The key to maintaining the illusion that America and everything in it are WOOO #1 THE BEST IN THE WORLD is never leaving the United States.

I don't present myself as a Great World Traveler, but having been in two "Second World" countries recently (or at present, in the case of Mexico) I can't shake that "Why is everything here much nicer than where I live" feeling. Now, contrary to popular opinion I am not an idiot. Obviously both Mexico and Brazil have areas serious social problems along the lines of inequality, crime, and poverty. Obviously these are not paradises. But they also have things like functional, cheap public transportation and highways that do not look like they were bombed by the Luftwaffe five decades ago and the damage was never fixed. Short of going the full chauvinist Asshole Tourist route ("I hate this place because everything is foreign! Everyone talks funny! Why aren't there more Burger Kings?") it would be extraordinarily difficult for an honest person to look at an unexceptional city in Brazil and argue that St. Louis or some random mid-major city in the U.S. is superior.

Cities with huge areas that are off limits due to violent crime? Throw a dartboard at the U.S. and you'll hit one. Crushing, third world-style poverty? Stroll through housing projects, half-abandoned rural towns, or an Indian reservation and see it stateside. Staggering wealth and embarrassing poverty coexisting side by side? We practically invented it.

The inevitable endgame of thirty years of neoliberal right-wing economics has been to convert the U.S. into a pseudo-third world nation. The only thing we're good at anymore is Cheap. Our workforce will take wages they can't live on and are encouraged to be happy that they have a job at all. Our infrastructure is falling apart. Hundreds of our cities are ugly, polluted, half-empty museums of a time when blue collar work could support a family. To think that Americans living in Terre Haute or Montgomery or the Florida panhandle have the greatest and bestest standard of living on Earth is pretty laughable if you visit…well, essentially any country in Asia, Europe, or South America.

This is a bit unfair because admittedly I live in one of the worst, most troubled cities in the country, but other than having cheaper gas, lower national income taxes, and more Wal-Marts I honestly can't figure out how living in Peoria, Illinois is "better" than living in a supposedly poor country. Maybe this is somewhat naive – I've never lived in a different country and perhaps the downsides to other places would become more apparent if I did. Regardless, the physical isolation of the United States combined with the "Why go anywhere else when everything here is THE BEST!!" attitude ensures that we don't travel internationally nearly as much as our foreign counterparts…and that really helps to fuel the mindset that cities and our society have to be broken because nothing can be done to provide effective basic public services, nor is there any reason for wanting to do so.


  • I'll tell you what we have that Brazil doesn't. We can flush our toilet paper.

    That's the only thing keeping me from moving to Rio tomorrow.

  • I've been to both the UK and Canada, and I can say I liked both a lot more than the US. The train system in the UK is better than anything we have in the US for inter-city travel if you don't want to drive. I could hop on a train in, say, Leeds, and be in London in a few hours, all while reading a book or a newspaper or playing with a phone. And I didn't have to sit through hours of security theater, plan the trip weeks in advance, etc. I can be expensive, and the train system isn't perfect, but it still beats flying or driving in this country.
    Also, both the UK and Canada seemed to have an obligation to providing services, something I haven't really seen in the US besides Minnesota.

  • who knows? who toes? says:

    What the Conservative "Movement" have accomplished in my lifetime (34 years) is kill the whole concept of the "public good". You can have health care in the UK and trains every hour from Manchester to London because the "public" is served by having trains at a convenient time. The US simply doesn't have an agreed upon bottom line level of government service for all people! To me its a wonder we have anyone paving the roads.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    The attitude of we are number 1 falls on its face quite fast no matter where it's the whole country, the defective health care system, food, etc.

    Since 1980, as Ed says above, we are transferring resources to the rich and neglect almost everything else. No wonder that in many areas we are number 30.

    There are many good areas in the country, but major problems as well: Infrastructure, health care, higher education, services for the less fortunate, too many stupid wars, lack of independent media.

    Yes, we are quite a basket case may be even number 1.

