Category Archives: Social democracy

Some old White Men Still have it


We have just spent 3 months in the United States and realize this is a great country. But it is not perfect. Far from it.

A lot of Americans brag about how theirs is the greatest country in the world.  There is some truth to such claims, but they are certainly not absolutely true. It could be better in many ways. Bernie Sanders appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and gave an off the cuff brilliant speech about America. This is what he said,

“In the last couple of years we have made some progress on a number of important issues. We have a long way to go. This is the greatest country on earth. This is the wealthiest nation on earth. We should not have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major nation on earth. We should not be the only wealthy country that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a human right. We should not have a federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. We should not have billionaires and large corporations not paying a nickel in federal income tax. We should lead the world in transforming our energy system to save the planet for our kids and grandchildren…We have to have the courage, and this is not easy, to take on a very powerful corporate ruling class whose greed in many ways is ruining this country. We have to take them on and create an economy for all and not the few.”


And this man is 1 year older than Joe Biden!  Some old white men still have it. Bernie is certainly  one of them.


A World-Wide Problem


Jonathan Haidt made another important point to the Senators that he has often made in print, namely, that this is not just an American problem. The same crisis has hit “many countries” not only the United States. That means that it cannot be blamed solely on problems unique to the US such as gun violence, particularly in schools. The cause must be broader than that. He then made a statement that should concern Canadians, namely that

 “The patterns are nearly identical in the UK and Canada, and the trends are similar though not identical in Australia and New Zealand. We do not yet see signs of similar epidemics in continental Europe or in East Asia, although I have not yet found good data from those regions.”


Together with His associate researcher Jean Twenge, they had discovered

“a sudden increase between 2012 and 2015 in all regions of the world. These patterns indicate that whatever happened to American teens was not uniquely caused by trends and events in the USA (e.g., a sudden fear of school shootings after the Newtown massacre of 2012). The cause is likely to be something that affected teens in many or all regions of the world at the same time.”


This is a world wide problem, partly because social media is a world wide phenomenon.

Note in particular the sharp rise for Girls after 2020. In particular, between 2012 and 2020 The rates of major depression for girls more than doubled during this time. The increase for boys was not as high.

Most of the research is confined to the west, but by no means exclusively.

One must always bear in mind the scientific point often made, that correlation does not prove causation.  For example, just because 80% of sex assaults are perpetrated by men who ate potatoes that day does not prove potatoes are a cause of sexual assaults.

First, Jonathan Haidt explained to the Senate Select Committee that “Correlational studies consistently show a link between heavy social media use and mood disorders, but the size of the relationship is disputed.”

Haidt then drilled down:

“Nearly all studies find a correlation, and it is usually curvilinear. That is, moving from no social media use to one or two hours a day is often not associated with an increase in poor mental health, but as usage rises to 3 or 4 hours a day, the increases in mental illness often become quite sharp.”


The graphs are quite explicit. To see them go to the reports. The message is loud and clear.  The more young people use social media the more they suffer from serious depression and anxiety and the more likely they are to attempt to commit suicide. Haidt puts it this, contrary to what some of his critics have said,  “The correlation is much larger than for “eating potatoes” or “wearing glasses.”

This is a big deal. We should all take note but particularly our political leaders who have the capacity to respond. This is not something that should be swept under the rug.

Are Prayerful Hopes Enough?


The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (‘CDC’) is respected widely around the world, though among right-wing science-denying Americans not so much. Perhaps they don’t like their reports for ideological reasons rather than scientific reasons.

The CDC has issued a vitally important report that these same right-wing opponents will also want to reject. The report was called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (‘CDC Youth Risk Report). According to this report, teen girls in the US have experienced record levels of violence, sadness, and suicide risk in recent years.

The CDC Youth Risk Report also shone a spotlight on alarming statistics about young girls being forced into sex and harbouring serious thoughts of suicide. How is this possible in the greatest country in the world?

If the report is true, and I have heard no evidence-based critique of it, it is extremely important that American political leaders of all stripes not ignore it. Although more than 17,000 students participated in the report it was conducted in the fall of 2021 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Naturally many children, no doubt more than normally the case, were anxious and feeling isolated.

