Beltway Briefing: Top stories from the US today

What do Mick Jagger and US voters have in common? | Are tax increases the answer? | Bachmann's boom

What do Mick Jagger and 84 per cent of Americans have in common? An absence of satisfaction. According to the latest Gallup poll, only 16 per cent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going in the US. This is a huge drop from the heady days of Summer 2009, as the Obama administration found its feet and a whopping 36 per cent of Americans were happy with the way the US was going. Those days, however, seem a long time ago, while the 2012 Election is getting ever closer.

The US is in trouble financially. Many have been quick to blame the deficit on bailouts, wars and general government profligacy. The main cause, however, is something more simple: falling tax receipts. As Ezra Klein points out:

Revenues right now are less than 15 percent of GDP -- a 50-year low, and well below the 19+% that historically accompanies balanced budgets.

The good news is that US citizens are "open" to tax increases. The bad news (from the Democratic point of view) is that most voters would prefer to see spending cuts first, according to the below Gallup poll. 32 per cent want to see a mixture of spending cuts and tax rises; 30 per cent want mostly spending cuts to solve the deficit, and 20 per cent want spending cuts alone.

Gallup

Bachmann's support may be slightly soft according to a Beltway Briefing earlier this week, but it is still on the up-swing, according to a new poll in the Des Moines Register. Politico spotted it:

Among likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers, the poll found Bachmann had 32 percent support, holding a statistically insignificant lead over Romney at 29 percent.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had 7 percent; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum had 6 percent; U.S. Rep. Ron Paul had 3 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 2 percent; retired Georgia businessman Herman Cain had 1 percent, while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had zero percent, the same as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

The big mo is currently all Bachmann's.

The campaign group Right Wing Watch have created a video splicing clips of potential presidential candidate, the Texan Governor Rick Perry speaking to the nation in amongst various homophobic, anti-abortion, right-wing clips from Confederate groups he has ties with.

Perry's broadcast asks his viewers to join their fellow Americans at a prayer rally because "things spiritual in nature" are needed more than ever in a world where people are "adrift in a sea of moral relativism". News comes today that Perry is being sued by a group of atheists and agnostics for what they view as a violation of the constitutional principle separating church and state.

Andy Mitchell/Wikimedia
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In the Outback, the waiters come from East Grimsby

One of the many great things about Australia is a genuine, if slightly abrasive egalitarianism.

The atmosphere in the Red Ochre Grill is distinctly chilly – not exactly what you would expect in the middle of a desert. There was an early-bird discount of 20 per cent for guests of the attached hotel, if you booked before 6pm for a table before 7pm; but we screwed up by 15 minutes and the maître d’ was emphatic: we’d have to pay full whack. Now I’ve been sitting over the remains of my kangaroo and macadamia salad for a full half-hour, waiting to pay the inflated bill, and my temperature has been plummeting the while. There’s nothing more real than this sort of tourist gouging – and Alice Springs is a tourist town, among other things. A tourist town serviced by tourists: mostly backpackers, most of whom in turn are from Britain.

Last night in Casa Nostra, a Calabrian restaurant sited on the parched banks of the Todd River (it flows about once in an average lifetime), we were served by a nice young man from Aberdeen, and the many miles between the Grey City and the Red Centre were eliminated by his opening remark: “I read something you wrote recently about Scots independence. I myself am not in favour.” Then this morning, at a café in the mall, he popped up again – working a second job, this time with his Edinburghian girlfriend, so they can gather a sufficient sum to keep on truckin’.

All down the Stuart Highway (known colloquially as “The Track”) from Darwin, we’ve been waited on by young folk from East Grinstead and Letterkenny, Dewsbury and Great Malvern. They come on working visas, not available to the nationals of countries which aren’t either historic (Britain) or contemporary (United States) overlords of Australia, and work these jobs out in the back of Bourke, where young Australians are loath to go. To the backpackers the Outback is a mythic realm suffused with wonder, presided over by an ancient people steeped in sorcery who are also wizard at graphic arts – but to most young Australians it’s too much of nothing, while their largely deracinated and welfare-dependent Aboriginal fellow citizens are a source of perplexity, shame and ignorance.

All this is running through my mind as I ask the waitress where she’s from. “Israel,” she replies. “Ah,” I say, “I didn’t know you could get a working visa for Australia on an Israeli passport.” “You can’t,” she says, “but my parents are American and I also have a US passport.” Of course it’s not this young woman’s fault in any way, but there is still something slightly nauseating about this: the Americans have a spy base outside Alice, called Pine Gap. So it is that geostrategic “considerations” and neoliberal “economics” vibrate through the rudaceous rocks of the MacDonnell Ranges as our elders sing up a nightmarish dreamtime.

“Ah, well,” I say, “you must be used to desert country, then.” “Ye-es,” the Israeli waitress bridles a little, “but Israel isn’t as desert as here.”

One of the many great things about Australia – where I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the years, my first sojourn being on a working visa exactly like the waitress’s – is a genuine, if slightly abrasive egalitarianism: the original Digger mentality of mateship suffuses even the 21st-century globalised food industry, such that tipping is frowned on as shameless evidence of a de haut en bas attitude. These young folk are being paid adequately by the establishment, but that’s the problem: they have no incentive to get the tucker to the table quickly, and they aren’t trained. Thus my long wait for the undiscounted bill has become tangled up in my mind with all the world’s woes, and I snap back: “I’ll thank you not to lecture me on geography, young lady. Your state has been snaffling up deserts throughout my lifetime, beginning with the Sinai. Granted, its most recent acquisitions have been relatively piecemeal ones on the West Bank of the Jordan, and only semi-arid, but still . . .”

Later on, my eldest takes me to task for this solecism, bringing the misfortunes of the Middle East into the heart of the great southern continent, but I am unrepentant. True, the parallels aren’t exact, but both Israel/Palestine and Australia are polities that have pursued the old colonialist agenda under modern dispensations; both are states in which there’s a grotesque disparity between the conditions in which the indigenous people survive and those that the expropriating incomers enjoy. The Red Ochre Grill, with its pseudo-gourmet dishes confected out of “native” ingredients (emu, kangaroo and camel meat mostly), is a perfect instance of this phenomenon, a sort of gustatory colonialism, if you will.

Outback of the restaurant, in the sandy slough of the Todd River’s bed, the “Long Grass people” – Aboriginals bushed by the grog – stand in for benighted Palestinians. The rates of alcoholism among them are eclipsed only by those of diabetes. An old Australian friend in Darwin put it to me thus: “As you drive south to the Alice you’re travelling along a broad highway of renal failure.”

True, from time out of mind all sorts of holidays have been taken in other people’s misery. Yet there is something particularly queasy about whites working away in the well-appointed restaurant while, out in the darkness, welfare-dependent blacks are killing themselves with Coca-Cola.

Next week: On Location

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism