8.20.2006

differences

When someone asks me why I prefer Canada to the US - if they really want to know - I usually list the Big Things: national health insurance, secure abortion rights, same-sex marriage, no death penalty, a more cooperative outlook to the world, greater tolerance of and respect for difference, all relative to the United States.

These Big Things, in my opinion, speak of a different concept of society, one based more on community and less on unfettered greed and selfishness - a society that is more humane, less violent, and more oriented towards caring for its members and trying to solve people's problems. And these Big Things express themselves in daily life in myriad small ways. In my Globe & Mail essay, I mentioned two examples from everyday life: the GO train, paid on the honour system, and excellent recycling facilities.

A few days ago, Allan and I had dinner with A&S*, another ex-pat couple, here for the same reasons as us. Between the four of us, we have lived in four major US cities - New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, DC - as well as several smaller US cities, and spent time in many more. We all live in the GTA; we have all been here almost one year. We all feel that life is better here, and we were able to enumerate several "little things" - examples from everyday life - that reflect that.

First, the usual important disclaimers. These are generalizations. I'm sure we can all think of exceptions to these observations, on both sides of the border. None of us imagine Canada to be a perfect paradise, and all of us know good people doing the right thing in the US. Nevertheless, after a year living in and around Canada's largest metropolitan area, we have noticed several things.

** Toronto is much cleaner and well-maintained than any US city. Please: no need to point out that Montreal is even cleaner, or that Toronto has gotten dirtier since the Harris government. Despite that, Toronto is much cleaner and well-maintained than any US city.

** Parents do not abuse children in public. In the US, it is not at all uncommon to see parents slap, yank, shake, smack, shriek at or berate their children on public transportation, in malls, in parks, and elsewhere. None of us have ever seen that here. (Again, disclaimer: we're not saying there is no child abuse here, that would be absurd.)

** There are no stray dogs in the parks.

** Dogs here are calmer and seem happier. GTA dogs don't bark, snarl and freak out in public. They are clearly more relaxed, well exercised, and less stressed.

** Ontario law forbids landlords to refuse tenants based on pet ownership. Although there are some pet-friendly US cities, no state, to my knowledge, has such a law. Thousands of people in the US are forced to give up beloved animals because they cannot find a place to live that accepts pets.

** When you're in your car, stopped at a red light, the car behind you does not honk as soon as the light turns green. In the US, it's: red-greenhonk, or even redhonk-green. The driver's hand must be on the horn, waiting to honk the instant s/he sees a red light, like sime kind of noisy reflex test. One of us recalled a sign at a busy New York City intersection: $350 fine for unnecessary honking. In the GTA, people use their car horns for warnings of potential danger.

** On the highway, people do not drive behind you flashing their high beams to get you to change lanes. They will tailgate, but they don't flash lights in your mirror.

** Everyone we do business with is friendly: the cable guy, the car dealership, the bank, the lawn-care guy, the heating oil rep, the grocery check-outs. None of them are so friendly that it uses half your day to complete a small transaction, but all of them are more than just civil - they are friendly and kind. It does no good to say they're friendly because they're taking our money. The same people in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington are not friendly. I quickly learned to be more friendly to the people I do business with. It's very pleasant.

** "A" had to see a doctor before her Ontario Health Insurance was established. Knowing she was paying entirely out-of-pocket, the doctor's office devised ways to keep her fees as low as possible. This is unheard of. When "A" told the story, at first I wasn't even sure I was understanding her correctly. The office visit fee was $32. Comparable visit in Washington, DC: $120.

** Allan and I both have supplemental insurance through our jobs. Cost to us: zero. In New York, we had huge, ever-increasing payroll deductions, large co-pays, and ever-decreasing coverage. I know that there is a trend among Canadian employers to cut benefits or to hire workers as independent contractors without any benefits. I'm aware that this is a problem, and I hope it is not allowed to spread. But Allan and I are fortunate to work in an industry that's not following that trend. The legal industry is also considered an excellent employer in New York - so we're comparing like and like, NYC corporate law firms and Toronto corporate law firms.

** The staff where I work makes full use of their vacation, sick and personal days, without negative repercussions. In a similar job in New York, you are officially given sick and personal days, but strongly discouraged from using them. If you do use them, despite the pressure not to, it may count against you when you are up for a promotion or raise. Here, I see no such pressure. And as "S" said, somehow the society continues to function!




* If you know who this is, please respect their wishes and refrain from using their names.

107 comments:

West End Bound said...

"Everyone we do business with is friendly: the cable guy, the car dealership, the bank, the lawn-care guy, the heating oil rep, the grocery check-outs."

"drf" and I have found the same to be true in Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal . . . Says a lot about Canadian civilization vs. the US. Another reason to support No Deep Integration with the USA site.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

All the reasons you list are indeed factors--both big things and little things. But for me, the biggest "big thing" is the fact that Canada has a truly multiparty political system, with four major parties and one smaller, up-and-coming one. This makes a *world* of difference in the political scene, because smaller parties can actually influence policy. (Many of the policy decisions I value most--like our government-run health care system--would never have happened if it hadn't been for the NDP, and they've never formed the government on the federal level.)

Contrast this with the U.S. two-party system, which always, always means choosing the lesser of two evils, and where most lefty ideas don't have a snowball's chance in hell of ever being aired at all, and I think you'll see what I mean!

L-girl said...

The US has a two-party system? That's very generous of you. I generally only find one.

L-girl said...

And I certainly agree re a truly multiparty system.

impudent strumpet said...

Ontario law forbids landlords to refuse tenants based on pet ownership.

I always thought that they could refuse new tenants based on pets, but once you're living there they can't kick you out for having a pet. Is it true that you they can't refuse new tenants either? Anyone have a legislation cite?

I've been postponing getting a pet (which I've wanted to do my whole life) because I want to move into this new building that's under construction, and I didn't want to give them any reason to refuse me as a tenant. I'd love it if I could get a pet now instead of waiting another 9ish months!

L-girl said...

it true that you they can't refuse new tenants either? Anyone have a legislation cite?

It is true. I don't have time to look up the cite (I'm at work), but my landlord - who does everything by the book - as well as several Ontario-based lawyers have all told me this. It's part of a human rights code! (Amazing, but true.) I'm sure you could find it pretty easily.

L-girl said...

And btw, what manner of pet? Are you going to an animal shelter to adopt?

If it's a dog, let me know if you need any help or advice.

James said...

Parents do not abuse children in public. In the US, it is not at all uncommon to see parents slap, yank, shake, smack, shriek at or berate their children on public transportation, in malls, in parks, and elsewhere. None of us have ever seen that here.

It's that insidious PCness that everyone's complaining about, forcing parents to have to use reason and compassion to raise their kids instead of old standbys like brute force. :)

There are no stray dogs in the parks.

I did see a feral cat on the West Humber trail on Wednesday...

Allan and I both have supplemental insurance through our jobs. Cost to us: zero.

That's why it's called a "benefit". :) My new job has an extra great feature: benefits cut in right away. With most full-time jobs I've had, they don't start until the end of your three-month probationary period.

They also have a RRSP plan, which I'll be taking advantage of.

I know that there is a trend among Canadian employers to cut benefits or to hire workers as independent contractors without any benefits. I'm aware that this is a problem, and I hope it is not allowed to spread.

I'm optimistic that it won't. People are now discovering that "cost saving" employee-screwing plans like "outsourcing to India" don't really save anything in the long run.

The staff where I work makes full use of their vacation, sick and personal days, without negative repercussions.

I've faced repercussions for not using accrued vacation days (usually in the form of losing the days when the year rolls over). In the IT business at least, people are finding that rested employees are generally more productive than stressed ones.

David Cho said...

Are you telling me that Noah would like Canada better? :). He does not take the cold very well, so that might be a problem.

I read a lot of Christian blogs and many of the most virulent fundamentalist blogs are from Canada. I wonder if they are more or less reactionary, not reflective of Canadian Christians as a whole because they see the surrounding culture as very "godless" and itch to have what we have here in the States.

deang said...

I've only visited Canada twice for no more than a week at a time, but I noticed both times that there seemed to be less age-grouping than I'm used to in the US. Old and young, teens and middle-ageds mixed and mingled in public places and at performances we went to with seemingly less tension than in the US. The day we arrived in Seattle after visiting Vancouver, we were struck by how age-segregated and tense Seattle seemed to be in comparison. And there seemed to be a lot fewer teenagers in Canada trying to make hard-edged statements with their clothes, something I never minded much in the US until after visiting Canada I noticed that it's accompanied by a kind of aggressive vibe.

M@ said...

Interesting to hear all this. I still find it hard to believe the amount of myth and disinformation that travels around the USA about the Canadian health care system.

Another great thing that is common in Canadian benefits programs is a sort of "floating" health benefit that enables you to pay for otherwise non-covered treatments -- massage, chiropractic, physiotherapy (which was covered provincially until not long ago), and a bunch of other things. My wife got orthotic inserts covered by this. We've had plans with $500 to $1000 a year. (On top of pharma, dental, and eyeglasses coverage, which are very common.)

One other thing -- about how friendly people are. I notice it when I go across the border -- I pay for gas, say "Thank you", and get a "uh-huh" or maybe just a grunt in reply. It really throws me sometimes. I doubt the really bad service staff is any less common here, but the minimum acceptable level of service friendliness I must say seems higher here.

James said...

When you're in your car, stopped at a red light, the car behind you does not honk as soon as the light turns green.

I think this is related to that "pedestrians wait at the Don't Walk even if there are no cars" thing. :)

I read a lot of Christian blogs and many of the most virulent fundamentalist blogs are from Canada. I wonder if they are more or less reactionary, not reflective of Canadian Christians as a whole because they see the surrounding culture as very "godless" and itch to have what we have here in the States.

I suspect that's the case. There's a trend in some forms of North American Christian fundamentalism to equate "not getting their own way" with "being persecuted" -- you can see this in the recent US case of a woman suing a university for religious discrimination on the grounds that they wouldn't let her follow her religions dictates with regard to harassing homosexuals.

