Cashing in on American philanthropy

By Shalailah Medhora in St Paul, Minnesota

27 August 2014

Shalailah Medhora is the recipient of the 2014 US Studies Centre – World Press Institute media fellowship and is contributing to the blog while in the United States.

Susan Albright was part of a slew of Star Tribune journalists who left the paper when it was taken over by a media conglomerate.

Her one-time boss, Joel Kramer, had been shown the door once the Minnesota news stalwart changed hands.

He invited Ms Albright to take casual work with his new start-up, the Minnpost.

That was seven years ago. Today she’s managing co-editor of the online newspaper.

“I just never left!” Ms Albright laughs.

Non-profit media

Minnpost is one of a handful of non-profit media outlets in the United States.

Its largest revenue stream comes from membership.

Individuals pay anything from $60 to $20,000 a year to ensure the publication continues to exist.

Last year membership accounted for more than $480,000, up 30 per cent from the previous year.

Publisher Andy Wallmeyer says donors get “very little” in terms of tangible benefits from membership, but continue to give because they believe in the brand.

“They see the value in community journalism,” Mr Wallmeyer says.

The website gets 100 million unique browsers a month. Not bad for a publication that presents news and analysis at a hyper-local level.

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Culture of philanthropy

Americans are a generous lot.

More than 95 per cent of households gave to charity in 2013, raising over $241 billion.

Religious organisations account for nearly one third of the recipients, and people who classify themselves as religious give more to charity than their counterparts.

So-called “red states,” or localities that vote Republican, are more generous than their Democratic neighbours.

Part of this comes from the long-held belief that, in order to keep taxes down and government small, individuals must step up and donate to charity.

Media outlets like Minnpost are now cashing in on this American culture of philanthropy.

Publically-funded journalism

Crowd-funding website Kickstarter has a section dedicated to sourcing funding for journalism projects.

Users have pledged $4 million dollars to these projects in the five years that the website has been operating.

Could this be a solution for an industry struggling with how to make money in the internet age?

Andrew Wallmeyer says the model certainly works for Minnpost.

“We wouldn’t exist otherwise,” he says.


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Six weeks in Shanghai

By Samuel Johnson in Sydney, Australia

22 August 2014

Samuel Johnson is an undergraduate student with the University of Sydney's Faculty of Art. In winter 2014, he travelled to Fudan University as part of the Centre's Shanghai Study Abroad Program. In this post, he discusses his experiences studying the United States in China.


The exchange group in Shanghai

While it is conventional to say that academic exchanges are intrinsically valuable experiences, the inaugural US Studies Centre program to Shanghai was unique. The 17 of us on the program found that, in many ways, our academic studies were complemented by practical engagement in all things China. We would attend Mandarin classes and then use our new language skills by ordering dinner or catching a cab. We would study Chinese foreign policy and discuss our views in the student cafeteria with our local Chinese friends. And we would learn the history of Sino–US relations at Fudan to later attend a comprehensive site-visit schedule, allowing us to talk directly with the professionals who are shaping the relationship today.

You don’t often come across opportunities like this at university, and to be in a city like Shanghai adds an extra level of dynamism to the experience. This is a city of eye-opening vibrancy and diversity. You can walk down China’s most affluent commercial road in Xintiandi and minutes later turn a corner to find an impoverished, old-Shanghai style residential area. Another district, the French Concession, epitomises the notion of East-meets-West as Shanghai skyscrapers morph into a tree-lined district boasting dozens of bars, a lively expat community, and boutique shops.

Yet the most appealing aspect of the city to me was not centred in the charms of a particular district, but rather the energetic undercurrent, the feeling of expansive change, and the futuristic vibe evoked by the fast-paced pulse of the city. Remarkably, and rather symbolically, even the famous Pudong skyline changed in our six short weeks here: the dominant Aurora sign was gradually taken down as the colossal Shanghai tower edged closer to completion. This fast-paced environment of change made us feel as though we had arrived in the city at a time when history is being made: a place where the world is beginning to direct its focus. It was certainly an exciting time to be in Shanghai, to experience this energy first-hand. 

In terms of the political environment, China is in a fascinating stage of its history. China’s economic growth over the last few decades has been marked by significant milestones, most notably the elevation of almost 600 million citizens from poverty and, up until recently, an average GDP growth rate of 10 per cent. Now, China’s export-oriented economy is transitioning to consumption-based growth, boosting its services sector as its middle class expands.

At the same time, the international sphere is recognising the Asia-Pacific as a growing centre of economic activity. In 2011 the Obama administration propagated America’s “rebalance” strategy, aiming to tap into the Asia–Pacific’s economic growth and shifting security environment. China, meanwhile, has increased its external engagement, participating more seriously in regional territorial disputes. This is amid rising domestic issues of pollution, corruption, lingering poverty in the west, and increasing instances of domestic terrorism.

