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Decline of a great nation

The German magazine Spiegel has made a damning assessment of the United States.

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.

Read the whole thing. It’s both depressing and bracing — the first step to fixing these problems is to recognize that they exist. The only question is whether our political leadership has the will to turn its back on the destructive policies of the Republican party, which are what has put us here.

(Not that the Democrats are a lot better.)

Comments

  1. says

    Without even reading that article, I can already tell that they are right. I’ve been watching it happen, unable to do more than cast my vote against the bad guys who have often won anyway.

    America, you can do much better than this.

    Republicans, you can actual become a sane party, if you will only divorce the Christian coalition and the Southern racists.

    And now back to reading that article.

  2. truthspeaker says

    Maybe we should stop trying to be a model for the rest of the world and concentrate on taking care of our own problems and minding our own business.

    Spiegel is a great news source, but their commentary pages are sympathetic to liberal interventionism and other imperialist nonsense.

  3. dianne says

    The US was never a role model for the rest of the world. At least, it was never a good one. We’re talking about the country that has literally held destruction over the heads of the rest of the world for the last 70 or so years and demonstrated willingness to use that destructive force at least once. Or, technically, twice. I’m sure the US’s economic downturn will be hard, on the rest of the world as well as the US, but maybe it will lead to a more equal world in the end.

  4. hexidecima says

    I’m content to lay this at the foot of the delusion that some god has a “special plan” for the US and that we don’t need to do anything to actually make the US better. The pure stupidity that has been taught for too many generations has finally taken its toll. Can we come back, yep, but only if we realize that the US is flawed just like everyone else.

  5. Jason Dick says

    I would say it is certainly the case that in those particular ways, Germany is way ahead of the US. However, in other ways, Germany has its own endemic problems. The main issues with Germany right now revolve around the Euro and Germany’s stance with regard to Eurozone politics. Specifically, Germany is staunchly refusing to support even modest inflation, which makes recovery in the peripheral economies basically impossible.

    Further, they insist on blaming the peripheral economies for their own problems, when most of them don’t fit the narrative (Spain and Ireland were running surpluses before the crisis, for example, and most other nations had debts and deficits that were lower than Germany’s…Greece is the only nation that fits the narrative). And because of this narrative, Germany is fixing on idiotic austerity policies Europe-wide, which are resulting in even more pain and suffering and making nations’ debt problems even worse.

    So yeah, Germany is pretty good on supporting its own citizens. But it is destroying the economy of Europe.

  6. judithsanders says

    Makes you wonder how we ever pulled off the Manhattan Project, doesn’t it? More than once I’ve seen European visitors in stunned disbelief at our roads and mass transportation system.
    I have to agree with “it’s the Republicans’ fault” on this. Blocking so many appointments to positions that need to be filled, stopping legislation that would help so many people – they don’t work for the good of the people in their districts.

    And then we have the secessionists- does it not occur to them that just as in the 1860s, the North would have the bulk of the technology and resources?

  7. Akira MacKenzie says

    Jason Dick seems to echo the sentiments of many Americans when confronted by their own short comings: deflect the criticism.by using to the tu quoque fallacy. (“Oh Yeah! Well… Germany is just as bad!”)

    We’re talking about the United States of AmeriKKKa, Inc., Jason, not Germany. Do try to keep up and don’t change the subject.

  8. dianne says

    Germany is staunchly refusing to support even modest inflation, which makes recovery in the peripheral economies basically impossible.

    While I agree that the policy is misguided at best, Germany has had substantial problems related to inflation and post-inflation politics in the past and I can see why they might be a tad worried…

  9. raven says

    The Tea Party solution to our problems, many of which they caused is:

    1. Threaten to secede.

    2. Openly hate the USA and the US government.

    3. Outlaw abortion and family planning, which will do nothing to fix our economy and infrastructure.

    4. Generally oppose any thing Obama wants including filling positions in his cabinet.

    5. While calling him a Kenyan born, Moslem terrorist.

    6. Complaining long and bitterly about the (imaginary) War on Xmas.

    7. Trying to sneak their creationist mythology into our kid’s science classes.

    8. While trying to destroy public education so they can raise a generation of near illiterate morons.

    9. There is more along these lines. Defending rapists etc.

    They would be an irrelevant, if large, lunatic fringe if they didn’t control the US House and 30 state governorships.

