The Coming Darkness

In a column titled “America Goes Dark,” Paul Krugman writes about the collapsing empire.

… a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.

And a nation that once prized education — that was among the first to provide basic schooling to all its children — is now cutting back. Teachers are being laid off; programs are being canceled; in Hawaii, the school year itself is being drastically shortened. And all signs point to even more cuts ahead.

The question is, why can’t people see what we’re doing to our own country by refusing to invest in infrastructure and education? Of course, a big part of the answer is that people have been soaked in right-wing anti-government propaganda for so long they think rot is normal. But I’d like to think there are a substantial number of Americans who would support investing in infrastructure and education if someone would stand up and show some leadership in that direction.

In fact, I think that’s why a lot of people voted for Obama, but he’s gotten bogged down somehow. Maybe The System is just too big, too entrenched, for even a president to shake it.

BTW, on Right Wing News our buddy William Teach criticized Krugman’s column, and then in the comment thread wrote,

A person is only an expert as long as they are usually correct in their assumptions/predictions/etc. Krugman has been wrong time and time again, as has Obama and Co.

So I asked for a list of ten examples of Krugman being wrong, and of course they can’t come up with ten examples. One guy provided a list of Krugman’s most recent columns, but of course there was no proof that Krugman said anything wrong in those columns, just that the guy disagreed with the columns.

What’s actually come out of the experiment is that the wingnuts can’t tell the difference between opinion and fact. In other words, an opinion they agree with is the same thing as a fact in their world. I keep pushing for real-world examples, and they obviously have no idea what I mean by that.

But that’s part of the problem, I think. Apparently this crew is still insulated enough that they can live in their fantasyland, but one of these days the real world is likely to bite them in the ass. And then maybe they’ll notice what the difference is between fact and opinion.

30 thoughts on “The Coming Darkness

  1. They seem to believe that a strongly held opinion is a fact. But wishin’, and hopin’ and prayin’, don’t make it so.
    Thinking we have the best health care system in the whole world doesn’t make it a fact.
    Money doesn’t ‘trickle down.’ Put money in a pocket and it stays there until the person who owns the pants takes it out. Now, take a shit in your shorts. THAT trickles down. And that’s exactly what’s been tricking down to us from the rich – shit. Jack shit…
    How many bridges have to fall, how many cracked windshields from unpaved gravel roads, and how many times do you have to walk down unlit city streets scared out of your wits, before you suspect we might have a problem? When your HS Senior still needs you to spot him the “c” and the “a” so he can spell “cat,” will you finally then realize that ”our children isn’t learning?’ Oh, but by then, it’s too late…
    That “Shining City on the Hill” that Reagan talked about? He was right. It used to shine. It shined with hope, powered by an educated population, with well designed roads and bridges leading to it. Now, well, you may still believe it’s ‘shining.’ But the fact is, when you look closely, it isn’t ‘shining,’ it’s burning. It’s fucking burning, and we can’t even afford to try to put the fire out.
    So congratulations Republicans and conservatives, you’ve taken a “Can-do” nation, and turned it into a “Can’t-do” one. In 30 years, you’ve taken a nation that took on and beat the Japanese and the Nazi military machines at the same time, built the strongest middle class in history, put men on the moon, and turned it into the worlds best armed Banana Republic.
    And to think, they aren’t even close to being done yet.
    Rome wasn’t built in a day, but in 30 years, conservatives have damned-near destroyed The USA. Ah, if only we had been able to ‘conserve’ the better parts of what we had in the middle of the 20th Century. What people didn’t realize, is that we’re not dealing with ‘conservatives.’ These people don’t want to ‘conserve’ anything but their own money and power. They are dangerous, rightwing radicals. And they’re about to put their finishing touches on America.
    The last people leaving America won’t have to worry about shutting off the lights. There won’t be any. “The Shining City on the Hill” will have faded to black…

  2. We are the only industrialized nation that does not have a high-speed rail system. (It was during the Eisenhower administration when our national freeway system was built, and he is remembered for it.)

    Has it occurred to Obama that building a high-speed rail system in this country might contribute something positive to his presidency not to mention putting a hellova lot of people to work? We’ve wasted $1 trillion, and counting, fighting an imaginary foe in Iraq and we’re wasting $2 billion/week in Afghanistan fighting the people who don’t want us there (a tautology if there ever was one) so surely investing in a high-speed rail system can’t be about the money, so what’s it all about, Alfie.

    • so surely investing in a high-speed rail system can’t be about the money, so what’s it all about, Alfie.

      There’s a weird hostility to public transportation on some parts of the Right.

