Answering for America’s Madness

Yves here. This post by Ann Jones discusses the difficulty that Americans have in answering questions from foreigners about large swathes of our policies. I had enough trouble explaining (mind you, not defending) the Iraq War when I lived in Sydney from 2002 to 2004, when Americans were generally still well tolerated around the world. I can’t imagine what it is like now.

Some readers will no doubt beg to differ, but it appears that our supposed leaders are operating out of a mass delusion and trying (and for the moment succeeding) in imposing it on the rest of us. I wrote this about Obama’s approach to the financial services industry in 2010, but it has much broader application:

Obama’s repudiation of his campaign promise of change, by turning his back on meaningful reform of the financial services industry, in turn locked his Administration into a course of action. The new administration would have no choice other that working fist in glove with the banksters, supporting and amplifying their own, well established, propaganda efforts.

Thus Obama’s incentives are to come up with “solutions” that paper over problems, avoid meaningful conflict with the industry, minimize complaints, and restore the old practice of using leverage and investment gains to cover up stagnation in worker incomes. Potemkin reforms dovetail with the financial service industry’s goal of forestalling any measures that would interfere with its looting. So the only problem with this picture was how to fool the now-impoverished public into thinking a program of Mussolini-style corporatism represented progress.

In other words, on the domestic front, the powers that be genuinely seems to believe that all that matters is if they can control the “narrative,” as in the poll numbers, and the public at large simply won’t notice or care much about the cancerous growth of the surveillance state, the ongoing Executive Branch land grab, the continued overscale subsidies to banks, the healthcare industry and the military apparatus while ordinary citizens are told the government can’t afford Medicare, Social Security, and other social safety nets. In other words, any domestic problem can be solved by better PR. Yet the stunts of late, the latest being the Sony hack and the stunning Administration campaign to turn a breach at a terribly-protected foreign company into a US security threat event, are so ludicrous as to make one wonder whether this is a sign of desperation or simply a new register of cavalierness in dealing with the chump public.

On the foreign front, the belief seems to be that America can force any country to bend to its will, and if they defy America, the US can either implement a regime change (the virtually announced goal for Russia) or turn its opponenet into a failed state, perhaps pour décourager les autres. And when we fail, as in Syria, there appears no ability to recognize a defeat. Perhaps the rationalization is that we simply have not succeeded yet.

The sad irony is that the domestic-only version of this campaign could easily succeed for a very long time. But imperial overreach is quite another game, and the US exerts far less control abroad than it seems to believe it has.

By Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, and author of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan, among other books, and most recently They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project. Originally published at Tomgram

Americans who live abroad — more than six million of us worldwide (not counting those who work for the U.S. government) — often face hard questions about our country from people we live among. Europeans, Asians, and Africans ask us to explain everything that baffles them about the increasingly odd and troubling conduct of the United States.  Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, complain that America’s trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and “exceptionality” have gone on for too long to be considered just an adolescent phase. Which means that we Americans abroad are regularly asked to account for the behavior of our rebranded “homeland,” now conspicuously in decline and increasingly out of step with the rest of the world.

In my long nomadic life, I’ve had the good fortune to live, work, or travel in all but a handful of countries on this planet.  I’ve been to both poles and a great many places in between, and nosy as I am, I’ve talked with people all along the way. I still remember a time when to be an American was to be envied. The country where I grew up after World War II seemed to be respected and admired around the world for way too many reasons to go into here.

That’s changed, of course. Even after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I still met people — in the Middle East, no less — willing to withhold judgment on the U.S.  Many thought that the Supreme Court’s installation of George W. Bush as president was a blunder American voters would correct in the election of 2004. His return to office truly spelled the end of America as the world had known it.  Bush had started a war, opposed by the entire world, because he wanted to and he could. A majority of Americans supported him.  And that was when all the uncomfortable questions really began.

In the early fall of 2014, I traveled from my home in Oslo, Norway, through much of Eastern and Central Europe. Everywhere I went in those two months, moments after locals realized I was an American the questions started and, polite as they usually were, most of them had a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy? Please explain.

Then recently, I traveled back to the “homeland.”  It struck me there that most Americans have no idea just how strange we now seem to much of the world. In my experience, foreign observers are far better informed about us than the average American is about them. This is partly because the “news” in the American media is so parochial and so limited in its views both of how we act and how other countries think — even countries with which we were recently, are currently, or threaten soon to be at war. America’s belligerence alone, not to mention its financial acrobatics, compels the rest of the world to keep close track of us.  Who knows, after all, what conflict the Americans may drag you into next, as target or reluctant ally?

So wherever we expatriates settle on the planet, we find someone who wants to talk about the latest American events, large and small: another country bombed in the name of our “national security,” another peaceful protest march attacked by our increasingly militarized police, another diatribe against “big government” by yet another wannabe candidate who hopes to head that very government in Washington.  Such news leaves foreign audiences puzzled and full of trepidation.

Question Time

Take the questions stumping Europeans in the Obama years (which 1.6 million Americans residing in Europe regularly find thrown our way).  At the absolute top of the list: “Why would anyone oppose national health care?” European and other industrialized countries have had some form of national health care since the 1930s or 1940s, Germany since 1880.  Some versions, as in France and Great Britain, have devolved into two-tier public and private systems.  Yet even the privileged who pay for a faster track would not begrudge their fellow citizens government-funded comprehensive health care. That so many Americans do strikes Europeans as baffling, if not frankly brutal. 

In the Scandinavian countries, long considered to be the most socially advanced in the world, a national (physical and mental) health program, funded by the state, is a big part — but only a part — of a more general social welfare system.  In Norway, where I live, all citizens also have an equal right to education (state subsidized preschool from age one, and free schools from age six through specialty training or university education and beyond), unemployment benefits, job-placement and paid retraining services, paid parental leave, old age pensions, and more.  These benefits are not merely an emergency “safety net”; that is, charitable payments grudgingly bestowed upon the needy.  They are universal: equally available to all citizens as human rights encouraging social harmony — or as our own U.S. constitution would put it, “domestic tranquility.”  It’s no wonder that, for many years, international evaluators have ranked Norway as the best place to grow old, to be a woman, and to raise a child. The title of “best” or “happiest” place to live on Earth comes down to a neighborly contest among Norway and the other Nordic social democracies, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.

In Norway, all benefits are paid for mainly by high taxation. Compared to the mind-numbing enigma of the U.S. tax code, Norway’s is remarkably straightforward, taxing income from labor and pensions progressively, so that those with higher incomes pay more. The tax department does the calculations, sends an annual bill, and taxpayers, though free to dispute the sum, willingly pay up, knowing what they and their children get in return. And because government policies effectively redistribute wealth and tend to narrow the country’s slim income gap, most Norwegians sail pretty comfortably in the same boat. (Think about that!)

Life and Liberty

This system didn’t just happen. It was planned. Sweden led the way in the 1930s, and all five Nordic countries pitched in during the postwar period to develop their own variations of what came to be called the Nordic Model: a balance of regulated capitalism, universal social welfare, political democracy, and the highest levels of gender and economic equality on the planet. It’s their system. They invented it. They like it. Despite the efforts of an occasional conservative government to muck it up, they maintain it. Why?

In all the Nordic countries, there is broad general agreement across the political spectrum that only when people’s basic needs are met — when they can cease to worry about their jobs, their incomes, their housing, their transportation, their health care, their kids’ education, and their aging parents — only then can they be free to do as they like. While the U.S. settles for the fantasy that, from birth, every kid has an equal shot at the American dream, Nordic social welfare systems lay the foundations for a more authentic equality and individualism.

These ideas are not novel. They are implied in the preamble to our own Constitution. You know, the part about “we the People” forming  “a more perfect Union” to “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  Even as he prepared the nation for war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt memorably specified components of what that general welfare should be in his State of the Union address in 1941. Among the “simple basic things that must never be lost sight of,” he listed “equality of opportunity for youth and others, jobs for those who can work, security for those who need it, the ending of special privileges for the few, the preservation of civil liberties for all,” and oh yes, higher taxes to pay for those things and for the cost of defensive armaments.

Knowing that Americans used to support such ideas, a Norwegian today is appalled to learn that a CEO of a major American corporation makes between 300 and 400 times as much as its average employee. Or that governors Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey, having run up their state’s debts by cutting taxes for the rich, now plan to cover the loss with money snatched from the pension funds of workers in the public sector. To a Norwegian, the job of government is to distribute the country’s good fortune reasonably equally, not send it zooming upward, as in America today, to a sticky-fingered one percent.

In their planning, Norwegians tend to do things slowly, always thinking of the long term, envisioning what a better life might be for their children, their posterity.  That’s why a Norwegian, or any northern European, is aghast to learn that two-thirds of American college students finish their education in the red, some owing $100,000 or more. Or that in the U.S., still the world’s richest country, one in three children lives in poverty, along with one in five young people between the ages of 18 and 34. Or that America’s recent multi-trillion-dollar wars were fought on a credit card to be paid off by our kids. Which brings us back to that word: brutal.

Implications of brutality, or of a kind of uncivilized inhumanity, seem to lurk in so many other questions foreign observers ask about America like: How could you set up that concentration camp in Cuba, and why can’t you shut it down?  Or: How can you pretend to be a Christian country and still carry out the death penalty? The follow-up to which often is: How could you pick as president a man proud of executing his fellow citizens at the fastest rate recorded in Texas history?  (Europeans will not soon forget George W. Bush.)

Other things I’ve had to answer for include:

* Why can’t you Americans stop interfering with women’s health care?

* Why can’t you understand science?

* How can you still be so blind to the reality of climate change?

* How can you speak of the rule of law when your presidents break international laws to make war whenever they want?

* How can you hand over the power to blow up the planet to one lone, ordinary man?

* How can you throw away the Geneva Conventions and your principles to advocate torture?

* Why do you Americans like guns so much?  Why do you kill each other at such a rate?

To many, the most baffling and important question of all is: Why do you send your military all over the world to stir up more and more trouble for all of us?

That last question is particularly pressing because countries historically friendly to the United States, from Australia to Finland, are struggling to keep up with an influx of refugees from America’s wars and interventions. Throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia, right-wing parties that have scarcely or never played a role in government are now rising rapidly on a wave of opposition to long-established immigration policies. Only last month, such a party almost toppled the sitting social democratic government of Sweden, a generous country that has absorbed more than its fair share of asylum seekers fleeing the shock waves of “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.”

The Way We Are

Europeans understand, as it seems Americans do not, the intimate connection between a country’s domestic and foreign policies. They often trace America’s reckless conduct abroad to its refusal to put its own house in order.  They’ve watched the United States unravel its flimsy safety net, fail to replace its decaying infrastructure, disempower most of its organized labor, diminish its schools, bring its national legislature to a standstill, and create the greatest degree of economic and social inequality in almost a century. They understand why Americans, who have ever less personal security and next to no social welfare system, are becoming more anxious and fearful. They understand as well why so many Americans have lost trust in a government that has done so little new for them over the past three decades or more, except for Obama’s endlessly embattled health care effort, which seems to most Europeans a pathetically modest proposal.

What baffles so many of them, though, is how ordinary Americans in startling numbers have been persuaded to dislike “big government” and yet support its new representatives, bought and paid for by the rich. How to explain that? In Norway’s capital, where a statue of a contemplative President Roosevelt overlooks the harbor, many America-watchers think he may have been the last U.S. president who understood and could explain to the citizenry what government might do for all of them. Struggling Americans, having forgotten all that, take aim at unknown enemies far away — or on the far side of their own towns. 

