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.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It’s true that America cannot command the same respect abroad that it once did, when its domestic economy is faltering.

While traveling around the globe after communism’s fall in the early 1990s, I heard Asians and Africans and Middle Easterners and even Russians repeatedly say they admired the American model because it worked and guaranteed prosperity. They wanted to emulate America because they thought we knew what we were doing and had a formula that combined political freedoms with economic success.

Yet, today many Asians, Africans, and Arabs are now looking to other models, including more centralized economies such as China’s, which lack political and civic freedoms. So what has gone wrong?

America’s brand has declined because foreigners believe we can’t get our political act together. When I travel abroad now, I hear doubts about our competence and skepticism about whether we can fix a broken political system. Foreign leaders and publics believe our country is so riven by political partisanship that it can’t repair our economy.

These doubts took root during the Iraq war...

Over and over in Iraq, and in the Mideast, bewildered Arabs repeated this mantra to me in the 2000s: “We thought you Americans could do anything. How could you have made such a mess in Baghdad?”

The world’s skepticism about the U.S. model intensified with the 2008 financial crash, a product of too much deregulation and corruption on Wall Street.

I’m a believer in America’s capacity for renewal. But the U.S. economy won’t right itself without leaders who truly embrace national unity and are willing to compromise to make our economic system function.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

America as 'Land of Opportunity' perpetuated by myth

If you grew up believing that your success depends on hard work and determination, you are not alone. It is, after all, the philosophy that leads to America’s reputation as the “land of opportunity’. Not so, reports Counsel and Heal on Sept. 5

According to a study undertaken by a group Of University of Michigan researchers, the existing inequality gap between socioeconomic statuses in the United States makes upward social mobility “very improbable”.

Fabian Pfeffer, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota Institute for Social Research says that Americans underestimate the extent to which their economic backgrounds influence their destiny.

Pfeffer gathered data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, PSID, which followed 18,000 Americans in 5000 families since 1968. The data included employment, income, wealth, expenditures, health, marriage, childbearing, child development, philanthropy and education. Information was continuously collected on the same individuals and their offspring.

Pfeffer then compared that data to similar data from Sweden and Germany. He found no significant differences in the influence of socio-economic status on upward social mobility between the countries.
"Wealth not only fulfills a purchasing function, allowing families to buy homes in good neighborhoods and send their children to costly schools and colleges, for example, but it also has an insurance function, offering a sort of private safety net that gives children a very different set of choices as they enter the adult world," Pfeffer says.
According to a 2011 report from The Big Picture,
“. . . the share of income earned by the top 1 percent of [American] households soared 278 percent between 1979 and 2007, while income growth for the bottom 20 percent of households was limited to just 18 percent during the same period.”
Hard work and determination have helped countless Americans overcome difficulties, but for now, at least, the socio-economic status of your parents may be a more powerful determining factor in your upward social mobility.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Millions of Americans have uncontrolled blood pressure - report

Nearly half of about 67 million Americans with high blood pressure are not effectively treating their condition and face a high risk of a heart attack or stroke, a U.S. health official said on Tuesday.

About 36 million people have uncontrolled high blood pressure, a condition caused when too much force is exerted by blood as it is pumped through the body and moves against vessel walls, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Tuesday.

"The bottom line is ... most of those in this country who have (high blood pressure) don't have their numbers under control, and because of that we have a very high burden of disease," said Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.

High blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, contributes to nearly 1,000 deaths a day and $131 billion in annual direct healthcare costs, Frieden said.

The condition is the second most serious public health issue. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the country, according to the CDC.

Frieden said patients with high blood pressure are either not receiving a correct combination or dosage of medication or are not keeping up with their medication.

Some doctors are not warning patients who have had multiple readings of high-blood pressure, a problem Frieden said could be solved by better systems to track patients.

Of the 36 million Americans with uncontrolled hypertension, about 14 million were not aware of their condition and about 22 million either chose not to take medication or were on inadequate treatment, according to the report, which surveyed adults between 2003 and 2010.

"I think there's clearly a lot of room for improvement," Frieden said, noting that controlling blood pressure often means taking multiple medications daily for the rest of one's life.