  • Someone's paving the roads? That's news. We aren't even pretending that we as a country are maintaining our bridges, our sewer and natural gas systems, or our electrical grid. The race to the bottom is taking place on a giant Slip n Slide made of $10,000 shower curtains and the dregs of $800 bottles of wine cast off by hedge fund managers.

    When I really want to make family member's heads explode, I tell them about what it is like in Scandinavia.

  • It's funny you brought this up, because as I approach my full dime in Russia I've been looking for a way out, but the scariest thing is that the only feasible option is moving back to the US, and oddly enough, the same home city I sought to escape. Of course Russia lacks stability, it's obviously heading for an implosion, the only mainstream political tendencies begin at far-right and run to neo-Pagan Nazi, and it is for all intents and purposes a dictatorship. That being said, I can't help thinking about little things which could become major problems, like:

    -Internet services. Getting high speed internet in Russia is incredibly easy and there are many providers. The worst problem I've ever encountered is the extremely rare down-time due to some technical problem on their end. It's probably happened once or twice in four years, for short periods of time. For this I pay something like $20-25 via a special terminal in a nearby shopping center. No credit card, no bill, nothing. If I don't pay, the service is blocked until I can make it to the terminal. Very simple. Meanwhile in the US I see people complaining about what seem like monopolistic cable companies with terrible service. Also is it still easy to torrent films and software in the US, or did they block all those sites?

    -A lot of food in the US, especially the cheap stuff, is loaded with sugar or HFCS. I'm not one of these Luddite nuts who cares about "organic" food or anything of that sort, but I'd like to think I could buy decent food for a reasonable price without consuming massive amounts of HFCS and/or sugar.

    -As bad as the political attitudes are in Russia, in the US they aren't much better. To be honest Russians sometimes come out on top because they are willing to let things slide. The other thing is that in Russia I can tune out the political conversations and media. Can't do this in the US. Russia's military worship is also considerably less than that of the US. Typically emphasis is on past soldiers' deeds, e.g. The Great Patriotic War. You don't have men younger than you screaming about how you should shut up because they fought in Ossetia for my freedom of speech.

    -Virtually no guns. Visits to cinemas, malls, etc. are shooting spree free.

    -In Russia, douchebags are typically pretty cowardly so in small numbers they usually won't start shit with you. Also drunken douchebags quickly get so drunk as to not pose a threat. Not so in the US. And if even if you manage to kick Mr. Tap-out shirts ass(very likely), he'll probably just run to his car and get his gun so he can "win."

    -Health insurance. In America I'll have to buy it for my wife and I. Here it's free.

    -Wife gets paid vacation. She actually has too many vacation days to use at the moment. The law requires 28 days paid vacation. I don't get it only because I'm self-employed. Still, at least someone is getting paid when we go on vacation. She would also get paid maternity leave for 1 1/2 years. Unfortunately the pay is only a portion of her official salary(virtually all Russian jobs have official and unofficial salary), but it also means that the company has to preserve her job during that whole period, after which she may return to the same position.

    -Moscow has what is most likely the best public transit system in the world.

    This isn't a long list, but they are all actually quite important and the only way these things can be negated is if(when really) Russia returns to the "Wild 90's" plus massive Bosnia-like ethnic war. So long as things remain more or less what they were, or even better, if they go back to 2006-2011 conditions, there is a massive advantage to staying here, especially since people are constantly calling me and throwing work my way. It sucks in terms of long-term prospects, but in the present it kicks America's ass at least given my situation.

  • US in the UK says:

    @Khaled & 'who knows? who toes?

    As a UK resident (US citizen), the only thing I would add is yes, riding a good train is 9 times out of 10 preferable to taking a plane. Although it sounds weird, it is one of the reasons i live in Europe. However, i can go 100km in the UK for roughly $100. In Italy, where I travel a lot, i can go the same distance for about $20 (and in a nice shiny, A/C-ed train).

    The Italian train system is public. The UK train system is private.

    And, yes, my taxes in both are roughly the same.

  • Two things.

