Time for Confederate statues and holidays to go

Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis rising from smoke and ashes is depicted in this enormous carving “etched” into the side of Stone Mountain. (By Bryce Edwards, Creative Commons)

by Tom Regan

About 25 years ago I accompanied my then fiancé, and now wife, to visit friends in the small town she grew up in just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I had never really been in the South before, and so I was unprepared for what I found.

During our visit, one of the tourist attractions that she took me to see was Stone Mountain. In case you have no idea about what Stone Mountain is, it is the Confederacy’s equivalent of Mount Rushmore. In what is apparently the largest bas-relief carving in the world, three of the main figures of the Confederacy are carved into the north face of a huge granite outcropping: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davies.

What is also interesting about Stone Mountain are historical markers and plaques placed around the outcropping. In all these various bits of historical literature, not once was the Civil War mentioned. Instead, the great conflict that took place between 1861 and 1865 is referred to as “The War of Northern Aggression.” It’s also interesting to note that Stone Mountain was the initial meeting place of the second version of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

And I remember that my main thought that day was, “Wow. These people have a really problem with historical revisionism.”

It has always puzzled me why so many Southerners, and their sympathizers in other places around the country, are so intent on linking their “heritage” to a bunch of racist losers. Because that is what the Confederacy was. A group of racist losers. But the whole idea of racism, and the whole idea of losing, seems to have been vanished from this pro-Confederacy narrative, better known as the “Lost Cause.”

It has always puzzled me why so many Southerners, and their sympathizers in other places around the country, are so intent on linking their “heritage” to a bunch of racist losers.

The Lost Cause was one of the greatest propagandistic public relations efforts ever conducted. It did not begin until after the Civil War was over. The government in Washington, reeling from the loss of Abraham Lincoln and trying to deal with the inadequacies of his successor Andrew Johnson, was busy just trying to put things back together. Meanwhile southern supporters of the Confederacy saw their chance. They invented the story that went something like this: slavery was on its last legs anyways, it would’ve died of its own heavyweight, and the real fight was about states’ rights. All Conderate leaders were great men, who really didn’t believe in slavery. This is of course nonsense – any legitimate reading of history would show that. There are numerous statements by Confederate leaders made during the Civil War that document th Confederacy was fighting to retain the right to own slaves.

The numerous Confederate statues that sprung up in places like Richmond, Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana are just one outcropping of this propaganda battle. But they’re more than that. I think New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu really hit the nail on the head in the speech he gave the other day after his city removed the last of four statues of Confederate figures.
The statues, he said, “were designed not to honor the men, not to honor Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis. They were put up to send a message [of] who were still in control, notwithstanding the fact the Confederacy lost the war. Now that’s intimidating, and the consequence of that was that people who didn’t feel comfortable here left.”

The message of who is still in control. And that is the real meaning of these monuments. It was a way for the racists who had lost the Civil War to ensure they would continue to terrorize the African-Americans they had fought to enslave. And they did so for almost another century.
But it’s time for them to go. All of them. Stone Mountain. Monument Alley in Richmond, all of the statues of all the Confederate figures scattered throughout the cities and towns of the South. And holidays that celebrate the Confederacy, like the one in Virginia known as Lee-Jackson day. Because it’s time people who claim that the statues and things like the Confederate battle flag are their “heritage” face the truth: they are honoring a group of men who fought to enslave other human beings for purely racist, monetary reasons. Plain, pure, and simple.

And by claiming this is your rightful “heritage” you make yourself no better than they were.

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The war to end all wars slowly disappears from history

World War 1 tanks and soldiers, probably British or American. [Great War Observer, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

For Canada and the United States, World War 1 has very different meanings.

In America, it is a barely remembered oddity. Very few Americans know that 100 years ago today, April 6, 1917, America entered the First World War. Buried under the tsunami of the Greatest Generation that won World War II, and wedged in between that war and the Civil War some 50 years beforehand, the war to end all wars rates barely a blip in a country that pays scanned attention to its history at the best of times.

