Posts Tagged America
Americans seem to want laws expressing high ideals but they seem also to want the convenience of ignoring or violating many of them with impunity.
Currently reading: Equality by Statute by Morroe Berger.
Berger argued that law can change society, yet this seems to be in stark contrast to the message from the history that he gives (I’m only about 1/10 into the book, so that may change). He even pointed out these two laws, passed almost a century apart:
Civil Rights Act of 1875:
… all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
The law was changed before society was ready. State intervention did not successfully end discrimination, racists simply found ways around the legislation and everyone else didn’t care enough to stop them.
This leads me to a second thought:
Berger traces the flight of “the Negro” from, as he puts it, “rural poverty and exploitation in the South to urban misery and discrimination in other regions”. The Black Americans* were essentially one step behind the Whites and were moving into industries like manufacturing and mining just as the Whites were moving into the more lucrative trade and finance.
This story is rather familiar to many other groups of people in many other countries – urbanisation has been growing across the world for the past century, however the prosperity that comes with it seems to left behind the traditionally disadvantaged groups. Except for one.
Looking at the biggest law firms in America and you will see a long list of old European Aristocracy-sounding names like ‘Baker and McKenzie’, ‘Jones Day’ or ‘Latham and Watkins’. But then you get to the occasional one that doesn’t quite fit the mould – ‘Greenberg Traurig’, ‘Weil, Gotshal and Manges’ or ‘Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton’. And then of course there’s Goldman Sachs, holding its own with JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.
The Jewish immigrants into New York in the late 1800s/early 1900s were not the highly-educated metropolitan elites from Vienna and Berlin who thought they had integrated well into European society and were about to get a nasty surprise (if that phrase comes even close to describing the horror of what happened). No, these were rural farmers from shtettles in Poland and Russia. They also were not at all free from discrimination – the universities all limited their ‘Jewish intake’ through quotas and the chances of a Goldberg or a Rothstein being hired by any of the top firms were slim to nil.
So what did they do? They worked. Hard. The poor Lower East Side of Manhattan became full of sweatshops where Jews worked in conditions worse than those in Foxcomm factories. They saved money and sent their children to school and university. The children then found that the old WASP establishment had no interest in employing Jews and so they were locked-out from all of the most esteemed industries. So what did they do? They came together and hired each other, they built their own firms and did it so well that within a few decades they were buying-out the firms that used to refuse to hire them.
As with the Black Americans, that story was similar across the world in the new immigrant nations that were forming. A few things come to mind when I ask this question, but none of them really give a definitive answer: why are we so different? Why were Jews able to impose themselves on the White establishment until there was no choice but to accept them, where other disadvantaged groups just seem so… complacent?
Although the exception, as we’re seeing, are immigrants from East Asia – who look set to replicate the Jewish success of earlier generations.
*I consider “African American” to be quite an offensive term, not to mention a misnomer. Millions of “African Americans” have no African heritage whatsoever. Many more Americans do have African heritage, but are not Black.
A very brief outline of the problems presented by the cuts to Australia’s defence spending
Greg Sheridan’s weekend column yesterday:
After the first few budgets radically breached that commitment [to increase defence spending], Smith took to using a post-facto justification that it was meant to be an average increase and not apply to any individual year. That equivocation now lacks any shred of credibility.
This is the big, historic story of this budget. As one senior military commander puts it to me: “We now have a lightly armed militia, with certain areas of competence and expertise, but which could not meet any significant military challenge without years of notice.”
So what are the results of these dramatic cuts to Australia’s defence capability? Australia has had it good for a long time, however we live in a region that is rife with unresolved conflicts and it is getting increasingly wealthy, which means our neighbours are stocking-up on military capabilities. China is clearly the best example of this, however we cannot afford to ignore the other Southeast Asian states, especially as skirmishes over offshore oil fields increase.
We now have hundreds of US marines stationed in Darwin – this is a sign both of the awareness that America has of the increasing strategic importance of the South Pacific, as well as the strong alliance between our two countries. That said, our defence cuts could be a strategic liability for America in that it no longer has a strong military ally in the South Pacific. With our diminishing capability, the US will be compelled to send more of its own forces to our shores in order to compensate. It will have the dual effect of making us more dependent on America and America having less respect for us – a bad look overall.