    It’s almost like we are looking at the Samson option here.

  10. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    I think Angela Merkels economic policy is plagued by a terrible neoliberal ideology that is embraced by all the influential think tanks and consulting firms here. No one here really gets that, though, we’re just surprised why everyone suddenly hates us. It must be because everyone else is just lazy, though. It hand be because of St. Angela.

    Maybe we should stop trying to be a model for the rest of the world and concentrate on taking care of our own problems and minding our own business.

    You think that‘s the problem? That the US are just trying to hard to be a role model? Good one.

    Spiegel is a great news source, but their commentary pages are sympathetic to liberal interventionism and other imperialist nonsense.

    Their commentary pages are full of idiots.

  11. raven says

    Makes you wonder how we ever pulled off the Manhattan Project, doesn’t it?

    Four decades ago, we sent humans to the moon, more than once.

    Our latest accomplishment is watching a storm enhanced high tide rise up and flood parts of New York City and NJ and wonder how it happened.

    Bill O’Reilly, “Tide goes in, tide goes out, can’t explain that.”

    Well we can and quite simply. Lunar Gravity + large storm + rising sea levels – infrastructure improvements = $70 billion in storm damage.

  12. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Count me among those who were, shall we say, surprised about the state of infrastructure in the US. However, one has to be fair, the US has got only 3-4 times the people compared to Germany, but living on, what, maybe 30 times the area. Keeping all the infrastructure on the same level and in the same shape would probably be too expensive.

  13. Matt Penfold says

    Makes you wonder how we ever pulled off the Manhattan Project, doesn’t it?

    Well, the US did have help with that one. Especially in getting the project going in the first place.

  14. slatham says

    I wonder if the first step is to acknowledge that problems exist. I mean, someone who doesn’t like you will say that you don’t believe in America, or something. Look at Global Warming. The US probably would have done more on this issue by now if nobody ever said anything about it and instead just attached riders to existing bills or couched everything in an energy independence framework. Acknowledging the problem just provided an avenue for deniers to charge that it’s all a green/commie conspiracy against capitalism and the american way of life.

  15. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    The US probably would have done more on this issue by now if nobody ever said anything about it and instead just attached riders to existing bills

    Unfortunately, climate scientists are usually not allowed to attach riders to bills in their spare time. But do tell, whom exactly are you blaming for speaking up too much?

  16. Jason Dick says

    Akira: No, I’m not excusing the nastiness of the US. The criticisms of the US in the article are spot-on. The problem I have are the gushing platitudes offered for the German system. The fact of the matter is, most of the developed world is much more similar to the German system than the US system, and is much better because of it in these ways. You could make a similar comparison with most any other developed nation on Earth and come back with almost the exact same result.

    But the Germans have their own deep problems that are causing tremendous pain. Most of that pain is concentrated in the periphery of the Eurozone, but for Germans as well, as the obsession with austerity is also preventing a German recovery. By contrast, things are rather looking up for the US at the moment, with many economic indicators turning positive.

    So this gushing over Germany’s system rather irked me.

  17. Q.E.D says

    Re Infrastructure, Decline & Trains

    The “fast” Acela train between Washington DC and NY cruises at 70 mph (112 kph). The French TGV has a cruising speed of 300 kph (186 mph).

    I’m not a trainspotter, but French TGV technology dates back to the 1980s and the Acela was implemented 20 years later at less than half the speed.

    I suspect the reasons behind this would tell one everything one needed to know about why the US infrastructure is slouching towards a developing world standard.

  18. Matt Penfold says

    I’m not a trainspotter, but French TGV technology dates back to the 1980s and the Acela was implemented 20 years later at less than half the speed.

    1970s actually. Although the first service did not run until 1981, the technology was stuff from the mid 70s.

  19. says

    Conservatives on the Supreme Court are doing what they can to hasten the decline of the USA.

