American Daily: July 16, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

16 July 2014

  • Is full-time employment in America being replaced by part-time work?
If you insist on being a pessimist, here's a very smart way to express fear about the future of part-time work, also from the Fed. There are some industries, such as hotels, food service, and retail, that have historically had shorter workweeks and more part-time workers. If those sectors continue to grow faster than the overall economy (because other sectors, like government and manufacturing, are shrinking), then we should expect part-time work to remain elevated. Indeed, the relative strength of those industries today is one reason why part-time work hasn't declined even faster than it has.

Here in Asia, there is heated debate about the durability of US alliances. Last week saw the visits by the Japanese prime minister to Australia and Chinese president Xi Jinping to South Korea (accompanied, inevitably, by a planeload of business people). Xi Jinping proposed 'a new Asian security architecture' devoid of US military treaties, which he called a 'Cold War relic.' American newspapers have seized on Beijing's intent to undermine and unravel the alliance system.

Free enterprise, free markets, competition, and choice: All are timeless economic principles, but their application can and should evolve with changing economic circumstances. When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, the top income-tax rate was 70 percent, inflation was 13 percent, health-care spending was 10 percent of GDP, and publicly held debt was 26 percent. The average American was 30 years old.
Today, the top marginal tax rate is 40 percent, and inflation is 2 percent. Health-care spending and the debt have both risen by nearly 80 percent as a share of output. The average American is 37 years old. Economics and demography require a reworking of the conservative policy portfolio. But center-right politicians in Washington keep offering same-old, same-old stale solutions.
  • NIMBYs are costing the US economy billions.

If housing wasn't so expensive in coastal cities, a lot more people would move to New York, Washington, Boston, Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The data suggests that — even after controlling for factors such as education — workers in these cities are more productive than in other metropolitan areas. The study doesn't try to explain these productivity differences, but possible explanations include better infrastructure, opportunities to learn new skills, and a culture that encourages entrepreneurship.

Hsieh and Moretti estimate that moving American workers to higher-productivity cities could increase the income of Americans by a stunning amount: more than $1 trillion. That amounts to a raise of several thousand dollars for every American worker.

Following last week’s Hobby Lobby decision from the Supreme Court, the internet rose up in a chorus of lusty appreciation for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the justice who wrote a withering 35-page dissent in the case. All over Tumblr and Twitter, links appeared to the dizzying array of t-shirts bearing the term “Notorious RBG”; others about hearting Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg, asking What Would Ruth Bader Ginsburg Do?, and suggesting that we should all Fear the Frill; and some simply presenting RBG, y’all. Musician Jonathan Mann set the words of her dissent to music as part of his “Song a Day” project, producing a very catchy chorus around the words “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” a line that is now also available on a t-shirt.

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American Daily: July 15, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

15 July 2014

  • The roots of the crisis in Central America sending waves of immigrants to the US border.

The pipeline bringing a flood of Central American migrants to the United States, including thousands of unaccompanied children, begins in villages like Quebrada Maria, near the Caribbean coast of Honduras.

That's where dimple-faced, 14-year-old Brayan Duban Soler Redondo lived in daily fear of being beaten up or killed by members of gangs like Mara Salvatrucha, also called MS-13, and Calle 18.

  • Should Vietnam seek closer ties with the US to counterbalance China?

Because of China’s recent territorial grabs at sea and its complete disregard for international law, we are now back to square one. Without a major strategic realignment, Vietnam’s island territories will simply be gobbled up by China. Our country must dispose of the myth of friendship with China and return to what Ho Chi Minh passionately advocated after World War II: an American-Vietnamese alliance in Asia.

  • Why the White House is welcoming the potential Boehner lawsuit.

Under the circumstances, the specter of a United States Congress literally picking a high-profile political fight over the idea that the president has been doing too much stuff is manna from heaven. Now there's no more argument over why the president won't lead. He is leading! Leading as far as he can possibly go! Leading so far that the Speaker of the House is complaining that he's engaged in an illegal level of leadership!

When the Austrian brain-worm invades, you start believing things like: 1) Federal Reserve money-printing is a government plot to boost big banks, 2) prices are rising much faster than anyone thinks, 3) real “inflation” means money-printing, not an increase in prices, 4) printing money can never boost the economy, 5) academic economics is a plot to use mathematical mumbo-jumbo to cover up government giveaways to big banks, etc., etc.

