All the Uzis you can shoot!

OK, America, you’ve done it again.

Considering that you’re the country of my birth, where I lived until my mid-twenties, it shouldn’t be this easy to shock me.

The latest tragedy is today’s headline story of a 9-year old girl killing her gun instructor with, and this is the first shocker, a fully-automatic, live-round Uzi. You know, the Israeli submachine gun that’s designed to shoot Palestinians, not Americans.

When I read about this sort of thing, it reminds me just how far I’ve drifted from the “values” of my homeland. To be fair, I never much wanted to shot (at) things when I was a teenager. I’m sure that this lack of blood lust contributed to my eventual decision to tell Richard Nixon what he could do with his “Greetings from the President of the United States” letter, and a little while later my exodus from the land of the free-at-any-cost.

There are several more levels of shock and dismay in this story.

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It’s hard to wring out the truth

“Flight MH17 went down over territory controlled by self-defense forces of the autonomous regions …”


“There are now thousands of mosques throughout Europe. With larger congregations than there are in churches. And in every European city there are plans to build super-mosques that will dwarf every church in the region. Clearly, the signal is: we rule.”

The first passage above refers to the crisis in the Ukraine. The second comes from a speech urging support for Israel in the Gaza conflict.

They are very different in content, but they share at least two characteristics. First, both passages come from material sent to me by e-mail. Second, and much more important, both are carefully crafted to reflect the political biases of their creators.

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Rolling Dunderheads

This is a belated Fourth of July musing. I don’t live there any more, but it’s hard not to look back at an accident that you were lucky enough to pass safely by on the interstate.

I didn’t write a July 1st article, even though I’m a long-time Canadian citizen and feel very lucky to live here. It’s just that most Canada Day celebrations have become too much like what I left–marching bands, swaying flags, troops with big guns and uniforms. Enough nationalism and glorification of the military already, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but that has never stopped me before, so why should it now?

Some of my Canadian friends and acquaintances look a little bit askance (politely askance, of course; after all, they’re Canadians) when I tell them that I don’t celebrate Canada Day because it’s too much like the Fourth. They are keenly aware of all of the differences between our three cultures (Canada has at least two), so they can’t see the creeping similarities. (Thanks for that, Mr. Prime Minister!)

But I digress. Here’s the point that sparked this little diatribe:  How much harm is being done to the public weal by the current venom of American politics?
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Longer prison sentences for African-Americans have the characteristics of an epidemic

Sometimes the best way to grasp the real nature of a problem is to look at it from an unconventional angle. It appears that the U.S.’s incarceration rate imbalance — many more African-American than white inmates per capita — may be one of these issues.

Many reasons have been given for the “race gap” in American prisons, some of them quite extreme. On the right, there are whites who cling to the long-discredited notion that blacks are somehow categorically inferior in one or more crucial ways, from dedication to family values to intelligence. On the left, some activists and commentators have called the U.S. prison system a new kind of slavery, through which an entire cohort of the population is controlled and disenfranchised.

I have to say that, while I have no patience at all with the first analysis, I have some sympathy for the second. There’s too much history behind the “new slavery” interpretation to dismiss it entirely out of hand.

One well-known claim is that blacks are given longer sentences than whites for similar offenses. In this view, jail is much more likely for a young black crack smoker than for a middle-aged white cocaine snorter. Same drug, different sentences.

That’s the claim, but how accurate is it? And if it’s true, are there measureable effects of the different treatments blacks and white receive in the courts?
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Big Data, or Big Brother?

I don’t know what you think of the recent revelations about the extreme-seeming scope of the U. S. anti-terror people’s telephone data collection. I’m of two minds, which is an uncomfortable position at the best of times.

It seems that “impending real attacks” have been thwarted by the surveillance. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? But do we really need to let the government into every detail of our lives? I say “our” even though I’m in Canada, for I have no illusions that Stephen Harper has ever hesitated to share and share alike with the Americans. He’s a natural control freak in the first place, and a sycophantic neighbour into the bargain.

