The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

It’s Impossible to Overstate How Broken America Is

I know I’ve been pounding this issue, but…

New: The Capitol physician told Republican staffers today the Senate lacks the capacity to test all 100 senators when it comes back Monday. Instead the Senate will test people who are sick. Test will take 2+ days.

Come on!!

They can’t even manage proper testing for 100 Senators!?

This is genuine failed state stuff.

As best I can see, the US has been coasting on institutions and infrastructure built primarily by the Lost, GI and Silent generations. Every generation after that has been drawing down the American patrimony. Almost nothing works properly that wasn’t built or at least started by those generations.

Modern elites, with a few exceptions, are simply rent extractors, financial elites competing to eat as much of the pie as possible.

Even most of the stuff that Boomers and later generations take credit for wasn’t actually created by them: Texas Instruments invented the modern GUI, not Gates or Jobs. The internet was invented by pre-Boomers, excepting Tim Berners-Lee (who created the world wide web which sits upon it.) Microchips were invented by the GI generation and improved by Silents.

But when the elites can’t even protect themselves? When they can’t even put together 100 tests for some of the most powerful people in the country? That’s insane. That’s straight failed state stuff.

The only reason the US merely a failing state, as opposed to a failed state, is because of the work put in by people who are mostly dead now. This is a straight “living off the principle” problem.

Meanwhile, the Covid crisis is being used as an opportunity to increase the top .1 percent’s control of the population, even at the cost of reducing the size of the economy (and not in smart ways, but in ad-hoc “fuck small business owners and workers” ways.)

More on that later.

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The Inability to Do Basic Things


May 1st US Covid Data


  1. This tweet shows a graph with the US as the only country that hasn’t bent it’s curve:

    Not sure how much of this we can attribute to Cuomo’s “massacre”

    This tweet shows Fauci changed an HCQ-AZT-Zn vs. Remdesivir study to Remdesivir vs. nothing (placebo) study. Trump and his team are idiots for keeping this Nazi onboard.

    HCQ-AZT-Zn is probably the best pharma intervention out there. (I suspect hydrogen peroxide treatment is better). While it’s not clear how much of the US’ unbent curve is do to phony accounting, Cuomo’s nursing home disaster, and Trumpian ineptitude in procuring PPE and masks, it must also be true that Fauci’s suppression of HCQ-AZT-Zn (with help from a few Democratic governors, and the media folks whose main mission in life is smearing Trump and ‘helping’ him fail) has killed a lot of people.

  2. anon

    The next 2 years at minimum will be lost years to most of the world, but especially in America compared to other developed countries, mostly in Asia, that are equipped to open back up while keeping the death count low. Millions of people will lose their livelihoods and spend the rest of their lives in permanent poverty and debt. Even those of us who still have jobs will be confined largely to our homes except for occasional outings for food. Regardless of which deranged or dementia-addled of the two candidates wins the US presidential election this fall, neither Biden or Trump are equipped mentally or ideologically to find solutions to the problems that we face. I dealt with the affects of the last recession, but this is going to be much worse. I am much more fearful of what is to come in the next two years than I was in 2009. I felt a bit hopeless during those years as well, but at least I didn’t fear for my life or the lives of my friends and family every time we left the house.

  3. krake

    “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

    The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

    The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”

    – you know who

    Where “you know who” went wrong, other than the original Hegelian error (the assumption of a scientific dialectic processing a predictable economic future), was in predicting what happens after capital escaped the constraints of the ordinary, to begin hijacking states, orgs and even persons as a governing algorithm.

    On a related note, I wonder what North America’s taifa states will look like.

  4. Preston

    What Ian is describing has been going on in U.S. manufacturing since the 1980s. We called it “bleeding the equity” out of the business. That is minimized capital investments and R&D. I worked in the energy efficiency area and energy efficiency improvements that would pay back in 1-2 years are routinely ignored with “We don’t have money for that.” Maintenance is done, but the number of qualified people dedicated to it are tasked with more than they can do. They would tell me, “I spend all day putting out fires. The preventative work or improvements you propose just can’t be done because I don’t have time to run they up through the front office layers. These businesses run until there’s no equity left, then they head into bankruptcy or offshore.

    Where am I going with this? For years, we’ve been told that government needs to run like a business. That is exactly what’s playing out before our eyes. Both parties are intent on bleeding the equity out of the country to enrich the chosen few, just like businesses. We are told to vote for one party or the other, when in reality, both are intent on converting public equity into private wealth for the very rich. So why do we keep electing leaders who openly declare that government institutions can’t work and should be eliminated. Do all businesses hire CEOs who insist any business can’t be improved and will never be a going concern?

