America – The Grim Truth

By Lance Freeman / Jun 10

Escape from the prison you call home

Americans, I have some bad news for you:

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world – by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

Consider this: You are the only people in the developed world without a single-payer health system. Everyone in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand has a single-payer system. If they get sick, they can devote all their energies to getting well. If you get sick, you have to battle two things at once, your illness and the fear of financial ruin. Millions of Americans go bankrupt every year due to medical bills, and tens of thousands die each year because they have no insurance or insufficient insurance. And don’t believe for a second that rot about America’s having the world’s best medical care or the shortest waiting lists: I’ve been to hospitals in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Singapore, and Thailand, and every one was better than the “good” hospital I used to go to back home. The waits were shorter, the facilities more comfortable, and the doctors just as good.

This is ironic, because you need a good health system more than anyone else in the world. Why? Because your lifestyle is almost designed to make you sick.

Let’s start with your diet: Much of the beef you eat has been exposed to fecal matter in processing. Your chicken is contaminated with salmonella. Your stock animals and poultry are pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. In most other countries, the government would act to protect consumers from this sort of thing; in the United States, the government is bought off by industry to prevent any effective regulations or inspections. In a few years, the majority of all the produce for sale in the United States will be from genetically modified crops, thanks to the cozy relationship between Monsanto Corporation and the United States government. Worse still, due to the vast quantities of high-fructose corn syrup Americans consume, fully one-third of children born in the United States today will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

Of course, it’s not just the food that’s killing you; it’s also the drugs. If you show any sign of life when you’re young, they’ll put you on Ritalin. Then, when you get old enough to take a good look around, you’ll get depressed, so they’ll give you Prozac. If you’re a man, this will render you chemically impotent, so you’ll need Viagra to get it up. Meanwhile, your steady diet of trans-fat-laden food is guaranteed to give you high cholesterol, so you’ll get a prescription for Lipitor. Finally, at the end of the day, you’ll lay awake at night worrying about losing your health plan, so you’ll need Lunesta to go to sleep.

With a diet guaranteed to make you sick and a health system designed to make sure you stay that way, what you really need is a long vacation somewhere. Unfortunately, you probably can’t take one. I’ll let you in on little secret: If you go to the beaches of Thailand, the mountains of Nepal, or the coral reefs of Australia, you’ll probably be the only American in sight. And you’ll be surrounded by crowds of happy Germans, French, Italians, Israelis, Scandinavians and wealthy Asians. Why? Because they’re paid well enough to afford to visit these places AND they can take vacations long enough to do so. Even if you could scrape together enough money to go to one of these incredible places, by the time you recovered from your jetlag, it would be time to get on a plane and rush back to your job.

If you think I’m making this up, check the stats on average annual vacation days by country:

Finland: 44
Italy: 42
France: 39
Germany: 35
UK: 25
Japan: 18
USA: 12

The fact is, they work you like dogs in the United States. This should come as no surprise: The United States never got away from the plantation / sweat shop labor model, and any real labor movement was brutally suppressed. Unless you happen to be a member of the ownership class, your options are pretty much limited to barely surviving on service-sector wages or playing musical chairs for a spot in a cubicle (a spot that will be outsourced to India next week, anyway). The very best you can hope for is to get a professional degree and then milk the system for a slice of the middle-class pie. And even those who claw their way into the middle class are but one illness or job loss away from poverty. Your jobs aren’t secure. Your company has no loyalty to you. They’ll play you off against your co-workers for as long as it suits them; then they’ll get rid of you.

Of course, you don’t have any choice in the matter: The system is designed this way. In most countries in the developed world, higher education is either free or heavily subsidized; in the United States, a university degree can set you back over US$100,000. Thus, you enter the working world with a crushing debt. Forget about taking a year off to travel the world and find yourself – you’ve got to start working or watch your credit rating plummet.

If you’re “lucky,” you might even land a job good enough to qualify you for a home loan. And then you’ll spend half your working life just paying the interest on the loan – welcome to the world of American debt slavery. America has the illusion of great wealth because there’s a lot of “stuff” around, but who really owns it? In real terms, the average American is poorer than the poorest ghetto dweller in Manila, because at least they have no debts. If they want to pack up and leave, they can; if you want to leave, you can’t, because you’ve got debts to pay.

