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America on the Downhill Slope

Gadfly | September 20th, 2020

The Death of Empire by A Thousand Cuts
Some empires last longer than others. Rome was one. The Chinese empire died the death of a thousand cuts they made famous a thousand years ago. But the Chinese heart that was sliced centuries ago evidently was put on life support, because it is beating strong after getting shocked back to life about 300 years ago. Lingchi, the death of a thousand cuts, was applied for three reasons: public humiliation, for treason and other serious crimes, and for mass or individual murder. It was even used as a “public” punishment after death. The prisoner was tied to a wooden frame and his flesh was slowly cut in multiple slices. It was also a religious punishment because it told everybody that the prisoner’s body would never be whole again in his afterlife. Lingchi was also used as a form of torture. A few Chinese emperors even used it for minor offenses to keep the populace under control. The practice, also used in Vietnam, was not banned in China until 1905.

The American empire is now sliced and bleeding from acts very similar to the death of a thousand cuts. Climate change is burning millions of forest acres and thousands of homes while hurricanes and storms are destroying millions of acres of crops and flooding thousands of homes. Income inequality has forced thousands of families to the streets and millions into homeless shelters each night. It is no longer possible for the poor and the middle class to live in many cities because the rich have “gentrified” them with mansions. Teachers and nurses cannot afford to live in San Francisco. Clerks, maids, cooks, and gardeners cannot afford to live in the Hamptons. The real unemployment rate is close to 20%. The Bottom 90% are enduring a 1,000 tax cuts given the rich over the last half-century which have essentially destroyed the social safety net. On top of all this, we are failing to eliminate 400 years of racism, a world-wide pandemic, and an annual 140,000 killed and wounded by firearms. In short, the evidence is piling up every second that the American empire is disintegrating because of a thousand reasons.

Here Is A Major Piece Of Evidence From A Single Source
The decade old Social Progress Index developed by many Nobel-winning economists measures 50 criteria of the well-being and the quality of life of 163 countries every year. Nutrition, safety, freedom, environment, health, educations are just a few of the qualities measured. Released on September 3, 2020, the research indicates that the United States is the leading country of the three where people are worse off than they were in 2011. The other two are Hungary and Brazil. The other 160 countries all made positive advances in both well—being and quality of life.

Michael Porter, a Harvard professor of economics and chair of the advisory panel for the Social Progress Index, says, “The data point an alarming picture of the state of our nation, and we hope it will be a call to action. It’s like we are a developing nation.” Although we are considered to be the richest nation on the face of the earth, our overall rank in the Index is 28th, a drop from 19th in 2011. We now rank below such countries as Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, and bankrupt Greece. Who ranks at the top? Why, it’s those terrible “democratic socialist” countries (that actually practice “shareholder capitalism”): (1) Norway, (2) Denmark, (3) Finland, and (4) New Zealand. Here’s just a few of the relative findings:
** The U.S. ranks #1 in quality of universities, but #91 in access to quality basic education. Our education system ranks with Uzbekistan and Mongolia.
** We lead the world in medical technology, but are #97 in access to quality health care. Our health statistics rank with Chile, Jordan, and Albania.
** A majority of countries have lower suicide rates and traffic fatalities while having better sanitation and internet access.
** We rank #100 in discrimination against minorities.
** The rankings for effectiveness of treating COVID-19 have not been established yet, but we are liable to be very low. Our symptoms for depression and mental health will most likely put us in the bottom half. At this point of the pandemic we lead the world in number of virus cases and fatalities.
** We are the only developed country that has had a decline of life expectancy because of drug overdoses and “lives of despair.” Why have opiod overdoses replaced traffic accidents as the leading cause of death for people under 50?
** More people are seeking information about divorce than ever before.
** We should know the U.S. is in serious trouble when the White House put out a press release announcing that Trump has been nominated for the “Noble” Peace Prize. Should you win it if you don’t know how to spell it?

Why Are Orcas Trying To Kill Boats and Yachts?
For some reason, orcas, among the most intelligent of sea creatures, are attacking boats and yachts along Europe’s shores. Also known as killer whales, they are really ticked about something. The six-ton, 30 ft. killers, when working in pods, can do a lot of damage to a 60 ft. boat. Whale experts are completely mystified by these attacks. It hasn’t happened before. They have damaged rudders, platforms, and have seriously damaged smaller boats. Some boats have had to be towed to shore. Crew members have been injured. They have been following boats closely for centuries but have not been known to attack them. In one recent case nine orcas attacked a 46 ft. delivery boat for over an hour, disabling the engine, breaking the rudder, and spinning it 180 degrees. During the attack the orcas were continually “talking” to one another. Maybe they have also read the Social Progress Index.

