Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is the US Becoming a Third World Nation?

I was struck today by this report on the wires that U.S. fourth graders had lost ground in test scores against many other developed countries, and now even lagged behind Russia. Behind Russia? In a vacuum, this report is disturbing. When mashed-up with other recent news reports, like our increasing, worst in the developed world infant mortality rate; the 47 million Americans without health insurance; the massive home foreclosure avalanche; and the loss of control of our energy and food supplies, it begs the question: are we becoming a third-world nation? For goodness sakes, our infant mortality rate is higher than Cuba's. And recent food recalls - from salad to beef - have been more than alarming. Read more here.

Has our government so squandered our resources and international good will that demotion to the ranks of the developing world is inevitable? And will anybody but our own citizens care? Mind you these are just questions, but I think the conversation around these issues is long overdue. I'm not, unfortunately, hearing many of the candidates address these questions head on. Surprised? I didn't think so. But we're not blind or stupid, or at least those of us who were have learned. It's time for some accounting and a change in direction.

In case you haven't noticed, the very rich aren't suffering much behind this recession. It will be the rest of us that bear the brunt, all the way to the upper middle-class. We're the ones risking our lives on salad-in-a-bag, because we're so busy making ends meet that time saved and convenience become important. We're the ones scraping to make our monthly health insurance payment, if we're lucky enough to even have coverage, and scrambling to save our homes from greedy bankers. For these sacrifices and more, we're being asked to step quietly and quickly to the back of the bus.

So what will third-world living look like? Well, it may just start with this recession. Unemployment will rise, and jobs will still exist, but at the low-end of the food chain. That's already happening. Budgets, both corporate and government, will shrink. Services will be cut back by government, and business will shutter plants. At the same time, disease, mental illness and crime will go up. Starting to get the picture? It gets worse. While we're dealing with this disaster, the newly wealthy around the world will start buying up all of our assets. For example, the tiny Arab emirate of Abu Dhabi just bailed out our largest bank by taking a large share of ownership two weeks after buying a substantial portion of one of our key hi-tech chip makers, AMD. Read the story here. Look for a lot more of that on the horizon. After the dust settles, we may be owned lock-stock-and-barrel by foreign interests. There are plenty of pundits and academics who insist that is a good thing, but I just can't see it unfolding quite that way.

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