It’s a completely different story in Canada. World War I is very much present in the minds of many older and younger Canadians. And that is primarily because of one battle – Vimy Ridge which started 100 years ago this coming Sunday, April 9. It was the first time that all four Canadian divisions in the war fought together. Both the British and the French tried to take Vimy Ridge but failed. In reality the repeated assaults on the Ridge were little more than diversionary tactics designed to draw German strength away from a more important battle, the battle of Arras. But that did not matter to Canadians, who stormed and captured Vimy Ridge in a battle that became mythologized, true or not, as the “moment” Canada became a country.

In America, World War I was seen as a problem that the United States needed to avoid. The imperial powers of Britain and France fought the imperial powers of Germany, Russia and Turkey for control of the European continent. Although Britain and France upheld democratic ideals that were very close to what Americans believed in, American politicians distrusted their long-term objectives and saw the war as a way for the countries involved merely to increase their territorial holdings. (And in some ways, this was very true, particularly in areas like the Middle East, where the Sykes-Picot agreement on how to divide up that part of the world between the imperial powers continues to haunt us to this day.)

Two events changed America’s perspective on the war. The first was the sinking of the British ship the Lusitania in 1915 where 128 Americans were killed when it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea by a German submarine. After this, American President Woodrow Wilson became much more vocal in his support of Britain and France, despite the attempts of German-Americans to keep America out of the war.

The final straw was the Zimmerman letter. Issued by the German Foreign Ministry in January 1917. The Zimmerman letter or telegram was sent to the government of Mexico and proposed a military alliance between the two countries and Japan if the United States entered the war. (Germany, which had decided to return to unrestricted submarine attacks on merchant shipping, anticipated this would draw in the US.) It called on Mexico to invade United States and Germany promised that it would help recapture and hold the land it had lost in the 1840s including Texas and Arizona and New Mexico. The letter created a firestorm in the United States and after that it was only a matter of time before the Americans went “over there.”

But despite its current low profile, World War I did affect America in many important ways. Perhaps the most important way was how many immigrants, who had always been viewed with suspicion by Anglo-Protestant Americans, came to be seen as “real” Americans for the first time because of their willingness to sign up and fight. It also promoted America’s move from a mostly rural culture to a much more urban one. For many of the thousands of troops who went to Britain and France this was the first time they had been more than 20 or 30 miles away from the spot on which they had been born. And, as the song says, “How ya going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris.”

A copy of the Vancouver Sun from April 10, 1917 celebrating Canada’s role at Vimy Ridge. [Vancouver Sun, Creative Commons]

Meanwhile Canada had been involved in the struggle from the very beginning, but always under the command of British officers. Which was what happened at Vimy Ridge was so important because the Canadians won that battle with minimal British help.

There were dark moments. In Newfoundland, which back then was in a colony of Britain and not yet a part of Canada, July 1 does not only mark the day Canada became a country in 1867. July 1 marks the day that 758 Newfoundlanders took the field at Beaumont-Hamel on the first day of the battle of the Somme in 1916. By the end of that day 90% of the Newfoundland Regiment were dead, dying, or wounded. At the next day’s roll call only 68 men were present. There was hardly a town or an outport in all of Newfoundland that was not touched by that day’s events.

For me, World War I is also very present. I was named after a great uncle, my grandmother’s brother, who was killed by a sniper during the war. I have very strong memories of watching First World War veterans taking part in ceremonies at the National Cenotaph in Ottawa when I was growing up. As a youngster, I met several men who had fought in the war. It does not seem like it was 100 years ago to me.

After the war, Canada was different. It no longer saw itself as a colony of Great Britain but as its own country and some 20 odd years later when World War II started, Canada did not declare war on Germany the same day as Great Britain but purposely waited several days before doing it on its own to make the point ‘we call our own shots from now on.’

Taking a more realistic view, World War I was an unnecessary slaughter ofmillions of men on both sides for reasons that are still not very clear. And while Vimy Ridge was an important moment for many Canadians, it’s fair to say that it means more to English Canada than to French Canada, so the claim that it is the moment that Canada became a country needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

I think that after this year’s anniversaries, World War I, the war to end all wars, will continue to disappear into the background, perhaps only commented on in British historical dramas, Canada’s National Film Board documentaries, and maybe some Ken Burns-like filmmaker in America deciding to do a series on PBS. For a war that meant led to so many changes for so many countries, I doubted 50 years from now it will be little more than a few paragraphs in high school history books.