  3. I have to wonder. What would have happened if FDR was not POTUS during the 1930s.

    I have to wonder. While Obama has made some significant progress, I am left with the feeling that he has been acting timid. Not bold or pushy enough. Example: the public option was never really on the table.

    I have to wonder. If the Repubs get back in power how much worse will it/can it get before they try to correct the problems OR will we keep going down the same path to 3rd world status regardless who is in power?

  4. I, by fate, have been living somewhere for the past decade that is decidedly conservative. I have had professional occasions and casual ones to debate them.
    The thing you are talking about I think comes down to perspective.
    They don’t understand it.
    For example: Regulations may be a protection for some but a bunch of paperwork and taxes to someone else.
    Whos shoes are you looking from? The thing is todays conservative seems to be unable to perform this task mentally or emotionally(which would be empathy). This discovery is why they truly do spook me sometimes.
    Their only criteria is one of a competitive nature so they can not entertain things like perspective or empathy.

    • Ron — yes, it’s partly a lack of empathy and also party an inability to see how things affect other things, both horizontally and vertically, so to speak. They are locked into a narrow, rigidly linear cognitive process — i.e., taxes take money away from me to benefit someone else. They can’t see that allowing the country to rot is not just bad for some other people but also the nation as a whole and ventually will bite them, personally.

  5. Oh, it’ll come to ‘bite them in the ass’ ok.
    When people come to eat the rich, that’s where the most tender cut is found.

  6. Actually High Speed rail is not as viable as flying for the long distances (think NY to California). It works better for middle distances (think Minneapolis to Kansas City). But mostly from what I remember of this issue during the stimulus battle, it would take so long to build the Obama administration was not disposed to fighting for that particular kind of monies in the bill because it wouldn’t provide very much immediate stimulus (in the next few years) and so when Obama gave the OK to cut the stimulus funds to get Republicans on board it was one of the first things to be pared back.

  7. What’s actually come out of the experiment is that the wingnuts can’t tell the difference between opinion and fact

    And that they weren’t particularly creative in dodging your challenge. I enjoyed reading in the comments where you kept reminding to stay on task just like a kindergarten teacher would do. I noticed that “Teach” didn’t engage your foray. I assume he had enough sense and knowledge of your ability to know that he’d get his ears pinned back.

  8. Florida is getting a high speed rail system; soil borings are being done as we speak. The first leg will be Orlando- Tampa (Yippee!!!) then it will be Orlando-Miami, and eventually Orlando-Jacksonville and Orlando-Tallahassee.
    Jeb Bush overruled the will of the people when we passed the iniative many years ago, no suprise there.
    Chief, I think Obama has appeared timid for good reason, to avoid a sniper’s bullet. The insane hatred for this president is disturbing, the flames fanned by right wing talk radio and Glen Beck/ Rushbo.
    I sometimes wish Palin/McCain had won, that way they would have really crashed things, and could have only abortion and gay marriage to fall back on.
    I think this is what might happen with the “Tea Party” crowd, they’ll elect idiots with bullhorns to replace skilled politicians, and get a dose of reality.

  9. It’s because wingnuts do not empathize with others, that they do not develop the ability to see things from multiple viewpoints, and so their unchallenged, unexamined opinions become the same as facts. Especially when these opinions are drummed into them by authority figures they respect, such as Rush.

    It doesn’t matter if statements from said authority figures are at odds with reality – what matters is not what is said, but who said it. This is why it’s really important to a wingnut that authority is legitmate, and so the birther controversy is more than just a way to throw up dirt around Obama – it’s a genuine need to be led by someone they can respect. Wingnuts have to have this or they’re lost. This is also why they couldn’t stand Bill Clinton.

    The confusion between facts and opinions is sort of in the same category as when George Bush waved that document around that was supposedly a strategy for getting out of Iraq, when, if you read it, it was no strategy at all. It was just a bunch of to do items, bullet points. He hadn’t a clue what “strategy” means, just as wingnuts have no idea what an opinion is. Wingnuts, especially those with little real world experience, when they get into a position of authority, think that if you just speak it, it will happen. Magically.

    Regarding getting high speed rail – Jim Kunstler often makes the point that it would be great to simply get normal speed rail service reinstated in the US. Forget about maglev or any super duper train service – just get passenger trains running to a 1940 level, and that would be an improvement.

  10. Speaking of America going dark, and coincidentally of trains, lately I find myself wistfully humming Donald Fagen’s “I.G.Y.”. Even at the time it was written it was an ironic comment on the simplistic optimism of 1957, but now I find it feels no longer ironic and more mournful, harkening back to a time when not only were we not busting up highways, we were imagining amazing feats of technology and engineering (yes, even to the point of absurdity, but still. Optimism.)

