Thursday 17 November 2022

Why Can't the US Stop Having Mass Shootings?

 I came across this post I wrote in 2017. I had not posted it here, and unfortunately mass shootings never stop being an ongoing thing in the US, so...

I saw an American couple interviewed on CBCNN this morning. They had been at the concert in Las Vegas. The most striking thing they had to say was that, despite what had happened, they still felt people needed to have guns. To protect themselves. He said something to the effect of "You can't regulate crazy, so we need guns to protect ourselves from the crazies with guns." He also said he wished there was a way to stop these things from happening, but he really couldn't imagine what that would be.

This is exactly why things can't change in the US. They can't get their heads around the idea that if guns are not readily available, gun violence will diminish.
Studies have shown that even those trained and practiced in gun use generally don't do anything when confronted by a shooter. They freeze. They run or duck. Worst case, they start shooting wildly, potentially hitting innocent bystanders. But you can show this data to many Americans and they respond with, well, that's them. I would do better.
So you have the notion of American exceptionalism. The idea that they are superior, collectively and especially individually, even to other Americans. This notion is perpetuated by American film and television. Many imagine that, if they were in a shooter situation, they would become Rambo, or Clint Eastwood, or Iron Man. How many movies have an American hero showing up in another country to save everyone? And this probably stems from the idea that they swooped in during WWII and saved the world, while the rest of the world was just sitting around being overrun by Nazis. This leads directly to a dismissal of best practices from other countries. Because if America is, as they say again and again, "The greatest country in the world!" then what could they possibly learn from anyone else?
They are actively intent on not listening, not on health care, not on justice systems, and certainly not on gun control.
Mass murders are just something that happens. It's a darn shame, but what can you do? They blame "crazy people" or "foreign attackers", but cannot grasp that accessible mental health care, less economic inequality, and not going around the globe "freeing people" from themselves would go a long way to cut down on both those factors. And even if you have "crazy people", if they don't have guns, they can't do nearly as much damage than if they do have guns. It seems pretty obvious to the rest of the industrialised world. But no. They argue, "but if you get rid of guns, the crazy people will just use something else. Where does it stop? Outlawing knives and cars and hammers?" However, I would postulate that a 64 year old man with a hammer would not have been able to kill 59 people and injure more than 400.
There is an intense need in the American psyche to cling to ideas that appear irrational to everyone else.
Of course, there is a huge economic incentive to avoid any changes. Who makes money from gun violence? Gun manufacturers and retailers, certainly. Every time there is a big mass shooting both the sale of weapons and the stock value of arms manufacturers go up. The insurance industry and the for-profit medical system make money. Lawyers make money. Network news stations get more eyeballs on screens for longer and can boost their advertising revenue. Psychiatrists and psychologists make money. The funeral industry makes money. Florists make money. Police departments can argue for increased budgets and more militarised gear (which makes arms manufacturers even more money). I dare say even churches make more money as the frightened and the bereaved may tithe more.
Possibly the most important of all in this situation, is that lawmakers, faced with demands to put more restrictions on firearms, receive funding or promises of funding from the NRA in exchange for doing nothing.
The entire social fabric is rigged to perpetuate mass shootings. The justice system is set up to jail as many people as possible and then release demoralised, disenfranchised, unemployable individuals. The health care system, such as it is, creates untenable situations for many. Bankruptcy, debt, lack of care... Economic inequality, racism, struggling education systems, and a mass media that teaches viewers that the world is a terrifying place and only the strongest (and most armed) survive.
If 20 little children killed at Sandy Hook couldn't get through this armour of willful ignorance and corporate control, it is likely nothing will. I don't intend to go to the US, possibly ever again. It is a dangerous, violent country. And not all Americans feel this way, but enough do that it is unlikely anything will change.

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Jason Kenney's Very Bad Bet

 Jason Kenney bet our money on Trump winning. No doubt he was shocked when whatever the GOP was doing to try to ensure a win didn't work. It was supposed to work, you see. Whatever it was. But it didn't, and here we are, with an angry Premier shouting at and blaming everyone else.

