Posts Tagged USA
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?
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.
It seems that I’m not the only one to notice the huge disparity in education outcomes between countries spending roughly the same amount of money on teachers’ salaries (amongst other things). Diane Ravitch has written a two-part essay in the New York Review of Books contrasting the which-achieving Finnish education system with the retrenched American one.
Her argument was compelling overall, although there were one or two things that I take issue with. I’ll start on a positive note:
In recent years, elected officials and policymakers … have agreed that there should be “no excuses” for schools with low test scores. The “no excuses” reformers maintain that all children can attain academic proficiency without regard to poverty, disability, or other conditions, and that someone must be held accountable if they do not. That someone is invariably their teachers.
Nothing is said about holding accountable the district leadership or the elected officials who determine such crucial issues as funding, class size, and resource allocation.
Much of her essay is on this theme: everyone in the US — Bush and Obama, State and Federal — are far too focussed on standardised test scores as a means of determining the proficiency of both students and teachers. Having suffered the NSW HSC, I can definitely relate to the problems created by forcing teachers to “teach to the test” with an extremely inflexible syllabus. As regular readers will know, I am also highly in favour of holding both district leadership and elected officials to account.
That said, Ravitch may be overlooking the most important distinction between the USA and Finland: culture. In fact, she actively argues against Finland’s homogeneous ethnicity being a determinative factor in its academic performance.
Detractors say that Finland performs well academically because it is ethnically homogeneous, but Sahlberg responds that “the same holds true for Japan, Shanghai or Korea,” which are admired by corporate reformers for their emphasis on testing. To detractors who say that Finland, with its population of 5.5 million people, is too small to serve as a model, Sahlberg responds that “about 30 states of the United States have a population close to or less than Finland.”
Firstly, Japan, Korea and Shanghai are not exactly struggling -– especially compared to where they used to be. Also, the ethnic homogeneity of Finland may have a lot to do with what Ravitch does identify as a very important factor in education outcomes: the esteem in which teachers are held.
Finland’s highly developed teacher preparation program is the centerpiece of its school reform strategy. Only eight universities are permitted to prepare teachers, and admission to these elite teacher education programs is highly competitive: only one of every ten applicants is accepted. There are no alternative ways to earn a teaching license. Those who are accepted have already taken required high school courses in physics, chemistry, philosophy, music, and at least two foreign languages. Future teachers have a strong academic education for three years, then enter a two-year master’s degree program…
In the second essay, Ravitch argues that were the US to impose similar standards on their teachers, this would improve the public image of teachers and so would improve the quality of applicants and the culture of teachers into one where teachers teach because of their “intrinsic motivation”:
Like other professionals, as Pasi Sahlberg shows in his book Finnish Lessons, Finnish teachers are driven by a sense of intrinsic motivation, not by the hope of a bonus or the fear of being fired. Intrinsic motivation is also what they seek to instill in their students. In the absence of standardized testing by which to compare their students and their schools, teachers must develop, appeal to, and rely on their students’ interest in learning.
It seems to me that Ravitch is confusing cause and effect. The ethnic and cultural homogeneity of Finland is a key factor as this is obviously a culture that takes great pride in education. I would hazard a guess that in a country like the USA that clearly does not do so overall, there are still areas and communities with a Finnish-like attitude to educating their children and these communities show disproportionately strong outcomes despite functioning in exactly the same system as everyone else. That is certainly true of the Jewish community in Australia.
She unwittingly presents more evidence in favour of this theory, both when arguing for more Union involvement in education and when arguing that education does not solve poverty:
Finland’s success confounds the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) theorists, because almost every teacher and principal in Finland belongs to the same union. The union works closely with the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of education, and it negotiates for better salaries, benefits, and working conditions for educators.
… Schools are crucial institutions in our society and teachers can make a huge difference in changing children’s lives, but schools and teachers alone cannot cure the ills of an unequal and stratified society. Every testing program—whether the SAT, the ACT, or state and national tests—demonstrates that low scores are strongly correlated to poverty.
The lesson from Finland’s union is not that Unions are necessarily beneficial for education, but that everyone in Finland is more or less of the same mindset. Similarly, the anti-education culture in impoverished communities could go a long way to explaining why children at the same school will have worse outcomes if they have impoverished parents. However, as I have often lamented, culture is off-limits for criticism.
The final point I will raise is on the subject of teacher conditions. Ravitch observes that there is a very high turnover in the teaching profession, leading to a lack of experienced teachers:
The teaching profession in the United States is a revolving door. It’s easy to enter, and many teachers leave—up to 40 to 50 percent—in their first five years as teachers. The turnover is highest in low-scoring urban districts. We do not support new teachers with appropriate training and mentoring, and we have a problem retaining teachers. No other profession in the United States has such a high rate of turnover.
