12 04 2020

Here in Nashville, our county-wide governance body has district representatives, whose main job is to be the intermediary between the citizens of their district and the city, and “At-Large” council members, whose serve more of an oversight function, kind of like deputy mayors. In 2015, I ran for  that office, largely on a platform that the city was acting like the good times were just going to keep on rolling, but that was not really the case, and we had better do everything we could to prepare for the collapse that was coming. Two of my suggestions were  that we ought to foster local food production and create co-operatively run local industries that would produce a great many of the essentials of life that now come from far away, like shoes, clothing, and tools. I’ll talk about the relevance of those planks of my platform a little later.

I confess that I didn’t campaign very hard. I showed up at the candidate forums, figuring that I was unlikely to win, but it was important for the winning candidates to hear what I had to say, and figured I would get my message out to the general public in an interview with The Nashville Scene. The Scene, unfortunately, chose to belittle my candidacy and mostly dwelt on what a peculiar guy I am, rather than on what I had to say.

I chose not to run in the most recent Metro Council election. I had thought about this a good deal in the years since the previous election, and realized that, given the genuine technical legal complexities of writing legislation, if I were going to run again, part of my platform ought to be that I would spend much of my salary to hire a lawyer to assist me in framing my proposals appropriately. But I don’t know any such lawyer, and, even if I did, it seemed to make more sense to cut out the middle man–me–and just help the lawyer run for office. So, I contented myself with expressing my concerns to all the candidates, and got fairly sympathetic responses back from several of them, as I detailed at the time. I figured it was preferable to have council members in office who are at least aware of our long-term possibilities, and was gratified that most of those who won the multi-seat election were candidates who had responded somewhat sympathetically to my concerns.

Let’s fast-forward to our current situation. Although I have mostly been staying home (which is what I usually do anyway), last Monday afternoon at around five o’clock I found myself driving on some of Nashville’s major commuting routes, which are usually jam-packed with cars at that time of day. There was hardly anybody on the road. I stopped by “The Produce Place,” a locally-owned store that specializes in selling local produce. It was closed, because the store has cut the hours it’s open due to the pandemic. I picked up a very skinny copy of “The Nashville Scene,” no longer fat from entertainment and restaurant ads, and read that the free paper is on the ropes financially and was hoping its readers would form a financial support group so it could stay in business. The Scene, which once prided itself on tweaking the sensibilities of “the bizpigs,” as the editors called the city’s elite, is now owned by one of the wealthiest people in town, and caters to “the bizpigs,” a phrase that has not appeared in The Scene since long before they dissed my Metro Council run. I’m not sure whether I should be sympathetic to their plight or not.

But, I digress….From our home, we can often hear the roar of rush hour traffic on another major thoroughfare. Not lately. We live a couple of miles from the private-plane airport in Davidson County, and are used to having frequent low-flying small planes in our soundscape. They have grown rare. Of course, another factor there is that a tornado blew through the airport a few weeks ago and did millions of dollars worth of damage, destroying hangars and the airplanes parked in them. The upshot is, private air travel, like automobile travel, is way down. I’m glad. I’ve often wondered why it’s OK for one person in a private airplane to destroy the peace and quiet of the thousands of people who have no choice but to hear the noise.

I certainly didn’t foresee that the economic shutdown of Nashville would be due to a pandemic, but here we are, right where I ‘ve been saying we’re going. Such an unforeseeable, catastrophic event, is called “a black swan.” One definition of “black swan” that I read says that “they are obvious in hindsight.” It’s true that worldwide flu epidemics have become an accepted part of modern life, although they have never been this severe before, so yes, we should have seen this coming. In fact, disaster planners in our government did see it coming, but were ignored for the same reason the concerns I raised in my Metro Council candidacy were brushed aside:  anybody who suggests that there’s anything dangerous in our future, whether it’s a pandemic, an economic collapse (which might be set off by a pandemic),nuclear war, or climate disaster, gets short shrift from those who run our society, who are engrossed with making money and exercising power nowWe are a species that is wired to deal with immediate threats and gratification, not the long-term results of our short-sighted actions. We are going to have to change that to survive as a species. In the interest of raising human consciousness, this post is going to examine the effects of this particular “black swan,” and also note a couple more that seem to be circling and getting ready to come home to roost.

