Is America going Third World?

Posted September 16, 2010 on 2:11 am | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

“Is America going Third World? Bridges crumbling, schools and firehalls closed, streetlights turned off. The U.S. decline goes far beyond job losses and public debt.” That’s the cover story in this week’s edition of Canada’s national magazine, Maclean’s. My goodness. When exactly did that happen, that Canada looks south and is startled to see a country in threatening disarray, fighting fruitless wars it cannot afford or win while letting many of its urban centres turn into wastelands as hundreds of thousands of its citizens lose their homes due to the greed and lack of control of financial institutions. Not to mention a medical system that is great for the rich and non-existent for the poor.

Not very long ago, Canada would have been a laughing stock if it had given the impression that it considered itself to have designed a superior society to the superpower to its south, but that’s no longer the case. All the UN rankings of national liveability rate Canada at or near the top as the US sinks down into the mid-teens. It used to be that Seattle would have been considered a far more interesting city than its northern neighbour Vancouver, and Detroit more cosmopolitan than dull Toronto, but now those are laughable propositions. It used to be that Canadians moved south for better wages and job opportunities (and climate), and of course many still do, but now over a million Americans live in Canada, for the first time since the Vietnam War when Trudeau’s Canada became the refuge for Americans who felt disinherited, many of whom stayed on, making it the fourth-largest immigrant group in one of the major immigration lands.

It is of course perfectly legitimate to point out the hypocrisy of these kinds of articles, as Canada has its own third world problem that has failed to solve: the miserable conditions of far too many First Nations reserves, a true disgrace if the country is as wonderful and rich as this article suggests, the miserable performance of the current government on environmental issues like climate change, a drug problem that is out of control. Not to mention that if the US economy really tanks as many fear it will if it doesn’t stop fighting awful wars soon (what ever happened to you Barack Obama?) it will take Canada down with it part of the way. But the main point is still worth pondering. Has the US so mismanaged its economic and social affairs that its closest neighbour and best friend is right to have legitimate concerns in seeing how it can steady a wallowing ship of state? Let’s hope the hosers are wrong.

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IRAQ: Dreams vs. Realities

Posted September 6, 2010 on 3:15 pm | In the category Economy, Iraq, Press | by Jeff

In Iraq, brief triumph subsided through criminal incompetence into fractured mayhem, leaving more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead and concluding in the fluid uncertainty of sporadic violence and democratic deadlock. No intellectual contortion – even with important stirrings of political give-and-take in Iraq – can ever inscribe Operation Iraqi Freedom in the annals of U.S. victories. — Roger Cohen, NY TIMES, 9/2/10

Cohen says what most media analysts avoid saying as they celebrate a self defined   “success” in Iraq. The war began on a lie, proceeded to kill at least 100,000 Iraqis and some 4000 American soldiers, spent and committed over $3 trillion, in American tax payers’ money, enhanced Iran’s influence in the region, left over 35,000 American soldiers seriously wounded, tarnished America’s reputation, debased our politics and exposed the American media as gung-ho cheerleaders for a war we chose to start on non-existent evidence of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

Much of the analysis has focused on the “success” of the surge. While the surge contributed to controlling the security needs, most reporting – as compared to op ed analysts – noted the more significant contribution made by buying the Sunnis’ support by paying the “Sons of Iraq”, the Sunni militia that turned against al-Queda in Iraq in 2006.  Unfortunately, as Uthman al-Mukhtar reports in the Eurasia Review, “…pro-government Sunni militias have accused Iraq’s national leaders of leaving them in poverty and vulnerable to violence. The warnings come as al-Qaeda employs a mix of intimidation and enticement to lure Sunni fighters to joint the insurgents.” Having played a major role in bailing out the failed U.S. effort in Iraq they are now left to their own devices to deal with a political stalemate that has proven to be unable to even form an operating government and that has left the Sunnis out of the functioning economy.

Sunday’s Washington Post carried an op ed by Nobel Prize economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, and his co-author and researcher Linda J. Bilmes, that updates his earlier estimates of the true cost of the war to America. Their piece – “The True Cost of the Iraq War: $3 Trillion and Beyond” –  is depressing but essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the true costs of the Iraq adventure.

But the major issue that seems never to really get addressed is: Was it worth it? Or put another way, was it in our national interest to spend that much money and human resource on a war that has given us an Iraq that is almost totally dysfunctional, an Iran with more influence in Iraq than before the war, an Afghanistan too long neglected and now significantly controlled by the Taliban, an American deficit that eliminates the political possibility of stimulating the economy further, 100,000 Iraqi dead, some 4 million Iraqi refugees, the disillusionment of many of our allies, and a war that continues even as we partially depart. We got rid of Saddam and his sons and gave ourselves a pat on the back. But was it really worth it?

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In Praise of Prose

Posted September 5, 2010 on 11:16 pm | In the category Canada, Germany, Russia, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Here are four antidotes to the endless announcements of the death of books and reading. These are prose works written in the last couple of years in four different languages that can hold their own in any discussion of reading material that will keep you glued to the written page.

1: Per Petterson (Norway) – “Kjøllvannet” – In English “In the Wake”. Following up “Out Stealing Horses” with an equally convincing meditation on the power of memory and the importance of appreciating the potential of life before “the axe blow from within”, to quote one of his favourite authors Tomas Tranströmer, strikes home. The narrator talks about the grand perception of memory in another of his favourites, Alice Munro, and his two latest novels show that he has learned from the masters.

2. Daniel Kehlmann (Germany) “Die Vermessung der Welt” – in English, “Measuring the World”.
In his hugely successful novel about genius, Kehlmann juxtaposes the lives and adventures of two German geniuses who met in older age. One, Alexander von Humboldt, let his genius unfold through great exploratory journeys to the ends of the world; the other, Johann Gauss, explored the wonders of mathematics from a solitary room. Kehlmann’s work is also surprisingly funny.

3. Sofi Oksanen (Finland/Estonia) “Puhdistus” in English “Purge”
Oksanen takes on nothing less than the epic of the small Baltic state of Estonia from the Nazi occupation through the Soviet counter-attack and takeover followed by the establishment of an independent state after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the current situation. In a stunning display of narrative control, Oksanen delivers a grand epic through the fates of individuals. Written in Finnish, it may well become the national epic of linguistically-related Estonia.

4. John Vaillant (Canada) “The Tiger”.
Vaillant’s just-published epic of the Russian Far East as seen through the eyes of the last wild tigers in the world and the people who live with them talks the talk and walks the walk. On its way to a climax that will knock your socks off, it tells the extraordinary tale of a world that hasn’t changed much in the last century and whose inhabitants still live in awe and on occasion deadly fear of the tremendously powerful animal who wanders through their mutually-shared taiga.

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