Since fundamentalists don't get as far in Canada with their desire to dictate how others live their lives, it only makes sense that they'd feel more "persecuted".

(Of course, this isn't a purely North American thing... IIRC, there was an argument made in a largely Muslim democratic country recently (I forget which one) that freedom of religion for Muslims meant that all women should wear burkas. After all, a Muslim man's religion says that he should not see uncovered women, therefore, to allow him to pursue his religion, all women should be covered.)

L-girl said...

I think this is related to that "pedestrians wait at the Don't Walk even if there are no cars" thing. :)

Don't think I didn't think of that. :)

In certain respects, I hope always to be a New Yorker.

Very busy at work tonight, will respond more to comments tomorrow.

L-girl said...

I'd also like to note that when Canadians get behind the wheel of a car, as far as I can tell, off bets are off. They must decide that the Niceness Factor no longer applies!

M@ said...

I'd also like to note that when Canadians get behind the wheel of a car, as far as I can tell, off bets are off. They must decide that the Niceness Factor no longer applies!

The Canadian dirty little secret! We call it "getting in touch with our inner American". :)

Scott M. said...

The Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 of Ontario will be the new law that specifically voids any "no pet" clause (after the government decides to bring it in force). In the meantime, the same provision exists in the Tenant Protection Act, 1997 which will be repealed when the new act comes into effect.

The provision reads as follows:

"No pet" provisions void

15. A provision in a tenancy agreement prohibiting the presence of animals in or about the residential complex is void. 1997, c. 24, s. 15.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Scott!

I know that there is a trend among Canadian employers to cut benefits or to hire workers as independent contractors without any benefits. I'm aware that this is a problem, and I hope it is not allowed to spread.

I'm optimistic that it won't. People are now discovering that "cost saving" employee-screwing plans like "outsourcing to India" don't really save anything in the long run.


I'm not optimistic about this one. These are not jobs that can be outsourced as easily - writing, fundraising, other professional services. Many people who were formerly being hired full-time are now being contracted w/out benefits.

L-girl said...

The day we arrived in Seattle after visiting Vancouver, we were struck by how age-segregated and tense Seattle seemed to be in comparison. And there seemed to be a lot fewer teenagers in Canada trying to make hard-edged statements with their clothes, something I never minded much in the US until after visiting Canada I noticed that it's accompanied by a kind of aggressive vibe.

Wow, Vancouver must be pretty laid-back if Seattle seemed tense by comparison. My impressions of Seattle were pretty mellow.

I'm all for teenage rebellion, even if when it was an aggressive edge. Not when it's accompanied by swastikas, of course, but just the general fuck-you attitude. :)

L-girl said...

I pay for gas, say "Thank you", and get a "uh-huh" or maybe just a grunt in reply.

This is exactly what I was going to write! The grunt. Here, it's hello, how ya doin, nice weather, eh, have a good day. They do that in smaller towns in the US, but I find this the norm in T.O.

L-girl said...

We call it "getting in touch with our inner American". :)

:-D

A_in_TO said...

In addition to what I discussed the other evening with Laura and Allan ... parental leave is another difference between the US and Canada. Most employers in the US have NO maternity leave policy, and paternity leave is practically non-existent. A close friend and colleague of mine had to leave a non-profit organization when she got pregnant and used up her limited sick leave. Colleagues from the private sector told me their former law firms' policy: vaginal birth, back to the office within six weeks; caesarian, eight weeks. The solution in the public sector is usually not much better - to use up sick and annual leave and then start using "advanced" leave. The fact that Canada allows a woman up to a full year for childbirth, recovery from the trauma to her body, and time to care for an infant or adopted child - and the chance to keep her job - is another "humane" policy.

Marcy said...

I'm curious about the health care thing. Everyone I talk to here about my desire to immigrate keeps telling me, "Oh the health care is free but it's terrible. You have to wait forever to see a doctor, gets tests run, etc."

I had a coworker tell me a friend ended up in Canada after her husband went AWOL, and she said she almost died from complications during childbirth. She blamed the Canadian health care system. I told her that I had SEVERAL stories about people getting shoddy medical treatment right here in the good ol' U S of A.

I LOVE that pet ownership one. I had to wait until I was 36 before I could get a cat. That's awesome.

I also love the idea of being able to take your sick days and vacation. I swear, at some jobs I've had, you become a pariah if you call in sick. Your coworkers literally won't talk to you. Part of that comes from having a bare bones staff, so that when someone is sick, everyone suffers from overwork. But part of it, too, is just a bad attitude.

As for the other ones, I notice that there is a difference just in the U.S. I moved from Pittsburgh to Eugene, OR, and the attitude in the Pacific Northwest is quite different. The people here are a bit nicer, more patient, better drivers, etc. The majority of the people on public transit will say "thank you" to the driver. I asked a friend of mine from Pittsburgh who takes the bus if he's ever seen it there, and he said, "No way." (I had a car when I was in Pittsburgh, so I never took the bus there). And kids are a wee bit better behaved in public here than back east. And there is less screaming and slapping of kids here than back east as well.

About dogs: is there a problem with barking dogs there, i.e. people who leave their dogs outside and who bark into the night and early morning, disturbing everyone? I can't imagine Canadians would be that rude to subject others to their dogs barking. That is a major peeve of mine. That and loud music.

I think it all boils down to the fact that Canadians are just nicer. And even if all the other perks weren't there, that would be reason enough to go.

L-girl said...

"Oh the health care is free but it's terrible. You have to wait forever to see a doctor, gets tests run, etc."

Whatever you do, don't pay any attention to what Americans say about the Canadian health care system. They don't know what they're talking about. They can't know what they're talking about, because all they see are lies, myths and disinformation.

The Canadian health care system has some problems, but if you want to know what they are, ask a Canadian.

The system is a miracle. An absolute miracle.

I won't go on about it in comments here, but I've blogged about it lots of times - you can search for it. Maybe I'll revisit it soon.

I have also seen the difference between Northeast cities and elsewhere in the US. But that wouldn't account for Toronto! :)

L-girl said...

Part of that comes from having a bare bones staff, so that when someone is sick, everyone suffers from overwork.

That's been exactly my experience. I remember taking a vacation - unpaid! as I was not entitled to vacation pay on my hourly job - and when I got back, no one was speaking to me. They were all overloaded with my work while I was gone. So ridiculous.

L-girl said...

Hi A_in_T.O.! Welcome. :)

L-girl said...

Marcy: here are two old posts on Canadian health care and US lies about it. Not definitive or anything, just some thoughts: here and here.

gito said...

Hi L, I love to read facts about Canada! And these are some really great ones. I can't recall in all of my readings about the Great North any bad things. I know about the hardship some people face about finding high qualify jobs in the first months of their arrive, or that things are a little more expensive than the States, or the the weather is colder, or that housing is expensive. But those are normal things that people face! No matter where you are from or where you lived. But people do get around them, and you learn the system and practically overpass this difficulties with time. I have never been to Canada, although John has, and to me Canada seems like the place you would only dream of! It really feels like its the true North. We can't hardly wait to set foot on Canadian soil... gosh Laura we hope its soon... bye g.

Ferdzy said...

Hmm, as a landlord, I'm afraid I'm going to burst a few bubbles on the "can't forbid pets" scene. The fact of the matter is that I can forbid dogs in my apartment, and I do.

Here's how it works: I tell people they can't have a dog in my apartment. They mostly take my word for it. If they question me on it, I tell them that it's true; I can't legally forbid them to get a dog. However, they should be aware that if they bring a dog into the apartment, and it barks, or pisses or shits anywhere on the property, either inside or outside, I can evict that pet, just as I could evict any other tenant who did those things. So far three people have not believed me and so far I have had three people move out when it became clear that I meant it, and enforced it.

The problem is there is almost nothing other tenants hate worse than barking dogs, and I figure with a small yard I can rent to people with dogs, or I can rent to people with small children, and I've chosen the kids. I've also taken a very hard line on this because my building has *very* thin floors and noise is really a big issue here.

So, please don't assume that when landlords say "no dogs" they are just being assholes for the sake of it.

I do take cats even though they can be much harder on carpets than dogs, simply because so many people have them. At least there isn't the noise/yard shit problem.

L-girl said...

In general, I did mean to add that most standard Ontario leases include clauses that the pet or owners can be evicted (with notice and due process) if the pet is a nuisance or causes damage.

It's my understanding that tenants can't be tossed without proper notice and due process, and that a neighbour complaining about a barking dog wouldn't be enough. But obviously I only know what I've heard. I'm sure many landlords get away with stretching the law when tenants don't know their rights.

Kids cause all kinds of property damage, too, but nobody bans them.

L-girl said...

I know about the hardship some people face about finding high qualify jobs in the first months of their arrive, or that things are a little more expensive than the States, or the the weather is colder, or that housing is expensive. But those are normal things that people face! No matter where you are from or where you lived.

Well said.

Wow, you are moving someplace you've never been - a true immigrant. :)

L-girl said...

The fact of the matter is that I can forbid dogs in my apartment, and I do.

So anyway Ferdzy, how do you do this if it's not legal? Are there exceptions to the codes that Scott cited above?

Ferdzy said...

If the neighbours complain about barking dogs, that IS legal grounds for eviction. That's my point. The same with the pissing/shitting in the yard (or elsewhere.) It's legal grounds for eviction. I will give them the proper legal notice, with the proper legal time to amend the situation, but so far no one has been able to stop their dogs from doing those things, so they are evictable.

I point this out to people who want to insist that they bring in their dog and ask them if they think their dog won't be evicted? The answer is usually pretty clear.

Also, I do allow dogs in my townhouses. That's a different situation than in an apartment. The yard is the tenants own responsibility to keep clean, and other tenants aren't using the same yard. Also, the noise issue is just not the same; there is enough distance that while barking may be annoying to the neighbours, it won't make them crazy in the same way.

