Monday, October 29, 2012

The world's poorest 1.3 billion people live on $1.25 dollars a day. That amounts to, at most, about $460 per person a year. If you added up the income of all these people, it would equal about $600 billion, an amount equal to what group of richest Americans — the top 10%, 5%, 3% or 1%? Tthe answer is…

Yes, it's the top 1% — the very same top 1% that has been the focus of the Occupy Wall Street's ire, but this time in an even more staggering global context.

The top 1.1% of Americans — a little over three million people living in the richest U.S. households — had per capita incomes of about $180,000, after taxes, in 2008. As a group, they earn almost exactly $600 billion a year.

The $600 billion of income of the three million richest Americans (the top 1.1%) exactly matches the total income of the world's poorest 1.3 billion people.

Those 1.3 billion people outnumber the richest Americans by a factor of more than 430 to one.

Those 1.3 billion people accounted for just under 20% of the world population in 2008 — and were equal in number to the entire population of China.

The top 3% of Americans had per capita incomes of $125,000 in 2008. As a group, their total income was $1.1 trillion — almost twice as much as the combined income of the world's poorest 1.3 billion people.

The top 5% of Americans had average after-tax incomes of just over $100,000 in 2008. (Note that these are the richest 5% of Americans measured by their household income, which obviously includes many children whose incomes are zero. This means not only that they live in wealthy households, but that their parents make multiples of the per capita figure of $100,000 a year.)

The total income of the 5% of richest Americans was $1.6 trillion. That was almost three times the combined income of the world's poorest 1.3 billion people.

The richest 10% of Americans, measured in terms of household income, is a group of a little over 30 million people. In 2008, they had an average incomes of just over $80,000 on an after-tax basis. As a group, they made almost $2.5 trillion.

Thus, the total income of the richest 10% of Americans was more than four times the total annual income of the world's poorest 1.3 billion people — even assuming they all lived exactly at the very upper edge of the absolute poverty line of $1.25 per day, which many of them do not.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

President Obama and Mitt Romneyagreed strongly in their third and final debate that the United States needed to vigorously expand its leadership role in a dangerous world, pressing its economic interests, using its military when necessary and spreading its values.
But most Americans apparently don't agree.
Polls show that after a decade of two wars and a brutal recession, most Americans have grown deeply skeptical of the benefits of the global leadership role that the president and the Republican challenger, backed by the foreign policy establishment, insist is the nation's wisest course and destiny.
Though few Americans want to turn their backs on global crises, they are increasingly doubtful that an America that's always in the lead benefits them or the rest of the world, the polls show.
"There's dramatically more isolationist sentiment than there's been for some time," said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, which conducts extensive opinion polls.
Kohut compared the current mood to periods after World War I, the Vietnam War and the Cold War, when many Americans demanded sharp cuts in military spending and fewer foreign adventures. Though Americans want the nation to lead the world, they're more focused on challenges on the home front.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Are Chinese Telecoms Firms Really Spying on Americans?

The House Intelligence Committee recommended that American businesses stay away from computer network products made by two Chinese firms, Huawei and ZTE, for fear that they may compromise U.S. national security. The world’s second and fifth-largest information-and-communications-technology companies have large operations overseas but have failed to expand extensively in the States.

“Based on available classified and unclassified information,” said the U.S. panel’s 52-page report, “Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems… Malicious implants in the components of critical infrastructure, such as power grids or financial networks, would also be a tremendous weapon in China‘s arsenal.”

Are ZTE and Huawei victims of the China-bashing that has characterized the U.S. presidential campaign? Or is there more going on? The answer is probably a bit of both. President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney seem intent on one-upping each other in showing their tough-on-China street cred. Congress may be simply joining in on the game. But it’s also not hard to believe that these Chinese firms, should they be pressured by their government to do so, may feel compelled to commit a secret, untoward act toward foreign entities in order to protect the growth of their business back home.

