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“American Exceptionalism In A Nutshell”: We Think “Freedom” Is Just Another Word For “Packing Heat”

Well, Donald Trump finally said something I agree with 100%:

Here’s what I said about gun rights and American Exceptionalism back in July when the president told the BBC that his inability to enact reasonable gun regulations was his greatest frustration:

Any British audience would be puzzled by this phenomenon, but then the Brits aren’t exactly freedom-loving, are they?

Well, actually they are, as are people in a lot of other advanced countries where there’s no expectation of any right to set oneself up as a private army.

And that gets to one of the roots of the ideology of “American exceptionalism.” If you compare the U.S. to other nations where there are reasonably solid traditions of self-government, respect for law, and democratic accountability, in what respect do we enjoy more “liberty?” When people tearfully sing along with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m proud to be an American,” what do they mean when they say “at least I know I’m free,” as compared, say, to a Canadian? The only thing readily identifiable is our unique freedom to pack heat. And so long as that is thought to be integral to American identity, and protected by powerful and wealthy interest groups, including maybe one-and-a-half major political parties, then efforts to take the most reasonable steps to keep guns out of the hands of potential shooters will continue to be “frustrated.”

I love my country, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. But I sure wish fewer of us thought of “freedom” as just another word for packing heat, and even fewer thought they had the right to stockpile weapons in case they decide it’s necessary to overthrow the government and impose their will on the rest of us.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 18, 2015

September 20, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Freedom, Gun Regulations | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Evoking A Powerful Sense Of Deja Vu”: When Canada Looks At Donald Trump, All We Can See Is Rob Ford

Watching the bizarre Republican nomination race for the presidential nomination leads to a strange realization: it’s even more bizarre than the last one. So far, this one is completely dominated by New York billionaire Donald Trump, who has bombasted his way to the top of the polls. The presidential wannabe has dominated clickbait-driven media with a string of wacky statements, describing Mexicans as rapists, denying John McCain is a war hero and suggesting Sarah Palin would be an effectual cabinet member.

But for many Canadians – especially those who live in its largest city, Toronto – Trump’s loopy campaign is evoking a powerful sense of deja vu. Trump looks, sounds and smells an awful lot like former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Trump has the Ford bluster down perfectly.

Both candidates draw from the very basics of that master communicator, late President Ronald Reagan. No publicity is bad publicity, so keep the media firestorms coming. And the facts, they are stupid things (Reagan said this in an erroneous effort to quote John Adams, who said the facts are stubborn things). Ford said he would solve the city’s financial problems, repeating the phrase “gravy train” ad nauseam as a means of trashing wasteful government spending. Trump has stated – in one of the looniest proposed policies ever heard – that the Mexican government would foot the bill for a huge wall along the US-Mexico border.

Ford and Trump both touted their records as successful businessmen, failing to mention that they were born into considerable inherited wealth. Ford repeatedly spoke of the incredible savings he was responsible for while defending his position as mayor. Trump continually speaks of the vast fortune he has amassed (over $8bn, by his count), though the evidence of his financial worth is open to question.

Yet despite their wealth, both Ford and Trump managed to appeal to the protest vote. As Christopher Ingraham noted in the Washington Post, Trump’s remarkable bolt to the top of the polls has to do with one word: anger. Like Trump, Ford played this card remarkably well, consistently pointing to spending waste by a downtown elite as a means of tapping into suburban voter fury. The Ford-Trump axis rests on the notion that each candidate is a take-no-prisoners, Dirty Harry-style crusader, intent on destroying the established order.

And if you’re waiting for an Edward Murrow moment – when a journalist might confront Trump on the utter nonsense he’s spewing, helping an audience to see that the emperor is naked – don’t bother. When each candidate has been called on their buffoonery, they are only made more appealing as candidates who are out of step with the ruling media elite. Witness Trump’s interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, in which Trump bluntly stated: “The people don’t trust you and the media.” They don’t, and as Ford learned, attacks by media pundits and journalists – who cite stupid things, otherwise known as facts – only make the candidate that much more appealing.

As many have noted, the attack-now-think-later approach is borne out of the campaigning techniques of the modern American right. As GOP insiders look on nervously, they also realize they have no one to blame but themselves. As Ford’s time as mayor unraveled in scandal after scandalous video – antics that left even Jon Stewart speechless – Canadian Prime Minister Harper’s connections to Toronto’s leader became points of extreme embarrassment.

Similarly, Trump represents an epic catch-22 for Republicans. If confronted by the facts, consider that the GOP has the loyalty of Fox News, which has created its own ideology-driven reality, also rooted in anger. How can you argue facts when there is no essential truth? The ‘Party of No’ has spawned the candidate of nonsense. Stand by Trumpenstein, as some are now doing, and you risk seeming to endorse his ideas, statements and ludicrous antics. Attack or criticize him and you risk alienating his crucial, populist base.