Pets do a LOT more damage than kids, in my experience, and we've had a few I would catagorize as real brats!

West End Bound said...

m@:
I LOVE this response to L-girl's comment about Canadian drivers:

I'd also like to note that when Canadians get behind the wheel of a car, as far as I can tell, off bets are off. They must decide that the Niceness Factor no longer applies!

The Canadian dirty little secret! We call it "getting in touch with our inner American". :)


ferdzy:
Having had rental properties in the US, I'll take dogs and cats over kids whose parents lack parental skills any day.

L-girl said...

An intolerant neighbour can cause an animal to be killed, a family to lose their beloved non-human member. It's a terrible shame.

The world is full of noises. I'd like to make all the construction outside my window go away (as everyone in Port Credit tears down the little houses they bought and builds huge McMansions that take up the entire lot), but I can't. I have to live with it.

But dogs, people can complain about them, and they can be made homeless. Very nice.

Ferdzy, you didn't answer my question.

You said: "The fact of the matter is that I can forbid dogs in my apartment, and I do."

If you're in Ontario, and Ontario law forbids you to deny renting to a tenant because of pets, how do you do get away with that?

Wrye said...

Kids cause all kinds of property damage, too, but nobody bans them.

Hrm. Why do I have the impression that some places do?

orc said...

I think the problem with dogs barking vs. construction noises is that the construction noises usually start around 8am and knock off at 5pm, while dogs feel free to bark almost any time of the day or night. The "bark bark bark bark etc..." of the local dogs around Portland is annoying enough when they're 100 meters away from my window, so I can just imagine the annoyance factor if they're in the same apartment building as I am.

(And, just as an aside, I've visited Toronto a few times and, even though it's a nice city it never struck me as much cleaner than Chicago, where I lived at the time. If I can convince my family to move, Toronto will probably be where we end up, but it won't be for the sparkling cleanliness of the city.)

L-girl said...

Orc, I see your point. My concern is families being able to have dogs, and dogs being able to have homes.

It's 7:30 a.m. here and the construction has been going for a half-hour. I work at home 4 days a week and it's directly outside my window - all day.

And the drills, jackhammers, auto hammers and electric saws aren't as bad as the music the workers blast all day - pop radio plus commercials. If the Red Sox hadn't already driven me insane, I'd lose my mind.

My neighbour's dog barks outside my window, too, but what can I say, it doesn't bother me.

Chicago is a pretty clean city, as I recall. I was impressed by that, much cleaner than NY.

L-girl said...

Kids cause all kinds of property damage, too, but nobody bans them.

Hrm. Why do I have the impression that some places do?


I'm sure you're right. It's just usually illegal, where banning dogs is usually ok.

Scott M. said...

While any "No Pets" provision is void, one can still refuse to rent out the apartment to a person who openly stated they have a pet (not legally, but hey) if they haven't signed the lease yet (I found another tenant).

As well, once the person is in, they must still control noise of any kind, and can't damage the structure. Noise complaints are grounds for eviction (when not rectified), irrespective of the cause of the noise (there is no exception for pets or small children or anything).

L-girl said...

Thanks again, Scott. (And never mind, Ferdzy, I got it now. :) )

Lone Primate said...

I think this is related to that "pedestrians wait at the Don't Walk even if there are no cars" thing. :)

Heh. I was down on Gerard at The Taste of Little India on Saturday night. We were on the north side, crossing Coxwell eastbound, which was where Gerard ceased to be blocked off. The light turned green, but the don't walk sign stayed on because it was an advanced green with a left turn arrow. In spite of the fact that Gerard was blocked off and there WAS no one to turn left, only one person out of about 30 defied the signal... the rest waited. Whites, blacks, Indians, and Southeast Asians all. Despite the fact I've lived in Canada my whole life, even I was surprised. It made me feel good. :)

Lone Primate said...

The system is a miracle. An absolute miracle.

But systems like it are so common in the Western world... and even less democratic countries... It might be fairer to characterize it as less of a miracle as a social responsibility that Americans, somehow, have absolved their government of undertaking. Harry Truman tried, I'm told. Had he succeeded, the US would have had socialized medicine a generation before Canada, and it would as much a sacred trust there as anywhere else. Ohh, but the money speaks just that much louder in the States... just loudly enough. :(

Lone Primate said...

However, they should be aware that if they bring a dog into the apartment, and it barks, or pisses or shits anywhere on the property, either inside or outside, I can evict that pet, just as I could evict any other tenant who did those things. So far three people have not believed me and so far I have had three people move out when it became clear that I meant it, and enforced it.

This strikes me as Thin Iceville. A pet is not a "tenant". It can be regarded alternately as property or a ward, but it's not a tenant. Some places try to keep kids out, too, but that's a violation of the Human Rights Act. Do you presume you could evict a person's loud or messy child? I'd suggest that, unless you were certain you could demonstrate to the satisfaction of a judge that the animals in question were actually either a physical danger or inimical to the enjoyment of property of you or others, you've been lucky. Anyone sufficiently ready to make an issue of it could cause you significant grief. You can be as righteous indignant as you like, but civil law is civil law and a tort is a tort.

L-girl said...

But systems like it are so common in the Western world... and even less democratic countries... It might be fairer to characterize it as less of a miracle as a social responsibility

Well, of course. But for people from places without, it's a miracle. A beautiful, living, practical, workable miracle.

that Americans, somehow, have absolved their government of undertaking.

You still don't know how it works down there, do you?

Harry Truman tried, I'm told.

As have several others.

Ohh, but the money speaks just that much louder in the States... just loudly enough. :(

That's why it's unfair to blame the American people. Their government is completely unresponsive to their needs. You can shout and stamp your feet all you want, but no one listens. Those who aren't shouting have been fed a steady diet of propaganda about the evils of national health insurance.

No one has absolved anyone. They are simply either ignorant, or powerless, or both.

L-girl said...

only one person out of about 30 defied the signal... the rest waited. . . . It made me feel good. :)

Yeesh. An over-reliance on rules and submission to authority is not something to be admired. When walking across the street is an act of defiance, people are just too docile!

I'm glad at least one person did it. If I had been there, there would have been two. :)

Lone Primate said...

The same with the pissing/shitting in the yard (or elsewhere.) It's legal grounds for eviction.

No way. Not a chance. There's not a sane judge in this country who would agree that an animal relieving its bowels is legal grounds for eviction, because there's never been a pet born who didn't have to do it. You might as well leave toilets out of your apartment and demand your tenants hold it in. A pet owner can be required to clean up after the animal, but that fact that the animal deficates per se is part and parcel of having a pet; no judge is going to see that as exceptional or beyond the scope of the Act. If you're hoping to take that before a judge and have it saluted, I think you're in for a big surprise. As far as barking disturbing the neighbours goes, they'd have to be willing to attest to that, in court, and again they'd have to demonstrate that it infringes on their enjoyment of property... like it goes on for hours every night at 2 in the morning. Not that they could hear a dog barking when they go for the paper or drive up after work.

I'm pretty sure the only grounds you'd have are that the pet makes life unlivable (barking all night) or causes damage to your property of a substantial nature that causes you financial loss. Other than that, there are certain implications to pet ownership that would be normal and expected and would obviously be inclusive to the Act. Again, I think you've been lucky.

L-girl said...

And tenants, ignorant of their rights, have been unlucky. To say nothing of their dogs.

Lone Primate said...

You still don't know how it works down there, do you?

L., I know where you're going with this, but it still doesn't wash with me. There's been all kinds of progressive legislation in US history that's been rammed down the throats of powerful interests, when the will was there. The Sherman Antitrust Act, acts against monopolies, acts limiting work hours, acts banning child labour, acts establishing a minimum wage, acts establishing safety standards for automobiles, acts protecting civil rights in the South... this is just one issue where the will hasn't manifest itself in sufficient force to overcome the inertia. I'm willing to put part of that down to AMA propaganda, but the fact is, the idea's out there: you can have a single-payer health care system; and there are examples of it working all around the world. To be honest, people have to be spectactularly resistant to the evidence to demand they've got it right and the whole world's got it wrong, and while I think it's a shame, I can't agree with you that it's been denied them by invisible hands. If they wanted it, really wanted it, the votes in Congress would be there, just like they were for all those other advances.

When walking across the street is an act of defiance, people are just too docile!

I think you have to pick your battles. Establishing a culture of defiance of the rules and the norms for its own sake would erode the very civil society you prize here in Canada. Sure... no one was going to be run down in this case. But people respected the form, and that's important. If not crossing against the light implied something racist, or denied someone fundamental justice, or a fair shake at a job, then yes... a Canadian should cross against the light. But if not crossing against the light, even when there's no compulsion not to, reflects a respect for the rules that imply someone gets a fair turn, then I think what you're looking at is actually the cultural bedrock upon which the society you found attractive enough to move country for is founded. It's not stupidity, it's not cowardace, it's civility. It's the very same thing as saying "thank you" in the gas station. It's not required... but it greases the wheels of getting along and living together, and I was as proud to see that as I would be if a Canadian, choosing his or her moment, rose to challenge injustice. I think it's that balance that makes Canada attractive to some people in the US who feel something there has been lost.

L-girl said...

If they wanted it, really wanted it, the votes in Congress would be there, just like they were for all those other advances.

Wouldn't that be nice. Like I said, you still don't know how it works there.

I think you have to pick your battles. Establishing a culture of defiance of the rules and the norms for its own sake would erode the very civil society you prize here in Canada.

No battle here, I'm not that attached to the idea. And I don't defy rules and norms for their own sake. Fortunately I outgrew that at about age 19.

To me, it's just common sense: no cars within sight, no need to wait. Others are free to make a different choice at the same light.

I do think this is a pretty docile society - perhaps that's what Canadians mean when they say people are too complacent? I'm not sure - and that's also a good thing, as you point out.

I'm not touting jaywalking as some symbolic act of rebellion, and there is such a thing as reading too much into a simple act. (Last time we talked about this you accused me of American exceptionalism.)