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Falling off the cliff on purpose is dangerous for both Republicans and Democrats

Here I am in California, for another few hours anyway. I’m reading the newspapers, watching the news on TV, and listening and talking to real people. Everyone is paying attention to the Fiscal Cliff dramatics, but with less intensity than you might expect, given the hype about how dire the consequences will be if no deal is struck before midnight rings in 2013 in a couple of days. It seems that no one is really engaged; no one is really expecting much.

One thing that I’m noticing is the nearly universal pessimism, not to mention cynicism, that people down here express whenever the subject turns to the dysfunctional U. S. federal government. No one expects a comprehensive deal, and few hold any hope that the likely deal, to extend the middle class tax cuts and the extra unemployment benefits, will do anything more than yet again defer any comprehensive agreement.

And no one here is expressing faith in the legislators, who will, as they always do, calculate their fiscal principles in the currency of their chances for re-election. Continue reading

The one and only election analysis

One of the benefits of my three-month hiatus from this blog is that I avoided all temptation to write compulsively about the American presidential election.

But now that I’m back, I really do have to post one — and only one — analysis of the result, and its implications.

To start, and this is directed to all of my left-leaning confreres and relatives south of the border, Barack Obama did not win anything that could honestly be called a “mandate.” Not a mandate for change, not a mandate for staying the course, and certainly not a personal mandate.

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The one percent’s solution

A growing chorus of economists has lately been trumpeting the undeniable truth that, badly expressed, got President Obama into trouble with the right-wing media last week.

What Obama said was that no one builds a successful business alone. There’s a necessary infrastructure of roads and bridges and schools and hospitals, of banking and trade and tax regulations, and much more.

While Obama’s “No, you didn’t” was willfully transferred from building the roads and bridges that he was talking about into a cynically inaccurate claim that the President doesn’t give any credit to individual initiative, at least some of the media spent a little of their time discussing what he’d actually meant.

I’ve dealt in this space with both The Self-Made Myth (reviewed and Robert Reich’s Aftershock.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz appeared recently on The Daily Show, promoting his latest book, The Price of Inequality. Stiglitz outlined the main ideas of the book in “The 1 Percent’s Problem,” published by Vanity Fair in May.

Stiglitz’s article caused quite a stir for arguing that it’s in the selfish interest of the super-rich to make sure that the not-rich get a bigger piece of the pie.
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Sure it’s a tragedy, but in America freedom = guns

Part of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s initial reaction to the Aurora theatre massacre was to assure citizens that the act of a “deranged” individual would not be allowed to take away Americans’ freedom to lock and load with private arsenals of assault weapons.

Boy, am I relieved. For a moment there, I thought that yet another slaughter of the innocents might threaten Bubba’s right to own enough weaponry to wage a small civil war.

No one is talking at the moment about the squirrel gun in the barn, or even the .38 Special in the nightstand. Maybe some places have too many squirrels, and maybe some neighbourhoods have too many thugs.

But when Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin responded to the immediate calls for a little gun control by suggesting that a well-armed “responsible citizen” in the movie theatre might have prevented some of the carnage by cutting loose with his own weapon(s), you really had to wonder just what planet these people inhabit.
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It’s all the fault of the leftist elite!

What’s wrong with society?

According to some on the intellectual right, it’s everyone on the intellectual left.

According to Russell Jacoby, that claim is yet another sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary conservative thought.

In “Dreaming of a World without Intellectuals,” published on July 12th by The Chronicle Review as a response to David Gelernter’s America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats), Jacoby takes on the idea that America was just fine, thank you, until the 60’s, when campus radicals began the deadly revolution that continues to poison society.

I have no intention of reading Gelernter’s book — the title gives away its core biases without the bother of reading the rest of it. But I’ll gladly take any chance I can get to share vicariously in Jacoby’s evisceration of yet another right-wing champion.
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