    First, the key to maintaining the illusion that *any country whatsoever* is great is never leaving it. Most people are irrationally proud and patriotic about their own country, and strangely that even goes for the some of the worst places you can imagine. Because a lot of people just don't travel.

    I spent a lot of time in a third world country I am not going to mention because I don't want to be mean. Suffice to say it is the poorest on its continent, has one of the two worst football teams on its continent (real football, what you call soccer), it had about one president per year of its existence, and it lost every. single. war. of its history. Still the people are immensely proud. Of what, exactly? And probably it is because hardly any of them ever travel, so they don't have perspective.

    Same for every country. We Germans can only believe that our school system isn't insane because we don't personally experience other countries', and so on.

    Second, that with the living standards is a perennial puzzle to me. Admittedly I have not travelled all over the USA or anything, but from what I have seen, what other people visiting the country and those having worked there have told me, and what I learn from the news, I got the same impression as the one conveyed by this post. And on the other hand I have seen many other developed and developing countries and personally lived and worked in three different ones so far. Everything I would book under "standard of living" is better in Germany, Switzerland and Australia than in the USA, although Australia has similar issues with poor infrastructure.

    But then from time to time I see these surveys and stats where they say that the USA have the highest living standard in the world. How… why… what? I can only imagine that the people who write that use some other metric than I would. Perhaps they do not consider public transport or a power grid that doesn't break down every few months because of one measly storm or affordable health care or well-built, well-insulated houses to be part of "standard of living", but they instead consider high energy consumption per capita to be a sign of wealth and call it a day?

  • hoosierpoli says:

    Alex: Highest AVERAGE Standard of living. The Masters of the Universe are wrecking the curve.

  • The US is, IIRC, still 4th place on the HDI, but that's without adjusting for income inequality, which drops it down quite a bit.

    Also if I may point out- "soccer" is originally a British term derived from "association football." Some time later the Brits tried to blame us Americans for that. We've got to set the record straight. Personally I call it "Hitlerball" due to the inexplicable association it has with nationalism and neo-Nazism in many countries, something which no other popular sport seems to have. That and I am so sick of all the admiration these guys get for flopping on the field every time they feel the breeze of someone running by them.

  • "The key to maintaining the illusion that America and everything in it are WOOO #1 THE BEST IN THE WORLD is never leaving the United States."

    When read that, the scene out of "Brazil" where he's driving down a road that has all of these hordings with propaganda on them, then as the camera pulls back we see on either side of the road is open country side sprang to mind.

  • @Alex SL: the two biggest problems is low population 23m people combined with all of the gafa (Great Areas of FA). Basically just about the combined populations of metro Paris and London spread over the land area of continental Europe (concentrated along the coastal fringes). Makes maintaining roads and other infrastructure rather difficult.

    The greatest threat the country is facing—because of the F***wittery games of the Labor Party proving the axiom: Oppositions don't win governments, Governments lose them—we've been saddled with the most wild-eyed ideologue ever imagined. Bunny and Hockey intend to do in three (3) years what it took the US to accomplish in 30.

    A key difference between the US and a nation such as Mexico is the Mexicans know they have problems, many are beyond their control, but slowly they're trying to address them. Granted sealed roads may only stretch a few K's outside of the tourist centres, but they're trying to do something with limited resources and problematic government.
    The US on the other hand is intentionally sabotaging its infrastructure just so they don't have to charge the corporate overlords a penny in taxes for their contribution to the maintenance of the infrastructure that they're most responsible for damaging—I'm looking at you Texarse.

  • Why do you all hate MurKKKa?

    We're NUMBER 1! We manufacture, stockpile and (here's the clincher) USE more nukes than anybody, anywhere, EVER. HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! /s

    I spent nearly 4 years in Wiesbaden, Germany between March 1969 and November 1972. During that period I was often told that the "Herms" ("Rads", what have you slur of the day) had shitty jobs with shitty pay and most of the money they did get paid was taken back in the form of confiscatory nannystatetaxes.

    I worked with a couple of Germans who were armorers (we held the stockpile of useless M-16's in our unhardened "armory" in case the Warsaw Pact came through the Fulda Gap–a geographical feature, not th much later chain store–and Herren Woelfel und Schmidt maintained the weapons.