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Trump’s climate change changes really don’t matter

About 41% of the current 250,000 people employed by the solar industry work in installation.

By Tom Regan

My grandfather had a saying that he would use every time I did something too late to have any effect.

“You closed the barn door after the horse was already out past the gate.”

I thought of that saying this morning as I read about President Donald Trump’s plans to undo the climate change regulations that his predecessor Barack Obama had put into place to fight climate change, especially in the late stages of his administration. It’s fair to say that Trump hates Obama so much he will go to any length (or try to, though often not successfully, as we just saw with his Trumpcare debacle) to sabotage anything that Obama did. Trump wants nothing left of the Obama “legacy” by the time he leaves office.

But I’m afraid that on climate change that horse is already out past the gate and despite Trump’s best attempts, he won’t be able to get it back in the barn. While his latest actions will slow down the effects of some of the later regulations that Obama put into place, and cause some headaches for the Paris Treaty on climate change, the United States (like much of the world) is already moving away from fossil fuels like coal and oil and more quickly towards solar, wind and natural gas.

Trump officials say the reason that he is wiping out the Obama era regulations is his desire to make America ‘energy independent’ and help coal miners in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia who carried him to the presidency.

This is, however, only so much hot air. America is already well on its way to energy independence. And broader economic trends have already spelled the end of the line for coal. Robert Murray, the head of the largest privately held coal mining company in the US told the Guardian this week that coal jobs aren’t coming back, regardless of what Trump promises. Murray says the jobs have been lost to competition and technology, not regulations. Also, many of the changes that Trump wants to make will take years to put into place and will make little difference in the end.

Here is what will, and is, making a difference. In less than a week, Elon Musk will start taking orders for his solar roof shingles. They are expected to be tougher than regular shingles but cost less. Along with his Powerwall 2, Musk wants to make renewable energy available to every home. Meanwhile, Amazon has announced that it will cover 15 massive warehouses around the US with rooftop solar panels, generating as much as 80% of each facility’s annual energy needs. And where Amazon goes, others will follow.

As it is, solar power currently employs twice as many people in the United States as does coal and slightly more than natural gas. And here’s the thing. Many of those solar jobs are in installation. They are exactly the kind of jobs that many coal miners or other blue collar workers could be easily retrained to do. If Trump really wanted to create more jobs, he would be continuing Obama’s actions, not trying to blow them up.

[Care of the Solar Foundation]

Or take the better fuel efficiency standards for cars and lighter trucks that the Trump administration says it wants to “review.” Again, the horse is well out of the barn. Turns out Americans like driving cars that give them more miles to the gallon. And the two states that have the most drivers – California and New York – have sworn to fight the Trump administration on just about everything (about an hour after Trump took office on January 20th, California’s air regulators released a plan to cut emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030). California says it has every intention of continuing its plan to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2015. And seven days ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $70 million electric car rebate. Eligible buyers would get a $2000 rebate.

And that’s not even examining what’s happening with wind or natural gas.

Once again, as is his way, Trump is grabbing the axe by the wrong end. His actions show little foresight and worse planning. It’s like he is only talking to his billionaire buddies who show up to play golf at Mar El Lago on the weekends and who complain to him about the problems of the 1%.

In the end, Obama’s legacy of starting to move this country down the road of renewable energy in order to help prevent climate change will long outlive any ham-handed attempt by Trump to kill it.

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Little difference between London and New York terrorist attacks

Attacks in London and New York were both terrorist incidents. [Photo by Ben Rowe, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

On Wednesday there was a “lone wolf” terrorist attack in London. Four people, including a police officer and the attacker, were killed. Late on Monday, there was also a “lone wolf” terrorist attack in New York. A 28-year old white man named James Harris Jackson, a military veteran, started roaming the streets of the city looking to kill black men. He proceeded to attack and kill Timothy Caughman, a black man he had never met before. After the killing, he looked for more victims but says something “spooked” him and he hid in his New York hotel room instead until he surrendered to police Wednesday.