When Ford was running for mayor, his lengthy history of gaffes and bad behavior as city counselor led many to suggest his victory would never happen. The same is being said of Trump, but as he continues to lead by significant margins in all the polls, many are now acknowledging that if not president, becoming the GOP nominee is in the realm of the possible.

But as delicious as the Trump-brand Kool-Aid is, Republicans might want to think carefully before they guzzle back the empty calories. Consider the Ford factor: despite all his claims to the contrary, Ford’s time as mayor was largely ineffectual. Now that Ford is out of office, Toronto’s problems are far from solved, including deficit spending and a public transit system in dire need of an upgrade.

But boxer Mike Tyson insisted Ford was “the best mayor in Toronto history” (in what has to be one of the most surreal endorsements ever). Under a President Trump, similar fantasies will undoubtedly also be repeated, in the hopes that bluster will win out over truth.

 

By: Matthew Hays, The Guardian, August 4, 2015

August 5, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rob Ford | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Aura Of Invincibility Is Gone”: Obama’s Keystone Veto Threat Is Proof That Climate Activism Works, No Matter What The ‘Insiders’ Say

When the news arrived from the White House on Tuesday that Barack Obama would veto the GOP’s Keystone pipeline bill – or at least “that the president would not sign this bill” as is – I thought back to a poll that the National Journal conducted of its “energy insiders” in the fall of 2011, just when then issue was heating up. Nearly 92% of them thought Obama’s administration would approve the pipeline, and almost 71% said it would happen by the end of that year.

Keystone’s not dead yet – feckless Democrats in the Congress could make some kind of deal later this month or later this year, and the president could still yield down the road to the endlessly corrupt State Department bureaucracy that continues to push the pipeline – but it’s pretty amazing to see what happens when people organize.

The fight against the XL pipeline began with indigenous people in Canada, and spread to ranchers along the pipeline route in places like Nebraska. And then, in the spring of 2011, when the climate scientist Jim Hansen pointed out the huge pool of carbon in the Canadian tar sands, the fight spread to those of us in the nascent climate movement. We had no real hope of stopping Keystone – as the National Journal poll indicated, this seemed the most done of deals – but we also had no real choice but to try.

And so people went to jail in larger numbers than they had for many years, and wrote more emails to the Senate than on pretty much any issue in history, and made more public comments to the government than on any infrastructure project in history. And all that effort didn’t just tie up this one pipeline in knots. It also scared investors enough that they shut down three huge planned new tar-sands mines, taking $17bn in capital and millions of tons of potential emissions off the table. And it helped embolden people to fight every other pipeline, and coal port, and frack field, and coal mine. The Keystone fights helped spur a full-on fossil-fuel resistance that now mounts a powerful challenge to the entire fossil-fuel industry at every single turn.

It’s not as if we’re winning the climate fight – the planet’s temperature keeps rising. But we’re not losing it the way we used to. If the president sticks to his word, this will be the first major fossil-fuel project ever shut down because of its effect on the climate. The IOU that the president and the Chinese wrote in November about future carbon emissions is a nice piece of paper that hopefully will do great things in the decades ahead – but the Keystone denial is cash on the barrelhead. It’s actually keeping some carbon in the ground.

The fossil-fuel industry’s aura of invincibility is gone. They’ve got all the money on the planet, but they no longer have unencumbered political power. Science counts, too, and so do the passion, spirit and creativity of an awakened movement from the outside, from the ground-up. So the “energy insiders” of Washington are going to have to recalculate the odds. Because no one’s going to believe that any of these fights are impossible any more.

 

By: Bill McKibben, The Guardian, January 9, 2015

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Fossil Fuels, Keystone XL | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lax Gun Laws”: Gun Proliferation Fuels Homicide Rates In The Americas

Poor and middle-income nations of Latin America and the Caribbean are the most homicide-prone countries in the world, according to an analysis of a new United Nations report on violence. And because of lax gun laws, it found, far more homicides are committed with firearms in the Americas than in any other part of the world.

The analysis of the Global Status Report on Violence Prevention 2014, published last week by the Pan American Health Organization, reported that the highest homicide rates were in Honduras, Venezuela, Jamaica and Belize, with the Honduran rate — 104 killings per 100,000 population — nearly double that of the next deadliest countries. By contrast, the lowest homicide rates in the Americas were in Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, and Chile. Canada’s was less than two per 100,000 population, while others were below five. The homicide rate in the United States was 5.3 per 100,000.

In the poor and middle-income countries of the Americas, shootings accounted for 75 percent of all murders. In the United States, they accounted for 68 percent. No other region of the world comes close to that; by contrast, in Europe, Africa and Asia, where guns are harder to come by, murders were committed with guns 32 percent of the time or less. Stabbings were more common.

The United Nations report was published jointly by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

It recommended that countries restrict access to guns and alcohol, teach adolescents to resolve conflicts without violence, and start campaigns to decrease violence against women, children and older people.