The first thing is that all that stuff that was supposedly too bleeding-heart liberal and unaffordable suddenly makes very good sense to a lot more people. A private, for-profit health care system that only takes care of those who can afford it cannot protect “those who can afford it” from contagion. This is not the first pandemic the world has experienced lately, and it is almost certainly not going to be the last–and nothing less than full medical coverage for all Americans will keep the country safe. Frequent references by corporate Democrats to “people who are happy with their employment-related health care” ring completely hollow as many people lose their jobs, and thus their health insurance. It also became clear that companies that do not allow their employees to take off from work when they become ill or need to care for an incapacitated family member are creating, as they say, “a clear and present danger” to the population as a whole.

Guaranteed income? All of a sudden, our unemployment rate has gone to 33%, and many more citizens are staying home to avoid illness, but the bills just keep rolling in–rent, house payments, car payments, insurance payments, student loan debt, medical bills, credit card payments, and so on. The one-time $1200 individual payment totals up to about $292 billion dollars, which sounds like a lot of money until you realize what a small fraction it is of the many trillions of dollars that are going to businesses with lobbyists in Washington. But, to stay on point, Andrew Yang’s pie-in-the-sky guaranteed minimum income, like universal health care, now seems like a reasonable proposal to a lot more people.

Likewise, refusing health care to “undocumented” people, or intimidating them out of seeking health care for fear of arrest, simply gives the disease a vector in which to spread, and not just among “the undocumented,” but to anybody who comes in contact with them–which includes the insured elite. Maybe it’s time we recognize that people from elsewhere in the world are, for the most part, coming here as refugees, and not simply trying to circumvent our admissions policy out of greed or sheer cussedness, and be generous with them. Maybe our national admissions policy is too strict, ya know?

There’s been a big push to “privatize” social security, which means having workers invest their money in the stock market rather than the far safer social security system–although, as I will discuss a little later, that supposedly secure basis is showing signs of strain. As the economic implications of this pandemic became clear, the stock market took a 33% dive, and so did whatever support there was for this privatization proposal, which was mostly popular among those whose business it is to invest in the stock market. It looked like free money to them. The possibility that they will get their hands on Social Security seems to have receded for now.

All of the above ideas–universal single payer health care,  mandatory illness and family leave for all workers, basic income guarantees, and a more welcoming attitude towards refugees–have been rejected or at least seriously restricted by the leadership of the Democratic Party, but they are fundamental tenets of The Green Party.

Anti-globalization is another Green value that is now making a lot more sense to a lot more people. First of all, this virus has been spread because, in our global economy, lots of people, and goods infected with this virus, which is hardy enough to survive away from a living host for up to three days, travel all over the planet as a matter of course. “Overnight delivery” can mean overnight infection. And, with people travelling all over the planet, carrying a virus that can stay dormant for up to six days and be infectious from somebody who is showing no symptoms, “globalization” means that the disease can easily travel far and wide. While our objections to a globalized economy have previously been on what, to many people, are somewhat arcane grounds–using too much jet fuel in the airplanes, too much bunker fuel in the container ships, and the gutting of local industries that has destroyed the prosperity of much of America–now there’s a very visceral reason to oppose globalization: it spreads diseases that could kill you.

And, when China went into virtual shutdown in order to contain the virus, that meant that all their industries, which the US depends on for everything from cell phones to underwear, shut down, sending the US economy into a tailspin from which it has yet to recover. As I mentioned before when talking abut my Metro Council run, a world of full-spectrum local economies would not be subject to this risk.

Meanwhile, a whole lot of people who have been hustling their butts off just to survive now have time on their hands. It’s like a national time-out–the universe has told us to go to our rooms. Free of normal pressure, a lot of people are going to get in touch with who they really are and what they really want for the first time in a long time. America could be a whole new ball game coming out of the Covid pandemic.