Accusing the U.S. panel of engaging in protectionism, Huawei released a statement on Monday:
The United States is a country ruled by law, where all charges and allegations should be based on solid evidence and facts. The [congressional] report failed to provide clear information or evidence to substantiate the legitimacy of the Committee’s concerns… The report released by the Committee today employs many rumors and speculations to prove non-existent accusations.
Chinese analysts have, unsurprisingly, dismissed concerns that the two companies might target the U.S. with cyber-espionage. They point out that Huawei and ZTE have never been caught spying on its global customers or slipping malicious coding into its software. Instead, they counsel more trade and collaboration as the way forward. “If you take China as the enemy, that’s the wrong way of doing things,” says Zeng Jianqiu, a professor at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications... “If America does this, then there’s the possibility that China will do the same thing, too.”

Monday, October 8, 2012

In recent years, our country's symbol of freedom has come under attack. I am not referring to foreign nations stomping on and burning our flag. I am talking about our own government interfering with the right of Americans to display their American flag.

The Internet is full of articles in which the flying of the American flag has raised some sort of controversy. Local governments and, in some cases, state governments, have interfered with the right of individuals to proudly display their American flags.

Earlier in this year I was involved in such a situation. I received a citation for having an" illegal sign" in the right of way. My country's flag is not a sign. It is instead a symbol. It stands for all that is good in this great nation. It stands for the freedoms we enjoy each and every day. It seems that many Americans take these freedoms for granted. These freedoms did not come without much loss of life.

Though we might not know these individuals personally, we should share in the grief their families have. These fallen soldiers deserve our respect. One way of showing that respect is to display your American flag each and every day.

As a result of my own flag controversy, I have had the honor of meeting hundreds of active duty as well as retired military personnel from throughout our nation. Not a day goes by when someone who serves or has served in our military doesn't come by my business to thank me for my stand on my flag. They share with me the importance of what displaying my flag means to them. They have served to protect this flag and all it represents. And just like me, it saddens them that so few people and businesses display an American flag.

Would it not be awesome to see American flags flying all the way up and down our city streets and throughout our neighborhoods?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

American voter participation is consistently below that of other industrialized democracies. (The historically significant 2008 presidential election drew less than 62 percent of eligible voters to the polls.) Poor turnout produces poor representation, which produces laws people are disinclined to obey and so undermines the process. But here’s a new idea: testosterone may provide a key to boosting voter turnout.

In 2008, scientists from Duke University and the University of Michigan analyzed the biological effects of voting on more than 150 voters.

They noted a dramatic pattern: men who had voted for the losing presidential candidate, John McCain, suffered a big drop in their testosterone after hearing of his defeat.
The scientists reported that the male McCain voters “felt significantly more controlled, submissive, unhappy and unpleasant.” The testosterone effect was “as if they directly engaged head-to-head in a contest for dominance” and lost, one researcher told a reporter when the study was published in 2009. The men who voted for Obama fared better.

Women had no change in testosterone levels, regardless of whom they voted for.

Is it possible voting makes male voters too vulnerable? Could the unpleasant feelings male voters experience when their candidates lose discourage them from revisiting the polls? No wonder they stop voting. It hurts too much.

Low turnout should be a concern, and not just because of the inadvertent commentary it supplies on American manhood. The democratic process is our way of resolving conflict. It produces the laws that underpin our society, often in the face of substantial disagreement. Researchers have demonstrated that participants in the democratic process are more likely to comply with its outcomes, even when they disagree. They pay their taxes and obey the speed limit.

Low turnout also affects the quality of government.

Americans are struggling with a severe case of electoral dysfunction. They have to navigate bureaucratic hurdles needed to cast a ballot...

