The Second Annual “No, This Year Is Not the Worst”

According to an APA poll, 59% of Americans think that right now is the lowest point in American history that they can remember. This is particularly astounding when you consider some of the things that Americans have lived through: the Great Recession, 9/11, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, and the JFK assassination, just to name a few low-lights. But, in spite of all of those things, the majority of Americans feel that right now is the worst. Well, the fact is that those people are wrong. Let’s go through this year’s list (which is actually very different from last year’s ).

High Profile Sexual Assault

It started with a trickle and quickly turned into a flood. Beginning with Harvey Weinstein, the list of perpetrators has expanded to include Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore, Al Franken, Russell Simons, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, and John Conyers. And this is a condensed list. The world can’t be good if so many famous and influential men have abused their power and assaulted or harassed women, right? Indeed, it is awful that this has been happening and that it is so prevalent. However, the most important thing here is that we are now discovering that these terrible things have been happening.  At a minimum, the result of this discovery is that these men are not being allowed to continue their patterns of abuse. A hugely positive effect of all these accusations is that an increasing number of women are now feeling assertive and secure enough to come forward with their stories, and they are finally being taken seriously. Furthermore, with all of the stories that have coming out, there will certainly be a push-back on assaulters and abusers, both famous and unknown, in the years to come. This won’t end this harassment, but it will reduce it, and that is definitely good.

The Political Environment Is So Polarized

The common argument is that the war of words is getting bigger and uglier by the day. Trump tweets hateful things. Nazis are protesting in America again. Violent leftist groups are growing, too. No one can have a civil conversation at a holiday dinner. Congress is becoming more polarized. It’s worse than it’s ever been–America is splitting apart! So goes the common narrative of what is occurring in our current political climate.  However, what some are viewing as a new phenomenon of an unprecedented division between parties is, in fact, a return to the status quo. Historically speaking, the bipartisanship of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s was merely a quirk of the Cold War era and the remnants of segregation politics. Back then, the political parties worked across the aisle more often as Southern Democrats allied with federalist Republicans, and Rockefeller Republicans joined with New Deal Democrats. So, while the decline in segregation and institutional racism is quite obviously a good thing, one downside of this shift has been an overall decline in bipartisanship. As for a rise in the profile of racist and violent groups, well, it is just that: a rise in the profile of these groups. If you genuinely believed there was no KKK–or racism, in general–since the 1960’s, then this year has likely been a shock. But, wow, really? Here, as with the preceding example of systemic sexual harassment, learning is ultimately progress. Yes, there is still a vitriolic, racist element in the US. When we learn that a problem exists, however, that means that we can then address it. It’s an ugly thing, but this knowledge is important.

The Economy Is Terrible and This Generation Is Worse Off Than the Last

You often hear stories about student loan, credit card, or housing debt. How medical care, housing, and education prices have surged. Such stories have made for a widespread, negative consensus: the generation now in their 20s is the first in decades that is worse off than the generation before them. So the story goes. This notion is patently and ridiculously untrue. Examining the facts, we see that advancements in technology and the constant improvement of products and services from businesses worldwide point to an obvious conclusion: the youngest workers in the US (and beyond) have the greatest buying power ever. The result is that this generation is doing the best ever financially. Are those issues listed above—debt and increased costs—are those real issues? Yes, they are.  However, on aggregate, it is (financially) better to be born in the 1980’s versus any time before it. Yes, there is still poverty and homelessness, but the rates of these have decreased to some of the lowest levels in US history. In addition, unemployment around 4% is near historic lows, as are current interest rates. (High interest rates were, in fact, one of the aspects that bedeviled previous generations, but that now no one talks about.)

Trump Is an Idiot

No disagreement here. We just need to ride this out for another 7 months to 7 years. It turns out he is as incompetent as we had suspected he would be, and so he has accomplished very little. So, while the US may be losing time on correcting problems, we aren’t really getting worse because of him–or at least things are not getting as bad as quickly as many might have predicted. It is possible that the US–and the world, at large–can be great with a terrible US president, just as some of the worst periods of American and world history have coincided with some of the best presidents.

