THE SATURDAY ESSAY: the USA…..dysfunctional at home, disastrous abroad.

Hillarygun71115Democratic Presidential Nominee

You may already have read last night’s piece about ‘the US recovery’. I have been posting regularly since January 2013 to state as clearly as possible that it’s been ‘under way’ since that time. It just never quite slips anchor.

The entire US ‘analysis’ of its own situation is the greatest con in history. QE may have been tapered, but other forms of Fed bailout have continued and been increased to avert the endless margin call and repo SNAFU along the way. Take QE and these elements out of the ‘recovery’, and there is only recession.

But this isn’t the only dimension – ie, economic and fiscal policy – upon which America is heading towards Failed State status. Today I hope, in one place, to offer a primer on American social and foreign policies…as a means of illustrating how neoliberal economics, deficit budgeting and stagnant energy thinking are reflected in those strategies.

We had the surreal attempt to legitimate the jobless recovery. Now we have the riseless recovery. Most US ‘middle’ class wages are either static or falling. One very disturbing trend here is that – despite Obamacare –  American expenditure on healthcare is growing three times faster than real wage values. Two specific measures reflecting poor mental health are the consumption of antidepressants, and the level of obesity. In the US, both of them are off the scale.

According to a recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of antidepressant use in the United States has ballooned by 1200% since 2000. The federal government’s health stats suggest that in excess of 1 in 10 Americans takes an antidepressant. And it is clear that it is the corporate executive (especially the female version) that requires them far more than any other group.

23% of women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressants, by far the highest intake percentage of any single demographic. Professional women executives take just under four times antidepressants than their male eqivalents. And while 14% of all non-Hispanic white people take antidepressants, just 4% of non-Hispanic blacks and 3% of Mexican Americans do so. A stark confirmation, perhaps, of the old adage that money doesn’t bring happiness; but also a clear reflection of the fiscal pressures of neoliberal corporate life…especially on women.

It also seems to chime with Nuffield research done in the UK, where ‘the rate of increase in prescribing had been static for some years, and does seem to have increased from 2008 so it would suggest that recession and some of the associated problems such as unemployment could be part of it….[the report] The found that areas with more white people and more women showed much higher levels of prescription’.

So the problem is an Anglo-saxon cultural thing (which I would accept) but the UK figure of 70 per ‘000 of population taking such medication is nowhere near the States. Nevertheless, we do share the neoliberal model – and our figures are much higher than for most of continental Europe: even in Greece, 97% of people have never taken an antidepressant.

The US image when it comes to fitness is still that of slim Californians jogging along beaches. But in reality, an analysis produced by The Lancet in 2014 showed that the United States is home to the highest number of overweight and obese people in the world. In the U.S., 70.9% of men and 61.9% of women are overweight or obese. That’s almost double compared to 38% of men and 36.9% of women worldwide, and the US numbers have increased in line with falling real incomes and growing wealth disparity.

Now obviously, people on lower incomes consume more high-fat ‘junk’ foods: but obesity is inextricably linked to frustration, depression, lowered self esteem and so-called comfort eating. Simon et al (July 2006) concluded – in concert with other similar research – that obesity and ‘diagnosis of depression, panic disorder and so on’ were 21% more likely to occur together than apart.

Americans are not happy. Other obvious measures – the growing violence during Occupy and ethnic demonstrations alongside the increasingly militaristic nature of US police forces for example – suggest a nation very ill at ease with itself….and increasingly frustrated at the seeming inability of the political process to deliver genuinely radical legislators with new ideas. That in itself is reflected by the sheer amount of corporate lobbying money swimming around in the Congress…and the increasing influence of the banking and big business interest groups on policies followed by both the White House and the State Department.

For if America is socially dysfunctional at home, its influence has become increasingly disastrous abroad.

“I’ve given up expecting to find some good in American foreign policy,” a long-standing old JFK Democrat friend said to me some years back. Many Europeans now feel the same (although a staggering 72% of Brits still think the US is our best ally) but for me as a student of politics over five decades, while the US élite always had that “American Way” arrogance, the believing naïf dimension that they were doing good was still there, I think, until about thirty years ago. Since then, the needs of multinational business, banking and the military have come first second and third. Doing good is a non-runner.