I'm only saying I can't just stand there and wait for a little light to tell me it's safe to cross. That's just me personally, the way I'm built.

James said...

15. A provision in a tenancy agreement prohibiting the presence of animals in or about the residential complex is void. 1997, c. 24, s. 15.

At our old condo, they had a rule that each unit could have up to two pets, with "two pets" defined as: two cats, two small dogs, a cat and a small dog, one large dog, one "exotic animal", or any number of fish.

I'm only saying I can't just stand there and wait for a little light to tell me it's safe to cross. That's just me personally, the way I'm built.

It's not telling you it's safe to cross; it's just telling you that if anyone hits you, it's their fault, not yours. :)

In this particular case, though -- Don't Walk on an advance -- it's a really good idea not to cross. I've seen several cases of people deciding it's safe and nearly getting clipped by some idiot racing to turn left on the advance. The pedestrians can't see those guys, since they're coming from behind.

And besides, what's the hurry? :)

L-girl said...

In this particular case, though -- Don't Walk on an advance -- it's a really good idea not to cross.

Thanks, Dad. ;-)

And besides, what's the hurry? :)

Let's just say I'm easily bored.

If I'm ever hit, you guys can all say I told you so. :)

Lone Primate said...

If I'm ever hit, you guys can all say I told you so. :)

There's a vast irony in being hit by a car AFTER having left New York City. :)

L-girl said...

There's a vast irony in being hit by a car AFTER having left New York City. :)

Whoa whoa whoa, you mean there would be vast irony. I haven't been hit yet, you know.

NYC is a pretty safe place for pedestrians, because it's completely pedestrian oriented. Traffic moves verrrry slowly, and people cross the street pretty much at will.

In our old neighbourhood (more residential, not like a downtown area), it didn't matter if you crossed with or against the lights - you were just as likely to get hit as not! Cars were forever going through red lights, so you had to be super careful, no matter what. Maybe that's why I'm used to it.

Marcy said...

Regarding universal health care in the states, we probably will never get it b/c the government and big business are in bed together. I think recently there was a law passed that we can't sue HMO's. Gee, I'll bet it wasn't citizens who marched on Washington and demanded that.

Our government does not have the interest of the citizens in mind...only of big business. That was the whole notion behind changing the bankruptcy law. I find it ironic that lots of people file bankruptcy b/c of huge medical bills.

Marcy said...

So, basically, when I come to Canada, I just need to keep mum about my cat until I sign the lease. He doesn't piss or shit in the yard; he does it in a litter box. So, I'm golden!

Noise complaints are grounds for eviction (when not rectified), irrespective of the cause of the noise (there is no exception for pets or small children or anything).

Awesome! Noise has been the bane of my renting life. We got a new building manager. They live two doors down from me, and they blast hispanic music out of their apartment. It was never loud enough that I could hear it when I'm inside mine...except this one day. They were really blasting it. I decided I was done being a wimp about things, so I marched down there and told them to turn it down. It worked. I think other people must've complained to the owner, b/c they haven't been playing music at all.

I don't know why Americans haven't figured out that when you live in close proximity with other people you have to respect their differences. What's that old saying? Your right to swing your arm ends at my nose?

Lone Primate said...

Cars were forever going through red lights, so you had to be super careful, no matter what.

Hmmmmm... sounds like NYC could do with a few more "docile" types willing to wait for the light to change... :)

Lone Primate said...

I think recently there was a law passed that we can't sue HMO's. Gee, I'll bet it wasn't citizens who marched on Washington and demanded that.

That was kind of my point, in a roundabout way. When people DO march on Washington, they get action. I'll admit, there's a lot of inertia in the US system, but when it matters, the public manages to form a wave that'll roll the stones up the beach. We've seen it happen... at least in recent history. My question is, why aren't we seeing it on this issue? I think most people don't see it as being in their interests; let's face it, the US is a country with a deeper conservative bent than most other Western countries, and an entrenched distrust of government and socialistic involvement in any sphere outside the military (probably because it's outward-facing, aimed at foreigners). My feeling is, given that it was hard enough to establish in this country, it probably simply is that the American character in the modern age is sufficiently different from the Canadian character to make the difference. It's one of those hair's breadth issues that, being either yes or no, demonstrate the differences in attitudes, in general terms, across the border.

L-girl said...

When people DO march on Washington, they get action.

!!!!!!!!!!

Lone Primate, how could you say such a thing?? This is simply not true. If you're thinking of Vietnam or the Civil Rights movement, learn about the decades of struggle and terror and prison that stood behind those marches. The wiretapping, the firebombing, the lunch counter sit-ins, the bus boycotts. Perhaps the marches on Washington were the most visible end of the spectrum, but it took some 20 years of struggle before anyone paid attention. And that was with a unified, organized agenda.

I have marched on Washington to end wars, to save abortion rights, to increase funding for AIDS research, and to demand housing as a right. And none of those things ever came to pass: not one.

Inertia? No. There's plenty of motion. It flows from politicians to corporations and back again.

Marching on Washington. Health care. You are dreaming.

L-girl said...

My feeling is, given that it was hard enough to establish in this country, it probably simply is that the American character in the modern age is sufficiently different from the Canadian character to make the difference. It's one of those hair's breadth issues that, being either yes or no, demonstrate the differences in attitudes, in general terms, across the border.

With all due respect, my friend, these are a lot of words that say nothing. What is the American character? There is nothing in the character of the American people that prevents them from getting universal health care. You might as well say it's in the character of women in Afghanistan to wear burkas or of Chinese baby girls to be unwanted.

The hands I'm thinking of are not invisible. They are very rich, and they run the show. The American people do not roll up on the beach in a wave and get what they want, or whatever that metaphor was. That is a myth.

L-girl said...

I think recently there was a law passed that we can't sue HMO's. Gee, I'll bet it wasn't citizens who marched on Washington and demanded that.

That was kind of my point, in a roundabout way.


Marcy's point was exactly the opposite. Elected officials are beholden to corporate interests, not to their consituents. You can march til your feet fall off. The people who make the laws are indebted to the people who get them elected, and that's not the voters. It's their corporate donors.

L-girl said...

Wait a second, I just read over these comments and I see what the problem is.

Lone Primate is imaginging the US is a democracy.

I understand that, it's an easy mistake to make.

Once you realize it isn't, however, the whole thing makes a lot more sense.

L-girl said...

Hmmmmm... sounds like NYC could do with a few more "docile" types willing to wait for the light to change... :)

Docile doesn't get you too far in New York City.

That's why I don't wait at a street corner when there are no cars coming. It's not an American "the rules don't apply to me" attitude. It's a lifetime of hustle-bustle in my blood.

Five, ten years from now, we'll see. But one year hasn't been long enough to get it out. :)

gito said...

Hi L and everyone, sorry to interrupt, but I think I'm a little confused! Do we look for places that have dog friendly signs or just move in without a note and we'll be fine anyway, because the law is on our side. And just expect the landlord to like our dogs as much as we love them? g.

L-girl said...

Hi Gito, I don't blame you for being confused! My advice is to just look for an apartment you like and know that the law is on your side. You are allowed to have pets in your home. Some buildings openly state they are pet-friendly, others you might have to ask. But it is against Ontario law to have a no-pet clause in a lease!

What does anyone else think re Gito's question?

Lone Primate said...

It's not an American "the rules don't apply to me" attitude.

I don't know... it's not hard for me to extrapolate a general attitude of "I'll decide when I cross the street, not the rules" to "I'll decide whether it's right to invade Iraq, not international law". The differences in attitudes have a lot to do with how one regards civil society and the nature of obligations within it. I think those expectations are lower in the United States. Sometimes it's a good thing; if you're more willing to follow your own instincts and take chances, you can reap rewards not available to people more prone to following convention... and that's a big complaint a lot of people aim at Canada and Canadians. Of course, you're also more likely to incur the consequences of risk as well.

Elected officials are beholden to corporate interests, not to their consituents.

I'm enough of a cynic that I can agree with this, but only up to a point. You can have all the money in your pocket you want, but it can't vote. People vote. Just how little good money can do for an unpopular candidate was laid out in Freakonomics by comparing the results when pairs of candidates faced off against each other in several elections and varied their electoral spending. More money simply couldn't elect an unpopular candidate. So, yes, money helps you get elected, and a Congressmen and Senators are going to look after the interests that get them elected, so long as they believe that doing so will not jeopardize their incumbency. If money were the only thing that mattered, and not public perception, then GM -- the richest corporation on Earth in the the 1960s -- would still be setting its own safety standards and selling Corvairs with suspension systems made out of tin foil and would probably have added piano wire seatbelts by now.

I really do believe that when enough Americans have overcome the "communist" taint and decided that socialized medicine is in their best interests, and are vocal enough about it that 535 members of Congress start thinking their jobs are at stake, then the AMA will have to change their initials to SOL. But obviously, we're not there yet, for whatever reason.

Marcy said...

Lone Primate is imaginging the US is a democracy.

I understand that, it's an easy mistake to make.

Once you realize it isn't, however, the whole thing makes a lot more sense.


Yeah, I saw some witty thing somewhere regarding the U.S. "bringing democracy to Iraq." The followup was something like, "How about bringing it to the U.S. first."

It was phrased wittier than that. I just couldn't remember verbatim.

L-girl said...

it's not hard for me to extrapolate a general attitude of "I'll decide when I cross the street, not the rules" to "I'll decide whether it's right to invade Iraq, not international law".

Yeah, that describes me and my attitude towards the world, to a T. Not a big leap at all, nosir.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

L-girl said...

If money were the only thing that mattered, and not public perception, then GM -- the richest corporation on Earth in the the 1960s -- would still be setting its own safety standards and selling Corvairs with suspension systems made out of tin foil and would probably have added piano wire seatbelts by now.

There have been a lot of changes since "Unsafe At Any Speed" came out, all of which have made the government less responsive to ordinary voters.

