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The Spiegel: "Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation"

by Democrats Ramshield Mon Nov 26th, 2012 at 02:33:35 PM EST

(Republished and updated: November 2012) A look at our empire in decline through the eyes of the European media...

SPIEGEL: Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation: The United States is frittering away its role as a model for the rest of the world. The political system is plagued by an absurd level of hatred, the economy is stagnating and the infrastructure is falling into a miserable state of disrepair.
As an American expat living in the European Union, I’ve started to see America from a different perspective through the prism of the European media. The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less -- right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend close to between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical -- the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population. The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured; 132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 45 million on food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane, particularly as 2 million long-term unemployed Americans are getting ready to lose their jobless benefits as America approaches the year end fiscal cliff.


The sobering assessment of America’s unemployment rate isn’t really 7.9 percent, but close to 20 percent when we factor in the number of people who have stopped looking for work. Some social scientists think that making sure large-scale crime or fascism never takes root in Europe again requires a taxpayer investment in a strong social safety net. Can we learn from Europe? Isn't it better to invest in a social safety net than in a large criminal justice system? (In America over 2 million people are incarcerated.) We have 4% of the world's population and 25% of the world's inmate population. Clearly this is an international badge of shame and a catastrophic loss of human potential for the American economy.

Jobless Benefits That Never Run Out

Unlike here, in Germany jobless benefits never run out. Not only that -- as part of their social safety net, all job seekers continue to be medically insured, as are their families. By contrast in America today, 2 million American long-term unemployed workers benefits are set to expire at the end of the fiscal year 2012. It should be noted, unlike in Germany, the American jobless benefits do not provide for medical care for unemployed workers and their families.

(Reuters) - Nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year -- one every 12 minutes -- in large part because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, Harvard Medical School researchers found...
But the recession never ended for millions of Americans and many of them now face a frightening prospect: the loss of unemployment benefits.

In the German jobless benefit system, when "jobless benefit 1" runs out, "jobless benefit 2," also known as HartzIV, kicks in. That one never gets cut off. The jobless also have contributions made for their pensions (this would be unimaginable in America). They receive other types of insurance coverage from the state. As you can imagine, the estimated 2 million unemployed Americans who are expected to have no benefits this Christmas seems a particular horror show to Europeans. To reiterate, it's made worse by the fact that the U.S. government does not provide any medical insurance to American jobless benefit recipients. Europeans routinely recoil at that in disbelief and disgust. In Germany, the Spiegel mainstream magazine reported in a recent article entitled, "" that above-ground, power lines as are common place in third world developing nations left some 8 million households without power during Hurricane Sandy. This is unimaginable to Germans who routinely bury their power cables underground in the belief that if you want good infrastructure (so as to protect the people), you have to be prepared to pay for it. In Germany there's no such thing as a free lunch for the rich, where they, along with the rest of society are expected to pay their fair share of the taxes. It's just not socially acceptable here for the rich to bankrupt the nation so as to enrich themselves. So it is that Germany sports clean streets, good infrastructure that include a world class hi-speed rail system, unlike the U.S. where trains still move at 1950s speed.

--------------------------------------- America not only refuses to upgrade its infrastructure, the hatred and scapegoating visited upon America's poor routinely leaves Europeans recoiling in disgust. When by contrast, American corporate welfare is sacrosanct.

It's important to note that no country in the European Union uses food stamps in order to humiliate its disadvantaged citizens in the grocery checkout line. Even worse is the fact that even the humbling food stamp allotment may not provide enough food for America’s jobless families. So it is on a reoccurring basis that some of these families report eating out of garbage cans to the European media....

SPIEGEL: For Pam Brown, last winter was the worst. One day she ran out of food completely and had to go through trash cans. She fell into a deep depression.

Hunger in the Land of the Big Mac

A shocking headline from a Swiss newspaper reads (Berner Zeitung) “Hunger in the Land of the Big Mac.” Though the article is in German, the pictures are worth 1,000 words and need no translation. Given the fact that the Swiss virtually eliminated hunger, how do we as Americans think they will view these pictures, to which the American population has apparently been desensitized.

This appears to be a picture of two mothers collecting food boxes from the charity Feed the Children.

Perhaps the only way for us to remember what we really look like in America is to see ourselves through the eyes of others. While it is true that we can all be proud Americans, surely we don't have to be proud of the broken American social safety net. Surely we can do better than that. Can a European-style social safety net rescue the American working and middle classes from the GOP led class warfare? ----------------------------------------

SPIEGEL: "For instance, the United States is no longer among the world's top 10 countries when it comes to the state of its infrastructure. In fact, it spends less than Europe to maintain its roads and bridges, tunnels, train stations and airports. According to the US Federal Highway Administration, one in four of the more than 600,000 bridges in the world's richest country are either "inadequate" or outdated. According to some studies, the United States would have to invest some $225 billion a year between now and 2050 to regain an adequate, modern infrastructure. That's 60 percent more than it invests today.

