September 4th, 2005

Voted for Dean

There Are No More Superpowers

I was reading something last night about how shocked the rest of the world has been that the USA is coping so badly with the disaster that hit New Orleans. One of the recurring comments, from all over the world, is that they wouldn't have been surprised if this was how some Third World country handled a disaster of this magnitude. They just can't imagine how a nation as wealthy and powerful as the United States ended up handling this so poorly.

Get. This. Through. Your. Head. Once and for all. The. United. States. Is. Neither. Wealthy. Nor. Powerful. Not any more, not since I was a kid, more than thirty years ago, really. We are a great nation. We are a nation that has done great things in the past. We are a nation with great ideals, and great people. But we are no more a superpower, any more, than the former Soviet Union is.

The rest of the industrialized world, who didn't sacrifice anything like what the United States or Russia did during the Cold War, still can not get it through their heads just how much that struggle cost us. One third of all the money raised in the United States in the form of federal taxes is still being used to pay off the interest, not even to make any principal payments but just the interest alone, on the national debt ... and nearly all of that debt was run up on Cold War military adventures and weapons build-ups. Yes, many other countries in the industrialized world ran up similar ratios of debt to GDP. But they borrowed that money to rebuild their societies after World War II, and then to raise their worst-off people out of poverty. That, more than any political or theoretical difference, more than any internal racial conflict, has a lot to do with why 20% of New Orleans were so poor they couldn't spare the $50 worth of gasoline or a $50 bus ride or a $50 train ticket in time to save their lives. That, more than anything else, is why the 32nd largest city in the United States was so poor that its government couldn't do anything about it in time.

In 1973, the United States got our nose bloodied by Vietnam. The next year, sensing weakness, Egypt and Saudi Arabia kicked our teeth in and stomped our guts, and from 1976 to the present day we have been paying billions of dollars of danegeld foreign aid to their wealthy elites, bribing them not to do it again. While we were still reeling from those shocks, the parts of the world that we had rebuilt with our own dollars, and defended first against fascism and then against communist takeover with our own dollars and lives, stole our jobs. They pursued economic policies, "tame" unions and tight credit and manipulated currencies, designed to make sure that their own people imported nothing from the United States, while their governments borrowed money for subsidies to make sure that their products were cheaper, even after the cost of shipping them all the way here, than our own home made products. Pretty much the whole world has been kicking the United States over, and over, and over again for thirty two years now, longer than some of you have been alive. At this point, the exercise resembles nothing so strongly as that hoary old cliché "beating a dead horse."

Our situation has not been made better by the fact that a lot of American business executives traveled to the Third World, during various regional conflicts between us and the Communist Block and/or in support of pro-American dictatorships, and liked what they saw there. They saw the level of social stratification, income concentration, and institutionalized corruption in former French, Spanish, and Belgian colonies, where tiny white minorities still managed, even after decolonization and the official end of slavery, to maintain ownership of every capital asset in their countries and de facto ownership of the vast brown, yellow, or black peasant majorities, and wished that they had it so good back home. The wealthy elite's urge to further concentrate wealth in America, even if it meant destroying their own customer base and therefore losing some money, has to have been strengthened and given new levels of determination when the middle class rose up against them in the early 1970s and took their beloved Vietnam War away from them. And so they spent untold hundreds of millions of dollars on media manipulation, through a vast array of think tanks with one message between them: the middle class has things too good. Embrace serfdom.

Hurricane Katrina only laid bare for the whole world to see what some of us have known since late 1982. The United States, neither through our government nor our private sector nor our charities, can not take any better care of its own people than any other Third World nation, because, frankly, we now are a Third World nation. Forces within and forces without have dragged us down to that level. Get used to this idea. Because as with any situation, the longer we deny reality, the longer we cover up for it, the longer we hide from it, the more excuses we make, the longer it will be before we do anything about it.