    Standing tough under stars and stripes
    We can tell
    This dream’s in sight
    You’ve got to admit it
    At this point in time that it’s clear
    The future looks bright
    On that train all graphite and glitter
    Undersea by rail
    Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
    Well by seventy-six we’ll be A.O.K.

    What a beautiful world this will be
    What a glorious time to be free

    We got the spandex jackets, but when was the last time we had people of compassion and vision close to the making of big decisions? Oh well.

    Meanwhile, remember the joke about “reality has a well-known liberal bias”? Cue Phyllis Schlafly’s boy:

    They really are flat-earthers at heart.

  11. Who killed Roger Rabbit?
    I think it was Goodyear Rubber and Ford Motor company that killed the “Red cars” in Los Angeles.

  12. Actually, I think you’re missing half the equation here.

    From the time that the Republicans openly embraced their own “reality” it was fairly clear there would be a disconnect with them. Simply put, you can’t tell them anything, because they’ve been conditioned to believe only what they want to believe, facts be damned. (Just ask them if Reagan raised taxes & the deficit, sometime, for kicks & giggles.)

    But the part of this tragedy that troubles me the most is this: there have to be a good many people who realize that the Republicans are devoid of policy ideas that are viable. Offhand I can’t think of a single one, actually. The very little good that came from the Bush II years was accidental rather than intentional.

    So. It rather begs the question: why do the Democrats listen to the Republicans as if they actually bring something to the table that makes sense? We get lots of stories about bipartisanship, for instance, but we rarely get “we’ve analyzed the Republican platform, and it’s vaporware” stories.

    Um. I’m probably explaining this badly, but do you see my point? If you’ve got a choice between improving things or listening to the very people that made them so awful in the first place, why would you choose ‘b’? It’s nonsensical.

  13. Obama is stuck. He made a serious mistake early on – he believed the country was in a recession. It’s not – it’s a depression. A recession is a dip which is subject to the adjustments and decisions at the Federal Reserve. We are in a liquidity trap – ‘a situation where monetary policy is unable to stimulate an economy..’ (wikipedia)

    Nothing that the Fed would ordinalrily do to get out of a recession is working – and there are no more economic ‘tricks’ to jump-start the economy. We have been here before – in the Great Depression – and it took a world war to get us out. Not an attractive option.

    As long as I am being morbid – the Great Depression was worldwide and Europe found the policies of fascism attractive as an answer. The US swung the other way with FDR as a reaction against the conservatism of Coolege and Hoover. Now, that’s not the case and American conservatism against Hispanics and Moslems is on the rise. The prospect of American fascism in the form of a religous-neo-con paranoid anti-dark-skin anti-Muslim coalition shold be the product of second-rate fiction. It’s becoming real.

    We marvelled at teh stupidity of the GOP as it purged itself of moderation. As we become mired for years in high unemployment the evangelical and neo-cons are going to recruit from the misery.

    Somebody tell me I’m wrong.

  14. Money doesn’t ‘trickle down.’ Put money in a pocket and it stays there until the person who owns the pants takes it out. Now, take a shit in your shorts. THAT trickles down.

    Gulag..This reminds me of when we learned to write a business letter in school. The teacher said we should make it…”brief and to the point”. A little unrefined, but you delivered the point with excellence.

  15. Trying to reason with a Winger is like trying to reason with the radiator in your car that is leaking Anti Freeze all over your driveway.
    You can talk all you want, present your facts and it still pisses on your foot while you run your mouth.
    Get the wrenches out and replace it with something a little more conducive to reason.
    It still doesn’t care what you say but it isn’t pissing on your foot anymore.

    Wingers are like that. Quit talking to them and change the shit that makes a difference.


  16. Regarding high speed trains. I’ve only ridden middle distances on the TGV in France. It is truly remarkable. It is a far more comfortable, enjoyable, and a cheaper way to travel than by plane. I would choose it over air travel any day.

    China has a huge high speed rail system under construction, it runs well into the long distance category. Aside from opening up a remote area of the country, it is a huge public works project, which will provide jobs and money to people who are lagging behind economically. When the Chinese domestic market “turns on” things will get very interesting indeed.


    I think one of the main problems is still the oppositional press. Even NPR seems to be permanently stuck in campaign horse race mode. After the election, there seemed to be weekly programs on the future of the Republican party rather than “here are the details of the new plan.” The signal to noise ratio is very low, the majority of people are either misinformed or don’t understand. So confirmation bias takes over and fear fans the flames.

