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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Foreign Correspondence

Foreign Correspondence

A few thoughts on this letter I received today from my brother who is currently working in Toronto, Canada.

Canadians are just better people than Americans: nicer, with better civic virtues and a sense of a greater good. It’s like having Europeans in a 51st state where only cool, liberal, gracious, and classy people get to live. Canadians are humble and polite to a fault. I learned this last year in Montreal, and it is the same with the English Canadians as well as the French ones.

Toronto is safer and cleaner than any U.S. East Coast city. Traffic is murder, but their rail and subway system is magnificent. The downtown architecture is pretty impressive, not quite like Chicago or New York, but a close third. It’s so CLEAN. And of course there’s no urban blight like in Philly, D.C., or Baltimore. This is what a liberal society can produce. We should bring right-wingers here for a tour. Canadians on the whole are just better educated and much less vulgar and rude than Americans.

I have seen quite often that when anyone criticizes America or suggests that things are better elsewhere, they are accused of “hating” America. I think the opposite is true. I think that anyone who travels can see for themselves societies that do a lot better for their citizens. If you have seen how some countries do things better than we do some things in America, it is only natural that you would like to see our nation adopt these practices. I think the people who hate America are those who would have us believe that this is as good as it gets in the U.S.A. and to expect anything better is heresy.

The arrogance of many Americans, the whole “We’re #1” crowd, is doing a huge disservice to our nation. This false self-confidence reminds me of an ex-jock from high school who still thinks that he is the star quarterback when most of his classmates have passed him by years ago. This knee-jerk response of declaring that America is the greatest country in the world limits our ability to observe how other countries approach and solve problems that we also face. A lot of the time when people say that America is the best at this or that, it is contrary to the facts or even simple observation. How could anyone who has traveled to Canada or Western Europe continue to insist that the U.S. is better than any of these countries?

I think that biggest reason this notion of America’s superiority is an invention of the conservatives. If they were to concede that perhaps on some issues the Western European way of doing things is the way we should solve these problems in America, this would expose their entire philosophy as a sham to give more money to the wealthiest citizens while denying basic services for almost everyone else. If socialized medicine really works (and it does, of course) then perhaps government isn’t the evil they make it out to be (and it isn’t in a democracy because we are the government). Instead we are fed lies about how all of the countries in Western Europe are socialist hellholes on the verge of collapse. That is rather ironic seeing how the U.S. dollar is getting its ass kicked over here.

Pick just about any issue and America isn’t doing nearly as well as we should. We lag behind many Western nations in most of the meaningful indicators of a successful society. How did we ever come to accept the level of crime we have in most of our large cities? We lost our collective minds over one terrorist attack yet we acquiesce to a frighteningly high number of murders year after year. We can send an army to Iraq to fight a non-existent foe yet we can’t do anything about Philadelphia’s or Baltimore’s appalling murder rate? Send the army to Philly, or Baltimore, or South Central Los Angles.

To say that we can’t afford to fix these problems is the worst lie ever told to the American people. Of course we can afford to fix problems like crime, education, and health care. I think the war in Iraq illustrates just what kind of cash we can throw at a problem. It’s too bad that everything we are spending on Iraq is a complete waste. Contrary to popular opinion, the military is an awful vehicle to stimulate the economy. Things like welfare and social security are actually very efficient means for getting money to those Americans who most need it. A lot of Americans can’t stand to see poor people get a few dollars from the government but they think government contractors who steal millions from tax payers are the height of the free market system. It amazes me how many people feel those words, free market, have an almost sacred connotation. Try building a modern-day high speed rail network using only the private sector. You’ll end up with a joke of a rail system like Britain, or worse, the U.S.A.

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