It’s hard to know why we are the way we are, and — believe me — even harder to explain it to others. Crazy may be too strong a word, too broad and vague to pin down the problem. Some people who question me say that the U.S. is “paranoid,” “backward,” “behind the times,” “vain,” “greedy,” “self-absorbed,” or simply “dumb.”  Others, more charitably, imply that Americans are merely “ill-informed,” “misguided,” “misled,” or “asleep,” and could still recover sanity.  But wherever I travel, the questions follow, suggesting that the United States, if not exactly crazy, is decidedly a danger to itself and others. It’s past time to wake up, America, and look around.  There’s another world out here, an old and friendly one across the ocean, and it’s full of good ideas, tried and true.

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  1. Chico

    Nothing brings out the patriot in me more than earnest plodding Scandinavian moralism. Not so much Norwegians, but Swedes and their World War II and Cold War neutrality.

    As for Norwegians, they are a petrostate, it’s not too hard to have extensive social welfare benefits there.

        1. weinerdog43

          As the immortal Keith Richards said: “There was the stark thing you discovered about America… it was civilized around the edges, but 50 miles from the inland of any major American city,… you really did get into another world.”

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘Europeans understand, as it seems Americans do not, the intimate connection between a country’s domestic and foreign policies.’ — Ann Jones

      Indeed. That must be why Scandinavia serves as such a rich source of NATO commanders, with the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, the former Prime Minister of Norway, having just taken the helm as Secretary General of NATO from the Dane ‘Fogh of War’ Rasmussen. Surely Stoltenberg will lead us to victory in Afghanistan, yes?

      Europe does illustrate the seamless connection of the welfare-warfare state. Victory in Ukraine, comrades!

      1. Carolinian

        If the Dragon Tattoo movie is to be believed there’s a healthy underground Nazi strain among the Swedes (hints of this also in Wallender). Fiction of course but they did sell iron ore to the real Nazis while remaining neutral during WW2. So it may not be all peace and tolerance up there. It should also be pointed out that Norway props up its social paradise with large oil revenues as well as high taxes.

        Your final quip is of course specious since if true we’d be a welfare state to the max. However I suspect there is a connection. These highly socialist countries love having us relieve them of the financial burden of defense and are more than happy to play along with our militarized foreign policy.

        1. rusti

          I’m not particularly well versed in the subject, but you’re correct that there are neo-Nazis in Sweden. There was a big flare-up a few months ago when they had open demonstrations in Stockholm and Malmö and they were afforded police protection against the much-larger legions of counter-demonstrators. It’s a bit tough to get a handle on what the size of the movement is actually like, I suspect disproportionately smaller than TV series and movies might indicate.

          The right-wing party alluded to in the article (Sverigedemkraterna) had various connections to Nazi movements during its early years, but has made a conscious effort to transition into the slightly more moderate collection of thinly-veiled racists and climate change deniers that captured 12.9% of the vote in last year’s election to overtake the Green Party as third-largest.

        2. Auntienene

          I guess I’m obsessing a bit about what neutrality is. It means not taking sides, which means, yes, they had to sell to the Germans, but they also provided a safe haven for Norwegians and others to escape from them.

          1. patriot77077

            Unbelievable that the first five comments are of the “shoot the messenger” type decrying all of the faults with Scandinavia. Um did you not read the article? Perhaps you wish to comment on the content?
            America is the alpha bully of the world, and the smugness with which it beats up all of the other kids is appalling. But it’s a system based on miscalculation: elites think they can extract from the “bottom 95%” forever and the mobs with torches and pitchforks will never show up at their gated communities. They think the pool of international goodwill is bottomless and they can pursue their smash-mouth foreign policies without end. Alas, history shows time and again that states join forces to oppose tyranny and it will be no different this time around. Rummy’s formulation “you’re either with us or against us” is a gross math error: NO other state will be “with” the US 100% of the time, so ALL states eventually end up in the “against” column. The Shanghai Council is just one example: China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and soon India. Money, natural resources, and labor. And on the other side we have America, Japan, and the UK: red ink, aggressive war-mongering, financial parlor tricks, and bad faith as far as the eye can see (Ms. Merkel, your cellphone phone is ringing…).

            1. jrs

              The article is one pretending the government strongly reflects what American citizens want. That seems kind of a silly premise to me. The citizens might be able to have an effect on it but … it might take taking to the streets, it might take building alternative movements. It definitely takes more than voting duopoly.

      2. jrs

        Europe ultimately depends on the U.S. though right? The coalition of the killing. The west’s domination of the rest of the planet? Although Europe in the meantime bows to Germany, but I don’t think they are out of dependence on the U.S. either. Remember they interfere with Ecuadorian leaders chasing Snowden for the U.S.. They are like so independent of the U.S.

        1. bruno marr

          …while Ecuador’s president Corrente expressed asylum support for Snowden. It was Bolivian president, Evo Morales who was air-pirated-by-proxy and forced to land in Belgium. Where NATO ally searched the presidential jet for a possibly hidden Snowden. NO LUCK!

    2. Doug Terpstra

      The richest empire in history just can’t afford that? Yet it can sustain multiple wars costing trillions (on credit) while its almost exclusively working-class veterans are denied medical care and beg for charity, it can spend nearly a trillion dollars every year on its military, more than the next eight countries combined, it can maintain a thousand military bases in more than 120 countries around the globe; it can militarize its own police state, itself immune to the rule of law…

      I could go on ad infinitum, but why repeat a superb article when your mind is already made up, and is clearly impervious to basic facts?

      1. zapster

        We have very, very wealthy and useless pets. Kind of like vampires. Can’t afford very much when our fatcats are eating us out of house and home.

    3. Auntienene

      Norway was invaded in WWII in violation of their neutrality. And the Scandinavians at least don’t impose their “plodding morality” on any other countries.

        1. Auntienene

          Sure, after WWII they joined NATO. What does that have to do with their former neutrality? And I don’t see them invading countries and forcing their welfare policies on them unlike us with our so-called free market ideology.

    4. Blackjack

      … and there you have it. The whole article summarized in one word – “Patriotism”. God help us all.

  2. gardener1

    We lived overseas for years (not Obama years, and working for .gov) and I was frequently peppered with questions about the injustices and failings of an America which claimed to be so superior and a world leader of freedom and democracy and human rights, when it was painfully evident to them that this was not the case at all. They wanted ME to explain the discrepancies. Which of course I could not do. Even though .gov was my employer and lifeblood, I could not defend it. This made ME look the failure, not our systems.

    Case in point: hurricane Katrina. All over the world people were watching as Americans sat on their rooftops begging for help, drowning in the streets unrescued, being herded into unkempt dangerous government camps, and largely forlorn while the President flew around in his private jet tsk-tsking with his tongue. I was asked why the government did not make an all out effort to save these people?? Why they did nothing useful at all? The great and mighty America just left them to sink or swim, however they were able to manage. Although I had my own thoughts on the issue, I could not answer their demanding questions.


    I think few Americans are aware of how the rest of the world views the Iraq fiasco. I believe it is seen as a near Napoleonic disaster without rhyme or reason, and where America just marched into a sovereign country, murdering, pillaging, bombing and burning, creating mayhem – just because they could. And then building a billion dollar medieval fortress to oversee their empire of ashes. This is just what it looked like from the overseas point of view.

    Our foreign policy is a disaster. Once you are outside of the grasp of US media you can only then really see how horribly it is all perceived. A worse disaster than even Vietnam. Yet inside the cozy womb of the US you’d never really know.

    At my foreign .gov job I often had to pass through the front doorway of an official building, over which were hung the most gruesome portraits of our leaders at the time, the evil grimacing Dick Cheney, the dufus GW Bush, the conniving Condoliza Rice. I cringed each and every time I dared look at those disturbing pictures.

    I love my country. I am out of hope. The villains in charge actually have no real idea of the damage they have done. No understanding at all.

    Let’s just say that Laverenti Beria and his NKVD might draw comparisons to our current state.

    We know what happened after that –

    1. spigzone

      The villains in charge understand very well the damage they have done. It’s not a mistake, it’s a feature.

      1. RWood

        This quote shows the divide, overgrown with our accumulated sang-froid:
        “The great irony of war is that we invariably are ashamed of what we have done, and yet we repeat, some of us, the work again and again.” John Chuckman, This is What War Does, Counterpunch
        But the leadership, leading down into the “deep shite” of our history and truthiness is not ashamed, and some numbers of the populace support that, while for others, the sense of shock is dull.
        “If not now, when?”

    2. EoinW

      Grasp of the US media? You haven’t seen the Canadian media in action. Every bit as bad. What about the BBC? Government propaganda from start to finish. How can continental European leaders get away with their Afghanistan or Ukraine policies without having their own corporate media in their own hip pocket?

      The US media serves one role for foreigners: it allows us to point at it and pretend our media isn’t as bad. But it is.

      1. JEHR

        When you attack the media of any country, how about giving examples. This reply just sounds like sour grapes to me.

        I don’t mind being critical of my own country’s media, but it would help to have some cogent examples of what you mean when YOU attack that media.

      2. sleepy

        What you refer to is just another form of American exceptionalism–even our “badness” must be unique.

    3. curlydan

      Totally agree about Katrina. Even though our atrocities have been much worse elsewhere since my birth in the 70s, I for some reason have never been so ashamed as when that event happened.

    4. ChrisPacific

      I know a lot of people (outside the US) who found the aid appeals for Katrina relief offensive, on the grounds that foreign aid is supposed to be for countries that can’t afford to help themselves, not for those who can afford it but choose not to.

  3. spigzone

    The majority of Americans are thoroughly propagandized … brainwashed … mind controlled. It’s rather fascinating to watch really. Granted it’s the driving force behind a few unfolding manmade Armageddon scenarios, but what the hey?

  4. rusti

    I am an American ex-pat living just a few hours from the author’s Oslo home on the other side of the border and it’s not quite as progressive as the impression I’d take away from the article.

    In my 5 years here I have received a number of questions about gun culture, Big Gulps and Sarah Palin types but the overwhelming number of people I meet, as well as the larger newspapers seem to have the impression that Obama is simply hindered in his efforts to implement progressive environmental, foreign and social policies by the Republican boogey-man. Another common refrain is that “The Left in the US is more Right than the Right in Sweden” but only the most intensely political are aware of the depths of corruption detailed by writers like Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, Bill Black or Yves. The U.S. is sort of a curiosity for the social conservatism, but people still enjoy traveling there, consume the trashiest reality TV shows and seek out clothes with American sports teams or tourist destinations. In Scandinavia I’ve met far more people who thought my nationality made me cool and interesting than those who voiced objections to US policy.

    Furthermore, there are plenty of local corruption scandals in resource extraction (while reading the chapter on the Montana mining industry in Jared Diamond’s Collapse this weekend, my girlfriend quipped that was just business as usual in the North), the bribing of third world leaders for securing military contracts, general war profiteering and externalizing the environmental costs of modern production. The multinational companies ostensibly based here have their own tax-avoidance schemes (see Ikea) and the “Moderate”-led Alliance government of the past 8 years was firmly Neoliberal.

    On a social level, there are plenty of ethnic disputes both with immigrants and indigenous peoples, the impression that Greece’s (among others) dire financial straights are due primarily to the laziness of the citizens in periphery countries combined with generous pension schemes is widespread. The rise of the extreme-right party has been frightening to witness, as are the bland platitudes the other parties use that play into their hands.

