This Is The Way Our Empire Ends—Not With A Bang But A Whimper

Ed Raymond

 T.S. Eliot in his poem “The Hollow Men” muses about “This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms,” describing how men and politicians react to the end of empires. At the end of the poem he signs off: “This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.”  I changed it a little to emphasize our empire. We will soon enter the 227th year of the American empire, about the average length of the major empires in the history of the world. We are now fighting Islam in the former empire of Assyria which survived for 247 years from 859 to 612 B.C. We are  fighting Muslims in the former Persian empire which survived for 208 years from 538 to 330 B.C. The empire of Greece, the home of Socratic democracy, is now bankrupt after surviving as an empire for 231 years from 331 to 100 B.C. The Roman empire was at its very peak from 27 B.C. to 180 A.D., only 207 years. The Spanish empire, the principal backer of Columbus, ruled a large part of the known world for 250 years from about 1500 to 1750 A.D. Then the British empire, which the sun never set on, survived from 1700 to 1950 A.D., another 250 years. Then two empires fought for supremacy for a short period. The Russian empire lasted for 234 years from 1682 to 1916 when we took over the world, starting in 1789 and ending soon, whimpering in our death throes.
   We haven’t won a war since World War II. We have fought to a tie with North Korea and were run out of Vietnam by little men with a pound of rice as rations and a superior AK-47. We thought we had won something in George Herbert Walker Bush’s Gulf War—but found out later from his son it was only the first battle of our quagmire in Iraq. A Russian general warned us about Afghanistan with this advice: “Sure you can bomb them back to the Stone Age in a week, but ten years later you will come out with your tail between your legs.” That’s the dog’s way of signaling defeat. We are stupid enough to think we can win something in Afghanistan after being there for almost 15 years, but the tail is between our legs and we are whimpering. How many “wars” are we fighting with the “most powerful military the world has ever seen?” We have now stationed Special Forces in 147 countries out of the 196 that exist today.

A New Yorker Cartoon Says It All About The State Of Our Empire

   Two cowpokes are riding through the tumbleweeds evidently having a political discussion. One cowboy reprimands the other: “Quit saying ‘President Trump.’ You’re spookin’ the horses.” In other words, even the horses know that The Donald is a bloviating horse’s ass totally unfit for any public office, let alone the presidency. Ben Carson may be the world’s best neurosurgeon but he is just plain weird—and may be just a little nuts. I don’t know what’s the matter with Jed Bush. Good Heavens, he seems to be dumber than his brother George. Is that possible? I liked John Kasich until he said if elected he would close all teachers’ lounges in the U.S. because that’s where teachers plot union activities. That proves he knows nothing about education. Ted Cruz is actually a reincarnation of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy who saw Commies everywhere in government. Cruz even looks like McCarthy—before he died a drunk. Cruz is a Christian Dominionist and wants the government to follow Dominionist religious teachings.  He’s a dangerous guy because he has the oratorical skills to run the world’s greatest scams. John McCain’s buddy Lindsey Graham is always looking around for another war to fight. Mike Huckabee has only one song in his repertoire: “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  Next to these guys, Hillary and Bernie look close to normal.
   This country seems to be going to hell in a handbasket—or in a $250,000 Tesla electric car. Two obscene purchases were made this week as signs of our decline. A Modigliani nude painting was sold for a record $170.4 million in a bidding battle for billionaires. The buyer remains anonymous. A dirty sweater, once worn by the long-dead Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame, was sold for $137,500 to a collector. These transactions are going on while we are neglecting our crumbling infrastructure. Two other countries are adding innovative structures. The Chinese are  building the largest airport in the world in Beijing with a spoke-like terminal under one roof with sections that are over a half-mile long.  They are also building the world’s longest bridge at over 30 miles. Saudi Arabia, with our oil money, is building two of the largest and tallest buildings in the world. The Kingdom Tower in Jeddah will be over 3,300 feet high when completed. The Saudis are also building the world’s largest hotel with 10,000 rooms in Mecca to help house the two million Muslims who attend haji each year.