All this begs the question: Why would anyone put up with this? Ask any American, and you’ll get the same answer: “Because America is the freest country on earth.” If you believe this, I’ve got some more bad news for you: America is actually among the least free countries on earth. Your piss is tested, your emails and phone calls are monitored, your medical records are gathered, and you are never more than one stray comment away from writhing on the ground with two Taser prongs in your ass.

And that’s just physical freedom. Mentally, you are truly imprisoned. You don’t even know the degree to which you are tormented by fears of medical bankruptcy, job loss, homelessness, and violent crime because you’ve never lived in a country where there is no need to worry about such things.

But it goes much deeper than mere surveillance and anxiety. The fact is, you are not free because your country has been taken over and occupied by another government. Fully 70% of your tax dollars go to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon is the real government of the United States. You are required under pain of death to pay taxes to this occupying government. If you’re from the less fortunate classes, you are also required to serve and die in their endless wars, or send your sons and daughters to do so. You have no choice in the matter: There is a socio-economic draft system in the United States that provides a steady stream of cannon fodder for the military.

If you call a life of surveillance, anxiety, and ceaseless toil in the service of a government you didn’t elect “freedom,” then you and I have a very different idea of what that word means.

If there was some chance that the country could be changed, there might be reason for hope. But can you honestly look around and conclude that anything is going to change? Where would the change come from? The people? Take a good look at your compatriots: The working class in the United States has been brutally propagandized by jackals like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. Members of the working class have been taught to lick the boots of their masters and then bend over for another kick in the ass. They’ve got these people so well trained that they’ll take up arms against the other half of the working class as soon as their masters give the word.

If the people cannot make a change, how about the media? Not a chance. From Fox News to the New York Times, the mass media in the United States is nothing but the public relations wing of the corporatocracy, primarily the military industrial complex. At least the citizens of the former Soviet Union knew that their news was bullshit. In America, you grow up thinking you’ve got a free media, which makes the propaganda doubly effective. If you don’t think American media is mere corporate propaganda, ask yourself the following question: Have you ever heard a major American news outlet suggest that the country could fund a single-payer health system by cutting military spending?

If change can’t come from the people or the media, the only other potential source of change would be the politicians. Unfortunately, the American political process is among the most corrupt in the world. In every country on earth, one expects politicians to take bribes from the rich. But this generally happens in secret, behind the closed doors of their elite clubs. In the United States, this sort of political corruption is done in broad daylight, as part of legal, accepted, standard operating procedure. In the United States, they merely call these bribes campaign donations, political action committees, and lobbyists. One can no more expect the politicians to change this system than one can expect a man to take an axe and chop his own legs out from underneath him.

No, the United States of America is not going to change for the better. The only change will be for the worse. And when I say worse, I mean much worse. As we speak, the economic system that sustained the country during the post-war years is collapsing. The United States maxed out its “credit card” sometime in 2008, and now its lenders – starting with China – are in the process of laying the foundations for a new monetary system to replace the Anglo-American “petro-dollar” system. As soon as there is a viable alternative to the US dollar, the greenback will sink like a stone.

While the United States was running up crushing levels of debt, it was also busy shipping its manufacturing and white-collar jobs overseas and letting its infrastructure fall to pieces. Meanwhile, Asian and European countries were investing in education, infrastructure, and raw materials. Even if the United States tried to rebuild a real economy (as opposed to a service / financial economy), do you think American workers would ever be able to compete with the workers of China or Europe? Have you ever seen a Japanese or German factory? Have you ever met a Singaporean or Chinese worker?

There are only two possible futures facing the United States, and neither one is pretty. The best case is a slow but orderly decline – essentially a continuation of what’s been happening for the last two decades. Wages will drop, unemployment will rise, Medicare and Social Security benefits will be slashed, the currency will decline in value, and the disparity of wealth will spiral out of control until the United States starts to resemble Mexico or the Philippines – tiny islands of wealth surrounded by great poverty (the country is already halfway there).

Equally likely is a sudden collapse – perhaps brought about by a rapid flight from the US dollar by creditor nations like China, Japan, Korea, and the OPEC nations. A related possibility would be a default by the United States government on its vast debt. One look at the financial balance sheet of the US government should convince you how likely this is: Governmental spending is skyrocketing, and tax receipts are plummeting – something has to give. If either of these scenarios plays out, the resulting depression will make the present recession look like a walk in the park.