    There is truth to the assertion of that there is still widespread support for human rights and preserving the “Nordic Model” which makes it a privilege to live here, and a recent trip back to the US after a multi-year hiatus made this even more clear to me, but my personal experiences have been radically different than the author’s.

    1. Garm

      Mind you, you do live in a different coutry from the author. While the Scandinavian countries may come across as nearly identical from a US perspective, locals percieve large differences.

  5. sleepy

    A spot on article about domestic social programs in Scandinavia v. the US. Not much room for disagreement here. I would add that social welfare spending in the US is mostly used to create a pipeline from the US treasury to some private outfit. Helping the needy is just the con to pry loose public dollars. For example, according the following (pdf at pg. 17), in the US, govt spending on healthcare as a percentage of GDP is second only to Germany in developed nations at c. 9%. No need to explain to anyone where the money goes or how little we get in return.

    But as far as US foreign policy goes, I think some of the European criticism–at least that portion that seems to focus exclusively on the US–could usefully be directed at their own European governments, a number of which seem to be all in on Western policies for Ukraine, Syria, and the overall war of terror, with all the baggage that comes with it, including increased state surveillance and the use of “terror” as an excuse to crack down on civil liberties.

    Sweden was implicated by the UN as in violation of global bans on torture due to its complicity with the US government in extraordinary rendition. And I think Sweden’s involvement with Julian Assange reflects that it continues.

    I certainly won’t minimize the power that the US may have over allies, but in some cases I think that assumed power is a useful political tool for European elites who actually favor the same foreign policy goals as the US elites–they can always tell the skeptical electorate: “well, yes, the US is a crazy uncle, but a good ally, so we will help them out here, even though we might disagree”. A real dodge that masks fundamental agreement. I also think an internalized and unconscious acceptance by Europeans of American exceptionalism plays a role.

    1. EoinW

      Well done! How can one preach about utopian Sverige and ignore Julian Assange? Or how about the fact that Swedish banks are among the most highly leveraged in Europe and are also in the vanguard pushing for a cashless society.

    2. ex-PFC Chuck

      “I certainly won’t minimize the power that the US may have over allies . . .”

      I don’t argue with the sources of power that you suggest, but I suspect you have overlooked an important one: pervasive blackmail based on the skeletons in closets the doors of which have been cracked open by NSA surveillance.

      1. sleepy

        I don’t think it’s true that European pols–Hollande, Merkel, Cameron–need US blackmail to represent the elites. I think blaming the US for their positions is similar to blaming the republicans for Obama’s failure to enact progressive policies–as I said earlier, it’s great political rhetoric for the electorate though.

        Within the west there are certainly intramural squabbles among businesses and nations, but neoliberalism and western imperialism run Europe as well as the US.

  6. beene

    Americans for the most part are just ignorant. That ignorance is the result of a lying press and politicians.

    Ask what are the two biggest news items from the losing party; free college, progress tax and tax reform which has zero chance of becoming law.

    1. Stratos

      Don’t forget to add to a lying press and politicians a deeply degraded educational system. That is true for all American educational institutions, from daycare in the “hood”, the “barrio” and the “rez” to grossly overpriced elite Eastern universities. The bulk of Americans can’t think or reason critically, intelligently argue about issues (without descending into silly ad hominem attacks) or even spell words with more than two syllables.

      This appalling lack of education (and its benefits) were planned as a means of control by Establishment types in the early 1970’s as a means of controlling a population they considered unruly and demanding. The Powell Memo is just one public example of the strategy of “dumbing down” the population to the point of insensibility.

      Read George Orwell’s 1984 one more time. The similarities between that fictional society and current American reality are depressing and glaringly obvious.

    2. jrs

      Maybe this should be highlighted as a (relatively?) new phenomena and maybe it even needs a name for the head fake. Fake legislation like this getting lots of attention. It’s fake because no matter how good or bad it may be it is never like to see the light of day. While real legislation (cromnibus, TPP, etc.) that have passed or is likely to gets no attention.

      It’s like a whole new wrinkle of degeneration, this virtual reality, this bread and circuses at a whole other level, where all anyone can talk about is virtual legislation while real legistlation passes with little notice.

  7. timotheus

    A short answer I often gave foreigners when living among them for two decades was “slavery” and the racist ideology that had to be installed in the American psyche to justify and undergird it. If your greatest fear is the economic, social and political progress of the nonwhite 10% of the population (more in the South), you will go along with all sorts of otherwise irrational policy.

    This was a particularly persuasive answer to the question about our insane gun-toting habits.

    1. Propertius

      I’m not sure it explains absolutely everything, but it was certainly one of the two “original sins” that corrupted the republic from the start.

      1. ex-PFC Chuck

        Another factor is that western Europe sent many of its religious crazies over here and they reproduced!

  8. Carolinian

    While I am quick to defend my peeps out here in the heartland there’s no question that most of them are vastly ignorant about the rest of the world and happy to stay that way. This is one thing that probably can’t be blamed on the news media. Europe, Asia, we’re just not that into you. Randy Newman’s comic song Foreign Policy (“Let’s drop the big one and see what happens”) pretty much sums it up. I have done a fair amount of traveling in Europe and as a typically naive American I was often struck by how much more they know about us than we know about them. As the above author indicates: paranoia may be the spur. But it’s not just that. The rest of the world worships our pop culture, movies, music. These days when a foreign film uses pop music at all it’s likely that the lyrics will be in English.

    Perversely Europe’s influence on us, or in particular our elites, is far less benign. The cheerleaders for America’s Empire often turn out to be Brits nostalgic for their own. European liberals may scoff at our inequality but where did that idea come from? Rigid class structures were once what people came here to escape. Yet now the upper middle and wealthy are glued to the tube for the latest episode of Downton Abbey (they even feature day after summaries in the Post and NYT). The show is the gentlest of satires, but I’m sure the fans are looking at all that stuff and going: cool! Bottom line to the rest of the world….we are a lot more like you than you may think. And vice versa.

  9. Sam Kanu

    “…a Norwegian today is appalled to learn that a CEO of a major American corporation makes between 300 and 400 times as much as its average employee. Or that governors Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey, having run up their state’s debts by cutting taxes for the rich, now plan to cover the loss with money snatched from the pension funds of workers in the public sector….”

    I’m going to be blunt and say that the author has misunderstood the state of affairs in the Nordic countries. Indeed they took a different and better direction in the post-war era. However the past decade they have been infected by neoliberalism and as a result are seeing growing inequality. Far from American or British levels but to be sure, the wrong direction by their historical standards.
    With Norway, the author misunderstands even further. Norway is currently ruled by a government that is busy dismantling the welfare state, slowly brick by brick:
    – increasing tax cuts for the ultra wealthy
    – cutting funding for public kindergartens, while opening the door for private ones which are allowed to provide lesser service (aka the GOP’s winning formula for destroying the US Postal Service)
    – privatising govt services to “improve quality and increase competition” – this in a country where the one thing the private sector does NOT do is compete.
    – seeking to “simplify” establish public procurement regulations i.e. make it easier to give contracts to their
    – siphoning healthcare spending towards private sector actors that provide only the most lucrative services while ignoring basic healthcare and presentation
    – selling off government owned holdings and natural resources

    “…,. In their planning, Norwegians tend to do things slowly, always thinking of the long term, envisioning what a better life might be for their children, their posterity….”

    Not really, they are mostly unwilling to invest in the long term, so that is why they take small conservative steps. – – The national budget isnt split into capital and current really.
    – Most regional and state governments skimp on maintenance, so their schools and kindergartens for example are on average decaying, poorly structures that would shock you. Of course Monocle focuses on the small handfull of sexy ones. The reality is much different
    – – Winter blackouts are common in some parts of Norway simply because the country is too stingy to build proper redundancy into its long distance transmission network
    – Norway has ZERO high speed trans. And no plans to build any.
    – Norway’s road network is small and in poor condition. 95% of “highways” in Norway are side by side single lane roads a stripe in the middle and not even a middle barrier, let alone dial lanes. One study of European roads put Norway’s roads about on par with…Albania.
    – The above results in a situation where the fish & seafood that is one of the country’s biggest exports, is carried halfway through the country on said single-lane roads.
    – Not one university in Norway would crack the top 50 in the US. Not one. None of them have any significant long-term resources to support their research, or their teaching, or even their physical plant. But the rhetoric is that this is a “knowledge economy”. Go figure…

    Again, I will repeat: this is a a “no-bets” country, not a “long-term bets” one.

    And this one:

    “…To a Norwegian, the job of government is to distribute the country’s good fortune reasonably equally not send it zooming upward, as in America today, to a sticky-fingered one percent,…”.

    No, no, no. Not today in Norway. Not at all. Those are seen as old fashioned ideas. In Norway today inequality is rising rapidly, executive salaries and bonuses are now at levels that would have been considered unacceptably greedy in the old days. The equality narrative has been replaced by local versions of the Horatio Alger myth, “us vs them” and xenophobia. The 1% has their grip firmly on the country.

    Thus if you assembled the voting share of the parliamentarians who would subscribe to this view point, I would estimate that you are looking at maybe 35% of the them. Tops. Because even the centre left “workers” party is split evenly between Blair/Obama types vs traditional social democrats. And the parties left of that command at most 5% of the electorate!

    That is why Norway is now ruled by a party (Høyre) that is roughly equivalent to the GOP’s traditional 1%-infleunced wing, in coalition with another that is roughly equivalent to the Tea Party (the FRp, of which the infamous July 7th bomber and child murder Anders Breivik, was a former member).
    And last but not least, Norwegians made the choice to elect those two parties into government AFTER the July 7 massacre…..

    1. Ken Nari

      Thanks Sam Kanu for bringing in a shot of reality.

      If Ann Jones’ knowledge and understanding of all the other countries she’s lived, worked and traveled in (most countries of the world, she says) is as deep as her understanding of Norway — well, she might just as well have stayed home with her Norwegian family in Wisconsin.

      If she’s constantly called on to explain American policy — as if every American understands it and has a say in it — then she’s keeping company with some pretty shallow, dim-witted locals.

      Obviously Yves sees something in Jones’ discussion that misses me.

      It could be that to the locals I just don’t look like someone who knows anything so they don’t grill me like that, but in many years living in Europe and Asia I’ve never been called on to explain the behavior of the U.S. government — ever. If I was, the easy and correct, answer (for all but a handful of Americans whom the locals couldn’t get close to anyway) is that I simply cannot explain the actions of my government and have no control over them.

    2. Lexington

      No offence, but a lot of your objections seem rather petty and rooted in American chauvinism. Yeah, there are conservatives in Norway and other Scandinavian countries. Sometimes they even manage to gain power. In spite of that it is scarcely deniable that public policy in the Nordic countries has diverged dramatically from that of the United States since World War II.

      You seem surprised that a country of five million people with some of the most rugged terrain in the world hasn’t seen the need to build 4 lane divided superhighways everywhere. Did you expect a McDonalds on every corner too? Your claim that Norway doesn’t have any high speed transportation or plans to build any is misinformed. As for Norway’s roads being no better than Albania’s – citation please.

      Then there is this: “Not one university in Norway would crack the top 50 in the US” – according to whom, US News & World Report? American universities are so damn good that a guy like George W. Bush could get not one but two Ivy League degrees. In Norway his limited intellectual gifts would have been recognized early and he would have been streamed into a trade school were he would have had the opportunity to made a constructive contribution to society.