Jonathan Haidt a social psychologist at New York University and a leader at  a laboratory on social psychology has shown the scientific data does not support the idea that the cause of this problem is the pandemic. The evidence clearly showed that this trend predated the pandemic and there was only a surprisingly minor blip during the pandemic.

I want to also say that this is not an American problem.  Haidt confirmed that the science is very similar for Canada and the UK.

Nonetheless, according to Debra Houry, the Chief Medical Officer for the CDC “the results are alarming.”

The CDC Youth Risk Report said that more than 40% of high school students had feelings of sadness or hopelessness “that prevented them from engaging in their regular activities for a least two weeks of the year.” That is nearly half!  Do we think nearly half were just trying to get an extended vacation?


I know some students in Canada who had such feelings and they were real. Interestingly, girls suffered more than boys with rates nearly double that of boys. 57% of girls and 29% of boys felt persistently sad or hopeless. Added to that, nearly 1 in 3 teenage girls considered attempting suicide! That was 60 percent higher than 10 years earlier!


Finally, 1 in 7 teen girls said they had at some point been forced to have sex and nearly 1 in 5 had experienced violence within the past year.

Some parents on hearing about this report said they were filled with “prayerful hope” that this was a mere “reflection of this pandemic uncertainty.”

Personally, I hope that Evangelical supporters of right-wing regimes across the US consider more than just prayerful hopes and pay some attention to the scientific data, even if it’s not perfect. Relying solely on such hopes could be dangerous for young people.

They really need more than prayerful hope!

A Marshall Plan for Children


I am hearing a lot about mental health of young people in the United States. The stats are depressing. No pun intended. Kids are dying from self-harm and drugs. This is a wicked problem.

I don’t know the stats for Canada, but I know from experience that they must be similar and can’t be good. In fact, Jonathan Haidt , an American social psychologist who studies problems like this empirically, has said that the same statistics prevail in both Canada and the UK, making clear that they evince a western problem not just an American problem.

Young people are suffering. And young people should not suffer. That job belongs to old people and we shouldn’t give it up without a fight.

Kids  are dying in huge numbers on account of suicide and drugs. More than ever before.  One would think this would call for action–sort of like a war effort.

A good friend of mine actually knows something about the subject. Unlike me. He worked for many years in Brooklyn as nurse with indigent children and has decades of experience.  He tells me this problem is not a new one. People were just not paying attention. When he received  an award for New York City employees way back in 1992 he called for “a Marshall plan for children” in the city.  Actually, one is needed for the entire country and Canada too. “Unsurprisingly,” he said, “no such plan was forthcoming.”  He called the region where he worked with neo-natal children “a health care war zone.”  But as he pointed out, shoutouts from neonatal nurse practitioners don’t usually trigger changes in public policy like complaints by political leaders of western democracies.

Problems with the heath of young people in America, the richest country in the world, have been well known for decades but little or nothing was done until Joe Biden put the child tax credit into effect during his first year in office and this reduced poverty among children by an astounding 50% in 2021, but characteristically, when the Republicans took over control of the American House of Representatives they acted quickly to get rid of that ‘unnecessary’ expense. Tax cuts for rich people are important. What are poor children worth?  Republicans, including the 80% of Evangelicals who support them, care about “children” in the womb, but  outside the womb not so much.

Frankly, my friend is understandably pessimistic that things will ever improve. I hope he is wrong. I fear he is right. We seem to be doomed.



Elementary Justice

When you spend almost 4 months living in the USA as I did this winter  you get to hear some pretty weird stuff. This was one of those occassions.

Al Franken is a former Senator and now a stand-up comedian again. He has returned to his roots. I head  him guest hosting the Daily Show,

According to Al Franken, “the combination of stone age technology and understaffing has created a very weird situation.”


As Jesse Eisinger, a Propublica Senior reporter said, “You are more likely to be audited in the United State if you make $20,000 than if you make $500,000 a year.” Is this because Republicans think ordinary people should pay more  taxes than wealthy Americans?  Is it because this a very perverse form of trickle-down economics where many Americans believe that if you give money to rich people this is the best way to help poor people because that money will flow down to poor people? Or is it because the Republicans want to give their wealthy donors and cronies what they are begging for?

