The United States is the only country to issue “report cards” on how all the other nations of the world measure up to our expectations. Perhaps some introspection is in order to assess our own grades.

 

In the last 4 years General Motors lost 72 billion dollars in profits. Instead of reorganizing their corporate structure or actually building a car people might want to buy, the US government breathed billions of dollars into GM to keep their failed business model alive. And where did this money come from, money US taxpayers will have to repay? We borrowed it from China who, as the bailout proceeded, announced their development of an all-electric car that will be available in a few years and will cost less than $20K.

 

So connect the dots. We borrow from China to bail out the inept managers of yesterday’s technologies while the Chinese pioneer tomorrow’s.  And for all their hard work in thus mortgaging our future Congress awarded themselves with a raise last month.

 

In 2008 alone we increased our national debt by 1.3 trillion dollars bringing our total federal deficit to 67.5% of our Gross Domestic Product. I am no economist, but something tells me that’s bad. Terribly bad. No wonder Thomas Friedman said our whole country is like one big General Motors. GM R Us.

 

Yet our delusions about ourselves and the world persist. Just to take one example: “the French are lazy pacifists who make little more than perfume and wine.” In reality, the French military has been much more active in the post-WWII era than most European countries. Moreover, French President Sarkozy was prominent in brokering deals between Israel and Gaza, Russia and Georgia, and solving the problem of Somalian pirates in the India Ocean.  That used to be us. 

 

And by the way, the most important industry in France today is aerospace technology, something that was not lost to the US Air Force who recently gave a 40 million dollar contract to a joint French-European company rather than to Boeing. Congress, supported by lobbyists from US firms, was appalled as if contracts are corporate America’s birthright regardless of the quality of work we do.  Brazil too just completed a 12 billion dollar defense contract with the French. It is highly probable that one or two decades ago that would have been with us.

 

We are choking on the delusion of our own superiority.

 

But that’s not the only bad grade on our report card. We continue to chide other nations for their human rights violations (China, Russia) even in the wake of Abu Ghraib and Guatanamo. Could our leadership be any more out of touch with the world? 

 

Yes it could. Last Fall as the economic disaster was becoming the most pressing global issue, Bush failed to mention it once in his speech to the UN General Assembly. Yet he used the word “terrorism” 32 times in 22 minutes making him “the laughing stock of the gray corridors of the UN.”

 

Last February we instantly recognized the independence of Kosovo but refused to do so with South Ossetia, a region whose independence could be justified on many of the same principles (the politics behind this is not hard to figure out). We continue to push NATO–a military relic of the Cold War–into the former Soviet countries and wonder why Cold War attitudes have revived in Russia. Despite these glaring inconsistencies we cloak our unilateralism in the rhetoric of international principles and expect the world to take us seriously.

 

And then there’s the homefront. According to data collected by the Atlantic Monthly, several noteworthy trends can be identified between 2000-2008: the number of billionaires rose by 50%, the number of people in poverty increased, and so did the number of people with no health insurance; we have more people in prisons; we have only one state with an obesity rate below 20% (there were 28 such states in 2000); and the amount of disposable income Americans put in savings dropped to about half of one percent during this time while our consumer credit card debt went from 684 billion to almost a trillion dollars. And how did we react to all this? According to the report, we were playing more video games and watching more television.

 

There was some good news in the report: our oil consumption dropped slightly and violent crime dropped significantly, as did the number of major armed conflicts in the world. Yet in the larger balance, it doesn’t take a teacher to figure out what grade we should get.

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