After being captured on the Afghanistan battlefield and spending six years at Guantanamo Bay, Hicks entered a plea bargain in March 2007 before a US military commission to a charge of "material support for terrorism".

In a separate case, all seven judges of the US court of appeals for the DC circuit have now found that charge is not a war crime triable by military commission.

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American Daily: July 14, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

14 July 2014

If, however, they can intervene whenever a house of Congress is unhappy, then the courts get a a much more active role in determining what the laws say. And why just a house of Congress? What if the president sued Congress, for example, if it failed in its obligation to produce appropriations bills on time? Instead of a government shutdown, would we get an injunction and then a judicial act of appropriations, with someone appointed by Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan making 302(b) allocations by judicial fiat? Or perhaps we'd wind up with individual senators jurisdiction shopping, looking for a friendly judge to overturn some fight they lost in committee or on the Senate floor. Those kinds of setbacks are common for senators and executive branch departments; the only thing that prevents the losers, or whole chambers that lost fights in conference, from directly appealing to the courts is that the courts have a doctrine against intervening.

On June 23, the last of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was loaded onto a Danish freighter to be destroyed. The following day, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia asked his Parliament to rescind the permission that it had given him to send troops into Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is still cautious optimism that a nuclear deal with Iran is within reach.

What do these have in common? They were achieved without a single American bomb being dropped and they relied on a combination of diplomacy, economic sanctions and the coercive threat of military force. As policy makers and pundits remain focused on Iraq and the perennial but distracting discussion about the use of force, these modest but significant achievements have, perhaps predictably, been ignored. Yet they hold important lessons for how American power can be most effectively deployed today.

Then Tania Chavez, an undocumented youth leader from the Minority Affairs Council, one of the organizers of the vigil, asked me the same question: “How will you get out of here?” Tania grew up in this border town. As the day wore on, as the reality of my predicament sunk in, Tania spelled it out for me: You might not get through airport security, where Customs and Border Protection (CPB) also checks for IDs, and you will definitely not get through the immigration checkpoints set up within 45 miles of this border town. At these checkpoints, you will be asked for documentation. (“Even if you tell them you’re a U.S. citizen, they will ask you follow-up questions if they don’t believe you,” Tania told me.)

In the summer of 2010, LeBron handled everything wrong. He knows that now. His hometown turned on him. His former owner excoriated him. Everyone else hated what he did. We turned him into a wrestling heel, pushed him to a dark place, affected his personality, planted seeds of doubt that blossomed like a black rose during the 2011 Finals. It took LeBron nearly 15 months to recover from the damage, both mentally and physically, and when he did, he captured two straight MVPs and his first two NBA titles.

But he never forgot what happened, and deep down, he probably always wanted to atone. When the time arrived this summer, he flipped the script on us. This wasn’t a 24-7, overplanned reality show like the one in 2010. He said nothing. He hinted at nothing. During the first week of July, his agent took every meeting. During the second week, LeBron stayed in Las Vegas and made everyone come to him. He announced his decision in an online piece titled “I’m Coming Home,” then he flew to Brazil for the World Cup. So much for the Boys & Girls Club and Jim Gray.

But still, the question remains: Why tweet about a rapper? As is the case with most law-enforcement agencies, rap and the CIA have rarely seen eye-to-eye. A rare example of accord came in 2012, when Kanye West gave former Agency director George Tenet a shout-out on summer jam “Clique”, saying that the two ran into each other and talked about cars (which actually happened). But West hasn’t always been so kind; he repeated the Soviet (yes, Soviet) propaganda that the CIA administered AIDS on early hit “Heard ‘Em Say.” It’s fair to say that the CIA in general isn’t very popular among rappers; even Bar Mitzvah-go-to has taken a shot, directly comparing one the United States’ principal intelligence-gathering agencies to the KKK on “Where is the Love?”

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America can't win a fictional World Cup either

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

14 July 2014

I manage to chat on a pretty diverse subject matter here at the Centre blog, but I've never found an excuse to inflict my love of Harry Potter on y'all. I mean, fictional British wizards don't have an awful lot to do with American politics and culture, do they? 

