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Rioting in America?

No Soup For You

No Soup For You

Today we have a little daydream about what might happen in American society if unemployment were to skyrocket, as it appears very likely to do.

The scenario might go something like this. Official unemployment soars to twenty, may be thirty percent, such that the number of idle males of working age in America is one in three or one in two. They have no money, their children are hungry, their wives are bitter and angry. There is no point staying at home, so the men walk the streets looking for work, looking for food and looking for trouble. The police find themselves becoming busier and busier picking up loiterers and shoplifters or busting swap meets selling black market goods. Everybody is a criminal nowadays, the police say among themselves. Many of these unemployed men have never stolen anything before and did not anticipate the sophistication of modern shop security systems, nor the heavy handedness of some elements of the police force. Scuffles have been breaking out here and there with angry shoppers or at long queues at soup kitchens, but it’s all orderly 30’s Depression style stuff so far.

One day some inner city police come across a disheveled looking man in his thirties, catch him for jay-walking or some other minor offence (he “looks” suspicious). To teach a quick lesson, they ‘taser’ him in broad daylight, in front of a half dozen nuns on their way to a prayer meeting. The event gets filmed by a teenager with a stolen handy-cam. The man resists and is zapped again, then kicked, and so on. The nuns look on in horror and fear. A police officer sees the teenager filming and confronts the kid, who flees. The kid gets caught and beaten, a short distance up the road. One policeman gets a flower pot thrown on his head by a woman looking down from her apartment above. The nuns rush to the policeman’s aid. Reinforcements arrive in the form of riot police. The nuns are mistaken for having assaulted the police officer (who can’t remember anything) and are arrested and beaten. Every one in sight is rounded up and driven off to detention. Two of the six nuns die en route from heart attacks, since they are in their late eighties. None of this appears in any newspaper or any news network for some days, as is the new policy of media outlets “in the interests of public peace and fairness”.

Almost the same thing happened a week before, but no one heard about it because there was no captured footage. There are only rumours. On this occasion, however, a police clerk handling the evidence happens to be related to one of the deceased nuns and leaks the confiscated video footage, in high definition, on Youtube. People instantly recognize the disheveled looking man as the local guy who runs the soup kitchen network (affectionally known as “Stan The Soup Man”). The local Catholic bishop expresses his outrage at the death of two nuns. Everybody in the city takes to the streets demanding the release of Stan The Soup Man, including the mayor and the bishop. It’s all peaceful, albeit noisy. Most of the people in the crowd have come as families of the unemployed men; wives, children, babies, pet dogs.

They march to police headquarters, demanding an explanation. The police chief is there, on the top step, about to give an announcement of apology and an explanation of events, hoping to assure the crowd that Stan The Soup Man is okay and was merely detained for questioning over an unrelated matter. Just in case, riot police are assembled out of view, a couple of streets away. They are told by their superior officer that “it’s nuttin’ much, just a bunch of women and kids”. However, during his speech, unbenknownst to the police chief, Stan The Soup Man now lay unconscious in a prison cell, bleeding into his head. He was fine several minutes ago, but Stan was always very sensitive about his Hispanic roots, and one police guard had just made a racist taunt agains him. Stan couldn’t hold back and said something in return. A beating ensues, and now Stan was minutes away from inevitable death. At the closing words of the police chief’s speech, an SMS message is received from within the police compound that Stan had just died. Chaos and a blood bath ensues. Women and children are shot and killed. Within hours, protests, sit ins, and riots across the country break out.

It’s not difficult for such an even to happen. Similar mistakes are made by the police, probably every few minutes, but like stray sparks of an electric motor, they mean nothing unless the surrounding conditions are such that an explosion results. Looking at the various developments in the US economy currently, with nationalization of the remnants of US manufacturing, the loss of over 400,000 jobs per month around the country and the increasing aggressiveness, both politically and economically, of America’s biggest trading partner, China, it is very likely that an explosive social situation will develop soon.

There is nothing, currently, to prevent the coming dip in living standards headed for the United States. That said, there is a long way for those standards to fall before one could consider America ‘poor’. The task for government lies in preventing poverty to turn to hunger and starvation. It is when the most basic needs of people are not met that civil disorder becomes most likely.