In another strange whale case, humpbacks have gone up crocodile-infested rivers in Australia for the first time in history --and for some reason don’t want to leave. They are not dumb either. It’s too bad we have never been smart enough to learn the language of orcas or humpbacks. It would be interesting to know why they are suddenly going nuts on us. Perhaps they recognize we are going nuts on them.

We currently have military forces in 150 countries scattered around the world. Since the 1970’s we have not had one day of peace. In 242 years of history we have only been without war for 16 of those years. Since 2001 we have spent $6 trillion on military actions and the “War on Terror.” Think Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, China has not been in a war since 1970—and has poured more cement in three years building infrastructure than we did in the entire 20th Century. That is nuts.

This is also nuts. Why don’t we never have enough COVID-19 tests for essential workers such as nurses, doctors, postal workers, grocery clerks, vegetable pickers, chicken pluckers, hog killers, and steak cutters, but we can test nonessential hangers-on such as millionaire athletes, college football players, talk-show hosts, and politicians every day?

Where Is The Middle Class? Good Heavens! Has It Been Raptured?
While the average corporate CEO makes 400 times what average workers make, the transfer of wealth from the workers to the nonessential continues. The One Percent controls $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half of Americans have more debt than assets. The three richest Americans, Bezos, Buffett, and Gates, have more money than the bottom 165 million. Twenty percent of American families have zero or negative net worth while black families are at 37% zero or negative. The median wealth of black households is a tenth that of whites. This is what Black Lives matter is about. The latest transfer of wealth has resulted in 80% of American families living paycheck-to-paycheck. An economist summed it up this way: “Most Americans live on a high wire with no safety net to save them from a disastrous fall.”

Charles Dickens opened his novel A Tale of Two Cities in the 19th Century with a fascinating paragraph. I have added words to his to bring it up to the 21st Century.

“It was the best of times (for the millionaires and billionaires), it was the worst of times (for the poor and middle-class), it was the age of wisdom (of Martin Luther King and General James Mattis), it was the age of foolishness (of George W. Bush and General Westmoreland), it was the epoch of belief (in the New York Times and The Atlantic), it was the epoch of incredulity (in Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Trump), it was the season of Light (in the internet and medicine), it was the season of Darkness (for gun control and evangelical Christians), it was the spring of Hope (for acceptance of LBGTQ+), it was the winter of despair (because of economic inequality), we had everything before us (for the rich), we had nothing before us (for the poor), we were all going direct to Heaven (for the Christian Rapture), we were all going the other way ( to Hell on earth).

Will The American Empire Die From A Thousand Cuts? Here Is More Evidence!
We seem to be edging ever closer to more violence and deaths. In the last four months we have had 50 drivers of pickups and cars hit peaceful protesters in various cities. We have had militia members looking like Hitler’s Brownshirts armed with AR-15s close down the Michigan legislature. The following day we had Black militia members armed with AR-15s escorting legislators to their seats. We have seen low-flying military helicopters harass protesters in Washington D.C. creating havoc in the streets with their blades. We have witnessed white police kill many young blacks with firearms, bare hands, and knees in many cities across the country. We have witnessed the killing and wounding of 450 people a day; so many it often doesn’t even make the local evening news. The administration has created a bizarre atmosphere where Democrats wear masks during an air-particle pandemic while Trumplicans proudly go without. We are presently near 200,000 bloody cuts.

Most Americans, a very large majority indeed, agree on the fundamental issues facing a divided country: (1) universal health care, (2) gun control, (3) climate change, (4) taxing rich Americans more, (5) immigration reform, (6) the right to join unions, (7) eliminating racial discrimination, (8) accepting the LBGTQ+ community, (9) offering free college to all, and (10) eliminating government corruption and crony capitalism. These reforms and issues have been around for years, but the political white party while controlling the presidency, half of the Congress, and a majority on the Supreme Court has sliced, diced, and bled to death these issues time after time. In medieval days we bled the sick so the sickness in the blood would be drained. Now a thousand political cuts kill these “common-good” programs before they can be enacted. The issues are fundamental to a functioning society. The problem is we have a dysfunctioning president and Senate.

P.S. Truth, Lies, and Poetry George Washington and the Cherry Tree—Updated
Young George could not deny he felled that tree,
His moral code would certainly forbid it.
In such a situation, Trump would say,
“I cannot tell a lie, Obama did it.” Poet Calvin Trillin

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