Well, not 'til now!

Although the headline news last week was that J.K. Rowling had resurrected her boy wizard and his pals in the form of a gossip column,[1] the less clickbaity version was that throughout the duration of the soccer World Cup, Rowling has been penning, under Potter–love interest Ginny Weasley's byline, a series of sports reports from this year's Quidditch World Cup. And it seems that the story from this year's tournament of broomstick ball has been the unexpected success of TEAM AMERICA![2]

According to Weasley's missives, although American wizards — like their muggle counterparts — eschew the global game for a local variation, known as Quodpot[3] — in recent years the Americans have — like their muggle counterparts on the soccer field — shown unexpected Qudditch prowess.


Although the muggle Team USA didn't make it past the Round of 16, in Rowling's world, the Americans, led by the fantastically named seeker Darius Smackhammer, almost went all the way to the final, bowing out with a semi-final loss to Brazil[4].

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A few other things we learn from Rowling/Wealey's reports:

  • American wizards are governed not by the dysfunctional English Ministry of Magic but a Magical Congress

Honestly, I find the prospect of American wizarding politics is so tantalising. Do you think they have filibuster spells? (You know the Magical Senate would not limit those, no matter how disruptive they were, because that would undermine the chamber's status as the world's greatest magical deliberative body.) Are there committees where bills can be sent to literally disappear? Has anyone ever been hexed on the Senate floor, Charles Sumner–style? And is the MACUSA president comparable to the president of the Senate (currently Vice President Joe Biden) or does Wizarding America not share a separation of powers with its muggle counterpart? Or perhaps Ginny is referring to the actual Wizarding President, and the suggestion that the executive as presiding over the legislative is an error made by a politically ignorant English sports reporter?

Anyway, this trivia about the Wizarding World as it exists across the pond is super welcome as far as I'm concerned, especially all the books have to say on the matter of American wizardry is that there's a Salem Witches' Institute — presumably a magical school, presumably located in Massachusetts. Fortunately, it seems we're likely to learn more about American witchcraft and wizardry in the forthcoming Rowling-scripted Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film, which sends British magizoologist Newt Scamander to 1920s New York.

1. Verdict? As my buddy Mizu put it: "JKR you just be writin fanfic of your own shit now."


3. Just as American football has much more going for it than the low-scoring thrills of soccer, Quodpot seems far preferable to the rather nonsensical Qudditch. Here's Rowling's account of America's own flying-broom sport, from Quidditch Through the Ages:

The United States has not produced as many world-class Quidditch teams as other nations because the game has had to compete with the American broom game Quodpot. A variant of Qudditch, Quodpot was invented by the eighteenth-century wizard Abraham Peasegood, who had brought a Quaffle with him from the old country and intended to recruit a Qudditch team. The story goes that Peasegood's Quaffle had inadvertently come into contact with the tip of his wand in his trunk, so that when he finally took it out and began to throw it around in a caual manner, it exploded in his face. Peasegood, whose sense of humour appears to have been robust, promptly set out to recreate the effect on a series of leather balls and soon all thought of Quidditch was forgotten as he and his friends developed a game which centred on the explosive properties of the newly renamed "Quod."

There are eleven players a side in the game of Quodpot. They throw the Quod, or modified Quaffle, from tea member to member, attempting to get it into the "pot" at the end of the pitch before it explodes. Any player in possession of the Quod when it explodes must leave the pitch. Once the Quod is safely in the "pot" (a small cauldron containing a solution which will prevent the Quod exploding), the scorer's team is awarded a point and a new Quod is brought on to the pitch. Quodpot has had some success as a minority sport in Europe, though the vast majority of wizards remain faithful to Quidditch.

The thing I like about this is that it solves one of my main problems with sports, that being that they're not enough like Looney Tunes cartoons.

4. Note the date on that post: for some reason, the International Quidditch Association scheduled the US to play on the Fourth of July! Seems unfair.


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American Daily: July 11, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

11 July 2014

"Today we're releasing a draft resolution that will authorize the House to file suit over the way President Obama unilaterally changed the employer mandate," Boehner said in a statement. "In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own."