Perhaps the pharmaceutical industry will come up with a little blue pill to make people voters. But until then, we may need to man up and face facts. For all our idealism about voting and democracy, we have created a needlessly complex and burdensome voting system...we should think about making voting simpler and easier.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Olivia Wilde and America Ferrera Talk Beauty and Their New Documentary Half the Sky

Tonight at 9 P.M., PBS will air the first half of the four-hour documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The series is full of incredibly inspiring women who are working to end sex trafficking, forced prostitution, maternal mortality, and gender-based violence—things that collectively kill one woman every 90 seconds worldwide. We caught up with two of the film's stars, Olivia Wilde and America Ferrera, on how the film changed their views on beauty and the products they packed for their individual journeys.

You met women from all over the world—did it change your idea of beauty?

Olivia: "While I was sitting in Kenya with women who I seemingly didn't have anything in common with, all I could think about was how we had everything in common. That concept of sisterhood really lends itself to our acceptance of ourselves and our beauty, our acceptance of our differences, and our celebration of being women. Which is what I think the beauty industry should be about. It should be about celebrating being women and having fun with beauty and femininity. It made me really proud and excited to be a girl."

Is there one product or treatment that made you feel instantly refreshed when you got home?

Olivia: "The Revlon shadow stick. It's a wonderful product. One side is a creamy shadow that doesn't crease. And the other is a thick soft liner. It's so easy and immediately gives you that smoky look."

America: "A really amazing facial is my beauty indulgence. I go to Linda Ross in Los Angeles and she's my savior with all the traveling and flying and lack of sleep and stress. Her facials save me."

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thirsty workers who spend the day dying to escape to a bar have some good news - at least if they are in the U.S.

The average American employee takes just five minutes to earn enough money to buy a pint of beer - less time than in any other country.

That means that in the U.S., workers earn a full 12-pack of beer per hour, compared to a global average of only three pints for each hour of labour.

How long someone has to work to earn a pint is based on two factors - the average hourly wage, and the average price of a beer.
The U.S. has one of the highest hourly wages of anywhere in the world, and beer is cheaper than in many other rich countries.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The United States has seen a reversal in both the competitiveness and the loss of economic freedom over the past decade. This loss in both areas has resulted in the slowest recovery in history, if you want to call this recovery a true recovery. Just a few years ago, the World Economic Forum had the United States ranked as the number one nation in their ranking of competitiveness, but today, it has fallen to number seven with much of the drop occurring over the past four years.

The Cato Institute and Canadian Frazier Institute ranks nations’ economic freedom, and they had the United States near the top just a decade ago. However, over the past several years, it has dropped to number 18th behind not only Canada and Australia, but also Chile and the island nation of Mauritius. Richard Rahn noted, “The U.S. has declined in the rule of law and property rights because of such things as the ramifications of the wars of terrorism and drugs, and violation of the rights of bondholders in the bailout of automobile companies. The country also has suffered because of a decline in the freedom to trade internationally, fiscal deficits caused by the growth in government, and various forms of regulation.”

The Heritage Foundation noted in their report, “The U.S. economy, the world’s largest, has not recovered fully from the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the federal system of government, designed to reserve significant powers to the state and local levels, has been strained by the national government’s rapid expansion. Spending at the national level rose to over 25 percent of GDP in 2010, and gross public debt surpassed 100 percent of GDP in 2011. A 2010 health care bill that greatly expanded the central government’s reach has been under challenge in the courts, and the Dodd–Frank financial overhaul bill has roiled credit markets. Although the election of a Republican Party majority in the House of Representatives in late 2010 slowed spending growth, divided government has left U.S. economic policy in flux.”

These studies show America in decline and unless these policies are reversed, the next generation will be the first generation poorer than the previous generation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Keynote Speech at Partnership for a Secure America

Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Washington, DC
(As Prepared for Delivery)

We find ourselves immersed in a swirl of rage and violence directed at American Embassies over a video that we had nothing to do with. We see voices of suspicion and mistrust that seek to divide countries and cultures from one another.

So we must think about the message that we want to convey to the world. We must convey that – as Americans – we stand for certain inalienable freedoms.