Will the Obama administration find within itself the skills and wisdom to carry out the successful rescue of the coming wave of an American Underclass? This is not likely, given how poorly eveyrthing else has been managed. The White House itself appears directionless and desperate. All they have is contingency plans, but no way forward, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary. It’s also not realistic to see an atheist, materialistic regime embarking on any kind of genuine charitable enterprise. To US Government policy makers, people are not souls, but numbers and statistics. They are a resource to be managed and exploited. The War on Drugs is the clearest example of how decisions are made in America, where two thirds of the prison population are there because of drug related crimes.

The likely path to be taken by America is to boost its military. It will come in the mass recruitment of the unemployed in exchange for food stamps, housing assistance and health insurance. If there are no wars to fight, the soldiers can be let loose on America’s streets to “help” the police, or to clean the streets, or do some other brain-numbing task. This may be the lesser of two evils, and would likely be sold to the public as such, but it can only result in the further brutalisation and dehumanisaiton of American society.

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  1. July 11, 2009 at 12:44 am

    I just finished watching a DVD series of America and the Vietnam War and what surprised me was the level of civil unrest that took place in the U.S near the latest stages of the war. I am not talking about the protect marches, riots etc. but the bombings and start of what would be best described domestic terrorist groups.

    It would therefore seem pretty plausible to me that if the U.S economy did fall into a serious heap that civil unrest could really spiral out of control and that the anti-government groups that already exist would become more militant.

    As for the U.S. military I actually expect to see some major cutbacks in this area over the next years. I think at some point the U.S. will realise they can no longer maintain such a global presence and there will be force reductions in Europe and Japan. Probably time to move on from World War 2 anyway isn’t it?

  2. July 11, 2009 at 6:00 am

    Thanks Greg. I also don’t think it’s justifiable to expand the size of the US military, however in the Bush era the policy was that of military expansionism. My rule of thumb is that a country’s foreign policy doesn’t fundamentally change when a government changes hands (for a democracy), so I am pretty sure that, whatever the superficial wording of Obama’s speeches may be, the underlying policy (scripted by hawkish think tanks) won’t be changing soon – take Iran as an example – we hear now that US won’t get in Israel’s way if it chooses to attack – that’s even more hawkish than the pre-Obama days. It’s also been said many times that the US military is stretched and that further ground invasions beyond Iraq are not going to be successful without further recruitment. So it all could change if another crisis develops and the government is conveniently left with ‘no other option’. We’ll have to wait and see.

  3. July 12, 2009 at 1:03 am

    You would think that logically the U.S. is going to have to scale back it’s global military presence but like you say, who knows. It all sounds a bit like the last centuries of the Roman Empire where their legions had too much territory to cover and too many enemies to deal with.

    There is a theory that the more a nation spreads out the more enemies it creates..that tends to make a lot of sense to me. Did the U.S for example gain many friends by moving into Iraq or just a whole range of new enemies?

  4. July 12, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    The advantage the US has is that its policy planners have at their fingertips books describing the fall of the Roman Empire. Also the US ’empire’ is really bigger – it’s also NATO and includes Western Europe and the UK, when push comes to shove. The GFC represents a great shift in power away from the US population, but it also might represent the throwing down of the gauntlet in the coming economic standoff between East and West. Both sides have an axe to grind – China with its intellectual property theft, and the US with its fraud.

    Also, I still hold that money, in the end, is meaningless – especially fiat money. I had a feeling in late 2008 that the GFC came on schedule, but that several other things didn’t (and haven’t since). I was fully expecting Obama to be faced with a military crisis just prior to October last year, but I read somewhere (from unreliable sources) that a bunch of 11th hour events forced a de-escalation behind the scenes – we’ll find out 30 years from now I guess. It leaves the future quite uncertain from a geopolitical perspective – the US is on the back foot and it’s not looking good at all for them now (China is almost ready). It came as no surprise that Australia’s military budget now has effectively no ceiling – we are arming up in haste.

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