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Nonetheless - excellent point.

In effect the US is a third world country, complete with a religious dictatorship, an aggressive military caste and corruption maintained by various criminal families and businesses, pretending to be a developed country.

Small parts are developed - and some parts are very developed indeed.

But most of it isn't.

On that basis there's no point expecting the US to behave like other developed countries, because it's not going to do it - at least not until it allows real democracy and European-style wealth redistribution to happen within its own borders.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 06:00:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What does this "undeveloped" 3rd world landscape look like? I'll agree with the premise for a few of the big city slums, but for the rest of this country...that's a very shocking claim.

complete with a religious dictatorship

Bush has worked hard at blurring the line between church and state, but we're nowhere close to a religious dictatorship. I'm confused as to why Europeans so often make this claim, as the real examples of religious dictatorship in the middle east are in plain view.

The "aggressive military caste" is a far, far greater threat to this country and the world than any issue arising from a religious premise. Religion is nothing more than a symptom.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 07:39:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On my - rare - visits to the US I'm always shocked by the levels of poverty on display. It's not just 'apart from the inner city slums.' It's huge swathes of hopelessness right across the country. They're airbrushed out of existence because the media ignores them - it's much more interesting to focus on shiny celebs - but much of the US is still incredibly grim, even compared to the rough parts of London.

And it's not just financial poverty. It's about limited opportunity in every sense. If you're not born into the right caste in the US, your choices are very limited. Extremely talented individuals can change caste, but they need to be truly exceptional. How free can you be when you need to be a four-sigma person to have a chance of escaping your economic fate?

As for the religious dictatorship - name a recent president who hasn't deliberately and consciously used faith-based Christian rhetoric to sell their plans, or who has gone against the trend by setting out a secular and/or atheist moral program.

You might think Clinton, but then there's this.

Huge amounts of time and energy are expended on purely faith-based issues, like sexual and reproductive politics, which in a secular culture shouldn't be issues at all. Meanwhile things that matter - energy, the environment, and broader social welfare - are framed as extremist plots to destabilise the fabric of American society. Alternative belief systems - Muslims, pagans, atheists, agnostics, gnostics, Hindus and the rest - have little or no access to law-making.

You probably have to spend some time outside of it to understand how insane - very nearly in a literal, certifiable sense - the political scene looks from outside of the US.

The common roots of all of this seem to be a deep streak of almost mediaeval authoritarian fundamentalism. I agree that religion is a symptom, because US economic attitudes are just as detached from reality as the Religious Right is.

The real state religion seems to be Randian self-centredness and social Darwinism - the rich and powerful take everything, just because they can, and the poor and weak get nothing.

Not all Americans practice this religion to the same extent. But politically and socially, the worst possible thing that you can be in the US is poor and weak. Not only will people not usually help you, they'll treat you with contempt instead of compassion.

(And I'm far from smug about this because here in the UK we're headed in the same direction.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 08:30:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good grief! It's too bad you weren't around to speak to the US's burgeoning immigrant (both legal and illegal) population. It would have saved them the effort and expense of a trip there.

Nevertheless, you do make some good points about the existence of poverty in the US, and the lack of an adequate social safety net.  Conditions are just much worse in other "third world" countries.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 09:46:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Looks like the UN disagrees.

Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World, according to a shocking United Nations report on global inequality.

It reveals that the infant mortality rate has been rising in the US for the past five years - and is now the same as Malaysia. America's black children are twice as likely as whites to die before their first birthday.

Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people in the Indian state of Kerala

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article311066.ece

Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World, according to a shocking United Nations report on global inequality.

It reveals that the infant mortality rate has been rising in the US for the past five years - and is now the same as Malaysia. America's black children are twice as likely as whites to die before their first birthday.

Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people in the Indian state of Kerala

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article311066.ece

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 10:26:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The sense of poverty--especially in the rural areas is pretty strong for a first world nation.

I don't know where BritGuy toured and that would be interesting to find out, but I do know from personal experience that great swaths of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma are incredibly poor at --yes --third world levels: tin shack homes or trailers dot the landscape and if you get into the nuts and bolts you find third world type problems with infant mortality or things like ringworm, head lice, etc.

Many of these states form our 'Bible belt'. I think Marx observed something once about religion being the opiate of the masses. The reason he put it that way is because religiosity was used (typically by the church heirarchy or the state) to make individuals forget their actual material needs. Didn't always work, but that was the game plan.

Out of this waste land, literarily, has sprung many of our most 'famous' televangelists.