    Case in point, SCOTUS just opened the door for another Obamacare challenge:

    The justices today ordered the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reopen arguments on the employer mandate and contraceptive coverage provisions in the law, a judicial move that—while unlikely—technically could put parts of Obamacare back before the high court sometime at the end of next year.

    The particular case in question comes from Liberty University, a religious institution in Virginia that was among those groups that originally challenged the individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare. While that challenge was obviously dismissed, Liberty also challenged the two less-central provisions on the grounds that they violate religious freedom.

    The Washington Post on how and why those provisions have so far gone largely unaddressed:

    The Liberty University case … is unique in that it was the only one where the appeals court decided it couldn’t even make a ruling, given that the provisions it was supposed to rule on hadn’t come into effect. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Anti-Injunction Act precluded any rulings about the mandate’s constitutionality before the mandate actually took effect and individuals began paying penalties….

  20. slatham says

    17. I’m blaming a political system in which if you actually try to argue the merits of a case on factual evidence instead of some nicer sounding made-up story or faith in fairy tales, you lose. The initiatives that make it through the system are those that are pursued under false pretences. Want to suppress minority votes? Say it’s for cost-savings and prevention of voter fraud. People, including some politicians, have known about AGW for a long time (Hansen presented in congressional hearings in 1988). The first Bush was pretty big on actually doing something about it. But as the science got stronger, resistance also got stronger. Why? Because the people who wanted action weren’t sneaky enough. When you have to be sneaky to achieve progress for the general good, that’s a failure of democracy.

  21. peterh says

    Any competent reference librarian can lead you to reams of this sort of “hindsight before-the-fact.” German shoemakers should stick to German lasts.

  22. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    While it is true that the TGV and ICE trains and some of the tracks are built for 300-350 kph maximum speeds while the Acela is built for 240 kph or so, the actual travel times on the fastest corridor (LGV est) consisting basically of a straight line with no stops indicate effective average speeds of 130 mph from Paris-Strasbourg compared to an average of maybe 80 mph from Penn Station to Union Station. The effective speed on the German ICE tracks are lower than the french ones due to the terrain and more stops, with the Cologne-Frankfurt corridor (costing a whopping 8 billion dollars) at about 120 mph. The american effort could be better (and aren’t there plans to improve it in the future), but is not that abysmal.

  23. dianne says

    @19: It’s also important to remember that the Acela is only used in the eastern part of the country, where Amtrak owns the tracks it uses and has right of way. In short, in the best case scenario. As opposed to the casual country-wide use of the ICE, TGV and other high speed trains in Europe. A simple comparison of top speed already tilts things in favor of the US…and it still looks awful.

    And don’t get me started on the US’s health care outcomes or I’ll never get any work done.

  24. RFW says

    I pin the blame primarily on Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and the evil people who run Fox News. The Newt in particular seems to be the fons et origo of much current GOP nastiness.

  25. Olav says

    RFW, #26:

    I pin the blame primarily on Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and the evil people who run Fox News. The Newt in particular seems to be the fons et origo of much current GOP nastiness.

    There is every reason to detest those people. But I think they are symptoms, not causes for what is wrong in society.

  26. Q.E.D says

    Matt, Tyrant and Dianne:

    I suspected I might be overreaching in a forum where there were bound to be real trainspotters : )

  27. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    And don’t get me started on the US’s health care outcomes or I’ll never get any work done.

    I know the american dream, frontier spirit, self-made man all I need to take care of my family is a hard work and a gun yadda yadda yadda narrative, but I’ll never really get this masochistic part of american culture. Almost like everyone is afraid that the great dream would collapse and burst like a soap bubble if one dared to acknowledge the need for some state-sponsored protection of the people from disaster and exploitation.

