Monday, May 15, 2017

America Is Ruled By Those with a Cold, Cruel Heart

The purpose of government is not merely to afford pleasure to those who govern, but to make life tolerable for those who are governed.       Bertrand Russell

Growing up an hour's drive from the Canadian- American border, I have always been somewhat in awe of what Americans can do when they put their minds to it.  Indeed, the "can do" spirit is something quintessentially American. It is woven into the fabric of the American dream, for better or worse, but is something to behold and to wonder.

After all, Americans invented the nuclear bomb, which, as odd as it may seem, put an end to the scale of  carnage and horror thar occurs when nations engage in total warfare as was the case in the World Wars. As it turned out, the mere thought of mutually assured destruction has to this day prevented the major military powers from taking each other on.

Years later, when I was a boy, I watched in real time on a black and white television in the comfort of my living room as the first man, an American, set his foot on the moon.  It still boggles my mind that not only were they able to put a man on the moon, but that we could witness this truly historic event unfold nearly a quarter million miles away -- live

Presently, you are reading this text thanks to the communicative power arising from yet another American invention, the Internet, which has given birth to the World Wide Web and all the applications we can download to do things that our forefathers never had dreamed of with a simple tap on a screen.

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Yet, with all this imagination, with all this know how, the richest and most powerful nation the world has ever seen is unable to provide for and take care of all its citizens.  In fact, as reported in The Atlantic:

For the first time since the 1990s, Americans are dying at a faster rate, and they’re dying younger. A pair of new studies suggest Americans are sicker than people in other rich countries, and in some states, progress on stemming the tide of basic diseases like diabetes has stalled or even reversed. The studies suggest so-called “despair deaths”—alcoholism, drugs, and suicide—are a big part of the problem, but so is obesity, poverty, and social isolation.
It's as if those who govern have turned their backs on those who are governed.  When it comes to health outcomes in the United States, there is a steep social gradient.  In short, the richer you are the longer you live and with a better quality of live.  Conversely, the poorer you are, chances are that your life will be shorter and be plagued by a number of ailments brought on by lifestyle choices that are difficult to escape.

Importantly, it doesn't need to be this way.  It is not as if God has ordained this state of affairs.  Unfortunately, many Americans, in particular within the ruling class, behave in concordance with the belief that wealth, as well as skin color, is a sign of divine favor, while poverty and sickness are the sign of moral decrepitude and skin color is a sign of moral and spiritual degeneration.  In other words, in America God's chosen few are rich and white, like the founders of the nation.

This twisted cultural meme, a weird mutation of the Calvinist doctrine of election, has been embraced by America's ruling elite throughout the nation's history.  This point was brought to my attention during my last trip to New York City, where upon visiting the National Archives, aptly located in the financial district, I learned that Broadway, the longest and most famous street in the Big Apple, was originally built by African slaves on what was left of a trail forged by the Indigenous peoples living on Manhattan.  In fact, since its inception as an English colony, the creation and accumulation of wealth in America has involved and often depended upon the exploitation of an underclass, which in this case involved the exploitation of those who were thought to be subhuman.

Today, things have changed, but nowhere near what we could expect from a civilized nation in the twenty-first century.  For instance, in almost all of the developed countries in the world, adequate health care provided to the entire citizenry is thought of a basic human right.  After all, no one knows what the fates have in store and misfortune may fall upon any of us.  As a result, in developed nations basic health care is made available to everyone.

Not so in the United States of America.  In the US, where health care is delivered for the most part by the private sector motivated by the desire for profit, the guiding principle informing the system is "pay for the service, or die"!  How Christian!

It's not difficult to see why.  Extending adequate health care to people of limited means requires the financial participation of the wealthy.  Indeed, the inclusion of millions who were previously uninsured into the Affordable Care Act (ushered in by President Obama), so that they could enjoy the benefits of being eligible to receive health care beyond their individual capacity to pay was predicated on a surtax levied upon the wealthy, those with incomes of more than $200,000 per annum.  Now that the republicans control Congress, the Office of the President, and the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act has been repealed and replaced by the aptly named, the American Health Care Act, which eliminates all the taxes in the previous act that were included to pay for the subsidies that help people buy insurance, estimated to add up to $592 billion.  Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that over 10 years, 24 million fewer Americans would be covered under the present bill who otherwise have had insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

So, what is the future for these 24 million Americans, who most probably will find themselves without health insurance?  Obviously, those who rule America don't give a shit about them: "let them fend for themselves and may God have mercy upon their sorry-ass souls."