Some of us, on the other hand, do not seem to be getting the message. President Trump and the Republicans seem to view it as a great opportunity to gut environmental regulations and also to put more leverage on the countries on the US “enemies list,” such as Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran, and the Democrats aren’t complaining about that much, either, although, for the benefit of domestic politics, they are happy to pose as the opponents of the Trump administration’s heedlessness about the dangers of the pandemic. For example, Andrew Cuomo, who is apparently being groomed to replace the increasingly addled Joe Biden as the Democrats’ Presidential candidate, is in the process of slashing Medicaid spending in New York even as he complains about Trump’s handling of the virus crisis.

As an aside, I think I should note that, as a socialist, I am basically opposed to both the stock market and our current  health care system. However, as a realist, I have to recognize that, until we are in a position to change to a better system, a great many people need both the stock market and our current, crazy health care system to function optimally, and that it is uncompassionate to those people to welcome the collapse of those systems, even as they are inherently disastrous. Until there is something to transition into, what we have needs to hang together. On the other hand, those systems showing signs of failure may encourage change.

Back to the virus…even as Trump and Co. threaten Venezuela and Iran with military action, we are getting notice that our country’s armed forces are not immune to coronavirus, and that massing troops for invasion would be a great way to get a bunch of them sick. The USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier that is part of the backbone of the US Navy, has had to be evacuated because of the virus, and other vessels may soon be in the same shape.

And, as Cuba, China, and Russia all go the extra mile to help countries afflicted with the virus, regardless of their political allegiances, the mean-spiritedness of the US response is duly noted by the rest of the world, and I think we can expect that, when the virus crisis calms down, it will be payback time. Up until now, the US has had the rest of the world by the short hairs, because the US dollar is, in effect, the common currency of the world, and the US has had it in its power to do great damage to other nations by barring them from using US currency when they participate in the world economy. That’s what those “sanctions” against Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Russia, and various other countries boil  down to. But all that may be about to change. That’s the second black swan, circling in and seemingly about to make a landing. I’ll get into that after this music break.

John Lennon, “Days Like These” 

Before the music break, I was talking about how the dollar is a de facto world currency, and how the US uses that to conduct what amounts to economic warfare against certain other countries, such as Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and Nicaragua. These countries’ primary crime is not “being undemocratic.” It is not “human rights violations.” It is not “aggression.” Their real “crime” is resisting US and corporate efforts to loot their economies and natural resources by allowing multinational corporations unrestricted access and freedom of operation within their borders. This was also the major crime of several countries where US efforts at regime change have succeeded, such as Brazil Bolivia, Argentina, Iraq, and Libya.

In a more just world, the US’s conduct towards all these countries would be considered a war crime. In a saner world, no rational, compassionate government would even try and push other countries around. But that’s not the planet we live on. The rest of the world is stuck with their crazy Uncle Sam, but they are finding ways to respond. For example, American aggression has led Cuba and Russia to create self-sufficient internal economies so that they depend as little as possible on imports for their needs. Gee, that’s just what I said Nashville should do!

The other thing the countries the US is oppressing with sanctions are doing is getting together and creating an international economy that doesn’t depend on the US or its dollar. China’s “One belt, one road” initiative is the most visible sign of that. It is an effort to create a Eurasian, and ultimately, a world economy that functions without US control, or even US participation, and so far it seems to be working fairly well. That’s the real reason why America’s ruling elite has been vilifying the Russians for the last several years, and why the US is now conducting live missile tests off the Chinese coast. What the rest of the world sees is that China, with its high level of internal control, has been able to contain the virus outbreak and offer help to other countries, while the US, with its “every one for themselves and devil take hindmost” culture, is creating a lot more internal suffering than the Chinese people had to endure, and that the US is not helping other countries in any meaningful way, but taking advantage of the pandemic to make military threats and further increase the wealth of large corporations. When we include background factors, such as that the average Chinese family’s standard of living has improved enormously while te average American family’s living standard has declined, to the point where they are approaching parity, and that the Chinese government is taking real steps to curb carbon emissions, the loss of civil liberties that the Chinese system seems to demand may not, to many people, seem like such a high price to pay for surviving rather than perishing.

