x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

America's season of mixed blessings

In a trying economy and sobering statistics about its national health, Americans can still find reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving.

It's Thanksgiving weekend in the United States, Thursday being a day given over to remembering the myth of pilgrims sharing a rather late harvest meal with Indians in Plymouth Colony and to recreating that meal with fattened-up Butterballs, boxed spuds and cardboard stuffing and cranberry sauce out of a can; and then Friday being given over, if anyone can get up off the couch, to the single-largest shopping day on the US calendar.

At some point during the meal someone will have said a prayer of thanks for all the good things the family's been blessed with in the previous year. Many Americans must have wondered this year what it is they had to be thankful for.

The unemployment rate is about nine per cent; there were 407,000 new claims for jobless benefits last month and although that is a drop from previous months - to the lowest number in two years - there still are 4.28 million US residents receiving jobless benefits.

Forty-eight soldiers died in Afghanistan this month and although that is the lowest number of casualties since April, more US soldiers have died in the country this year since the invasion in 2001. In fact, more people died so far this year - 659 - than in the first six years combined - 522.

There's news the US Department of Homeland Security will be dropping its five-colour coded security alerts, but that's cold comfort to air travellers into and within the United States, who are subjected to invasive screening and pat-downs before boarding planes.

Before sitting down to their meals, some Americans might have considered how much of the bounty they were to receive from their grocery stores they really want to partake in: more than one-third of US adults are obese, a percentage that has doubled since 1980. The number of obese children tripled to 17 per cent in the same period. This is worrisome to US military commanders who have had to reject thousands of overweight recruits. It worries government, too, and it should worry the captains of industry: obesity is costly.

The list of worries is longer, wider and deeper than Barack Obama's inbox. Still, it is Thanksgiving and, yes, there is much to be thankful for.

We have Sarah Palin, who, given recent gaffes, is turning into Comedy Central. Speaking with Glenn Beck on Fox News on Wednesday about the altercation between North and South Korea this week, she said: "Obviously, we've got to stand with our North Korean allies. We're bound to by treaty."

When Beck corrected her, she continued: "And we're also bound by prudence to stand with our South Korean allies, yes."

The former governor of Alaska, former Republican candidate for vice president and the subject of talk about a possible presidential run in two years, the woman who said she could see "Russia from my house", should look out a window with a more southern vista and see if she can glimpse the DMZ on the Korean peninsula.

We have all-American consumerism. Republicans, Democrats, not-interesteds, cheque-gatherers and unemployeds started queuing at shop fronts at midnight Friday (so, some did get off the couch) to find deals and kick start the economy.

And we have Michelle Obama, who despite being lambasted by Mrs Palin for government "intrusion" in the lives of God-fearing Americans, soldiers on with the "Let's Move" anti-childhood obesity plan. It encourages more infant breastfeeding and keeping kids away from digital media where they're not getting any exercise beyond repetitive wrist and finger movement.

Two US residents who are super thankful this year are Apple and Cider, the two turkeys that Mr Obama "pardoned" on Wednesday. The birds - and what birds: Apple weighed in at 22 kilos! - will retire to Mount Vernon, George Washington's home in Virginia.