I must confess that in my youth I was a great admirer of the United States. Then, as special correspondent, I began to travel the length and breadth of this vast country, not the usual, well-known big cities – New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington – but instead the dull and boring depths of America, where tourists never set foot and where journalists will only go when forced to by their bosses. A couple of years ago my family and I spent our vacations in the United States; we left the Big Apple to explore New York state, up toward Albany and the Catskill Mountains, seduced by descriptions in tourist guides of typical, delightful villages, symbolizing an America of bygone times.
After just a few dozen kilometers we started to feel disconcerted. The villages were old, but anything but delightful. They were miserable, studded with derelict houses which had often collapsed. We traveled on roads full of potholes and weeds that no one had pulled up for a long time, and around us we could only see poor people. The luckiest ones lived in wooden shacks; the others roamed the streets, carrying their rags in shopping carts.
This is how we discovered the other side of America, the side which tourists never see on Fifth Avenue or in the center of San Francisco, and it is a much larger part of America than you would imagine – isolated, ignored, left to its own devices.
This led me to understand the truth behind reports by a very brave economist, Paul Craig Roberts, who is not just any economist but a university professor, multi-award winner and one of President Reagan’s key associates. Craig Roberts maintains that some data about the U.S., starting with figures on unemployment, are unreliable and manipulated at the source. To be clear, he is right-wing, a liberal, but he has his eyes open and has a genuine civic passion for serving his country. Now, thanks to a tip from a friend, I have discovered a study by two American academics, Hershey H. Friedman and Sarah Hertz, titled “Is the United States Still the Best Country in the World? Think Again,” based on a series of international statistics, confirming the portrayal of a country in clear social, political and cultural regression. Some statistics: In the ranking of the percentage of the population living in poverty, the U.S. is at 35th position out of 153. The ranking of children in poverty in Western countries is even more disastrous – the U.S. is 34 out of 35; only Romania is worse. It is the fourth country in the world for income inequality, behind Chile, Mexico and Turkey. Furthermore, Americans do not describe themselves as happy: They only rank at 17th position in the world. Life expectancy is low; the U.S. only comes in at 42nd place, while it beat everyone when it comes to prison populations: 2.2 million people in prison, which is much more than in China (1.6 million) whose population is three times larger, and also larger than in the appalling Putin’s Russia (600,000). According to a reliable source, The Economist, even Stalin didn’t reach these figures. I could go on but I’ll stop here. I can sense the reader’s bewilderment; you’re asking yourself, “But how? I thought America …” Yes, we all thought that, but to really judge this country we cannot limit ourselves to official announcements which only describe a part of the truth, and ignore anything that doesn’t fit with the official truth, with the myth that Hollywood and TV continue to fuel. How many films have you seen about the 45 million Americans in poverty? How many journalistic reports? How many people bring up this topic in TV debates? The answer is always the same: None.
They are all fearful and conformist, apart from a few brave reporters like Paul Craig Roberts.
That’s America, unfortunately.
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