Payback Time

Expanded from the 8-7-2005 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 3-12-2006

The time is coming that we must pay for our sins by the only means Americans understand — with our wallets.

We have simply lost our way. The puritanical propagandists of the righteous of right are busily promoting tax cuts for the rich and the dehumanization of everyone who fails to agree with their narrow dogma. "Thou shalt not kill" has become inoperative.

If we have a national religion, it is the dogma of self as reinforced by the subcult of the gun. Jesus of Nazareth exists as a mere public relations façade to serve greed.

Treat my neighbor as myself? Maybe when he stops parking in front of my expensive new lawn.

How Christian is a nation when so many millions of its children go to bed hungry every night and survive without medical care every day?

For a detailed indictment, pick up the August edition of Harper's Magazine and read "The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong" by eminent Catholic scholar Bill McKibben.

"At the moment, the idea of Jesus has been hijacked by people with a series of causes that do not reflect his teachings," McKibben writes.

"In fact, the soft-focus consumer gospel of the suburban megachurches is a perfect match for emergent conservative economic notions about personal responsibility instead of collective action. Privatize Social Security? Keep health care for people who can afford it? File those under 'God helps those who help themselves.'"

McKibben points out that three in four Americans believe that "God helps those who help themselves" is in the Bible rather than originating with sexy old Benjamin Franklin.

"Few ideas could be further from the Gospel message with its radical summons to love of neighbor," McKibben states, adding that "on this essential matter, most Americans — most American Christians — are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up." (No emphasis added.)

Given that settled science is under attack by the American redneck religious right, I will not let the increasingly warm environment of this column evolve in that direction.

However, when I'm done, you will have to ask yourself the central question which has split Catholics and Protestants for more than 500 years: Is faith alone good enough for you to achieve your concept of Valhalla in the afterlife, or must you do something to earn it?

The Gospel of St. James the Less was excised from the Protestant version of the Bible for asserting that faith without works is nothing.

We live today in an era of faith-based everything. We are asked to have faith in "people of faith," even if they break the commandment about bearing false witness to send our children to war, thereby committing wholesale violation of a couple more.

Will we settle accounts in Limbo, Purgatory or Hell, or will our misdeeds come back and hit us in our collective face while we inhabit this form?

Does your concept of payback and reward proceed from the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic concept of the afterlife or the Hindu-Buddhist notion that what goes around comes around? (And perhaps we do, too.)

No matter your cosmic, karmic or paranormal perspective, we Americans have a lot of sins to pay for without casting stones at those who live outside our air-conditioned, cable-ready glass houses.

Those much more exalted than this particular backwater Cassandra in the Nevada coal mine are waving the warning flags. No less than Intel guru Andrew Grove warns that a bad moon is on the rise. Grove is a bear on the globalization which helped make him megarich.

"I don't think there is a good outcome," he told Times business columnist Joseph Nocera. (1)

"Although mainstream economic thought holds that America's history of creativity and entrepreneurialism will allow it to adapt to the rise of such emerging economies as India and China, Mr. Grove thinks that is so much wishful thinking. In his view, globalization will not only finish off what's left of American manufacturing, but will turn so-called knowledge workers, which was (sic) supposed to be America's competitive advantage, into just another global commodity…What particularly bugs Mr. Grove is that he can't see a way that this country can find the equivalent of a disruptive technology that will allow it to retain its current place atop the economic heap," Nocera reported.

As New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman recently noted (2), the Dot Com bubble was replaced by the current real estate bubble. When that pops, the champagne goes flat and the party's over.

Krugman and others can visualize no replacement.

I can, but Dubya is deporting them.

Conservative ideology is letting the growth industries of the future slip away. Biotech is being stunted because it does not conform to religious dogma and Dubya's oil boys are trying their best to smother green energy in its crib. Look at all the needless subsidies to BigOil in Porky Pig's latest energy bill.

The elements are all in place for a new worldwide depression. President Clinton averted it twice by arranging for bailouts of Mexico and Brazil.

Whether you look at the forecasts of ancient Mayans, the Russian classical economist Kondratieff (3), or the history of U.S. booms and busts, a perfect storm looms.

So much is coming back at us all at once. ABC's Nightline aired a whole show last week on the depredations of Salvadoran gangs in this country. The corporately correct network failed to note that President Reagan's support of El Salvador's death squad government in the 1980's caused all those refugees to come here, some of whom formed the criminal enterprises which have expanded nationwide.