Meanwhile, We Lose Billions In Productivity Because We Don’t Repair Or Add To Our Infrastructure

   Instead of using the unemployed in a WPA-type of program to repair our old and build new infrastructure, we pay them lousy unemployment insurance to sit on their ass and wait for jobs to open up. FDR’s Works Progress Administration put eight million to work at a living wage during the Great Depression building dams, roads, bridges, and national parks we still use today. Various studies show that our once world-leading infrastructure of bridges, pipelines, sewage treatment plants, roads, dams, and levees costs us billions a year in lost productivity  because they are crumbling. People sit on freeways waiting for cars to move and trucks idle while carrying late shipments of goods. The Department of Transportation says we have about 14,000 deaths a year because of poorly designed roads and bridges, and that injuries from road conditions run $11.4 billion in medical costs. The railroads have failed to introduce a safety system called Positive Train Control which could prevent an estimated 77 deaths and 1,400 injuries a year. Old water and sewage systems caused 431 cases of illness, 103 hospitalizations, and 14 deaths last year. In the recent series of storms in South Carolina 36 dams collapsed and 19 people died. Last year the state spent a whopping $260,000 on its dam safety program! Nationally we have lost 73 dams this year that average 62 years old. One in nine bridges have been labeled “structurally deficient” by the American Society of Engineers. We haven’t even started to worry about the safety of our 2.5 million miles of pipelines buried in the earth, some of them over 100 years old. Out of sight and out of mind—until they leak and blow up.
   It will be interesting to see what happens with the highway bill just passed by Congress. It’s a six-year program—but only funded for three years. So far, the Republicans refuse to raise the gas tax from 18.4 cents a gallon set in 1993. Gee, have prices gone up in 22 years?

Why Do We Have So Many Poor People In The Richest Country In The World?

   Les Leopold of Chelsea Green Publishing summarizes our problems better than I: “Runaway inequality is upending how we see ourselves and how we govern. It is upending the American Dream (the cherished idea that life gets better with each generation)….The super-rich live in a world that no longer requires mutual reliance on common public services. Elites generally don’t use our schools, our roads, our airports. They don’t really care if our infrastructure collapses. We are cracking into two separate societies … Today the U.S. is the most unequal country in the developed world.”
   Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey summed up the responsibilities of government many years ago: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, the handicapped.” We are failing the three groups. We are near the bottom of the developed world in the percentage of four-year-olds in early childhood education. During our economic “recovery” homelessness among children is getting worse. We have 16 million children living on $5 a day for food. Half of our children are so poor they qualify for free or subsidized school lunches. Many schools are basically combat zones equipped with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, security guards, weapons searches, and police dogs sniffing for drugs. In the last 20 years suicide among black children has doubled.
   Meanwhile the death rate among white middle-aged Americans is rising at such a rate that the group is ending up with a much shorter life span. Only in Russia has this happened before. When Russia imploded in the 90’s middle-aged Russians drank so much cheap vodka they lowered their life span by about five years. Frustrated by unemployment, poor jobs, and lousy wages that have not increased for 30 years, Americans in that age group also are dying from alcohol, drugs, cirrhosis, other chronic liver diseases, midlife stress, poor health care, and lack of retirement plans and funds. Alabama doctors wrote 143 prescriptions for Oxycontin and other opiods for every 100 residents in 2012. Tennessee doctors write such prescriptions at more than 21 times the rate of Minnesota doctors. For the last 20 years poorly educated workers have suffered through an economy which has become a nightmare for those between 50 and 65. Over 32,000 men committed suicide in 2013, a significant increase over previous years. The median wage, adjusted for inflation, has remained the same for 16 years. The pretax incomes reported on 90% of 2013 tax returns by white workers were about equal to those reported in 1966. Meanwhile the top 1% of the top 1% went from an income of $5.5 million to $25 million over those 47 years. That’s why poor white men are killing themselves at a record rate. Almost 20% of poor unemployed whites have been out of a job for more than two years. Drugs, alcohol, and suicide are decimating the former members of the middle class. They are really dying of despair.

Why Does Washington Have The Highest Infant Mortality Rate Among High-Income Capitals?

The organization Save The Children has developed a mother’s index for the world using five factors: (1) maternal health, (2) children’s well-being, (3) economic wealth of country, (4) participation of women in national politics, and (5) the average years for formal schooling offered to children. The world’s best countries for raising children are Norway, Finland and Iceland. The United States ranks 33rd.  Among the 25 top high-income capitals for infant mortality rates, Washington, D.C. holds down last place. Between 7 and 8 infants die out of 1,000 children in D.C. Prague, Oslo, Stockholm, and Tokyo average two per 1,000. The reasons for this D.C. debacle according to the report: “persuasive poverty, young and uninformed mothers, and poor prenatal care.”  Remember: our Congress rules D.C. As far as women participating in national politics, we rank way behind Rwanda, Bolivia, and Cuba. Every member of Congress should read what an American mother who has lived in the Netherlands for seven years writes about why Dutch mothers and children are the most relaxed: “The Dutch social welfare state provides a great safety net: schools are free, or close to it, compulsory health insurance covers medical expenses, and parents get a quarterly stipend to help cover the costs of raising a child.” The Dutch have a system where 70% of the women work part-time—and are happy to do so.  Dutch kids are rated “the happiest in the world.” Some countries know how to govern when everyone has been created equal.