Our Jimmy Swaggarts and Tammy Fayes don't hail from NYC, they come from coal country, from the red clay parts of the south where you are as likely to get bit by a fire ant as a honey bee.

And they grew up poor as dirt: and many of the areas are still that way. Obviously immigrants come up from the South to make a buck on agri-business or domestic help or construction labor--but I suspect if jobs were available in their local economy not many would make the trek North. It's all about employment opportunity --because here you can eat, down South, you starve--and one suspects things have been arranged that way for a reason.

So it's certainly true that we aren't third world at it's worst. We are not at Bangladesh levels or Sudan, yet. No stories of mothers selling their eye as organ donors to middle men for money to feed their kids; but there's a lot of incidental information out there that indicates we aren't that far away either.

We've worked 'very hard' as Bush might say, to destroy our safety net. We have no nationalized healthcare worth talking about, no nationalized employment or retirement scheme.Our public education levels stop effectively at highschool. No labor laws regarding unions or right to organize that are enforced. Our food inspections are spotty at best and we've just recently had a scare because we imported poisoned feed from China.

Then occasionally you hear horror stories not more than a mile from the WhiteHouse --that come straight from third world level poverty -- a boy dies from tooth decay because he couldn't afford a dentist visit:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/27/AR2007022702116_pf.html
Not the norm, true, but we're working on it.

So I guess our new motto might be: 'Come to the US, because we're not third world--yet!'

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 10:44:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is extreme poverty in the US and a lack of a social safety net for many.  Probably more than any other developed country in the world, the US doesn't take care of its own.  But, the US remains a magnet for employment for much of the world's unskilled population from China and Africa to Latin America.  US business thrives on poverty - or at least the poor, be it at home or abroad, and if some political interests get their way with the new immigration bill and trade agreements that trend will worsen.

I don't see religion playing as much a role in this trend as simple greed.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 11:15:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Per usual it isn't that I see the world in a radically different manner, just that I think the gap between the US and Europe is smaller. You're right about the enormous amount of poverty that is very visible in the US. While I wouldn't wish it on anyone - it isn't the same sort of horror that 3rd world slums are, although psychologically it probably comes close.

You probably have to spend some time outside of it to understand how insane - very nearly in a literal, certifiable sense - the political scene looks from outside of the US.

I'll counter with "not when I see it on display every day." The game the elites are playing is the human equivalent of a ritual mating game of rams locking horns. The difference is that we're using nuclear weapons, and such a fight goes a bit beyond "ritual." Rather than using their conscious faculties to create a stable and happy environment for our species, the elites are instead using them to create better horn lockin' weapons. It is insane in a physical sense - it is amplified chaos, and it's not stable from a survival standpoint.

I'm not convinced that this comes from anything other than a self reinforcing feedback loop of power, power that was gained by the peoples of Europe (near the peak of their intellectual prowess in relation to the rest of the planet) happening upon a vast continent of untapped natural resources. I think Canada has gone a different route than the US because their culture has not been corrupted by the same effects of power, as they have no massive agricultural interior with one of the world's longest rivers nearby flowing to the ocean, nor Texas' oil, nor the coal of Appalachia. Without that power Canada's best avenue to influence world events (Canada's leaders are still competitive humans, after all) does not include military aggression.

Huge amounts of time and energy are expended on purely faith-based issues, like sexual and reproductive politics, which in a secular culture shouldn't be issues at all. Meanwhile things that matter - energy, the environment, and broader social welfare - are framed as extremist plots to destabilise the fabric of American society. Alternative belief systems - Muslims, pagans, atheists, agnostics, gnostics, Hindus and the rest - have little or no access to law-making.

Nonetheless, abortion is legal. Non-Christian religions operate with little interference. The courts, with very well publicized exceptions, do not rule from the bible (beyond the extent that the basis of law in most of the US and Europe derives in part from that book). Women's rights advanced earlier than in most of Europe. Again I agree with your claims - but they don't amount to a religious dictatorship. Not yet. The litmus test is simple - if I went to Saudi Arabia, would I feel the "religious pressure" to be on par with what I feel in the US? Of course not.

I agree that religion is a symptom, because US economic attitudes are just as detached from reality as the Religious Right is.