That we stand in defense of freedom of speech as we reserve our right to reject the content of speech which we find despicable.

That we also stand for religious tolerance, and we are the home to people of all religions – including millions of Muslims. So we defend the right of that video to be made, just as we reject its denigration of religion.

We also stand for the unfiltered freedom of the Internet: It should be the forum for all opinions and perspectives – as well as a place from which to report atrocities and outrages, or to report on natural disasters, or share best practices.

This is not the place to dig deeper into that debate. But my point is this: The importance of getting this and other messages right is absolutely crucial.

To people around the world, it also sends a powerful message: we are Americans with shared purpose, values, visions, and solidarity.

That’s a core principle of public diplomacy. Our position in the world becomes stronger and more secure when we support democratic representation, human rights, and inclusive economic institutions. When we enhance prosperity abroad, we create opportunities for U.S. investment, and for trade. That creates jobs for our people.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Samples from the US press:

Global Sales of iPhone 5 Kick Off With Crowds - Wall Street Journal (September 21): "Customers in parts of Asia and Europe began snapping up Apple Inc.'s AAPL -0.49% iPhone 5 on Friday amid signs of strong demand for the high-profile handset, despite widening controversy over its mapping features. ... In Frankfurt, 25-year-old Amir Taheri was at the front of the queue, having got in line the previous afternoon and waited through the night in near-freezing temperatures. 'We huddled up in our blankets, surfed and clocked some Facetime,' Mr. Taheri said. 'It was good we were allowed to charge our batteries in the store.'"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

America the Gutted: How big of a problem is China?

So the results of a Pew Research Center survey this week should come as no surprise: Americans, by a large majority, fear China's economic prowess.

Examine these numbers:

According to Pew, 59 percent of Americans view China's economic rise as a threat, versus the 28 percent who are more troubled by China's military power.

Sixty-six percent view China as a competitor, versus the 16 percent who see Beijing as a partner.

A full 78 percent believe China's large holdings of US debt is a serious problem.

Seventy-one percent see US job losses to China in that same light, while 61 percent believe the US trade deficit with China is a serious problem.

But how should we interpret these feelings and findings? And, on a more philosophical level, is the Buddha right?

First, there can be no doubt that this great economic shift from West to East has affected the lives of many middle-class Americans. It has also greatly influenced people living in China.

We have met countless people across the United States whose jobs are now being done by Chinese workers. They are, naturally, concerned about these developments.

"I wanted to keep a nice steady job until I retired," one US ironworker told GlobalPost. "What I want to do now is not get laid off anymore."

We have also met workers in China, many of whom are today working long, tiring hours and who have little sympathy for what this trend means in America.

"Their quality of life is much higher than here," one Chinese ironworker said. "[Americans] have better welfare and the lowest income there is much higher than here. I feel those workers don't actually need a job to live a good life."

America's $15 trillion economy, by far the world's largest, is still about twice the size of China's economy.

And while China certainly owns large amounts of US debt, that figure is only about 8 percent of the total — making Beijing the third-largest holder of debt, behind the US Social Security Trust Fund, and the US Federal Reserve.

Moreover, export-heavy China desperately needs to sell its products into the giant US market and therefore has a large stake in promoting US economic stability and strength.

In short, the US and Chinese economies are linked — at least for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

All this rhetoric about the United States being the greatest country on earth only serves to incite the emotions and passions of voters. Each candidate seems to believe that if he can incite enough positive nationalistic feelings associated with their campaign, then they will win the votes of the people. And with the way politics seems to be run these days, who could blame them?

Strangely enough, that manipulation of voter patriotism is not the thing that upset me the most about the speeches made at both of the political parties’ conventions.

What upset me was the fact that I thought politics had finally grown up out of this mentality that “America will always be the number one nation in the world,” and “We have to work hard to beat the other countries in their quest for becoming number one!”

Why does America have to be number one, anyway? What sort of juvenile competitiveness motivates us to be so blinded as to say that people in America are the smartest, most creative, and hardest working people in the world?

