By Tom Kando
The other day, I gave a small music recital at a homeless women’s shelter. Yes, I am an amateur musician, and I am a good guy sometimes, especially when being good and having fun coincide. This was one of several shelters in Sacramento, a city where homelessness, unemployment and poverty abound, like in many other American cities.
The shelter showed the good side of human nature. It houses about 150 people - mostly single, homeless mothers and their children, up to 14-year old boys and girls. Most of these women had sad stories to tell, tales of drugs, rape and abuse by men, the whole nine yards. Here, they found not just a haven, but also their own inner goodness again. They smiled, they worked diligently to pick up job skills, they took care of their children lovingly, their quarters were impeccable, they spoke eloquently about their plans and aspirations for a better life. They were lower-class, overweight, tattooed, intelligent, resilient, with expressions of hope in their beautiful eyes.
It made me think. A microcosm of America. The country has so many crying needs. There are enormous metropolitan regions where conditions are comparable to Calcutta and Sao Paulo. Downtown Detroit (whose population is less than half what it was 40 years ago) has so many vacant lots and incinerated buildings that it is reverting to prairie conditions, with foxes, coyote and deer roaming again. New Orleans will never be what it was before Katrina again. The American landscape is dotted with vast wastelands of slums, poverty, crime, drugs, decay.
The richest country on earth? What a worn-out and false cliché! In 2008, the US was the 8th richest country in the world, per capita. Now, as the dollar’s value has declined by 20%, it is in 20th position (See CIA World Fact Book), after countries such as Norway, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Iceland, Canada, Austria, Sweden, Australia and a few other small countries.
Anyway, per capita income is a flawed measure of well-being. Exchange fluctuations and the distribution of wealth are just two of many factors which make such comparisons unhelpful. But I mention the fact that by this measure, in any event, America is no higher than the 20th richest country in the world. So stop calling it the richest country on earth already!
And yet, the idiot stewards of our national patrimony keep thinking that we can do it all.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t include President Obama among those idiots. The man inherited the Bush mess, and he is doing his valiant best. What I am talking about are the mindless conservatives who believe that we can continue to police the world, fight several simultaneous and never-ending wars. The mindless liberals who believe that we can save the world, give aid to every Third World country, export democracy everywhere. And the mindless and megalomaniac belief among the media and public opinion that we are all-mighty.
America, you have to pull back, you have to turn around. Start fixing yourself. Stop squandering your rapidly shrinking resources. Fix your defective health care system, your inferior education, your decrepit infrastructure, your deteriorating housing stock.
The French are building a highspeed train traveling at 350 miles per hour. But it’s taking us 30 years to retrofit the Oakland Bay bridge against earthquake. The Germans provide free, universal, single-payer health insurance to all. But we have been trying to reform health care since Truman, i.e. for 65 years, and we are further from the goal now than we were during Nixon.
America, learn from some of the dozens of countries that are doing better than you. Start protecting the commonweal. Be less timid in taxing the obscene wealth of billionaires and multimillionaires, whose numbers have increased so much over the past decades. Turn around.
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Friday, August 28, 2009
By Tom Kando