James Howard Kunstler -- World News Trust
Mar. 7, 2011 -- Before retiring to a casket packed with clods of my native soil, I tuned in the Sunday night late news to find the political struggles of Araby banished from the screen. Charlie Sheen was all over the place, his defiant chin thrust forward as if auditioning for the role as our next president.
I hope the execs at Fox News were paying attention, especially now that they've lost half their commentary squad to the toils of campaigning. Think of it: Charlie Sheen in the White House. With a pound of pharmaceutical-grade blow. More intellect in one seat than since the night Thomas Jefferson dined with his water spaniel, Hercules. No mouthy "advisors" cluttering up the West Wing (or disrupting the laser light show of Charlie's thoughts). And there is, of course, the memory of his dad, who a lot of prayerful Americans recall as a president, somewhere maybe between Clinton and Bush Two.
An Alzheimers fog creeps across this land, from sea to shining sea, as its intellectual class -- theoretically the brains of this outfit -- utterly fails to get a grip on what is transpiring in this world. The failure of leadership in America is comprehensive and deep. President Obama's top aide, Bill Daley, floated out the notion that we might draw down America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) so that the imprudent folk who traded-in clunkers for new Ford F110 and Cadillac Escalades won't feel any pain from four-dollar gasoline.
Harken, now -- a reminder to the rest of you out there who do not have tubeworms boring tunnels through your brain-pans: there's a reason the petroleum reserve is called "strategic." We didn't stockpile that oil to pretend to be the world's "swing producer" for a month and a half, just to knock the price down 27 cents a gallon so that soccer moms could feel more comfortable bidding for an Auslini Veneto crocodile leather handbag on The Shopping Channel. Strategic was meant to imply when something really really bad happens, like a national emergency, say, with military overtones.
The failure of the news media, trapped by the diminishing returns of technology, grows more epic every week. We've never had more media outlets in the history of this land, or been more poorly informed. Mental fossil George Will fired off a salvo last week against fixing the U.S. railroads. He thinks it's just a sinister ploy to snatch the people's "individualism." Perhaps George hasn't noticed that other things are operating out there in the polity-space to turn the folks of this land into zombies. After all, they were long ago transformed from "citizens" into "consumers" -- without a peep of complaint from anybody -- so, having already surrendered their duties, obligations, and responsibilities to anything beyond their hunger for Cheez Doodles, they might now find themselves suddenly devoid of "individualism," staggering down the highways in mobs wherever a whiff of blood emanates from a strip mall?
I'd have to guess that the Maryland DOT ran a few lanes of the Beltway through George Will's head, perhaps so he could drag race with Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Senator Jim DeMint to see who can get America to drive off a cliff fastest. Oddly, the basic question that now thunders through North Africa and the Middle East has not been heard on the fruited plains of this-land-is-your-land -- viz: who gave this cohort of morons the right to tell us what to do and think?
Which gets us to the true matter at hand: the matter that the world is suddenly exploding in an epic phase-change rearrangement of the political order, starting with the lands that own most of the world's exportable oil. In this vein, a message to readers of George Will and other old-line "thought-leaders" of America's commentary regime: If you think the action in the streets will be limited to these sandy outlands 7,000 miles away, then your last thoughts will not be comforting when the zombies you helped to create turn up slavering in your driveway.
By the way, this doesn't let President Obama off the hook. His consistent failure to tell the truth about the fragility of our situation, to make the case for getting our citizens out of their car-prisons, to promote modes of living that comport with reality -- the president's apparent cluelessness in every dimension of this crisis is something that historians of the future will shake theirs heads over in wonder and nausea (if the notion of history even survives the oil age). And for the moment we'll put aside some other rather pressing matters such as the AWOL rule-of-law in our banking operations.
One historian, Michael Klare of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass, made the trenchant point last week that oil nations which undergo political upheaval invariably end up producing far less oil, permanently, no matter whether the political outcome is better or worse than before. So, notwithstanding the media fantasy in our land to the effect that America's founding fathers have been reincarnated in places like Egypt the past month, it is unlikely that there would be anything but an extreme downside effect on the world's oil supply, even if the successor to Hosni Mubarak (as yet unknown) turned up in a powdered wig and waistcoat, with the Bill of Rights magically translated into Arabic in his beneficent hand.
I was a young newspaper reporter during the 1973 OPEC oil "embargo" (so-called). Whatever else history records it as having consisted of -- bluffing, hoarding, fear-mongering, market manipulation -- a few things are inarguable. It arose suddenly out of a political conflict (the Yom Kippur War), and it disrupted life in the USA to a degree unknown since World War II -- or for that matter until the present day, even counting the trauma of 9/11/01. My sense of things is that we are now entering an oil crisis much more severe and very likely permanent. If production is lost through political strife in Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Iran, Iraq, or even a lesser combination of them, it will crater the global economy and change how we do everything here. George Will may even find himself having to ride a bicycle down the freeway in his head.