State of the Union

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has said on more than one occasion that the American people are the most entertained and the least informed in the world. Listening to the mainstream media on Tuesday, leading up to the State of the Union address, I had a hard time figuring out if the story was about the State of the Union planned for the evening or the recent Oscar nominations. The airwaves were all aflutter with who was going with whom and who was bringing the popcorn. At one point my smart phone notified me that the minority speaker rejected the advances of some republican’s across-the-aisle reaching. First of all, gross. Secondly, I don’t care. I don’t care who Lieberman sits next to and whether or not McCain brought Goobers.

I’m all for the new the clamoring towards bipartisanship and launching a kindness revolution. I’m for talking with and getting along with neighbors. I’m for fostering community and building friendship. I am not for trying to reason with someone’s whose stance on climate change is Genesis 8. I am not for an energy policy launched by someone who has been blowing corporate oil for the past few decades. And I am not for the fanfare and party hats as our elected officials tell us that they will continue the path down the current paradigm—but they will do it holding hands.

Many parts of the speech made my stomach drop like riding a rickety rollercoaster at a state fair. If we think about international relations with any measure of social responsibility, our foreign policy is atrocious. The president’s mention of Tunisia’s recent upheaval, characterizing it as a great step for democracy and indicating that we’re supportive, was obnoxious. If we look at Iraq as an example, Americans know that we don’t get involved in other nations’ so-called democracy unless that nation happens to have oil reserves.

The Unites States of America built an embassy in Iraq larger than Vatican City but neither the Iraqi people nor the American people reaped any benefits from our nations’ conflict. The Iraqi people traded a dictatorship for a police state. The American people watched their sons, daughters and tax dollars go off to war and what returned, if it returned at all, came back forever changed. Ascertaining that we can conclude success in Iraq is ridiculous unless success is measured by how high we can stack dead bodies. The fact that we are finally leaving the sovereign nation we invaded almost ten years ago, so that the people there can fend for themselves and attempt to rebuild their toppled cities is not a cause for celebration. The whole debacle has been a terrible tragedy on any moral level.

But perhaps more glaring about the State of the Union address was not what was revered but what was glossed-over. The mention of Afghanistan hardly got two sentences. The organization Rethink Afghanistan published that, “During the time it took President Obama to give [the] State of the Union address, the U.S. spent another $13,764,244 in Afghanistan, according to the National Priorities Project’s Cost of War counter.” Even if our nation has no morals whatsoever, really doesn’t care about the human cost of war and has no regard for anything but the bottom line, Afghanistan is still a ridiculous endeavor. To reiterate the words of poet Jovi Radtke, “If we think about the war in purely economic terms, America has a credit card bill the size of Afghanistan.” Obama talked a lot about investing in America’s future. By anyone’s standards, building bombs and shooting Afghanis aren’t good investment decisions.

When it comes to foreign wars, our pockets seem to be bottomless. When it comes to investing in our own people, money suddenly becomes scarce. When Obama proposed that we freeze domestic spending, many people felt as though the buzz word in that sentence was “spending” and, perhaps, fiscal conservatives felt that this might be a good idea. I’m not a mathematician and even I can tell you that the way America has been borrowing against the future, with its massive deficit and outlandish spending, is not a viable approach to fiscal soundness. We have to cut back and I know that. But the buzz word was “domestic” Put another way, continuing to burn through hard-earned American money in Afghanistan is fine but money that goes back to the United States should be enforced with a mandatory stasis for the next four years, especially at a time when a record number of people are approaching retirement age and a record number of people are being born. It’s like someone sitting down to do their household budget and deciding to cancel the cable and the phone but still paying for the next-door neighbor’s dog food.

Sadly, all commentary about the economy, and how our money should be spent, is useless. The money doesn’t exist. It has been spent already. Nicole Foss, co-editor of The Automatic Earth (http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/), explains in her economic lectures that, for the last century, we have been spending what is essentially a global inheritance. The incredible amount of energy returned from oil production is from a source of sunlight and ancient fossils steeping for millions of years. We came across the incredible inheritance, divided it (usually by force) amongst the perceived more-deserving nations and we blew our wad in a little over a century. Many people still believe that we can continue the rape of the earth and that the economy will continue to grow the way it has for the last few decades. I am not the first person to point out: on a finite planet, there is no such thing as infinite growth.

Still, when I finally think that Peak Oil has hit the mainstream, and that the inevitable attrition and restructuring of how we use energy will start to develop with some level of common sense, an elected official or some other important decision-maker opens their mouth and gives me a delusion-check. Let’s pretend for a minute that there are enough resources and enough energy to build a completely new energy infrastructure and move into clean energy resources such as wind or solar. Even if this were true, Obama said himself that China has the largest solar research facility in the world. Even if there were resources to start a revolution toward sustainability, we are not heading in that direction. Our president gave us cute little allegories about people like the Allen brothers who turned their Michigan furniture shop into a solar shingle factory. Obama failed to mention that solar panel manufacturing companies in the US are being bought out by Chinese companies left and right and that our government has no real foundation to implement a plan for any sort of energy transition that might help us more from our dependency on oil to something more sustainable.

It has become more and more clear that the earth’s resources are finite, that growth is not perpetual and that the rate of our use of the earth’s resources are depleting them so quickly that we will face very serious consequences. Our elected officials could be truthful about this fact, reason with the American people and start a serious plan for the coming transition. Instead, they are maintaining the status quo and continuing down the harmful path that put us in this position in the first place. Rather than expressing the reality of our dire energy situation, Obama just furthered the infinite-growth fallacy and remarked, “We can have economic growth and use more energy while transitioning to ‘clean’ sources like nuclear and clean coal.” I think Richard Heinburg’s dissertation on said remark via facebook summed up my thoughts exactly: “Not.”