 

By: Donald G. McNeil, J., The New York Times, December 15, 2014

January 5, 2015 Posted by | Gun Deaths, Gun Violence, Violence Against Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Were Not Elected To Govern”: Rush Limbaugh Is Emblematic Of Our Political Rot

It is stunning that leading conservative thinkers are arguing that the Republican majority in Congress is a mandate for even more gridlock. Rush Limbaugh says Republicans weren’t elected “to make Congress work. They weren’t sent there to get along.” Instead, Limbaugh argues, their mandate is “to stop Barack Obama. Republicans were not elected to govern.”

The National Review, an influential conservative publication, says the GOP should focus on creating the best possible climate for electing a Republican president in 2016: “Not much progress is possible until we have a better president. Getting one ought to be conservatism’s main political goal over the next two years.”

It is small wonder that a growing number of citizens aren’t voting, reasoning that their ballot won’t change anything. And why many exhort via bumper stickers: “Don’t Vote! It Only Encourages Them!”

In this election, turnout was just 36 percent, the lowest turnout since 1942. It is particularly young voters that are not bothering to vote. They are beginning to look for other ways to bring about social change. A new youth radicalization has begun.

For many Americans, Congress is dysfunctional and deeply corrupt. For these voters, Abraham Lincoln’s notion that Congress is “government of the people, by the people, for the people” has become laughable. The more the citizens don’t feel their political institutions reflect their will, the more they question the legitimacy and applicability of the institutions’ decisions.

The American political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote that legitimacy is “the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate and proper ones for the society.” The ongoing abuse of trust by office holders is the product of widespread rot. The result is a full-blown crisis in legitimacy.

The solution isn’t to allow online voting or other methods of increasing the turnout. We need more than changes to politics. It’s time to reinvent democracy itself.

The first era of democracy created representative institutions, but with weak mandates, passive citizens and politicians beholden to powerful funders and special interests. Call it “broadcast democracy.” It was only a matter of time before such a model ran its course.

We need to replace this old model with a new era of “participatory democracy” built around five principles.

1. Integrity, which is basically about doing the right thing. To rebuild the public’s trust in political institutions, elected officials need to embrace integrity – which is honesty and consideration. Honest politicians establish trusting relationships with voters, politicians need to be open and fairly disclose information. They must be truthful, accurate, and complete in communications. They must not mislead or be perceived to mislead.

Considerate officials don’t cause traffic jams for those who disagree with them. They have regard for the interests, desires, or feelings of others especially the electorate. They don’t spy on their citizens and undermine their basic right to privacy. They don’t kill good political discussion with negative attack ads. Politicians everywhere know that negative advertising is toxic to democracy, poisons reasoned political debate and dumbs down the discussion. Nevertheless, they trash their opponents with attack ads alienating voters and adding to the legitimacy crisis.

2. Accountability to the electorate. We need to divorce politicians from relying on big money. US citizens thought they had a system that limited big donations, but the right-wing Supreme Court clearly became alarmed at the possibility of wealthy donors not being able to influence elections. In the notorious Citizens United case, the court effectively lifted the limits on political donations, and a casino magnate promptly pledged $100 million to fight Obama’s re-election in 2012. Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig is right that we need to adopt the policies of other countries that place strict controls on campaign financing.

3. Interdependence. Elected officials need to recognize that the public, private sector and civil society all have a role to play in sustaining a healthy society. As Jeffrey Sachs has argued there is a price to civilization and we need strong, good government. When politicians say the best role of government is “to get out of the way,” they are shirking their responsibilities. Strong regulations saved Canadian banks from being sucked into the US sub-prime mortgage crisis. The banks and Canada are healthier because of this. Similarly corporations and NGOPs are becoming pillars of society and we all need new ways of collaborating on shared interests.

4. Engagement with citizens. We need ongoing mechanisms for government to benefit from the wisdom and insight that a nation can collectively offer. Using the Net, citizens can become involved, learn from each other, take responsibility for their communities and country, learn from and influence elected officials and vice versa. It is now possible to have a three-day “digital brainstorm” with the entire electorate of a country. Challenges, participatory budgeting, electronic town halls, have all proven effective in turning voters into participants in democracy.

5. Transparency. Almost everything should be done in the full light of day. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and the Internet is the perfect vehicle to achieve this. Transparency is critical to trust. The question “What are they hiding?” encapsulates the relationship between transparency and trust. It implies that if government leaders hold secrets, they do so for a nefarious reason and therefore are un-deserving of trust. Citizens know that the fewer secrets leaders keep, the more likely they will be trusted. Transparency, even radical transparency is becoming central to building trust between stakeholders and their institutions.

To restore legitimacy and trust we need a second era of democracy based on integrity and accountability, and with stronger, more open institutions, active citizen citizenship and a culture of public discourse and participation.

 

By: Don Tapscott, The Huffington Post Blog, November 17, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

November 18, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, Rush Limbaugh | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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