Shutdown Reality Check from China

Dear Americans:

Today, in quite a rational and well-reasoned statement China argued that other nations would be wise to “de-Americanize” their investments … that is (at least in part) the US dollar is held as a reserve currency for many nations around the world and many nations invest in the US financial system because of its stability.

Why did China urge this? Because our embarrassing internal politics is costing them and all of the other countries that we do business with money, the politics of “no”, the childish bullshit surrounding a MINORITY in the government holding up Obamacare 43 times, and frankly citizens lack of intelligent and thoughtful discourse/demanding better from our politicians suggests we’re no longer responsible enough to be a financial grounding for the world. We’re basically the petulant 13 year old who’s too big to spank but not yet too old to kick out of the house.

I know a lot of you are not comfortable with controversy and politics on social media nor in person, but guess what? It’s time to put on your big boy/girl underwear, learn something about what’s really going on, and be a part of the political process. Bitching and moaning no longer suffices, choosing to surround yourselves with like-minded people (from both ends of the political spectrum) is a cop out, and engage each other, read some real news (and not news entertainment), and start being responsible citizens. That… or just don’t vote and let everyone else who does actually pay attention discuss it and vote.

Folks — we get the government we deserve. The buck stops with the citizens and not with Congress. And now back to living in a country where the social good outweighs selfish individual concern… you all can return to your regularly scheduled reality TV show.

Signed,
A very cranky and embarrassed me.

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Quintessential Americanism (defined)

A few weeks ago I watched The Newsroom pilot for the first time and the title character is asked an utterly American question, ‘Why do you think America is the greatest country?’ — his response — ‘It’s not’ and in true Aaron Sorkin form offered a whole lot of information to support the argument. I had a small home cheering moment, but the thing that bugs me are exactly these silly assumptions — #1 that the US is still a great country and #2 that we’re the best in the world. Unfortunately, neither assumption is true — we lag in most measurable categories including education, health care, vacation/leisure time, our economy has shifted from a balanced economy to one that has gutted manufacturing and shifted ‘working class’ jobs to a model of inequality focused on poorly paid service sector, even higher education is showing evidence of not being worth the cost. Essentially, we are living in an age of rising inequality in the US.

Yet in the face of this stark reality, Americans remain bizarrely convinced of our overall infallibility and greatness.

Thus….

Quintessential Americanism… defined

So, what do I mean by Quintessential Americanism — very simply, “A blanket refusal to change your opinion, even when confronted with direct evidence to the contrary…”

Why did this come up, in particular right now? Well, my Mom had lunch the other day with two of her friends from high school (they do this for each other’s birthdays and major holidays… it’s very sweet and they have a good time) and is updating them on what I’m doing, etc. since I’m in Germany. At this point in the conversation one of my Mom’s friends says that Germany’s on the brink of economic collapse, unemployment is dire here, oh my goodness, yadda yadda yadda. My Mom tries to respond with the stuff she and I’ve been talking about (e.g., quality of life, economic growth projections, the very low unemployment here … that kind of thing) but her friend will have none of it because Fox News said…

Obviously, Americans aren’t the only ones who are dogmatic — frankly all societies have quirky stupidity, but we seem to revel in our own ignorance and arrogance combined — that’s the heart of this ‘quintessential Americanism’ — we’re confident and we don’t have a good reason to be. FFS … opinions and facts should not be confused… the latter should inform the former — not the other way around.

Why is it so hard for Americans to not only be informed but also be open to new information? Of course, all peoples’ have blind spots and annoying belief structures (that’s the nature of the social animal); however, Americans are increasingly less informed, more dogmatic, and more rigid in our ways of thinking. We’ve been indoctrinated since really the McCarthy witch hunt for Commies and more recently with the GW Bush Administration to believe that if someone criticizes Uh-Mer-Ika or Uh-Mer-Ikans they’re not a patriot because those in power have a much easier time maintaining order and control when people are not engaged nor informed about basic social, economic, and political issues. There is no GOOD reason that the US can’t and shouldn’t be the country we once were (economically at least… I do think we have ups and downs in our social and political system over the years), but there are a whole lot of bad reasons — the ignorance of average Americans, our poor education system, our systematic disenfranchisement of the poor and working class, our shift away from a balanced economy, a media that simply doesn’t work, and an ethic in the US that would silence anyone who would have the audacity to suggest we could do better.