I may sound unpatriotic or even treasonous, but I’m not. I just can’t convince myself that because I happened to be born in the United States, I am more intelligent, creative, and hard-working than someone born in China or Africa or Europe.

Yes, America is a great country, and yes, we have pioneered the technological revolution and redefined the industries of all types, but that does not mean that people in our country are better than anyone else, or that great achievements don’t happen in other countries all over the world as well.

What really upset me about the political conventions this week was not any of the actual “politics” being discussed, but the underlying mindset of the American people that they revealed.

I hope that American can finally grow up and realize that this competition between nations to be the “best” is unnecessary, and that together as an international community, we could accomplish and achieve so much more than we ever could by ourselves.

I stand behind my country as a citizen, but I stand first behind the world as a member of humanity, and refuse to place the welfare of our citizens over the welfare of the rest of the world.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Today is the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. It is the product of a long summer of compromises, and has proved to be a flexible document, adaptable to issues that couldn't have been imagined when it was written.

Compromise and flexibility are at the center of that document. It wasn't always pretty. In fact, sometimes it was pretty ugly. The southern states, which didn't want to recognize slaves as human beings much less allow them to vote, cynically wanted to count them in their populations so that they could get more representation in Congress. The compromise was to count the slave population as three-fifths of what it really was.

By any measure that was unprincipled. If slaves were property, then how could they be counted even partially as human beings? By locking in higher representation for the slave states, the Constitution guaranteed a long fight to end the peculiar institution. But it worked to get the document approved.

So, the Constitution wasn't a perfect document. It was born with deep flaws but it survives because it contained the means for evolution and change -- it can be amended, and it can be dragged into the present day through court interpretations of its meaning.

On this anniversary, it's good to remind ourselves that compromise and flexibility are at the very heart of the United States of America. Those who disdain those things, whether of the right or left, are truly un-American.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

More than 8 in 10 Americans in a poll by The Associated Press and the National Constitution Center support limits on the amount of money given to groups that are trying to influence U.S. elections.

But they might have to change the Constitution first. The Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United case removed limits on independent campaign spending by businesses and labor unions, calling it a constitutionally protected form of political speech.

"Corporate donations, I think that is one of the biggest problems today," said Walter L. Cox Sr., 86, of Cleveland. "They are buying the White House. They are buying public office."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Embassies are natural targets. They are the forward operating bases of American diplomacy, and as such, often the focal point of demonstrations and attacks. Security at U.S. embassies has changed dramatically in recent decades -- a process sparked by the shock bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and re-emphasized after the coordinated attacks in Africa in 1998 -- as one layer of defense has been stacked upon another. In the decade after the 1998 bombings, the annual budget of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security skyrocketed from $200 million to $1.8 billion; in those same 10 years, there were 39 attacks on U.S. embassies, consulates, and official personnel, according to a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Discussing the plans for the new U.S. Embassy in London, the Economist glibly described the U.S. process: "First, dig your moat." U.S. embassies are more secure than ever, but there could be a diplomatic cost to all the gates within blast walls within reinforced-concrete Hesco barriers. After all, this is the image the United States is presenting to the world. And even then, as events this week have demonstrated, despite all these defenses, embassies are not impregnable fortresses.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

America Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place

When it comes to the 'new Middle East', the Americans are caught between a rock and a hard place. It was the same with the 'old' Middle East. 

For years, America engaged with the Middle East dictatorships using a mix of dollars, weapons, and soft power. For years it was criticised for interfering in the region.

Now it continues its engagement with most of the dictatorships, but also with the newly-elected governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. It is still criticised.

There are those who argue the Americans should withdraw from the region, that they cause more trouble than they help.

Others say the US must be deeply engaged not only to safeguard its own interests but to help what are described as fledgling democracies.

To withdraw would be to go to a hard place, a place where the US could not help influence events in a geo-politically-crucial part of the world.