All of these factors weighed in on our visit to Shanghai.

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This was particularly so in our studies at Fudan University, China’s leading research university. All USyd students took the core unit “Sino–US Relations in a Rising Asia,” and my additional course focused on the history and future of Chinese diplomacy. It was an interesting time to be studying these subjects amid current events in the region, and it was refreshing to hear opinions from students across the world about issues which will likely affect Australia in future decades. We would often break into open, multi-faceted discussions about the regional political climate, and this alone was a valuable component of the program.

Exchange group in Shanghai

In our second week of studies we heard from centre CEO Professor Bates Gill, who gave two guest lectures in the US–Sino Relations unit. Bates discussed the implications of North Korea to the regional security environment, and also spoke about the future trajectory of the US–Sino relationship, arguing that the depth and complexity of relations is often underestimated. We also heard from centre COO Dr Sean Gallagher, who discussed the US influence on world class universities and the core challenges ahead for China’s tertiary education sector.

Throughout the program we had many opportunities for cultural enrichment and professional development. Some of us visited the Bao Steel production line — what felt like the engine room of the Chinese economy — and there were opportunities to attend various networking events across the city, including AustCham Shanghai’s monthly Aussie Drinks.

The site visits were, for me, the defining component of the program. In our visits to Atomic and Mailman we discussed the challenges of operating a business in China, especially as an expat moving into a new business environment. In our discussions with AEG, Apple, and eBay we learned how major global companies were tweaking business models and strategies to better suit the Chinese market and changing consumer sentiment. When we visited AustCham and AmCham, we gained a broader understanding of the barriers to trade, investment, and business in China, and how these bodies were aiding businesses in expanding their opportunities in Shanghai.

These discussions were of extreme value. To be in Shanghai hearing directly from professionals in these fields provided a chance for many of us to consider future career paths.

A highlight of these site tours was our visits to both the US and Australian Consulate Generals. Our discussion with the Australian consulate included briefings from immigration, Austrade, and DFAT officials about their operations and responsibilities in Shanghai. We heard from the consul general, Alice Cawte, who herself is a University of Sydney alumni. The visit to the US Consulate gave us a chance to use our studies from the previous four weeks at Fudan by engaging in a roundtable discussion with Foreign Service Officials. Our discussion ranged from careers in Foreign Service, to the geopolitics of East Asia, to Chinese and American foreign policy strategy, and to the depth of their complex bilateral relationship. It was thrilling to find ourselves in the conference room of a foreign consulate, discussing our degree interests with experienced professionals in China.  

All of the businesses and professionals we visited were incredibly generous in both their time and their insights.

Many of us have spent our first week back in Sydney just processing the experience that was Shanghai. The people we met, the food we ate, and the things we learned. It was truly a remarkable experience and learning curve for everyone involved. We’ve come away with strong relationships, new perspectives, and transformed outlooks, and personally I have never extracted so much value from a six week period. This was much more than an academic exchange program — this was a practical, immersive learning experience.


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The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and US imperialism

By Marc Palen in Exeter, United Kingdom

20 August 2014

Marc Palen is a research associate at the Centre and a lecturer in imperial history at the University of Exeter. This post was originally published at the Centre for Imperial and Global History's blog.


The Tragedy of American Diplomacy

William Appleman Williams is considered the founder of the strongly influential”Wisconsin School of US foreign relations imperial history that took root from within the History Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Williams’s book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, first published in 1959, was the first of many revisionist imperial histories of American foreign policy that appeared amid what would become the broader radical New Left movement.

Beginning with Tragedy, Wisconsin School–inspired revisionist histories suggest that, owing to the distinctive nature of American capitalism, imperial presidents embarked upon a bipartisan quest for foreign markets with broad business and agrarian support, culminating in the acquisition of both a formal and informal American empire. Williams termed it “Open Door imperialism,” an American manifestation of “the imperialism of free trade.”

In this episode of the Centre for Imperial and Global History’s Talking Empire podcast series, hosted by Professor Richard Toye, I discuss the significant historiographical influence of Tragedy, particularly how it and subsequent New Left imperial revisionist histories helped overturn longstanding conceptions of American imperial expansion. As a result, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy continues to retain a dominant position within the study of American imperial history and historiography.

Professor Richard Toye interviews Dr. Marc-William Palen about William Appleman Williams’s Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959) and its long-term influence within American imperial history and historiography.

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Of church and state

By Shalailah Medhora in St Paul, Minnesota

18 August 2014

Shalailah Medhora is the recipient of the 2014 US Studies Centre – World Press Institute media fellowship and is contributing to the blog while in the United States.

On our first night in the United States, nine blurry-eyed newshounds went out for pizza. The restaurant was a block or two from the private Catholic university we’d will calling home for the next three weeks, in the perfectly manicured city of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Jetlag claimed a few of World Press Institute 2014 Fellows early on, and by 10pm, the remaining four of us decided to venture back to campus.