High Profile Shootings

The events in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs Texas are indeed tragic. And mass shootings are, in fact, happening more and more often. The reality, though, is that the probability of dying in a mass shooting is still around a one-in-a-million chance. More of this was outlined in a previous article, but to sum up, there are lot of more pressing and deadly issues that are facing us right now.  Efforts to deal with these issues would, ultimately, help save a lot more lives than a massive gun-control campaign would. These shootings are dramatic, yes, but they do not genuinely endanger the vast majority of Americans. Reminder: murder–and crime in general–is at a historic low.

 

So, all of this begs the question: Why is it that everyone thinks that right now is the worst? For some, it’s simple: they just haven’t lived through much. If you’ve only been paying attention to the news in the past couple of years, then yes, this might be the worst year since 2014. Maybe people are just forgetting about some of the issues that the US has faced in the past, and then worked to overcome. The fear that many Americans felt after 9/11 doesn’t feel as bad in retrospect. For those who remember Nixon’s resignation, it was bad, but we’ve definitely had better presidents since then. Or, perhaps the reason that people think things are so bad right now might be that they are repeatedly being told so. Both the mainstream media and social media are overflowing with negativity. For larger media outlets, this negativity is what catches the eyes of readers and viewers. Indeed, very few seem to care about a story of another decade of peace, or another year wage growth. As for social media, well, consider your own online habits. Do you post about whatever new appalling thing Trump has said, or about an economic indicator that has gone down for one month (but up the previous three years)? You are certainly within your rights to do so. However, do you also post about new technological wonders, or peace agreements, or continued reductions in America’s level of carbon emissions? Well, that tendency on your part—and on the part of a lot of people—might serve to skew everyone’s view of the current state of the world. The fact is that the world is not worse than ever. Someone should let Americans know this.

The Top Six Reasons Why You Haven’t Left the US Yet

You hear this regularly around the time of presidential elections: “If ___ is elected, I’ll leave the country.” Then, a month later, not that many of the people who said that have actually left the country. Some do move, but most do not. On an annual basis, about 4,000 people renounce US citizenship. Yes, every year, an increasing number of people leave the US for work or school.  However, the vast majority of these people only move away on a temporary basis. Eventually, they come back to the US. As a comparison, over 600,000 people become new, naturalized US citizens every year. Of course, many more become legal immigrants who never go on to become citizens.

So, why is this? Why do so many people make the claim that they will leave the US? That this new law, the next president, is the worst, and that this will be the final straw that will really get them to move? Here are the top six reasons, (probably) in order of importance.

One: You don’t have the money.

Moving costs money. Moving to another country costs a lot of money. There are large numbers of Americans who are either in debt, or who have very little savings. Depending on where you might want to move to, if you fit into this category of Americans, this particular move probably wouldn’t be one of those “throw everything in the car and go on a road trip” sorts of moves. You’d need a plane ticket. You’d probably need to ship some stuff. When you got to…wherever, you’d need to have more savings until you got a job. If you are a retiree with substantial savings, your odds of being able to afford a move would increase dramatically. Working-age, not so much.

Though, let’s be honest: a lot of people around the world do emigrate with a lot less money. (A lot less, that is, than what the average American would likely consider “substantial.”) Often, people will arrive in Texas, Sweden, or South Africa with just the clothes that they’re wearing. Even people that have no money—or are in debt—can likely get a hold of a few dozen dollars and hitchhike to the Canadian or Mexican border. It’s just that such an experience would most definitely be very uncomfortable and highly unsafe. When you arrived, you would probably have little assurance that you’d be able to get a job or government assistance. Really, you’d have no assurance that anything would be better at all. So, really, when people say that they “don’t have money”, what they mean is that it would be a bad idea, financially, for them to leave the US.

Two: Other countries won’t have you.

It’s a funny thing: the people who say that the US is too right-wing, and who claim that they’ll move to Canada or Denmark (or whatever country it is that they imagine to be a socialist paradise) eventually find out that is not so easy as that. In Canada, there is a points system that gives an edge to those who speak English (or French), but also to youth, and especially to those whose job skills are in high demand. If you are, say, a nurse, or if you happen to work in IT, then you would likely have a good chance of emigrating to Canada. If you work in retail, however, or middle management, insurance, or in any of a host of other lower-demand careers, then you’d be out of luck. If your experience is in one of these areas (or if you work in a higher-demand field, but only have entry-level skills), then it is unlikely that you will ever qualify to apply for a job, never mind become a citizen. Similar systems are in place in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. Denmark and many other European countries allow almost no one to enter for work. Xenophobia is a serious matter in many European and prosperous East Asian countries. Americans (and, possibly, immigrants in general) stand a better chance of being allowed into some countries in Latin America, and a few others throughout Asia and Africa. Now, whether Panama or Colombia–or maybe Macao—is the kind of move you were looking for, that’s a different matter.