The idea that “hard power” no longer counts is wishful thinking. “Soft power” is a luxury that comes with having the ability to use hard power and choosing not to. The reality is that cutting our defence budget and allowing our military to further deteriorate will serve only to diminish Australia’s influence in the world and leave us far more beholden to others. That is not a situation that I want to see.
Defence of the nation is a core responsibility of the Federal Government, it is far more important than most of areas that the Government is currently endeavouring to blow the budget on; not least the shameless pork-barrelling designed to mitigate the adverse effects of the Carbon Tax. It is also something that cannot be easily undone – developing military capability is something that takes years, if not decades.
The current Government recognised the importance of defence in 2009, yet it has done the exact opposite of the commitments that it made then. To me, this is the most serious of the so-called “broken promises”, one that could have severe repercussions on Australia’s geostrategic standing in the years to come.
There has been a lot of fascinating coverage in the Atlantic over the past couple of years regarding the impacts that the GFC have had on men in the workforce — most famously, Hannah Rosin’s 2010 cover story ‘The End of Men‘.
Today, Jordan Weissmann is arguing that the neologism coined in response — “mancession” — is misplaced, since men are always the gender to be more adversely affected by a recession.
Perhaps it’s finally time to retire the phrase “mancession.”
During the past few years, that grisly portmanteau has become a popular shorthand for the way men seemed to suffer a special degree of misfortune during the Great Recession. Male-dominated industries, particularly construction, had been at the heart of the housing bust and the ensuing downturn, and their job prospects diminished more as a result. Hence, a new turn of phrase was born.
And it is accurate. Men’s employment did indeed crash further than women’s. But here’s why we might want to consider putting “mancession” on ice: It turns out men have gotten the brunt of every economic downturn for the past thirty years. In other words, every recession has been a “mancession.”
On the other hand, Tanya Gold in The Guardian argues that the current recession (and the Tory Government) is affecting women far more.
I will type until my fingers bleed; these are the worst of times for women, and the best of times for inequality, which is not a buzzword to be mocked but a phenomenon that is paid for in human tears. At a TUC event last month we lamented: we are going backwards. Women are leaving the workforce in ever greater numbers, to meet the usual fate of women who don’t work in a shrinking state divesting itself even of free access to the Child Support Agency and legal aid – poverty, and indifference to poverty. When the current vogue for retro style rolled in – cupcakes and Mad Men and Julian Fellowes’s reactionary fantasies – I thought it was a trend. I didn’t realise it was a prophecy, hung with other assaults on women’s needs, such as protesters standing like righteous zombies outside British abortion clinics. (Be pregnant, is their message. Be grateful).
I do want to note that while Gold offers some compelling figures, she also said this:
the long-hours macho working culture that thrills business because it enables men’s psychological dominance
Right. That sounds like the reason businesses would want people to work more. I think you nailed it there Ms Gold…
There are some interesting questions being raised though: why is the recession affecting men more in the US and women more in the UK? Is that, in fact, the truth? Was the GFC sexist? Does Gold refuse to work long hours because it is “macho” or because she is lazy?
In response to last night’s post, a reader says:
I just read your article about gay rights, it came up on my news feed.
I just thought you might want to incorporate one of the main differences between Australia and America in relation to gay rights: the fact that America is a very religious country. A huge percentage of people rating themselves “deeply religious”.
Australia is one of the least religious countries in the world. 28% of Australians see themselves as not at all religious, with religious practices and beliefs barely featuring in their lives. 44% of Australians say they consider themselves religious but that religion does not play a central role in their lives.
48% of Australians do not pray and 52% never or very seldom visit a church, mosque, synagogue or temple for religious reasons. I found those stats from an international survey carried out by the European Bertelsmann Foundation.
And considering Australia is one of the least religious countries in the world, and really the only reason to not allow gay marriage is a religious argument, it makes Australia look pretty bad that it doesn’t allow gay marriage.
I am not sure that everyone would agree that the religious argument is the only one to be made against gay marriage — most anti-gay marriage advocates would argue that they are defending a social institution, not a religious one.
Most importantly, there is a religious argument to be made in favour of gay marriage, as well as a socially conservative one. For examples of each, take two British Prime Ministers: former PM Tony Blair, the famous defender of religion, and current PM David Cameron, who led the Conservatives to victory for the first time in almost 20 years:
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who converted to Catholicism in 2007, is backing the Government’s plan to legalise same-sex marriage before 2015.