Walking back, we saw a group of students gathered in the quad near our rooms. Curiosity, a shared trait that typifies people who choose to make their livelihoods from news reporting, saw us approach. No doubt, some (ok, maybe just me) had hoped for a genuine college party, complete with plastic cups of beer that had recently come out of a keg.

But there was no keg to be seen. In fact, there was no alcohol whatsoever. We had, somewhat unwittingly, found ourselves at the centre of a young missionaries national convention. These young people whose party we’d crashed had decided to dedicate their college experience to spreading the Christian gospel.

As journalists do, we stopped to have a chat and to find out about this unusual collection of young adults. After a while, we bid them farewell, and they promised to pray for us while we travelled their country.

As an Australian, I found this whole exchange fascinating and yet odd. Australians rate themselves as a religious people. The last census showed that 78 per cent of Australians have some kind of religious affiliation. But we’re fiercely proud of our secularism, and prefer to practice our religious beliefs unashamedly, behind closed doors.

In the United States, there seems to be a religious undercurrent everywhere — in the campaign ads of would-be politicians, in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, and on scrunched up dollar bills changing hands at the grocery store.

A far-reaching survey into religion in the United States, undertaken by Pew Research in 2007, shows that 84 per cent of Americans identify themselves as having a religious affiliation. The vast majority of respondents, nearly 78.5%, are Christian.

American politicians promote their Christianity as a sign of trustworthiness and a bond with everyday voters. Some ecclesiastical sects tell adherents that prosperity comes to those who demonstrate their faithfulness the most.

Despite that there’s increasing concern in the US that the tenants of Christianity are incompatible with American capitalism.

While the Protestant work ethic and wealth go hand in hand, there are many aspects of American capitalism that church leaders say are at odds with Christian teachings.

Recently, Pope Francis labelled unfettered capitalism “tyranny” and urged the wealthy to spread their fortunes.

The concept of wealth-sharing is not openly welcomed in many parts of conservative America. Distrust of socialism and strong belief in free-markets mean politicians are reluctant to promote higher taxes for the wealthy and greater welfare for the poor.

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The deep links between churches and the Republican Party muddy the waters a bit. While many Christians feel uncomfortable with the growing gap between rich and poor, they still overwhelmingly vote Republican due to social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

This continues to ensure capitalism is king in the United States.

Though politicians are ill-advised to be complacent about the country’s economic trajectory.

Religious groups spend $400 million a year lobbying in Washington DC. The number of religious lobby groups has ballooned from just 40 in 1970 to nearly 200 in 2011. They say informing constituents is their main form of lobbying.

If data showing that many religious people are unhappy with the way American capitalism is heading is correct, then Capitol Hill will need to work out how to keep this large and influential electorate happy — or risk being booted out.


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Observing America from Shanghai

By Maddy Greer in Shanghai, China

6 August 2014

Maddy Greer is an undergraduate student with the University of Sydney's Business School. In winter 2014, she travelled to Fudan University as part of the Centre's Shanghai Study Abroad Program. In this post, she discusses her experiences studying the United States in China.

The 2014 Study Abroad group

Six weeks in Shanghai flew by as a short-term study abroad student at Fudan University. This pilot program was organised by the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and offered to students in the business school and arts faculty.

As part of the program, 17 University of Sydney students completed a four-week intensive summer school at Fudan University, which is renowned as one of China’s leading universities. Students studied a variety of courses such as Chinese diplomacy and politics, Chinese civilisation, Chinese art, and international business. Our study schedule also included daily Mandarin lessons that catered to all experience levels, from beginners to advanced. Most students received up to 12 credit points for taking these units, and all added real value and international experience to their degree.

Another major component of this program was a series of site visits to Chinese business, government, and non-government organisations led by US Studies Centre staff. These site visits enabled our group to enjoy presentations, discussion sessions, and participate in debates with professionals working in Shanghai. Highlights of this two-week schedule include Q&A sessions at the Australian and American Chambers of Commerce, Australian and American Consulates, eBay China, Apple, and the Anschutz Entertainment Group. 

It was thrilling to hear from a variety of mid- to senior-level management about their experiences as expats and local people, navigating the challenges and opportunities that doing business in China entails. Another stand-out experience was participating in a round-table discussion with foreign service officers at the American consulate, and enjoying a group dinner with Bates Gill, the CEO of the US Studies Centre and a world renowned US–China expert.

Yu Garden

Life in Shanghai outside the classroom certainly lived up to our expectations. As a group and as individuals, the students in this pilot program made a huge effort to immerse themselves in the local customs, culture and food. Some of us arrived in Shanghai not knowing how to use chopsticks, and others who had previously travelled to China deepened their connection to this exciting, vibrant metropolis. 