Once in office, what did these fourth congresses actually do? What was the legislative product? The first thing to say is that there is no instance of a president pressing and winning a domestic program after a second midterm. It is a zero. Hope and change are yesterday’s stories.

But that doesn’t mean there has been no legislative action at all. In a recent book, John S. Lapinski offers a list of the most important 100 laws enacted from 1877 through 1994. That is 1.7 per Congress. For the Wilson, FDR, Eisenhower and Reagan fourth congresses that lie within that time bracket, the score is six statutes or 1.5 per Congress. The difference here is trivial.

It’s important to understand that there are lots of gun owners who think groups like Open Carry Texas are nuts, and even plenty of gun advocates who think they’re doing serious damage to the cause. But groups like theirs have performed a service by reminding us that just as there’s a culture of guns, and cultures where guns are plentiful, there are also tens of millions of Americans for whom an absence of guns is a cultural value. It’s part of how they define places, whether it’s their communities or the stores they shop in, as safe and pleasant. People who grew up around a lot of guns may not blink an eye when they go to the hardware store and see a pistol peeking out of some dude’s sweatpants, but many people find that a troubling sight. We’re not all going to share the same culture, but being an honorable member of society means being aware of how some parts of your particular culture may make other people uncomfortable or afraid, and trying to act respectfully in response.

But even though there were many satisfying nominations, and even though I expect many of the winners to be the right ones — then again, consider Jeff Daniels' win a year ago — the snubs rankle more this year than recently, because there are so many potentially great choices and the voters still made so many bad and/or lazy ones. If Norris got nominated and not Wright (or vice versa), or if Rhys had been edged out by Michael Sheen or Mads Mikkelsen, I would be disappointed, but I would recognize the impossible task at hand. But when Norris and Wright aren't there because of Jim Carter (who had very little to do this year on "Downton"), or Rhys and Sheen aren't there because of Daniels (not doing much to salvage a terribly-written character) and Spacey (coasting more often than not on a smirk and a bad South Carolina drawl), then it just feels like the voters aren't trying hard enough. Ditto when "The Americans" can't get anything but the most cursory, easy nomination. And when Rian Johnson can't get nominated for an episode that is going to be analyzed in college classrooms for the next 50 years, then... I give up.

Jellison adds that the real revelation from the Facebook image is how white and black women are portrayed in US society. Ms Kennedy is "demure and deferential", while Ms Obama is "boisterous".

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Jerry's New York

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

11 July 2014

Tom's restaurant in NYC, or Monk's cafe in Seinfeld

It's been 25 years since Seinfeld first went to air this month, and there's been a whole bunch of great writing on the effect the show had on American television, and particularly on American comedy[1]. On the non-comedy front, I like this Vulture piece on how the show paved the way for The Sopranos, and the wave of high quality television that came in that show's wake. Tracing the lineage thus seems proper to me; it's a rather myopic view of American television that considers The Wire and Deadwood to be artistic triumphs but does not consider, say, Seinfeld or The Simpsons to be their equal, albeit tonally different.

But as well as the focus on Seinfeld's influence on the one true native American artform[2], I like the Vulture piece's aside about the show's relationship with New York, its setting and its spiritual foundation:

Seinfeld was defiantly not lovable. First, there was its New York–iness. Seinfeld was not just a show that happened to be set in New York, like The Odd Couple or Taxi. It was specifically about Manhattan life in a way that should have alienated every other part of the country. Actually, it may have been even more specific than that: It was, in fact, a show about the idealized, compacted, cartoon version of New York imagined by displaced New Yorkers who’d settled in Los Angeles, where Seinfeld was taped, and didn’t plan on moving back anytime soon but still reserved the right to complain about the lack of good bagels and a decent mass-transit system. 

The show's relationship with an imagined, remembered New York is something Andy Greenwald touches on in his tribute to the show, too:

Still, it was the accurate hyperspecificity of a certain kind of Manhattan Jewish life that made Seinfeld so impossibly funny: the noshing, the kibitzing, and above all else the kvetching. (This applies even when the show left New York City behind. “The Pen” is one of my favorites because of the way it captures the insular insanity of elderly expat life in South Florida.)