    Q.E.D.,
    I could never claim to be a trainspotter, those people know the registragion numbers of all the individual locomotives and trainsets and where they are used at any given moment. Not even close :D

  28. magistramarla says

    The terrible state of our infrastructure was made very clear to me when I traveled to Japan and back. I was amazed and delighted by the public restrooms in Japan. Every public facility there was neat and clean. I was thrilled with the programmable toilets there! I had fun playing with them. People there seemed to take pride in their public facilities, whether parks or restrooms.
    We had no problem getting around on the fast commuter trains, and people were always quick to help us. I was traveling in a wheelchair, and every time that we rode the trains, a conductor wearing white gloves would help my husband to push me onto the train, and he would notify a conductor at our destination to help us there.
    Then we returned to the US. We arrived at LAX, and we were delayed for several hours before we could board our connecting flight. When I limped into a restroom in the airport, it smelled, and the floor was strewn with toilet paper. It seemed that it had not been cleaned in a while, and that no one takes any pride in the facilities there. There was even a bomb scare while we were there and we had to evacuate the airport for a while – down some steep stairs, which were very painful for me.
    I was seriously considering that a one-way return ticket to Japan might be a good idea!

  29. says

    Hmm, is the line about the US frittering away its role model status just a cynical attempt to get certain Americans to read this? To be honest, other than a few fundies and far right people I have met, I cannot think of anyone here expressing that thought. I always thought it was a view that many Americans held about themselves without realize this was not really the case.

    magistramarla,
    Ugh, it is not just the lack of cleaning in washrooms that gets me, it is that people that use them leave them in that state in the first place. The US and Canada have many similarities and the general nastiness of many public and private washrooms (in restaurants and such) seems to be one of them. Everyone complains about how bad they are but I think it is pretty clear many of us are also responsible for making them that way. I do not think the difference between Japan in here is just the cleaning, but also the attitude of the users.

  30. says

    I can’t see that a nation conceived in genocide and slavery, grown on imperialism, and sustained by drone attacks and warfare against most of the littler browner people on earth deserves to lead anything, and, perhaps, doesn’t deserve even continued existence.

  31. keenacat says

    Hmm, is the line about the US frittering away its role model status just a cynical attempt to get certain Americans to read this? To be honest, other than a few fundies and far right people I have met, I cannot think of anyone here expressing that thought.

    You are likely unaware of it, but using the US as a role model is something that people/politicians in the EU do. This has fuckall to do with americans thinking it, but everything with showing those people that no, the US is not the gold standard of running a nation anymore.

  32. typecaster says

    The only question is whether our political leadership has the will to turn its back on the destructive policies of the Republican party, which are what has put us here.

    (Not that the Democrats are a lot better.)

    There’s actually a clear distinction between the two, which I use to describe the US system to non-North American associates who ask about how it all works: The Democrats are cowardly and useless, while the Republicans are actively evil.

    See? A clear choice between alternative worldviews.

  33. Beatrice says

    You are likely unaware of it, but using the US as a role model is something that people/politicians in the EU do. This has fuckall to do with americans thinking it, but everything with showing those people that no, the US is not the gold standard of running a nation anymore.

    THIS

  34. Lofty says

    I suspect the only reason the US is/was seen a a role model to the rest of the world was 1. its ability to rapidly mobilise manufacturing for WW2, then 2. win the Space Race. Both were military driven initiatives, the Space Race being an important jab in the eye of Communist Russia. Having conclusively done that, the forces of conservatism withdrew the funding to continue.
    The Manhattan Project was a triumph of military thinking, poach some experts and throw lots of money at the problem to create the Ultimate Weapon.
    I still remember the excitement of growing up during the space race, and watching with horror as the public lost interest and the Apollo moon program was axed.
    I don’t think the US has ever valued science and learning that much. it has only gone back to its selfish stance of the early 20th century.

  35. joed says

    This is the best I can do, sorry.
    But, we all feel free don’t we!
    Sacrifice and hardship are the dues to pay for a peaceful and just society. Are you way behind in your dues? I am.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario_Savio

    There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Arundhati_Roy

    It’s not a real choice. It’s an apparent choice. Like choosing a brand of detergent. Whether you buy Ivory Snow or Tide, they’re both owned by Proctor & Gamble This doesn’t mean that one takes a position that is without nuance, that [...] the Democrats and Republicans are the same. Of course, they’re not. Neither are Tide and Ivory Snow. Tide has oxy-boosting and Ivory Snow is a gentle cleanser.”

    Aldous Huxley
    http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/56838-there-will-be-in-the-next-generation-or-so-a

    “There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it.”