      1. Sam Kanu

        American chaivinism? That’s a good one, as that’s one thing no one would say about me. But really this blog is not a place for personal attacks.

        You can use Google translate to get your bearings here.
        “..Norske veier vurderes på nivå med Albania, Elfenbenskysten og Pakistan
        Dårlig vegstandard svekker norsk konkurransekraft, viser ny rapport fra World Economic Forum…”

        Your comment about McDonalds is perhaps funniest of all. Yes, there is a McDonalds on every corner. And actually Coca Cola’s “share of stomach” in the country is so huge that basically they cant grow any more.

        You might want to maybe visit the place before flaming about it…

      2. Garm

        Speaking as a Norwegian,you do raise some true issues which make up a significant part of political debate in Norway today (Yes, Scandinavian nations have political issues and debates too)

        A couple of points though: Yes the transport network is poor. There are, however a few points that have not been raised here: As countries like Austria and Switzerland shows, it is not impossible to build good roads in mountains. Just more expensive. However, mountains near the mediterranean, is not the same as mountains above the arctic circle. Different temperature, weathering, freeze-thaw issues, etc.
        And Switzerland and Austria together has many times the population of Norway, on 1/3 of the area. The distances in Norway are just vastly greater, and the population density far lower.

        And Norways biggest exports and money-earners are oil, gas, fishing, metals, and electricity. Although the companies in these areas often have a main office in Oslo where they register the income and pay tax, the vast majority of the activity happens in small communities around the country. So unlike Switzerland and Austria, you need infrastructure to even remote areas.

        What is more is there is a deiberate policy that is most agreed on nationally, to keep wages in the tradesand services livable. A side effect of that is that infrastructure projects become more expensive. The knock-on effects are generally considered with it.

        On the subject of universities, I find rankings tend to massivly favor english-language ones, due to using publications as a measurement. On many, you will find all universities in Australia and New Zealand ranked above the best in India or France for instance.

        Finally, there is a number of responsibilities that are delegated to the local level, and it is a fact that the central government is more generous with responsibilities than it is with the money to fulfill them or the power to raise taxes for them. This can lead to a great difference in financing between “federal” responsibilities and “state” ones.

    3. Calgacus

      Thank you for the info. Contrary to impressions of many usually sensible people, Norway has used its oil wealth foolishly. To benefit not its own people, but its 1% and Wall Street. Its economic strength comes more from “Keynesian” “multiplier” effects of its digging holes in the ground. I posted some links to “MMT” articles and papers on Norway here at billyblog. See also Arno Mong Daastøl’s Published popular articles in Norwegian & English. including Inkompetent LO i lykkeland / ‘Incompetent LO in Happy-land’) stating

      “Norway risks being left behind after the oil period with Europe’s poorest infrastructure, and maybe lose our piggy bank in new financial crises. Then we may once again become a relatively poor nation in Europe’s periphery.”

    4. Irrational

      It would seem to me that the infrastructure (high-speed trains, dual carriageways) that Norway is able to build might be limited by the mountains that cover most of the country. There are differences between roads in Italy and Switzerland even around the lake region, but not huge ones.

      1. Sam Kanu

        It would seem to me that the infrastructure (high-speed trains, dual carriageways) that Norway is able to build might be limited by the mountains that cover most of the country. There are differences between roads in Italy and Switzerland even around the lake region, but not huge ones.

        Not, that’s not true at all. That excuse is floated locally and has been well debunked. The Austrians for example manage to do much more in a similar topographic environment. And even on the eastern areas of Norway (fairly flat) the contrast in road and rail quality is embarrassing compared to when you cross the border to Sweden.

        The transportation infrastructure in the country is limited first and foremost by:
        1) bad political structure in which the rural areas have outside influence
        – so money is wasted on fancy roads and sub sea tunnels to places with inhabitants in the hundreds, while cities with hundreds of thousands get starved of infrastructure spending
        – local hick politicians can veto or pervert cross-country projects to suit the 10 people in their country

        2) poor practices in how public funds are allocated and managed.
        – first the country don’t really have a clear capital budget committtment over time, so anytime times get hard politicians up the current spending (aka rural political “pork”) and slash infrastructure spending
        – too high a rate of return requirement placed on these low risk projects given the country has zero debt, making the projects falsely seem “unprofitable”

        3) incompetent national and local transportation and town planning
        – planners and engineers with weird ultra-conservative ideas and zero vision

        I will repeat again, what I said before – the condition of the roads in Norway ( build quality & size, maintenance e.g. with potholes etc) is about on par with Albania. That’s not a misprint. And not a mistake, given the above.

    5. ks

      Since 1990, Norway has diverted much of its oil earnings to a sovereign wealth fund, which has become the world’s largest. The money, reaching $890 billion as of June 2014, amounts to $178,000 for every Norwegian citizen. The sovereign wealth fund helps Norway avoid some of the problems associated with the “resource curse” by investing capital abroad. But more importantly, the money is set aside to be saved and invested to help the country plan for the eventual decline of oil production, with the intention of transitioning to a more diversified economy that can take oil’s place.

      How is that not long-term planning?

      As other commenters have noted, Norway’s terrain makes high-speed rail problematic, but public transportation within cities is wonderful.

      Judging by the pre-election grumbling I heard around Oslo, Høyre’s ascendancy had to do with incumbent-fatigue and domestic annoyances – the roads (they can be life-threatening), welfare for immigrants, waiting times for some medical procedures. There was no desire to move towards American-style capitalism, despite the enthusiasm of wealthier members of society for public-private partnerships. It’s always a struggle to prevent a slide towards inequality and xenophobia, but the country has more institutional and cultural protections than we do and “the 1% has their grip firmly on the country,” sounds like a gross exaggeration.

      1. Sam Kanu

        As other commenters have noted, Norway’s terrain makes high-speed rail problematic, but public transportation within cities is wonderful.

        Sorry, wrong on the first count – see my post above on transportation. That’s well debunked myth,
        On second count public transportation in the cities is inadequate. Bergen only just got its first one-line tram recently. Oslo has insufficient transport network – at highest passenger prices in Europe – which means most people who live outside the central city drive cars gridlock is insane for a small city and diesel and particulate pollution is at health-harming levels. You choke on the air on many winter days. Oh and the local public transport authoritu is investing little and begging to price people OFF its network. Oslo is NO public transport paradise.

        “the 1% has their grip firmly on the country,” sounds like a gross exaggeration.

        Inequality is rising for the past two decades, the rich have never been richer in a century and amidst all this the govt agenda is tax cuts for the ultra wealthy and service cuts for you poor. You do the math then….

  10. McMike

    Whatever madness infects Americans, it’s not new.

    It infected 1930s germans quite spectacularly, just to name the first thing that come to mond. And theres mao and pol pot.

    I listen to depraived fox news jerks, self important wealthy, muddled centrists, and a nation overall that refuses to remember or to stand up for themselves as humans, and i indeed see a form of madness that is vexing and heartbreaking.

    But it is neither new nor particularly american.

    1. Llewelyn Moss

      IMO, we (US) are past crossroads of sanity and a fascist regime. After surviving Bush, we thought Obama would come in restore rule of law — but laws are apparently only to be enforced on the Commoners. Alas Obama is just another neolibrul scumbag and it makes little difference who you vote for. Both parties are scum. The entire govt is captured by corporations. The Media lulls the people into a coma — “It’s all good.”

      I really don’t see how this ends without a Pinochet-like dictator taking over. When their friends start ‘disappearing’, maybe the masses will awaken.

    2. jrs

      What madness that infects it is much less what is described here and a kind of happy go lucky obliviousness I think. I mean people may know a certain amount of what’s wrong and still be happy go lucky. I don’t get it really but.

  11. Banger

    The relationship between Europe and the U.S. could be described by a scenario I know too well. The addict/abuser and the enabler. Need I say more? Probably not but I will add a few things.

    Yes, American culture tends to not just condone but worship ignorance, fantasy (the American Dream) and a weird sort of militaristic chauvinism (“our brave men and women defending our freedoms” etc. embraced by right and left) but the Europeans tremble and get on their knees every time Daddy gets a hard-on about anything. All this despite the fact that the U.S., dominated by Wall Street/City of London actively tries to undermine European economies, and despite the CIA-led coup in Kiev that ended up reducing European security and, through silly sanctions, harmed the Euro economy. Sure the brutish policies of the U.S. government are pretty ugly and the U.S. population’s embrace of fantasy and rejection of the 18th century Enlightenment principles is pretty bad but what of Europe’s blatant cowardice? What of Europe’s refusal to sanction the U.S. in its refusal to do anything about climate change? That’s a real threat as opposed to Russia or other alleged threats–yet Europe continues to cooperate and try to ape the U.S. in its security policies (which, in effect, put security services in the driver’s seat). Soon, as someone noted above, they’ll begin dismantling their social democracies which grew up under U.S. protection–at that time the U.S. favored social democracy in Europe as a bulwark against the USSR–now there’s no more need for that.

    1. sleepy

      Perhaps European passivity isn’t the answer, rather that the European elite and the American elite have common interests which explains why they act in concert through their respective governments which they control.

    2. Jim Haygood

      ‘The U.S. favored social democracy in Europe as a bulwark against the USSR–now there’s no more need for that.’

      Right. Legions of unemployed European youth can provide the troops needed for Europe to win its U.S.-sponsored proxy war against Russia. Back to the future!

    3. EoinW

      “our brave men and women defending our freedoms”

      That is the exact position of nearly every Canadian when it comes to our soldiers. You’d think Afghanistan was a tiny island off the coast of Newfoundland.

  12. Dino Reno

    While on the flip side , if you talk to immigrants to this country, they will tell you this is the greatest country on earth.
    What do they see that we don’t? Certainly opportunity and potential for reward from hard work. They see a better life for their children. By and large, immigrants seem to be more patriotic and optimistic than native Americans even though they may be more ambivalent about how this country conducts its foreign policy. Of course, immigrants themselves may be the problem in that they are inclined to be risk takers with a more positive attitude than the general population. But could it be that their countries of origin are simply more depressed and hamstrung than we realize, even if they come from “advanced” societies?

    I’m not sure anecdotal accounts like the one above really tell us anything. Yes, America is crazy and dangerous and badass while the rest of the world is simply crazy. Yet we still attract a ton of people of all stripes who want to ride the bucking bull.

    1. McMike

      Of course, immigrants are highly self-selected. Either economically hard-up,/desperate/un-moored or fleeing war/famine/oppression (i.e. willing to work cheap and insecure) or of the means to settle here (i.e. with skills and education to get a job on a visa).

      Either way, they picked up and left their homes and histories, may be away from loved ones, and may be leaving something worse behind.

      I would expect higher self-reported attraction and satisfaction from this demographic.

      I would think you’d find the same thing interviewing immigrants to Europe. Both of us having a subset of disaffected generally young male immigrants who are not at all satisfied with their new hosts.

  13. Tyler

    We’re about 10 years (probably less) away from total environmental catastrophe, yet half of Americans still vote Republican.

    1. Eureka Springs

      36 percent turnout in 2014. Less than half of that total voted Republican. I’m both amazed and encouraged a mere 36 percent in total were willing to vote D or R. The fact a near two thirds super majority refuse to do so should still be headline news each and every day.

    2. sleepy

      You could just as easily say:

      We’re about 10 years (probably less) away from total environmental catastrophe, yet half of Americans still vote Democratic.

            1. Massinissa

              You realize theres a difference between what people SAY and what people DO?

