I have been watching the news on the shooting in Arizona. I don't have much to say on it that other bloggers aren't already saying. I will I have noticed something interesting. Yesterday many of the news casts carried excerpts from Sarah Palin's exhortations to her followers to 'reload' and the map with gunsight crosshairs on various congressional districts. They aren't doing that at all today. Perhaps they read the would-be assassin's My Space pages and realized that he has no coherent political agenda beyond not trusting the government. From what I have read so far, I am not at all surprised that he was able to acquire his gun legally. He had a history of 'acting out,' of being disruptive, but nothing that would have led to mandatory psychiatric treatment. The authorities now say that the gunman was 'aggravated' by an earlier meeting with Congresswoman Giffords because she didn't understand his question and didn't answer it. Given the incoherence of his My Space ramblings, I am not at all surprised. But I also have to say that simply because this appears to be the work of a lone, mentally unhinged gunman we can't let the poisonous political environment where so many feel free to use violent imagery and cast their ideological and political opponents as demons worthy of assassination off the hook. The only thing the hate-mongers among us haven't done is promise the assassins among us a direct ticket to heaven as reward for murder. I wonder when that will come.
Something else I am not really surprised about is this from HuffingtonPost. About twenty-five years ago, when I was still a graduate student in history, I came to the same conclusion and nothing I have seen since has changed my mind. The U.S. preeminence in world politics and economics rested on several fortunate accidents: a large population which formed a large internal market for our own manufactured goods, an abundant supply of natural resources to exploit to make those goods, a very productive agricultural sector which exploited fully new technologies so that increasingly smaller numbers of people were able to feed not only our own people but much of the world as well, and, at the end of WWII, during the late 1940s and 1950s the only undamaged industrial economy in the world. Read down that list and see how many are still accurate descriptions of our condition. We still have a large population but it is a market for goods manufactured elsewhere. One economic commentator and advisor a couple of months ago took issue with the notion that 'America doesn't make things any more.' He cited John Deere and Caterpillar specifically as counter examples. To which I simply ask how many of us are going to buy a Deere tractor or a Caterpillar earth mover this year? And how many of us are going to buy a shirt (or several shirts) made in Asia? Most of our everyday needs are made overseas which was not the case even 50 years ago. As for the abundant supply of natural resources--oil production in the U.S. peaked around 1973, the highest grade iron ore peaked even earlier, and we don't have many internal sources for the rare earths that are so important for new high tech applications like batteries and electronics. On the agricultural front we face a number of limitations that no one really wants to talk much about--a growing number of insect pests and weeds that are resistant to the chemicals we use to control them. New high yield seeds (whether hybrids or genetically modified) require large applications of oil based fertilizers and pesticides/herbicides. Our fantastic machines require large quantities of oil based fuels. And much of our industry has moved overseas taking the jobs with them. But back in the late 1960s and early 1970s our industrial plants were outmoded and less efficient than those being built overseas. Back in the 1950s my grandfather told me that the Japanese were only capable of making cheap toys and trinkets. By the 1970s the Japanese were taking our auto makers to the cleaners. What goes up must, eventually, come down. It looks like we are coming down.