Three: You have ties here.

This is one of the main reasons why people don’t move anywhere, within a country or even within a city. It’s more than just your job: you probably also have family and friends where you live. If you have school-age kids, it would likely be difficult to move them out of the country, let alone find a good school for them. If you have elderly parents, then you might need to stay to take care of them. You have your high-school buddies, your friends from church or temple, your D&D game-night pals, and more. You know where to get a cheap meal that you love. You know what auto mechanics nearby are honest. (Then again, would you even have a car where you’re thinking of moving?) This reason diminishes in importance only if you are more independent (or solitary).

Four: In the eternal battle of fight or flight, maybe you are more fight.

When you were first saying, “I’ll move—I swear,” that came from fear. But, when that guy that you’d despised ended up winning the election, or that law that you’d said would ruin anything ended up being passed, you changed your mind. You saw that there were other people who saw it the same way that you did. Maybe you went to a protest. Maybe you got involved in local primaries or caucuses. Maybe you donated to a candidate—or, maybe, you even thought about running for office yourself. This is what happened after Obama was elected, and after Trump was elected: groups of people decided that enough was enough, and they got organized. In the end, you probably determined that it was better to work on improving what you have and what this country has, versus heading out to a new country. Fighting isn’t always bad.

Five: In spite of America’s flaws, maybe it’s not actually that bad.

When you take a look around and consider other countries (and, especially, if you limit your scope to the countries that would actually have you), you realize that the US really isn’t so bad. This one you might not grasp until after you’ve done some research on a new country. Some people don’t realize this until after they’ve moved. You might think that Americans don’t care about pollution, but you’d be surprised to find out that we actually have much cleaner air than most other countries do. You might feel that your freedoms are being infringed upon.  Here, again, it turns out that the situation could be much worse. Yes, it is easy to rag on what is wrong with America. Ultimately, though, what matters most as far as moving is concerned is whether it would really be better somewhere else.

Six: You don’t like uncertainty, and your life in a new country could be worse.

This category is a mix: a little of number three, some of five, and some psychology. Uncertainty can be daunting. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” You don’t know, for instance, if another country will take you in. You don’t know if you can get a job there. Could your spouse can come with you? Could you learn to speak the language? Could you find a decent place to live? Would people accept you, would they be cordial to you? There are so many other things that you simply do not know, so many factors and variables that you could never anticipate.  Your new life could be very different from the life you have now. It could be uncomfortable. It could be depressing and lonely. It could be dangerous.

 

(As an added bonus to this list, remember that every immigrant who comes into the US needs to overcome the many roadblocks that are listed above. The vast majority of our country’s citizens either immigrated here, or are descended from immigrants. The decision to move to a different country is not a decision that is ever made lightly. And, once again, consider the above numbers: Over 100 times more people become US citizens every year versus cease being US citizens. If immigration is the highest form of flattery, we should all be very flattered.)

OVER-HYPED NEWS: Mid-October-ish Edition

This is our occasional rundown of news that keeps making headlines, but that you can probably ignore. There is a lot of news around—this will help narrow it down.

5) US Men’s Soccer Team Not in the World Cup (New!)

Why this is news: This is the first time in decades that the US men’s team has not made it in. And this happened how? By losing to…Trinidad and Tobago? Dang, really?!

Why this is not: The US team had a good run of making it to the World Cup. Actually, one of the longest streaks in FIFA history. Seriously, the US has never been the soccer powerhouse that it might have seemed to be. This shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Plus, did we really want the US team to go to Russia? This way it is like a boycott, but without the diplomatic embarrassment.

4) Harvey Weinstein Assault Charges (New!)