… corporate reformers have shown no interest in raising standards for the teaching profession. They believe that entry-level requirements such as certification, master’s degrees, and other credentials are unrelated to “performance,” that is, student test scores. They also scorn seniority, experience, tenure, and other perquisites of the profession. Instead, they believe that a steady infusion of smart but barely trained novices will change the face of teaching.
Ironically, while Ravitch is condemning American “corporate reformers” (actually public servants pretending to take a corporate approach) and praising Finnish Unions, in this instance the Australian Unions have gone the way of the American pseudo-corporates:
Here, as elsewhere throughout the world, teacher unions wield enormous power … Their power has had three effects on education.
The first is the bulk of additional funding for education has gone into hiring more teachers instead of paying existing teachers more.
The second effect is that … in Australia the starting salary for teachers is relatively high by world standards, but salaries for experienced teachers relatively low.
The third effect of a heavily unionised workforce has been that up until the past few years there was minimal accountability and performance measurement of teachers.
Those first two points seem to be exactly what Ravitch is discouraging – incentives for young people to go into teaching for a few years and then leave to pursue other ends, meaning that smaller and smaller classes are being taught by increasingly poorly trained and inexperienced teachers.
Maybe Australia does need to take some lessons from Finland:
- Stop concentrating so hard on getting more teachers and focus on keeping the ones we have.
- Stop adding new education courses at uni and improve the ones we have.
- Start looking into ways to combat “tall-poppy syndrome” in schools. If there is one thing leading to underachievement in Australia, it’s this – can we at least talk about it?
- Throwing money at a problem does not solve it.
There is a huge debate going on at the moment in the blogosphere about the term “Israel Firster”, which it turns out was made popular by neo-Nazis and spread through the antisemite network before making it into mainstream discourse. From what I gather, the whole debate started when Ben Smith wrote in Politico about the controversy in the Democrat party surrounding the Centre for American Progress (CAP). CAP is a think tank with close ties to Obama and a marked antipathy towards Israel (emphasis added):
The daily battle is waged in Media Matters’ emails, on CAP’s blogs, Middle East Progress and ThinkProgress and most of all on Twitter, where a Media Mattters official, MJ Rosenberg, regularly heaps vitriol on those who disagree as “Iraq war neocon liar” (the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg) or having “dual loyalties” to the U.S. and Israel (the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin). And while the Center for American Progress tends to walk a more careful line, warm words for Israel can be hard to find on its blogs.
… Another recent column on the CAP website, one of several to prompt behind-the-scenes outrage from the powerful pro-Israel group AIPAC, featured Eric Alterman accusing AIPAC of campaigning for war in Iran, which Alterman described as its “big prize.”
Over at Media Matters, Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer turned apostate, labels American Israel hawks “Israel-firsters” and recently blasted Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, for pushing a sanctions on Iranian civilian aviation that would be “the most ugly expression yet of this country’s almost bizarre obsession with punishing Iran, its people along with its government.”
The debate that I have been following closely began when Salon writer Glenn Greenwald tried to elicit from Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg a confession that he (Goldberg) swore to put Israel first when he joined the Israeli Defence Forces. Goldberg’s response was an understandable “I don’t think I did that but so what if I did? It was 25 years ago”. Unperturbed, Greenwald still attacked Goldberg for his alleged victimisation of the poor guy, who keeps being “silenced” by people who don’t like his opinions.
Jeffrey Goldberg, who plants himself in the middle of every one of these orgies of anti-Semitism accusations, trotted out every trite accusatory line from the tired neocon playbook to attack me explicitly as an Israel-hater and, he strongly implied, as an anti-Semite (none of these accusations are accompanied by a single word I’ve said or even a link to anything I’ve written).
… As I said, these attacks are as boring and clichéd as they are predictable: every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel and opposes these neocon smear campaigns is automatically subjected to them. Israel-hater. Anti-Semite. Self-hating Jew. Etc. etc. I’m boring myself even summarizing it.
That Greenwald even wrote this is very revealing of his character. Goldberg is not widely liked amongst the more right-leaning of Israel’s supporters. For instance, here’s him writing to the Israeli PM, advocating for a withdrawal from the West Bank and calling Avigdor Lieberman an “international embarrassment”, hardly the orthodox pro-Israel line:
… Yes, risking your coalition means you would have to induce Tsipi Livni’s opposition Kadima party into the government, but now seems as good a moment as any. At the very least, you’ll gain a foreign minister who isn’t an international embarrassment. And you might convince at least a few settlers — those outside the security fence, especially — that it would be best for them to move back to Israel and reinvigorate Zionism.