              There arnt very many Democratic Party sycophants here other than you Im afraid.

              1. weinerdog43

                While that is true, it is also true that the vast majority of Repubs in Congress are far, far worse.

  14. Brooklin Bridge

    Boy, do I wish the author was right; those are the kinds of questions I would crave when I visit or receive relatives in/from France, but I suspect Sam Kanu and Rusti have it much closer to the truth. The US has been very successful in the last ten years at exporting it’s neoliberal point of view (it’s not as if it didn’t have a receptive audience); our Horatio Alger myths, particularly the one that if you are not already well on your way to being rich as an entrepreneur, you are a leech on society, have more takers than our fast food. It’s as if once you sell Europeans on American hamburgers and truly greasy fries, the brain stops processing fully; the rest is easy, though you need about 30 years of patience for the fix to be in.

    You have to get quite high on the educational ladder before you meet people that don’t make excuses for Obama and his administration. On Ukraine, for instance, there is almost uniform condemnation of Russia and particularly Putin. The Crimea couldn’t have voted at 90% to break away. The vote count must have been rigged. That the economic (pre-coup) deal with Russia would have been vastly better than the deal with the IMF and the Austerity gripped European Union, is truly silent history. Few are even aware of it anymore -truly like mass hypnosis- even though it was in the news at the time. Also news at the time was the edict to stop speaking Russian for those in eastern Ukraine – before any fighting broke out. No one, NO ONE, remembers anything about that now. It’s all just Putin personally handing out arms and tanks right and left when he is not too busy shooting down passenger airlines with his bare hands and a machine gun.

    It isn’t just France. Europeans may be moderately to extremely unhappy about what’s happening to them, depending on locale, but like here in the states, they blame it on all the wrong things. They indeed ask if we are crazy, but then go on to ask why our system makes it so hard for poor Obama to do his job, or some even ask if I listen to Rush Limbaugh cause he’s great, and they seem truly and blissfully unaware of the international financial and corporate elite and the power those people are exerting over most of the world and the worlds systems; social, economic, military, legal, educational, 4th estate, and on and on. The madness is international and yet just like their American counterparts, these people don’t seem to notice or care that much. It’s all just as invisible to them as it is to us.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Should have said, You have to get quite high on the educational ladder or well off the beaten path before you meet people that don’t make excuses for Obama and his administration.

    2. Llewelyn Moss

      One of my most educated facebook friends (has a Masters degree) keeps posting quotes from whacko Glen Beck, Fox News, et al, about how the ‘welfare takers’ are the whole problem. She correctly blames Obama but for all the wrong reasons. So education level is not always the answer. The masses are completely zombiefied by the Media.

    3. Ulysses

      “Europeans may be moderately to extremely unhappy about what’s happening to them, depending on locale, but like here in the states, they blame it on all the wrong things.”

      Excellent point! I think that the Scandinavian social democracies are starting out from such a generous social welfare height that it will take another decade or two, of slow and steady erosion, before many average people really notice how much they have lost. People in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy can simply no longer pretend that the system is meeting people’s needs. Yet even in those severe circumstances far too many people seem to think that doubling down on neoliberal bs will somehow help things get better in the end.

      In Europe, just like the U.S., this observation of Yves is correct:

      “the powers that be genuinely seems to believe that all that matters is if they can control the “narrative.””

      I think the time has passed where we could hope for any sort of material progress– by dutifully plodding along within this current system, adding up thousands of tiny, incremental reforms into a significant change.

      Our best hope may lie in the over-reliance of TPTB on controlling narrative and suppressing dissent– instead of having any actual agenda of practical actions to combat real problems. I don’t think the soma is strong enough to keep people content with the status quo. People who are actually working hard to make things better, outside of the neoliberal framework, will remain very attractive to discontented Europeans and Americans.

      Can we pierce the fog of MSM disinformation and escape being crushed by the surveillance state? I sure hope that we can, although it will certainly be very difficult. One optimistic anecdote: A conservative shopkeeper in Queens, who for years has been reflexively dismissive of any criticism of the NYPD, confided to me the other day that the scales had fallen from his eyes: “These whining babies in the NYPD need to grow up! They think they can kill innocent civilians right and left and everybody should still respect them because they can get away with it?”

      I do think some people are waking up and are horrified by what they see. TPTB will do their level best to disorient and distract them– we must continue to press forward with an open agenda for dismantling the current, illegitimate, kleptocratic regime!

    4. OIFVet

      You have to get quite high on the educational ladder before you meet people that don’t make excuses for Obama and his administration. I respectfully disagree with this contention. Some of my highly educated friends are also Obama’s biggest defenders, and vice versa.

  15. Light a Candle

    Not just the U.S, the neoliberal agenda is running amok in the U.K., Canada, Australia and N.Z.

    And, as other commenters have noted, there seems to be a stealth neoliberal agenda at play in Sweden and Norwary, incrementally eroding their social welfare states.

    It sure is crazy land though. The PR fig leafs and black flag misdirections are providing less and less camouflage for the elites’ spectacular failures to govern for the benefit of the people and a sustainable world.

    In fact it is so grossly inept, it is hard to believe at times that it is not purposeful—hastening the rapture? Although probably blindly willful incompetence is the best explanation, like the French aristocrats.

  16. Thornton Hall

    Oh please. Regarding the intro:
    I have just begun to enjoy this blog and the I run into the claim that our reputation abroad was better in 2004?

    I want to find a way to get economics to reflect reality. There are plenty of other blogs where I can read misguided leftist make uniformed criticisms of President Obama. Only white privilidged people think drones are more important than the radical change in our approach to cop on black crime that he has initiated by his very existence.

      1. hunkerdown

        Didn’t you get the memo? Thinking more than 1/2 move ahead is an affront to American values!

    1. Sam Kanu

      I have just begun to enjoy this blog and the I run into the claim that our reputation abroad was better in 2004?

      It was.

      At that point people sort of politely questioned and wondered about this aberration called Dubya – how could we elect such an unworldy fella, with such an ignorant foreign policy they asked back then. Surely hi

      When you explained that well…
      – that fella isnt as unworldly as you think, he draws on a father who was not only president but Ambassador to China during the cold war era
      – almost half the country shares the fella’s world view (or at least the one he professes while playing the barbeque guy pantomine role)

      …..foreigners struggled to believe this was true. Surely Americans were much more open minded? Nope, I said – election was dodgy but nonetheless, Dubya represented a huge constituency on America. Foreigners just could NOT get their head around this back then.

      That is why Obama got a nobel peace prize rained on him the day he turned up. That was the leftist establishment elite of Norway (which dominated the Nobel committee then) and the rest world breathing a sigh of relief. Oh how wrong they were.

      Now, after 6-7 years of Bush III aka Obama, you rarely get foreigners asking you to explain asking any more about US foreign policy and wondering why it is so wrong. Or wondering why these abberrations? Because they no longer believe that we wear the white hat.

      Let me put it to you this way? If any of you live abroad, how many questions do you get about the oddity of say our now exposed surveillance state, or the fact that we in our lifetime now have a political dissident in the former soviet union of all places? How many shocked people asked you how could it be possible we had been torturing prisoners? All these things are wildly at odds with our national mythology. But no one asks those wide-eyed questions to expat Americans anyone – because they no longer believe the narrative in the first place.

      That in a nutshell is what’s gone wrong for America. The world no longer has genuine friendship – they simply tag along with our unmatched military might to suits their interests – or some of them battle us. But none of them really believe in us anymore. That is the saddest thing of all and ultimately the worst for America, as it now dooms us to a choice of declining in imporance or constantly asserting our primacy through aggression. In Teddy Roosevelt-speak, It’s all “big stick” now, no more “speak softly”.

    2. OIFVet

      You don’t travel abroad much, do you? Ann Jones could just as easily have said that our reputation abroad has been on the wane since the mid-1990’s. And she would be correct too. Why? That’s about the time Clinton decided that the “peace dividend” was bad for hegemony and embarked on a neolibercon spree that hasn’t stopped since.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes it was. I’ve spent time overseas since then. Have you?

      It’s been on a linear, maybe even faster, decline since the Iraq War started in the spring of 2003. The rationalization overseas then (among countries that were ambivalent or better about the US historically) was that Americans were not terrible people but their leaders were (as in the “blame Bush/Cheney” syndrome, and as Greg Palast has pointed out, the 2000 election really was stolen. Gore might have made a difference only by virtue of being less tied to the Saudis and the military-industrial complex. But the flip side is Clinton was easily bullied by the MIC and Gore could have been a pushover too, so we could have wound up in the same place). That doesn’t seem plausible any more.

      So even though it started falling in a big way with the declaration of that war, it has only gotten worse with every passing year. While there was an uptick overseas when Obama came into office, with the hope that he’s undo all the horrible policies as promised, but we clearly gave up that bump and went back on the old reputational decay path.

      1. zadoofkaflorida

        Its so embarasing to go abroad. luckily I look like an estonian or belaruss. white blond hair, and NEVER wear white sneakers, only THE AMERICANS wear white sneakers. There have been times I have just mumbled…..”no speak engleesh” Its downright dangerous if they think your AMERICAN…..

        Don’t you think it will get to the point that someone just nukes us? Probably not Putin, he’s smarter than starting the big one. Some little country with nukes…. like Israel or Pakistan. One day we will start one war too far and probably multiple countries will nuke us. I live in a port city that has a naval base and a naval air station…….yeah, there is an ICBM with my zipcode on it.

  17. Jackrabbit

    It’s not really America’s madness as our government has been hijacked.

    We really need to stop conflating the American people with the US government.
    We have been disenfranchised by money.


    We need to stop conflating The Democratic Party and the Left.
    Real progressives are nothing like the craven ‘Blue Dogs’ / ‘New Left’ sellouts who thrive on the fears of a captured base.


    We need to stop conflating News with Messaging from Corporate Main Street Media
    They are part of the doubleplusgood circle-jerk that grinds us all down.


    We need to stop conflating Security with Oppression and Militarism
    “True Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice.” – Martin Luther King

    A lot becomes clear when we make the proper distinctions.

    H O P

    1. ProNewerDeal

      JackRabbit, Amen, Sister/Brother! The USian Ppl != US Federal Government!

      Instead of “we drone murdered 20 people at a wedding in Yemen”, say “USFG drone murdered 20 people at a wedding in Yemen”.

      “we”, you & I did not & do not support USFG State Terra TM against innocent ppl. And per Thomas Ferguson & other political scientists, such as those who wrote the famous 2014 study concluding the US is an oligarchy, there is much evidence that our votes does not influence USFG policy, especially so in the “foreign policy” field where the US Deep State apparently does whatever it wants to regardless of what the elected poli-trick-ians say.

    2. hunkerdown

      And, ahem, we need to stop conflating “submitting to the results of a staged performance” with “democracy”, as a Québecois acquaintance of mine recently did.

    3. Otter

      What becomes most clear when we make the proper distinctions are our utter complicity and our craven attempts to evade responsibility.

      1. Jackrabbit

        IMO this is ‘blame the victim’ and defeatist thinking.

        The vast majority of people have been played. They have been slow to react but there is no equivalence between them and the savvy political and media players that earn big bucks delivering the ‘big con’ that benefit monied ‘special interests’.

        TPTB actually fear the awakening of the people. And they continually attack the left and marginalize critics for this reason.