Both attacks were done by men who, while acting alone, identified with groups who promote a violent agenda. Both men deliberately choose to commit their terrorism to attract as much media attention as possible. Jackson admitted that he came to kill black men in New York because it’s the “media capital” of the world and he wanted ”to send a message.” The London attacker, who has not been identified yet, was “inspired by international terrorism” according to police reports (as in ISIS) and obviously choose London and Parliament because it would attract the most media attention. Both men wanted to start a “war.” The London attacker is part of ISIS’s attempt to start a war between the West and Islam. James Jackson said, like Dylan Roof who killed nine Africans-Americans in Charleston in June 2015, that he wanted his actions to inspire a war between blacks and whites in America.

Looking specifically at the New York attack, it can be seen as part of a consistent uptick in hate-related crimes since the start of Donald Trump’s campaign for president. While Trump has not made an overt racist comment during the 2016 campaign and election, or during his short-term as president, his reluctance to condemn outpourings of support from white-supremacist, racist, and neo-Nazi groups has acted like a dog whistle to these groups, who see this reluctance as an invitation to be more open with their often violent hatred and bigotry towards Muslims, Jews, Hispanics and African-Americans.

As well, Trump’s hesitation in condemning recent attacks against Jewish cemeteries and community centers, or the murder of a visiting Indian engineer who was mistaken by a racist attacker for a Muslim, has also led leaders of these targeted communities to question Trump’s motives. Some have been quite specific. Steve Goldstein, head of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said Trump “quacks, walks and talks like an anti-Semite. That makes him an anti-Semite.”

Where this becomes a problem is in how Trump deals with hate-crime terrorism in the United States, because make no mistake, these attacks are designed to terrorize a community as much as yesterday’s London attack was. It must have been more than a bit disturbing for members of these minority communities to read the report from the Reuters news agency in early February that the Trump administration “wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism.” This deliberately ignores the reality of frequently deadly violence directed towards minorities in the United States by people who adhere to a white supremacist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic ideology.

Donald Trump needs to be president for all Americans, not just his hard-core supporters. He needs to denounce these white supremacist terrorist groups as much as he denounces the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. Until he does that millions of his fellow countrymen will be concerned that they may be violently attacked, not by Islamist terrorists, but by Americans who do not like the color of their skin or their personal religious beliefs.

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Why jobs Trump promised aren’t coming back

Cleveland’s now deserted industrial flats. The kind of jobs that once kept these businesses in operation are not coming back to the US, despite President Trump’s promises. [Photo by Lisa Chamberlain, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

If you want to know why I don’t believe that manufacturing jobs will be returning to the United States as President Trump promised in his election campaign – at least not the kind of manufacturing jobs that once existed in this country – then you need to travel back with me 20 or so years to the Harvard Business School.

Back then I had the chance to sit in on an entire course taught on the Ethics of Business. What I witnessed was fascinating.

The main argument in the class almost always boiled down to duty to shareholders. The professor would offer up example after example of a possible ethical conflict and in the end, the class would invariably break down into two groups: Those who felt that businesses had an ethical duty to society at large and those who felt the only duty was to shareholders and what was necessary to make them happy. This latter group was by far the much larger group and were often identified by the little shark stickers they would place on their cardboard name cards.

I think of that group to this day. By now, they are all in their late-40s and no doubt running business across America. And many of those businesses have probably dramatically changed their manufacturing processes. Some have outsourced their work to China or Taiwan or Thailand or Mexico. Many others have used technology and robots to improve the way they make their cars, air conditioners or tractors for example.

Making those cars or air conditioners or tractors are the jobs that are no longer available to many of the people who supported Donald Trump, the jobs he promised to bring back to help make America great…again. Recently I wrote about how technology is the main reason for the decline of these older forms of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Studies have shown that up to 87% of American manufacturing jobs have been lost to technological innovation while only 13% have been lost to trade or companies outsourcing their work to other countries. A recent McKinsey report showed that by 2050 almost 50% of current American jobs in all industries will be replaced by some form of technology.

I deliberately wrote “older forms of manufacturing jobs” because the jobs themselves have not been lost, they just changed. In September 2016 there were more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs available in the United States. But almost all required advanced education or training.