The proposal has drawn sharp criticism from leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.
According to The Independent on Sunday, Blair has told friends that he “strongly supports the Prime Minister’s proposal” to enact a new law to make gay marriage legal.
Mr Cameron said on Wednesday: ‘We’re consulting on legalising gay marriage. To anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment.
‘Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.’
For those who have not been following the debate, America’s number one “shock jock”, Rush Limbaugh, recently made a whole lot of enemies when he called a woman on his show a “prostitute” because she was in favour of a Bill that obligates private healthcare providers to provide contraception to their clients. His thinking was that id she wanted this so she could have sex (she didn’t) then she was demanding to be paid to have sex, and was therefore a “prostitute”.
Note: there is every possibility that Limbaugh has never encountered a woman who would have sex with him without receiving some kind of cash incentive:
Point is, it seems that the whole brouhaha has alerted Big Money to the facts that young women buy a lot of stuff, angry old men do not buy much, and sponsoring Rush Limbaugh may make their products popular with old men, but it will make them unpopular with young women.
Ergo, they are no longer sponsoring Limbaugh’s show:
Premiere Networks, which distributes Limbaugh as well as a host of other right-wing talkers, sent an email out to its affiliates early Friday listing 98 large corporations that have requested their ads appear only on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).”
This is big. According to the radio-industry website Radio-Info.com, which first posted excerpts of the Premiere memo, among the 98 companies that have decided to no longer sponsor these programs are “carmakers (Ford, GM, Toyota), insurance companies (Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm), and restaurants (McDonald’s, Subway).” Together, these talk-radio advertising staples represent millions of dollars in revenue.
… this latest controversy comes at a particularly difficult time for right-wing talk radio. They are playing to a (sometimes literally) dying demographic. Rush & Co. rate best among old, white males. They have been steadily losing women and young listeners, who are alienated by the angry, negative, obsessive approach to political conservations. Add to that the fact that women ages 24–55 are the prize advertising demographic, and you have a perfect storm emerging after Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments.
As pressure grows for advertisers and radio stations to drop Rush & Co., there will be much talk about the dangers of censorship, with allies talking about a left-wing “jihad” against Rush (language his brother David Limbaugh has already used).
But the irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.
The contraception debate is being championed by Catholics in the Republican party (primarily Rick Santorum) because of a Papal decree that makes contraception against Catholic dogma. Everyone else is defending the right of the Catholic Church not to have to indirectly pay for something which may be used in a way that would go against what the Pope says is right.
Liel Leibovitz has gave some insights into the differences in religious dogma between the Catholic Church and Judaism, even though both are applying the same passage from the Bible:
In the Yevamot tractate of the Talmud, there’s a tale of one Rabbi Hiyya and his wife, Judith. Having just given birth to twins, and suffered greatly in the process, she decides to put her child-rearing days behind her. Cunningly, she wears a disguise and comes before her husband with a halachic question: “Is a woman obligated to procreate?” Rabbi Hiyya hardly blinks; the answer, according to Jewish tradition, is no, as pru u’rvu is the domain of the man and is focused around the semen and its potentialities. Hiyya replies that the woman is under no obligation, only her husband. Vindicated, Judith drinks a sterility potion.
When Hiyya discovers the ruse, he is distraught, but there’s little he can say without contradicting his own rabbinic judgment. Judith had already given him two sons, which, according to custom, was enough to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation anyway. And as she was under no other obligation to reproduce, she was free to do as she pleased.
… Compare this complexity of roles with Paul’s decree—“man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man”—and it’s not too hard to realize why Catholicism ends up with 1930’s Casti Connubii, a papal decree emphasizing the sanctity of marriage and prohibiting Catholics from using any form of birth control. Protestants, on the other hand, have largely moved away from such strict attitudes; since the Reformation, an alternate view gained traction, stressing the uniting element of sexual intercourse—the emotional and spiritual bonding of husband and wife.
Also interesting is a section in Rabbi Shmuely Boteach’s announcement that he is running for Congress. Boteach reflects on the approach that the “Conservatives” in the US are currently taking to family values, noting that for some reason the focus has been so incessantly on how to prevent marriage that no one has been trying to find ways to keep people married once they have already tied the knot.
The point being that the insane level of debate given to issues like gay marriage, abortion and, more recently, contraception is completely overshadowing far more important family values questions like why is the divorce rate so high?