  18. Vatch

    I am very fond of this condensed paraphrase of something that Voltaire said:

    Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities

    American children (and children in many other countries, too), are taught to believe absurdities from a very early age. Some reject the absurdities as they get older, but many do not. A populace trained to believe nonsense is very useful to the oligarchs who run the country.

    1. Jackrabbit

      Excellent quote. And (sadly) still very relevant. I’m glad that you thought to add it.

      Thanks Vatch.

  19. EoinW

    Here’s the problem: those pushing US foreign policy see Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Ukraine as great successes. Regime change was achieved. The price, well the neo-cons paid no price. Plus Syria isn’t a failure, it’s a success that hasn’t been achieved yet. Just up the US military presence – boots on the ground – and you’ll have another success. Then on to Iran!

    How’d it work the first time around? Rhineland, Austria, Sudentenland, Czechoslavakia, Memel etc…

    What’s scary is that the Nazis in Germany had most of the international community against them. They still created horrific destruction before they were stopped. What more destruction will those running US foreign policy achieve when they have the international community in their hip pocket? It seems an economic collapse might be the only thing to stop them. Germany, however, ran Frankenstein economics for a dog’s life. If our American Nazis enjoy a longer run…

    So spare me this idea that the good citizen of the world will rein in the Amerikaner Reich. Is he going to question the neo-con to death? Because he’s not doing anything else to curb the madness. In fact, he uses the US as an excuse to ignore the failings of his own country and leadership. I wonder if this behavior was common in Sodom and Gomorrah just before the fire and brimstone fell.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Nothing has really changed since Herbert Backe’s Hunger Plan concluded in 1941 that:

      ‘The war can only be continued if the entire Wehrmacht is fed from Russia in the third year of the war.’

      Fortunately our Ukrainian comrades have met their grain quotas. So our heroes should do well in their foraging.

    2. patriot77077

      Bingo. And it depends how you want to measure “success”: if your yardstick is the quantity of taxpayer dollars extracted in order to make Dick Cheney’s friends richer…it’s a wild success.

  20. EoinW

    The song is not yet sung on social democracy. For decades now such social welfare has been run on money borrowed from the future. Perhaps it could have been funded by balancing the books and never be endangered. The reality, however, is that funding continues to come from credit and every day our governments become more irresponsible – with the blessing of their electorate. What will our social democracies look like after the debt bubble pops? The Scandanavians can preach to their heart’s content if their society still stands intact the day after they have to balance the books.

    1. Sam Kanu

      Let’s be clear on one thing: money is not the problem in the US. The US gross domestic product per capita is higher than many “rich nations” including some or all of those “scandinavian socialists”.

      What’s unique about the US however, is that we dont mind having a wildly unequal society and trading off social stress, crime and low productivity for it. Over there they have historically figured out that they can share more balanced manner and in such a scenario you basically almost dont even need police or prisons, relative to the headcount and amounts spent on police and prisons in the US.

      And for this, we have more national debt than they do!

      That’s how much a few people in the US are determined to keep every last penny.

      Its not the Scandinavians who are wrong, let’s put it that way.

    2. Calgacus

      EoinW: For decades now such social welfare has been run on money borrowed from the future.

      No, it hasn’t. You can’t borrow money from the future, unless you have a time machine. Funding doesn’t come from credit. Funding is credit. No society can or ever has “balanced its books” the way so often suggested. The general story about Scandinavia is completely ahistorical. These became rich societies after and because they became social democracies. They didn’t become social democracies because they were rich. They became rich welfare states because their thinkers, leaders and ordinary people actually studied and learned economics that makes sense, economics consistent with accounting and arithmetic and common sense and time going in the usual direction, rather than thinking based on phrases that might sound good, sound moral, but amount to magical thinking about the impossible. What happened is that the governments did become less responsible – 40 years ago when the world started abandoning enormously successful full employment and social welfare policies, in order to redistribute wealth from ordinary people to the elites. Economic nonsense, revivification of dead ideas into zombies was an integral part of this.

      1. Kurt Sperry

        Thank you. The sentence, “For decades now such social welfare has been run on money borrowed from the future.” is built on such a base of neoliberal ideological hooey it’s hard to tell how to to begin unpacking it.

      2. EoinW

        Ick! I didn’t express myself very well if I ended up spouting neoliberal phraseology.

        Take Two: regardless of how we got to where we now are, the thing is that if Scandanavia’s social democracies fall apart then they were not built to last. Yes we can blame the last 40 years on neoliberal infiltration, however we’re not talking about Invasion of the Body Snatchers here, the average person who had benefited from such social democracy chose to take it for granted instead of being vigilant. Is this not an obvious failing that those who benefit from social democracy will not stand up to safe guard it when it’s under threat? We aren’t talking about a neoliberal blitzkrieg, this has been building for 4 decades. If the system is that good – and I agree it is the best option – where are the people fighting to prevent its loss?

        Yes the welfare state has been kind to middle aged people like myself. But if it ends in a neoliberal nightmare similar to the US experience then what good was it for the younger generations? So hold off on preaching to the Americans. There may not be much to preach about in the end.

        1. Sam Kanu

          the average person who had benefited from such social democracy chose to take it for granted instead of being vigilant.

          That’s rather simplistic. It’s no different from the US – you have a spectrum accross the population. Some very vigilant, most neutral and some active in the razing.

          Bear in mind as well this is a society built on high trust levels – not suspicion.

          1. EoinW

            Simple but true. Plus where do these high trust levels come from? We live in a society in which convenience and comfort are all that matter. The majority of people also have been bought, their price just hasn’t been as high as those at the top. We’ve chosen complacency and so long as we had a high standard of living we were willing to look the other way when it came to the political shenanigans. How else can 1% dominate 99%?

            Regarding your vigilant populace, I think we need to define the word. When in the last 40 years did they become vigilant? The Canadian health care system has been slowly dismantled these past 20 years. It began with the Liberal party, not any Conservative party. Yet for 2 decades 60% of the electorate continue to vote. Does that mean the other 40% are vigilant. I’m sure most of the non-voters are too indifferent to be engaged politically at all.

            Our democracies were not hijacked at gunpoint. They were eroded away behind the scenes when no one was looking. But most people couldn’t be bothered to look any way.

            1. Sam Kanu

              I just want to point out that those high levels of trust historically came from social democracy, in which the society is designed to ensure there is fairly even application of the rule of law,no stress when it comes to basic living conditions and a genuine chance of a future for all. Its not a mistake. In this country on the other hand we have the misguided idea that stress is good, it is motivating, it builds character. But It isnt. Social studies show this – stressed kids tend to become malfunctioning adults.

              On the supposedly high standard of living that bought us off, the eye-popping thing about the US, is that the COUNTY has a very high gross income. The median income on the other hand is low, and majority of americans live a two weeks i.e. a single paycheck away from financial downfall. “We” dont have a high standard of living as a country – only the 1% does.

              Agree with you that people have been asleep at the wheel to some degree. And too easily distracted by divisive tactics such as racism and xenophobia. But there has also been significant abuse of public trust by our elected representatives. As with nearly all social outcomes, there isnt ever ONE factor – the causality has multiple drivers acting in concert.

              1. EoinW

                I agree with you on the trust thing and can think of one group entitled to trust authority: the generation of my parents. Today’s senior citizens cut a deal with their governments and in return for their trust got lifetime jobs, a stable economy, high standard of living and a comfortable retirement. I’m thinking mostly of middle class citizens – I can’t speak with any knowledge for working class retirees. Also I refer to seniors in social democracies, who still have the protections they’ve always had, unlike American retirees who appear to be continually preyed upon these days.

                This group still does the majority of the voting and are the biggest supporters of the system. The system served them well so why not? It’s a shame they don’t want to see what the system is now doing to their children and grandchildren. But to imagine how bad things could become for them requires speculating on the future. What chance does speculation have when these seniors have the tangible evidence of their lifetimes to help them see the system has been good to them?

                Of course bail-in legislation appearing in most countries is designed to target the only group left that isn’t in debt – retirees. The jig may soon be up as Canadian middle class seniors will have to say goodbye to winters in Florida and their nest eggs.

  21. Jeremy Grimm

    I am disturbed by the comments responding to this post. Instead of attending to the content of the author’s critique numerous comments question and attack the validity of the contrasts used to elaborate the critique. The critique stands whether the US is better than Norway or Norway is not as good as the author thinks.

    In my opinion the critique is apt and damning. The United States Government no longer represents the American people. Our country, its resources and what assets remain are controlled by psychopaths and sociopaths. They wreck mindless destruction in the world and in what was once our land.

    I cannot characterize the American public beyond my own experiences. My impression is we have become a land of lonely despondent sheep hiding ourselves in ignorance, time passing entertainments, drugs and alcohol. It hardly matters what happens in Norway, other than its suitability as an avenue for escape.

    1. Sam Kanu

      Point is that Norway is not an “escape” – they have the same trends. Just that they are further back in the trajectory. But they are heading down the same path.

      So in fact this isn’t a US problem or an “American public” problem – its a global human problem. We all need to sit down and ask ourselves why.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        The point is NOT that Norway offers no “escape” because they are on the same path as the United States. The point is the ruling class in the United States is actively looting the industry and resources of our nation. The point is that American government does not represent or serve the interests of the American public. The point is the United States has ruthlessly attacked sovereign nations for no reason and to serve no clear national purpose. The point is the United States is in position to do and is doing great harm in the world.

        Solving a US problem is quite difficult enough without making it a global human problem. America built a form of government intended to constrain the worst in its people and channel the good effects of their best while providing freedom and prosperity for all. This American mechanism is badly broken. That is the point.

  22. p4

    It’s nothing personal when they ask, “What is wrong with you people?” In general they understand perfectly well that Americans are hermetically sealed in a state that’s run amok (the only exceptions this observer has seen was in mainland China, and there it seems to stem from a naive faith in US democracy PR. some of them seem to think we voted for this shit.)

    Sadly, the world is not going to give us what we need: topple this regime and blanket the country with reconstruction aid and capacity-building. They’re going to let the USA stew in its own juices. Meanwhile the civilized world will carry on deciding what they want. There’s a guy tasked with finding all the civil-society initiatives and pulling them together. When the US government pustule pops and we crawl out, we might be pleasantly surprised by what we find.

  23. susan the other

    To be insane is a luxury we can no longer afford. To have a brain-washed goal and achieve it through cold-blooded brutality is what is really happening. That goal is to achieve “freedom, equality and brotherhood” by any means possible. Kill everyone who does not agree. By freedom, equality and brotherhood (of course) we are talking about the perks of the oligarchs only. They are the band of brothers who are willing to destroy the world to save it. They have not adapted to social evolution in a thousand years. Miraculously, the world has progressed without them. We have the ability to create a world of good for everyone. But if that world does not give the oligarchs their perceived birthright and iron-fisted control then it is not a world worth living in for them. At this point I’d bet they can’t even define what they mean by freedom, equality and brotherhood. They simply don’t know. Their answer to every problem is more slavery.

  24. JEHR

    What I have most admired about reading articles at NC, is the ability of the originators of this blog to be critical of themselves and to listen to criticisms by others. It hurts to have people make attacks on one’s own culture and polity, but it is only when one recognizes one’s own shortcomings that an antidote can be found. Trying to understand the actions of the country you live in is worthwhile and this article is excellent in that regard. I feel sad that such a rich, inventive and resilient people as those in your United States have fallen under the spell of the rich and the belligerent. But I am hoping that the trance under which your leaders seem to be transfixed will pass soon.