Why this is news: This is a very powerful figure in media, and he is going down. He has been removed from his company. Criminal charges are being brought up against him. It is starting the powerful #MeToo campaign. For a long time, people have been saying that Hollywood is sleazy, and now we have proof.

Why this is not: Everyone already knew that Hollywood was sleazy—this is just more proof. This is not the liberal equivalent of charges against conservative candidate Trump (or even television personality Bill O’Reilly). Those charges were against higher-profile people. Honestly, had you ever even heard of Harvey Weinstein before this month? If you answer is yes, then you probably live in LA. This is a news story that is catering to the media-saturated coasts. Middle America gives zero craps about this story. This story is important, just not this important.

3) German Election and Rise of Nationalism (New-ish)

Why this is news: A far-right nationalist party, Alternative for Germany or AfD, is in the Bundestag (German parliament) for the first time. There was Brexit, then Trump, now this!

Why this is not: After Trump won, the nationalist movement lost ground in the Netherlands. Then, nationalists came in a distant second in the French presidential elections. Then, an even more distant fourth in the French parliamentary elections. Then, they were entirely eliminated from the UK parliamentary elections. But, now, oh! They broke the previous minimum threshold to actually enter the Bundestag. Heavens, no. Plus, by the way, the Free Democratic Party—the antithesis of AfD—also surged in votes this election, and will be part of the governing coalition. AfD will not be in the government. So, just cool your Siemens-manufactured jet engines, alright?

2) Las Vegas Shooting (New)

Why this is news: The events in Las Vegas were dramatic and awful. Mass shootings such as this one are unique to the US, and many people want answers as to why they keep happening.

Why this is not: As horrible as mass shootings are, they are still objectively very rare. There are many other tragedies that the US could apply itself to and help save far more lives for its efforts. Don’t believe me? Well, here is a more detailed description of this.

 

1) North Korea (Up one place)

Why this is news: Both sides of this particular conflict have nuclear weapons. Both side have leaders who shoot their mouths off. People are worried that one of these two guys might get twitchy and follow through with a threat.

Why this is not: Dios Mío! How is this still in the news? This is still just a war of words. Actually, calling this a “war of words” makes it sound like something meaningful is being said. Instead, what we’re witnessing is more a dull exchange of uninspired insults (e.g. “Rocket Man”). But now, at least, we have all learned what the word ‘Dotard’ means. DEFCON still at 5 the lowest alert level.

 

Preventable Deaths

The recent tragic shooting in Las Vegas has Americans asking themselves an all-too-familiar question: Why has this happened again?  With 59 killed, and hundreds more injured, it is the worst mass shooting in modern US history.  Clearly, we need to re-evaluate our laws–and our society at large—if we’re going to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) such horrible events.

In order to prevent future issues, perhaps we should first evaluate the importance of these sorts of events. By doing so, we might determine what lengths we should go to.  In the past decade, about 400 people have been killed in mass shootings, and these kinds of events have been happening more and more frequently.  Terrorist attacks have killed around 50 people in the US in the past decade, although some of those incidents might also fall under the category of mass shootings (such as in San Bernardino).  Many would agree with the sentiment that even one death from a mass shooting or from a terrorist attack is too many.  But should we consider these tragedies to be the most urgent issues that we face?

It’s true that it might seem morbid to look at the odds of the different ways in which people die. However, doing so can help us get an understanding of the relative importance of the risks that we, as a society, face.   Moreover, it can give us insight into what we can do to improve the lives of Americans (and people everywhere).  Examining the statistics: the odds of an American dying in a car accident are about 1 in 100.  Suicide is also around 1 in 100.  Dying in a fire: 1 in 1,400.  Dying from a natural disaster (hurricane, snow storm, earthquake, etc.) is 1 in 3,000.  The odds of dying from Cancer are 1 in 7, and while this category does skew toward people of advanced ages, some cancers do afflict children and young adults specifically, and so can also end a life prematurely.  So, we might wonder, where do mass shootings fall? Their odds are 1 in one million. Terrorism is 1 in 50 million.  Clearly, neither are anywhere near the vicinity of other, more common causes, and yet attacks such as these are often the focus of the public.  A slight reduction in the rate of car accidents, an improvement in suicide prevention, or a new cancer drug could all reduce fatalities far more effectively than an outright end to mass shootings and terrorism.