All these factors taken together show why these jobs aren’t coming back despite Trump’s promises. The first duty of publicly owned companies is to their shareholders, not to the “American people.” Much has been made of Donald Trump’s background as a billionaire businessman, so he knows how true this is. Even companies like Carrier and its parent company United Technologies, which did agreed to keep some jobs in the United States after being pressured by Trump, is still outsourcing an even greater number of jobs to Mexico because this will reduce costs and make shareholders happy.

Then there’s technology. Many people currently left unemployed by changes in the economy could find work again if they were willing to get that additional education or training. The truth is, however, many of these people just don’t want to do that. They want their old jobs back and really don’t want to deal with the fact that that’s not going to happen. In fact some industry experts have said that even if Trump did bring some of the jobs back to the United States, they would then be lost to technology.

Even more daunting is that McKinsey prediction because we are doing such a poor job right now of preparing young people for the future. A high school education will literally get you little more than a burger flipping job. Once it might have gotten you a good job driving a truck or a taxi but with driverless cars and trucks only a decade away from being an everyday reality that no longer holds true. Even burger flipping might be taken over by robots.

No, the jobs aren’t coming back, one at least not in their old form. Unfortunately, this will probably make people even angrier than they are now. What President Trump needs to be doing is what President Obama was trying to do and that is promote education at all levels and helping people understand that without that education they face a bleak, probably jobless, future.

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The myth of ‘Middle America’ values

The values of hard-work, creativity, innovation and inspiration can be found as much on either coast as they can in the middle of the country. [Photo ‘Field of Gold’ by Nicholas Henderson, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

There is a myth that circulates in the media of this country, particularly among talking heads on cable news channels and frequently on the opinion pages of newspapers. The myth goes something like this: “real” American values can only be found in Middle America (what is sometimes called fly-over country). The kind of values that you find on the two coasts really don’t represent ‘real’ America.

I’m sure you’ve all heard various versions of this myth. God-fearing, patriotic (as in football loving, flyover, flag-waving exhibitions), blue-collar, family-oriented etc. etc. it’s been around for as long as I can remember and the recent election of Donald Trump has only enhanced its status as a myth since many people see this is the constituency that elected Donald Trump.

Well, this myth is only so much nonsense. In fact I would argue that the opposite is true; these are not the real American values. In some ways are almost anti-American values not because of what they claim on the surface but because of what lurks underneath. And what lurks underneath is too often in fact anathema to “real” American values.

From the beginning of this country Americans have challenged the status quo. The very founding of the country, an act of rebellion against a world superpower, set the tone for the coming decades. While it took a while for Americans to find their footing and their place among the citizens of the world, once they did they never looked back.

The result is an almost unparalleled story of innovation, creativity, and inspiration in more fields than can be imagined including art, medicine, science, music, law, education, film, and a hard-working entrepreneurial spirit that literally changed the world. And all this accomplished while accepting wave after wave of new immigrants who, while viewed with suspicion and alarm at first, grew into the very best of what America is all about and often became the leaders in the fields mentioned above.

This, to me, represents real American values. And they can be found just as much on either coast as they can in the middle of the country. These are the values that have made America the leader in so many fields for so long.

But that leadership is now threatened by the kind of values represented in that myth of Middle America. Behind all the razzmatazz about God and country and family values lurks fear, suspicion of others, suspicion of progress, a desperate clinging to a world that does not exist anymore, and a refusal to accept the reality of the situation that they face and what needs to be done to change it.

It’s not just that there are many Americans, and they are mostly white and often older, who want the world to go back to “the way it used to be” but knowingly refuse to accept the idea that “the way it used to be” is vanishing. It’s not that the values of God, or country, or family values are out of date, it’s just that they were often a patina that covered over a sense of superiority and entitlement that made too many think the world was their oyster and that they would not have to change as the world changed around them.

It’s always been my personal belief that the greatest thing about America is the idea of America. It’s really what separated it from every other country on the planet. The idea that anybody could be an American no matter where they came from.

And it was those ideas mentioned above of creativity and innovation – and the freedom that they represent – that defined the best in us as a people. Which is why I find the fear and suspicion represented in that myth of Middle America so un-American at heart.