    Herr Schmidt worked about 80-90 hours a week between his gummint job and his "part-time" gig–saving enough to open a very nice restaurant in Martinsthal and STILL keep the job at the Air Base (at least until I left).

    Herr Woelfel was in his dotage (prolly about 55!) and had heart issues. He was REQUIRED to take 6 weeks of "convalescent leave" every year, after suffering a mild heart attack in the early part of 1970, IIRC. The medical leave was in addition to his 5 weeks of annual vacation.

    Both men dressed decently, ate what looked to be exceptionally nice schincke und kase sammies and seemed to have adequate cash to meet current needs. They did not drive autos that cost a substantial fraction of their annual salary, live in 2-300 sq meter houses or engage in other forms of economic dick waving.

    The one thing that Germans really liked about knowing a G.I. was that they could get a carton of Marlboro's or a fifth of decent liquor (I fucking HATE Jaegermeister, Doornkat and Steinhager) at about 10-15% of what they would cost in a local tobacconist or spirits shop. We could be counted on to supply those items at parties–unless we wanted to only come once.

    I love the U.S.–not the political construct but the physical entity–with all of its warts. It is, however, impossible to defend much of its policy.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    As a recent expat, I'm still getting over my anger at what my fellow Americans have made out of a country with so much promise. This was the America that they wanted, that they've always wanted: suburbs and dilapidated Safeways and gridlock and bankruptcy and all of it. Now I have to choose between a first-world standard of living and being close to my family, and when my German wife asked me for the 100th time why we lived in the US, I finally had to admit to myself that there was no good reason at all, and no hope that anything will improve.

    I'll come back home when the US is split into two separate countries like it should have been from the damn beginning. Until then, I'm spending my time teaching Germans one by one that the US is a completely fucked place and not worth their time to visit with their 6 weeks of mandatory vacation time.

  • Xynzee,

    Yes, I kind of noticed all the empty space. But the thing is, that explains the lack of infrastructure between Perth and Geraldton, for example. The abysmal bus service here in Canberra, not so much.

    As for the election results, that's just typical human nature for you. I remember the Spanish election after the great financial crisis hit. They interviewed all those people who said, I voted PP because the PSOE government has introduced so much austerity… only the PP had made the electoral promise to implement considerably harsher austerity measures yet.

    There is no helping those people who lack the even slightest bit of understanding what the various parties are actually planning to do. Even if every politician were honest and would slavishly follow through on their promises a large part of the electorate would still regularly shoot themselves into the knee.

  • US-Americans don't much appreciate what they do have, either. I live in California and some of the world's most amazing national and state parks are here. Scenery the size of God, trails that go on for weeks, kelp forests with seals swimming in them. And when you go to these places, the languages are German, Swedish, Japanese, French, Dutch, and sometimes gaggles of Indian engineering students taking a break. Maybe one fifth of the visitors are locals. Probably because they don't have enough vacation time to go anywhere.

  • Well, I'll just chime in recommending a book, "Were You Born in the Wrong Continent," written by a labor lawyer back before the big financial implosion–essentially it's a survey of public life and public attitudes in mainly European countries that he discovered first-hand as a traveler. Granted, the wealthy privateers and austerians have made inroads on the Europe he wrote about, trashing the notion of 'the common good' and stealing public resources in the name of … well, of whatever the excuse-du-jour is, but it's still, to my mind, a handy cheat-sheet of 'what they have that WE don't'–from subsidized childcare to free university education to paid time off to self-effacing CEOs who would be personally embarrassed at making too much more than their workers do. The book was a revelation to me, and would be to any American who read it–as is said above, you have no idea how bad you have it, until you see how well furriners are doing with their socialist, communist, evil godless slave governments, as opposed to our land of Free-Dumb.