  36. Ragutis says

    I do not think the difference between Japan in here is just the cleaning, but also the attitude of the users.

    Didn’t Heinlein say something along the lines that one of the sure signs of a nation in decline is dirty public restrooms?

  37. madscientist says

    I despair. When Clinton was president the Rethuglicans behaved like the criminals they are and shut down the Federal government. They’re threatening the same: if you don’t fuck over the poor (which is currently about half of the USA) and give more to the rich (less than 8%), we’ll screw everyone over again. And yet morons voted those criminals in right after the standoff with Clinton – how the hell can people be so stupid?

  38. silomowbray says

    Tyrant @ 17:

    Acknowledging the problem just provided an avenue for deniers to charge that it’s all a green/commie conspiracy against capitalism and the american way of life.

    I’m a non-American but a friendly neighbour. I’ve only ever grasped what ‘the american way of life’ is by observation. In the last decade or so, observation tells me that ‘the american way of life’ involves rich, powerful sociopaths fucking the living shit out of poorer people, right up the ass.

    …and then for some really unfathomable reason the poorer people vote to keep the same ass-rapers in office. As if they were saying, “Hi, here is my ass, please give it a good ravaging.”

  39. eleutheria says

    I don’t get PZ’s “Not that the Democrats are a lot better” dig.

    So, the party’s are essentially equal in their idiocy and unfairness and bias?

    Or perhaps this was a typo? Perhaps he intended to say “Democrats are a lot better.”

  40. silomowbray says

    eleutheria @ 43:

    I’m guessing, but I think PZ means that the Dems are just shockingly ineffective at governing the United States. They may have their hearts in the right place, but they seem to not have a clue as a collective when it comes to getting stuff done.

    Or not. I don’t claim to be an expert on the U.S., just an interested observer.

    The Republicans though, especially with the Tea Party component, seem to be a pretty clear example of unbridled iniquity.

  41. DLC says

    More political parties will not solve the problem, it will only make for more shouting and more double-dealing. We need very badly to put about (by some estimates) 1 to 3 trillion (!) dollars into infrastructure in the next 25 years, and every year we ignore the problem it gets worse. The United States is well on it’s way to becoming the worlds largest 3rd world nation, and the right is quite happy with that idea.

  42. coldthinker says

    Most nations have a constant effort to learn from the mistakes and successes of each other. European and Asian countries keep sending their delegations all over (also to the US) in case there is something to be learned. In both politics and media, it is daily business to publicly criticize your own domestic society and point out how much better certain things are done in some other countries.

    But for some reason the Americans seem to be very hostile to the idea of importing any useful social practices, structures or solutions from anywhere else. During the presidential campaign words like ”European” or ”foreign” were thrown around as insults. Apart from quaint cuisine, appreciating anything developed by another country was branded un-American and unpatriotic. To say certain things are better somewhere else apparently amounts to political blasphemy.

    Rich in nature, population and cultural diversity, there is such a huge potential in the US. Most other countries have had to achieve their prosperity with much, much less to play with. But reluctant to listen to anyone’s advice, America seems to insist on plummeting off the cliffs that no country has plummeted before.

  43. silomowbray says

    Interesting point, coldthinker. Maybe it’s because of U.S. jingoism, and the fact that the U.S. was the most successful nation on the planet in most ways? Once that trophy has been won, it’s very, very difficult to admit you no longer hold it, unless you value humility (which the GOP do not, as can be attested to by their reaction to Obama bowing to the Japanese Emperor and Empress years ago). Alas, when you’ve been in the top spot for quite some time, it’s not humility that is typically developed, it’s hubris.

  44. says

    @ eleutheria:

    No, if anything PZ was insufficiently pessimistic.

    Basically, the Democrats push for high-profile but largely meaningless “reforms” while aiding the Republicans to do really heavy damage which the aforementioned “reforms” barely even begin to address.

