17 December 2012

The Tragedy of Sandy Hook

I have no words of wisdom or consolation for those who lost loved ones in the unconscionable massacre at Sandy Hook School. I have no way of imagining their grief, horror, and loss, but my prayers are with them.

The episode has brought new urgency to the matter of gun policy in this country. I would like to add a few words coming from my experience in other countries, which may shed some light on what we need to do here.

I have mentioned that I grew up in Argentina. At the time I was a child and teenager, it was one of the safest countries on earth. I wandered with impunity and safety around the streets of Rosario (Argentina's second city, a thriving industrial and port town), Comodoro Rivadavia (the largest and most important city of the Patagonia), and Buenos Aires (a great world-class metropolis). One could come and go at practically any time of day or night in most places and never fear for one's safety. During that time, there were two factors I could point to that made it so safe. The first was a strong sense of community based around family and the neighborhood where one lived. The second was a strict control of gun ownership. Most people never owned one.

The other country I know which is unusually safe is the United Kingdom. I am relatively familiar with it because my older son and his family live there and because Argentina has close ties to England and I consequently knew growing up and know at present a lot of what goes on there. There, gun ownership is virtually impossible and knives (other than legitimate kitchen and eating knives) are strictly controlled. They have no more than 50 homicides in a year.

Now days, Argentina is very different from what it was when I was growing up. After the terrible seven years of tribulation (1977-1983) during which the military and police illegally arrested, tortured, and killed some 30,000 citizens, prohibiting gun ownership was thought by much of the public to be part and parcel of the ideology of dictatorship. As a reaction, many people considered that owning a gun was equivalent to democracy. Now and for many years before, you cannot go outside dressed well, for fear you will be assaulted and shot and killed, if not for resisting, then merely for fun.

You be the judge. The US constitution was created to "form a more perfect union and provide for the public welfare." I have a very hard time believing that the first amendment was created to ensure that people could have all the guns they want, at the expense of (by now) hundreds and hundreds of precious innocent lives.

Who is responsible for this? You and I are. We have elected for decades governments which represent not us, but rather the interests of those with the most money including those who make from trafficking guns. Is there a solution? The last election showed that money is not everything in getting elected. The plutocrats should know they are now on notice: we can turn you out. What else can we do? Pledge not to watch TV. What is there of value on it anyway? Nothing that I can see. We can learn to read. We can think for ourselves. We can sit back and reflect: things are more complicated than what can fit on bumper sticker or even on the nightly news. Let's take control of our lives and let's make good policy concerning firearms. Owning one only puts us at greater risk.

13 December 2012

The Economics of Growth

Our system of economics in the US is built around an expectation of continual, virtually unbroken growth. Apple, as does every other company that markets consumer electronics, requires constantly increasing profits to keep their major sources of funding, i.e., the investors who buy their stocks, happy. This means that it is not enough merely to keep selling the same phone or computer when your old one breaks down. They have to create new markets constantly. To achieve this, they have to keep coming up with products you never envisioned at all in your life that you would possibly need and that, once they come out, you think you can't live without. The situation is the trap our entire way of life finds itself in.

When I first came to the US (where I was born) from Argentina (where I grew up) for college, I saw that real estate developers, contractors, builders, and construction workers all considered the expansion of the need for housing as a permanent feature of life, rather than a slim, 20 to 30-year window following World War II, when families and the economy were expanding. They never stopped to think that, if unchecked, their way of doing business would cover all available land, destroying forests, waterways, and agriculture, until all land was covered in housing and nothing was left to feed their inhabitants with. The failure to recognize that housing markets expand and contract led to giving mortgages to people whose income could not justify it, otherwise people would not leave rental housing to existing housing, so that the sellers of existing housing could move to new housing and justify continued construction. No more growth could be squeezed from the lemon. If the vast majority of us decided to make do with an existing house or stay in the one we have, the construction sector would collapse.

Instead, house purchasers and sellers were sold the untruth that housing is an investment that always grows. People kept moving into more expensive houses until the ability to buy even more expensive houses was no longer there. Meanwhile, unregulated derivatives made money from selling off their debt. There is something sinister and seriously wrong with the very idea. Now you see where it has landed us: nearly in another Great Depression. And we are still hampered by politicians who cannot understand that in an economic crisis or just a downturn, you must always stimulate the economy, regardless of the deficit.

Every sector of the economy will reach a state of no more growth or of collapse sooner or later if growth is the only goal pursued. Instead, we must all learn to project what will happen if current trends continue. If we don't like what we see, we must then make changes to what we are doing and plan for changing our business model or for changing activities entirely. We can start with the petroleum industry: end all subsidies immediately and, if the Shells and BPs of this world know what is good for them, plan a rapid changeover to renewable, non-polluting, non carbon-releasing energy.

You may wonder what all this has to do with my series of three youth novels centering around Angela Fournier. It is that she has the habit of looking ahead and is becoming aware that big changes are needed in how we live and puzzled at the non-chalance of the adult world.

You can read more about her at www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/Angela1.html