We are seeing a grown man who made a very bad calculation, having a very public meltdown. He invested in a risky deal and it fell through. Now he seems to think he is owed some sort of compensation. That really isn't how the world works.

Of course, all that money is a bit of a windfall to TCE. They are cutting their losses and getting out, laying off workers. And they are going out the door with our money. Why isn't Kenney asking for the oil company to give it back? Unless, of course...It was a gift, and the success of the pipeline was neither here nor there.

There have been a lot of gifts to oil and gas from this UCP government. They haven't resulted in the thousands of new jobs Kenney promised. But maybe that wasn't the point...

Promising jobs was maybe just to get elected, and to give cover for doling out billions to friends and donors. Kenney has doled out a lot of our money to friends & donors in the past two years, one of the most egregious being hiring Harper's 24 year old son for upwards of $100K. I mean, honestly, Ben Harper only got that plum job (part-time!) because he is the son of Kenney's good friend and mentor. There's a word for that... Ah, yes, nepotism. Creating a job for a friend's kid, and paying an outrageous salary, for...what, exactly?

But there are a ton of other examples. The War Room, the inquiry into "Un-Albertan" activities, the many panels and advisors who always say exactly what the UCP tells them to say, endorsing foreign-owned for-profit health care...

Kenney and his party seem to think that being in government is a license to reward supporters, curry favour with corporations (many of them foreign, like Australian coal companies), and engage in the worst sort of cronyism, while completely ignoring the needs of regular Albertans

If this bothers you (and it should) please take a moment to write to your MLA, and cc the NDP and the media, because goodness knows, your correspondence is probably going straight into the trash at your MLA's office.

The UCP are not above the law. Jason Kenney is not a king. They are supposed to work for us. They don't appear to be doing that. They appear to be working for themselves and their friends. We need to let them know, in no uncertain terms, that this is unacceptable.

The "Liberty Coalition" and why Canadians should be aware of it

 Isn't it extraordinary? Some conservative Canadian politicians from across Canada have decided that the best response to a global pandemic is to join a group called the Liberty Coalition Canada.

I decided to have a closer look at this "Liberty Coalition". We should be aware of who is organizing and trying to draw supporters across Canada, and what they are setting out to do.

My observations follow...
#cdnpoli #abpoli #onpoli 
The "Liberty Coalition" seems to embrace several causes, or "initiatives" as they call them. There's the "End the Lockdowns Caucus", "Save our Youth", "Open Small Businesses", and "The Church Must Gather". 
The Liberty Coalition appears to have begun as a campaign to keep Ontario churches open through the pandemic, and has grown into a science-denying fundraising effort for the far right. 
Members of this Liberty Coalition include Maxime Bernier, Derek Sloan, and Randy Hillier. Their web site features a "Resources" page which offers up articles from Rebel Alliance Media, GraceLife Church, Disrn, Western Standard, and Rex Murphy. 
The End the Lockdowns caucus opposes closures to prevent the spread of COVID, saying that restrictions violate citizens' democratic freedoms.
The End the Lockdowns caucus boasts a long list of current and former conservative politicians, from MPs down to municipal councillors. Most are from Ontario and Alberta, but there are a few from Quebec, Saskatchewan, BC, and one from New Brunswick. 
The "Save our Youth" initiative engages potential supporters emotionally. "Spearheaded by mothers", this initiative uses short videos intended to elicit visceral responses. Anecdotal "evidence" is a favourite tactic of the right.
"Save our Youth" emphasizes how harmful missing church is for young children. They provide loads of memes for the like-minded to share on social media.
The "Open Small Businesses" initiative is supported by the Canadian Federation of Small Businesses, a group of small business owners calling themselves "We Are All Essential", a Rebel Media-led campaign called "I Will Open", and Restaurants Canada.
This initiative also provides a lot of memes for use by supporters on social media.
"The Church Must Gather" is the fourth initiative of this group.
This initiative encourages Christians to defy local authorities and congregate for worship services.
The Church Must Gather is collecting names on a petition. They use a string of Bible verses to supposedly justify breaking public health restrictions for church services. 
And, of course, they are fund-raising. They encourage donations to help stop all these terrible things they say shut-downs to keep people safe are causing.
The website is very professional, suggesting that this group has resources. There is nothing "grass roots" about this. I am inclined to suspect the hand of someone like Jeff Ballingall behind the slickness of the campaign. 
They work on making a case for ignoring COVID-19 so that businesses and churches can continue to do their thing. Apparently, they are not concerned about the illness and death that lifting restrictions could cause. 
I will note, also, that "Liberty Coalition" sounds pretty American, and pretty Republican at that. The group seems to be dismissive of public health concerns, while trying to make the case that public mental health is being adversely affected by lockdowns. 
This Liberty Coalition also points to mental health issues and suicide as reasons to end restrictions. But, just like their emotionally cloying anecdotes, they are not basing their claims on factual evidence. 
This is not a new tactic for the right. Albertans may recall Jason Kenney's folksy story about his dear friend who committed suicide "because of the economy". Turns out the guy was under investigation for a 30-year string of violent sexual assaults. Don't take them at their word. 
In conclusion, it appears to me that this group is using emotional triggers to appeal to the public to get what they want. What they want has absolutely nothing to do with the public good. They want to ensure the cash continues flowing into their businesses and churches. Period. 