  25. Steven

    America has become what it is with a little (lot of) help from its friends. Even before it apparently adopted the foreign policy precept that its bankers had a divine right to organize the world economy for their own benefit, AKA ‘hegemony’, and all dissenters needed to be dealt with harshly, those same bankers were busy buying up the world with money created ex nihilo (out of thin air). Our friends can be excused for not objecting when their dollar holdings still represented something besides “Debt that can’t be repaid (and) won’t be.”

    But since 1971 this clearly has not been the case. So like the politically neutralized American Middle Class, who have seen their once decent-paying jobs sent beyond their borders, the rest of the world has gone along with an increasingly ugly status quo. It continues to pretend this country’s debt to their respective wealthy elites CAN indeed by repaid. Those elites, desperate to preserve a sink for their new wealth, continue to pretend all the money they have been paid for the real wealth created by their laboring cattle can be spent, that all the debt the U.S. has created CAN be repaid.

    We will have peace in the world ONLY when America’s friends stop continuing to allow the U.S. to pay its way in the world with more (money as) debt and insist that it return to being a productive (of something other than bombs and debt) member of the world economy.

  26. downunderer

    Thanks for publishing this, Yves. Nobody could capture all the insanities and the complexities in a short opinion piece, but here at NC, you and a very well informed commentariat can add depth and breadth that seem unavailable elsewhere.

    Personally, I would say that social or national ‘insanity’ is a limited and narrow diagnosis, although it fits the classical definition: a mental state that is not in touch with reality.

    From earliest infancy onwards, we learn how to believe and behave by observing the results of our actions.

    I see American society, and much of the west, as the victim of a man-in-the-middle attack on the information feedback that tells us what the results of our actions are. The feedback loop that should continuously inform us of outcomes has been corrupted: contaminated with falsehoods, and the realities suppressed.

    Elsewhere, I might need to enlarge on this and explain, but not here.

  27. PQS

    I knew this thread would be interesting.

    I think the writer should also explain what America is like to some of her questioners, since they have obviously not been here:
    1. It’s a big country. If you live in the middle of it, going to visit Europe is a minimum several thousand dollars investment….our low wage economy and lack of mandated vacation time (and social mobility – which means people want to use precious vacation time to visit distant family in many cases) mean that many Americans may never even leave our shores. This is not likely to change any time soon. Look how many people think Hawaii is a like a foreign country, for Pete’s sake. For many of them, it might as well be, since they’ll never afford to go there.
    2. Our two party system has a total stranglehold on our electoral and governmental system. Further, how many Europeans understand our Senate, and that a tiny state like Montana has the same number of senators as California? It is not a parliamentary system like they are familiar with…..This affects our policy in myriad negative ways, not least of which is the hold the party has on even reasonable Republicans, who must nevertheless sign on to the crazy stuff (abortion, climate denialism) in order to get GOP money for elections. Add in our ever-present and increasingly awful oligarchs, and it’s a recipe for more crazy, more money, and yet more crazy.

    I think those above who point out the cancer of neoliberalism and the rise of the moneyed elite across the globe have it right. The writer would be wise to point the discussion in that direction, rather than accede to going down weird alleyways like our gun problems….which don’t affect anyone in Europe anyway. (As writers here have pointed out, Americans could ask uncomfortable questions about European attitudes, too, but since we don’t travel as much, they don’t hear them. Why is anti-Semitism such a big deal in Europe, still, after everything – haven’t you virtuous Europeans fixed that yet??) In any case, there are millions of unheard voices in America, just as there are the world over. The 99% all have the same concerns – and many of the same problems that start at the top.

    1. jrs

      Americans SHOULD get more vacation time to spend with their friends, family, lovers etc.. But I question whether people should be flying all over the world while the climate melts down. Maybe if they took boats?

  28. Irrational

    Self-selection is very important.
    If you don’t like to give up more than 50% of your salary in taxes, you will quite likely leave the Scandie country you were born in for somewhere else because there certainly is no room for you on the political spectrum.
    At least, countries make different choices!

    1. Sam Kanu

      Self-selection is very important.
      If you don’t like to give up more than 50% of your salary in taxes, you will quite likely leave the Scandie country you were born in for somewhere else because there certainly is no room for you on the political spectrum.

      Not true. As a young professional with high income, you pay more tax if you live in New York city or San Francisco for example.

      Plus you’re discounting that in these societies if you have an income then you are in the national health care program, you have free day care, free school, free college and so on. Lets put it this way, no one starts a “college fund” when their kid is born. In some of these countries not only is there no tuition, but college students get paid a living stipend by the govt. You cant make blanket comparisons. And tax is not evil when you are actually getting something tangible out of it, as opposed to funding military armaments.

    2. Jerry Denim

      I live in the USA. In my early unmarried thirties I was only taking home about 48% of my would-be $85k paycheck after taxes, health insurance deductions and a measly 5% for my 401k. I never added it up, but with my remaining take-home pay I am sure I paid out far more than the five percent I put into my 401K for sales tax and other miscellaneous junk fees and taxes, and that’s before I had to send my monthly check to Sallie Mae (educational loan @ 9% interest). So in other words as a middle class American struggling to get by in very expensive New York City I was forking over MORE than half my paycheck to the US government and I wasn’t getting jack shit back, especially compared to a Norwegian tax payer. I wouldn’t even complain if the US government wanted to confiscate 60% of my paycheck IF I had eight weeks of paid vacation, the option for sabbaticals, paid paternity leave, free universal healthcare, free education etc. etc. but instead I get an oversized pugnacious military and a oversized pugnacious police state to match, unaffordable crap healthcare, an overpriced usurious education and a government subsidized FIRE industry which has driven home prices beyond the reach of working Americans. You think this place is better for working people than one of the Nordic socialist democracies?

    3. rusti

      If you don’t like to give up more than 50% of your salary in taxes, you will quite likely leave the Scandie country you were born in for somewhere else because there certainly is no room for you on the political spectrum.

      This is outright misinformation, but I imagine educated readers could sniff that out from the tone of the comment which is an obvious regurgitation from some talk radio host.

      For work requiring a comparable education (I have a M.S. in Engineering) I have a lower salary in Sweden than I’d had in California, but pay a lower marginal tax rate and probably earn more on an hourly basis because engineers in my field are typically salaried and expected to work longer hours in the US.

      As a young, healthy person with no kids I have less spending money but this would probably be a wash if I had kids, was sick, or had funded my education via student loans. Anyway, it’s a trade-off I’ll gladly make for the many extra weeks of vacation and myriad of other small benefits.

  29. Jeremy Grimm

    I am disturbed by the comments responding to this post. Instead of attending to the content of the author’s critique numerous comments question and attack the validity of the contrasts used to elaborate the critique. The critique stands whether the US is better than Norway or Norway is not as good as the author thinks.

    In my opinion the critique is apt and damning. The United States Government no longer represents the American people. Our country, its resources and what assets remain are controlled by psychopaths and sociopaths. They wreck mindless destruction in the world and in what was once our land.

    I cannot characterize the American public beyond my own experiences. My impression is we have become a land of lonely despondent sheep hiding ourselves in ignorance, time passing entertainments, drugs and alcohol. It hardly matters what happens in Norway, other than its suitability as an avenue for escape.

    1. PQS

      I think the issue is that Americans aren’t alone in being ruled by sociopaths and psychos. They’re eveninEurope, and to pretend otherwise, as it seems the author does (in a very mild way), is to ignore the activities of the 1% and their handmaidens the world over.

      IOW the questions the author says are being asked about America and Americans aren’t the right questions that offer solutions – they are just questions that appear designed to impute a moral, political, and economic superiority to the “European way” — when none of those things really exist if one looks very hard at what’s going on below the surface. Certainly none of the “economic certainties” most Europeans take for granted are written in stone – the psychos will take care of that for sure.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        If the devil came in the flesh and made criticisms … and those criticisms were valid, are they any less valid because the devil offered them to us?

        In this case, a critic uses a series of contrasts to make a series of criticisms of the United States. How does the truth of the contrasts affect the truth of the criticisms? As for your contention the critic imputes “the moral, political, and economic superiority of the European Way” — who cares? As for the superiority of the European Way, it may be superior quite appart from any problems of its implementation in Norway or in any other of the European nations.

        I disagree with your contention that the chief issue is Americans are not alone in being ruled by sociopaths and psychopaths. American sociopaths and psychopaths today are able to do much more harm. Besides, I live in America. If the Europeans are ruled by sociopaths and psychopaths, I sympathize with them but the problem is theirs to address — as the problem in America is ours.

        Your contention the author fails to offer “the right questions that offer solutions” — when did it become an obligation for a critic to offer solutions and offer the right questions to offer those solutions?

        1. PQS

          Let’s take just the first three questions:
          *Why can’t you Americans stop interfering with women’s health care?

          * Why can’t you understand science?

          * How can you still be so blind to the reality of climate change?

          All three of these questions are really questions about why we in America appear to allow fundamentalist Christians to dictate public policy. (The third one, less so.) First of all, abortion is still legal at the federal level. So is the teaching of evolution. The RW uses the abortion issue to get the fundies out to vote and get their money, and they have been largely unsuccessful in changing the law very broadly – as I’ve noted, abortion is still legal at the federal level, and most of the state challenges are struck down, even by conservative judges. In any case, abortion isn’t a global issue that affects Europe, so it appears, as I said, to just be a way to poke at our religious minorities. (And they are minorities – as I pointed out upthread, smaller constituencies get way too much power in our system, both because of the two parties, and because of the way the Senate operates.)

          The only legitimate criticisms that I see from this author have to do with America’s ability to interfere in international affairs through wars, ignoring treaties, and generally acting like a bully the world over. Nobody with a brain in America would disagree with these criticisms – indeed, hundreds of thousands of people protested against the Iraq War, and it was essentially for nothing. The problem, as I pointed out, is that the sociopaths who run things don’t care. I also disagree that our sociopaths are more dangerous than all the others. They aren’t. They are, as has been explored on this blog many times, a global elite with no national loyalties. And they are European, Middle Eastern, and Asian. Many of them aren’t even individuals – they are the transnational corporations who pretty much run things. Just getting people to wrap their heads around this fact is hard enough without going into America’s own idiosyncracies, which, I would argue, aren’t much worse than anywhere else’s.

          In response to your last question, if the questioner is truly interested in solving problems together, the first impulse shouldn’t be to insult the subject. We can keep sniping at each other while the psychos take our money and ruin our planet, but then most of us will lose.

  30. NOTaREALmerican

    European can’t comprehend that many (most?) Americans don’t care about other American because we have no ethnic identity with each other.

    Ask the Germans how much they enjoy supporting the Greeks and Italians and the situation becomes clearer to them.

    1. Sam Kanu

      What is “ethnic identity” in modern society? That’s nonsense. A construction that people use to support their irrational prejudice.

      If you REALLY understand Europeans, you’d understand that even the Germans from for example Munich, think the ones in say Saxony or Brandenburg are lazy – and they are tired of supporting them! Its a bunch of little fiefdoms.

      Also is documented that the greeks work longer hours than the germans – and for less money. Plus, where do you think Germany’s “trade surplus” is coming from if not its trade partners….such as Greece……and the entire EU.

      The entire EU “crisis” is a huge game of brinkmanship. But the smarter germans grasp quite clearly that if the EU sinks in a terminal fall, they are going to go down too in the end.