But I'm not saying that there is no change, that change never happens and can't happen. Only that widespread, large-scale change is not possible in the US right now.

I really do believe that when enough Americans have overcome the "communist" taint and decided that socialized medicine is in their best interests

How will they learn this? From who will they hear it? How will it get on the agenda?

and are vocal enough about it that 535 members of Congress start thinking their jobs are at stake, then the AMA will have to change their initials to SOL.

It's not primarily the AMA, you know - increasing numbers of doctors now support a single-payer system, now that they live under the HMO system. The biggest opposition to national health insurance in the US are the insurance companies.

I don't want to use the word never, never is a long time. I just think that blaming the American people for the lack of universal health insurance is just blaming the victim.

L-girl said...

it's not hard for me to extrapolate a general attitude of "I'll decide when I cross the street, not the rules" to "I'll decide whether it's right to invade Iraq, not international law".

By the way, I always pop my GO train ticket. Not because I'm afraid of a fine, but because it's the right thing to do. So cut me some slack.

Lone Primate said...

What is the American character? There is nothing in the character of the American people that prevents them from getting universal health care.

I'll put it to you this way: there's nothing about the American electoral system that's unique in the Western world. We all have entrenched interests who fund the election of represenatatives, MPs, senators, chancellors, whatever. Politicians the world over have interests to which they are beholden. And yet, in most of those countries, the perception that a single-payer system was a good idea and would help people was strong enough that governments put them into place despite the pockets their individual members were in. So to me, the telling difference is the attitude toward the institution of socialized medicine. I'm of the opinion that Americans in general are more suspicious of government and government initiatives than most other Westerners, and this is upshot of it. It seems to me that in general they believe that the government "controling" (for want of a better word) the medical profession would be bad for them, and they side with the devil they know. Look at the attitudes towards social services and general and tell me where I'm wrong? I think that, as a nation, they're too suspicious to get behind the idea.

Yeah, that describes me and my attitude towards the world, to a T. Not a big leap at all, nosir.

Well, I hope it's obvious to everyone else I was speaking in generalities, not personal specifics. If you're talking about personalities -- and for myself, I wasn't -- then yes, I suppose I got it wrong. If you're talking about attitudes that make a country liable to invade foreign countries and tell the rest of the world they're either for them or against them, as I was, well, personally, I think I'm onto something. No one's obliged to agree, but that's how I see things. I don't see why it's okay to generalize about Canadians (although I'll admit, it's usually in a complimentary fashion) but not Americans -- is it not enough to acknowledge their are exceptions, while pointing out the rule they're exceptions to in the first place?

scylla said...

vocal enough about it that 535 members of Congress start thinking their jobs are at stake

Unfortunately, that's not really how it works in the US.

House seats tend to be gerrymandered; the same party will win its seats no matter what happens. I think there are a couple dozen seats which are truly up for grabs in any given election. I may be overestimating, in fact. Virtually all the seats will stay the same: Republican seats stay Republican; Democratic seats stay Democratic. House elections are mostly rigged against change.

Also, since so few people in the US actually pay attention to the House elections, incumbents, with their name recognition, usually win. People will vote for name recognition and/or party affiliation over _issue_ almost every time when it comes to their Representatives. Any given House member will have very little effect on the vote count in Congress, so the important thing is not to have the correct "person" in power but to have the correct party in power.

So even if suddenly everyone in the States wanted to change the Health Care system, it's unlikely that that people power would translate to votes in the House. They'd focus on the Presidential race and (maybe) the Senate.

Even there, though, that people power wouldn't have much effect. Any given Senator has a multitude of issues to consider. It's hard to imagine that Health Care would become so much of an issue in the States that Senators would be elected, or not elected, because of it. What would happen first is that the business and insurance interests would begin ad campaigns designed to confuse the issue.

That's what happened to Clinton's proposal; the issue became so muddied that the people power couldn't be concentrated into an effective force. (I'm simplifying, of course, but I think I'm also being more or less accurate; what the people may have wanted became confused due to the heavy propaganda against their best interests).

I guess my point is that the myth of how US democracy works is just that: a myth. The reality is much more complex and, in fact, the system has in some sense been rigged against the kind of democratic process which Lone Primate is envisioning.

I'm not quite as cynical as Laura seems to be (in that I do believe it's _possible_ on some issues for the people to pressure the government to change), but I have to agree with her that the system is at the moment completely broken.

Lone Primate, I'm sorry (in a sad way...i.e. I wish it weren't so) to say that your characterization of the American people is just too naive. It's worst down there than you can imagine. Really. It is.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Scylla, that's well said.

I'll put it to you this way: there's nothing about the American electoral system that's unique in the Western world.

I don't know if that's true or not. I don't know enough about other democracies to say so.

I would ask, about any other Western so-called democracy: Does it have an electoral college or equivalent system? Does it cost million of dollars to get elected? Are politicians able to accept unlimited donations from corporations? And questions such as those. Only then would I know.

I know Canada's system is very different than the US's, and makes change much more likely, for better or worse.

I'm of the opinion that Americans in general are more suspicious of government and government initiatives than most other Westerners, and this is upshot of it.

That is definitely a factor: anti-statism. And that factor is exploited shrewdly. However, Americans came to accept Social Security and other "socialist" changes, when a powerful president shoved it down their throats. (Here's to him! I wish we could have him back!) And millions of Americans don't share this outlook.

Well, I hope it's obvious to everyone else I was speaking in generalities, not personal specifics.

Well, I did take it personally, as I did the last time you brought it up. After all, it's me that crosses the street against the light. I don't know that it's a particularly "American" action. (Most Americans don't walk anyway!) It's very New York, but American, I don't know. So yes, I did take it personally, but if you didn't mean it that way, then I will back off. :)

I don't see why it's okay to generalize about Canadians (although I'll admit, it's usually in a complimentary fashion) but not Americans

Of course, and you're right. It's just that I don't think crossing against the light when there's no traffic in sight is peculiarly US-based, or indicative of the US. It just makes a nice analogy. :)

L-girl said...

And millions of Americans don't share this outlook.

To clarify, I meant that millions of Americans believe in and want an activist government that sees to their needs. Anti-statism is not the only mindset, although it is one of them.

L-girl said...

It just makes a nice analogy. :)

And why am I waiting for someone to point out that Lone Primate was using a metaphor, not an analogy...? ;-D

James said...

Let's just say I'm easily bored.

Me too. That's why I usually bring a book when I walk anywhere. Or at least a podcast.

there's nothing about the American electoral system that's unique in the Western world.

Does anyone else have anything like the Electoral College?

Wrye said...

In *this* century, you mean?
hmmm...The Vatican?


Anyway, the vacation question resonates a bit, since there's also a recent thread on it over at Kevin Drum's Political Animal. Bottom line: Americans are terrified for their jobs. The trend towards unpaid overtime (visible at any retail outlet, it seems) is especially disturbing.

My prediction: Karoshi will be the latest in a long line of Japanese workplace trends that appear on this side of the Pacific...

orc said...

In my case (and I don't think I'm the only one), it's not so much terrified for my job (I've been programming long enough so it's fairly easy to find work) but terrified about my health insurance; I can leave my job if it burns me out, but then I won't be able to get (affordable) insurance for my sweetie because she's got glaucoma.

No job == no insurance == instant bankruptcy if anything goes wrong. It tends to concentrate my attention, and not in a good way. If I was going to make any suggestion to the Canadian electorate, it would be to hunt down all of the idiots who want to privatize the health insurance system, heave them over the border, then stand guard to keep them from coming back.

Lone Primate said...

Whew, this one's got legs. I haven't seen anything like this since Rob left. :)

L-girl said...

Whew, this one's got legs. I haven't seen anything like this since Rob left. :)

Yeah, it's great, innit? :)

It occured to me this morning that all the tourists I used to see in NYC never crossed against the lights. They barely knew how to cross a street at all, most of them being much more familiar with parking lots than sidewalks.

I think jaywalking in NYC is partially, sometimes, an "I'm not a tourist, I live here" statement.

(Just thinking about those crowds of doltish tourists makes me want to run across a street right now...)

L-girl said...

In my case (and I don't think I'm the only one), it's not so much terrified for my job (I've been programming long enough so it's fairly easy to find work) but terrified about my health insurance . . . No job == no insurance == instant bankruptcy

Orc's comment is important.

One thing I often note here is how universal health insurance frees people who want to start their own businesses or otherwise work independently. So many people in the US don't change jobs or otherwise pursue ideas and goals because they'd be stuck without health coverage, and can't take that chance.

L-girl said...

In *this* century, you mean?
hmmm...The Vatican?


Hi Wrye! :-)

The crazy Electoral College is Exhibit A in my US Is Not A Democracy presentation.

Sit tight, it's a long show.

Scott M. said...

From my limited understanding of the electoral college system (and please correct me), it's broken up into two parts:

a) Each state has a number of electoral college votes, relative to it's population, and

b) Each state votes 100% of those electoral college votes via a state-wide first-past-the-post system.

The system, originally designed to overcome communication issues in a 50%+1 run-off system, is largely outdated... but there are still some instances of it happening. While I haven't studied all democracies, I recall that the Labour Party of the UK uses a wonky electoral party system involving MPs (and maybe now MEPs), unions, and riding members to select their leader. As well, the Liberal Party of Canada uses a delegate structure which is... well... somewhat odd and somewhat electoral-college like.

I believe France's senate is elected by an electoral college as well.

Of course, in the age of instant communications, I wonder why anyone still uses delegates or electoral colleges instead of having run-off "one member/citizen one vote" elections.

Then again, I wonder why people are so afraid of proportional representation... {shrugs shoulders}

L-girl said...

Of course, in the age of instant communications, I wonder why anyone still uses delegates or electoral colleges instead of having run-off "one member/citizen one vote" elections.

Then again, I wonder why people are so afraid of proportional representation... {shrugs shoulders}


Yes, many people wonder the same thing, myself included.

I expect a visit from MSS of Fruits and Votes, soon, as this is one of his principal issues.

