Tag Archives: USA

What Do We Do?

11 Jun

Some lunatic shot up a school in Oregon Tuesday. It was only the 74th school shooting since Sandy Hook

Two right-wing eliminationist Infowars listeners shot two cops in Nevada.  The cops were oppressing everyone by eating lunch, and the Alex Jones acolytes covered their bodies with Gadsen flags, screaming about the revolution. 

Some rancher out in Nevada won’t pay his bill to the government for the privilege of having his cattle graze on land held in the public trust. A bunch of Alex Jones types weren’t going to let the federal government essentially stop this man from being a deadbeat. 

A company is going to sell bullet proof blankets for kids to use during school shootings. Because ours is totally not a third world country and this is totally not a banana republic in which we live.  

All the freaks who scream about how the “other” (fill in your own blank for that one) are dragging real America down don’t realize that they have it backwards. It’s not illegal immigrants or Obamacare or black welfare queens or gays or N0bummer himself who are turning this country into a third world backwater.

Instead, I’d argue that our creeping third world status is brought about by the people who believe lawless wild west gunslingin’ justice should act as a template for contemporary society. It’s the notion that a “good guy with a gun” – and they sure as shit don’t mean a cop – is the only thing that stands between you and a “bad guy with a gun”. The cops in Nevada – they were armed. A shooter in Washington State – he was subdued with pepper spray. While he was reloading (remember how the NY SAFE Act limits magazine capacity?) 

But the best we can do is to throw a kevlar blanket to a kid and say, “play dead?” 

Let’s just cut through the bullshit. An armed society isn’t a polite society; an armed society is a dysfunctional, failed state.

Oh, but SWITZERLAND!!1 Right? 

Right. Switzerland

Let’s pretend for a moment that a comparison with Switzerland is apples to apples. Let’s make-believe that the libertarians don’t really mean Somalia when they’re describing their dream governmental structure. 

I’ve spent a lot of time in Switzerland. I have family who lives there. Switzerland is an officially quadrilingual confederation with better schools, better social services, better foreign policy ideas, better medical care, better access to medical care, and excels at just about anything it touches. Switzerland is a wealthy and law-abiding first world functional state. Less than 8% of Swiss live below the poverty line – in the US it’s 15%. Unemployment in this country with a private health insurance mandate is 2.9% – in the US it’s 6%. The Swiss have this whole “functioning society” thing down pat. They do share our mistrust of foreigners and immigrants, however. 

The Swiss are armed, because they have what we call a well-regulated militia. And the Swiss know from regulation. 

And they own their extremely well-regulated guns to protect their country – not to overthrow their Cantonal or federal governments because some asshole on the radio decided there’s tyranny afoot. 

If Sandy Hook didn’t convince you that we have a serious problem, or if the almost weekly spate of mass shootings didn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.  Instead, we have a bunch of guys carrying semiautomatic rifles into Target and Starbucks, because arglebargle. 

Maybe the $100 billion annual cost to taxpayers from gun violence will convince you, if nothing else. 

Will stricter gun laws make a difference? I don’t know. 50-state uniformity would be nice. Expanded background checks would be swell. 

What about expansion of mental health services – that’s the one the gun people like to highlight.  Ok, folks. I’ll go for that. But you realize you have to pay for it. You have to set it up right, run it properly, and fund it adequately. Given the ease with which Obamacare was passed and implemented, please don’t insult my intelligence by pointing to “mental health treatment” as the answer because you know and I know that you don’t want to pay for it. 

How about legislation that allows, say, the families of the slain Las Vegas cops to sue Alex Jones and his corporate empire into bankruptcy? Oh, I’d love to see guys who yell “fire!” in the most crowded of lunatic theaters every single day have to pay for the natural results of their incitement. 

What do we do? 

I don’t know. 

But what I do know is – whatever we’re doing isn’t working. 