When I posted a quick frustrated comment about this on Facebook yesterday, someone I would have thought would have better sense responds to me with the following:

 i wonder if anyone has attempted studies to test that claim. a cursory google search yields nothing, but it seems like it’s taken for gospel among so many people that i can’t help but wonder. 

It seems it’s basically the liberal side of the house’s answer to “the average gun and freedom loving American,” except it’s “the average American moron who can’t think for his or her self.” both have this weird privilege of being viewed as hard fact despite their near-caricature status. Maybe it’s b/c i’ve never lived in middle america but I can’t think of a place I’ve lived where I could say anywhere near the majority of people I was around fit either description.

This is someone, who should frankly know better than to claim a “uh, I couldn’t find anything and therefore, it’s probably wrong” kind of response; unfortunately, this is also a person who represents a very typical American response to critique of the US/policy/Americans — they’re quick to dismiss and not really that interested in engagement.

But leaving the hard evidence aside for a moment (oh, don’t worry, I’ll come back to it 🙂 ) — what’s made me come to this conclusion? Is it because I’m a liberal who sheepishly follows talking points set out by the oh-so-coordinated ‘liberal agenda’ people? LMAO… not so much. I have literally lived from coast to coast in the US and north to south — mostly living and being around working class folks. Add in 15 years of teaching at a range of institutions of higher education from flagship state institutions, to small/local state institutions, to city-run colleges, and private colleges I have a pretty good sample of the general knowledge base of average 18 to now about 35 year olds (geez I’m getting old) that I have taught and/or coached. And then, I have the nearly innumerable random “pub” conversations about life and people with folks from all walks of life. I’m pretty confident in my understanding of different demographics in the US (and that doesn’t even count the actual research I’ve done on American demographics, attitudes, and belief structures). I’ve lived with someone from a different country (who comes from a working class background and can compare his blue collar parents with my blue collar parents) since 2006, traveled and talked with lots of folks (sustained and policy-based conversations) from lots of places, and now, I’ve had a chance to spend about 3 months immersed in a seriously working class/ struggling part of the UK and 5 months mostly in rural Germany (nice thing about not working, you get to know the community and locals) and outside of the ‘academic’ knowledge, my personal knowledge seems to verify it. Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t/ shouldn’t to most folks… only tells me that from a variety of sources, I can feel comfortable with my conclusions.

But what about the hard evidence? Are Americans really less informed than people in other countries about politics, policy, social issues, etc.?

In two words — hell yes!

A quick peak at the evidence and keep in mind, while I haven’t done an exhaustive search, I’ve also NEVER run across ANY hard evidence to the contrary….

And how about outcomes or consequences of Quintessential Americanism? There are tons; however, I’ll give four examples…

American ignorance is dangerous — mostly to ourselves, but not exclusively to ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if being patriotic meant actually wanting to critically examine the US, without the veil of “taking our country back” or any of the other crazy bullshit that people articulate? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could elevate the level of conversation so that we could examine what’s working and the vast amount of stuff that isn’t? But we’re not there yet.

Instead, we continue to dumb down everything. Awesome job you quintessential Americans!

10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America

This is a great piece that sums it up…. Since living abroad, I’ve fielded so many questions/ comments like, “An American once asked me where I lived, I told them in Frankfurt Germany and he said, ‘Great — I’ve been there, I really enjoyed Belgium'”, or asking why we seem to hate poor people, how we elected Bush twice, if people really pay attention to Fox News, and the list goes on. Most of the time, I just kind of have to shrug my shoulders and say, “yeah… that’s why I wasn’t sad to leave”.

The greatest random compliment that I get from folks after just a conversation about the world is, “You’re not like most Americans”… thank goodness.