Lone Primate said...

Okay, I'm sort of caught up here...

Laura asked about systems like the Electoral College. There are indirect electoral schemes elsewhere; I know that's how France elects its senate. Getting into particulars about the presidency, I'm not sure. I once debated the point from the flip side; someone told me it was the best possible system, and challenged me to find a federal Western democracy that closely paralleled the US in form of government where it was not the case. It was hard to do; I finally ended up with Austria, whose system of government closely mirrors that of the US, with the exception that the president is directly elected. But some of them I had to disqualify because they didn't directly elect the president, though I confess I'm at a loss to say which at this point. A few hours retracing my steps would probably produce them, but then we might get down to hair splitting about the exact mechanisms involved (e.g., some are chosen by legislatures). Cutting through it all, I hope it will suffice to say there are all kinds of ways of slicing and dicing electoral results out there, some fair and some stilted, and almost all of them subject to corporate influence. That was at the heart of what I was getting at.

It's been suggested here, both cryptically and now openly, that I'm too naive. That's a new one on me. :) The flip side of that coin, though, is a charge I'm more used to having aimed at me: others may be too cynical. I don't have any starry-eyed idea of how things work in Congress. I watched Schoolhouse Rock too, but I know it's the gloss over the reality. I understand it's largely about deals and riders on bills and all that, sure. But for all the talk of gerrymandering and the Electoral College and corporate slush funds, none of you has refuted or even addressed my point that timely and important progressive legislation has been passed in every generation since the Civil War, often in the face of unimaginable oppostion by either financial or regional interests, because the will of the majority of the people was that manifest that Congress (or the particular state legislature involved) was compelled to bend to it, in spite of all the cynical talk that nothing's possible. It has happened. It does happen. It simply isn't in this particular case.

Which comes to my other point: demonstrable differences in the general -- not personally-specific, but general -- attitudes between our two countries. I was thinking about how to illustrate this last night, and I came up with an instance in the form of what is really meant to be a rhetorical question, which is: Which do you think would be easier; to pass an amendment in the United States repealing the Second Amendment, or to amend the Canadian Constitution such that gun owenrship would be instituted as a right, on the same level as free speech, rather than (as it exists) a mandated privilege on the level of operating a motor vehicle? I don't know the answer to that question... but that's beside my point. My point is that the very fact that I can pose the question demonstrates that there do exist, at the societal level, differences between Canada and the United States in the general attitude to some issues, and I believe that, at the moment, socialized medicine, like gun ownership, is one of them. And I while I certainly do recognize the power of the vested interest of the AMA et al. to resist the institution of single-payer schemes, I also believe it would be overcome if it were unambiguous that that was what the American public wanted, as with other issues in the past. That clarity of intention simply doesn't exist. This is not "blaming the victim", just recognizing a political reality. At this point in history, the US is politically more conservative than Canada, and that's bound to be disappointing to Americans of a, shall we say, more "Canadian" mindset. But it doesn't automatically follow from that that the system is broken; merely that it is producing results dissatisfactory to particular Americans as liberal as average Canadians. In saying this, I don't think I'm being either naive or cynical. Just realistic.

[Sorry for the repeat... couple spelling mistakes I just caught. Man, I wish we could edit comments...]

L-girl said...

But it doesn't automatically follow from that that the system is broken; merely that it is producing results dissatisfactory to particular Americans as liberal as average Canadians.

This is similar to what Bush supporters say to people who want all the votes counted fairly and accurately, as if we're only talking about "who won".

The system is broken, regardless of the outcome, and regardless of the relative satisfaction of any set of Americans, be they liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian or reactionary Americans.

Democracy has ceased function down there. That's why I'm here.

LP, you might not be naive, but you are looking at the picture very selectively. You have certain biases (as we all do) that, IMO, having read your writing for more than a year, compels you to blame "the American people", rather than look at systemic and institutional issues.

I don't have time to enumerate the many ways the system is broken - and I think you're digging in your heels on this, anyway, and so, not really listening - but I'll have to hope someone else elucidates.

Lone Primate said...

To a large extent, yes, I do put the burden on the American people. I think they've consented to the creation of an imperial presidency, shifting much power from Congress, because a strong leader is what it takes to maintain their position in the world. They often turn a blind eye to the things done elsewhere in pursuit of staying on top, having the three-car families (or the hopes of becoming one). And I'll admit that I'm enough of a cynic to say that Canada's worse: we'll let the US do the grunt work and sneer at them for being brutes while we pull into OUR three-car garages. We're parasites on US action. We're the biggest Pontius Pilate of the West. Not enough of us DO stand up and protest. We need to be heard not by the American president, not by the American congress, but by the American people who elect them. Instead, thousands of us put stars and stripes ribbons on our bumpers that say "support OUR troops". There's work to be done here, too.

But there are alternatives. Look at Ralph Nader. He stands for most of the things American progressives like yourself believe. But he can't get elected dog catcher. Why? Because aside from a certain minority, he doesn't reflect how the American people see themselves, at home and in the world. They see him as a guy who'll bankrupt the country saving trees and making people walk to the grocery store and pull down America's pants to let bearded maniacs have their way with her. The point is, they COULD be electing people like Nader. They're there, they run, they put forward progressive platforms. But they don't vote for people like that, because that's not where the average American's at. Even here in Canada, we still haven't trusted the NDP with the keys to the kingdom yet.

But yes, you're right. Ultimately, I do put it down to them. Because every couple of years, they do have these elections, and they do vote for the same old ways and the same old policies and refuse to entertain the alternatives that are offered to them every time. That's not a matter of money. That's a matter of choice, made by individuals, and it's one all the rest of us are obliged to live with as well. You want me to see them as good people led astray by evil masters, but I'm sorry, I don't. I see them as the children of a comfortable imperium who are willing to tacitly endorse the things required to keep it in place, and who vote for the ones who will do what it takes to do that. That power is placed in their hands, and that's what they choose, from the primaries on down. I don't think they're different in that from the people of any other country that's been in the catbird seat, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to rise above it.

L-girl said...

You want me to see them as good people led astray by evil masters

Not quite. As regular people - good, bad and otherwise - who don't have much control over what their government does. Big difference.

scylla said...

Lone Primate:

If you go back to my post, you'll see (I hope) that I wasn't calling _you_ naive (i.e. in an ad hominem way). Just the particular argument you seemed to be making.


I agree with you that there has been a lot of progress in the past, but...

When you say this:

"I also believe it would be overcome if it were unambiguous that that was what the American public wanted"

...I think you're missing a subtle point (and one that I was trying to get at in my first post): there's no such thing as "unambiguous" anymore. The campaign against Clinton's Health Care proposal worked by making the issue ambiguous. The attacks on science and women's rights and gay rights and a host of other issues work by making the issues ambiguous...by introducing confusion, even where none actually exists. To me, that's why the system is broken: it's almost impossible to focus the "will of the people" on any issue (except for the highly emotional ones like xenophobia and war and patriotism). Anything which requires thought is, _by definition_, debatable, i.e. ambiguous. In a metacognitive sort of way, highlighting that ambiguity has become the key tactic used by interested parties [I leave that phrase intentionally vague] to unfocus the will of the people.

And what happens when you have a nation of people who believe, deeply, deeply, that if the will of the people speaks, the government will listen?

Your words, of course, get to the heart of the American myth [I don't use that word in a cynical sense...every country has its myths]. Americans _believe_ in their potential power. What happens when they find themselves helpless? Is it possible for them to rise up and demand the government change? Possible? Yes, of course it's possible, which is the entire point of using the tactic of introducing ambiguity. If there is _always_ ambiguity, the people's anger can never be focused.

Which is _not_ to say that there is some group of people plotting and planning to keep every issue ambiguous. I'm not a conspiracy theorist. There are a ton of reasons why the US might be in the state it is in, and really, my main point is this: there's been an increase in ambiguity in the States, to the point where things which once were possible probably no longer are. How do you move away from ambiguity? It's not easy. Once people realise that life is complex, it's hard to find an issue which is simple.

Except religion, of course. Faith is simple and unambiguous. When there's so much ambiguity and no one can decide what is good and what is not, its really too much effort to vet every issue and fight for things which are, after all, confusing and debatable.

Now look south.

Lone Primate said...

Hmmm, interesting points, Scylla. I certainly can't deny that there's a culture of obfuscation in modern American polity. It's the bread and butter of FOXNews, obviously. And I can see how it's hard for people to know what to believe. I was watching Why We Fight recently and it features a retired NYC cop who lost his son in the WTC, reacting with amazement when Bush says "I don't know where people got the idea I was connecting Saddam with 9/11", and actually referring to the President as "a liar". Your comment brings the impression into (ironically) sharper focus.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

There is nothing in the character of the American people that prevents them from getting universal health care.

I've got to say that I disagree with you, here, Laura. Have you read Fire and Ice? How about The Efficient Society? I'd recommend both--and I'd love to discuss them with you.

L-girl said...

Have you read Fire and Ice?

I have read Fire and Ice (most of it), strongly disliked it, and disagreed with most of it! It was recommended to me by many people whose opinions I respect, but I had a lot of problems with it. Based on this book and some of his essays, I am not a big fan of Michael Adams.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to discuss it now!

I've never read The Efficient Society, don't know that one.

redsock said...

LP said: You can have all the money in your pocket you want, but it can't vote. People vote.

In the US, this is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Machines are doing the voting -- and it turns out that they (the electronic voting machines) are supporting the people who made them -- and those people are almost always Republicans.

I can't count the number of stories I've read about how easy it is to remotely hack into a voting machine -- in under 3-5 minutes -- and change the results. (And I don't even really follow the fight that is going on to stem the tide of states getting these unverifiable machines.)

When the hacking is done, there is absolutely no evidence -- NONE -- that anything untoward has been done. You simply have the "results".

How can you speak out against that -- when the government and the corporations are having a conversation in a sound-proof bulding and you are locked out, standing on the sidewalk?