  31. different clue

    If one wants explanations of American policy “madness”, perhaps one should study in slow careful painfull depth and detail each and every one of the blogposts written by Jeff Wells at his Rigorous Intuition 2.0 blog. Perhaps one might also read/listen to some of the more “out there tinfoily” broadcasts/ transcripts of David Emory’s For The Record/ Spitfire List programs. But if one only has time for one of these courses of study, then the Jeff Wells Rigorous Intuition 2.0 blog archives is the one to study.

  32. Tony Wikrent

    You want to explain what’s wrong with the USA? We have murdered the memory of the Americans who actually created the policies that built the USA, and enshrined in their place a handful of Brits and a couple of Austrians. Oh, and let’s not forget the dowdy little princess of prickishness from the old nobility of Russia. I’ll give the list in alphabetical order; can you make the correct name associations?

    Edmund Burke
    Henry Clay
    Henry Carey
    Benjamin Franklin
    Alexander Hamilton
    Friedrich Hayek
    Ludwig von Mises
    Ayn Rand
    Adam Smith
    Herbert Spencer

    Yeah, the problem of America traces back to Europe is exactly what I’m implying.

  33. Joaquin Closet

    I’ve lived overseas off and on for 30 years. Despite the fact that we have a continuous bunch of douchebags running our country, and our political system is tied up in knots by limp-dicked politicians, the U.S. still is the cleanest dirty shirt in the drawer, so to speak. I LOVE getting into arguments with my Italian, German or Swedish friends about why we’re so fucked up in the States, due to the fact that their respective countries are taking it up the wazzoo themselves. I won’t bore you with chapter and verse, but none of my debating friends has any answer for why they have had 47 different govts since WWII (Italy), why their immigration laws suck hind tit (Germany) or why their banksters make US banksters look like choirboys (Spain).

    Based on their respective social, economic and political systems, none of my friends has any real power at the ballot box, nor do they have the ears of their elected representatives. So I tell them to stay away from socio-political questions, and I’ll stop banging their wives. Fair trade.

  34. RBHoughton

    Life in Sydney for Americans may have changed since the CIA’s role in removing the Whitlam government has become public but I rather suspect that you would still be welcome Yves. All Aussies whom I know respect and admire straightforwardness and that’s you.

    Ann’s recollections of 2003 are funny. At that time I had friends travelling the old Silk Road who reported a great many Canadians on the route. In the evenings when travelling stopped, someone skinned-up and the chat started, it transpired those Canadians were actually shame-faced Americans fearful of the reaction their nationality might cause.

    I have no expectations of Obama. We have all worked in a group, a board, a club, and know the limits of the individual. To achieve even a modest change in direction requires persevering persuasion and that’s an exhausting route. Pres Clinton was said to spend many hours each day wheedling support on the phone for his initiatives. You have to be a devout believer in the art of the possible to do that and work in a job where changing your mind is as common for your colleagues as changing your underwear.

    The more common route to adoption of policy seems to be the default route wherein no-one has the ability to see where we are headed or the energy to divert our political momentum. Two of the features of the American Raj that have appeared since WWII seem to evidence that.

    They are 1/ the rise and rise of human rights (including the right to insult that was on display in Paris last week) and 2/ the end of an aspect of international law requiring non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Both these U S initiatives are controversial and neither seems capable of being entrenched on the wider global community without bribery or the use of force to support it.

  35. Kyle

    Norwegian friends pay equal to lower taxes than I do, dramatically lower if they have kids, and get all basic services covered . Now, Norway is a tiny country on the fringes of Europe with a Lutheran tradition, flourishing to some extent under the Pax Americana. Still, American taxpayers get absolutely shafted in comparison.

  36. Jerry Denim

    Great article, I agree wholeheartedly and I too greatly admire the scandinavian socialist democracies, but knowing them well and other western europeans I feel I must make one point in defense of my heathen homeland the US of A.

    Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, these are all small, extraordinarily homogenous countries. Ethnically, culturally, and financially homogenous. Now I know, especially on that last point the socialist policies of these countries have played a part in maintaining that homogenous equality but all of these countries were highly homogenized in the 1930’s when the author claims their little social experiment began. That level playing field, shared identity and values and everyone being in the same boat from the beginning made the “we’re-all-in-this-together” and “let’s-make-sure-no-one-falls-out of-our-nice-little-boat” attitude possible in the first place. The United States by contrast is a heterogeneous land of striving hungry immigrants who from the very beginning succeeded by trampling the native inhabitants underfoot and then importing exotic foreign peoples to serve as a dehumanized permanent underclass. A mean nasty land of haves and have-nots from it origins . It’s much more difficult to convince people to share equally and love thy neighbor when some in a society already have so much more than others. In an unequal and heterogeneous society those in the top social and economic strata have very little to gain by being magnanimous and equitable with those further down the ladder. Which brings me to this:

    “Throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia, right-wing parties that have scarcely or never played a role in government are now rising rapidly on a wave of opposition to long-established immigration policies.”

    Yep, now that these traditionally homogenous societies in Scandinavia are being challenged for the first time by a real influx of “others” they are showing themselves to be very much like the rest of the human race by attempting to pull up the ladders and shut out the outsiders from their nice little warm cozy scandinavian socialist clubs. I’m not so sure Swedes and Norwegians are morally or intellectually better at their cores than Americans. They were just lucky enough to have the perfect test-tube conditions for a socialist democracy when the chance came along for them to form one. IF- they can incorporate large numbers of poor, uneducated, people of different races, religions and cultures and keep those lovely socialist democracies, now that would be a wonderful thing, and if it happens I will pronounce them superior to “Amuricans” in every way. Except of course for marksmanship with a large caliber handgun fired from the window of a Chevy Silverado at high speed while consuming a twelve pack of Budweiser. We will always be tops in some categories.

    1. Sam Kanu

      These countries are not as “homogenous” as you think. The never were. Sweden for example has a significant Finnish population as well as Lapps, Denmark has had a lot of continental Europeans, Norway the same.

      What’s really different in the past 20 years is growing inequality. These countries were the ones actually living the “American Dream” of meritocracy and fairness. And now that is ebbing away. This is wrongly being blamed on immigrants, mostly by dimwits with a helping hand from the elites who are overseeing the growing inequality and dont mind xenophobia as a distraction (the story of elites happily stirring xenobobia is also true in Britain by the way…and in the US with the astroturfed “Tea Party”).

      But blaming immigrants is wrong. If you look art the numbers in Scandinavia, they are nowhere – they barely have any role in politics, they are not in the financial or political elite – because of discrimination to some degree actually. So when someone blames them for bad roads, poor schools, poor bureaucracy, that’s just insane. You look at your top 500 influential people in the country – they run the country – you should blame THEM if things are broken. And among them are almost NO immigrants.

      That’s what’s actually going on. Not any “homogenous” story…

  37. Demeter

    And then, we have the whole Julian Assange affair…

    Can any Swede (and I claim a connection by marriage) explain that one? Why does Sweden play goalie for the US espionage state?

  38. Rivers

    Want to know what’s wrong with America? Look at the comments that go immediately on the defensive or offensive over the most mildest of criticisms. The comments typically start out “but “X” country does blah blah blah, therefore America is better/not as bad” and have the tone of “how dare you question the United States” There is no introspection in America. Forget propaganda, it is the mythology built over centuries that has to be maintained.

    This total lack of self-awareness is why America far over estimates her own capabilities and under estimates her perceived opponents; leading to catastrophic failures, particularly in war.

  39. Wat

    Ann and commenter Sam Kanu seem to be sourcing their info differently. Sam sounds like a policy analyst, using institutional sources, Ann is taking the pulse of the people around her. Despite general educational superiority to Americans, and a higher level of general integrity in Norway, I imagine there is at least some misleading news coverage, and the universal tendency for the general pop to be a little behind the arc. Unfortunately, the neoliberal disease does seem to be creeping into all places one might hope would preserve a workable social model for the occasion of total U.S. collapse, when there will finally be no possibility of sustaining a narrative that our system could ever produce a workable society. Pity I don’t speak Norweigian, or have a horse to ride frantically issuing a warning that the propaganda of unbridled competition is so toxic.

  40. Angry Panda

    Two issues.

    One. Scandinavia specifically and Europe in general USED to be…socialistically-inclined. One might notice, however, that a lot of the components were put in place starting in the 1930s and perhaps through the 1970s. This is important. The 1930s had the Depression, which made things just as bad in Europe as anywhere else. The 1940s had the war, which saw most of Europe destroyed or, in the case of countries like England, vastly impoverished. Meanwhile, in both the 1930s and 1940s (and beyond!) there was the spectre of the Soviet Union, which REPRESENTED AN ALTERNATIVE. Remember, this was BEFORE long discussions of Stalin’s crimes, etc., began either in the East or in the West. There was, in fact, a time when you could openly say – hey, here’s communism over here which seems to (theoretically) represent a better alternative than this capitalist system you lot have.

    Reform out of fear, in other words. That failing to put in that reform, e.g. a national health service of some kind, will leave an increasingly unhappy populace that can be turned on the elites quite easily. Coincidentally, this also explains why there was so much red-baiting, especially in the 1950s. Heaven forbid you look at THOSE evil guys over there and take them as examples to emulate.

    One might astutely observe that there is no Red Menace anymore. There is no alternative, and there is no threat. And so the CURRENT elites over in Europe – in Germany, in Sweden, in Britain, in France, wherever – have, one might also observe, been busily transitioning into the “American” mode of elitist thinking. Enrichment of the upper class fueled in part by the dismantlement (full or partial) of the welfare state. The Brits might have been at the forefront, but even Sweden has been talking about throttling things down for years (and will probably get it done one way or another). One or two generations from now there will probably be a lot of people over on the Continent who thing Obamacare is actually a GOOD thing and not a “modest proposal”, compared to what’s actually out there. We just need to get there. Sad, but that’s how it is.

    Two. I have no idea who the author is, or whom she is speaking to. However, pretty much most or all of the questions she cites…are…how shall I put this. Political Economy 101-ish? Or maybe International Politics (the Realist section, forget the Institutionalist morass) 101? Propaganda 101? I mean – “why did you go to Iraq”. Because empire (and political inertia). “Why such a bad healthcare system.” Because for-profit corporations and the elites that feed off them (and use said profits to buy off legislators). “Why the hypocrisy on human rights.” Because empire, again. “How can you think…” Because CNN, 24/7. Because bloody waving of the flag and saluting of the troops at every single bloody football game, which, interestingly enough, did not take place prior to Iraq 2 (though I distinctly recall being forced into a school-wide “we support the troops” rally back during Iraq 1 – i.e. they herded us out there with no explanation and just told us to sing “God Bless America” and then the papers called it an outpouring of support for the troops, I kid you not).

    It’s almost a mystifying thing to me who are these magical unicorn-like Europeans who are, apparently, so ill-informed about the fundamentals of politics and economics (and propaganda) as to ask these questions. I suppose, to be fair, it may be the case they just don’t have the information – but then the answer should be very short (“for-profit health sector and legal bribery of legislators” – “oh, that’s why you don’t have national health care!”).

    Whatever. In any case, I will agree that when I’m abroad it’s much easier to pretend to be from just about any other nation. Bloody Canada even.

  41. Nathanael

    I just talk about gerrymandering and malapportionment and how the US Senate gives Wyoming voters 600 times more power than California voters and how the courts are stacked with crooks and allow billions of dollars in fraudulent political advertising…. people outside the US get it pretty quickly, and get bored with the detail.

    But they’re a little shocked because I’m basically saying we don’t have a democracy.

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