I don't have the space to recount all the countries whose abused citizens have long itched for payback.

Even our vaunted corporate welfare programs are backfiring. A community group has formed to stop the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority from dumping the Wildcreek Golf Course to developers in order to help right RSCVA's financially sinking ship.

The City of Reno's downtown redevelopment district is now being subsidized by general taxpayer revenues. (Beware Mondo Condo.)

While these are local contenders, the best example of payback comes from Canada.

Toyota is locating a huge new auto manufacturing plant near Toronto, even though the corporate welfare would be more than twice as good in the non-union Confederate south. But the workforce in Dixie is so poorly educated that the Japanese behemoth determined that it would be cheaper to train a literate Canadian workforce which comes covered by national health insurance.

What goes around, comes around. God help us to help ourselves.

Be well. Raise hell.


     1. Nocera, Joseph; "From Intel To Health Care and Beyond"; Business Day; The New York Times; July 30, 2005; pages B1 and B4.

     2. Krugman, Paul; "Running Out of Bubbles"; New York Times column, 5-27-2005.

     3. The ancient Mayans, who accurately predicted their civilization's destruction by Spain, believed in 500-year cycles and warned about 2012. Nikolai Kondratieff (1892-1938), a Russian economist writing in the 1920s, predicted economic ebbs and flows of 50 to 75 years. We are now at the edge of the fabled Kondratieff Wave which forecasts a cyclical tsunami, a major economic contraction followed by a flood of widespread destruction. (For greater detail, Web search "Kondratieff" for any number of sites about his long wave economic cycle theory.)

...more ammo...

    The confluence of Mayan, Kondratieff and U.S. economic downcycles should give us pause. The Robber Baron Era, a.k.a. the Gilded Age of the 1890's, was followed by economic ruin and the Populist uprising of middle America. The wild speculation and government deregulation of just about everything but booze during the Roaring 20's brought the Great Depression followed by the rise of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and the rise of organized labor. Had the New Deal not come to pass, there may not have been a United States to fight World War II.

    In the quarter-century after WWII, three factors came together to give the United States the strongest and most egalitarian economy in the history of the world: (1) Progressive taxation which spread the wealth; (2) Investment in education, especially the G.I. Bill; (3) Expansion of worker and human rights.

    The United States peaked economically in 1968. Our war spending finally caught up with us, resulting in the stagflation of the 1970's — during which time increasingly conservative federal and state governments began to reverse progressive taxation to once again burden the middle and lower income groups. By 1984, the year in which Ronald Reagan was resoundingly re-coronated, the great American Middle Class had begun a quantifiable disappearance. That shrinkage has never stopped.

    The increased efficiency and productivity of the computer age arguably provided the counterbalance for the export of jobs and renewed wealth concentration of the 1980's and 1990's. It all came at a price: stagnant wages. Adjusted for inflation, the average U.S. worker hasn't had a raise since 1973.

    Great concentrations of wealth create market crashes. Sparta finally conquered its old nemesis Athens in 404 B.C. Over the next two decades, the ruling class of the fabled warrior state had grown so small and so rich that its downfall was inevitable. When 400 of the upper crust's remaining 1,000 uberwarriors were wiped out by Thebes in a totally unnecessary, ego-driven war in 371 B.C., Sparta became a secondary power and faded away.

    The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is currently the greatest in U.S. history, easily eclipsing the Gilded Age or the Roaring 20's. Have we gained the wisdom to avoid another instant replay? Given that we have been gathering and ignoring examples for over 2,000 years, what do you think?

...further readings

      Rinfret, Pierre A.; "Peace is Bullish"; Look Magazine, 5-31-1966

      BARBWIRE: Lemming Cliff Notes, 6-5-2005

      BARBWIRE: We have met the enemy and he is us, 5-29-2005

      UPDATE 2-26-2006: Contents of the Bubble
      UPDATE 3-12-2006: Brittle bones of the busted boom



That funny smell is deadly gas in the coal mine, fellow canaries.

Time to sing a song of righteous rage in harmony with the guy from Nazareth's concept of neighborly love and respect — and spread the alarm before it all blows up.


Be well. Raise hell.


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Copyright © 2005, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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