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Musings of an American Refugee in New Zealand

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Despite my unusual name, I happen to be a woman. I am also an American child and adolescent psychiatrist with more than 30 years of practice under my belt. Seven years ago I emigrated from the US to New Zealand, mainly for political reasons. I describe the unusual events leading up to this momentous decision in my upcoming book – The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee.

Obviously a lot has happened in seven years. I have learned I am not alone in deciding to emigrate out of frustration with the Bush administration. It turns out tens of thousands of Americans emigrated between 2000 and 2008. Polls show most of them were liberals and progressives. In November 2003 expatriate Americans led the London demonstrations protesting Bush’s London visit and the war in Iraq. Expatriates also formed major voting blocs for Kerry in 2004 and for Obama in 2008. An unexpected result of creating a new life for myself as an expatriate is the unique perspective it has provided on my former life in the US.

An Awakening: Militarism is the US Government’s Number One Priority

Ironically it is only in coming to a remote South Pacific nation, whose population has just exceeded four million, that I can fully appreciate the way military domination and control of the third world takes precedence over all other US foreign and domestic policy. Owing to vigorous censorship that occurs in the corporate controlled media, much of this information isn’t readily available to US residents. Prior to the mid-nineties the US relied on economic dominance over smaller countries to extract a continuous supply of cheap resources they couldn’t produce domestically – such as gasoline, coffee, sugar, chocolate, nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers and platinum, nickel, chromium, cobalt and other strategic metals. With the decline in US economic strength over the past 15 years, the government has come to rely on its military might to acquire the resources it needs to guarantee Americans’ continued high standard of living. It seems to be common knowledge among many New Zealand intellectuals that this is the primary US government agenda.

An Awakening: the News Media Keeps Americans in the Dark about Their Government

It was only on leaving the US that I recognized how successfully the US media monopoly censors and sanitizes public information about international events and government activities. Although Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp controls much of New Zealand’s access to international news, we still have independent media outlets that regularly challenge and embarrass our government. Presently this type of investigative reporting is extremely rare in the American mainstream media.

An Awakening: the Price Americans Pay for Global Domination

The first thing that hit me on waking up in a new country was the enormous personal cost, in terms of quality life, that Americans pay as citizens of a regime intent on establishing and maintaining a global military empire. For example, although New Zealand ranks as one of the poorer countries in the OECD (22nd out of 30), Kiwis take for granted that their government will use their hard earned tax dollars to provide free health care for all New Zealand residents, a program the public considers essential for the long term well being and sustainability of their country.

In New Zealand it is fairly easy to support universal health care and the taxes that fund it, because this country doesn’t invade or occupy other countries and bans the use of nuclear materials as weapons or for energy production. In the US, on the other hand, reaching consensus on joining the rest of the developed world in providing universal government sponsored health care is next to impossible. There is enormous resistance to increasing federal tax to pay for such a program, given that Americans are so heavily taxed already to pay for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and to maintain a US military presence in more than 50 foreign countries it considers strategic to its interests. In the past five years the number of overseas military bases has increased from 700 to 1,000, as the US military expands into Eastern Europe, Pakistan, North and West Africa (owing to the strategic importance of African oil reserves) and Columbia (owing to the threat posed by left leaning governments in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia).

An Awakening: the US is Less Democratic than Other Developed Countries

More importantly Americans seem to have no say in the decisions resulting in the allocation of nearly 50 cents of every tax dollar for military related spending. In fact in many ways the US is far less democratic than other developed countries. Although polling shows Americans don’t want to spend their tax dollars spent on escalating the war in Afghanistan – that they want to spend them on government sponsored health care – the Obama administration does just the opposite. Obama sends 35,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and persuades congressional Democrats to drop the public option and Medicare expansion from his health care reform bill.

The New Zealand government would face massive street protests for enacting legislation opposed by the majority of New Zealanders. Yet for some reason Americans seem to take for granted that they have no say in decisions that are fundamental, not only to their own personal welfare, but to the long term economic viability and sustainability of their country. It is only in living abroad that I have become aware of this a deep resignation and apathy in the American public. It’s a mindset I believe stems from deep and pervasive political repression – which is essential to maintain order in a society dedicated to global military dominance.

An Awakening: the Planet’s Newest Third World Country

Obviously there are other important reasons why the US doesn’t have publicly sponsored health care like Zealand and all other industrialized countries. The channeling of hundreds of billions of tax dollars into military expansion is only part of the problem. There happen to be other powerful corporate interests – led by the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies – who invested billions of dollars in the 2008 election to ensure that the Democrats and Obama refrained from enacting publicly sponsored health care. However the prioritization of the military conquest and occupation over the all domestic spending and the secrecy and deliberate misinformation over the phenomenal cost of war – an extremely unpopular public policy to begin with – make it very difficult for Americans to understand much less have a voice in how their tax dollars are spent.