China and Russia have also been decreasing the amount of American debt they hold. That debt is in the form of US Treasury bonds, and that is how the US government has been functioning for a long time: by borrowing money, and then borrowing money to pay back the money the government borrowed.That’s what Treasury Bonds do. But, if a new world economic system forms around Russia and China, the USA will lose the ability to peddle treasury bonds to all and sundry, and that will bring the US economy crashing down, including our social security system, in a way that will make what we are currently going through look like the best of times. So that’s a “black swan” that seems to be circling and getting ready to land. There’s a third black swan circling as well, and I’ll tell you about that bird after this music break.

Eliza Gilkyson “The Great Correction”


So, that third swan involves the Russians manipulating the US into disaster–but it has nothing to do with the 2016 election. No, it involves a much longer game than that, with its roots in the events that precipitated the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s also somewhat speculative, in that I have no proof that the events I am about to recount have been intended with the specific aim of kneecapping the United States. Circumstantially, however, it is, at the very least, karmically appropriate, in that what the United States did to Russia, with malice aforethought, now seems to be happening to us.

The USSR’s failed attempt to subdue Afghanistan in the 1980’s is commonly viewed as the quagmire that brought down the great Communist experiment, but there was another element that gets a lot less publicity. That element is the US-Saudi conspiracy to lower oil prices and thus cripple The USSR’s balance of payments, sending the country into a financial crisis that broke the system. In all fairness, I have to point out that there is some dispute about the reality of this conspiracy,  but, after all, plausible deniability is the name of the game in secret diplomacy.

That was thirty years ago. Today, the US is bogged down in Afghanistan, and the US economy is buoyed up by the production of very expensive oil and gas here and in Canada. The US is a world leader in oil and gas production, but those petroleum products are expensive because they come from fracking in the US and tar sands refining in Canada. Fracked oil needs a price of around fifty dollars a barrel to break even, and even at that price has rarely proved profitable. Tar sands extraction costs around twenty-five dollars a barrel, but they are only getting twelve to fifteen dollars a barrel for their product. Now the “price war” that is ostensibly between Russia and Saudi Arabia has sent the price of oil down to nearly twenty dollars a barrel,less in the case of the tar sands, an eerie echo of the situation that prevailed when The Soviet Union collapsed, only now with the shoe on the other foot–and so is the plausible deniability. Then, low oil prices hurt US producers. Now, they hurt Russia itself as well as tar sands-refining Venezuela, which has turned to the Russians for help to counter the US’s efforts to take over its oil reserves. As somebody with his eye on “the deep green perspective,” I have to add the disclaimer that, while I applaud Venezuela’s efforts to chart its own course and improve the lives of its people, doing so by producing oil is kind of like selling your body parts for income. It’s not going to end well.

Although, for the moment, things seem to have stabilized a little, we are not at the end of this extremely unpredictable passage. This whole business of fracking and tar sands extraction has been built almost entirely on easy credit and the promise that some day, it would pay. It has yet to pay off. In the last few weeks, the US economy has suffered a bad fall, and the damage could extend to the bankruptcy of most US oil producers, which would be yet another black swan with deep and widespread effects on the whole economy. The failure of tar sand and fracking would also turn the US from an oil exporter into an oil importer, leaving our military’s gas tanks at the mercy of other countries, while the end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and the end of our country’s unlimited ability to borrow money would leave us unable to pay for petroleum imports, not to mention fund our military or anything much in the way of domestic programs of any kind.  It would be the end of not only US hegemony, but quite possibly the end of the United States as a coherent political entity. This, I believe, is the real fear that fuels our elite’s Russophobia. For those of us who are not attached to American hegemony, it will be liberating.

That prospect is why  James Howard Kunstler has commented that we seem to be in “the prequel to ‘World Made By Hand,’ the opening volume of his series of novels about life in a post-collapse United States. Dismal as that may seem to us in our current comfortable, if uncertain state, it is preferable to being in the prequel to The Maddaddam Trilogy, Margaret Atwood’s series of novels about a post-pandemic United States.

Once the black swans start landing, there’s no telling how many more are on the way, or what they will bring.


music: Bob Dylan, “Like A Rolling Stone

Eliza Gilkyson “In The Name Of The Lord

Bob Dylan, “Queen Jane Approximately





One response

14 06 2020

[…] couple of months ago, I was talking about “black swans” coming in for a landing here in America, and, since then, lo and behold, one I didn’t […]

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