  • A bizarre post. A quick trip to untouristy parts of Tijuana or Juarez would have stopped you from writing this post, esp. Juarez, where there's a drug war going on that makes the crack wars of the 80s look like an amateur hour. Middle class areas of Rio like Copacabana or Gloria have significant problems with crime, people mugged in broad daylight. Even wealthier areas like Ipanema have this. Rio has a great Metro system, but the road system is in worse tatters than what you find in US cities. The program of infrastructure being developed for the World Cup and Olympics is behind schedule, with corruption, cost overruns, and shoddy construction–it's not unlike living in New Jersey, but the problems are even more pervasive, given the national scale.

    I live in inner city Washington DC–despite gentrification of nearby areas, I would have no trouble finding a place to buy heroin; I have no qualms about noticing difficulty in the US. We shouldn't be surprise that places, esp. those with recent rapid economic growth can produce nice things. OTOH, apples to oranges comparisons easily fall apart.

    Re: upthread–British train service (which has been privatized) is horrible–expensive and off schedule. The Brits are very unhappy with it.

  • @Alex: Cantbearit? Because it's a bloody waste of a perfectly good sheep paddock is why ;) at least you have cycleways down there.

    The best explaination I can give you, is that since WW2 successive governments, Fed and state, have been racing to see who can become the 51st US state first. I think Bunny is aiming for closer to Haiti. Take a look at Bradfield's work—the Bridge guy not the cricketer—he was a god amongst civil engineers and considered one of the last great visionaries.

    He'd mapped out and planned an extensive light rail and tram system for all of Sydney including for its future growth plans well into this century. Had the state govt acquire lands for these purposes back in the 20s & 30s. Yet successive state govts have since sold these lands reserved for corridors, we know what became of the trams, and it wasn't until the O'limpdics that traffic going North-South didn't have to go straight up George St. For those not familiar with Sydney, effectively almost all traffic was routed through the CBD on surface streets.

  • Has no one pointed out gender inequality issues yet? Or gay rights? All you males, particularly straight males, can go enjoy South America; I won't be relocating any time soon.

  • What Rich said. I love Brasil and Brasilians. I also like walking down the street without having to be ever-vigilant about my surroundings and who's nearby. For that reason being back in the States is a relief. Ed went to Brasilia, which has among the highest HDI score in Brazil. Go to Goias or Mato Grosso nearby and you'll seee the shitty roads; trucks tear them up and the government underinvests. Also for upward distribution of taxes you can't beat the Brazilian public pension system. Try as we may we aren't nearly as bad yet.

    Europe is another matter.

  • Ed, you're not necessarily wrong about American exceptionalism being due in part to a relative lack o well-traveled citizens. But Rich has a point as well. Yes, Detroit and Flint and other areas destroyed by NAFTA and the wealthy are dangerous shitholes on a level with many developing nations. But to compare the United States as a whole to Mexico as a whole and determine that the average quality of life is better in the latter takes exaggeration in the other direction. I am relatively well traveled, particularly in Europe, and there are any number of things that I wish we did as well as any average European nation. But I'd still rather live in DC–a stunning example of American inequality and high crime if ever there were one–than San Pedro Sula.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    "Re: upthread–British train service (which has been privatized) is horrible–expensive and off schedule. The Brits are very unhappy with it."

    Better than the waking nightmare that is the DC Metro.

  • Yes, it takes a special kind of deluded ego to yap about being best when available facts run contrary.
    But does anyone think what happened to Peoria is because no one there ever saw Chicago? Or, everyone there only ever saw Detroit?
    Travel can help challenge illusions, but when we get back home what then?
    Replace "country" in this piece with culture, religion, language , hell, local football club, and run it out. Sounds the same.
    We prefer illusions. Facts will never change that. Illusions take hold because we can't stand reality. Deal with that and we might get somewhere.

  • Upthread, somewhere, it was mentioned that people in the U.S. are increasingly accepting of shitty paying jobs. Is feature not bug.

    By paying people less and, simultaneously, making high interest credit the new coin of the realm, the oligarchs ensure the continuing indenture of the wageslaves.