To stay is to continue to bump up against the rock that is anti-American opinion which manifests itself sometimes in violence.

When it comes to the Gulf, the US really has no choice. Given that the life blood of America, and the rest of the developed world, pumps out of the region, no American administration is ever to going to disengage from being able to influence events.

It is why the US keeps a huge military presence there.

Washington could now ignore what happens in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere. If it does, it will be accused of abandoning the fledgling democracies.

There are many groups and political movements across the region who wish to use the current instability to further a radical agenda in which democracy will play no part and which will be profoundly anti-Western. 

Without outside help it is unlikely that genuine democracies will emerge, leaving the populations across an entire region as politically and financially impoverished as they are now.

On the other hand, if it seeks to influence events, it will be accused of interference.

There are no easy answers, nor is there one policy. The Americans look at each country in its own right.

Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dozens of disappointing Pew polls later, with the United States government having earmarked vast sums of money for public diplomacy, you have to wonder whether Washington hasn’t run up a blind alley in its desire to be popular among Arabs. An obscure Israeli-American real estate developer in California uploads a video condemning the Prophet Mohammad, and mobs storm the American consulate in Benghazi, killing an ambassador. In Cairo, demonstrators attack the fortified American Embassy building. Utterly irrelevant, evidently, is the fact that Egypt has benefited from billions of dollars in American aid for over three decades, or that the U.S. helped militarily overthrow Moammar Gadhafi last year.

However, the issue here is not the ungratefulness of the Arabs. There were doubtless quite a few Egyptians and Libyans unhappy with what took place this week. There were probably many more with no opinion whatsoever, who are neither fond of America nor the contrary, largely because America is absent from their daily life.

That doesn’t change the fact that anti-Americanism is more the norm than the exception in the Arab world, even if a vast majority of people never expresses that sentiment in violent ways.

Whether it is Obama or Bush, the American sirens calling for more love are apparently not having their effect. The Americans are to blame in many ways, just as many in the Arab world are at fault, not least for their hypocrisy when it comes to America. However, the disconnect between America and the Arabs goes beyond perceptions of mutual behavior to include more systemic problems.

Perhaps we must seriously consider that the Arab world has so internalized its disapproval of the United States over time....that anti-Americanism has become a constant of Arab political discourse.

The reality is that when no clear, overriding strategy exists for America’s approach to the Middle East, administrations function more on the basis of domestic politics, calculations and rivalries, and these tend to be alien to the concerns of the Arab countries they influence.

The White House and the State Department would do best to save their public diplomacy funds and focus more on a redefining a lasting, bipartisan strategy toward the Middle East that can span administrations. This has not been done in a serious way since 9/11, and it needs to be at this essential moment when Arab countries are facing momentous change. In politics, love is overrated.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

As the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks against the United States approached, I noticed that the matter was not discussed very much by Americans I encountered or in media outlets.

Whatever the reasons, the 9/11 anniversary in the United States this year passed with little fanfare, and so the American public and political system appeared to be searching around for a different foreign threat or enemy to focus on. The Russians are not an easy enemy, because they do not actually seem to threaten the U.S., but only occasionally compete with it for influence.

China is another candidate as the new enemy of the United States, but also not a convincing one. For one thing the Chinese always look to resolve problems through “mutual respect” and “understanding,” and things of that sort. It’s hard to fire up your public against an enemy that wants mutual respect, except if you happen to be a Republican, in which case the rules of common sense are discarded – though even there the Republican attempt to depict China as the great American nemesis has not gained much traction.

That does not leave many bad guys out there to hate or fear, as Venezuela, Cuba, the Taliban and North Korea do not evoke much genuine fear. This leaves only one candidate for the great threat that must be met and stopped: Iran.

Following the American mainstream media on Iran is a painful experience, because so much of what is said about the country is incomplete information, unproven assumptions, and the wildest expectations that are almost never supported by truth or fact.