What a missed opportunity to bring America within the fold of civilized nations.  Instead, the core values of Social Darwinism have once again been unleashed.  The exploits of the exceptional will be applauded and the plight of the downtrodden will be ignored.

America, a great place to visit, but thank God I don't live there.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Canada at 150: Stll an English Settler State

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

(the more things change, the more the stay the same)

That's pretty much how I feel about living in Canada in the second decade of the twenty-first century.  Yes, this country has seen a lot of changes, from the building of the trans-national railway to the creation of the information superhighway.  Yet, when it comes to our political economy and our system of governance, we are still what we were 150 years ago, an English settler state.

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Looking back at the Europe's imperial conquest of the rest of the world, Britain did something different as compared to the Spanish and Portuguese when it decided to people on a vast scale some of its colonies with successive waves of English settlers and thereby established control of large territories occupied by indigenous peoples: the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  In fact, with the exception of the United States, which fought the British to win its independence and to become a republic, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are still part of the Commonwealth, a vestige of the former British Empire, and still have a hereditary monarch, Queen Elizabeth, as their head of state.

What amazes me is how resilient this form of governance has turned out to be, resisting any substantive change to the manner in which we govern ourselves for 150 years.  Think back to Canada at the time of Confederation in 1867: approximately, one million people spread out over a huge expanse of land, with the majority living in rural sectors.  This is a time that predates electricity, air travel, and the internet.

Without question, the scale of the economy and the amount of communication within and between peoples in different nations was tiny as compared to what we experience today.  You would think that given the monumental change we have seen in the manner in which Canadians live their lives since Confederation would be reflected in Canada's political institutions.

Apparently not.

Living in the twenty-first century, a time in which I regularly chat via Skype with my fiancé who lives in South America at no additional cost than my connection to the Internet, and that I can pull up onto my screen the latest edition of daily publications from around the world like the New York Times, The Guardian, or Le Monde in seconds, I am absolutely flabbergasted that we retain a system of governance that embodies a hereditary monarch, an appointed Senate, an electoral system that uses a voting method (first-past-the-post) in which each and every vote does not count equally, and that the system grants what constitutes the powers of an elected monarch (in Canada the Prime Minister can declare war without the consent of Parliament) to the leader of a political party that did not garner the majority of the popular vote.

WTF?  How is it that we have done so many marvelous things over the last 150 years but we have never gotten around to creating a modern, democratic, nation-state?

What also boggles my mind is not only do we cling to an outdated system of governance but that even making a relatively simple change, like creating an electoral system in which the representation in Parliament accurately reflects how people voted, is next to impossible. 

How complicated can it be?  If we are going to tell the world we are a democratic nation -- the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that we are a nation that adheres to the values of if a free and DEMOCRATIC society --  the least we could do is create and use a democratic electoral system.

However, it has been my experience that the most powerful political institutions in Canada, the Prime Minister and the Supreme Court of Canada have, in effect, resisted bringing Canada into the twenty-first century with regard to the nature of its political institutions.  The former refused to honour a campaign promise enshrined into a Speech from the Throne (so much for the symbolism) to change our aberrant voting method that dates to the middle ages, while the latter refused to hear a case that challenged the constitutionality of the said voting method, but did find the time to pronounce on what are the acceptable limits of bestiality.  Go figure.

Given this turn of events, I have become resigned to the fact that I will not see Canada make any qualitative changes to its status as an English settler state in my lifetime.  Sure, I am free to marry another man if I wanted to, and end my days with the assistance of a doctor if I so choose, and will soon be able to buy marijuana legally if I so desired, but although these things maybe important to others, they matter not to me.

What I would really like to be able to do is to participate meaningfully in the way this nation is governed, but that's not going to happen anytime soon.  Instead, what I am being offered is the opportunity to smoke a joint at my leisure so to take the edge off the discomfort that arises when I reflect upon how the state makes sure that my political voice and the voices of more than a million other Canadians who take seriously the health of the global climate are effectively silenced.

Happy Birthday Canada!  Unfortunately, we are going to have to part.  You may embody many admirable qualities, but not the one that matters most to me.