Tyranny of the minority – geez it’s embarrassing

Yesterday in on of the most ridiculous Senate votes, the US Senate rejected background checks for gun sales by a vote of 54-46 — no, 54 Senators did not vote against the bill only 46 did. Let that sink in — because Harry Reid, Democratic Majority leader did not push to get rid of the ridiculous “super majority” required to do anything in the US Senate (which, he could have done) a MINORITY of US Senators rejected the most mild form of gun control legislation possible — a background check — despite around 90% of the American public supporting it.

When was the last time 90% of Americans agreed on anything in the first place? And in the second place, democracy is supposed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, but also supposed to protect everyone from the tyranny of the minority. Yet, the American Congress fails in both respects. How does this happen? Well, a solid campaign of misinformation from gun control opponents using one of several logical fallacies to support their fear campaign. You’d think that Senators would be ‘above’ campaigns of misinformation, but it feeds the GOP objectives of being obstructionist, even to the detriment of the American public. It’s not like this is the first time they’ve placed politics above people. We need only look at how many peoples’ jobs, program funding, and the most vulnerable have been/would be negatively affected by silliness of the fiscal cliff political wranglings as a recent example, but the list is long of how the GOP/Tea Party obstruction approach to governance has hurt Americans in the last four years.

The disinformation campaign worked though — the poorly informed in the US (i.e., a sad majority on both sides) really thought that the background check was more restricting on gun rights than it actually was. So, from the blindly GOP we see little gems like this popping up today throughout social media. SecondAmendmentBSFlag I hate to tell you all, but law abiding citizens were never at risk of losing much with this particular piece of legislation.  We already have background checks that have been in place since 1993 with the passage of the Brady Bill. It denies the privilege of owning a gun to the following people:

  • People convicted of a felony with a sentence of 1 or more years in prison
  • People convicted of a misdemeanor with a sentence of 2 or more years in prison
  • Being indicted by a crime that would carry a sentence of 1 or more years.
  • Being a fugitive from justice
  • A user of illegal drugs or ‘known’ addict
  • Being involuntarily committed to a mental institution
  • Being an illegal alien
  • Being dishonorably discharged from the military
  • Renouncing your US citizenship
  • Being subject to a restraining order for threatening a family member
  • Being convicted of domestic violence

Here’s the problem with the Brady Bill — it doesn’t cover guns sold over the Internet (because in 1993 the Internet didn’t exist as it does today… hell, we were using DOS-based email) nor does it cover gun shows. So, if you go from the most conservative estimates of 15-20% or use the figures from a 1997 white paper pointing to a figure of closer to 40% of all gun sales are not subject to background checks.

We probably shouldn’t get so hung up on the specific percentages, so let’s break the information down another way.  The ATF estimates that in 2005 (as the ‘sample’ year) it was estimated that were around 5000 gun shows in the United States with varying amounts of gun sales… but at big shows moving likely 1000 guns in a weekend. If I whip out my calculator here, that makes 5 MILLION guns (give or take a million or two) moved in the United States that require no background check at all!

Let’s also offer a couple of quick responses to slippery slope fallacy that background checks will lead to a national registry and some kind of Orwellian control over guns (yes, you people sound just that silly). Response 1: we’ve had a damn gun registry since 1993 and we haven’t seen the emergence of a national registry. That 20 years of data seems to suggest you’re just wrong. Response 2: and by far the better response… had the background check bill actually been passed, it would have literally outlawed the emergence of any kind of a gun registry and anyone attempting to start one would have faced a 15 year jail sentence for it.

Alright — all of that was for the ill-informed knee jerks who thought their world would have ended. For supporters of any kind of gun control legislation — you also don’t help when you’re misinformed either. IF the opposition gets to debate whether a national registry is a good or bad idea, then guess what we’ve already lost the conversation because we’re spending time and energy offering good arguments to a point that’s utterly irrelevant. Of course we have registries in this country associated with things like our driver’s license and change of address forms. Hell — we just passed tax day and if you filed your taxes, the government has a registry of where you live and how much money you have. Not only that, but we have background checks in an increasing number of our jobs, to get a house/apartment, credit card, or any number of things. But those don’t help to refute a well-crafted and disciplined misinformation campaign. We can’t have 50 arguments all over the place.