A Lack of Strength

It isn't hard to predict that this won't happen. The hatred of big government has reached a level in the United States that threatens the country's very existence. Americans everywhere may vow allegiance to the nation and its proud Stars and Stripes, but when it comes time to pay the bills and distribute costs, and when solidarity is needed, all sense of community evaporates."

Link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/divided-states-of-america-notes-on-the-decline-of-a-great-nation-a-865295.html

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Here's the view of a friend who lives in the Bay Area and works as a Special Ed teacher. None of this is new news, it merely reiterates what has already been mentioned by other ETers here before. Fair Warning: The last paragraph is one of those "Leave it to Limbaugh moments" that's sure to produce a chuckle, but you'd better be sitting down when you read it:

"As you know, the election is over but there's a disturbance in the Force. The middle of the country is VERY unhappy (wah wah wah) and several states have started online petitions to secede from the union.  Apparently, there's something in the Constitution about this, and if any state gets 25,000 signatures, then Obama will have to address the issue.  Stay tuned, Texas may be the first state to get to the 25,000 mark. Cuz, you know how it is over here, that Communist Obama is taking away all our freedom and raising our taxes  ... Craziness.  I saw a blog some where and some idiot on there said s/he "was going to move to Canada to get away from Obama" Um, good luck with that one.    

If you want to see some REAL comedy, see if you can find Karl Rove's meltdown on Fox News. The poor bastard just couldn't accept that Romney and the Republicans lost. There's been a ton of news about the varying demographics in this country and which group voted Democratic or Republican. One of those groups was single women, and how they tended to vote Democratic.  

I was driving to Oregon on Wednesday (to be with my mom and brother for the Holiday), and when you get up into the mountains above Redding the only radio stations you can get are typically talk shows.  So I listened to Rush Limbaugh for a laugh. Here's his pitch: 'Single women are insecure. To save the country, men are going to have to commit and marry these women. Once they're married, they'll want to do right by their children and family and then they'll vote more conservatively.' Hee hee hee"

Single women are insecure? What planet does this joker come from? Obviously he's never met any of my friends. Nor any woman of substance most likely. But why would he? Men like him like their women submissive. Submissive, barefoot and pregnant. Asshole.

by sgr2 on Tue Nov 27th, 2012 at 12:26:39 PM EST
To sgr2,
Your friend's post is an interesting one. Thanks for sharing.

sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]
by Democrats Ramshield on Tue Nov 27th, 2012 at 01:02:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very little about the US makes sense unless slavery, the Civil War, and the endemic racism of whites (in all regions) is taken into account.  Southerners especially will accept poverty, disease, and hopelessness once the well established racist dog-whistles are tooted but the acceptance is present in all regions of the US, for the same reasons.

Another influence is the attitudes of the Scotch-Irish:

...  loyalty to kin, extreme mistrust of governmental authority and legal strictures, and a propensity to bear arms and to use them

Comprising only (about) 15.8% of the US population their geographical distribution:

allows them to "punch above their weight" in the Senate.  Looking at the 2008 presidential election:

We see the Scotch-Irish "control," in some sense, 20 to 30 Senate votes thus the most powerful political bloc in the US.    

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Tue Nov 27th, 2012 at 12:56:00 PM EST
The problem is (and I think most Europeans don't really understand this) is that America, in the European sense is not a true representative democracy. That is to say, the state of Idaho with a population of 1.5 million has 2 senators in it. Idaho is primarily a rural (red) state, whereas California  has 37.6 million also has only 2 senators in the U.S. Senate. Therefore the 2 senators from Idaho can cancel out the votes in the U.S. Senate from the 2 senators from California.

This is one reason why rural red states with low populations historically have been able to stop progressive change from large population blue states from being effectuated. Obviously this issue is a bit more complex than in this short post, but this post is only meant to be a discussion starter rather than a comprehensive treatment of the issue. Same goes for the diary. To that end, I hope our readers will extend themselves to post.

sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]

by Democrats Ramshield on Tue Nov 27th, 2012 at 01:11:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Populism (1890s) and Progressivism (1890 - 1928) were the two Post-Civil War mass reform movements in the US.  

The first was primarily rural (with all the problems and limitations of such) and ran aground on racism, although it was a trend within the Democratic Party.   William Jennings Bryan is the usual poster boy.  