High blood pressure can be prevented through diet, exercise and taking drugs such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors -- which widen arteries. Lowering blood pressure can cut the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and other conditions.

Risk factors include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and chronic difficulties such as diabetes, kidney disease and high cholesterol.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day, USA:  Barbeque pits, picnics, kickoff weekend for American football, most private and public offices and businesses: CLOSED.  And don’t forget back to school for the kids. We know the routine, although it occasionally changes.

But the sad truth is, America can no longer boast or take pride in the condition of its workforce in the year 2012. Things have not been worse for employment and our economy in 70 years, and uncertainty anchors a mood of pessimism for investors.

“Labor Day 2012 in America” is oxymoronic: To celebrate labor at a time when, by accident or design, we are degrading the nation’s job creation climate is oxymoronic.

The American workforce today is not the same as it was a century ago.  In 1900, the private sector was well over 95 percent of the labor force, with almost 40 percent employed in agriculture. Today, the government sector has more than tripled to 16 percent of employment in America, with agriculture accounting for less than 1 percent of the workforce.

During the course of this recession, the rate of labor force participation has dropped to its lowest level in 30 years, 63.7 percent. Millions have left the labor force. They are not unemployed; they are no longer available or interested in work, or they have given up on ever finding it.

Despite its frailties, shortcomings and problems, the United States economy continues to be among the best in the world. The chance to improve your situation in life by your own work is still known as the American Dream. But because of unchecked internal factors, most notably runaway debt and deficit spending, America’s economy is on the decline.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunny side up for America's young and restless

He's 30, between jobs, with $50,000 in student debt and no clear sense what the future holds. But Erik Santamaria, Ohio-born son of Salvadorans, has a pretty awesome attitude about his country, his life and the world of possibilities.

"Maybe things won't work out the way I want," he says. "But, boy, I sure can't complain about how things have worked out so far."

This is the sweet spot of American optimism, a trait that looms large in the nation's history and imagination. To find it these days, talk to an immigrant, the child of one or, failing that, a young person of any background. That's where the torch seems most likely to burn brightly.

On her lunch break in a mall just north of Columbus, Holly recounts a struggle to get by as a temporary floor designer at a department store, making one-third of the salary she once earned at a graphics-design firm that cut hours and wages before she quit in January to freelance. She firmly believes in the American Dream, but in the sense of dreaming it, not grasping it.   "I'm not seeing anything to strive for, I guess," she said. "I'm settling."    
Nearly two-thirds lack confidence that life for today's children will be better than it has been for today's adults, according to an NBC-Wall Street Journal survey in May.   Half of registered voters do not see the U.S. as the shining city on a hill, meaning the example for other countries, though 45 percent do, according to a Fox News poll in June.  

Kayla Ruffin, 17, from Sylvania, Ohio, gives voice, too, to the idea that it's the young and restless who are sunny side up.   "It's really hard to get me in a bad mood," she said during orientation for new students at Ohio State University, where she is a freshman. "I'm usually pretty excited to learn new things and meet new people."   She's free of the burdens of college debt and likely to stay that way, not typical for many students.   "My dad, he has it all figured out," she said. "He's been planning my tuition since I was like born. So he's made it easy for me."

However down Americans get about the country's direction and what the future might hold, they tend to be more satisfied with their own lives.   Carl Adler, 69, is one of those. A retired Lutheran minister, he said his family learned to live on modest means and, with Social Security benefits and his wife's pension from years of teaching, "I'm wealthier now than I've ever been in my life."   Still, he said, "I think people my age are finding it difficult to be optimistic."  

Does he believe the American dream is alive? "Oh boy, I don't know. I think it will be possible for fewer people."
"I'm not sure what the American dream is, to be honest, anymore. ... It seems like the middle class is disappearing."

Ohio is a battleground state, so the political opinions of people who are out and about in Columbus no doubt matter more to the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns than voters' attitudes in the most dependable Democratic and Republican states.
But do people here think actions in Washington affect their lives? The capital seems awfully far away. Optimism, or pessimism, may have roots closer to home.