Monday, July 30, 2012

Five things I dislike about the United States

Let me be very clear, I am not anti-American. I like Americans, and I have relatives in the United States. Also, together with many people all over the world, I like many things about the US. It is a beautiful country with a diverse and wonderful people. Americans can rightfully be proud of the land where they live.

But there are also some things that I dislike about that country -- a few of which merit special mention in this post. Please realize that I want to speak the truth -- but I do so in love.

My list is not in any special order, but these are a few things that bother me so much that I felt the need to write about them. I have touched on some of these themes in previous posts. You will probably notice that all the items on this list are closely related.

1. Guns, guns and more guns. 

I was motivated in particular by the recent shooting in Colorado. While many Americans dismiss this incident as the aberrant behavior of a lone, perhaps psychotic, individual, I am concerned especially by the attitude of many Americans to the possession of guns.

This attitude was readily apparent immediately after the shooting: they want more more weapons, not less. Americans want to protect themselves, and they regard this as is the best way to do it. Should people have to bring guns into theaters in case someone starts shooting at them?

Quite frankly, I am frightened by all the guns that Americans currently possess. Even if strict gun-controls were instituted now, there are already too many lethal weapons in the hands of Americans. I am reluctant to visit some parts of the US. But, if I did go there, I would certainly avoid picking a fight with people.

There are many reasons why people want to possess guns. One is to go hunting, and another is that it is fun. People from other nations, of course, share these interests. In Canada, people who love hunting urged the Conservative government to scrap the long-gun registry that the previous Liberal government had instituted. I regret to say that, in spite of protest by the police that the registry aided in limiting crime, it was scrapped.

Another reason for having such weapons is self-defense. After the Colorado shooting, the sale of guns has soared. People are understandably afraid, but this is not the way to protect oneself and one's loved ones.
Americans are terrified by gun-control, since they perceive it as an attempt by the government to limit one of their fundamental rights. In the aftermath of shootings such as in Aurora, the National Rifle Association claims that the government will confiscate all their weapons. Clearly the government has no such intention, but this fear makes good propaganda and is the chief tool of the NRA in its lobbying efforts.

Americans are one of the few people in the democratic world who believe that it is their right as individuals to bear arms in order to defend themselves and their families. Citizens of other nations rely on the police and the military.

There are very few people in Canada, except for hunters and some farmers, who possess rifles. Handguns are banned totally, as they should be. The long-gun registry was, in my opinion, a good piece of legislation, but the current government believes otherwise. The American influence is very clear.

The American constitution protects the right of Americans to bear arms, but does this right derive from God or is it in accordance with natural law? In most law-governed countries, such as Britain, Canada, France, the Netherlands and Japan, people do not have an individual right to bear arms. If it were a divine or natural right, you might think that people elsewhere in the world would also possess this right, but this is not true.

If this is a special sort of right, one that can be created by the people via government, then what stops the people, through their government, from creating other sorts of new rights, like a right to health insurance?

In contrast to this view, health care is a fundamental human right that many Americans do not yet enjoy. This brings us to the next item on my list.

2. The denial of health care to many Americans.

Americans are selective in their rights, and they rate some rights much higher than others. Guns are the best example of a highly rated right. Health care is not important. It is not regarded as a right because mandatory insurance is perceived as something imposed by big government and is an infringement of individual freedom.

Thus the political drama surrounding what is popularly known as Obamacare. The recent decision of the US Supreme Court worsens the situation of those who are currently uninsured, and means that they will continue to be deprived of coverage.

How can many American Christians square their rejection of Obamacare with the commandment to love one's neighbor? Does an individualistic understanding of freedom trump the love commandment?

The irony is that American medical care is among the best in the world. But it is very expensive. A major illness can cripple a family, even if they have insurance, because of the co-payments involved. As a senior, I always buy supplementary medical insurance whenever I travel to the US.

In Canada, the principle of universal health care is praised by everyone, even if there are problems with the system. Attempts to introduce a two-tiered system that would allow those who can afford it to get better and faster care are widely feared as the first step in dismantling the current system.

Americans are afraid that mandatory insurance would reduce their freedom to buy insurance or not. That fear is nonsense, of course. Canadians have no such difficulty; instead, they fear the loss of their system. How can two such widely divergent views have developed side-by-side in Canada and the US?