Progressivism was a larger movement and had some political success although their economic program, heavily influenced by Henry George, never really got off the ground.  See the 1912 Progressive Party Platform for contrast and compare information.

To my mind (YMMV) their critical political mistake was allowing Theodore Roosevelt to wed Progressivism with Imperial venturing, the start of the "Warfare State," empowering the Right Wing of the Progressive Movement which was carried on by Wilson when he brought the US into World War One reaching apotheosis in World War Two and the resulting Cold War.  

The Russian Revolution shattered and embittered the Left Wing of the Progressive Movement with the Leftmost fringe starting various miniscule and ineffective Communist Parties and the rest wandering off into political ineffectiveness within the Democratic Party and eventually vanishing.  See the history of the League for Industrial Democracy.

The breaks in the Labor Movement reflected those of the Progressive Movement, naturally enough.  The Right Wing was, basically, the American Federation of Labor and they got rather good at using the Left Wing, mostly trained in the IWW, to do the dangerous work of organizing in the factories and then "kicking out the Reds."  See the history of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.  

Political and economic change doesn't happen by itself.  Universal Health Care in the EU happened from Left Wing parties gaining political power and legislating it.  Primarily through a political alliance between Labor and their nation's Left Wing. US economic elites and their allies in the remnants of the RW Progressive Movement managed to stave that off using Post WW2 prosperity and political tactics and operations I don't have the time to go into.  

The upshot of all of is the US lacked and lacks an effective Left Wing Party, in European eyes thus the US does not have the social policies in place that were created in the EU by Left Wing parties.


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Tue Nov 27th, 2012 at 02:22:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To ATinMn I hope you post again and add more back
ground info for our readers which is sure to be of interest to them. Thanks for posting!!

sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]
by Democrats Ramshield on Wed Nov 28th, 2012 at 05:58:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a bit of history you'll find interesting about feeding the poor in America! I'll let the quote speak for it self.

Chapter 3, "Nutrition Standards and Standard Diets," follows the expansion of the federal government into school lunch programs and the development of meal guidelines.Just as the United States worried about the mental abilities of World War I recruits, they now worried about the nutrition of service personnel and civilians during a time of anticipated shortages during World War II. Levine points out the pivotal role of sociologist Margaret Mead and nutritionist Lydia Roberts in the development of Recommended Daily Allowances and associated policies. The food program began to be institutionalized when federal contracts required schools to provide free lunches for indigent families.
http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=32193

sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]

by Democrats Ramshield on Mon Dec 3rd, 2012 at 04:44:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ATinNM:
To my mind (YMMV) their critical political mistake was allowing Theodore Roosevelt to wed Progressivism with Imperial venturing, the start of the "Warfare State," empowering the Right Wing of the Progressive Movement which was carried on by Wilson when he brought the US into World War One reaching apotheosis in World War Two and the resulting Cold War.  

Reminds me, I recently tested ISideWith.com and though crude questions it gives a reasonable picture of my positions compared with the presidential candidates for 2012.

I got 97% similar answer as Jill Stein and checking the log the only question where our answers were different on substance (rather then the lack of good answer alternatives) was this:

How should the U.S. handle the genocide in Sudan?

Jill Stein: Support a NATO effort to contain the Sudanese militaryPassion=3 Stein has a moderate passion score of 3 on Sudan Conviction=3 Stein has a moderate conviction score of 3 on Sudan Source

You: Do not get involved

Bomb, bomb, bomb Sudan (but with greener bombs). Or maybe that is not what it means (source link does not mention Sudan), but that is what NATO effort tends to mean.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Nov 29th, 2012 at 10:59:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually social insurances were started by Bismarck in Germany (not exactly a leftie), to stave off social unrest.

My impression is that in America, the idea that it is the land of unlimited opportunities has long been a surrogate for social security. Don't find a job? Move west, there's always a way to carve out a living for someone willing to work. In the meantime, the frontier is gone, but the ethos stays on.

A smaller factor may be media structure: the lack of any meaningful public-service broadcaster like you have in most European countries. As a result, few people of consequence take an interest in telling folks what they need to be told, rather than what they want to hear. As a viewer/listener/reader you're not the customer, you're part of the product: eyeballs to be packaged for advertisers.

by mustakissa on Fri Dec 7th, 2012 at 04:09:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After the frontier closed, the US maintained the "land of opportunity" myth for white, Protestant males (WPMs) at the expense of everyone else.  If you were a WPM and didn't have work, you could find an employer who toss someone with the "wrong" skin color or religion into the street and give him the job.  The rage against "entitlements" and "special privileges" you see coming out of the Talibaggers is actually just rage against their not being able to step on everyone else anymore.
by rifek on Sun Dec 16th, 2012 at 04:46:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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