The reason is that the poor tax payers are low lying fruit. The less money you have the less likely it is that you can hire fancy accountants or tax lawyers to defeat the IRS claims!  So why should tax auditors waste their time going after the rich when they can go after the poor! Only in America!


As one commentator said,

“The IRS does not have enough money to go head to head with the wealthy. Ultimately it is easier for them to audit low income people because it is cheap and can be done by mail and does not take a lot of time.”


Or as Franken said,


“The IRS is so understaffed that they audit poor people more than the wealthy because they just don’t have the experts to handle the most complex returns. They are going after poor people because its easier! …So how much money are we talking about in lost taxes here? According to the former head of the IRS it could be as much as $1trillion a year! The solution is a bargain. Comparatively speaking, just adequately funding the IRS so it can improve its enforcement capabilities so it can collect that extra trillion dollars…”


And of course a lot of good things could be done with an extra trillion dollars. It could be applied to the national debt. Or it could pay for universal health care. Or subsidize child care as they do in every other civilized nation. Or as Franken suggested, a trillion dollars could

“eliminate taxes completely for the bottom 90% of American households!… Or we could fund an entirely new Iraq war. And why are we the only f…..g country in the world that doesn’t have universal health care? The point is that polling shows that 93% of Americans think that it is everybody’s civic duty to pay taxes and I think you can guess who the other 7% are. So let’s make sure that we give the IRS enough resources for it to make sure that everybody does what we all should do for the right to live in this great country and make it even better if we do the rational thing and collect the taxes that people actually owe.”


Everyone should note that this is not pie-in-the-sky rosy socialism. It’s not communism. It’s not evil. It’s not even wrong. It’s just a small attempt to get people to actually pay the taxes that are lawfully owing to the government so it can pay for the things that are important to us. Like social security. Like schools. Or the armed forces. Or police. Or fire fighters. Or health inspectors. A lot of the things we get from the government are good and important. Everyone who can afford to pay taxes should be required to pay their fair share. Even the rich! Even Republican cronies! Not just the poor suckers who have no one fighting for them. This is just elementary justice.

Taxes are Good


Al Franken is a disgraced Democratic Senator from Minnesota.  Not really. He did a bad thing. He made inappropriate jokes about a sleeping woman and pretended he was going to assault her. It was stupid. He apologized, admitted it, and resigned as a Senator.  No Republican would have even considered resigning under such circumstances. After leaving the Senate he returned to his professional career of being a comedian. In that capacity he appeared as a guest host on the Daily Show after Trevor Noah resigned.

On his last day as interim host he had some fine things to say about taxes. He said he would show us why taxes are good. That is a pretty big task.  But he did a pretty good job.

He said “it is tax season, or as Donald Trump would say, ‘Get off my back already.’”  Trump famously did not pay taxes for years and bragged about it. He said not paying taxes showed he was smart.  In the minds of many conservatives, that is entirely true. There is nothing wrong with avoiding taxes by legal means. At least we can’t really blame anyone for not paying taxes that one can lawful avoid.  Tax evasion, which means unlawfully avoiding  taxes is a different matter entirely.

As soon as the Republicans took over in the House of Representatives after the US mid-term election in 2020 they announced that they would be taking at run at the Internal Revenue Service (‘IRS’) in the US, which is widely seen by the American conservatives as a subversive organization because it tries to enforce American tax laws, and conservatives—at least so ultra-right-wing conservatives believe.  The believe  taxes are immoral. As a result, anything one does to avoid paying taxes is justified. The Republicans basically said—in almost these terms, that they would be emasculating the IRS so that their cronies and supporters who supported their election campaigns would not be required to pay so many taxes. Taxes were for other people to pay. Taxes on their view are not for elites and wealthy people to pay. Taxes are for the common people to pay.  It is hardly an exaggeration to say this. Many  Conservatives actually believe this.  How do I know this?  I have listened to them!  Their own words make it clear.