I was pointed at an article by US Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Kounalakis earlier this week, and while it could be dismissed as naivety – or worse still, factual – by the casual reader, anyone with even a passing knowledge of Hungarian affairs would think it a travesty of the truth. For supporters of Viktor Orban in that country, it would merely confirm the reason why they have backed Orban in two elections and increasing numbers. I’ll return to this issue shortly, but for now this is the thought to hold: US foreign policy has become Brechtian through and through. No means are too diabolical, because the ends justify them; and the ends are always corporacratic…and usually to do with energy.

For the State Department in this our sorry and superficial era, leaders of sovereign countries who question American motives are simply in the way. They have in some cases in the century to date succeeded in rationalising this approach as ‘régime change’ based on a dislike of fascist government or the ownership of dangerous weapons. I was one of those tentatively supportive of the Bush-Blair Iraq War II, because I did believe Sadam Hussein had deliverable chemical weapons: the Prime Minister of my country went into Parliament and told us all on live television Sadam had such things. And without doubt, Hussein was a monster.

But those of us in the genuinely liberal democratic cultural camp need to learn some lessons. The biggest one of the last fifteen years for me is undoubtedly “not all cultures want democracy – they’d rather have stability and lead quiet lives”. If they run their own country to that end, what business is that of ours?

Does that sound like appeasement? No actually, it’s pacifism. And my conversion to pacifism in recent years is based on ovewhelming evidence that the use of force for régime change has been an abject failure. Consider the following facts about what happened – not speculative spin about ‘what is’:

  • The war in Iraq created shock, awe, incalculable devastation….and a situation both ripe for Jihadist takeover and insoluble internal conflict. Iraq today is far more unstable and inflammable than it was under Sadam Hussein
  • The destabilisation of Gaddafi in Libya and eventual intervention by the US and Britain led to a barbaric end to the dictator’s life, an initial victory for closet Islamists, and then interminable squabbles nonstop ever since. Libya today is far more unstable and inflammable than it was under Gaddafi.
  • Backing the Muslim Brotherhood against the military after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt gave a fillip to Jihadism and created myhem for practical government there. Four years after the revolution he helped lead, Basem Kamel has been sidelined, and tough-guy military President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has cemented his rule using unprecedented amounts of force, including mass arrests and death sentences, and the elimination of freedoms that existed even under previous dictatorships. But Sisi is, when one views the polls, hugely popular. Meanwhile, Kamel accepts the régime, saying “Even knowing what I know today, I would say the Brotherhood is worse”. Had the American strategy succeeded, Egypt today would be far more unstable and inflammable than it is under Sisi.
  • In a recent TV interview shown across the US, Barack Obama defended his actions in Ukraine by saying, “When I came to the Oval Office, a Putin stooge was in charge, and now he’s gone”. An open admission that the US Establishment pushed hard to get rid of ruling President Viktor Yanukovych – not a nice man and rather over-keen on the trappings of power, but democratically elected in a vote overseen and approved by UN observers. The US and the EU sided with a racist minority to get rid of a pro-Russian leader supported by the majority. Now, anything recognisable as Ukraine has disappeared, Putin won the war and annexed territory, and the situation remains tense. Had the EU/US not meddled in the country’s affairs, Ukraine today would be far more stable and viable than it is, and Putin nowhere near as respected.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood so eagerly supported by the US in Egypt moved on to Syria and Northern Iraq. There, a deeply unpleasant minority Alawhite leader Basshar Assad had the approval of the vast majority of Syrian citizens, but soon found himself accused by the Brotherhood, the US and other rebel elements of first of all bombing Turkey (a ridiculous idea designed to make him an anti-NATO Sadam II) and then of using chemical weapons against his own people. Once again, in the light of obvious US presence, Jihadists flocked to various causes on either side of the Syria/Iraq border….and following various impenetrable methods of double-cross, emerged as ISIL or Islamic State. Having helped create this new bogey, the US continued to back ‘their’ rebels against the ‘ISIL’ rebels, and came to an accord with the Assad they’d been vilifying on an hourly basis a month earlier. Putin has since intervened to attack all the rebels – and especially American ones. The Americans are on the verge of sending ground troops in to fight Russian rebels. Meanwhile, Europe has been chaos made flesh with the arrival of over a million refugees ‘from Syria’ (many of whom are from Turkey), already hard-pushed Greece has been lumbered with the biggest refugee problem but without financial assistance, and in a poll last month 72% of Syrians said all they wanted was for Basshar Assad to stay in power. Had the US not plotted his demise, Syria under Assad would today be more stable and independent than it is ever likely to be henceforth; and far be it from me to sound alarmist, but we may well be on the verge of World War III.
  • By contrast, closet Islamist and NATO ally Recep Erdogan has won a ‘shock’ election victory in Turkey (widely regarded there as rigged, riddled with pro-Erdogan bullying, and not overseen by anyone) then followed it with an immediate clampdown on all Opposition factions. He also has the EU eating out of his hand on the ‘refugee’ issue. And he’s been allowed by the EU/US axis to ramp up the rhetoric on Northern Cyprus – illegally snatched by the Turks forty years ago. Without that Brussels, NATO and State Department support, Erdogan the Mad might now be on his way into exile.
  • Compared to the Saudis, however, the Turkish leader is a model of liberal gentility. In the land run by the Saudi royal family, there is no redress under the law, no democracy whatsoever, and the Divine Right of Male drug-pushing kings still reigns supreme.Not a peep ever emerges from State, Washington or the White House about their support for a régime as antithetical to American ‘ideals’ as it’s possible to be. But then, the Arab face-cards do have a lot of oil. And munneeee.