  • I wonder if people in other countries have the cognitive disconnect a lot of Americans have about the fact that taxes pay for government services. Example: In the Seattle area, whose local economy is among the best in the US right now, we're facing about a 17% reduction in bus service this fall. We had a ballot proposal to fill the gap in funding with a modest increase in the sales tax, which failed by a pretty wide margin. You can find people who voted against it who are SHOCKED to learn that bus service will be cut. Well, what did you expect!

    I don't feel compelled to leave the US, but I am puzzled by the insistence that WE'RE THE BEST BECAUSE FREEDOM OR SOMETHING! despite objective facts like our failure to cover the whole population even though we spend twice as much per capita on health care as any other country.

  • Going to second the seeing-one-part-of-a-country-is-not-necessarily-seeing-the-whole sentiment here. I've been to the US once, where I spent almost all of my time in the Sunnyvale-Mountain View-Palo Alto area. Definitely didn't come away feeling like the U.S. was a third-world country.

  • I travel all over the world for my job, a lot of it in Europe. A lot of my fellow coworkers are right wing nut jobs who willfully ignore all the benefits European society offers, such as low crime, good roads, cheap and high quality food and drink, public transit, healthcare, free university education, etc and refer to it as a socialist hell hole. Some even go as far as never leaving their hotel, even though they have been there dozens of times and hear about the experiences their fellow co workers have. We get accused of falling for the illusion socialism tempts you with. Some even go out of their way to find Burger King, McDonalds or TGI Fridays for "real" food. Because of having witnessed this idiocy in person, I don't think it's lack of travel that causes the attitude Ed talks about. The body traveled, the mind refused to come along. It must cause these people extreme discomfort when exposed to a reality different from the one they have created for themselves. How miserable it must be to live in constant fear.

  • If you accurately described the state of the union in 2014 to folks in the fifties, you'd be considered a "CommSymp". Imagine if one could've shown Dwight Eisenhower the condition of Kansas now…and the party that did it.

  • D.N. Nation says:

    I'm an LGBT. I live in Atlanta. I'll take it, our lousy transit, and a kick to the sack every week over South and Central America, thanks.

    But I'm sorry the middle of nowhere in Illinois sucks.

  • @furloaded

    I figured that must be the case with some people. Usually Americans who travel extensively are thought to be more "enlightened," but the obvious exception that pops up are Americans who only went abroad because they served in the military. You get a kid who just turned 18, going through 9 weeks of brainwashing, and who ends up getting sent to Germany or Korea whereas before joining up he never left Bubbafuck, KS.

  • I'm an LGBT. I live in Atlanta. I'll take it, our lousy transit, and a kick to the sack every week over South and Central America, thanks.

    Gay marriage was legalized in Uruguay last year. LGBT rights there are very liberal. Argentina has had gay marriage since 2010.

    For all Hispanoamérica has a reputation for machismo, please bear in mind that they have been electing women presidents for years while we haven't had one yet. And there are plenty of people there who don't care what the Vatican or the Catholic Church hierarchy has to say, about LGBT folk or anything else.

  • Observe when Glen chooses to live with his husband…in Brazil.

    Still, to claim that even Peoria, Illinois is worse than the vast majority of Brazil or Mexico is somewhat anti-rose-colored. When the mayor and police chief and all the leading non corrupt citizens have their heads skewered on stakes in downtown Peoria (a la Narcotrafficantes), then we can talk.

  • @Alan C: the disconnect between cutting taxes and cuts to service is not unique to 'Mur'ka! It's a common ailment wherever Randian slash-n-burn ideology combined with a Murdoch-style owned press has gained a toehold.
    The Harper Govt is an example, Bunny here in Aus. People are SHOCKED! Shocked and outraged! I tell you! because Bunny is trying to burn the barn down! The man's been carrying a box of matches and a jerry can for years. But hey, lower taxes (for the rich)! Though, surprisingly, his budget calls for a special—easily avoided—"wealth" levy, and hasn't been bailing Ford and Coke out.

  • @furloaded; are you me? Because I've had the exact same experiences with the exact same type of people.

