Tax Notes, between 1999 and 2008 employment at the foreign affiliates of U.S. parent companies increased an astounding 30 percent to 10.1 million. During that exact same time period, U.S. employment at American multinational corporations declined 8 percent to 21.1 million.
 As of the end of 2009, less than 12 million Americans worked in manufacturing. The last time less than 12 million Americans were employed in manufacturing was in 1941.
 In 2001, the United States ranked fourth in the world in per capita broadband Internet use. Today it ranks 15th.
 One prominent economist is projecting that the Chinese economy will be three times larger than the U.S. economy by the year 2040. At any rate, the Chinese economy will eclipse the US economy by 2016.
 The U.S. Census Bureau says that 43.6 million Americans are now living in poverty and according to them that is the highest number of poor Americans in the 51 years that records have been kept.
 The true U.S. unemployment rate, if everyone is counted who currently aren’t being included in the “official” government numbers, is at least 20%.
 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are currently 6.3 million vacant homes in the United States that are either for sale or for rent.
 Since the year 2000, we have lost 10% of our middle class jobs. In the year 2000 there were approximately 72 million middle class jobs in the United States but today there are only about 65 million middle class jobs.
 18 percent of all residential mortgages in the United States were in negative equity as of the end of the third quarter of 2012.
 In 2010, 55 percent of Americans between the ages of 60 and 64 were in the labor market. Ten years ago, that number was just 47 percent. More older Americans than ever find that they have to keep working just to survive. Retirement in America has become a lie and a cruel joke.
 As 2007 began, there were just over 1 million Americans that had been unemployed for half a year or longer. Today, there are over 6 million Americans that have been unemployed for half a year or longer. If we have all this economic and military might while one third of our children come from households that rely on food stamps to eat, then I would say there is something really wrong with this picture.
There can be no doubt that the USA has become a second-rate country when half of its working adults can’t find meaningful work.
There can be no doubt that the USA has become a second-rate country when it is the last developed nation in the entire world without national health insurance for its citizens.
There can be no doubt that the USA has become a second-rate country when all the good jobs get out-sourced overseas for pennies on the dollar while formerly employed Americans and small business owners lose their houses, their cars, their savings and wind up homeless and destitute.
There can be no doubt that the USA has become a second-rate country when it is the last developed country where there is no family leave for its workers.
There can be no doubt that the USA has become a second-rate country when our nation has more people in prison than any other country in the world.
There can be no doubt that the USA has become a second-rate country when our country has accumulated the largest foreign trade deficit and federal budget deficit in the history of the world. Since the government is either unwilling or unable to address these issues in an intelligent manner, it is up to us, “we the people”, to tackle the job from the bottom up since the top-down approach apparently isn’t working.
Today, the United States spends roughly 76 cents of every federal tax dollar on just four things: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on the $14 trillion debt. That leaves 24 cents of revenue to pay for everything else the federal government does. Barring serious efforts to curb the growth in the country’s debt, by 2020 Washington could be spending 92 cents of every tax dollar on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest alone. That would leave just 8 cents to pay for everything else. This is just one reason why the country’s fiscal course is often described as “unsustainable.” There is one more major thing that makes America as we have known it to be “unsustainable”, and that added ingredient is oil.
World civilization is based on oil. The world is running out of oil. The oil companies and governments are not telling the truth about how close we are to the end. Whoever controls the remaining oil determines who lives and who dies. Sixty percent of this oil is under a triangular area of the Middle East the size of Kansas. But instead of an alternative energy plan we got the invasion of Iraq by oilmen wedded to a dying business, willing to kill hundreds of thousands to cling to the last drop. The US is never leaving the region or withdrawing from Iraq. The oil won’t last that long… It’s not about greed any more. It’s about survival. Because the leadership of this country was initially too greedy to switch from oil to solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable alternatives, it may now be too late. Had the hundreds of billions of dollars poured into the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan (might as well include western Pakistan plus Yemen and Somalia while we’re at it) been put into alternative energy the world might have had a fighting chance. As of now that is far from certain.