Overall, this was an incredibly rich and rewarding experience, made even more special by the close friendships we formed within the University of Sydney group, and with other international students taking the program. I have certainly returned to Sydney with a strong case of the "China bug," which will hopefully lead me to return to China later in my career. 

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Selling the TPP to the home crowd

By Hannah Blyth in Sydney, Australia

30 July 2014

Hannah Blyth is an alumnus of the Centre's master's program.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would herald an unprecedented level of trade cooperation between America and the Asia–Pacific. Its likelihood of making it out of Congress unscathed however, seems increasingly unlikely.

Since President Barack Obama announced America’s rebalance to the Asia–Pacific in 2011, the hype of America’s foreign policy pivot has filled the pages of foreign affairs commentary. But has the rebalance message been effectively relayed to the American public? It appears not when you look at the widespread opposition to the TPP in Congress.

President Obama has not effectively sold the TPP — or the importance of the Asia–Pacific — to the American people. As Matthew Goodman argued before a US Senate subcommittee, it is overwhelmingly in America’s interests to drive economic engagement with the fastest-growing region of the world.

Yet, mentioning it only fleetingly in this year’s State of the Union address and in his West Point speech, Obama chose to side step the integral stabilising role America must play in the future of the Asia–Pacific. One of the key strategies for America to promote this peace and prosperity is through strengthening multilateral trade ties in the region.

Herein lies Obama’s difficulty. A path to unhindered negotiations between America and key TPP countries can only be achieved if a fast-track mechanism, the Trade Promotion Authority, is reinstated by Congress. This will reassure other TPP players that they can close a deal that that won’t then be shredded by Congress. Given the partisan politics of recent years, little support was ever to be expected from House Republicans on the TPA. Most surprising though was the 151 House Democrats who also expressed their strong opposition to the TPA in a letter they sent to the President this past November.

Still burnt from the mixed results of the DR–CAFTA and NAFTA trade agreements, House Representatives are feeling the pressure from constituents on potential local job impacts of the TPP if it is negotiated behind closed doors. With looming mid-term elections, an unemployment rate hovering above 6 per cent and public hostility towards government transparency courtesy of the NSA, a cloak-and-dagger free trade agreement with the Asia–Pacific is no easy sell.

Obama needs to properly articulate to his colleagues and the American people the benefits of a secure and prosperous Asia–Pacific region. China certainly is a rising power making its mark, but America still remains its military superior, as has been made clear by its careful support of Japan in the East China Sea. A successful TPP would give America the opportunity to build on its existing bilateral trade agreements and solidify its stakes alongside China in a key growing economic region.

Domestic concerns can be won over — even in a hostile Congress — but this can only be done if Obama reignites his first term rhetoric and sells the Asia-Pacific to his own people.

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Modern family

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

28 July 2014

Alfred Soto calls Richard Linklater's Boyhood "the most accurate sketch of a red state family in recent American movies":

Barack Obama campaign worker Ethan Hawke’s rural Texas in-laws, clinging to guns and religion. For Mason’s birthday they buy him his first Bible — monogrammed! A close-up of the offending book allows the audience its titters, but the next scene — the stepgrandfather taking real delight in showing Mason how to hold and shoot a shotgun with Mason, Sr. a feet away doing the same with daughter Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) — requires the audience to appreciate what Linklater offers. This egalitarian spirit turns Alcoholic Husband #2 into a figure of pity instead of contempt. Introduced as an articulate Iraq War veteran proud that his unit was one of the few to suffer no casualties, his decline is slow, and a quiet nighttime scene on the porch with a beer waiting for teenaged Mason to come home reveals his bitterness at how military acumen is of no use in civilian life.

This was definitely one of the movie's biggest pleasures for me: in its languid unfolding, its lack of interest in sewing together a unified narrative arc, it allowed the undorned details of its characters' lives to stand in sharper relief. The result was a film that felt more American than anything I've seen in a long while, more vividly representational of a nation's culture in its lack of mediation. An Australian viewer sees here the same alien familiarity we experience when entering American society.

The red state setting adds another wrinkle. Complaints from the conservative regions that their cultural concerns are underserved by America's mainstream media industry can be distasteful and disingenuous, but that doesn't mean they're not valid. Disingenuous because its too often a vehicle to complain that TV has too many gays and not enough god, and distasteful because such parts of the country tend to be politically right wing, and the right tends to be more male, wealthier, and whiter than the rest of America. Complaints from wealthy, white men of under-representation are tough to credit! But red states are more than their politics, and just because a region's politics are dominated by the interests of a socially privileged set doesn't mean that the stories of its people in their complexity don't need to be better told. Boyhood shares with another recent Texas-set story, the TV series Friday Night Lights, a willingness to treat Americans in red states as more than a set of political ideas. Which is proper; we are all more than our politics and our communities even moreso.

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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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