Following on the heels of Katrina, the latest smack down from Mother Nature, Hurricane Rita, has once again exposed the soft, white underbelly of the American way of life. Built upon a model of transportation emphasizing the automobile, at the expense of any other forms of more efficient and less costly models of public transit, the citizens of Houston are sitting in traffic lines stretching for 100 miles, trying to evacuate the fourth largest urban area in the U.S.
Rather than whisking people out from the path of Rita’s fury by a system of infrastructure common in most areas of Europe, Americans time-and-time-again are forced to jump into their hulks of metal (actually, there is very little metal in today’s modern polymer-laden autos) and sit for hours in a veritable parking lot, formerly used as an interstate.
Not only is the evacuation Houston further evidence of our lack of preparedness in dealing with disasters of both a natural cause and heaven help us, one that might be precipitated by terrorism, but it shows the level of absolute incompetence present at all levels of government—local, state, and federal. Our institutions are broken and in desperate need of major reform—hell, we’d be better off to dismantle it entirely and rebuild from the foundations.
On top of this obvious problem with any form of preparedness for events like hurricanes, the amount of debt our nation continues to take on to rebuild the broken lives and devastated communities has ominous implications for the future. The massive amounts of debt required as a result of our failed fiscal policy and continued waging of an empty and futile war in Iraq leaves our nation vulnerable. This debt, financed and underwritten by foreign investors, particularly nations such as China and Japan, continues to destabilize our economy and puts us on the path to economic ruin.
Currently, there doesn’t appear to be a fiscal policy—it’s debt, debt, and even more debt—compounded by our current administration’s tax cuts for the rich and unabated spending associated with war and natural disasters.
As Allan Sloan, the Wall Street editor for Newsweek spoke about this morning on C-Span, we are poised for an economic meltdown. We cannot continue to embrace our current practices of fiscal irresponsibility, without plunging off the cliff at some point. Markets by nature are emotional, and Sloan spoke of some event in the not-too-distant future “spooking” the credit markets. Simply put, “the shit is going to hit the fan—the only question is what (event) triggers it, when it will happen, and the severity of the pain associated with it.”
Many folks (including Sloan) recognize the solution requires fiscal discipline and austerity, but the actuality of that happening is slim to none. Americans want their cake and also want to devour it—decades of affluenza has made us incapable of making the hard choices required at this juncture.
We are in for a tough slog. The winter in places like the northeast will test our mettle; how and even if we can come out the other side unscathed, remains to be seen. Experts aren’t predicting an easy time, particularly with projections regarding gas prices, as well as looming natural gas shortages.