I've complained before about the tendency of American television to needlessly set its stories in New York and Los Angeles, ignoring the rest of the country. Seinfeld, however, was an example of a New York story being done right: specific and local, even if the specificities sometimes related to the imaginary city of people who'd left it.

Bonus link: Citylab sketchs out the geographic legacy of Seinfeld

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1. For a start, it's given a handy rejoinder to any of us tired of Anglophiles trumping the supposedly superior comedic talents of the United Kingdom. 

2. Not Jazz. The sitcom.


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American Daily: July 10, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

10 July 2014

Yet though Brownback is running for reelection this fall in a deep red state, he's trailed his Democratic challenger in 3 of the 4 most recent polls — and his marquee tax cut appears to be the main reason. Kansas is now hundreds of millions of dollars short in revenue collection, its job growth has lagged the rest of the nation, and Moody's has cut the state's bond rating. "Governor Brownback came in here with an agenda to reduce the size of government, reduce taxes, and create a great economic boom," says University of Kansas professor Burdett Loomis. "Now there's been a dramatic decline in revenues, no great increase in economic activity, and we've got red ink until the cows come home."

  • John Boehner is not interested in impeaching Barack Obama.

A number of House Republicans have also called for Obama's impeachment, including Reps. Lou Barletta (Pa.), Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Michael Burgess (Texas), Blake Farenthold (Texas), Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Louie Gohmert (Texas).

But many Republicans are wary of the calls, worried they could hand Democrats a compelling issue that might help the party retain its majority in the Senate during a tough election year.

It is no wonder, then, that in 1964, after the historian Francis Russell gained access to letters from Harding to his longtime mistress, Carrie Fulton Phillips, the Harding family sued to halt their publication. Rumors of the affair were not new, but the letters — written between 1910 and 1920, before Harding assumed the presidency — confirmed the infidelity in startling detail. The Harding family feared that publishing them would further tarnish Harding’s legacy and hurt the entire family. To the dismay of many historians, a settlement was reached in which the Harding family, who owned the copyright to the letters, agreed to donate them to the Library of Congress in return for a guarantee that they remain sealed for 50 years. Russell’s biography appeared, sans letters, in 1968, but was no less scathing for their absence.

The religious liberty-contraception question provides an opportunity for three important factions within the Republican Party - ideological libertarians, business interests, and social conservatives - to agree on something. For years, the assumption had been that the imminent split in the Republican Party would occur between social and economic conservatives. The logic goes something like this: Economic conservatives fundamentally motivated by dual preferences for limited government and economic gain. Social conservatives, on the other hand (according to the received wisdom) are culture warriors who favor more, not less, government control over the private lives of American citizens.

Why would legislatures sympathetic to students pass reckless statutes that trample over their rights? Probably for the same reason that Europe is pushing misguided “right to be forgotten” laws. The openness of the Internet is forcing judges and legislatures to reevaluate the accepted balance between speech and privacy, expression and seclusion. In Europe, the scale has tipped unmistakably toward privacy; in the United States, free speech principles have largely forestalled any such debate—even when children enter the picture. Although states might have a freer hand in regulating schoolchildren’s speech, the Supreme Court recently proclaimed that the government has no “free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

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American Daily: July 9, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

9 July 2014

In a letter sent to Justice Department officials, the senator’s attorney asserts that the plot was timed to derail the ­political rise of Menendez (D-N.J.), one of Washington’s most ardent critics of the Castro regime. At the time, Menendez was running for reelection and was preparing to assume the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

According to a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence, the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media.

These are major challenges, but with enough planning, South Korea — backed by the United States, the UN, and other international actors — could deal with them. In fact, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, in cooperation with U.S. defense officials, has spent decades preparing to do just that. In the event of the North Korean regime’s collapse, South Korea’s large, well-equipped, and highly trained military should be able to rapidly assume control of North Korea and provide basic services until a civilian government takes over. The task would prove all the easier if South Korea could involve China in the planning process. So far Beijing has refused to publicly entertain the possibility that the Kim regime may not last forever. But even without Chinese participation, South Korea and its partners should be able to handle the fallout of collapse.