The values that have dominated the American political landscape for decades are the American obsession with gay marriage and abortion, to the exclusion of nearly all others, which explains why our country is so incredibly religious yet so seemingly decadent. It’s time to expand the values conversation and policy agenda.
Let’s begin with really saving the institution of marriage by focusing squarely on the outrageous 50 percent divorce rate. I will promote legislation that will fight marital breakdown by making marital counseling tax-deductible.
Let’s give husbands and wives whose families are collapsing a financial incentive to get the help they need so that their kids don’t end up like yo-yos bouncing from home to home. I am a child of divorce and hosted a national TV show that saved families from being part of a tragedy that must finally be addressed on a grand scale.
In an answer to all of the people who keep talking about the impending collapse of the US, at least as we know it, the Brookings Institute’s Robert Kagan has written a long essay on why the US is still number one and will be for quite some time.
With this broad perception of decline as the backdrop, every failure of the United States to get its way in the world tends to reinforce the impression. Arabs and Israelis refuse to make peace, despite American entreaties. Iran and North Korea defy American demands that they cease their nuclear weapons programs. China refuses to let its currency rise. Ferment in the Arab world spins out of America’s control. Every day, it seems, brings more evidence that the time has passed when the United States could lead the world and get others to do its bidding.
Powerful as this sense of decline may be, however, it deserves a more rigorous examination. Measuring changes in a nation’s relative power is a tricky business, but there are some basic indicators: the size and the influence of its economy relative to that of other powers; the magnitude of military power compared with that of potential adversaries; the degree of political influence it wields in the international system—all of which make up what the Chinese call “comprehensive national power.” And there is the matter of time. Judgments based on only a few years’ evidence are problematic. A great power’s decline is the product of fundamental changes in the international distribution of various forms of power that usually occur over longer stretches of time.
Kagan’s argument is that despite current hyperbole, the US has been through comparatively worse times and bounced back, and there is no current threat to US hegemony economically or militarily. It is worth reading the whole piece, where he points out how there have been economic crises in the past – such as the 1930s and the 1970s – in which every pundit became a doomsayer but all predictions of American decline turned out to be completely wrong. America still earns 1/4 of the world’s GDP and it is still four times richer than China per capita.
In economic terms, and even despite the current years of recession and slow growth, America’s position in the world has not changed. Its share of the world’s GDP has held remarkably steady, not only over the past decade but over the past four decades. In 1969, the United States produced roughly a quarter of the world’s economic output. Today it still produces roughly a quarter, and it remains not only the largest but also the richest economy in the world. People are rightly mesmerized by the rise of China, India, and other Asian nations whose share of the global economy has been climbing steadily, but this has so far come almost entirely at the expense of Europe and Japan, which have had a declining share of the global economy.
Optimists about China’s development predict that it will overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world sometime in the next two decades. This could mean that the United States will face an increasing challenge to its economic position in the future. But the sheer size of an economy is not by itself a good measure of overall power within the international system. If it were, then early nineteenth-century China, with what was then the world’s largest economy, would have been the predominant power instead of the prostrate victim of smaller European nations. Even if China does reach this pinnacle again—and Chinese leaders face significant obstacles to sustaining the country’s growth indefinitely—it will still remain far behind both the United States and Europe in terms of per capita GDP.
Another point he makes is that everyone seems to be looking at US history through rose coloured lenses – in actual fact, America has always had many successes in foreign policy, but even more failures. As one example, for all of their problems, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not nearly as costly as Vietnam.
If the United States is not suffering decline in these basic measures of power, isn’t it true that its influence has diminished, that it is having a harder time getting its way in the world? The almost universal assumption is that the United States has indeed lost influence. Whatever the explanation may be—American decline, the “rise of the rest,” the apparent failure of the American capitalist model, the dysfunctional nature of American politics, the increasing complexity of the international system—it is broadly accepted that the United States can no longer shape the world to suit its interests and ideals as it once did. Every day seems to bring more proof, as things happen in the world that seem both contrary to American interests and beyond American control.
And of course it is true that the United States is not able to get what it wants much of the time. But then it never could. Much of today’s impressions about declining American influence are based on a nostalgic fallacy: that there was once a time when the United States could shape the whole world to suit its desires, and could get other nations to do what it wanted them to do, and, as the political scientist Stephen M. Walt put it, “manage the politics, economics and security arrangements for nearly the entire globe.”