World oil reserves are far lower than officially reported, the situation far more serious than publicly admitted, and we’re already past “peak oil”. That’s the word from two anonymous IEA whistle-blowers, The Guardian reports. To add insult to industry, the figures were deliberately massaged, at least in part, to appease the United States: Apparently the IEA was concerned that reporting the true reserve numbers – and keep in mind that determining oil reserves is as much art as science – it would trigger a buying panic. The US enters the picture encouraging the IEA to underplay the rate at which oil fields are being depleted – something which the IEA has admitted in recent months is occurring more quickly than previously acknowledged – while at the same time overplaying the possibility of new large discoveries.
There should be protests and demonstrations in the streets because of big oil’s hijacking of the US economy (the Occupy, Anonymous and “99%” Movements were only the start). I must say I’m a bit surprised and disappointed by this fact, but I continue to be hopeful for a resurgence in protests all across America. But what will millions due in a real national emergency? For example, right now gas is about $3.75 a gallon. But America’s supply chain for petroleum has a problem. Over 80% of US oil refineries are located in the Gulf Coast area, consisting mainly of southern Louisiana and southeast Texas, right in the middle of hurricane country. All of these refineries are at least 30 years old. All it will take is one category 4 or 5 hurricane to knock these refineries off-line for a few weeks or months and the US will find itself in very serious trouble. Then there is the fact that the US gets 40% of its imported oil from one country, Saudi Arabia, which ironically is the birthplace of Osama Bin Laden. If Saudi Arabia decides to cut off our supply of Middle Eastern oil, the US will also be in very serious trouble. If Iran decides to blockade the strait of Hormuz (Google or Yahoo that), much the same thing will occur. No matter what happens, the price of gas is sure to rise up to between $6.00 and $7.00 per gallon by the end of 2016 or the beginning of World War 3, whichever comes first. What will we do then? At these price levels, working Americans could be paying nearly $200.00 to fill up their cars with gas, even more for full-size trucks and SUV’s. What will we do when we can no longer afford to drive to work? I’ll bet you won’t be sitting at home alone crying in your coffee!
Can you now see that we as a united people must protest all this systemic greed in order to keep these things from happening, or at least to lessen the severity of their impact? As I watch the street battles in Egypt, Syria and Iraq on TV and the Web, all I keep thinking about is how they have mustered the courage to fight their government’s tyranny while Americans remain unready to revolt against the peculiar American brand of consumer tyranny. How ironic that in the nation with monumental gun ownership among its citizens there is no hint of people giving up on meaningless elections and taking to the streets in massive numbers to protest their corrupt government. Just this week a new report documented this: Nearly a year and a half into the economic recovery, some 45.6 million Americans continued to rely on food stamps, and that was in November, 2012. That amounted to more than 14 percent of the population relying on food stamps to purchase groceries, just another result of stubborn high unemployment and low incomes among the employed. As of late 2013, that number in now approaching 17%. For this to be happening in the richest country in the world is simply inexcusable.
Anyone with a smidgen of intelligence and critical thinking capability knows that in almost every conceivable way the US is in awful shape for a large proportion of its citizens. The nation needs to shift into revolution mode. Watching the Superbowl, pro wrestling, the World Series, Dancing With The Stars and American Idol will not improve our situation. Neither will playing video games. While we’re all preoccupied with the nonsense and insanity of everyday life through all our little electronic diversions of endless variety, America’s government, banking and financial sectors are awash with corruption, greed and dishonesty. Our health care system no longer produces healthy citizens compared to many other nations, despite costing much, much more. Our physical infrastructure is a disgrace, crumbling and threatening public health and safety. Upward mobility has largely disappeared and the middle class continues to sink into a lower class. Economic inequality has skyrocketed with the rich becoming richer and everyone else suffering more and more. The large number of homeless, hungry, poor and imprisoned Americans defines a nation that has lost its glory and its luster.