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Listening to the opposition… Carefully

It’s hard, but necessary, to hear what the other side is saying. [“The argument” by Kurt Bauschardt, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

One of my oldest friends in the world has become what I would consider a far-right conservative. His opinions on Muslims, liberals, the “left loonies” as he calls them, frequently infuriate me. He’s a big fan of posting links on Facebook from sites that I consider “fake news” that often feature stories that are wildly inaccurate or use grossly out-of-date photos or videos to create negative impression of more recent events. He’s been “unfriended” by many people he has known for a long time who no longer find his views palatable.

But that will never ever happen with me. As much as I sometimes find his views beyond the pale, he has every right in the world to hold them and even publicize them. And he’s not the only one. I have no intention of ever deleting or unfriending individuals whose views I find repugnant. It is vitally important that I know what others think and that I use every opportunity to engage them in debate and try to correct a misstatement or an incorrect fact. It doesn’t always work. There’s lots of proof that it’s hard to get people to change their views. But that’s okay. Now and then they raise valid points that I would totally miss if I had blocked them out.

There is a real danger among liberals and progressives to exist in an echo chamber where they only hear views that mirror their own. (I suppose it’s no different for conservatives or far-right alt-Reich proponents. But I’m not worried about them.) Although it’s far from the only reason that Donald Trump won the last election, the tendency of those on the left to totally discount any view that even carries a hint of conservatism definitely played a role in his victory. In the midst of the noise from alt-Reich party boys, the unhinged ranting of Alex Jones at Infowars, the poorly constructed lies of Breitbart, and the fake news being pumped out via Russia-supported fly-by-night websites, there were conservatives who were saying they were going to vote for Trump because they felt they had no other option, often despite the fact they weren’t all that crazy about him. But we in the left largely missed what they were saying because we had just closed their minds to anything that any scent of Trump support. That was a mistake.

But don’t want to get me wrong here. I’m not saying that liberals need to flail themselves over a missed opportunity. Nor that we must give weight to every lunatic far-right screed. Nor do I buy the warmed-over, pablum-like rhetoric about the coasts being “out of touch” with the “real America” of the flyover states in the middle. The coasts are just as much “real America” as any Midwestern spread of farmland. I reject the notion that because we value diversity, openness, education, science, democracy and a positive role for government that we are less American than anybody else. That’s just horse manure.

What I am advocating is that if those on the left value the things listed in the previous paragraph, we will have a better idea of how to defend those values if we listen to what the other side is saying. Many years ago I was fortunate enough to hear the great Molly Ivins speak at a conference. After she gave her talk she opened the floor to questions and one of the first ones was what advice she would give to those on the left about how to combat the ideas of the right. Her advice was to “read across the grain”, not to just read those things whose viewpoint you agreed with, but to look for the logic, or the lack thereof, in opposing viewpoints.

Because in the end there is no way that everyone in this country is going to be singing the same song or hold hands with each other in perfect harmony and unity. It’s a bit of a creepy idea and not very American. We can certainly strive for better understanding of each other and look for areas of agreement. Nevertheless, it’s important that those of us who hold progressive values fight for the things we believe in because it’s a battle that will never end. But knowing what the other side is thinking will help us craft successful outcomes that otherwise might elude us through our own ignorance.

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Why are Canadians doing so much better than Americans?


Canadians are quickly moving farther ahead than Americans in important social, economic and political measurement. [Photo of Canada Day 2014 in Calgary, taken by Thanks for Visiting, Creative Commons]

The latest results are in and it’s not looking good for Americans as compared to their neighbors to the north. An article in Canada’s national news magazine, Maclean’s, lists a few of the ways that Canada has moved ahead of the United States in important economic, social, and political measurements.

For instance, Canadians live an average of 2.5 years longer than Americans. They are six times less likely to find themselves behind bars. They are the 6th happiest people in the world, while Americans are in unlucky 13th place. Almost 60% of Canadians have a college degree while in the United States it’s only 46%.

The libertarian Cato Institute ranks Canadians as the sixth freest people in the world, while the US can be found in 23rd place. The conservative Heritage Foundation puts Canada ten places higher than the US for economic freedom. Home ownership is 5% higher in Canada and Canadians earn more money per capita than Americans. Yet, Canadians also work 80 fewer hours per year than their American cousins and take an extra three days of vacation.