The attitudes in Europe are similar when considered at a higher level. The US and Europe have both acquired an unfair share of the earth's bounty and labor and at vastly unsustainable rates. The difference is that Europe distributes this unfair share more equitably internally. The latter point is all that you are addressing. The implications of "vastly unsustainable rates" may well be the best example of "detachment from reality" that humanity has achieved.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 10:34:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the problem is that the real religion of the US is economic and social discrimination. It doesn't have an official name, which makes it difficult to challenge.  But it does have all of the trappings of a cult. There's a uniform - the business suit - the daily ritual of stock quotes and analysis, and fortune telling in the form of long term financial forecasts.

This isn't just metaphor. A lot of capitalist activity is no more useful - and sometimes far more destructive - than pyramid building. In reality-based terms it's nothing more than a slightly symbolic version of spinning a hamster wheel, apparently for the pleasant sensation of making it go around and around. Supposedly this equates to Progress, which is of course inevitable.

But progress rarely seems to be progressive. And even when it is progressive, social and cultural innovation never seems to be driven by the leaders of the financial cult.

Christianity provides a useful herding tool for keeping the masses huddled and starving. But it's only a tool, not the central focus of belief - which is Wall Street, towards which everyone bows, and from which all blessings flow. (If you're not one of the poor.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 07:00:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In reality-based terms it's nothing more than a slightly symbolic version of spinning a hamster wheel

Have you seen the ad for the Guardian jobs section with the slogan "better jobs" and a picture of a hamster in a diamond-studded, gold-plated wheel?

I don't know if that's accidentally insightful or subtly subversive.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 07:14:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I haven't.

It could be subtly subversive. It's something of a hobby among some ad staff to see what they can get away with.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 07:41:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the claims of religious 'dictatorship' in the practical sense of that word are overreaching, but there's a kind of religious expectations game in our politics that's hard to discount.

Here are some questions I'd ask myself:

Can I name a single self-professed athiest who has won the Presidency of the US?

A: nope, not one.

Q: Can I name all the self professed 'Christian' presidents...

A: Give me a minute or two and I could probably have the complete list, though it might be easier to name the Presidents who didn't profess a believe in some Christian God and make some profession of faith, if only symbolic. I think that list would be 0 again.

But of course that might all be just for show and tell 'round election time. I think where things get really interesting is when you start looking at the last few decades in the US. The level of self-identified evangelists and fundamentalists involved in national level politics has sky rocketed. Bush is nominally 'methodists' but he is beholding to and talks the talk of the evangelicals. These are the far, far right wingers. The Monica Goodlings from Regent University are WhiteHouse liasons by design, not accident. Folks like Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson that we tend to discount as so many rabid talking heads or demogagic fools have real political power and there are people who pour lots of money into their political coffers every Sunday.

And the political dimension is easy to track. John McCaine --who once called Falwell and crew out as hatemongers now has to kiss Falwell's ring to get elected. And--what's worse-- he's doing it. And Falwell, of course, is the same guy who said gays and liberals caused 9/11. Regent University's Pat Robertson thinks we need to assasinate Chavez, etc.  

In that very real sense, the conjoining of political power with religious extremism is happening right here, right now in good ole US of A. True, dictatorship's not the right word. It's more like a theocracy from the bottom up--which, frankly, from my perspective--is probably just as scary, if not worse. I happen to live in Richmond, VA, 90 minutes from Va Beach where Pat Robertson has his strong hold, and about two hours from Lynchburg where Falwell used to make his home. I can tell you these folks are real. And they are nuts.

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 08:52:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What does this "undeveloped" 3rd world landscape look like?

4+ years ago, my mother came to visit me in SoCal and we gave her a tour of everything we could think of: from Venice Beach and Santa Monica to Palm Springs with its gated communities, the shock of going from the desert to the snowed peak of Mt. San Jacinto, a trip to the Ontario Mills mall at the peak of the Christmas shopping season, and then a ride on the Scenic Route 74 through godforsaken places like Perris, Hemet, and Lake Elsinore. A scenic route it is, but you also get to see plenty of trailer/mobile home parks and lots of poverty.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 05:06:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I said "some big city slums," I was thinking of parts of LA, Chicago, and the NYC metro area (thinking of coastal Connecticut mostly - Bridgeport is one of the poorest US cities).

LA may well be the most surreal city on the planet.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 12:46:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Small parts are developed - and some parts are very developed indeed.

But most of it isn't.

The US is a microcosm of the global economy. I have been harping about how global liberalised capital movements dissolve the national economies into one single world economy, and so we're going to see a thirdworldisation of the whole planet. Most countries are going to end up having very developed areas and vast hinterlands of misery.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 04:59:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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