So, let’s come back to the point — it’s embarrassing to be an American sometimes — like days when our world education and health care figures come out pointing that the United States is falling behind developing nations. It’s embarrassing to be an American when our elections are corrupted by corporatism under the guise of the freedom of speech. It’s embarrassing to be an American when I’m trying to explain Fox News and their viewers to anyone outside of the United States. And it’s embarrassing when an old guy on the train asked where I was from and I responded and in broken English and German he jokes, “oh yeah, George W. Bush — thanks for that”. But, it’s not just embarrassing but fundamentally soul wrenching when the most basic and watered down effort at sensible gun control at a national level is defeated by a minority vote even though it’s so benign that 90% of Americans agree with it AND some people actually think it was a “win” for freedom.

<face in palm>

An open letter to rabid 2nd Amendment defenders…

Dear Rabid American Gun Owners:

I know a lot of people in the US are worked up about any limitation on what they consider to be an absolute right to gun ownership. In particular, Colorado’s new laws on gun ownership have been sending the social media world (since I’m not in the US, I don’t watch hours of US news to see it repeated everywhere else too)  into a rabid hyperbolic frenzy.

Two thoughts for you.

#1 No right is absolute.

Even something as relatively innocuous (compared to guns) as the freedom of speech is trumped by three other values — national security, justice, and safety. That means no one gets to provoke violence with their speech acts (see clear and present danger and “fighting words” doctrines), no one gets to libel or slander another person, obscenity is not allowed, and no one gets to put others at risk because of their speech acts.

It seems to me those three values would also reasonably trump an absolute right to gun ownership — even more so because inciting someone to violence doesn’t actually kill quite as efficiently and quickly as pulling a trigger. So, it seems that legislation like Colorado’s limiting the number of bullets your gun magazine/clip can hold, requiring background checks for EVERYONE trying to purchase a gun (antique and family gifts excluded), making the gun owner pay for the cost of the background check, and banning guns on college campuses are reasonable steps (by the way, most universities already have limitations on guns in dorms and on campus anyhow… this just makes it standardized) to try and manage who gets legal access to weapons…  You know, kind of like the 7-day waiting period was reasonable to limit “in the heat of the moment” gun violence that you all have gotten used to. These do not stop a law abiding citizen from owning a gun, they do try to balance the aforementioned values with the right to own a gun.

However, in watching conversations about these laws, I haven’t yet seen a rational argument opposing the laws (other than the constitutional question addressed below). Instead, I’ve seen threats of violence offered, infantile and hyperbolic Hitler references (nothing like the red herring logical fallacy), ad hominem attacks against advocates of gun legislation, and slippery slope arguments… So we can summarize the response as either language that incites violence OR logical fallacies. Seriously? I would have thought that you all would be able to form an actual logically valid and well-supported argument by now.

#2 — If you think the new laws aren’t constitutional … put your money where your mouth is

What do I mean by this? Well… pony up, join the NRA (if you aren’t already a member), and push the NRA to file suit against these laws on the basis that the new laws aren’t constitutional. That’s how we do things in the US — laws are tested against the document you all like to quote. Right now, you all have about the best possible Supreme Court  (a Conservative stacked Court) that you could have to test what you consider to be the most valid argument against gun control legislation… that it’s a violation of your 2nd Amendment rights. It’s as simple as that — let’s have the folks who are paid to interpret the constitution do their job on what, apparently, you think is the single biggest threat to our country right now.

Oh yeah… and one last thing…

Your country isn’t teetering on the edge of a dictatorship. Just because your guys lost the election twice and you don’t like the guy in office… it doesn’t mean the country coming to an end. So chill the hell out!

Darn that verifiable information….

FactsVFox

Number of illegal immigrants falling

Federal taxes are lower than they’ve been in 60 years

America has never been richer (well, at least rich people are richer 😉 )

The US spends twice as much on health care but gets worse results than other developed nations

Wall Street crashed the economy in 2008

Roger Ailes was the GOP’s top media strategist