On The Interstate From Democracy To Feudalism

Ed Raymond

In the 2016 election, Californians may have an opportunity to vote on a measure to divide that huge state of 38 million into six states. Hotmail and Skype billionaire Tim Draper has spent over $5 million to pay professional signature-gatherers to get 1.3 million signatures to get his proposal ready. His proposal is really a microcosm of what is wrong with the United States. Billionaires such as the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and Draper think they have terrific ideas about governing, so they are buying allegiance and servitude from local, state, and national politicians. In the Washington bazaar, sales have been made.
Dividing the state under Draper’s plan would make his home state of Silicon Valley the richest state in the Union. Central California, the agricultural area between the Sierras and the coastal mountains, would end up being the poorest state, even poorer than Mississippi. That wonderful cesspool of auto pollution, West California (Los Angeles), could then solve its own filthy problems of exhaust, race, and crime. South California (San Diego and border deserts) would be saddled with all of the immigration problems of the former state. North California and Jefferson would represent the two conservative areas with the least population north of Silicon Valley and Central California. But here is the secret. The six states would send twelve senators to Washington instead of two—Democrats. It’s possible that the California Territory would send eight Republicans and only four Democrats to that Tower of Babble, the U.S. Senate.

If We Study History, Are We Still Dumb Enough To Repeat It?

Historians have offered hundreds of reasons why Rome collapsed after a 500-year run as the world’s superpower. Crippling tax policies, failed military adventures using mercenaries and slaves, and even climate change have been blamed, but financial crises from domestic policies dominate Rome’s collapse. Most historians blame the following: (1) constant wars, (2) overspending on entertainment for the masses, (3) uneven and oppressive taxation, (4) inflation, (5) huge gaps between rich and poor, (6) lack of slaves to do the scutwork of empire, (7) the immense size of the empire, and (8) the lack of more rich neighbors to plunder and rape. Any of these causes sound familiar?
By some measures we are still the wealthiest, most powerful country, but what have we accomplished lately? We used to be a “can-do” nation, but now we are becoming a mirror of Rome. Take another look at just the eight reasons for Nero to go ape. Instead of jailing crooked banksters who led us down the path to bankruptcies and foreclosures, we levy huge fines of about $20 billion against corporate “too big to fail” banks. How long do you think it will take those banks to raise fees and rates to get that $20 billion back? The middle class lost over $4 trillion on residential property alone in the last recession. If you have committed a $4 trillion fraud, what should your jail sentence be?
Why do we have over 1,100 military bases and outposts scattered around the world? Americans used to think we had an exceptional country born to be examples for the world. Not anymore. By 2011 only 38 percent thought that. In 2014 that’s down to 28 percent. Among 18-to-29-year-olds, only 15 percent think we are exceptional. That’s almost down to the offspring of the One Percent constantly going to the bank. Politicians promise not to do a damn thing before the next election—except to sue Obama for trying to do something. Congress can’t even agree to fund a highway bill to fill potholes and do ordinary repair work on the interstate system. My dad was right: “They are as useless as teats on a boar...”

The European Union Has Replaced Us As An Exceptional Part Of The World

Alternet’s Alex Henderson wrote the July 9 article “10 Things Europe Does Way Better Than America.” The facts stand out—and illustrate why our young people have lost faith in this country. Austerity policies have created real unemployment problems in Greece and Spain, but most European countries have lower unemployment rates. Examples are Germany 5.1%, Switzerland 3.1%, Iceland 4.6%, and Denmark 4.2%. Our real unemployment rate hovers around 15%.
While our jails are overflowing at an incarceration rate of 707 per 100,000, Sweden jails 60, Norway 72, Germany 78, The Netherlands 75, Switzerland 87, Italy 99, France 103, and Spain 144. At last count we had 2,239,751 prisoners, including 70,792 juveniles, housed in 4,575 facilities. Just the facts, ma’am. But shouldn’t we ask how the Europeans keep their rates low?
We have a homicide rate of 4.8 per 100,000. European examples: 0.7 in Sweden, 0.8 in Denmark, 0.9 in Austria, Italy, and The Netherlands, 1.0 in France, and 1.2 in Portugal and Ireland. Why do we kill people at five times the rate of Europe? A lot of us came from there! Is it a tsunami of guns? It might be something to work on.
What’s wrong with our sex education programs for the young? We have 41.5 teen births per 1,000 while The Netherlands have 5.3, Switzerland 4.3, and Germany 9.8. Our HIV rates are triple Europe’s. The “Christian” Right insists that abstinence-only sex education programs will reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Evidence shows that such programs are absolute failures. But facts have never been a part of religious poppycock.
European countries, which tend to be more sexually liberal than the U.S., have lower abortion rates. We average 19 abortions per 1,000 while Europe averages 12. Switzerland, where abortion is legal, has a rate of 6.4 per 1000. European nations have better sex education programs, free access to many kinds of birth control, and universal health care. There must be a good idea among the three someplace.
Large private-sector U.S. companies average 21 days of vacation, although there is no federal law requiring vacation time. European countries mandate paid vacation time. Examples: Austria 35 days, Italy and France 31, Germany and Spain 34, Belgium 30, and Ireland 29. And European workers have higher productivity rates. Why don’t we look into that? Brazil leads the world in vacation time with 41 days; Finland is second with 40.
Every developed European country has universal health care. We are about 35th in health care rankings, according to the World Health Organization—while spending about $8,500 per capita. France covers everybody, has the highest rated health care in the world, and spends about half of what we do. A coronary bypass in the U.S. costs 50 percent more than it does in Canada, Australia, and France—and twice as much as in Germany. We still have about 40 million without any health insurance, even with ObamaCare. Consequently, we have fewer doctors per person and fewer hospital beds than other developed countries. How can we be so stupid? Don’t answer that. It may reveal a real weak spot.
Every European country has life spans between one and four years longer than the U.S. Even Slovenia averages 80 compared to our 79. Why should Italians, Germans, Swedes, the French, the Finns, the Spanish, Icelanders, and even Luxembourgers live three years longer than we do? A male in McDowell County, West Virginia, dies 18 years younger than a male in Switzerland. We are way overdue for pitchforks.
We still don’t have a single mile of high-speed rail. Europe has the best public transportation system in the world, eliminating highway congestion, reducing pollution, and eliminating auto ownership, while encouraging walking and biking short distances and creating sidewalk cultures in most cities.
In one important area we are tied with Spain for the top spot: cocaine use! One consolation: we are #1 in the percentage of persons who believe in angels among 132 countries. Is that why Baptists and other “evangelicals” have the highest divorce rate? Always looking for something better?