    I used to work for government before it became a criminal enterprise. Thankfully, I’m retired. I always counsel my conservative friends who see the destruction of government as a good thing and a path to less oppression. I mention to them that history shows that there has always been oppression, and there are three main institutions: Government, The Rich, and Religion. Government is the only oppressor you can replace without armed violence, death and destruction. You will never be without one. So in replacing your oppressor, pick wisely.

  5. Dale


    Even if the industrialized Asian countries do open up, who will they be selling all their products to? Perhaps China will come up with something like an Asia centric Marshall plan to increase its sphere of influence while the west slowly rots? Both China and Russia have been purchasing huge reserves of gold over the past decade. My guess is that at some point In the near future they’ll come out with a new Interntional exchange currency.

    China has the latest industrial capabilities while Russia has the natural reserves and land. Interesting to think about how climate change potentially could open up huge swaths of Russia’s interior to agriculture and development. American digital dollars don’t look all that healthy post Covid/climate change. Four decades of neoliberal greed have left this country stagnant with no leadership or planning to get us out of this mess.

  6. Mark Pontin

    Ian wrote: ‘Texas Instruments invented the modern GUI”

    No. No. No, they absolutely did NOT.

    To be correct — and not merely to be pedantic, because folks will read that far, hit that error, and assume the guy who wrote doesn’t know what he’s talking about — the modern GUI, with mouse and all, was invented at Xerox PARC, a development arm of Xerox established in 1970, where Steve Jobs saw it on a tour of the joint around 1980 and swiped the idea for Apple

    ‘A legacy of inventing the future’

    ‘Xerox PARC : A Nod to the Minds Behind the GUI, Ethernet, Laser Printing, and More’

    Texas Instruments was and is basically a chip manufacturer, and has been historically important as a competitor to Intel back in the day. They do have a graphic user interface tool for developers, I believe, but that’s being discontinued in 2020 and is nothing to do with the invention of the modern GUI.

  7. Adam Eran

    About those “inventions”… The research was largely government-funded. Of course we’ve cut back on that…


  8. Arthur

    I have said before that we are witnessing the beginning of the breakup of the United States. How long it will take or what it will look like is anyone’s guess. IMO the crackpots in Michigan are as absurd as those on the left who believe we will all soon be holding hands and singing happy songs. As for myself I am left of center on the majority of issues, but I have a gun and have no intention of turning everything over to some hillbilly jackass.

  9. Mel

    A thing that puzzles me: I think of defunding happening from the late-middle 1970s, and deindustrializing from 1990 on. So how is Kris Neville writing about all this in 1963?

    Like the prolog says, I guess: “Some problems are perfectly predictable”, only not predictable to me.

  10. gnokgnoh


    Great rhetoric, bleak outlook. We don’t get to choose “one” of our oppressors. For most of post-agrarian human history, we had all three, government, the rich, and religion. They just took turns at the lash.

    You are ascribing intention and venality to the government. Ian is describing it as broken. The former is a serious, immediate threat. The latter is a much more serious long term threat. They are not mutually exclusive, but a real criminal tyrant is ruthless and efficient. Our government is not. The rich are currently holding the lash.

  11. Stirling S Newberry

    I was going to comment about TI, but some got to it first.

  12. Mark Pontin

    As for the rest your (Ian’s) thesis, I absolutely agree (though with one qualification). America has been looted out. I’ll second every part of Preston’s diagnosis above, in particular.

    It’s all the Way the Future Was — water under the bridge now. But watching Boeing — its hollowing-out by elite financial looting — is a particularly poignant indicator of American decline.

    Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web, as you noted, atop HTML — Hyper-Text Markup Language.

    HTML is descended from GML (Generalized Markup Language) which was developed by Charles Goldfarb, a lawyer (!) at IBM in the mid-1960s to deal with the project documentation for the Boeing 707, which had so many parts continually being modified that it was impossible to print a useful manual for maintenance purposes. Thus, the historical move to machine-readable large-project documents in government, law, and industry in general.

    Boeing and American aerospace technology were integral to U.S. dominance in the post-WWII 20th century. And the U.S. government used to understand that — that they were a crucial material infrastructure underlying global American dominance.

    So, for example, when the British sold the Rolls-Royce engine designs that went into the Russian MiG fighters that outflew American jets in the Korean war, for instance, Eisenhower made clear to the British that nothing like that would ever be countenanced again. When the French and the British developed the Concorde, Nixon refused to allow it to be used over the continental U.S.

    To the current U.S. elite, however, Boeing has just been one more carcass to be looted for maximum short-term profit.

    There’s one exception to all this. Somewhat in the same fashion as the old U.S.S.R. used to maintain science cities — enclaves in a larger realm of general social dysfunction and inadequacy where technological progress still proceeded — there’s a lot of biogenetic technology development still proceeding in enclaves around Boston, the SF Bay Area, and Seattle. This industry is, moreover, able to ride on the financial extraction that the predatory U.S. healthcare and Wall Street are carrying out on the mass U.S. population.