In Biden’s recent Inflation Reduction Act there was a provision that $80 million would be added to the funding of the IRS to hire new employees and acquire new technology to replace their ancient technology. Conservatives think that is a waste of money in the US.  It is not. It is vital to do that to support lawful government. As Franken said,

“Better enforcement of tax laws means more money for the many, many things government does such as social security, Medicare, infrastructure, not to mention feces scraped off the Capitol walls by the Proud Boys. Clearly the new funding is long overdue. In addition, to pay for immensely popular programs it will help to reduce the deficit, so everybody has got to be happy about it. Everybody right?”


Of course not! That is what people would think in a rational world. This is not a rational world. Here is what Republican Representative Bob Good said, “Democrats want to spend 80 million dollars to hire 87,000 armed IRS agents to terrorize Americans.”  Republican Senator Rick Scott from Florida said this, “They want to hire 87,000 IRS agents that can use deadly force to go after America families.”  Republican Senator John Kennedy said this, “They want to turn the IRS into the Gestapo!”

A Fox commentator on the Tucker Carlson show said this about Biden’s efforts: “A little like James Bond except rather than hunting down evil maniacs they hunt down and kill middle class taxpayers that don’t pay enough.”

Florida Representative Matt Gaetz from Florida said this on social media:  Gaetz asked: “Chaos at the IRS where they are gearing up for something, like, war in our country? Is Nancy Pelosi trying to start a nuclear war in Asia? Is there an effort by the National Security State to stoke violence in a civil war here at home? We certainly hope not.”

Of course, the Republicans are just trying to stoke the fears of the American electorate, again, by suggesting getting wealthy Americans to pay their lawful taxes is federal “overreach.”

Al Franken asked, “Do these Republicans think that if you make a mistake on your tax return the IRS will come to your door, break down, and gun down your entire family?”

Franken said the new money is to be used to restore funding to the IRS that was  aggressively cut by Republicans in Congress in 2011. Since that was done the IRS audit rate has dropped almost 60%. During that time the number of IRS agents has dropped to levels of 1954 when the US population was about half of what it is now. 1954, he said, “was when paediatricians started prescribing menthol cigarettes for sick children.” That last one might have been a joke. After all, Franken is now a comedian and not a politician anymore.

There is a better Way


I want to end this series on the paranoid elites trying to hunker down in a missile silo on a happier note. It is not all doom.

In the 60s and 70s Stewart Brand, now a Silicon Valley sage, owned the “Whole Earth Catalog.” It attracted a large and loyal cult following as it blended hippie-dippy advice with the technical. I loved their motto: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”. Brand experimented with survivalism but abandoned it.  Ultimately, he found it did not make sense. Things based on unreasonable fears seldom make sense. Evan Osnos described him in his current situation this way,

“At seventy-seven, living on a tugboat in Sausalito, Brand is less impressed by signs of fragility than by examples of resilience. In the past decade, the world survived, without violence, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; Ebola, without cataclysm; and, in Japan, a tsunami and nuclear meltdown, after which the country has persevered. He sees risks in escapism. As Americans withdraw into smaller circles of experience, we jeopardize the “larger circle of empathy,” he said, the search for solutions to shared problems. “The easy question is, how do I protect me and mine? The more interesting question is, What if civilization actually manages continuity as well as it has managed it for the past few centuries? What do we do if it just keeps on chugging?”


As it has so often in the past, America is being pushed and pulled at the same time particularly by the extremes of left and right.  On the one  hand there are people like survivalists, neo-liberals, and their political puppets who have shredded all of their fellow feeling in order to fill their bags with as much money as possible. On the other hand,  are some genuine whackos on the left as well.  Yet there are the kinder gentler souls who see a better way, but seem to be increasingly crushed by the more vocal and bellicose camps. I don’t know who will win this battle, but I care. I hope that America (and with Canada dragging along behind) comes to its senses and abandons this philosophy of fear. Fear is all right but it must be managed. Don’t let it get unreasonable. When it gives way to panic we have to realize that smart decisions will no longer be made. We must abandon panic; we must embrace critical thinking and fellow feeling. If we can do that then we will survive. If we are unable to do that, we will sink into the mire, or worse. And we will deserve it.