If Clinton ran and won the election, it is even easier to imagine that most neoconservatives would respond in much the same way they did when her husband was in office: support her only when she opted for military action while agitating for even more aggressive measures, and otherwise berate her for being “feckless,” “indecisive,” and insufficiently aggressive in responding to foreign threats. As long as the Republican nominee turns out to be someone who more or less repeats their talking points, which I’m sorry to say is more likely than not, neoconservatives will be content to portray Clinton as a McGovernite on foreign policy despite the inherent absurdity in doing so. This is what they have done to every Democratic nominee for the last thirty years, and I have no reason to expect them to do otherwise next time. In the end, it is more useful for pushing their hard-line foreign policy to ridicule Democratic hawks as “weak” on national security than it is to lend more than tactical, conditional support to a Democratic administration, no matter how hawkish it may be in practice. Neoconservatives will always be willing to demand policies more aggressive than whatever a Democratic president decides to do, and they will happily foist those policies on Republican voters for as long as they are allowed to do so. The problem with a future Clinton administration isn’t that it would be filled with neoconservatives, but that it will be staffed by Democratic partisans with a record of foreign policy judgment that is just as awful.

Party identification tells one part of it, the story of a country moving away from allegiance to the major political parties. A decade ago, about one-third of Americans described themselves as independents, according to Gallup surveys. Today that’s grown to four in 10 or more. In some states that allow registration by party, the biggest increases have been among those who decline to identify with either the Republicans or Democrats.

Voting behavior tells a different story. In recent elections, at least nine of every 10 people who identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats — or who say they are independents but lean toward one party or the other — vote for the candidate of their party down the ballot. In 2012, only about 11 percent of voters said they cast split tickets. The percentage of true independents may be only about 10 percent of the electorate.

  • Does American politics really need new ideas?

Naturally I don’t think that either my colleague or Strassel are quite doing justice to the agenda they’re critiquing. But in slightly different ways, they represent a powerful bipartisan perspective on our efforts: That right is right and left is left, that the faces may change but the song remains the same, that the top marginal tax rate and the proper percentage of G.D.P. devoted to downward redistribution are the only questions that really matter in modern political economy, and that everything else is just messaging, which either obscures the underlying truth (Krugman’s take) or represents a politically-driven surrender (Strassel’s view) to the other side. When you get down to policy bedrock, it’s always 1979, because it was already 1979 in 1965 and 1933 and 1776, and either you want to keep going with the Gipper or you want to roll back his dreadful mistakes. There is no other alternative.

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American Daily: July 7, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

7 July 2014

In other words, this decision was intended to have no bearing on other, more “legitimate” medical needs. Things like transfusions and shots are safe, because it’s generally accepted that these are good medicine, and you’d be crazy to deny someone access to them. But contraceptives are a squishier subject. Because they are closely aligned with sex, they’re tainted.
It hurts me to hear this, because I remember a time when I believed it. When I was diagnosed, as a young teen, with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, a condition with a wide range of reproductive symptoms. When I learned that, in my case, my body holds on to the endometrium instead of shedding it, leaving me at heightened risk for disease. When I was told, in no uncertain terms, that oral contraceptives were the only option to help my reproductive system function close to normally, and thus keep me healthy in the long run. When I was first put on birth control, long before I became sexually active.
Some in Australia talk about emulating the American model. To be honest, while there are many great aspects of my country, our economy has not been performing particularly well — consistent with the earlier observation that economies with greater inequality don’t. Indeed, the American economic model has not been delivering for most of its citizens — income in the middle is lower than it was a quarter century ago; the median income of a full-time male worker is lower than it was four decades ago; the minimum wage has stagnated for half a century. This contrasts markedly with Australia, where median household income has grown at an average annual rate of 3.3 per cent, almost twice the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 1.7 per cent — and much, much better than the US.
  • Paul Krugman reviews Timothy Geithner's new book.

There’s a curious change in tone about two thirds of the way through Stress Test. Up to that point—basically, up to the stress test itself and its immediate aftermath—Geithner tells a tale of heroic activism, of good men and women pulling out all the stops to save the world. Thereafter, however, Geithner turns apologetic and self-exculpatory. He acknowledges that more stimulus and debt relief would have been good things; he claims that he wanted to do much more, but that practical difficulties and political opposition made stronger action impossible. The can-do hero of the financial crisis, endlessly creative in finding ways to bypass institutional and political obstacles to do what needs to be done, suddenly becomes a passive observer of events.