It is hard to see how Goldberg could possibly wage a “smear campaign” against “every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel” when he himself deviates from said orthodoxy and is not generally one to self-deprecate.
The irony of Greenwald automatically labelling people “neocons” for not agreeing with his anti-Zionist orthodoxy while at the same time claiming that anyone who disagrees with the pro-Israel orthodoxy is automatically labelled “antisemitic” is apparently lost on Greenwald, but not on Spencer Ackerman.
If what Rosenberg and the others on the left want is a debate—by which I understand them to mean a debate about the wisdom of a war with Iran, and about the proper role of the U.S.-Israel relationship—great. The left, I think, will win that debate on the merits, because it recognizes that if Israel is to survive as a Jewish democracy living in peace beside a free Palestine, an assertive United States has to pressure a recalcitrant Israel to come to its senses, especially about the insanity of attacking Iran.
But that debate will be shut down and sidetracked by using a term that Charles Lindbergh or Pat Buchanan would be comfortable using. I can’t co-sign that. The attempt to kosherize “Israel Firster” is an ugly rationalization.
As Goldberg notes, the truly concerning point about the “Israel First” moniker is explained by Adam Kirsch in Tablet. Kirsch points out that the discourse surrounding supporters of Israel has changed over the past few years, largely thanks to the much-criticised The Israel Lobby by Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer. While Walt and Mearsheimer did not create the idea of a “pro-Israel Lobby” controlling US foreign policy, they definitely introduced it into the popular lexicon, giving a new way for antisemites and their sympathisers to speak of the age-old Jewish conspiracy in a slightly less transparent way than pointing at the ZOG (Zionist-Occupied Government).
But if The Israel Lobby has not changed American politics, it has had an insidious effect on the way people talk and think about Israel, and about the whole question of Jewish power. The first time I had this suspicion was when reading, of all things, a biography of H.G. Wells. In H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, published in the U.K. in 2010, Michael Sherborne describes how Wells’ contempt for Nazism went along with a dislike for Judaism and Zionism, which he voiced in deliberately offensive terms even as Nazi persecution of Jews reached its peak. “To take on simultaneously the Nazis … and the Jewish lobby may have been foolhardy,” Sherborne writes apropos of Wells in 1938.
There’s no way to prove that Sherborne’s “Jewish lobby” is the intellectual descendant of Walt and Mearsheimer’s “Israel lobby,” but the inference seems like a strong one. Wells, the term suggests, was not attacking Jews, a group that in the Europe of the 1930s was conspicuous for its absolute powerlessness in the face of the evolving Nazi genocide. Instead, he was bravely standing up to a powerful “lobby,” an organization designed to punish critics of the Jews, and whose influence was on a par somehow with that of the Nazis.
What is disturbing in the Sherborne example is the way Walt and Mearsheimer’s conception of Jewish power is projected into a historical moment when it could not have been less accurate. In France during the Dreyfus Affair, it was common for anti-Semites and anti-Dreyfusards to speak of a Jewish syndicate that secretly ruled the country. Now, in the 21st century, it has once again become possible to speak of a Jewish “lobby” that it would be foolish to cross. One of the central premises of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is that it takes unusual courage to oppose the Jews, since they use their power to ruthlessly suppress dissent in both the political world and the media. Walt and Mearsheimer place themselves on the side of the angels when they attack the Israel lobby’s “objectionable tactics, such as attempting to silence or smear anyone who challenges the lobby’s role or criticizes Israel’s actions.”
The problem with Walt and Mearsheimer is not that they are prima facie antisemitic, it’s that their theories come so close to antisemitism that genuine antisemites can use the cover of The Israel Lobby to mask their opinions. They provided a new platform for ancient conspiracies about Jews manipulating world affairs. For example, George Orwell once cited a common trope in British society in the 1940s that WWII was a “Jewish war” and Britain was only fighting it because of the Jewish Brits. This bears striking parallels to the Walt and Mearsheimer trope that the so-called “Israel Lobby” was responsible for America invading Iraq – something that was never an Israeli policy and is of questionable benefit to Israel in the first place. It also provides a way to begin questioning American Jewish loyalties to their country of residence.