    I had some good friends from Eastern Europe back in college, when the USSR was still intact. They made constant, and very funny jokes about Soviet propaganda. They could see right through it. Americans are still lapping up our propaganda and developing quite a taste for it. Obama can’t get the message out, because so many people don’t want to hear the message, they want entertainment and outrage. Fear is a drug, anger is a drug and most of us are addicts. The “Reagan Revolution” hollowed out the country we grew up in and the damage was worse than we knew. The politcal system that might have helped us to fix the problems was dependent on a well informed public, That system has been scuttled.

    In my darker moments I envision a “depleted state” like North Korea. The Military Industrial Complex and the Domestic Security Complex will be the major players at the expense of the people’s well being. Our taxes will go toward weapons and paying spies to keep tabs on us. We will be paying our own jailers and there will not be much left over for the common good.

    In my lighter moments, the dystopia doesn’t happen, I retire and take the TGV into Lyon. Did I mention that it’s a great way to travel?

    • Regarding high speed trains. I’ve only ridden middle distances on the TGV in France. It is truly remarkable. It is a far more comfortable, enjoyable, and a cheaper way to travel than by plane. I would choose it over air travel any day.

      I’ve taken the Acela from New York to Washington a couple of times, and it’s by far the least stressful way to make the trip.

  17. They seem to believe that a strongly held opinion is a fact.


    Recently, a Rightie comment troll stated that “Health care is a commodity, not a right,” as if that proved the anti-HCR argument. But as an opinion, the statement requires actual facts to back it up. Look up “commodity” in the dictionary; how is it defined? As a good (as in “goods and services”); as an article (a tangible object); as a convenience. Health care is a service, not a good; it’s a necessity, not a convenience. Not a solid foundation for the pro-commodity opinion. Further, since its inception the U.S. has maintained an array of necessary public services: among them education, law enforcement, firefighting, libraries, transportation. Some communities have even long supported public hospitals.

    We’re never going to see facts backing up opinions that can be blown away, like dandelion fluff, with barely a breeze.

  18. goatherd,
    If PRAVDA was 1/10th as good as FOX News, we might all be speaking Russian today.
    The Russians in the USSR could look around, see the mess they lived in, the poverty and decay, and knew it was propaganda.
    Americans look around, see the mess they live in, and many see freedom and liberty, instead of poverty and decay. Now, that’s some powerful propaganda!
    I just wish I was stupid enough to believe in it. Life would be sooooo much easier… Uninteresting, uncritical, and unreflective, but easier.

    • c u n d gulag — if the GOP retakes Congress in the fall, I’m predicting bread lines will be common by 2012. If the Dems hang on to a slim majority, then maybe not until 2013 or 2014.

  19. Good comments, all.

    @Felicity :

    Correct, although some nations’ high-speed rail networks are substantially better than others. France and Japan have generally been the leaders, although now China has put so much investment into so many miles of track that it is rapidly overtaking everyone.

    @maha :

    The hostility to public transit is only odd (indeed, bizarre) in the sense of a practical or pragmatic perspective. From the perspective of the coal, oil, automobile, and insurance industries it makes perfect sense. High-speed rail crushes car transit on journeys of more than twenty miles, and is competitive well before that. It can be powered entirely by the grid, which means any energy source will do just fine. Gasoline not required.

    Some of the strangest conservatives I’ve read have tried to defend the massive car/road network system as a matter of personal independence. This view is incomprehensible. Is it the “independence” of constantly being your own chauffeur? Is it the “independence” of waiting in continuous traffic? Is it the “independence” of needing to buy car insurance? Is it the “independence” of procuring your own fuel and paying for it yourself?

    Even if all of those issues didn’t exist, the nation’s road network still has to be maintained. That’s not a task which can be done independently, and it absolutely requires public participation to be effective.

    @Chief :

    Without FDR’s or similarly competent leadership, most likely we would have lost World War II or never have entered. (Our original entry into the war, caused directly by Pearl Harbor, was actually caused indirectly by our embargo of key commodities including oil and metals. We were providing the means for the Japanese to conquer much of East Asia, until someone realized that wasn’t such a great idea.) Trying even to imagine what the state of the world would be in such an alternate universe is troublesome, but I suspect that it might have looked something like Orwell’s 1984 — with the lines drawn differently.

    @mnpundit :

    It’s true that high-speed rail is not as fast as an airplane, usually. Airplanes often travel at or above 500 miles per hour, which is a hard feat to reach on the ground. It would be entirely possible to achieve that or greater speed using evacuated (vacuum) tunnels, however, since all air resistance and other obstacles could be eliminated.