One of the stats that matters the most in a free society is press freedom. Reporters without Borders ranks Canada 18th, which is not what it should be, but the US limps in at 41st. (Yes, 41st.)

Oh, did I also mention that Canadians also have universal healthcare?

But why? Why has this happened? What differences have created this startling result between these two neighbors?

Let’s start with size. There are about 320 million people in the US, and only about 1/10 of that in Canada, despite the fact that Canada is a larger country. Finding the right mixture of economic and political policies for that many people is much more difficult. There is a reason that countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland rank so high in many measurements of a successful society. Countries with smaller populations are just easier to govern in most cases.

Military spending is also another very important factor. The United States spends more than Canada on the military by a gagillion dollars. Money that could be used to alleviate poverty, create the best healthcare system in the world, provide a college education to every American, is spent instead on weapons to keep the US at the top of the superpower food chain. Meanwhile, Canada’s spending on any military necessity is anemic, largely because Canadians count on the US to protect them in times of trouble.

Yet the most important differences are cultural and political. If America had a motto, it would be “every tub on its own stand.” (Which is actually Harvard’s unofficial motto.) There are many pluses to this view of the world. Individual Americans deal with failure better than any nationality in the world, and are quick to pick themselves up off the mat and make a new start. On the other hand, however, many Americans have a hard time caring about other people in the world, let alone other Americans. And the fractured US system of government, that is so local in so many places (and in such a large country), provides benefits but it makes it very difficult to install any national programs that would help all its citizens.

Canada is a nation largely created by its geography. Living in a much harsher climate, the importance of working together just to survive was important in early Canada. It’s an attitude that has remained regardless of the fact that most Canadians no longer live in danger of the elements. And the Canadian system of parliamentary government, while it certainly has its problems, does make it easier to create those much needed national programs.

There are other factors of course, but those listed above may be among the most important. Canada is far from perfect (it’s record on its treatment of its indigenous peoples is abysmal) but appears to be on the rise. As the United States moves into four years of Donald Trump as its president, it’s very likely it will continue to drop in all of the categories mentioned above.

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Technology real job-killer in US

by Tom Regan

As technology, like solar, continues to improve, employment in fossil fuel industries will become less viable. There will be many new jobs in these new technologically advanced industries, but only for those with the education and skills needed to develop, manufacture operate or repair their products. (Photo by Eneco, Creative Commons)

It’s not the greatest job in the world, but it’s a living. The money is good. It can be a bit boring sometimes however – you tend to do the same thing every day. But you’ve been doing it for a long time. And now that you’re in your late 40s, maybe early 50s, you can see yourself just riding this job into retirement.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there’s a very good chance that within the next 10 years, maybe even sooner, you’re going to lose your job. But what takes your job away won’t be that your company switched production to China or Mexico, it will be technology. Maybe something as simple as a piece of software, or as complex as a robot – regardless it will allow your employer to lower costs and improve productivity. And you’ll be out in the street.


Pres. Donald Trump loves to complain that China and Mexico have been stealing jobs from American workers and that he plans to bring those jobs back. And you can see why this campaign promise resonated with so many people – there are five million fewer manufacturing jobs in the United States now than there were in 2010. Bringing those jobs back is nice idea but it’s totally pie-in-the-sky and not doable. Because the truth is that even if you brought those manufacturing jobs back they would probably be taken by a machine and not a human.

There’s a lot of recent research to back this up. A study by two Ball State professors showed that between 2000 and 2010, 87% of manufacturing jobs were lost to technology and not to trade. If that’s not bad enough, a report from McKinsey showed that 49% of worker activities can be replaced by technology. And that number is only going to grow, particularly in jobs that require repetitive tasks. Jobs, for instance, like in accounting, food preparation, or even some aspects of journalism, will be replaced by machines or robots that can do the job faster and allow increases in productivity.

So why is more attention not paid to this? There are probably two answers: 1) American businesses like to make money and cut costs. Their concerns are for their shareholders and not for their employees. If making more profit means replacing humans with machines, then so be it. They just don’t like to talk about it a lot; 2) it’s much easier for unemployed 50 year-old white guys to blame foreigners or outsiders than to blame technology. The steelworker in Pennsylvania has a much easier time blaming his lost job on a worker earning less in China, then struggling with the fact that technology made his job redundant.