For example, many of these accusatory articles accuse Haim Saban of being an “Israel Firster”, where he is painted as an American Jew who unwaveringly supports Israel and openly announces that Israel is his number one issue (for example, see Andrew Sullivan here), ignoring the fact that Saban is staunchly pro-Democrat and that he was raised in Israel and only emigrated to the US in his 20s.
There is undoubtedly a line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism and it is important to bear this in mind. One of the easiest ways to tell whether something is genuinely antisemitic is to replace the word “Israel” or “Zionist” with the word “Jew” and see if it brings to mind any ugly stereotypes. That the “Israel Lobby” is increasingly becoming the “Jewish Lobby” should come as little surprise; it may be only a matter of time until “Jew First” becomes an acceptable epithet.
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.
Mark Landler gives a run-down on the Naval face-offs that are starting to kick-off around the world. This is something that has not been such an issue for the last couple of decades, mostly because America had (and still does have) unassailable hegemony over the waters. That said, the Chinese have just built an aircraft carrier and Turkey is definitely posturing for dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean - provoking Israel in particular.
A couple of observations:
- It’s lucky that the US is taking this seriously, that needs to continue. The US cutting defence spending would give China carte-blanche to dominate the South Pacific and forcibly take all of the oil and natural gas fields there.
- This poses a direct threat to Australia. It is very much against our interests to have the Chinese navy pushing us back from South-East Asia. It is imperative therefore that we maintain a strong military alliance with the US.
- Obviously the world’s energy problems and the attendant violence is now moving away from the Middle East (or at least no longer isolated to that region). Again, this is concerning for Australia – our immediate neighbourhood could well be the next major conflict zone if the world goes the wrong way.
- The infographic from the article was also pretty good.
For China, the South China Sea has long been crucial as a supply route for oil and other raw materials to fuel its economy. China’s claims have deep historical roots, dating from the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists drew a dotted line in the shape of a cow’s tongue extending south of China, embracing most the sea and two disputed island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys.
Quarrels over these hunks of volcanic rock wouldn’t matter much, except that China, Vietnam and the Philippines are running into one another in the race for oil. Last spring, in two separate incidents, Vietnam accused Chinese vessels of deliberately cutting the seismic survey cables of an oil exploration ship. A former American official said his nightmare scenario would be a Chinese warship’s firing on an Exxon oil-drilling ship.
If the South China Sea is simmering, then the eastern Mediterranean is seething. There, claims to huge natural-gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus and Lebanon have raised tensions with Turkey, which occupies half of Cyprus, as well as with Israel. Cyprus and Israel are drilling for gas, angering Turkey. The militant Islamic group Hezbollah, in Lebanon, has threatened to attack Israeli gas rigs.
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.
I’m told there has been some kind of big stir in America because Mitt Romney said “corporations are people”. Take this for example:
In his quick, casual reply—corporations are people—Romney had seemed to give something away, though it wasn’t immediately clear what. The press chose to play the episode as a “gaffe,” as ABC’s Jake Tapper described it, a moment in which the weakness in Romney’s political pitch, the gap between his own privileged experience of the world and that of working-class voters, had been exposed. MSNBC, in a spate of giddy incredulity, seemed to keep the clip on loop for a week. But Romney’s own campaign managers did not try to obscure the episode at the state fair, to say he had been misunderstood or to secret it away. Instead they promoted it, as an advertisement of principle, and made the confrontation the centerpiece of a solicitation to supporters. A few days later, Romney’s communication director, Gail Gitcho, told the press that the exchange had raised $25,000 within 24 hours.
The incident, in retrospect, did less to peg Romney as a creature of privilege than it did to reveal something deeper. For Romney, the corporation has long been an object of a certain idealism. It is something he has spent much of his adult life—first as a management-strategy consultant, then as CEO of the private-equity firm Bain Capital—working to perfect, to strip of its inefficiencies until it might function as a perfectly frictionless economic unit.
Of course, everyone missed the point. It seems like the entire US press has overlooked something that any second-year law student could tell you. That is, corporations are people.
Don’t believe me? Here’s something Lord MacNaughten said in Salomon v Salomon  AC 22:
The company is at law a different person altogether from the subscribers to the memorandum; and, though it may be that after incorporation the business is precisely the same as it was before, and the same persons are managers, and the same hands receive the profits, the company is not in law the agent of the subscribers or trustee for them.
This goes right back to basic principles of what a corporation is – an entity designed to be separate from the people running it. It has its own interests and it is responsible for its own actions. Remember that a “person” is not the same as a “human”.
It is perfectly understandable that a retired priest wouldn’t have a strong grasp of this legal technicality, but the entire US media? For shame.