Health Care as a Civil Right

17 Apr

I left this as a comment on Facebook in an ongoing debate over whether Regal Cinemas is going to cut hours to avoid having to offer health insurance to its employees. I am of the mind that Regal and other companies should happily treat their employees like human beings and offer basic benefits such as health insurance. It’s not like ticket prices aren’t already quite high. But to the point, I’d happily pay another buck if I knew that the concession workers and people who cleaned up the theater were properly taken care of. 

Every single western pluralist capitalist democracy has long ago resolved the issue that we don’t allow anyone – rich, poor, or middle-class – to go without access to medical care. Some have mandatory insurance (Switzerland), other have single-payer plans (UK, France, Canada), but all have some system in place to make sure that there is universal health care coverage.  

Except, of course, the United States, which is not only inexplicably proud in some cases of 40+ million uninsured people whose only access to healthcare is an ER, where the federal, state, and local governments already pay billions to reimburse uncollected bills.

How or why in 2013 we can’t get it together to make sure middle class people aren’t stuck with medical bankruptcies, unpaid/unpayable bills, or other lack of access to needed medical care is beyond me. Yet when confronted with this very real fact, the people who purport to be on the side of “liberty” can do little more except glibly to compare, e.g., chemotherapy treatment to a Twinkie, or emergency surgery to owning a TV.

In what we bill as the best and richest country in the world, absolutely you should have a right to food, shelter, and medical care. But if you start telling the middle class that if they get cancer and are uninsured that they can go screw themselves if they can’t afford the treatment, or go into bankruptcy or massive debt, then what sort of system do we have?

Opponents of single-payer point to the Canadian system’s supposed waiting times. Setting aside that, among Canadians, their medical insurance scheme enjoys something close to 90% approval, which is worse, waiting a week or traveling 100 miles for an MRI, or being unable to afford or obtain one at all. 

Afghanistan as Choice

2 Dec

Afghanistan has been at the center of larger geopolitical struggles essentially since before its creation as a distinct nation-state.  It has been essentially ungoverned and ungovernable since a coup in 1973 deposed King, and the political situation led to the Soviet invasion in 1979.  The United States gave aid and support to the mujaheddin fighting the Soviets, and al Qaeda arose directly out of that mujaheddin movement. When the Soviets left, they turned their ire to the United States; the great satan which supports Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians, and maintains bases in Saudi Arabia.

When the United States attacked the Taliban in 2001 in the wake of 9/11 for providing safe haven to al Qaeda, they were defeated within a matter of weeks, and al Qaeda’s leadership fled, mostly into Pakistan’s border areas. Qaeda leadership has, for the most part, been captured with some very high profile exceptions, and its operations have been decimated as compared with early 2001.

By all accounts, the defeat of the Taliban and cessation of Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan represented a military victory, and the establishment of the Karzai government in 2004 represented a political victory.  Unfortunately, Karzai turned out to be too corrupt for his own good, and the Taliban returned and has helped to keep Afghanistan ungovernable, dangerous, and unstable over the past few years.

Brian writes that Obama’s middling way on Afghanistan is not leadership.  There is some validity to that argument, because foreign military decisions should not know domestic political considerations.  Obama has been too happy to find compromise where none was needed nor sought.  If it hasn’t become crystal clear to him yet that he could all but adopt every word and deed of Saint Ronald of Reagan, and his political opponents would continue to call him a socialist Kenyan sleeper agent usurper, then I don’t know what his problem is.  The efforts to find bipartisan support need to end.  Obama needs to be Obama, and he needs to start telling Republicans to get on board or get the hell out of his way.

He is right, however, that Afghanistan needs to get the message that our military support – and the blood of our servicepeople – is not limitless.  After all, let’s be clear, our quarrel is not with the Taliban, per se.  If we want to go after every oppressive, misogynist dictatorship or theocracy, then we’ll be quite busy indeed, forever.  Our fight is against al Qaeda, and any other entity that would do harm to the United States and its people, property, and interests at home and abroad.  Right now the only safe haven they arguably have is in Pakistan.  But we can’t invade Pakistan for a variety of reasons.