If we are to gauge America’s relative position today, it is important to recognize that this image of the past is an illusion. There never was such a time. We tend to think back on the early years of the Cold War as a moment of complete American global dominance. They were nothing of the sort. The United States did accomplish extraordinary things in that era: the Marshall Plan, the NATO alliance, the United Nations, and the Bretton Woods economic system all shaped the world we know today. Yet for every great achievement in the early Cold War, there was at least one equally monumental setback.
On military superiority, Walter Russell Mead gave a great rundown a while ago in a post responding to Muammar Gaddafi’s death. He made one thing very clear: not only is America not threatened militarily by anyone, no country could even come close to the US in any combat situation. Remember that there is a huge difference between asymmetrical warfare fought by insurgents trying to drive the US out of a country that Americans don’t even want to be in and a skirmish with China over a Pacific oil field.
Additionally, the balance of military power has been steadily shifting in favor of the United States. This runs counter to all the loose talk about inevitable, inexorable US decline: a close look at the facts on the ground suggests that the US has considerably more power to impose its agenda on most “third world” countries than it did twenty years ago. This is partly because such countries can no longer realistically claim the protection of a rival superpower, but it is also because the American military is a much more formidable machine than it used to be. Our weapons are much smarter and much more devastatingly effective, and our professional military has blossomed into the most effective force in the history of the human race. We can still be made to take casualties in asymmetrical combat situations, and no amount of military power can overcome the absence of strategy, but between the battlefield advantages our high tech weapons and new methods of training and combat planning have given us, the revolution in force projection, and the range of cultural, diplomatic, humanitarian and developmental capacities our military has acquired in the last twenty years, America’s unprecedented military power has changed the way the world works.
This power is not a magic omnipotence pill; there are many things we cannot do. But the days when a third world tyrant could rely on conventional weapons to deter American intervention are gone. The US military swatted Saddam’s army, rated as one of the world’s better forces, like so many flies in the first Gulf War, and by the time of the second our conventional superiority was even greater. The Libyan intervention was done with the back of our hand, so to speak; President Obama and his top commanders did not interrupt their efforts in the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia to provide the backup for NATO’s attacks.
This power does not work as well in asymmetrical settings, but in general we are back to the kind of military superiority that European forces enjoyed over non-European rulers in Victorian times. Reinforcing that power is the fact that no other great power has the force projection capacities, or even the military resources overall, to come to the aid of a Libya or a Saddam. Drone strike diplomacy is not all that different from gunboat diplomacy, and until and unless the military balance changes, the US is going to have more options for dealing with “bad guys” than we have had for many years.
As for the geostrategic make-up of the Asia-Pacific region in the “Asian Century”, America has that down-pat as well. Mead again, this time on a new deal going through as you read this:
The Obama Administration may soon come to an agreement with Philippines to station U.S. troops or naval vessels on its territory. The talks are still in the early stages, but officials from both countries have said they are inclined to strike a deal within the next few months.
An agreement with Manila would come close on the heels of two other upcoming moves: American Marines soon to be stationed in Australia and several U.S. warships moving to Changi Naval Base in Singapore.
Asian nations are learning that the United States is prepared to offer a real balance against China’s new assertiveness in the region. In the Philippine case, this dovetails nicely with the country’s interests—especially with respect to the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, geographically closer to the Philippines than China. Manila has occasionally stationed troops on the islands, and it operates a number of offshore oil fields in waters claimed by China. Having American ships docked in its ports, if not also American boots on Philippine soil, will no doubt be a confidence booster for Manila in these and other disputes.
The truth is that the new emerging powers in the world are not even close to threatening US hegemony. In fact, most of their rise is coming at Europe’s expense. It may upset some of you hardcore third worldists out there who seem to believe that America is an evil influence on the world, but you better face facts: Uncle Sam is still on top.
Apparently this video has caused a worldwide controversy, because it shows — wait for it — SMOKING!!
Clearly the media has missed the fact that a guy with a serious moustache can’t give a real badass look into the camera without exhaling a lungful of carcinogens. Has no one ever seen a Clint Eastwood movie?
Meanwhile, if anyway can find a video with he iconic Simpsons moment referenced in the title, please post it in the comments or something. It seems surprisingly hard to come by.