    So, for instance, in these enclaves quantum computation R&D is being underwritten to model protein folding and potential new therapeutic drug molecules; DNA data storage in turn drives advances in the speed of next-gen genome sequencing and other bioinformatics.

    But overall W. Gibson’s dictum that “the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed” increasingly applies in the U.S. In truth, much of the country was always at third-world level and now that increasingly applies. If you get out of the bubbles of the West Coast technology enclaves, for instance, and drive up Highway 1 along the Pacific coast you’ll see communities that literally look like something out of Mad Max; likewise, in the old Rust Belt regions.

  13. Arthur

    Mark, I agree about out of the way communities. I have driven thru many in many states. A good bunch look like something out of the dust bowl. And this isn’t just in the south. It’s everywhere. My experience, however, with the people has been overwhelmingly positive. The problem is, IMO, that as a society we are too cowardly to come down hard on a segment that is holding us back. No society is perfect, but we can do better than this. We won’t though until certain situations are dealt with once and as far as possible for all.

  14. Mark Pontin

    Mel wrote: “I think of defunding happening from the late-middle 1970s, and deindustrializing from 1990 on. So how is Kris Neville writing about all this in 1963?”

    Well, the tendency has always been there in the U.S., hasn’t it? Herman Melville wrote a novel, THE CONFIDENCE MAN, in the mid-1800s, for instance, and Mark Twain had a lot to say about it too.

    And SF writers like Neville are in the “if this goes on” business, aren’t they?

    In the early 1970s, Gene Wolfe, another SF writer like Kris Neville — though rather better — was an engineer and editor of PLANT ENGINEERING, and he wrote a good but rather dark story called “Hour of Trust” about what would happen if Harvard Business School graduates ever managed to run everything in the U.S. In it, open civil war has broken out, with the military called out in open battle to suppress the American population, which is responding with suicide bombers of all races and ages volunteering to attack the military’s tanks and the enclaves of the professional managerial class.

    In Kris Neville’s case, IIRC, his wife was African-American, which might have helped open his eyes. African-Americans have never much been in a position where they could buy into the “city on a hill” bullshit.

  15. Mark Pontin

    Arthur wrote: “My experience … with the people has been overwhelmingly positive …as a society we are too cowardly to come down hard on a segment that is holding us back … We won’t though until certain situations are dealt with once and as far as possible for all.”

    Agreed, especially regarding the last sentiment.

    Ian had a post a couple of days back relevant to what needs to be done. I agreed with that and most of the responses. I wouldn’t be saying too much on the internet, though, since all of it and our identities will remain transparent to surveillance. People should take their shots where they see them, however.

  16. nihil obstet

    It is scary that the broken organizations control so much destructive firepower. The U.S. hasn’t won a major war in 75 years, but it can still inflict a lot of damage if the ruling class has a tantrum. They may even be stupid enough to try to fight China, without thinking through the fact that lots of the weaponry depends on components manufactured in China.

    Major decisions are made in almost total secrecy now. The secrecy enables absolutely stupid decisions to be made without anyone outside the incestuous circle being able to say, “Bad idea. Really bad.” Relatively few people seem to care about the subordination of democratic government and personal freedom to the demands of the national security state engaged in a “war on terror”.

  17. MEl

    Mark Pontin: “Mark Twain had a lot to say about it too. ”

    Hmm, yes: The Gilded Age: a Tale of Today ( ) Longish, but dead on target, including a damaging hit on the bill Congress just passed on Covid-19 assistance. If I’d known to keep my eyes open wider in 1963. I was old enough to know things then.

  18. krake

    A small nitpick: Americans aren’t cowards; American are timid. A coward has been tested and s/he knows the fear and chagrin, intimately. A coward can still act, sometimes with alacrity, if numbers and leverage allow.

    Americans don’t know how, why or what to do. They don’t even know *if* to act. It has made many, many people – timid.

  19. krake


    It’s not that people don’t care. It’s that democracy is a sham. Most of us have never had enough autonomy or solidarity to form or practice democratic decision-making. Outside revolutionary groups and first-nations movements, from the 30s to early 70s, almost no living American has had real-world and practical experience in autonomist organizing.

    Most lives are imposed upon, organized from without, and boxed inti the immobility of class from before language, technique and habit form.

    Most people have never had the breaking away of samsara, rev. violence or street fights with the authorities.

    The one population routinely and systematically exposed to all these pressures is so torn by tensions, religious obfuscation, predation, incarceration and market-capture of its talent pool, its compelling how many vocal and organized enemies of the world order it still manages to produce – only to see them divided into prison fodder or market totems.