Friday 23 October 2020

James McGill Buchanan: Part Two

 Conservatives like to talk about "corruption". A lot. But do they mean the same thing most people mean by the word? I think many people would consider a political party doing something that does not benefit the people, but rewards their friends as corruption. 

Or a government that invents panels & advisory positions for friends & donors & arranges for these panels and advisors to return reports and recommendations that mirror what the governing party wants to do, but with the guise of "research" and "impartiality". Seems corrupt.

Or, a government that changes electoral boundaries and/or rules to favour their party in the next election. Or makes backroom deals where advantages are offered in exchange for funding PACs and promoting the party. Those seem like corruption.
The James McGill Buchanan definition is subtly different. I now present you with a quote from @NancyMacLean5 's book, "Democracy in Chains" which illustrates this point...
"Buchanan believed with every fibre of his being that if what a group of people wanted from government could not, on its own merits, win the freely given backing of each individual citizen, including the very wealthiest among us, any attempt by that group to use its numbers to get what it wanted constituted not persuasion of the majority but coercion of the minority, a violation of the liberty of individual taxpayers." 
In other words, he viewed governments who do things the majority (or large groups of citizens) wants, in order to get re-elected, as corrupt, if those things impinged upon the wishes of anyone (particularly the wealthiest).  
So, current Canadian conservatives (who seem to be advocates of the Buchanan school of thought) would feel that, for example, a government raising the minimum wage against the wishes of wealthy business owners, is corrupt. 
Obviously, a government that is run on Buchanan's principles would do nothing in crisis situations, if the wealthy did not like the action. The CPC have strongly indicated that they feel CERB and other pandemic relief is deeply suspect. 
They want to have a committee to examine the "corruption" of the Liberal government in setting up programs to help people. They have signaled that they would have done nothing. Just as Harper did not want to act on stimulus spending during the recession of 2008. 
The Buchanan philosophy gives the wishes of the extremely wealthy preeminence, because he felt their rights were being infringed by any government action that interfered with their ability to be wealthy and continue to amass wealth. 
Remember, from my first instalment about Buchanan, that his theories emerged from a deep resentment of having to treat black citizens in the southern US equally, and the associated costs of that to the wealthy taxpayer. 
Buchanan's philosophy is predicated on the notion that people are not equal. The wealthy are more important and must not be victimized by the not-wealthy, even though the not-wealthy have far greater numbers. 
Most of us understand democracy as a system in which people vote for a candidate from the party they feel will most benefit their community or the country. And the governing party tries to work to the public good, thus pleasing the people, and being re-elected.
In pleasing the people, in a system where number of votes matters more than people's bank accounts, large groups of not-wealthy people have power. Buchanan would say this "pleasing the people" is corruption, because it doesn't protect the interests of the wealthy few.
It is important to understand when conservatives speak these days that their terms of reference may not be the same as most people's. Likewise, their goals may be completely at odds with those of most Canadians.