    @Hoosier; two weeks ago I made the mistake of taking the Metro into DC on a Saturday; it cost $10 and took 90 minutes to go 3 miles (Shady Grove to Convention Center). You have to pay extra for a paper ticket (provided any of their ticket kiosks actually work, which is ridiculously naive to hope) because they really, really want you to give them your credit card number and and personal information, then pay $2 for a reusable plastic card.

  • Mexico is still and will probably always be a 3rd world country, in spite of whatever pockets of wealth and modernity you may have seen. They are unlikely to much ameliorate the levels of poverty seen there today given the population and the pervasive corruption at all levels of government. They squandered what their oil wealth might have helped and lack industry that would jump start anything. Don't know anything about Brazil other than, like Mexico, the poverty levels are much higher than they are in the U.S. and there is little to indicate that this will change.

    Having lived in both Tokyo and NYC for a number of years, I'll concede the mass transit bit of your screed, but you can't compare miscellaneous infrastructure recently built in emerging economies (often done with funds that would be better spent elsewhere – the "Wow effect") to that of the asme in an economically mature nation like ours, particularly in the case of highways. We have probably about 1,000 times more roadway to maintain than what has just come into being (or may ever will be) in most "emerging" economies. Even S. Korea has slowed to a crawl and they were the new Japan for a few years and have lost ten of thousands of their best and brightest to, you guessed it, the U.S.

    And Peoria, the way you describe it, is the way most of us on the Left Coast see most of fly-over land, only more so – places left in economic time that rarely recover. For every Pittsburg able to re-invent itself, there are a dozens cities (Detroit anyone?) that's economic usefulness (the almost never had any cultural value) are gone never to return.

    Nothing last forever, of course, and in the first couple of decades after WWII, the U.S. was the most heavily industrialized nation in history and no nation since has reached that level in absolute or per capita terms. But economist knew not long after WWII was over that our economic dominance would not last. We have declined both in relative and absolute terms, but we're still heads and shoulders even in our relatively crippled state compared to any country you care to name in Africa, Latin America, Asia or Europe.

    Having lived abroad and travelled some, I too am frustrated and embarrassed by things we do and don't do. Our federal government, at least the legislative and judicial branch, are extremely fucked-up. But to conclude that we are rapidly circling the bowl when compared to any nation in Latin America shows a fundamental lack of understanding in economics.

  • The availability of street/recreational drugs has nothing to do with fucking anything.

    Also, LOL at the guy who has only been to Sunnyvale.

  • Sunnyvale is actually a mediocre mid century suburb with a few fancy office parks. The fact that an ugly 1957 sub_eichler costs $800,000 is a problem, not a good thing :)

  • One of my memories of Barbados is being there a week and seeing exactly one beggar (half crazed, entirely ancient man). Lots of able bodied young people trying to sell crap to tourists, yes, but no beggars. Good bus system, too – as someone who doesn't drive, I notice public transit access wherever I go.

    One thing about the American Century – in 1945, USA was the only industrialized combatant nation that had not had its infrastructure bombed until the rubble bounced. True, Canada and Australia, but they were not as built up as Europe and Japan. So we had an unexamined advantage, and did things like the GI Bill and interstate highways. We've been coasting ever since, and it shows.

  • Can't think of any expats I've lived among in Latin America, Northern Europe, and the Mediterranean who ever expressed any sentimentality or longing for the land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, because even though it sucks all over, there are degrees, and wowzer–2014 passing to 2016 and beyond–there's some dysfunctional shit happening and accelerating in the homeland. Shining castles on the hill . . .

  • If it makes you feel any better, I went to Thessaloniki. Greece recently and it's a total shit hole if you go any more than 1/8 mile away from the touristy-seaboard part. Of course, their level of austerity is what our Republican party aspires to… so perhaps just give us some time.

  • "(Detroit anyone?) that's economic usefulness (the almost never had any cultural value)"

    Discounting music, I guess. Seriously?

  • Stan,

    Motown Records moved to LA in 1972, after Hitsville, USA had peaked and about the time the Big Three had begun their irreversible declines.


