Saturday, April 23, 2011

America: A Disordered Culture and Country: Peggy Noonan at the WSJ asks What the World Sees in America: Also the Good: Agriculture, Defense, Computers, Airlines

America, America. What happened?

Peggy Noonan, a Republican who was a Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, has an article at the Wall Street Journal which -- unfortunately -- has much of it right, in pointing to an America gone astray on many fronts.

We say this as a political centrist who is currently not at all pleased with a Republican Party that is often in the grips of reactionaries and religious fundamentalists and with a Democratic Party that is thus far unable to generate the substantial change that is so desperately needed in order to solve the political, economic, social and financial problems that the country faces.

We take just two sentences out of Noonan's article, What the World Sees in America:
"You think: Something's wrong in this place, something has become disordered....

We have work to do at home, on our culture and in our country."
Be sure to read Noonan's article, which is devastatingly pointed in talking about the current situation in the USA and which ushers views very much corresponding to the opinions of America that many Europeans (and also people of other countries) also share.

The problems that confront the USA are fairly clear, but what are the solutions?

Here are our suggestions:

1) Inequality of income 
is a cancer that destroys.
Income inequality reflects serious flaws in a country's economic and political system.

History proves time and again that a country that caters only to a small elite can not survive long-term -- revolutions are inevitable in such cases, sooner or later, as we currently observe directly in the Middle East and in the Arab countries. Men are sheep, but at some point the burden of oppression becomes too severe, and confrontation and often battle are the only alternatives. There may be some kind of a social law involved here that can probably be quantified, but that is another matter.

IN any case, any US politician advocating policies to increase the already massive inequality of income in the USA should be voted out of office as soon as possible, because ultimately, in the long run, these politicians are also destroying the wealth of the wealthy as well. They are enemies of the poor AND the rich.

According to the CIA Factbook GINI Index, the USA in 2007 ranked about 100th in world for income equality, just behind Iran and the Ivory Coast. Current figures will be worse. The American middle class is disappearing and a land of only rich and poor is emerging with all of the negative impacts -- crime, etc. No man's wealth is safe in a land which loses the rule of law and is replaced by a land of the needy, impoverished and desperate.

That is NOT the America envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

2) A culture based on hype has no foundation.

One can not talk away the reality. Hype builds nothing. The Grand Canyon is "awesome". A lot of other things that are called awesome in the USA are nothing near to awesome. Hype in society is pervasive, and ineffective. Things have to be viewed soberly and accurately. What needs to be done should be the issue, not politically, but practically: rebuilding, restructuring, renewing.

Nearly a dozen buildings
in the world (including those under construction) are now taller than the the tallest skyscraper in the USA (measured to the roof) -- in the USA that is the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago.

America in many ways is being passed by its previous students and imitators.

This decline of priority is reflected in the entire construction and manufacturing sector, where America no longer dominates the world scene.

What about the Economy?

After years of inept economic rule in the USA, 11.4% of the work force lost their jobs in the recession that has followed the end of the Dubya Presidency.

During that inglorious administration, a preexisting budget surplus was dispersed to the grateful rich while the rest of the country continued a quick slide into oblivion from which it has not recovered. Hope is eternal, but things look bleak.

Made in the USA

See Not Born in the U.S.A. about shoes made in the USA --  is there such a thing?

Obviously, the USA still rules the roost in high tech, from computer software to Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter, to GPS, to Intel and AMD. (As a Stanford alum, you might say that Stanford and Silicon Valley rule the roost).

But name ONE competitive refined US manufactured product outside of computer programs or portals and computer chips that is competitive on world markets and is actually MADE in the USA.

No, not Apple iPhones. The manufactured parts of products like the iPhone, e.g., are mostly NOT made in the USA.

Offhand, we thought of military arms (Lockheed), commercial airplanes (Boeing) and food products (agriculture and related food-producing industries, Cargill).

The military arms industry in the United States is massive. As written on global arms sales at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI, February 21, 2011):
"45 of the SIPRI Top 100 are based in the USA. These companies generated just under $247 billion in total arms sales, which is 61.5 per cent of the SIPRI Top 100 arms sales."
Defense revenue by company and country is listed at Defense News with Lockheed Martin the top-ranked defense revenue company, although Boeing has higher total revenues, accounted for by its commercial business.

Boeing competes with the European Airbus for commercial airline airplane sales. As written at the Wikipedia:
"Boeing is among the largest global aircraft manufacturers by revenue, orders and deliveries, and the third largest aerospace and defense contractor in the world based on defense-related revenue. Boeing is the largest exporter by value in the United States."
Food made in the USA is of primary importance. Floyd Norris at the New York Times tells us this year that U.S. Exports Soar, It’s Not All Soybeans.