    Labor? It was Clinton who brought us NAFTA. The poor? Clinton gave us welfare “reform”. Healthcare? Hillary Clinton screwed up the first try, Obama made sure that neither single payer nor a public option had any chance the second time around (but that the insurance industry got a big fat undeserved gift). DADT? Clinton’s baby, and Obama was red-hot on enforcing it until he decided he needed a wedge issue. Repeal of Glass-Steagal? Clinton. Huge increases to the military’s budget? Just about every Democratic Congressman and President in the 20th or 21st century (so far). Terrorism? Obama is continuing Bush’s (counterproductive) policies of bombing and invasion. Civil liberties? Ditto.

    Oh, but hey, there’s stuff like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Play Act, which theoretically helps even out wages between genders! …which would be much more relevant if the Democrats weren’t assisting companies like Walmart to lower wages (and hours) to the point where everyone is getting screwed. Both parties absolutely love offshoring and union-busting.

    The Democrats assist in all this terrible stuff (number of Democratic congress members who voted against the AUMF against terrorists — which gave us Gitmo, extraordinary renditions, and indiscriminate drone bombing worldwide — was: 1 out of 259), and then when the (exceedingly rare) question is asked about their compliance, they say “oh, but the Republicans would have done even worse things!” Which is both (a) a pathetic excuse for failing to even try to change things and (b) not really true. (Bush’s record on civil liberties, for example, was definitely as good as and arguably actually better than Obama’s.)

    And a great deal of the damage comes about because people still buy the “but the Republicans are even worse” bit every single time.

  45. says

    Incidentally, the U.S. “supremacy” of the late 20th century was almost entirely based on circumstances beyond anyone’s control. We burned through the better part of a continent’s natural resources in a very short time, and received the benefit of the other then-current centers of technological/industrial civilization blowing each other to bits twice in three decades. The idea that we somehow had a massively clever and effective plan which others can adopt for prosperity is ludicrous, and governments which try to copy us — like Margaret Thatcher’s — are pretty much doomed to failure. The only way anyone will ever be able to achieve similar prosperity will be to devise efficient spaceflight and start mining other planets for resources. (And in that case, they’re doomed to the same decline at the end.)

  46. Nepenthe says

    Jesus fuck. Der Spiegel should mail out a bottle of whiskey (or benzos) to every American who reads that. I sure as fuck need some right now.

  47. Nepenthe says

    However, one has to be fair, the US has got only 3-4 times the people compared to Germany, but living on, what, maybe 30 times the area. Keeping all the infrastructure on the same level and in the same shape would probably be too expensive.

    Yeah, but we’re still heavily concentrated into urban areas here. To quote the Pfft:

    As of 2011, about 250 million Americans live in or around urban areas. That means more than three-quarters of the U.S. population shares just about three percent of the U.S. land area

    I mean, you go to Eastern Montana, you expect the road to be shitty. But we have major artery bridges falling down in our big cities. A couple of weeks ago, a power station in our largest city fucking exploded. What’s the excuse for that?

  48. w00dview says

    @the Vicar

    You’re right. The democrats are beholden to corporate interests, invest heavily in war and have done a large amount of damage to civil liberties. Outside the US, they are universally seen as a centre right party.

    In the US however, their rivals paint them as anti-american, capitalist hating, left wing, commie socialists who hate baby jeebus. They have either completely lost contact with reality or show sheer contempt for the populace they are elected to govern. Democrats should strive to be better than they are and not rely on “but the Republicans are even worse”. However, it is also largely true. The Democrats have their problems but it can be possible to turn the party in a leftward direction. The GOP on the other hand , would rather watch the country burn to the ground than ever work with liberals (or even centrists as Obama has no doubt found out by now).

  49. joed says

    Remember the “Free Speech Zone” that W. created for those folks that just had to speak up?
    Well, this is that Zone.
    I suppose commentors feel like they have accomplished something or perhaps feel better just by getting it off their chest. That is what the “FSZ” was created for; so commentors would not actually have to do anything except “talk”.
    Now that does feel better–don’t it.

  50. says

    @woodview:

    However, it is also largely true. The Democrats have their problems but it can be possible to turn the party in a leftward direction.

