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Jun-10-2011 03:53TweetFollow @OregonNews
Gurgle, GurgleDaniel Johnson Salem-News.com
Down the drain...
(CALGARY, Alberta) - Sometimes, late at night, when it is very quiet, I can hear a faint gurgling sound. I wondered what it was and finally realized that it comes in my south window. It turns out to be coming from across the 49th parallel only a hundred or so miles away. It’s the ominous and unfortunate sound of The Untied States going down the drain.
The evidence mounts every day when I read the news. Those Americans who say that the country has always weathered crises in the past and come back out on top again, deny the process, much like the late psychologist Stanley Milgram who had had four heart attacks and when he had his fifth, said that he had always survived them—except, not always. The Untied States are going down for the third time. It’s not a pretty sight/site. Here are just a few current observations.
A Failed democracy
Canada’s original sin, in my view, was giving the French legitimate presence after they were defeated in 1759. As a result we have an essentially divided country with two languages, two religions, two legal systems and two educational systems. Personally, I don’t care if the domination had gone instead with the French; at least we could have been a potentially unified nation. It’s possible that if the French had been completely and totally defeated, we could have a worse situation today with a minority agitating through the country instead of just one province claiming to be a separate country and all the divisiveness that has entailed.
But, I digress.
The Untied States has two original sins; the first being slavery and the second its Constitution which not only implicitly endorsed slavery, but has become a magical myth which keeps many Americans psychologically in the 18th century, unable to advance into the 21st century. Slavery still haunts the whole society, still causing untold misery to millions of people; a Constitution, believed to be cast in stone, has distorted and warped American values up to the present. Take Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, who calls himself an originalist. From his viewpoint, any political progress since the adoption of the Constitution is illegitimate, or at least suspect.
Hold that vote
Over the last fifteen years or so, advance voting, either in person or by mail, has become increasingly popular across the country. It accounted for a third of the vote in 2008, mostly by blacks in the South who supported Obama. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia now allow some form of early voting, a throwback from the days when everyone seemed to agree that more voters was better for democracy. Republicans now take the restricted viewpoint that only more Republican voters are good for democracy.
This is the fundamental reason why Republicans are trying to stop or curtail early Democrat voting. In two Southern states lawmakers have already passed laws reducing the advance voting period and other states are considering it. President. Obama won North Carolina, for example, by fewer than 15,000 votes. The state has had early voting since 2000, and in 2008, more ballots were cast before Election Day than on it. Obama won those early votes by a comfortable margin. So it is no surprise that the North Carolina House passed a bill—along party lines—to cut the early voting period by almost half--from two and a half weeks, to a week and a half.
Ohio, a perennial battleground state, is also about to restrict early voting. Under current law, early voting begins 35 days before an election, leaving open a window known as "Golden Week," in which people can register to vote and cast an absentee ballot at a board of elections on the same day. “Golden Week” will disappear. Republicans want to limit early voting by mail to 21 days before the election.
As for in-person absentee voting, doors would open 16 days before an election under the Ohio Senate's plan and 10 days before an election under the House's version. But there would be fewer actual days to vote in person before an election because boards of election would have to shut down at the close of business on the Friday before the election.
But electoral failings don’t stop there. In response to a non-existent problem, some states are introducing onerous laws to prevent alleged voter fraud by requiring state issued picture identification, which tends to reduce participation by blacks and young people. South Carolina recognizes that more than half the black votes were cast before election day, compared to 40% of the whites. In Georgia the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a bill in April that would cut back in-person early voting by more than half—from 45 days to 21 days. Florida has cut its early voting period to eight days, from 14 and also eliminated the Sunday before Election Day as an early-voting day which will eliminate the practice of many African-Americans of voting directly after church.
One person, one vote. Not.
This summer marks forty years that Alberta has had the same right-wing government. This has occurred largely because of the disproportionate rural vote. The same distortion exists in the Untied States except that it is on a national scale.
Two economists, Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff, wondered how much impact Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states had on presidential nominations. At the end of their study, they estimated that one Iowa or New Hampshire voter was equivalent to five Super Tuesday voters.
This is not only unfair to the voters in the other 48 states, but it tends to distort national economic policy. Most obviously, the federal government has heaped extravagant subsidies on ethanol, even though those subsidies drive up food prices and do little, if anything, to solve the climate problem because, in part, candidates pander to the Iowa corn industry. Going beyond ethanol, another study found that early-voting states received more federal dollars after a competitive election—so long as the state supported the winning candidate.
Iowa and New Hampshire further distort the national conversation because they are so unrepresentative. Their populations are growing more slowly than the rest of the country. Residents of Iowa and New Hampshire are more likely to have health insurance, are older than average and are more likely to work in manufacturing.
More importantly, both states lack a single big city, at a time when large metropolitan areas are crucial to expanding economic growth. The country’s 25 largest areas are responsible for 52 percent of the country’s economic output and are home to 42 percent of the population.
