By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
Dear Wolfgang and Jacqueline:
"Are you Americans totally round the bend? You shut down the government over an argument about a law, and you may go into debt default and throw the world economy into the crapper?" Those opening questions in your letter deserve a thoughtful reply. Short answer to them both: Yes.
Longer answer: Even in the best of times, American politics rarely makes rational sense. But right now is almost the worst of times. From Europe it may appear that you are witnessing recess at a school for naughty, malicious children. While that's true, we need to enlarge the frame of that portrait to get closer to the whole picture and to assign proper blame rather than just accept the mainstream media's false meme that "both sides are equally responsible" for the governmental shutdown and debt crisis.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Enlarging the frame means really enlarging it in order to see what is essentially being ignored these days:
** While the politicians are engaged in their narrow-vision bumbling about, virtually nothing truly significant is being done to deal with global climate change and its massively destructive weather-change component. This is a much more dangerous development in human history than most other issues and it deserves a massive, worldwide mitigation program -- which it's not getting.
** The increasingly catastrophic meltdown taking place at the crippled Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan is barely mentioned these days (too scary?). The radioactive fallout since the 2011 disaster is moving outward by sea and air currents -- and with even larger doses expected to reach America's West Coast in 2014. Where are the air and sea and fisheries monitors? Who's in charge?
In addition, beginning next month, 400 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel rods in Fukushima's third-floor cooling pools will be removed and shipped to a safer location. (And just where might that be?). This kind of delicate operation has never been attempted on this scale in human history. Nobody knows what will happen if or when one or more of the rods breaks while being moved. More likely, it will be "when," given the abysmal safety record of the Japanese utility in charge. The rods contain deadly plutonium; if an explosion were to occur, the resulting radiation could be relatively contained or it could be a thorough-going catastrophe, with global ramifications. Where is the international monitoring? Where is the U.S. in all this?
** Given the increasingly jobless recovery worldwide, and given the enormous gap between those who have and those who would like to have, we can expect more explosive social, class-based confrontations. This is a highly combustible mix, as "austerity" becomes the rule for the poor and middle class, while the rarefied upper classes are facilitated in growing wealthier.
Yes, of course, there are countervailing positive things happening all over the world, including breakthroughs in medicine and science and technology that could lead to more happiness on a massive scale. But I'm afraid that the gloom-and-doom developments appear to be unstoppable at this stage of our limited human evolution. Intelligence is in short supply, with wisdom regarded as a frivolous eccentricity. In the baldest analysis: humanity may be well and truly f------- and there seems no way out.
"THE STUPID" & HOW WE GOT HERE
Maybe that's why political leaders, Americans and others, avoid these seemingly intractable problems and prefer to stumble and bumble in the minutiae of narrow-focus political life.
Rather than devote much time here to the daily political twists and turns of who's-on-top, I suggest that what might help you Europeans understand how Americans got to this dangerous political place is a bit of historical context:
Our democratic republic works, on those occasions when it does, on a tacit belief that one key role of government is to pass laws to try to improve the lot of all concerned: rich, poor, middle, various affinity and ethnic groups, etc. etc. The Republican Party, for decades, has asserted its core belief in the proposition that (as Ronald Reagan put it) ""Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." That was a great punch line, but history shows that when Republicans are in power, they tend to govern more or less as usual and at times (see the CheneyBush years) even greatly expand the size and role of the federal government.