The USA, like a 3rd world economy, excels in agricultural production. But let us be fair, that is the most important industry, food. We all have to eat. It is still agricultural production, including ranching (primarily cattle raising) and other foodstuffs, which still sets America apart from the rest of the world. For 2008, here from FAOSTAT are the top-ranked products for American farmers and food producers (the front number indicates world production rank):

"1 String beans
1 Cranberries
1 Cow milk, whole, fresh
1 Nuts, nes
1 Almonds, with shell
1 Maize
1 Indigenous Turkey Meat
1 Indigenous Chicken Meat
1 Soybeans
1 Maize, green
1 Grapefruit (inc. pomelos)
1 Strawberries
1 Blueberries
1 Indigenous Cattle Meat
2 Tomatoes
2 Lettuce and chicory
2 Apples
2 Carrots and turnips
2 Walnuts, with shell
2 Game meat
2 Indigenous Pigmeat
2 Hops
2 Pistachios
2 Safflower seed
2 Spinach
2 Mushrooms and truffles
2 Oranges
2 Pears
2 Cherries
2 Hen eggs, in shell
3 Cotton lint
3 Peaches and nectarines
3 Wheat
3 Sorghum
3 Sugar beet
3 Peas, dry
3 Hazelnuts, with shell
3 Onions, dry
3 Peas, green
3 Plums and sloes
3 Grapes
4 Lentils
4 Groundnuts, with shell
4 Potatoes
4 Raspberries
4 Pumpkins, squash and gourds
4 Tobacco, unmanufactured
4 Indigenous Duck Meat
4 Indigenous Horse Meat
5 Other melons (inc.cantaloupes)"

In addition to proverbial U.S. strength in agriculture, it is the raw chemical industry that has the best positive balance of exports in spite of layoffs during the recession. This is a U.S. focus on HEAVY INDUSTRY, like a 3rd world economy, rather than on refined manufacturing goods. The chemical industry in the USA employs more than 500,000 people.

Traditional heavy industries like steel have become weak over the years.

In 1974 the United States employed 521,000 persons in the steel industry. In 2000 that number had sunk to 151,000. That may have mirrored a world-wide drop in human employment in the steel industry, due to mechanization and computerization, but that is a lot of lost jobs.

The figures look even more overwhelming when steel production is viewed. In 2009, the USA produced 58.1 million tons of crude steel compared to the People's Republic of China with 567.8 million tons, virtually 10 times greater than America. China exported nearly as much steel as the USA produced in a year.

That is a quantum shift in world industrial power and we can all be happy that the Chinese are not turning all that steel into war tanks.

When we look at all US manufacturing goods, America has had a trade deficit -- i.e. it imports more goods than it exports -- ever since the late 1960's and ever since domestic oil production peaked in the year 1970.

As written at the Wikipedia under Balance of Trade:
"Warren Buffett was quoted in the Associated Press (January 20, 2006) as saying "The U.S trade deficit is a bigger threat to the domestic economy than either the federal budget deficit or consumer debt and could lead to political turmoil... Right now, the rest of the world owns $3 trillion more of us than we own of them."
America has become a nation of "have nots" rather than a nation of "haves". Except for the top echelons of wealth, the USA is a nation of debtors financed by foreign countries who can not risk losing American consumer markets, so they support the basically bankrupt system, which must figure out how to put spending money into the hands of those consumers. America's endless consumption makes it valuable for foreign manufacturers. Otherwise, much of the country is virtually broke.

Where does the USA rank worldwide in health care? -- it ranked 37th worldwide, after Costa Rica, 36th, in 2000 -- and that will have been much worse in 2010 until the introduction of health care reform, and yet you still have people "lost" in American politics who want to roll back the clock and bring America even further down in the rankings. The USA is the last industrialized country to adopt national health care, not the FIRST, the LAST.

What does a well-to-do U.S. citizen care if the country's children have cavities in their teeth or if contagious diseases are not under control? What does a citizen care if their neighbor has no job and no money to pay for a medical operation or is on the street with no place to live? In the long run, EVERYONE loses. That is the lesson of history. What goes around, comes around (full circle). A nation that does not take care of its own people is in decay.

3) Priorities must be revamped to fit the realities and there should be a renewed celebration of competence rather than its opposite

A nation whose highest entertainment models are ordinary idols of at best mediocre talent will not master real problems easily that require skill, talent, learning, knowledge and know-how. Mediocrity did not build America.

It should be a top priority to elect COMPETENT leaders. A large, outdated bridge that collapsed in Minnesota, for example, in a state in which the voters some years ago elected a professional entertainment wrestler as governor, exemplify the tip of the iceberg of the core problem. What was achieved by that election? Who prospered? What was suffered as a consequence? Voters need to reconsider who they are putting into office.

A college drop-out is now euphemistically the "governor" in Wisconsin and with equally inept cronies is trying to roll back decades of progress in labor relations to allegedly balance the state budget. That is not how competent government works. One does not make serous long-term encroachments on the established system of collective bargaining for public employees in order to allegedly achieve ephemeral short-term partisan political goals.

If you elect incompetents, do not complain about the consequences.