The reality is that exponential increases in US military spending over the past thirty years have resulted in deep cuts in domestic spending for education and important social programs. Most of the developed world understands and accepts that unmet social problems, such as homelessness, mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse, illiteracy, unemployment, child poverty and child abuse seriously compromise the quality of life for the entire society. Yet here, too, the US is more like a third world country than an advanced industrialized society. I only saw this clearly after moving abroad.

As the military budget has increased exponentially over the past thirty years, the commitment to universal education, job training, housing and full employment as essential to meaningful participation in an advanced industrial democracy has vanished from public consciousness. The only “antipoverty” programs that persist are federal and state prisons. The US now exceeds China in its incarceration rate. Which represents an extremely uneconomical use of government funds in a recession. At an average cost of $29,000 each (totaling nearly 100 billion dollars annually), there is no question that locking people up is the most expensive way to address social problems that lead to criminal behavior.

An Awakening: the Loss of Civil Liberties in the US

The negative effect of our government’s drive for global military domination is not limited to negative economic consequences – namely our inability to meet basic health, education, housing and social welfare needs. The loss of civil liberties over the last eight years is also more typical of a third world military dictatorship than the participatory democracies enjoyed by most of the developed world. This, too, was something I only fully appreciated after moving abroad.

Most of the covert activities I describe in my book – the monitoring of my calls, emails and financial transactions, the theft of business and personal mail and even the clandestine break-ins – was illegal in the late eighties. However the US government engages in all these activities legally now, thanks to successive versions of the Patriot Act.

Worse still Obama has left most of these laws, which violate basic Constitutional rights, essentially intact. He has also preserved the right of police and federal authorities to arrest and hold US citizens without charge – a violation of the right of habeas corpus guaranteed in the Bill of Rights – an fundamental feature of civilized society dating back to the 1215 Magna Carta.

This loss of civil liberties also occurred in Rome, when its leaders were forced to abandon their democratic form of government to pursue the wars of conquest that resulted in the formation of a vast Roman Empire. In most cases, military conquest and occupation of foreign territory only benefits a tiny elite at the highest level of society. Ordinary people are naturally repulsed by the idea of war and almost universally expect their hard earned tax dollars to be spent on public programs that directly benefit them.

If allowed any meaningful input, they rarely willingly agree to squander government funds on military expansion. This is why a campaign of military expansion can only succeed if the government is effective at suppressing dissent in the ruling country.

An Awakening: How US Militarism Affects the Way Americans Think

The most alarming discovery I made in acculturating myself to a new country was the extent to which I unconsciously bought into all the brainwashing and propaganda I was exposed to as a child in school and as an adult via the mainstream media. When I first arrived in New Zealand I genuinely believed that the US was not only the strongest military and economic power in the world – it was also the best at nearly everything else.

I write about this discovery in my book. Obviously New Zealand has no military ambitions, and Kiwis would feel pretty silly about promoting their country as the most democratic, productive, efficient, cleanest, healthiest, transparent, just and scientifically advanced nation in the world.

I myself feel pretty silly that as a committed leftist I continued to believe – as recently as five years ago – that the US was way ahead of other countries in these areas, as well as in military and economic strength. At some level I have known for at least 20 years that the US was less democratic than other industrialized countries. I also knew that US corporations had significantly weakened American economic influence by moving its industrial base to sweat shops overseas. Likewise I knew that air and water are seriously polluted in the US and its food supply one of the most contaminated in the world – with its reliance on toxic sludge fertilizers, as well as infestation with Mad Cow, E Coli and other illness-causing organisms that the powerful food lobby prevents the government from regulating.

I knew from my own research into alternative AIDS treatments that the US lags far behind other industrialized countries in scientific research. Mainly because it gives powerful corporations the power to dictate most of research Americans scientists engage in and to suppress any negative findings that might impact corporate profitability.

Ironically the US can no longer claim to be the most powerful economic force in the world, a fact rarely acknowledged by the US media. Although they still represent the world’s largest economy, the US has less and less sway over the Asian economic powerhouse represented by China, India, Japan and South Korea. The world media frequently reports on examples of the US government caving in to China and India during trade and climate change negotiations.

The loss of American economic influence should be obvious from the steady drop in the US dollar in relation to international currencies. However because the mainstream media never makes this connection, it is rare for most Americans to make it. It never occurs to them that the main reason for the surge in the price of gasoline, food and other imported commodities is the dollar’s loss in value on the world markets.

Musings of an American Refugee in New Zealand

Source by Dr Stuart Bramhall

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