Stay tuned, there will be more about Buchanan soon! 

James McGill Buchanan: Part One

 In 1955, the US Supreme Court issued its second Brown v. Board of Education ruling. They called for dismantling of segregation in public schools, across the US, "with all deliberate speed". 

Now, some people in Virginia, including the president of the University of Virginia, Colgate Whitehead Darden Jr, were appalled by this. They felt it seriously over-reached into "states' rights". 
Any state, they felt, should be able to discriminate against any people they felt were inferior, because of race, religion, gender, or whatever damn thing they chose. They saw it as a deliberate attack on the cherished values and way of life of southern Americans. 
Well, white southern Americans, anyway. And, really, from their point of view, those were the only southerners that mattered. Darden had a young economist on faculty, James McGill Buchanan. Buchanan had written a proposal that touched Darden deeply. 
It was as if they thought with one mind. Buchanan saw the ruling as not just an attack on the State's right to discriminate, but he also foresaw how giving these people more rights would inevitably lead to actual depletions of the bank accounts of people like himself. 
He realised that those with resources would be called upon to subsidize the creation of equality. He imagined his taxes going up to accommodate all these people who had, hitherto been treated as inferior. And he did not like that. 
His proposal to Darden was that if Darden could find the resources to create a centre at the university for Buchanan, he (Buchanan) would create a new school of political economy and social philosophy to counter these incursions into the traditional southern way of life. 
Darden was excited by this, and found the money for Buchanan's centre. However, despite working very hard, Buchanan and his staff were unable to stem the tide of civil rights and progressive thought through the 60s and 70s. 
But, sometime in the 80s or early 90s, Charles Koch discovered Buchanan and his work and began to pour money into Buchanan's Centre for Study of Public Choice. And things began to happen... 
Buchanan had an idea, stemming from that Supreme Court ruling, that would change how the right would conduct politics. His core idea: that people should not be allowed to use their numbers to force legislation favouring their position. 
That no person of property should be made to give up any of their property, through taxation or otherwise, nor should business profit be thwarted, simply because a large number of people wanted certain things to happen. Think about that for a moment. 
Buchanan's core premise is the antithesis of democracy. He believed that law-makers should not heed the will of the people, but, rather, should protect the most wealthy. Ostensibly from the will of the people. Obviously, Buchanan felt that labour unions were terrible... 
Unions picked employers' pockets based on the sheer number of workers relative to the number of employers. He was opposed to the will of the many impinging in any way on the will of the 1%. 
This is a very brief introduction to James McGill Buchanan. It is largely drawn from the book, Democracy in Chains, by Nancy MacLean (@NancyMacLean5) . I encourage you to get a copy and read it. 
What has this got to do with Canadian politics? Well, look around. What you see happening in Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and being proposed by the federal CPC, is all based on Buchanan's ideology. 
Just like in the US, think-tanks in Canada (Fraser Institute and others) are busy churning out propaganda to support this ideology. Our American-owned media is controlling the way news is reported to subtly sway Canadians to favour a corporatocracy. 
It's all around us. Before you flame me, think. Think about how closely Canadian conservative parties mirror what the Republicans are doing in the US. Think about what might underlie their actions. No, it is not because they are stupid or incompetent. A lot of people think that. 
But that is not the case. They are bad for Canadians because they are not serving Canadians. They aren't bungling. They are doing their jobs. It's just that their jobs are not what we think they are. Think about it. 
That's it for the first instalment. I will give everyone some time to process this information. There will be more. Much more. Stay tuned!