  20. mago

    Krake used the term samsara. Interesting.
    So one is born and coddled (maybe, depending) then he/she starts to walk and talk and gets told no don’t do this don’t do that do this do that then it’s off to school and game over as one is shaped molded socially and culturally conditioned according to class and other specifications so one can get a job go to work and all the rest of it unto death. Birth School Work Death. No new observation, granted. But somewhere somehow that Gordian knot needs untying.
    All that aside, damn straight the US is a failed state. Mayday.

  21. someofparts

    The answer to our national mayday started today on May Day.

  22. bruce wilder

    It is hard at my advanced age to bemoan the decadence without sounding nostalgic when all I want to say is that it does not have to be this bad. And, in some significant ways it is not bad . . . yet — not as bad as it is going to get, certainly.

    I agree with the several commenters who identified what I would call disinvestment as the root cause of lost or declining capability: elites using financial and economic structures to generate income for themselves out of deindustrialization and neglect of infrastructure. Neoliberal ideology provided rationales and apologies so thorough and ubiquitous in what passes for public discourse that most people scarcely have a clue.

    One important thing about controlled disinvestment is that it can throw off a lot of cash, which may feel like surplus. Bread baked from the seed corn is tasty enough. I said above that it has not gotten bad in significant ways, what I mean is that for lots of people, that the country cannot make stuff did not matter much because they could buy good stuff at Wal-Mart or CostCo. The finance guy driving his BMW, carrying his iPhone, does not really care where steel is made or where his shirts are made or where fresh strawberries come from in February. I saw Ali Velshi tweet, “Dow finishes with the strongest one month performance in 33 years”. Every disaster for 40 years has made money!

    In my mild way I tried to make the case that the trillions wasted in Afghanistan and Iraq were huge costs, but few Americans saw those vast losses as anything but abstractions. The story of Paul Bremer and the Occupation and reconstruction of Iraq — portrayed devastatingly in a Frontline documentary on PBS — exposed an elite that had not a clue about how to build or run a political economy. But, the lesson was not just that they did not know what to do, they mostly did not care and neither, apparently, did anyone else who mattered

    It is so easy to misunderstand the gravity of the present situation, because it is so hard sometimes to distinguish what is “bad” in the present from what has perennially been bad in every epoch. Basic institutions have ceased to function, imho, in some very basic ways. I remarked the other day that I was surprised that U.S. had completely abandoned even the pretence of fair elections. That is a fundamental thing. The U.S. has always had corrupt electoral processes in many of its localities: machine politics, racial and ethnic discrimination, gerrymandering, but still voting conferred legitimacy. I am not sure any one cares anymore. I have voted in nearly every election my whole adult life and I do not think I will vote again. My City of Los Angeles has adopted a technology of voting designed for fraud. And, what was once my Party is just a bunch of lying sheep led by geriatrics.

    The old saw had it that in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but no one seems to think in a realm of liars, truth-telling might be advantageous, in an idiotocracy, the smart guy might advance. The idea of displacing Trump with Biden seems a preposterous choice.

  23. Synoia

    I believe TI invented the integrated circuit. That was a huge achievement.

  24. Van Varga

    Generations—aggregates— do not have agency. Individuals do. Just saying. Other than that your analysis is clear and correct.

  25. someofparts

    Well at least the propaganda systems are in peak working order.

    Big strikes in Atlanta yesterday. Car caravan used as picket line closed a local Target in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. Other caravans briefly closed the east/west interstates adjacent to the state capitol. I haven’t found out yet what may/may not have happened at an Amazon shipping center near the airport.

    I followed the developments in real time on a couple of twitter feeds. As fast as people could post videos of actions around town, twitter took them down.

    Yesterday evening I actually watched the local news broadcasts at 6pm – checking all three networks and Fox. Nothing about the massive local strikes – not one word. All of them mentioned the astroturfed right-wing militia in the Michigan legislature, but nothing about local actions that shut down the damn interstate highways.

  26. Sad stuff Ian, and almost laughable at its obviousness that is not obvious to so many. Right here, right now we see Mitch and Trump shoveling vast sums of cash at the rich and powerful while pennies get dribbled out to a few of the peons. While Dems claim how wonderful and effective Nancy P is. She could not even get a dollar for something as basic and popular as the Post Office because (her words) \”Trump said no.\”

    That and we fall further and further behind, while Dems nominate a man who was there while much of it happened, and thinks we cannot afford a more efficient and less costly healthcare system. We need to re-read some Steinbeck to remember the terrific costs the labor movement bore to get us a middle class. We have let most of it slip away.

  27. Mark Pontin

    Synoia wrote: “I believe TI invented the integrated circuit.”

    The integrated circuit chip, yeah. The first semiconductor chip to group several transistors on one chip.

    So, indeed, a big deal. It was a neck and neck competition between Texas Instruments and the Fairchild/Intel mob back in the day.

  28. Olivier

    “living off the principal”, not the “principle”.

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