We must remember: there is a better way. We may need to meander to find it, but its there.


Gilded Dispair


A symbol of decline?

Every year a group of scientists, many of whom are Nobel laureates, set a big clock as a symbol of our dire straits. At the time when the Cold War was ending they set it at its lowest (safest) point ever at 17 minutes to midnight.


Sadly, since then the clock has been moving back up closer to midnight. In January 2016, after tensions rose between Russia and NATO and after the warmest year on record for the world, they set it at 3 minutes to midnight. After Trump got elected and bellicose relations continued between the US and North Korea it was set at 2 & ½ minutes to midnight.  That was the highest since 1953 when the US first tested the atom bomb. it is even higher now.

There is no doubt that all of this is being driven by fear. Fear of disaster can be a useful thing. When the world realized that a hole was being punched in the Ozone layer because of chlorofluorocarbons (‘CFSs’) in the atmosphere they got together and adopted the Montreal Protocol to do something about it. They phased them out. This was a rational response to fear. That action has been a remarkable success story.

But this is not happening  in Kansas at the missile silos bought by wealthy fearful people. Instead, it is another case of the super wealthy doing nothing to  solve the problem they helped to create. Instead of doing something helpful,  they are using their money to buy an escape. It is illusory, but that is what these rich people want to do with their money. Instead of using it to help solve the problem, they are trying to run away from it.  As Evan Osnos said,

“Fear of disaster is healthy if it spurs action to prevent it. But élite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal… Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure. It is a gilded despair. As Huffman, of Reddit, observed, our technologies have made us more alert to risk, but have also made us more panicky; they facilitate the tribal temptation to cocoon, to seclude ourselves from opponents, and to fortify ourselves against our fears, instead of attacking the sources of them.


Some of the super-rich have a perverted sense of risk.  One of them, a hedge fund manager of course, said this to Osnos “He was telling me we should buy land in New Zealand as a backup. He’s, said to Osnos, ‘What’s the percentage chance that Trump is actually a fascist dictator? Maybe it’s low, but the expected value of having an escape hatch is pretty high.’ ” Even though he had supported Trump he wanted an escape hatch in case he had made a mistake.

Another super-wealthy CEO had a much better approach. This is what he said,

 “There are other ways to absorb the anxieties of our time. “If I had a billion dollars, I wouldn’t buy a bunker,” Elli Kaplan, the C.E.O. of the digital health startup Neurotrack, told me. “I would reinvest in civil society and civil innovation. My view is you figure out even smarter ways to make sure that something terrible doesn’t happen.” Kaplan, who worked in the White House under Bill Clinton, was appalled by Trump’s victory, but said that it galvanized her in a different way: “Even in my deepest fear, I say, ‘Our union is stronger than this.’ ”


Osnos understands this well. The panicky approach of rich people trying to escape reality is just plain dumb. It is dumb and counter-productive as it is likely to make the problem worse, not better. Super-rich people are purchasing their own doom with these mad schemes.  Osnos understands that the CEO who believes the political union in America is stronger than the survivalists think is in the end, an article of faith—a conviction that even degraded political institutions are the best instruments of common will, the tools for fashioning and sustaining our fragile consensus. Believing that is a choice.”

Yes there really is a better way.

Strange Fears


All unreasonable fears are strange, but some are stranger than others. Some fear environmental collapse. Not such a strange fear at all.

Some of the people who put down $3 million to purchase a condo in a former missile silo in Kansas have strange fears. In the land of conspiracy theories that should not surprise. Maybe they all do. Evan Osnos interviewed Tyler Allen a real estate developer in Florida who bought a unit in the Kansas silo. He worries about future “social conflict” in America. That really is not so strange a fear.  Allen also thinks that the government will deceive the public, as it has done in the past. He even believes that Ebola was allowed into the country “in order to weaken the population.” Unsurprisingly, he is transfused with fear and conspiracy theories. But I am not putting down $3million. Of course, I can’t put down $3 million, but if I did, I would think that there must be a better way.