    Name a single time in the last two decades when the Democrats turned in a leftward direction as a result of pressure from their constituency. The truth is: Democrats in power don’t listen at all. Phone calls don’t help, letters don’t help, protests don’t help, campaign work doesn’t help, campaign contributions don’t help, nothing helps. The Democrats know that everyone on the left is so locked into “the Republicans are worse” that they have nothing to lose by totally ignoring them.

    That’s why Obama is going to start the process of killing off Social Security and Medicare under the guise of a compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff”. (Which is kind of stupid; we have the choice of “cuts to social programs as a fake ‘compromise’ to avoid the fiscal cliff” or “cuts to social programs as a result of going over the fiscal cliff, which would incidentally be accompanied by cuts to the military which we won’t otherwise get in a million years and which are the only possible way to actually address America’s problems”. We’re going to be served a heaping plate of garbage either way, so why not go with the option which actually does something good?)

    or even centrists as Obama has no doubt found out by now

    It was blatantly obvious that the Republicans were not willing to work with Obama, and were not working in good faith, as of roughly June, 2009. Yet Obama keeps making greater and greater concessions to try and work with them anyway, instead of calling their bluff. (Heck, by now he has enough legal precedent that he could actually have the worst of them rounded up and sent off to Gitmo — it’s not like he isn’t being accused of that kind of thing already, and not doing it is just making life hard for everyone.) The only two possibilities at this point are: (1) Obama is a moron of the most blundering, assinine type imaginable, or (2) Obama doesn’t actually disagree with with Republicans and is glad of an excuse to do the things he claims he is reluctant to do. The evidence is strongly in favor of option (2).

  51. Nepenthe says

    I suppose commentors feel like they have accomplished something or perhaps feel better just by getting it off their chest. That is what the “FSZ” was created for; so commentors would not actually have to do anything except “talk”.

    Burning shit down seems so much less poignant when said shit is falling down already.

  52. says

    Our latest accomplishment is watching a storm enhanced high tide rise up and flood parts of New York City and NJ and wonder how it happened.

    Oh c’mon some people tweeted about it.

  53. Akira MacKenzie says

    Jason Dick:

    Perhaps, but given the way things are going, if given the choice between living here in the states and moving to Germany (or another Northern European nation), Auf Wiedersehen Amerika.

  54. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    @Akira,

    Germany is one of the less family friendly countries in northern Europe, and since we do not produce any biological offspring any more as a result, any immigration should be welcome!

  55. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    What both the USA and Europe (and the rest of the rich world) need is indeed investment in infrastructure as the article says – but primarily, which it doesn’t say, infrastructure aimed at both mitigating and adapting to anthropogenic climate change and other current and forseeable environmental problems; above all, energy saving, low-carbon generation, and energy storage infrastructure.

    The socio-economic trends toward greater inequality and declining state provision, are also similar in the US to the rest of the rich world. For the past three decades, there has been a concerted drive by the ruling elites of rich world countries to roll back the concessions made to the general population during the 1945-1975 period. The situation in the US, whereby both main parties primarily represent elite interests and differ only in areas where these interests themselves are either indifferent or divided, is mirrored in practically all rich countries – in that no party with a serious chance of power represents any fundamental challenge to current elites*. (Perhaps the sole exception at present is Greece – where the main opposition, Syriza, may do so – and in response, the police have taken to collaborating with the thugs of a Nazi party, Golden Dawn.)

    In conventional economic terms the USA is doing better than either Europe or Japan in the current crisis – largely because Obama has not implemented the austerity policy Angela Merkel is forcing on the Eurozone, and David Cameron on the UK. The USA also has better longer-term prospects than Europe and Japan in conventional economic terms, because of its population structure and (still) vast natural resources. The article itself points out that Europe is in faster relative decline on many measures. But the USA does have its unique problems and faults: grotesquely high military spending, aggressive foreign policy, high levels of religiosity and nationalism, one of two major parties and huge chunks of the media captured by right-wing extremists, a constitution well past its use-by date. So, of course, does Europe (I mean the EU and its associates such as Switzerland and Norway) have its unique problems and faults: austerity policies driving it back into recession**, weak EU democratic structures and the unaccountable European Commission, foreign policy largely subordinate to that of the USA, the Euro itself – an attempt to have a currency union without an economic and political one. But if the USA suffers a severe decline in the next decade, that will be down to political and cultural problems such as those mentioned above, particularly the extremist takeover of the Republican Party.

