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21st-century feudalism.

What might Nero have done if he had possessed a 757-200 jetliner? On July 1, in a display intended to rally the GOP-aligned "NASCAR dad" demographic, Dick Cheney buzzed the Daytona International Speedway in Air Force Two at an altitude of 1,000 feet prior to the Pepsi 400 stock-car race. After taking a leisurely lap around the course in a black SUV, the vice president posed in front of a giant American flag with the event's 43 drivers arrayed behind him as a backdrop.

Allowing for some creative anachronism, it's easy to imagine Nero conducting a similar flyover of the Circus Maximus in Rome, then forcing the charioteers to pose with him in front of the Imperial Eagle as he harangued the masses while distributing sparsiones (imperial gifts of grain and money) to the crowd.

Extrapolating from current economic trends, I'd wager that a fair number of those who witnessed Cheney's Bread and Circuses stunt are probably separated from economic disaster by a paycheck or two. Many have probably taken out adjustable rate mortgages and face the prospect of being turned "upside down" as interest rates rise and a contracting real estate bubble undermines the value of their homes. And most probably find it increasingly difficult to meet household expenses as wages remain static while price inflation rages.

As an architect of the Iraq War that has contributed to vast and expanding deficits and triggered a dramatic spike in the "risk premium" incorporated into oil prices, Dick Cheney has done more than his share to pauperize our struggling middle class. According to the July 2 issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, Cheney is positioned to profit from the economic ruin that will most likely result from the official profligacy he has abetted.

Examining the vice president's recently released financial disclosure statement, Kiplinger's concludes that Cheney and his financial advisers "are apparently betting on a rise in inflation and interest rates and on a decline in the value of the dollar against foreign currencies." Cheney has salted away between $10 million and $25 million in American Century International Bond, which "buys mainly high-quality foreign bonds," primarily in Europe.

Reacting to the Kiplinger's report, economic commentator Mike Whitney exaggerates little if at all in concluding that "we're sinking fast and Cheney and his pals are manning the lifeboats while the public is diverted" with peripheral political squabbles and extravagant public spectacles. While the elites bail out, they're leaving to the rest of us an "insurmountable debt that will be shackled to our children in perpetuity, and the carefully arranged levers of a modern police-surveillance state," concludes Whitney.

The trends Whitney describes--ever-mounting debt, the impending collapse of the dollar, and the unfolding garrison state--could lead to some exceptionally unpleasant outcomes. For instance: it is possible that someday in the not too distant future a foreign interest like China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia could be in charge of our prison system.

Here's how this could happen:

Economic analysts Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin point out that while the United States is an empire, we are "also the world's largest debtor," requiting $2.5 billion a day in foreign loans, with much of that amount coming "from [our] former and future enemies," including China.

"China's key advisers are urging the government to take its dollars and buy oil and gold," comment Bonner and Wiggin. "At some point, they might want to suggest changes in the trade relationship, or changes in the decor of the White House ... or changes in the U.S. Constitution itself. Who knows?"

Foreign lenders are preparing to buy our country out from underneath us, taking advantage of the dollar's decline and the desperation of cash-strapped state and local governments. Notes a recent USA Today front page story: "States and local governments across the USA are preparing to cash in valuable public assets for one-time windfalls that could reap tens of billions of dollars. The deals would let governments collect billions of extra dollars without raising taxes but would reduce their future revenue."

Highways, airports, state student-loan portfolios, sewer systems, state-run lotteries--all of these are being put up for sale. Could jails and prisons be put on the auction block, as well--as post-9/11 America takes an ominous turn in the direction of a police state? With more than two million residing behind bars in the United States, and states and municipalities increasingly turning to private, for-profit entities to run these facilities, the possibility really can't be dismissed outfight. Beijing, Moscow, and Riyadh all have large dollar reserves and a lot of experience in the field of incarceration.

This scenario is just one of several ugly possibilities arising from our present circumstances.

"On Independence Day," intoned Cheney at Daytona, "we're reminded how fortunate we are to live in freedom and call this nation home." His hope in attending the Pepsi 400 was to entice blue-collar Americans into continuing to support policies that are stealthily undermining our independence, and quietly reducing us to serfdom.
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Title Annotation:economic condition
Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 7, 2006
Words:832
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