Allen claimed that when he started suggesting ideas like this people thought he was crazy, but they don’t anymore. He said, “my credibility has gone through the roof. Ten years ago, this just seemed crazy that all this was going to happen: the social unrest and the cultural divide in the country, the race-baiting and the hate-mongering.”

Of course, how will people get to their bunkers? The buyers don’t live next door. Tyler lived in Florida. That is a long way from Kansas. Tyler thought he would have 48 hours to make it to Kansas. Most people he believed, when the crisis came, would head to the bars while he headed towards Kansas. I guess they would be watching from “Sports bars.” Of course, if a nuclear bomb hit American, such driving would be difficult. Did you see the images of the highways around New Orleans when the people there were told to evacuate because of impending Hurricane Katrina? We would not want to be in the line-up. Pretty messy!

As I have said, all of this is driven by fears–in particular fears of the very rich. Osnos does not disagree,

“Why do our dystopian urges emerge at certain moments and not others? Doomsday—as a prophecy, a literary genre, and a business opportunity—is never static; it evolves with our anxieties. The earliest Puritan settlers saw in the awe-inspiring bounty of the American wilderness the prospect of both apocalypse and paradise. When, in May of 1780, sudden darkness settled on New England, farmers perceived it as a cataclysm heralding the return of Christ. (In fact, the darkness was caused by enormous wildfires in Ontario.) D. H. Lawrence diagnosed a specific strain of American dread. “Doom! Doom! Doom!” he wrote in 1923. “Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America.


Do these doomsday fears not tell us something important about the über rich? This is what they are bringing about! They have no one to blame but themselves. Can’t they do better? Their own actions are creating these fears. Their own actions could forestall them.

There must be a better way and its not being brought in by forest fires from Ontario.

Worry OK; Panic not so Much


A friend of mine challenged what I have been saying about the super elites buying condos in a former missile silo in Kansas by suggesting it is not reasonable  to suggest that one crazy idiot buying a condo in a missile  silo does not mean we are doomed.


Of course, one rich guy does not establish that we are doomed. In fact, no single act establishes that.  Even 15 crazy rich guys who have bought condos in a missile silo don’t establish that. But the accumulating actions of many people, including those “idiots,” are increasingly suggesting that western society is in a serious state of decline and perhaps even on the edge of collapse. I don’t know about you, but I am getting increasingly more pessimistic. And I am increasingly doubtful that our leaders know the way out.


There are also many other indices of this decline. I will be posting about some of them soon.  I know I have been going on interminably about these nuts who bought concrete condos in the former missile silo in Kansas, but I think it is interesting and significant.  These were business leaders. They were people who earned a great deal of wealth and respect. Many of them were in the financial sector or the tech sector who made fortunes.  Interestingly, it is precisely these people who panicked and starting selling their investments in the recent Silicon Valley Bank fiasco when there was no need to do so. These are the people who have now brought our financial system to the edge of collapse as a result of their unjustified fears!  All of this shows that panic is seldom a valuable tool to deal with serious problems whether it comes to buying silos or selling investments. Fear is sometimes justified; panic is never helpful.

In the US in particular, business leaders are nearly worshipped. Look at Donald Trump. I don’t know how many Americans I have met in the past 2 &1/2 months in this country who hail him as a business leader who can make the country great again. I consider him neither a great business leader nor great political leader, but many here think otherwise. Business leaders get automatic respect in America and Canada for that matter. When a group of 15 of them go so far off the mark as the condo buyers did in Kansas, it bears consideration. What is up with that?

To my mind, there are signs of the decline of western civilization all around us, but yet I admit there are also positive signs.

I am particularly encouraged by the improvement in the fortunes of the LGBTQ community in an astonishingly short time. Though I hasten to add they had to overcome the battalions of opposition from Conservatives each step of that way. Why is that? In fact, now the American conservatives seem determined to make war on transgender people who are among the most marginalized and vulnerable people in the country. They like to pick on minorities. The weaker the better.  In fact, as soon as they are not in minorities the conservatives tend to give up quickly.  I will post more on this later.

So, I don’t know whether decline or improvement will win out. We are in the midst of gigantic political changes so it is hard to predict what will happen. We will just have to wait and see, but I am worried. Not panicking, but concerned.