So, this begs the question: Why do we focus so much of our attention on shootings and terrorism? The answer is this: They are dramatic and we can easily empathize with them.  The events in Las Vegas are definitely newsworthy, as were other recent shootings or bombings.  That being said, the large amount of press coverage that such events invariably receive can skew our perceptions of what is normal or likely.  We hear news stories when bus accidents occur, or when several unrelated shootings occur in one city, but these slow-moving, day-in day-out issues just don’t make for the same dramatic headlines.  Certain events are given a disproportionate amount of attention, and this warps our sense of reality, of what is likely and what is rare.  People keep asking why these mass shootings occur in the US, these events that happen every few weeks or months.  But fewer people ask what we can do to stop deaths from drunk driving, something that happens several times a day.  Or, what we can do prevent childhood leukemia, or teen suicide.

It would be easy to say that this is deflection, sometimes called “Whataboutism”.   This is a method, commonly attributed to the Soviet Union, which people sometimes use to try to change the subject from important issues.  However, to place our focus on intermittent threats at the expense of more common dangers can and does have real world effects.  We spend billions of dollars on counterterrorism, although this arguably saves very few lives.  People spend political capital trying to implement or prevent gun restrictions.  These dollars and these people’s efforts could help many more people, if redirected.  Again, building safer roads and safer cars would save many times more lives, even if this would be an incremental change.  Having a proactive policy to reduce opioid deaths would be a more effective use of spending.  Funding suicide prevention and improving mental health infrastructure in general is sorely needed and would not just save lives, but potentially save hundreds of billions of dollars.  The United States, like any other country, has a limited amount of resources.  If the country’s goal is to prevent harm to its citizen with the least cost, then the US is spending its resources poorly.

And this certainly goes beyond government resources: this has to do with individuals’ attention and awareness, as well. We are all taught, “If you see something, say something,” so we get freaked out if someone leaves their bag for 30 seconds at an airport or public plaza.  After the events in Las Vegas, it would not be surprising if many people began to look askew at hotels or office blocks that overlook public areas.  What danger might lie behind a windowpane?  Ideally, we could look for and objectively assess the relative importance of a multitude of different possible hazards.  The reality, however, is that looking out for these rare events probably leads us to overlook more common risks: car drivers not keeping an eye for pedestrians, that one quiet kid in school who is lonely, using fireworks unsafely, and more. The attention of the public can be a tremendous asset to safety.  But again, our priorities seem to be distorted.

In spite of the events in Las Vegas, and a greater perception of mass shootings and terrorism in general, the reality is that the US is at one of its safest points in history. Murder rates specifically and crime in general are at historic lows.  Death rates from car accidents have also decreased.  An ever-increasing number of diseases and illnesses are becoming treatable.  The result is that average lifespans are at historic highs.  True, these improvements would provide little comfort to family and friends of the victims in Las Vegas, but the big-picture view is that things are not just OK, things are actually good.  If we want to make the situation even better, stopping these infrequent events probably shouldn’t be our top priority.

Belated Boozy McNewsface!

Sorry, Z took a weekend off.  But here, for your listening pleasure!

It’s a cheerful cast in which Bob and Brad out-cynical Z and make you so happy about the world.  Topics include North Korea, Flint, Michigan, and your inevitable, horrible demise.

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Politics Podcast is now up!

Just in time for your drive home!

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Brad and Z discuss DACA.  Also, Tesla and Macron.  Which, incidentally, sounds like the name of a pretty solid 70s folk band.  Groovy dude.  Groovy.

This weeks theme is  “Rotisserie Graveyard” by Doctor Turtle.

Boozy McNewsface – Week 3

New Boozy McNewsface!

Brad and Z are joined by Dr. Bob to discuss all the insanity involving the debt ceiling, Amazon, and, as always, Trump.

Today’s theme music is “Nature’s Nectar” by Pure Grease.

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Boozy McNewsface – Week 1 (Finally!)

Thanks to Z’s ridiculous work and travel schedule, the first official edition of Boozy McNewsface is late.  But it’s here now!

Brad and Z talk Kid Rock’s political ambitions, the Phoenix Trump rally and (shudder) Sheriff Joe.

This Week’s theme music is “Where’s my Horse” by Monk Turner.