It's almost adorable that Romney loyalists want to perpetuate this canard when talking about a man who first ran for U.S. Senate 20 years ago, and who has since served as governor and run for president twice. Even if true, however, it's not clear what this has to do with anything. Romney tried to run as the businessman against an incumbent during a weak economy, and the message flopped. Why the same message would somehow propel his comeback is beyond comprehension outside of the Romney bubble.

The town of Inarajan, located on the southwest coast of Guam with a population of 3,052, flicked her long red hair out her eyes and sighed. People were always telling her she was beautiful, but she just didn’t see it. She examined herself in the mirror carefully. What was so beautiful about large violet eyes, long slender limbs, and the ruins of several colonial Spanish forts? Certainly she was nowhere near as lovely as her friends Tumon, a tourist hub featuring over 20 large hotels and a Duty Free Shoppers Galleria, or Andrea, who wore a C-cup.

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Getting defensive

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

7 July 2014

China Airborne

Here's something from (Centre visiting fellow) James Fallows's excellent 2012 book China Airborne:

Each national culture has a point about which it is most defensive, because on that point it has its own most serious doubts. You can’t provoke most Americans by pointing out that the country has had a very warlike record for a very long time. Many Americans view this heritage as an achievement rather than a failing, and even those who don’t aren’t likely to feel insulted or personally threatened by this critique.

Yet let a foreigner tell an American that the country is “declining,” and there will be a reaction. Denial, assent, an argument that there’s still hope — something. The intensity of the reaction obviously underscores the point that this is one of Americans’ longstanding sources of self-doubt. Other countries — Japan, Germany, England, Russia — have similar points of defensiveness. What is most deeply concerning to a culture (as for most individuals or families) is often the most difficult or infuriating for outsiders to bring up.

As Jim suggests in his still wonderful 2010 essay, "How America Can Rise Again," this isn't a new insecurity for the United States. I connect it to the nation's exceptionalist roots — Winthrop's City Upon a Hill; Jefferson's self-evident truths — which create not just an ideal but also its negative: if America is the world's last best hope, that means that hope might fail. To consider America to be the world's one indispensable nation, we must imagine a world in which America has been dispensed with.

I'd add to the fear of decline that America's other insecurity is the notion that it might not be united. I say, not infrequently, that to discern a country's deepest anxieties, one must look to its name: Democratic Republics Of Wherever are usually not, and such. And the United States is so insistent on its unity because it fears so deeply that, unlike other nations, which are built on ancient ethnic bonds, its polity, built on ideology, might not be able to endure.

This is why the spectre of extreme partisanship is so important to American political discourse, why George Washington feared party politics, and why every president who comes along promises to mend the electorate's divides. It's why region is so important to Americans, and why the national bonds between Northerner and Southerner, or Easterner and Westerner, or between black and white, that appear so obvious to the outsider can seem so fragile to the insider. It's why the Civil War is always so central to America's understanding of itself and the way it shapes its future: this is the moment the country came closest to disunity, but was also its most forceful affirmation of its unity.

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Jim goes on:

In modern China, one of these always sensitive subjects is the idea of China's full "equality" or maturity in modern international society, especially to the white Western nations that for centuries have been in economic and political control. (Competition with Japan is a separate and equally tangled political question.) This is the significance of the phrase "Hundred Years of Humiliation" to describe China's period of subjugation to foreigners and the repeated insistence by Chinese spokesmen on full dignity, equality, and respect in international dealings.

And later, on Chinese concerns of "splittism":

Chinese people who are familiar with American history point out the many similarities between the current Han attitude and the drive toward Manifest Destiny thinking in the United States from the nineteenth century onward.

As for Australia's national insecurity, I'm tempted to suggest something about fairness, but that might be too myopic, too concerned with current political disputes, and too ignorant of our underlying paranoias, the sort I can't easily grapple with because, like all my countrypeople, I'm captive to them. So perhaps the correct answer is the question of whether Australia matters: are we influential, do people care about us, does the world realize that we are as important as we think we are? Or, to ground that question in familiar terms: has the tyranny of distance defeated us?


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