    *This does not mean, of course, that it makes no difference which of these parties is in power. Rich country ruling elites are neither unified nor all-powerful, and factions within them are driven to seek support from coalitions of non-elite interests, in some cases by actually enacting measures that benefit those supporters. Factions within them are also more or less rational, and hence more or less able to deal with dangers facing their society as a whole (external enemies, natural disaster, environmental damage).

    **Endless economic growth must be unsustainable in any finite system, and conventional economic measures such as GDP have severe drawbacks, so we might ask, is this necessarily a bad thing? However, we can see that European austerity policies are being used to accelerate the increase in inequality, are causing considerable and growing human suffering, and risk bringing fascists to power. The inevitable transition to a more sustainable economic system than present-day capitalism (which demands endless growth) needs to be planned democratically if we want any say in what that more sustainable system is, or the path we take to it.

  56. carlie says

    The obvious solution is New Deal 2.0, wherein people who need jobs are put to work rebuilding our infrastructure. However, right now no one would stand for such government “intrusion”. And then the more obvious question is why do we keep having cycles that send us into these messes over and over without learning from them.

  57. Masquirina says

    I’m liking the hardly existent costs of college tuition and healthcare over there. Perhaps in this country government “intrusion” is perceived as a mother telling people to share and think about the future, which can be a problem for many “goddamn adults who nobody ain’t the boss of no mores, especially all them gay european nazis”.

  58. Jason Dick says

    Akira: I guess that depends upon whether or not you care about job security. Europe, right now, is at a crossroads. Either they can come together more than they have before, forming a much stronger Union, or they can fall apart, with countries leaving the Eurozone in rapid succession.

    Countries like France and Germany are adamantly against the former (they want to punish the supposed transgressors instead, choosing to believe against all evidence that the countries in Europe doing worse are those that caused the problem). And the latter will cause a Europe-wide economic disaster (though it will be more temporary than the current depression, as it will give the individual countries the tools to start growing again).

    So the best places in Europe to be right now most decidedly do not include Germany. You would want to be in a country that still has its own currency, that has debt in its own currency, and has not fallen for the austerity hysteria like most of Europe. A country like Sweden or Iceland fits the bill much better than Germany.

    That said, the US is on a path to improving these aspects. Come 2014, we will have near-universal health care. And the demographics are such that the Republican party will shortly find it impossible to win national elections without a dramatic shift to the left. Our economy also appears to be on the mend, with lots of economic indicators showing positive growth.

  59. birgerjohansson says

    The Japanese are not content with their current edge:

    “Japan’s newest floating train is one blistering maglev” http://phys.org/news/2012-11-japan-blistering-maglev.html
    Translated to metric units, that is 500km/h!

    I assume they build a track high above the ground, but with their high population density the high cost of the track can be justified. In USA maybe the Eastern Seaboard and parts of California could have a track like this.
    — — — — — — — — —- —- —-
    “Most nations have a constant effort to learn from the mistakes and successes of each other”

    University level researchers and a few politicians in the USA do this. But most of the political class couldn’t care less about facts that contradict their beliefs.
    In Europe such solipsism is harder, since the smaller political units sooner suffer the consequences of folly.

  60. halfspin says

    Oh please. I was with you until the throwaway aspersion on the Democrats. There are any number of ways that the Democratic Party, as well as most of its representatives in government, is wrong and messed up, but they are a hell of a lot better than the GOP. Name one single GOP candidate who would be a superior choice to the serious Democratic challenger. The Democrats today are stuck with the burden of having to represent everyone halfway reasonable in this country, whether they’re progressive or moderate or conservative or somewhere else. I’d be eager to hear which candidates you think would do a better job governing while also managing to win elections. You complain about the likes of Senator Tom Harkin because he’s a Catholic—do you have the same disdain for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, regardless of her accomplishments as speaker? Is Bernie Sanders “not a lot better” than the GOP either, and is it because he caucuses with Democrats or because he identifies as a Jew? Did you cast your lot with Jill Stein?