Whether the collapse is gradual or gut-wrenchingly sudden, the results will be chaos, civil strife, and fascism. Let’s face it: The United States is like the former Yugoslavia – a collection of mutually antagonistic cultures united in name only. You’ve got your own version of the Taliban: right-wing Christian fundamentalists who actively loathe the idea of secular Constitutional government. You’ve got a vast intellectual underclass that has spent the last few decades soaking up Fox News and talk radio propaganda, eager to blame the collapse on Democrats, gays, and immigrants. You’ve got a ruthless ownership class that will use all the means at its disposal to protect its wealth from the starving masses.

On top of all that, you’ve got vast factory farms, sprawling suburbs, and a truck-based shipping system – all of it entirely dependent on oil that is about to become completely unaffordable. And you’ve got guns. Lots of guns. In short: the United States is about to become a very unwholesome place to be.

Right now, the government is building fences and walls along its northern and southern borders. Right now, the government is working on a national ID system (soon to be fitted with biometric features). Right now, the government is building a surveillance state so extensive that they will be able to follow your every move online, in the streets, and across borders. If you think this is just to protect you from “terrorists,” then you’re sadly mistaken. Once the shit really hits the fan, do you really think you’ll just be able to jump into the old station wagon, drive across the Canadian border, and spend the rest of your days fishing and drinking Molson? No, the government is going to lock the place down. They don’t want their tax base escaping. They don’t want their “recruits” escaping. They don’t want YOU escaping.

I am not writing this to scare you. I write this to you as a friend. If you are able to read and understand what I’ve written here, then you are a member of a small minority in the United States. You are a minority in a country that has no place for you.

So, what should you do?

You should leave the United States of America.

If you’re young, you’ve got plenty of choices. You can teach English in the Middle East, Asia, or Europe. Or you can go to university or graduate school abroad and start building skills that will qualify you for a work visa. If you’ve already got some real work skills, you can apply to emigrate to any number of countries as a skilled immigrant. If you are older and you’ve got some savings, you can retire to a place like Costa Rica or the Philippines. If you can’t qualify for a work, student, or retirement visa, don’t let that stop you – travel on a tourist visa to a country that appeals to you and talk to the expats you meet there. Whatever you do, go speak to an immigration lawyer as soon as you can. Find out exactly how to get on a path that will lead to permanent residence and eventually citizenship in the country of your choice.

You will not be alone. There are millions of Americans just like me living outside the United States. Living lives much more fulfilling, peaceful, free, and abundant than we ever could have attained back home. Some of us happened upon these lives by accident (we tried a year abroad and found that we liked it), while others made a conscious decision to pack up and leave for good. You’ll find us in Canada, all over Europe, in many parts of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in most other countries of the globe. Do we miss our friends and family? Yes. Do we occasionally miss aspects of our former country? Yes. Do we plan on ever living again in the United States? Never. And those of us with permanent residence or citizenship can sponsor family members from back home for long-term visas in our adopted countries.

In closing, I want to remind you of something – unless you are an American Indian or a descendant of slaves, at some point your ancestors chose to leave their homelands in search of a better life. They weren’t traitors and they weren’t bad people, they just wanted a better life for themselves and their families. Isn’t it time that you continue their journey?

This article first appeared on Information Clearing House and has been reproduced with their kind permission.

How I made html look almost like word

So one of my projects was to take an existing program and port it to the SAP Web Portal. Yippee… not… The existing program was written in VB and takes data from some source, don’t know what it was, and plugs it into a set of word templates, and the templates are merged together to make a single Word document. At the time time I did not know anything about Apache POI and looking back at that technology, it really wasn’t that well developed.

So what was the solution that I proposed? Since it is going to be on the SAP Web Portal why not display it in HTML format? I mean it is a web page. All the nodding heads nodded, and all the nay sayers started to plot my destruction. So the data coming from R/3 was a given. So how would I display the data? I had to mimic the merging of documents as before. Average Joe Body Builder’s solution was to have the data returned in a flat XML string, and then XSL would have been used to transform the data to HTML. Java was used to execute the transformation. What about the merging? The XSL’s had to be merged. Since XSL is just a grammar of XML I used another set of XSL to merge the XSL’s together. Lovely. For those of you who would like sample code please place some comments, and I will do so.