But let’s take time out from this cavalcade of successful global policing and review briefly what looks likely to be the next object of State Department anti-matter. I posted last week about the suspicions surrounding George Soros (an avowed agent of US foreign policy) and more enlightened liberal plots to get rid of the man who eats babies for breakfast and lists wiping out gypsies as an absorbing hobby in his Who’s Who entry, Viktor Orban.

The black-arts disinformation and false flag operations in Hungary bankrolled by Soros and the CIA reached  a peak of vituperation during the October migrants crisis. Hungary, said one US junior diplomatic clown at one point, was “sending innocent women and children to their deaths” by not letting them stay in Hungary. In fact, they turned down Austria and sped to Germany, having hijacked a train in Budapest. Orban – the only European leader to forecast exactly what the refugee consequences of the Syrian conflict would be – was now being blamed by a State Department jerk for not helping with a problem caused by his employers.

The blank-faced hypocrisy in all that cannot however hide Viktor Orban’s real crime: like all the other unifying politicians removed by American corporate zeal, he is in the way. He fines US banks for cheating customers, he tells the truth about the Soviet history of the apparatchiks he replaced, he reviles American commercial colonialism in public, he refuses to join the Mickey Mouse euro project, and above all he says that “if the EU is a democracy, you can keep it”. This is then dutifully reported by The Guardian as ‘Hardman Orban rejects Western democratic model’.

And there may be worse to come. For close Hungarian ally Poland has now also elected an anti-euro Conservative opposed to everthing that American poodle Donald Tusk stood for. In a line stretching north from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Russian steppes, the US stands apparently ready for a military face-off in four countries. But stable opponents are the great threat to United States global hegemony. Without genuine régime change in America itself, all will be tested and if necessary humiliated. For in the US of 2015, Might is Right.

Americans have always rationalised the Right to Bear Arms on the basis of defending themselves against any tyrannical Standing Army. I’ve always opposed this daft idea. Now America has a nationwide standing army against whom the poor and hungry have no defence at all. It’s called The Police.

How far the USA I used to defend in the late Sixties has fallen. How pernicious is its intent. And how right JFK was to be deeply suspicious of the groups he came to loathe – State, the Pentagon, and the nuke-machos: the people now in charge of a perverted faux democracy.

As this is probably the biggest threat to the human race’s survival at the minute, I am opening today’s essay to comments. The usual House Rules apply.

Yesterday at The Slog: deconstructing the myth of American recovery