You can't. ... And so you start talking about moving to Canada.

Also:

For the last few years we were in the US, I followed the news very, very closely. I was always checking a message board on which people all over the world posted stories at all times of day from foreign press, smaller US newspapers, alternative weeklies, even smaller stories in major papers that were buried on page H56. (Also things like transcripts of television interviews and press conferences.)

And time and time again, I was shocked by things I had missed or forgotten, but were being referred to by various commenters. Shocked that I had somehow missed the story or shocked (still!) at how venal the regime is.

There is so much negative shit going on in the US that even someone who practically lives on the internet reading headlines and news stories all day long can't keep up. So no one living outside the US can do it either.

A weak example: Someone who has seriously studied US history for 50 years versus someone who has read only USAToday for six months.

The newspaper reader simply does not know the things the historian knows, either in quantity of facts or the context, meaning, causes and importance of those events.

It isn't possible to have these two people evenly matched in perspective. It's not his fault, but he can't.

I'm not saying anyone's knowledge of the US is the equivalent of reading a few months of McPaper -- or that our knowledge of the States is similar to studying history for half a century -- but hearing some comments about the state of the US often sounds like a foreign language.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

I have read Fire and Ice (most of it), strongly disliked it, and disagreed with most of it!

How interesting! My experience is quite different: I found myself disagreeing with a lot of it in a very knee-jerk fashion, but I made myself put it down and go back and read it carefully about a year later (getting a little more distance from September 11th), and I found that a lot of it resonated.

I'd love to hear more about what you didn't like about it, if you ever felt like writing a post about it.

Marcy said...

I apologize if this gets posted twice.

there's no such thing as "unambiguous" anymore. The campaign against Clinton's Health Care proposal worked by making the issue ambiguous. The attacks on science and women's rights and gay rights and a host of other issues work by making the issues ambiguous...by introducing confusion, even where none actually exists.

Exactly. There's too much misinformation out there. For example, I notice a lot of fundies making comments about how the Pill causes abortions b/c it keeps fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. The Pill prevents ovulation. There's no egg to be fertlized.

And if you try to educate people, then you get accused of lying to further your agenda. You can't win.

MSS said...

Thanks to L-girl for leaving a "seed" about this thread over ay my "orchard" (i.e. a comment at Fruits and Votes). It seems Comparative Government class has started a bit earlier this year than I had expected. I have to say that I was extremely happy to see the very early in this thread--the original post of which was mainly about ordinary people's behavior towards one another--someone brought up the party systems, and a discussion of the political systems more generally.

I can often be accused of being a political-system determinist. I am, after all, a political scientist who specializes in the effects of different electoral systems and different structures of executive-legislative relations (and, as L-girl was kind enough to note, that is largely what my blog, as well as my academic research, is about). And while I do not believe that these differences in political systems literally determine how society as a whole functions, I do believe they are a significant part of the overall picture. And I see that some who have posted here agree, while for others the very idea has touched a nerve. Great! Whatever you all think about the argument I will sketch here, it is great that you are thinking about political institutions and their impact on society (or vise versa).

In thinking about how governments relate to society and how members of society relate to one another--two distinct, but undoubtedly related dimensions--there are two basic ways from which to approach the issue. Just as in economics, so in politics and political sociology, we have both "demand-side" and "supply-side" perspectives.

The demand-side perspective assumes that people get pretty much the policies and government behavior that they want--in a democracy. (And, while I share L-girl's view that the USA is of diminished democratic quality, for the purposes of this discussion, I am going to take my country as a "democracy.") Thus what society 'wants' and how people behave towards one another is taken as determinative by the demand-siders. Then there is the supply-sude perspective--which is essentially where I come from, though I do think this dichotomy, like most of them, is a bit too simplistic! The supply side says that what people 'want' and 'demand' is structured by the menu of choices that the political system offers them, and this in turn shapes how people relate to one another in society.

I want to emphasize that I am not making a mono-causal argument, nor one in which the direction of causality runs only one way. Social orders are much too complex for that! And this is not intended to be an airtight argument by any means. I am just sketching two stark ways of seeing the interaction between politics and society (or culture), and I am making an argument that would apply mostly to 'Western' 'democratic' societies. Whether it applies elsewhere in the world is not something I am going to venture here.

Several people here have mentioned health-care systems, and it is as good a lens as any--we can use it as something of a metaphor for what society and politicians care about. It is true that every president since Truman has tried some fundamental overhaul of the US health care system (which is currently anything but systematic). Even the current incumbent has had proposals for fundamental change--bad ones, in my opinion, but fundamental changes nonetheless. It is telling that even with the most cohesive and ideological party in US history in control of both houses of Congress, Bush's idea for "personal health accounts" (or whatever he calls them) was essentially dead before it even got to the point of a formal bill.

Past presidents have had various plans for government regulation of the private health providers. Even the current president's father had a plan that was in some ways more "radical" than anything that Democrats have dared talk about since the flame-up of the Clinton proposals for mega-HMOs. (Remember the Harris Wofford Senate special-election surprise that supposedly showed that health was the key issue?)

It simply is very difficult to get any fundamental reform through the US political system. Note that I did not say "impossible." But it is very hard. Why, because the US political process is fundamentally SUPER-MAJORITARIAN. The majority simply does not rule in the USA. With the House and Senate being elected in fundamentally different ways and having co-equal powers, with a president whose veto takes 2/3 to override, with a Supreme Court that is one of the most powerful and, post-appointment, politically unaccountable in the world, and with a conception of "individual rights" that equates corporations with "individuals," there are ample opportunities for private interests that would be hurt by a major reform to block it.

Nothing of the sort exists elsewhere in the rich countries. (Some developing countries have similar layers of private access points, and in many respects, the US political system is that of a developing country, its advanced economy notwithstanding.)

Regarding health care systems, in all capitalist or mixed economies, health care was at one time basically controlled by doctors' associations, private insurers, and other vested private interests. In all countries that now have government-subsidized healthcare provision--to one degree or another, that is, all of the rich and many middle-income countries--the governments had to OVERRIDE THE OBJECTIONS OF VESTED INTERESTS. It simply is not the case that the interests themselves are fundamentally different in the USA or that the people of the USA are more tolerant of such interests deciding how their health will be maintained.

In Canada, various provincial governments that enacted the original single-payer systems had to endure doctors' strikes. In Sweden, there was considerable resistance. The same can be said almost everywhere. But governments--backed by majorities in parliament and society--prevailed by simply imposing the majority's preferences upon the entrenched minority interests that benefited from the status quo. The same story can be told about numerous other policy reforms. They are never easy to enact; vested interests always resist. But they are always harder to enact in the US super-majoritarian system.

I wlll develop some of my points in reference to things said up-thread. I apologize if this is not always coherent. Hey, this is a blog comment on a day when I should be writing a review of a book I was given for free months ago on the condition I would review it within a month--but this is so much more interesting!

Lone Primate said:

I'll put it to you this way: there's nothing about the American electoral system that's unique in the Western world. We all have entrenched interests who fund the election of represenatatives, MPs, senators, chancellors, whatever.

As I have already indicated, there are indeed unique features of the USA political system (and not only the electoral system, per se). (I am writing a book about this, though it could be a couple of years before it is out. In the meantime, it is a regular feature of F&V blog discussions.)

For example, three elected institutions with co-equal powers over the passage of legislation. Partly as a result, we have very weak parties (more on this below), and I always tell my students the following (a study group even branded it Shugart's Law a few years ago:

The weaker the parties, the stronger the private interests.

That is, there are two main ways by which the interests of a society are reflected in the political process: Organized interest groups and political parties. The former are always narrower in focus than the latter. When parties are more important in linking individual citizens to their government, organized interests are weaker. It is relative--organized "special" interests indeed exist everywhere. The difference is in how much they are checked and channeled by broader interests, in the form of competing political parties.


Scylla:

People [in the USA] will vote for name recognition and/or party affiliation over _issue_ almost every time when it comes to their Representatives.

This is more or less what I was getting at a moment ago. However, as phrased by Scylla it is not quite right. First of all, even in the USA, party remains the single greatest predictor of how someone will vote, even for Congress. The real difference is what "party" means. In most democracies, voting the issue is voting the party, because parties take distinct stands on major issues and act more or less cohesively to try to make good on their issue-oriented "mandates."

Given the absence in the USA of a means by which a party can collectively--alone or in coalition with others--gain control and direct the policy output of the national government, the meaning of "Republican" or (especially) "Democrat" can be quite different from region to region. That allows individual representatives to tailor their message to their district and provide favors to it (which, in reality means mostly to special interests active within it).

In no other "advanced" democracy do individual legislators have so much leeway to tailor what the party stands for as they do in the USA. And the less a voter in California can coordinate with a voter from Alabama on shared issue preferences and interests by voting for candidates of the same party and knowing that, if elected, these candidates will work together on those shared interests, then the less opportunity voters have to direct the policy output of the national government.

And thus whole process becomes more about what the politicians can do for the district and special interests and less about broader interests. I think one can see echoes of this narrowness of focus in everyday life in societal relationships, but I am not ready to develop such an argument in any detail just now.

Scott M:

The system [US electoral college], originally designed to overcome communication issues in a 50%+1 run-off system, is largely outdated... but there are still some instances of it happening. While I haven't studied all democracies, I recall that the Labour Party of the UK uses a wonky electoral party system involving MPs (and maybe now MEPs), unions, and riding members to select their leader. As well, the Liberal Party of Canada uses a delegate structure which is... well... somewhat odd and somewhat electoral-college like.

I believe France's senate is elected by an electoral college as well.


Well, I have studied all democracies. I actually get paid to do it, which is about the best thing one could get paid to do other than to play baseball for a living.

Yes, the UK Labour party has a convoluted way of picking its leader. But the way of picking the leader of the country is not convoluted at all. As in Canada, the party that wins the majority of seats in the House of Commons (or sometimes just a plurality) puts its leader in the Prime Minister's chair, and he or she stays there only so long as the majority of the MPs of the elected chamber of parliament agrees.