American politicians are afraid too: in this case, of public opinion on this controversial topic. Mitt Romney, the putative candidate of the Republican party for the presidency, introduced a system similar to Obamacare in Massachusetts while he was governor there, but he has since backed off from that position, and he now opposes Obamacare.

The reason for Romney's reversal is clearly political. In an election year politicians tend to pander to the electorate. This bring me to my third complaint.

3. The polarization of politics and tea party movement.

That US politics is highly polarized is obvious to everyone. The US is divided ideologically as never before. This is very unhealthy, in my opinion. There is polarization in Canada too, I admit, but this is something that has spilled across the border.

Canadians are by nature pluralistic. This is reflected in our politics. Canada has three major political parties. For lack of better terminology, we can call the Conservatives "center-right" and the Liberals and the New Democratic Party "center-left." The NDP is not a socialist party, even though Americans tend to label all Canadians as socialists, largely because of universal health care.

In the US, there is an ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans. US elections are decided by undecided voters who switch their support to one party or the other at the last moment.

The tea party movement measures the extent this shift. The movement, which is conservative, libertarian, and populist, may have been formed and funded by the Koch brothers.

Although elements of their platform may have merit and they favor some social programs including medicare and social security, they have moved the Republican party even further to the right, and have thus contributed to the polarization of American politics. But there is evidence that their influence is declining.

At the other end of the political spectrum, one finds the occupy movement, which is focused on social and economic disparity, is another indication of this polarization. I share their concern, and thus move on to my next item.

4. Economic inequality.

There is a growing economic disparity in the US. While economic inequality has risen among most developed counties, it is highest in the US, where the top 10% now possess 80% of all financial assets while the bottom 90% hold only 20% of all financial wealth.

But this is only one indicator. The slogan of occupy movement, "we are the 99%," refers to the concentration of income and wealth among the top earning 1%, with the 99% left to fight over the scraps. I have written several posts dealing with the occupy movement.

This economic inequality manifests itself especially in politics. The 1% control the levers of political power at every level from the municipal to the federal. During this election year, they are concentrating their attention on removing President Obama from office. The Koch brothers, you probably realize, belong to the 1%.

Other countries struggle with economic inequality as well, but the effects are especially noticeable in the US. This concentration of wealth has led to an explosion of militarism abroad and the destruction of working class living standards at home.

These are two sides of a political agenda that is aimed at funneling the wealth of the US and the world into the coffers of an American financial oligarchy.

Like political polarization, US economic inequality has spilled over the border into Canada, which also suffers from economic inequality. However, the effects are not as noticeable largely because of Canada's social security system and its limited economic clout.

The final item on my list follows naturally from the previous ones. As I already stated, they are all connected. The influence of the 1% is discernible in the attitude of Americans to climate change.

5. Denial of climate change.

Americans are in the forefront when it comes to the denial of climate change. The reason is obvious to many. Denial is a major industry, lavishly financed by Exxon, the Koch brothers and others with a financial stake in the continued burning of fossil fuels.

But there are also strong ideological factors: a rejection of laissez-faire governance as well as an opposition to government regulation that help to explain the skepticism of many Americans about climate change (or global warming, as I preferred to call it in previous posts).

The drought that many parts of the US is currently suffering should ordinarily be enough to convert many skeptics, but the denial industry, abetted by segments of the media, has done such a thorough job that such skepticism will remain for a long time. This denial will play a role in the upcoming election.

There are very few Republican politicians who openly accept the reality of climate change, while even a few Democrats can be found in the denial camp. Again, the polarization of American politics evidences itself.

And again there are signs that this denial has crossed the border into Canada. The Conservative government now downplays climate change, in part to defend the development of the Alberta tar sands but also for some of the same ideological reasons as in the US.

In conclusion, I want to add that I could amplify each of the five things that I have listed and even add more items, but I will refrain from making any further comments, since this post is already getting too long.

Until I had made my list and started amplifying each one, I did not notice how inter-connected each of them are. The world view that underlies each of them has become dominant in the US, and it influences other countries, whether they like it or not.

We live in a global village, where we not only know nearly everything about each other but also how what happens in one country affects all the others. The US is the prime example of this.

The US has influenced Canada very much, and continues to do so. That especially motivated me to write this rather long post. I do not want my country to move further in the same direction that the US is moving.

I hope that this post inspires your comments and that it promotes further discussion.

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