We Lead The World In A Lot More Negatives

The New York Times reports that the U.S. is the most expensive country in the world to have a baby in, even if you have some kind of maternity insurance. Finding your way through a corn maze is a lot easier than finding comprehensive insurance. The average vaginal delivery costs $9,775, a Cesarean $15,041. With maternity coverage written by verbose attorneys, you will still be nailed by surprises, deductibles, co-pays, and tricky “out of pocket” expenses that will average about $3,400.
Over two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. Over 35 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese. Up to 400,000 adults die from obesity each year. Lifestyle is killing us: the love of fried foods, sugary drinks, pre-packaged foods loaded with salt, processed meats swelled with nitrates, and TV watching.
We lead the world in anxiety disorders according to a World Health Organization survey. Almost 20 percent of American adults, or 40 million, experienced a clinical anxiety disorder within the last 12 months. That’s a lot of Valium.
We are number one in the total of civilian firearms and in per capita ownership of small firearms. We top Yemen, Serbia, and Iraq. Gee, is that why we lead the civilized world in homicides and crime rate? At a rate of 101.05 firearms per 100 individuals, we own one-third of all the firearms in the world.

We Must Be The World’s Fullest Basket Case

If you are really tired of all this negativity, please quit reading here. I am not done. In a United Nations report on 29 top nations, we rank 28th in child well-being and rank the same in child poverty. We rank with Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. We currently spend more on defense than the top 12 countries combined. We top the report in illicit and prescription drug use. No wonder.
France spends one percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on child care. The government subsidizes child care and also has a sliding scale by income for additional fees. We spend a paltry 0.4 percent. Most French infants, toddlers, and preschoolers attend developmental classes.
The Social Progress Index developed by Harvard University evaluates 54 social and environmental indicators of 132 nations. More bad news for the 99 Percent and the One Percent of Americans. Although we are second in per capita GDP at $45,336, we rank 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation, and 31st in personal safety. The country that has Silicon Valley computer giants Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, and Oracle ranks 23rd in Internet access. Horrible. That’s why we rank 39th in basic education. We rank 17th just behind Mexico in personal happiness. Don’t ask me how they judge this. None of our cities are in the top ten of the most livable. We have only one airport in the top 100.
The report summarizes its findings: “The countries ranked highest in social progress are doing the complete opposite [of the U.S.]. They’re investing in schools rather than drones. They’re expanding collective bargaining laws rather than busting unions. They’re providing their citizens with universal health care and education rather than selling these basic human rights to the highest bidder.”
Rome died at 500. We are only 238. Did we age too fast? T.S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” described him thus: “I grow old... I grow old... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they sing to me.”
Old men shrink, so their old trousers are too long. Decisions become elusive and perhaps frightening. We hear singing the siren-mermaids who tried to entice Ulysses to wreck his ship on the rocks. His men had tied him to the mast to keep him from jumping ship. But beautiful, sexy mermaids do not sing to old men. They sing to the vital young. As Prufrock thinks about his life, he muses that perhaps “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” If this country doesn’t slow down its warp speed to feudalism, we might as well scuttle the ship of state.

Raymond is a former Marine officer and school board superintendent and resides in Detroit Lakes.