  • I drove OTR truck for some time, and outside the vast empty spaces of land, especially in the Midwest, the overall impression I got of this country was one of an endless stripmall/gas station/hotel/fast food joint. Yeah, I know, I was on a truck. Even so, the dreary dullness of everything that looked liked everything else whether I was in NYC or LA or Florida or Texas is an impression that will never leave me.

    I will say that people in the mid-west look overall more beat to shit than in some other places, like Seattle, for example. But for the most part this country has all the charm and originality of a condemned church building.

  • What Jeffrey said. Seriously. Here is what Mexico has that we don't have in the U.S. – large sections of the countryside controlled by drug cartels to the extent local towns need to organize paramilitary self-defense groups. We also lack those symbols of economic development known as mass kidnappings, extortion, beheadings and the like.

    And I'm not even going to talk about the favelas in Brazil. There's nothing in this country that comes close. And I work in actual ghettoes.

  • I might point out that suburban Italy and france are not exactly lovely. Especially Southern Italy, where the mob owns all the "sanitation" companies and just dumps toxic industrial waste along the roads.

    I am not an American exceptionalist, but after having seen the GRIMNESS of suburban Naples…and Rome…and the industrial belts (plural) outside the preserved museum town of Padova….America is not uniquely or specally doomed any more than it is exceptional.

  • Here in Sweden there is much to admire. Guaranteed health care, public transit (not the best where I live way out in the sticks but in more populous areas it is good), well maintained roads, good free education and a spirit of public responsibility for the environment. The cities are well maintained and by and large safe. The countryside is beautiful and unblighted.

    But the contagion of conservative mindset is taking hold. The Reinfeldt government (our friend Karl Rove was a consultant to Reinfeldt's crew) is in it's second term. They have advanced large tax cuts for the the affluent, smaller breaks for the working class and are busy privatizing schools, hospitals, public transit, nursing homes,… Starting to sound familiar? Public workers such as home health aids are being downsized by attrition while piling on workload.

    A recent TV documentary started with a candid video of US executives bragging about what easy pickings Swedish nursing homes are. The gov is selling them off at firesale prices, the funding is generous and of course the Swedes have no idea how US corporations can suck the marrow out of any business. The documentary went on to show how these American carpetbaggers are shorting services and running the places into the ground and of course dangerously neglecting their charges. Things like reusing dirty diapers are common complaints. You can use your imagination from there.

    I miss the looseness of America. In the US I started and ran a business by my boot straps. In Sweden things are much more regulated but it is a price we pay for a more civil society. The nursing home show started a national outcry to address the scandal. In the US I think these outrages are business as usual and a TV documentary would probably sink in the noise with hardly a ripple.

    The great strength of Sweden is the public awareness and expectation of quality public services. I fell their weakness may be a naivety to the depths of dishonesty and immorality people not of this culture will sink to for money. Then again they are a bright, no nonsense people and I bet they will learn quickly. This EU experiment is a learning experience and they have had the sense to reject the Euro while availing themselves of the open trade.

  • all people think they are the center of the universe, even the smallest least impressive nation will think itself the "greatest" nation because that's where its citizens and their families are, obviously. If a person says this it means they are family centric, they are not employing reason and reason can not dislodge their belief, its self serving emotionally. what I notice about the USA and US citizens as opposed to some other countries and their citizens is that the USA is more machine and technology oriented while many other countries are more oriented around people, extended family and circles of friends. The USA is a very lonely place full of isolated people who have lost community involvement and family contact. We smile more than other people but feel less pleasure, we pretend technical victory in the midst of emotional failure, the smiley face would be a good national flag. If this is the greatest country in the world why bother to improve anything, if the US is the most inventive country creative effort is not required, if we are a just nation there are no wrongs to right. this belief results in stagnation, it is the surest sign we are nothing of the kind. If we doubted our greatness we could achieve it, if we doubted our inventiveness creative effort could be multiplied, if we doubted our moral standing it could be improved, nothing destroys our country more thoroughly than the thought that it can not be destroyed, all this unearned self congratulation does nothing for anyone but deny the pressing need for work and improvement, lets have less cheap talk and more demonstrable proof.

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