Governing means taking care of the infrastructure: i.e. building anew, but also rebuilding, maintenance and renewal. Governing does not mean destruction of the infrastructure for political ends by partisan politicians.

4) Political parties should choose as candidates -- and voters should start electing to their legislatures and public offices -- the most legislatively competent people they can find

By that we mean capable and competent people trained in the law and the legal system rather than physicians, veterinarians, wrestlers, religious or other ideological fanatics, or "beautiful" people who merely pander to the weaknesses of their fellows and whose place in society is not, e.g. in Congress, which is currently filled with a lot of amateurs playing "legislator".

How can the country get back on its feet when people follow e.g. Congressmen physicians trained e.g. in fields such as obstetrics and gynaecology, but who claim to know better how to legislate the country than people trained in the law. Lacking a solid background in the fundamentals of law and the legal system, such politicians stand out by their bizarre legislative proposals and unsound lawmaking.

A doctor's job is to prevent, treat and heal illness. Secular problems are not solved by prescriptions. The nation is not a human body and works differently. A veterinarian takes care of animals. What expertise does he bring to human lawmaking? Professional wrestlers are in the entertainment business. Put them where they can grapple foes in the ring, not in governor's mansions. Religious officials have their realm of churches and the spiritual world. Let them preach from the pulpits, but keep them out of the houses of lawmaking, which are secular and worldly, as they must be. If a man or woman wants to change to a lawmaking profession, fine. Let them FIRST undertake a course of study in law and then run for legislative office.

We would definitely support a Constitutional amendment requiring persons to hold a J.D. or comparable law degree to be eligible for Congress, a job whose job is LAWMAKING, not medical diagnosis, horseshoeing, mat-pinning, or sermoning.

There is a time and a place for everything, but in America this has over the last decades all become disastrously confused and disordered. Congress is filled with people with insufficient training in lawmaking. But that is the JOB of Congress -- lawmaking. A doctor who wants to tell the country how to make laws is simply in the wrong feature film, and the same applies to all the other poorly trained legislators in legislatures across the country. Amateur law remains amateur law with amateur results. Go with the professionals.

5) There must be a renewed focus on personal and social responsibility of each individual 

"Doing your own thing" is fine but should be limited by personal and social responsibility. RESPONSIBILITY needs to be taught in schools and institutions.

HAVING FUN should be viewed as an integral part of life, but not as its main objective. The country is going down the tubes while everyone is watching mindless drivel on TV or YouTube.

How many hours of each day are spent on non-productive tasks?
Change it.

6) Consumption can not be the prevailing motivation of life

Citizens need to be taught that they should do something CONSTRUCTIVE with their lives and ADD to the world and to their nation, rather than merely TAKE and CONSUME from it.

America ranks FIRST in the world in total consumption, rivaled in total only by China, which has 4 times more people.

A nation of consumers in the USA is facing dwindling resources and funds and someone is thus having to tighten their belt. Who is it?

If you are without a job, or you have lost your home, or if your money resources are less now than before, you are one of the the ones tightening your belt. Why you? Is it your own fault? Because you have not understood the danger and because you may be not be voting for the best legislators, but rather voting for those who are popular, or look good, or have a nice smile, but not a brain in their heads.

Obama has Nobel Prize winners restructuring the economy to clean up the financial mess that the previous administration created. Are you listening to some ideological armchair quarterback who is in Congress because he tells the gullible masses what they want to hear?

Are some politicians' views on abortion, gay and women's rights, and all similar controversial topics going to put food on your table and money in your pocket? Not a cent. Those are all smoke screens to put incompetents into office.

Pay attention to those who insist on equalizing incomes, restoring fair dealing to the nation's affairs, adopting realistic policies on reduction of energy consumption, looking out for the health and welfare of EVERY American, repairing and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, roads and industries, taxing corporations and individuals to the degree that they profit from the system - that is only fair, etc. Those are the politicians looking out after YOU in the long run. Regardless of their political badge.

Political parties are loadstones.

Vote out of office ALL of those who appear to be pounding the drum for some chosen group, political, libertarian, religious, or otherwise. They are taking money out of your pockets and the food off of your table.

Every Congressperson should have only ONE constituent: the American.

7) Will America get the message?

When we look at the childish partisans posturing in the U.S. Congress, we have our doubts.
When we look at the gas-guzzling cars streaming into American garages as if energy were endless tomorrow, we have our doubts.
When we look at the ecological footprint of the average American on our world, spending far in excess of what he creates, we have our doubts.

The consumer is being consumed by a consumist philosophy.
A nation living beyond its means is headed for a period of transition into reality.
That change will not be easy, but perhaps positively transformational.

Indeed, when we look to the American spirit, we are optimistic.
That would be the American way of life. Problems are there for solutions.

Start honoring competence and talent in all of your affairs, especially in the person of the people you vote into political office. Vote not for the people who think like you do -- legislators should not be mindless puppets, but vote rather for those who think with YOUR long-term welfare in mind. Those are two different things. The right medicine does not always taste good.

Then the state of the nation could improve.

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