Data was retrieved from R/3 using JCA/O, since that data was in XML format the rest of the process was as is described above. I had some utility functions to determine if the connection to R/3 was successful, that was important since the stability of the entire SAP Web Portal was like ummm not there! So I had to actually assume that connection to R/3 would at first fail before it would succeed.

I must say I did learn alot about how management works in this place. Basically it is “you will do what we tell you before we even tell you it!” and if we need something from management it is “we will get back with you at our earliest convenience”. This is during the time that I started to become more health conscious after a period of about 13 years. I would like to thank, we will call him M (M for Moe), for that. More on that later.

So in any case, R/3 to XML transformed to HTML. The HTML used a combination of CSS and javascript to make the result look almost like the origina word document! What do you say?!

work environment

Here is how things happened where I worked. CYA (cover your ass) and don’t expect anyone to ever admit a mistake. They would rather lose a finger than do that. Which eventually explains a lot about the state of affairs in this part of the world.

One of the reasons why I wanted to work in the middle east is because I was told the work environment here is very casual, very laid back and my off hours are my own. This is still essentially true. The only problem is that one can still be jerk in a casual work environment. Since I work in IT being a jerk just compounds everyone’s misery, and since I am in idealist that believes in the Golden Rule, that affects me even more. As a result of my experience here, I don’t believe in the Golden Rule as much as I used to. That is not to say that I have lost my ideals, I am just not as willing to give others the same kind of leeway as I used to unless I see that they are similar to me.

It started out like this. We will call him V (as in Vendetta which he seemed to have). He is one of the most sarcastic and arrogant people I have every met. I never knew someone could be as sarcastic as this V (for Vendetta), but he sure did let me have it. I am not sure what was going on in his head, but he smoked like a chimney, his breath was constantly of cigarettes, his lips were purple, and on top of that he thought he was Mr. Wonderful. He was actually Mr. V (for Vendetta).

He gave me a programming task which I knew was not done efficiently, so after analyzing his problem, I told him that I could reduce the development time from 9 days to 3 days by changing how it is coded. He said great, and he told me to get it done. He then comes back and says that I could get it done in one work day if I work the weekend. So the fool that I was I did it (more about why I accepted later). I spent 36 hours straight writing the code and another 5 hours testing it thoroughly. That would be 41 hours. Overtime was … DENIED…. On top of that I had to come into work on time after the weekend. That was my first taste of dealing with V (for Vendetta) and that lasted for almost 3 years. In another instance he came to my desk demanding an explanation for some code, and he was kicking the ground as he was doing it like one of those bulls in a bull-fight. I had to tell him to leave my desk. In another instance the wonderful V was giving me the wrong formulas for my work! I started cursing him in the boss’s office. Man that felt good! But that was a mistake.

I had another coworker. We will call him F (F for faggot farthead Farsi). This guy was shorter than me, I am only 5’9”, but he had the ego of Napoleon. Every few weeks was a threat from him, he would say things like “You still work here?” or “You’re a contractor, you could go at anytime”, and then I would work like greased lightning. I suppose it did the job for what he wanted, but then finally I had an epiphany. After all the hard work, and working overtime, and extra effort, and acceptance of their threats, and abuse for almost 3 years mind you, they were going to release me. I couldn’t accept that. Nothing in me could accept that. Which is when I realized I was being played for a fool by the various people whom I reported to. Sure others had it worse, but I couldn’t accept the fact that I had played the games by the rules they wanted and I accepted whatever they gave me out of hope that things would get better if I just remained patient. They were going to release me! My mind was racing… ‘Hey F, didn’t I take whatever you could give?! Why did you abuse me all this time?! Hey V what did you want from me?!’

They put my on assignment in a different group, where I saw the opportunity for my own survival. I hurried up and made a fabulous demo showcasing my computer skills, and I made everyone look good, all in record time by working nights and weekends to get this demo. The result was a demo showcasing crude oil data in a report that looked very similar to a word document. After the demo I had made the case to be transferred over to this new group. They did, but I had to stab my soon to be former boss in the back to do it. I hated myself for it, but I hated all of them for what they did to me. This was the first time I have ever back-stabbed anyone, and in my defense, I did it because I wanted to keep my job. Otherwise if I played the nice guy I would have been back to America 4 years earlier.