    What’s not taken into account with airplanes is their tremendous subsidization of infrastructure and resources. Jet airplane travel is entirely dependent on cheap gasoline and large government subsidies to the actual airports and suppliers. Cheap oil, unfortunately, is going away whether anyone likes it or not. $15 per gallon gasoline is likely in twenty years (and could occur much sooner if price shocks and speculation take hold), and it will eventually exceed even that price. Resultingly, either airplanes will be powered by an entirely different energy source, air travel will be prohibitively expensive for anyone but the very rich, or air travel will be entirely replaced by some other means. That first option is the least likely of the three, because it’s going to be difficult to find any mobile source of energy as effective as oil for air travel, excluding nuclear fission reactors. So long as a Thorium powered aircraft sounds fine to you, I suppose there’s no issue.

    @erinyes :

    As a Floridian, I’ll believe it when I see it. We’ve had initiatives and proposals for high speed rail between Miami/Orlando, Tampa/Orlando, and other hubs for many years now and they’ve consistently been undermined and canceled by politicians and special interests with an axe to grind.

    @moonbat :

    “maglev” — Magnetic Levitation — is what should probably be called very-high-speed rail. With maglev, you’re looking at speeds as high as 350 miles per hour or more. Ground-connected conventional rail trains can exceed 250 mph without any problems (see, for example, the Shinkansen in Japan). People often seem to misunderstand the fundamental energy issue in fast trains. It’s not the ground or the rails that causes most of the energy loss by friction. Rather, it is the air in front of and around the train, and this air resistance increases with speed regardless of whether one talks about conventional rail or maglev.

    @goatherd :

    Absolutely. The comfort factor difference between train and car should not be understated. A massive amount of stress and anxiety is freed when you don’t have to worry about sudden accidental death all the time. Not to mention the potential for increased productivity given by being able to do something else, rather than drive, on the way to your destination.

    China’s growth should also be emphasized. There are several estimates that puts China’s rail network at the largest in the world already. It’s only going to continue to expand, because there is no other existing technology which can reliably and efficiently transport that many people.

  20. “If PRAVDA was 1/10th as good as FOX News, we might all be speaking Russian today.
    The Russians in the USSR could look around, see the mess they lived in, the poverty and decay, and knew it was propaganda.
    Americans look around, see the mess they live in, and many see freedom and liberty, instead of poverty and decay. Now, that’s some powerful propaganda!”

    Cundgulag: You have so nailed it. Your definition of “trickle down” is also priceless.

    The bottom line is: how do you make any headway and put the country back on the right road when almost half the population is brainwashed? You can talk yourself blue in the face, but if you’re trying to get through to someone who thinks that Obama was born in Kenya, the right to safe and legal abortions is tantamount to genocide and the most pressing problem of the day is how to prevent gay marriage, I say just turn off the lights, close the door and move to Canada–where we need desperately need more progressives, BTW, to help us get rid of Stephen Harper, our prime minister (and erstwhile fundamentalist libertarian).

  21. maha – I got an answer to ‘what’s-it-all-about-Alfie yesterday (on another blog.) The Right’s aversion to public transportation (high-speed rail) is because European countries have it. Of course, now the question is why are Righties anti-Europe anything and everything – they’ve been trying to get us out of the UN ever since its inception because most of Europe is in it. Go figure.

  22. maha – as to your reply to Ron, the recent Arizona immigration law makes your point. To pass constitutional muster, EVERY Arizonian must be subjected to providing proof of citizenship, green card, whatever. The most efficient way to effect this would be road-blocks set up all over the state and operated around the clock.

    Then there’s the repealing of the 14th amendment as a way to eliminate the provision allowing anyone born here to have automatic citizenship. Hospitals, the most logical places where illegals having babies would be checked, would have the burden of determining whether the mother was an illegal, if the father (if that is known by the mother or if his whereabouts is known by the mother) is legal or illegal…the obvious roadblocks to enforcing the new law are probably endless.

    Seems to me the affliction of the Right is an inability to see much beyond the ends of their noses.

  23. Felicity,
    Probably bceause they’ve never been there.
    I saw a statistic that something like over 80% of people who had passports voted for Kerry in ’04. That, to me, is a ‘tell.’ If you have no other country to reference, no other culture, than the one you’re in, you’re going to ‘love the one you’re with.’
    Their view of Europe is a place most of their ancestors had to leave, that we had to save twice, who love our movies and music but who hate us, and who enjoy too much liesure because of unions.
    I recently reread Mark Twains, “Innocent’s Abroad.” He desribes the “Ugly American,” to a tee – then, and now!

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