If we go into this with the understanding that we’re not going to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland, then we’ve turned a corner.  There’s no reason for American troops to spend another day in that medieval failed state.  I don’t blame Obama for doing what he thinks will help get us out without leaving a complete military disaster, but I think there’s no way for Afghanistan to not be a disaster.  Afghani peace, unity, and progress must come from the Afghani people, not from an occupying power. Politicians in Washington are loath to spend money to improve our own infrastructure.  How can we expect them to spend on Afghanistan’s?  And why should we?

America has spent far too much money and shed far too much blood in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years.  Iraq was a needless and pointless war of choice.  Its stated goal of halting Hussein’s WMD production turned out to be a hoax, and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power has done nothing to promote the neoconservative dream of stability and peace for the Middle East in general and Israel in particular.  The war in Afghanistan has morphed from a war of necessity into yet another war of choice, and the time has come to tackle with that fact.  There is no victory to be achieved there, beyond what we’ve already accomplished.

Our war of necessity is against al Qaeda and its progeny.  Let’s call it what it is, and redouble our efforts to destroy it.  Victory at this point?  Capture Osama bin Laden and parade him in shackles through the streets of New York.  Victory won’t be how many square feet of dust we control in Afghanistan or how many drones can rain hell over Waziri villages.  It won’t be which warlord is running which province.  It will be, at this point, largely symbolic.

And if the US manages to capture bin Laden under an Obama administration, I have no doubt that his detractors would find fundamental constitutional and Biblical fault with it.

America at a Crossroads

30 Jun

Friedman in the Times yesterday:

My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

I continue to be appalled at the gap between what is clearly going to be the next great global industry — renewable energy and clean power — and the inability of Congress and the administration to put in place the bold policies we need to ensure that America leads that industry.

“America and its political leaders, after two decades of failing to come together to solve big problems, seem to have lost faith in their ability to do so,” Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib noted last week. “A political system that expects failure doesn’t try very hard to produce anything else.”

We used to try harder and do better. After Sputnik, we came together as a nation and responded with a technology, infrastructure and education surge, notes Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International. After the 1973 oil crisis, we came together and made dramatic improvements in energy efficiency. After Social Security became imperiled in the early 1980s, we came together and fixed it for that moment. “But today,” added Hormats, “the political system seems incapable of producing a critical mass to support any kind of serious long-term reform.”

If the old saying — that “as General Motors goes, so goes America” — is true, then folks, we’re in a lot of trouble. General Motors’s stock-market value now stands at just $6.47 billion, compared with Toyota’s $162.6 billion. On top of it, G.M. shares sank to a 34-year low last week.

That’s us. We’re at a 34-year low. And digging out of this hole is what the next election has to be about and is going to be about — even if it is interrupted by a terrorist attack or an outbreak of war or peace in Iraq. We need nation-building at home, and we cannot wait another year to get started. Vote for the candidate who you think will do that best. Nothing else matters.

There are so many reasons and causes for this inevitable chicken roost homecoming that I can’t even begin to hurl epithets at them. But I’m willing to overlook them for now just to have some people in congress take some bold steps that will help us in the future. Fewer international misadventures and more time and money being spent on transitioning our economy would be a swell idea.

Niagara Falls

31 Mar

Saturday. The weather was a bit chilly, but not ridiculous. It was sunny, for a change. There were loads of people on the Canadian side sightseeing, shopping, and otherwise enjoying themselves.

After crossing the border, I noticed that Frank Parlato’s flash cube was dead.

But the fact that there were no cars parked in his makeshift parking lot one block from the Niagara Falls State Park made the Rainbow Mall all that much more visible.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the second building in from the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, New York. Welcome, friends.

Recall that, pursuant to its contract with the city, Cordish is supposed to maintain this mall as a “first class” facilities. At this point, it’s not first class. It is, instead, akin to being on an empty plane that’s been stripped of its seats, carpeting, upholstery, and amenities. And smeared with feces.