The UK electoral system, unfortunately, often lets a party with much less than a majority of the popular vote win a majority of MPs. Some day maybe they will fix that (by adopting proportional representation, as most European countries did long ago and New Zealand did more recently). But the UK is already ahead of the USA in that at least campaigns are national and partisan, so that how people feel about issues gets translated into policy, albeit imperfectly. Blair understands that he was not given "four more years" to run the executive branch as he sees fit. In fact, his party still could replace him at any time, and may well do so.

The French Senate is indeed chosen by an electoral college, although one dramatically different from the one that selects the US President. The French Senate is elected by delegates of local elected officials.

However--and far more importantly--the French Senate has almost no policy-making power. It can be overridden by a majority of the lower house, and it is that majority (and not either the Senate or even the directly elected President) that determines who sits in the cabinet and thus who governs the country.


Lone Primate:

I once debated the point from the flip side; someone told me it was the best possible system, and challenged me to find a federal Western democracy that closely paralleled the US in form of government where it was not the case. It was hard to do; I finally ended up with Austria, whose system of government closely mirrors that of the US, with the exception that the president is directly elected.

Well, Austria's federalism is very weak. Small states are not even slightly over-represented in the Austrian Senate, so both houses of the national parliament represent the people of Austria--dramatically different from the USA, where the voters of Wyoming are weighted as about 70 times as important in the Senate as the voters of California.

Both houses in Austria are also elected by proportional representation, so that parties are represented almost exactly in accord with their support among the national electorate as a whole.

The parties in Austria themselves are very powerful; no chance at all for individual members to tailor their message to a state or district. (In fact, each state is a district.)

The Austrian president has almost no power whatsoever; the real power is in the hands of the Chancellor (PM) who serves at the pleasure of the majority in the lower house of parliament--which, since the end of WWII has always been a coalition of two parties. No single party--or national leader--can put its/her/his stamp on policy without the consent of other parties.

Other than that, yes, Austria's political system is just like the USA. :-)


Lone Primate:

none of you has refuted or even addressed my point that timely and important progressive legislation has been passed in every generation since the Civil War, often in the face of unimaginable oppostion by either financial or regional interests

I think I have now. One can argue about what is a piece of "timely and important progressive legislation." But we can't just focus on counting up what has passed. We have to look at all the failed efforts that came before it, as well as all the "progressive" bills that failed to pass at all to date. And we can't look only at the fact that a given bill became law. We also have to ask ourselves about the compromises with those financial and regional interests that were embedded in the final law, and the extent to which they may have compromised the progressiveness of the legislation as originally intended. And, of course, we have to consider whether the current or future presidents might be able to weaken the legislation by the appointment of or executive orders to key bureaucrats, and the extent to which judicial rulings may have watered it down subsequently. (And, yes, occasionally, an executive order or judicial ruling has expanded progressive law beyond the likely intent of the legislators who passed it; but that's still no substitute for a clear democratic majority enacting a law and mandating its enforcement.)

The point is that the US policy-making process is much more complex, much more riddled with veto or foot-dragging opportunities for organized narrow private interests, which in turn are more powerful than in other rich democracies, because we have fewer and weaker parties to articulate the broader interest.

***
In conclusion (at last!!), the result of the American political process is an emphasis on what those with existing power and resources can do to protect their interests (or 'rights'), and little opportunity to demonstrate effective collective action on behalf of "ordinary" people or even a sense that such people are "in it" together. I think this trickles down--so to speak--to society as a whole and supports some of the more extreme self-interested behavior that L-girl mentioned in her initial generalizations.

MSS said...

By the way, on the quick-to-honk phenomenon, really that is very New York. And, to a lesser extent, other big northeastern cities. Horns are hardly used at all out here (southern California)--sometimes not even when they should be.

And I have found the parts of this thread on barking dogs interesting. That is one of my pet peeves (no pun intended). And I can't tell you how often I have had a run-in with a neighbor over a barking dog. When I say run-in, I mean that I have always tried a soft approach first, and with many--by no means all--dog owners, met resistance.

I even had one simply tell me--after several attempts to reason with her to no avail, I finally yelled at her one day--that it was a problem I was just going to have to "grow up" and deal with. You see, she said, "dogs bark."

Uh, yeah, lady, that is why it is your problem that your dog barks. Try growing up and being a responsible adult!

Anyway, she was much more cooperative after I yelled at her. What a shame some people can only be "persuaded" that way, despite initial friendly entreaties.

So, are Canadian dogs actually less likely to be allowed to bark? If so, when can I come across the border?!

L-girl said...

MSS, thank you so much for treating us to a bit of free education, especially at the expense of the book review you're supposed to be writing. (And the article I'm supposed to be writing, but that's another story.) (Literally.)

What you've written is fascinating. Much of what you've said about the US I know from an excellent book I read called It Didn't Happen Here - Why Socialism Failed In The US. The comparative government stuff is really new to me, so it's especially fun.

LP, I did want to respond to this, which MSS quoted:

none of you has refuted or even addressed my point that timely and important progressive legislation has been passed in every generation since the Civil War, often in the face of unimaginable oppostion by either financial or regional interests

I didn't address that point because I didn't see it. :) I was probably reading too quickly. I would have written something like MSS's response, but mine would have been less articulate, and more rushed.

And finally, MSS, our friends A&S believe Toronto dogs bark much less than US dogs, because they are happier. It might be true, in which case you might want to get up here fast.

I'm with your neighbour on this one. I also believe dogs bark and people have to get over it. Hopefully I would be nicer about it - and yelling at me certainly wouldn't produce any desireable result!

deang said...

Great discussion. MSS's comments touch on subjects I have to constantly remind myself of, since I get so angry at Americans so often: the structural differences that keep many Americans befuddled, belligerent, and often belligerent. It's good to hear Laura and Allan pointing out the limitations on Americans' access to information, too. I often forget that when I get pissed off at them. I often think, If Argentineans, Bolivians, Venezuelans can storm their government palaces and drive officials out, even when their media is controlled by right-wing interests, why can't Americans? I forget that there are real, valid reasons, somewhat outside of the public's hands, why it doesn't happen in the US.

Also, re Honking, here in Texas honking is often considered a challenge, an act of aggression. You risk getting run off the road for an ass-kicking if you honk at someone for something not absolutely necessary. Thus, when I have been in risky traffic situations in the Northeast or Mexico, I've been hesitant to honk. I should unlearn that.

Scott M. said...

A bit of speculation: What do you think it would take to change the US electoral system?

In Canada, rumblings about instituting Proportional Representaiton in some form have been growing louder... with BC, New Brunswick and Ontario gearing up on the discussion (in fact, BC already had a referendum which passed with a majority but not the required percentage, though the government may still proceed).

BC's referendum was on a Single Transferable Vote-type system, New Brunswick's will be on a Mixed Member Proportional system. Ontario's system is yet to be defined, though if they could come up with a ballot question for the 2007 election (unlikely), and it passed, that system would likely be a model for the other provinces and eventually the feds.

It would be odd if the provinces' paths diverged on the method of voting, though I can see it happen.

Back to my initial point:

What would it take to change the US electoral system? How likely is that?

As well, how about the state voting systems? Would they be easier to change?

L-girl said...

Dean, it's easy to angry and frustrated at Americans for not doing more. I often felt the same way. Once I left, I started having more sympathy for the populace in general.

Re honking: that is scary!

Scott asked:

What do you think it would take to change the US electoral system?

Honestly, I can't imagine it. Right now people are fighting tooth and nail just to make sure people have basic access to voting (without intimidation, inordinate barriers, etc.) and that the votes are counted fairly and accurately (which they are not).

In other words, as is the case with so many things in the US now, activists are working madly just to keep things from slipping further backwards. Forward movement, such as real electoral reform, is not even on the agenda.

So, I don't know. I'll be interested in hearing what others say.

James said...

Man, I'm off work all day and I can't keep up with this! :)

One point:

The attacks on science and women's rights and gay rights and a host of other issues work by making the issues ambiguous...by introducing confusion, even where none actually exists.

This is a central theme of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science. It's best exemplified in the sciences by the phrase teach the controversy.

There is no scientific controversy about the existence of evolution. The "controversy" is entirely made up by people who want to sow confusion to convince the general public to allow them to do something blatantly unconstitutional -- introduce a specific theology into public school education.

Scott M. said...

Man, I'm off work all day and I can't keep up with this! :)

Yeah, I'm a post killer...

L-girl said...

There is no scientific controversy about the existence of evolution. The "controversy" is entirely made up by people who want to sow confusion to convince the general public to allow them to do something blatantly unconstitutional

That's an excellent example of the whole obfuscation thing.

Yeah, I'm a post killer...

LOL... I wouldn't take it personally. It was somehow just a quiet day here. Maybe everyone was all talked out from the day before.

Next time I don't have anything to blog about, I'll pose your question to the crew.

egalia said...

Thanks for this great post, and the comments are awesome too. I'm going to save the link and come back and read more later.

As to lies about the Canadian health care system, when I returned to the USA after 13 years as a CA immigrant, a reporter for my local major daily paper told me 'they let old people die in Canada.'

Of course, people of all ages die from lack of healthcare in the US. I've documented a few cases, someone needs to do this full time.

Anywho, I wrote a piece about my experience with CA healthcare a while back that was up at Common Dreams. I didn't have a blog then, but I'm going to post it when I get around to it.

If you're interested:

http://www.commondreams.org/scriptfiles/views03/1110-12.htm

L-girl said...

Thanks, Egalia! I'd like to post your Common Dreams piece if it's ok with you. I'll stop by TGW and ask.

Wrye said...

California maybe sorta struck a blow againt the Electoral College today...The Kung Fu Monkey starts the coverage here.

I wonder if it will work,,,,

James said...

There is a lot of great information here on moving to Canada on the Ontario Tenants Rights site.

Another good page is their Toronto apartment rental page.