Yet there is a way to combat this problem. It’s called education. For instance, in late 2016 there were over 300,000 manufacturing jobs available in the United States, numbers similar to what were available before the 2008 recession. There is, however, another important factor. Most of these jobs require what are known as “high skill sets” which means that they require a level of education that will enable any worker to operate technologically advanced machinery. To go back to our steelworker in Pennsylvania, chances are he or she is not interested in returning to school to learn a whole new skill set. It’s just much easier to complain about China and Mexico.

Meanwhile, most other Americans are ignoring the writing on the wall. A study by the Pew Research Center show that 80% of Americans think that their job will existed in its current form in 50 years. It’s just whistling past the graveyard.

It boils down to this. American jobs are being lost to technology, not to trade. The answer is education and improved skills but that requires much more investment in education. And based on who Pres. Trump just named as his Secretary of Education, the befuddled Betty DeVos, there is a serious question whether that will happen or not. Pres. Trump can rant all he wants about China and Mexico but that won’t stop American jobs from disappearing. And unless he faces the real issue, it’s only going to get worse.

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The fight for facts

by Tom Regan

It’s been about 20 years since I had my first brush with the way people can twist or deny facts to suit their own political agendas.

I had accompanied a friend, an experienced reporter who had spent many years in the Middle East, to hear her give a talk to a group in Boston. My friend was articulate, balanced, and insightful in her presentation of what she had learned and seen during her many years covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues in the region.

But what then happened remains with me to this day. The group, who were particularly anti-Palestinian, basically took many of the things that she had said and turned them completely around in their meaning. It was like my friend had said the color was red and her audience repeated back to her ‘you said it was blue.’ My friend tried to correct this misunderstanding, but despite her efforts, this group was only hearing what it wanted to hear. Or to put it another way, they had already made up their minds what the facts were, rightly or wrongly, and they would not be convinced otherwise.

The label “fake news” is being tossed around whenever people read, see or hear a news report they disagree with. (photo by Zeptonn, Creative Commons)

This is a dangerous time for facts. Not only because it is often difficult to sort out meaningful ones from information that just might be background noise, but the political environment in this country has become so charged and divided that both sides want to ignore the veracity of events and words and create their own interpretation that suits their own agendas.

This is particularly the case right now with supporters of Donald Trump, but it is a problem that crosses the political spectrum.

The recent excellent piece by longtime Wisconsin conservative radio talk show host Charlie Sykes in the New York Times outlines how conservative media was too gung ho in undermining the legitimacy of mainstream modern media. The idea was, in his words, to challenge the interpretation of events as depicted in much of this media, which conservatives saw as too biased towards liberals, and add nuance and understanding to the interpretation of political events so that they didn’t seem so one-sided. What happened, however, was the conservative media just denounced everything that traditional media published or broadcast as lies, misinformation or, as we would say in current parlance, “fake news.”

The result, Sykes argues, is that many conservatives now won’t believe anything traditional media publishes and as a result ignored many of the legitimate warning signs about Donald Trump’s stability, temperament and truthfulness.

As I noted above, liberals can ignore facts as completely as conservatives. Many of the same liberals who would praise NASA scientists for their work on climate change, will denounce scientists who say that GMOs won’t not harm humans, regardless of the scientific evidence, or regardless of what group of scientists wrote the report. Even reports that say we need to be careful with GMOs, but say that overall, their benefits outweigh any harm, are still dismissed. Their belief that GMOs are harmful is more important to them than many studies that would say otherwise. As well, it seems that, like conservatives, the more evidence that is presented that GMOs are overall harmless, the stronger the belief becomes that they are dangerous. Holding their position is more important than changing their view.

The battle to restore legitimacy of facts will be a difficult one. In this postmodern world in which we live, subjectivity matters above all. And there is some validity to the idea that we should not accept facts at face value, but do our best to deconstruct them to find the real truth at their core. But that requires effort, effort I’m not sure that people are willing to make. It’s just so much easier to let your cultural or political beliefs dominate your life rather than question whether or not they are true. If this continues, facts will indeed become an endangered species.

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