Metro areas are struggling with major problems—quality of schools, longer commutes and aging roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems. These, however, are not significant topics of conversation in the first year of a presidential campaign because neither state, or the next two, Nevada and South Carolina do not have a single city that is among the nation’s 25 largest.
Edward Glaeser, a conservative-leaning Harvard economist, calls this an “anti-urban policy bias.” Suburbs and rural areas receive vastly more federal dollars per-person than cities. One big reason, of course, is the structure of the Senate: the 12 million residents of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have eight United States senators among them, while the 81 million residents of California, New York and Texas have only six. The representation for Iowa, etc., is nine times greater than for California!
Dying for principles
Aaron Carroll, writing on the blog, “The Incidental Economist” gives those who are not fact-averse some real debunking of the attacks on Canadian Medicare at The Incidental Economist.
Why don’t Americans have a better system?
In 1946, Harry Truman proposed a system very much like what we have in Canada, today. Americans could have led the world. Medicare was not established in Canada until twenty years later. The prospects for establishing a single payer system in the 1940s initially looked promising. Total spending on health care was only 4.1% of GDP compared with more than 16% today. The insurance industry was also a relatively benign force then and the pharmaceutical industry was decades away from the power it has now. Public opinion was also strongly in favour of a national health insurance plan.
But Truman was defeated by the American Medical Association who, in a blatant abuse of the doctor-patient relationship, had doctors warn their patients about the dangers of socialized medicine. (Doctors here in Canada were also opposed to Medicare, but their view did not prevail.) The AMA spent $5 million (about $200 million in today’s dollars) fighting the President’s plan. They also ostracized doctors who supported the plan, going so far as to try to deny them hospital privileges.
But the AMA didn’t do it all on their own. The southern Democrats were also against it for the basic reason that they would have had to integrate their hospitals. In the land of the free and home of the brave Southern politicians believed that keeping blacks out of hospitals was more important than providing poor whites with access to medical care.
And a reverse-anecdote to help some of you Americans get down off your high horse: You’ve almost certainly heard that the actor Michael Douglas was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer last year. Indications are that he has beat it, but no thanks to America’s superior medical system.
Douglas’s American doctors told him it was just an infection. He visited the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal (that’s in Canada for you Americans who don’t seem to be aware that there are other countries on the planet) for a second opinion, where Dr. Saul Frenkiel correctly diagnosed him with throat cancer. (See the whole story here The Calgary Sun.)
Paying for prison
When a convicted felon is released from prison he has supposedly paid his debt to society. Except, in the Untied States.
We know that states rarely offer former prisoners the help they need to reorient their lives--such as drug treatment, job search help, stable housing or schooling. What’s less widely known is that all over the country, states give newly released prisoners something extra that immediately thwarts their chances of going straight—a bill for hundreds or thousands of dollars in court costs that they must pay or risk going back to prison.
In Massachusetts, the average offender sentenced for a crime owes around $1,000 by the time he completes probation. Some of these are court costs, but probation adds to the bill, as the offender has to pay $50 or $65 a month to cover the costs of being supervised. (I thought that the debtor’s prisons, like those of 19th century England, were long gone.)
Every state hands prisoners its own version of an invoice. States have become heavily dependent on these fees: prison and jail fees, postage fees, judgment fees, police drug fees, DNA detection fees, prison construction fees, fees for the cost of collecting the debt. Some states have dozens of different fees.
The end result, says Bobby Constantino a former prosecutor in Boston in alluding to the revolving door of the criminal justice system: “It pushes folks towards illicit sources of income. I would watch them come out the other side more in debt, less employable. It seemed like the system was taking a bad problem and making it worse.”
Only in America
The Untied States belief in a winner-take-all, every-man-for-himself economic philosophy is an incredibly destructive, anti-human, pathological philosophy. Political scientist Frances Fox Piven in chronicling the welfare/relief system in her groundbreaking book Regulating the Poor said that “during 1968 in New York City approximately 150,000 families were eligible for wage subsidies (according to the welfare departments own estimates), but only about 15,000 families were claiming them”.
This is the American way—reject help, even if it kills you. The pension fund of Prichard, Alabama ran out of money in 2009. Then city council did something unprecedented—it stopped sending cheques out to its 150 or so municipal retirees. Since then
The most egregiously shameful event of all was that of the retired Fire Marshall who died last year. He was too young to collect social security. Said David Anders, 58, a retired district fire chief:
"When they found him, he had no electricity and no running water in his house. He was a proud enough man that he wouldn’t accept help."
In a civilized society, a man like that would be declared mentally incompetent.
What are guns for?
The Untied States has more privately held firearms than any other nation in the world. I’ve often wondered what the point is of owning so many guns if they don’t do any good. Here’s a suggestion that fits right in with the American ethos.
Millions of people are unemployed through no fault of their own (although many have the twisted belief that it somehow is their own fault.) There are currently 4.6 applicants for every job opening. Instead of going through onerous and irrelevant recruiting and interviewing procedures, I wonder if it wouldn’t be more efficient and cost effective for each job opening going to the last man standing. Think about it. It’s the natural direction in which American society is heading to the other side of the drain.
Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place
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