It is the tyranny of silence that prevents so many of us today from rising up to protest the “forever wars” against illegal drugs, and especially for oil, that we cannot hope to win and can no longer afford. It is the same tyranny of silence that prevents us from rising up to protest the government takeover – not by socialists – but by extremists on the right who readily give tax breaks to the ultra rich at the expense of everyone else. This same cadre of the military-industrial complex has also been successful in more or less co-opting an otherwise capable president into believing that cutting spending on everything except war is the only way to solve our debt crisis. And it is this same gang of madmen that characterized the inaction of those of us who have suffered foreclosures of their homes, and those of us who find ourselves without jobs, and those of us who “played by the rules and worked hard” to get through school only to graduate into an America of diminished expectations and heavy debt, as well as all of the rest of us who have seen our salaries cut, our benefits cut, our pensions cut, and who now say to ourselves, “It’s okay I guess, because at least I still have a job”. Yes, it is all of us, including me and you, who see the protests in Egypt and cheer for democracy but are too afraid to reassert our ownership of the democracy we have at home. We all have been made afraid, having been bullied by the system. We live in a tyranny of silence. The time to break that silence has arrived. And, as Thomas Jefferson so profoundly expressed it: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
America ‘s founding fathers stood up for their freedom, winning it from the British. The Egyptian people have stood up for their freedom, too, winning it from the Mubarak dictatorship, finding their courage even when Mubarak’s thugs flew fighter jets low over their heads, beat and murdered protesters, and otherwise threatened violence. But how does America compare with Egypt? The truth is there is a stunning amount of inequality in Egypt. But America is even worse.
* Egypt’s Mubarak stole billions from his people, while the American oligarchs have stolen trillions.
* Egypt has been living under a state of emergency for over 30 years, yes. But Americans have been living under a continuous state of emergency for 13 years straight.
*Mubarak was supported by the military. But the military-industrial complex has taken over America as well.
*Mubarak ignored the wishes of his people. But has the American government been listening to its people? Consider the 2010 Rasmussen poll which found that “just 21% of voters nationwide believe that the federal government enjoys the consent of the governed.”
A 2010 Gallup poll determined that nearly half of all Americans believe “the Federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.” Poll after poll shows that “both national parties are deeply unpopular with an electorate looking for something new and different.” Polls reveal that 82% of all Americans wanted Wall Street to be reined in, in a substantial and meaningful manner, and yet our government has let Wall Street have its way on all the important issues. Polls find that Americans want the big financial players who acted with fraud to be punished, and yet our government has let all of the big fish off the hook.
The heart of the matter here is that what has happened in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Greece desperately needs to happen here in the US. Even if we successfully repair America’s broken educational system, that is only the starting point. If we do not then we will have only ourselves to blame, and we will get whatever kind of tyrannical government we deserve. But I do not believe that the American people will continue to put up with this situation any longer. In fact, I am convinced it is a certainty that the American people, if confronted by the continuing class war that I have been writing about, will ultimately rebel, forcing the current government from power and installing a new one in its place by popular vote just like what happened in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011. That rebellion has already started with the Occupy, Anonymous and the 99% Movements, and I have no doubt that these movements will continue to grow as time goes on. I participated in Occupy DC when it started in early October of 2011, and I must tell you that it felt really good to be a part of this historic and significant movement of the people. I would urge everyone who reads this to get involved in some way in this noble undertaking. If you can’t physically be at the protest, organize one in your local area instead. Use the social media to promote it. Or to be a donor to existing Occupy Movements near you, simply search for them on the Web.
Besides, the alternative is unthinkable. The alternative would be for the US to turn into a third world country. We are dangerously close to that point already. But we can still stop that from occurring and turn things around in our favor if we unite together for change, and a sea of voices rising up from a multitude of humanity can most certainly change things for the better. The momentum for this movement is already underway, so let’s capitalize on that and really get things rolling. Besides, it’s a good positive experience to be a part of a new 21st century civil rights movement such as this. Be sure and get started with this today, and for those who are already participating, keep up the good work!