Only occasional glimmers of rationality, verifiable facts and truthfulness break this pattern....

Americans around the country have little knowledge of the issue, and no real views other than those they hear the national politicians utter. The basic assumption in the American public arena – with only the occasional lone voice to the contrary – is that Iran’s leaders are dishonest and cannot be trusted. They are working secretly to produce a nuclear bomb, and they will use that bomb to achieve control over the Middle East and probably also to threaten or attack Israel.

Proof for these accusations and assumptions is usually provided only in the form of suspicions, or fears of unknown Iranian future intentions...instead there is much evidence that Iran has not diverted any enriched uranium to a bomb-making program.

It is frightening to watch the U.S. lurch from the great catastrophe for the Middle East that it unleashed by attacking Iraq in 2003 on the basis of lies and unverified assumptions, to the current hard stance and war-talk on Iran that is similarly based on strong sentiments and fears but no verifiable facts. Whether this is due to homegrown American immaturity in foreign policy, or the influence of pro-Israeli fanatics who have honed the art of shaping American foreign policy, is unclear for now.

It may also be irrelevant, should war break out against Iran. It remains disturbing for now to witness the United States conduct foreign policy in this manner, so soon after it created such a mess for itself and for the world in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs came out today with its new (and lengthy) survey on what Americans think about the world and America’s place in it. I have only had time to read the executive summary and glance at a few charts, but here are some of the survey’s findings:
  •  Protecting the jobs of American workers continues to elicit the broadest support as a “very important” foreign policy goal of the United States, with 83 percent of respondents naming it. To put that number in perspective, 72 percent say that “preventing the spread of nuclear weapons” is “very important,” 64 percent say “combating international terrorism,” 33 percent say “climate change,” and just 14 percent say “helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations.”

  • Nearly seven in ten Americans think that defense spending should be cut; that’s up 10 percentage points from two years ago.

  • Seven in ten Americans favor using U.S. military force “to stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people.” In comparison, five in ten Americans favor intervening “if Israel were attacked by its neighbors”...

  • A majority of Americans (52 percent) say that U.S. economic aid to Egypt should be cut or halted entirely, up 13 percent from two years ago. Forty-one percent of Americans want to cut economic assistance for Israel; that’s up seven percentage points since 2010.

  • A majority of Americans (52 percent) think that Asia is now more important than Europe. Two years ago, Americans gave the nod to Europe by a margin of 51 to 41 percent.

  • Republicans (70 percent) remain the most enthusiastic about the United States playing an active role in world affairs. Democrats (60 percent) and Independents (55 percent) are less so. Support for an active international role has fallen across all three political groups over the past decade, but the decline has been sharpest among Independents

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Believing in America as a core value -- and a means to get elected for Obama, Romney

After all this time running to lead America, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are still trying to show they really believe in America.

Both men have made the election not just about the economy or even the American Dream, but about America itself. They see a nation pessimistic about itself and nervous about its future, hardly American traits.

They see political opportunity if they can come across as the one who gets what it means to be American, the guy who restores the glory.

In the midst of their patriotic push, Obama and Romney have never overtly accused the other of being un-American.

But they spend no small amount of time raising doubts about the other’s belief in America’s promise, its workers, its resilience, its basic compact with its people.

Both talk about the goodness of Americans and the exceptional nature of America itself. They rarely concede that the other candidate shares that view.

Obama and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, have vastly different visions on how to create jobs and opportunity, and that contrast in governing philosophy is a defining choice for voters in November.

There is something to this nagging sense that America has lost its way.

Associated Press polling has not found a majority saying the nation is moving in the right direction since 2003. The richest nation on earth is divided over whether today’s children will have a better standard of living than their parents do.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

What was America like 100 years ago? The answers will perhaps be a big surprise, especially among the younger generation...

While my grandfather Angus McSwain lived to be 92, the average life expectancy 100 years ago was 47 years. Some reasons for early death were illness and disease. Doctors in those days delivered 95 percent of the babies at home, and surprise-of-surprises, 90 percent of the doctors had no college education. Most had attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned by the press and government as being "substandard."

The leading causes of death were pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis (then called consumption), diarrhea, heart disease and stroke.

Home life must have been difficult: Only 14 percent of the homes in America had indoor plumbing, such as a bathtub and toilet. Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone, even fewer had electric lights, and only 8,000 cars were on the road. The country had only 144 miles of paved roads, and the maximum speed limit was 10 mph — it was that slow to keep from scaring the horses and mules used to pull wagons and buggies.

If you had a handful of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters in your pocket, you could buy a sandwich and drink, ride a trolley home and still have some change left. The average wage 100 years ago was 22 cents per hour, and the average worker made between $200 and $400 per year. Those making the most money were mechanical engineers at $5,000 per year, with dentists, medical doctors and veterinarians drawing between $1,500 and $4,000 per year.

It took a lot of pennies to buy some grocery items. Sugar cost 4 cents a pound, eggs were 14 cents a dozen, and coffee sold for 15 cents a pound.

A daily newspaper purchased on a street corner cost 2 cents a copy. Beauty aids and personal products were limited in supply and were expensive.

Most women washed their hair only once a month and probably used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo. Wintertime bathing was infrequent since water had to be heated on the stove. Children were bathed first, followed by the mother and father — all in the same bathwater, which was later poured on the garden.

A few other observations from 100 years ago: The American flag had 45 stars, the population of Las Vegas, Nev., was 30 hearty souls, mostly prospectors; the tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower, and few people knew of its whereabouts; there were about 230 murders reported in the entire country; and items such as marijuana, heroin and morphine were available over the counter at the local drugstore.

Perhaps the most shocking of all — two out of every 10 adults could not read or write, and only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Friday, September 7, 2012

In Review: A Walk Across America

At the age of 22, and already married at just 19 years of age, Peter Jenkins was lost.

Having grown up in a nice middle class family, in a nice middle class neighbourhood, and having been groomed and prepared for entry into a nice middle class college, his life seemed to be going in exactly the same direction as that of thousands of other young Americans.

As 1969′s ‘summer of love’ slowly but surely turned into the long winter of disillusionment that was the early 1970s, Peter did what many others have done before – he went looking for America.

There is a history of searching in America. Searching for new lands. Searching for wealth. Searching for minerals and resources – in particular, gold and oil. And then there is the search for Self. The search for meaning.

Ten years later, Peter Jenkins was able to write: “I started out searching for myself and my country, and found both.” While Peter’s 1979 book, A Walk Across America describes that quest, his personal ‘search for meaning’ had in fact begun over five years earlier, when, on the morning of October 15, 1973, he began his walk from the small upper New York state college town of Alfred, to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he arrived 18 months later in April, 1975.

So when Jenkins heads out on a cool autumn day towards New Orleans, his only goal appears to be to walk across the United States with the aim of deciding if he should stay and live in America, or whether he should move elsewhere.

Along the way he finds his answer.

Towards the end of the book Jenkins writes: “I had started out with a sense of bitterness about what my country appeared to be. But with every step I had learned otherwise. I had been turned on by America and its people in a thousand fantastic ways.”

His only companion for most of the journey was a huge dog called, Cooper.

You have to admire Jenkins’ desire and determination to not just embark on a journey of this magnitude, but the fortitude and strength of character he shows – often despite great challenges – to complete it.

A Walk Across America ends with Jenkins meeting Barbara, his future wife in New Orleans.

Eventually, they would head west together, and continue the walk from Louisiana, through Texas and New Mexico, across Colorado before finally completing this monumental journey in California.

This is a journey into the self. The journey of one young man trying to find himself, and his desire to rediscover his country. During this journey, Jenkins’ faith and pride in his country — and himself — were tested to the limit, and ultimately restored.