Category Archives: America

About American politics, our spirit, and our soul

Warning: the income gap between races is widening in America

Summary: We begin the Trump years with generations of progress unraveling in the healing of America’s racial divide, with the likelihood of further deterioration quite high. We should understand what’s happening to better prepare for what’s next. A new study looks at the causes of the widening income gap between black and white Americans. It makes for enlightening but depressing reading.

"Nevermore" says the Raven.

Divergent Paths:
Structural Change, Economic Rank, and the Evolution of Black-White Earnings Differences, 1940-2014

By Patrick Bayer and Kerwin Kofi Charles.
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), November 2016.

“The economic fortunes of black Americans relative to those of whites have improved greatly since the end of the Civil War, but convergence has been both glacial and imperfect. Substantial racial differences in wealth, income, and numerous other economic markers remain and there are signs that the closing of some of these gaps has significantly slowed or even reversed in recent decades. In this paper, we study the evolution of black-white earnings differences among prime-aged men from 1940 through the Great Recession.”

Their findings are disturbing. Many Americans considered the progress of black Americans since WWII, and especially since the 1960’s Civil Rights bills to be among our finest accomplishments — belated recovery from the eras of slavery and Jim Crow. This adds to the research showing that progress has stalled. More specifically, the racial income gap for upper income black Americans has narrowed while the gap for those in lower income brackets has widened.

The reasons for this have been obscure. The racial gap in educational attainment and school quality have narrowed since WWII. Why have black men in the middle and lower income groups done so poorly? Their analysis concludes that the gains went to black men that managed to gain the education credentials that our society uses as the gateway to prosperity.

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The success of the NAZI atomic bomb program can inspire us today

Summary: Why did NAZI Germany not build an atomic bomb, despite their long head start? This is a powerful story of individuals under intense pressure, with conflicting moral obligations and facing great personal risk, deciding to do what’s bestt for America. It is one of the great success stories of WWII, and can inspire us today. Perhaps future historians will ask why America’s scientists built the bomb, unleashing the horrors of the atomic age (with its several close encounters with WWIII).

Atomic bomb explosion

One of the mysteries of WWII is why Germany did not build the atomic bomb. By summer 1939 they had two development programs running. In September they combined under the leadership of Werner Heisenberg, perhaps the world’s most qualified scientist to lead the program in terms of reputation, experience, and skill. Germany had the industrial resources, uranium ore (in Czechoslovakia), scientific talent, and financial resources (see the last section) to build the bomb. But they didn’t.

The US shifted the Manhattan Project into high gear two years after the German program began, on 9 October 1941 when FDR decided to build the bomb. We had an operational reactor in December 1942, which the NAZI’s never accomplished. We exploded the first bomb in July 1945, after three years and nine months of work.

Most of the senior scientists in the NAZI bomb program shared five goals, which produced this disparity of results between their results and ours. First, to not build a bomb. Second, to avoid questions from the Gestapo about treason. Third, to keep their younger scientists out of the army (their enlistment would follow the program’s end). Fourth, to continue their atomic research. Fifth, to avoid persecution by the German people after the war for failing to build the bomb. They accomplished all five goals, one of the rare moral successes of WWII. This demonstration of what individuals can do should inspire us today.

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Have a different Thanksgiving conversation with the family about politics

Let’s do something different this Thanksgiving. As usual, give thanks for what we have and to those who bequeathed it to us. Since eating turkey and watching football is not enough, take an easy first step to reforming America. Instead of fighting about politics with your family, find points of agreement with them about the need to reform America. Make it a pleasant surprise for everyone, and a small but useful one.

The First Thanksgiving

“The First Thanksgiving” by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (circa 1913).

Showing Up for Racial Justice provides a guide and hotline for people to call if they need help handling tough political discussions with their families on Thanksgiving (charmingly described as “help support white folks in having tough conversations with other white folks”). The resulting food fights will not promote racial justice or anything that might help reform America. But doing the opposite might.

Look across the table and seek to find common ground with those on the other side of the political spectrum. Our elites seek to keep us fragmented and quarreling — and so weak. Promote goodwill for both your family and America by exploring the views of those on the other side of the political spectrum. I will bet that you will find profound areas of agreement, not only about nature of America but also about our immediate needs.

The Founders created Thanksgiving Day understanding that our good fortune was political: the opportunity to build and maintain the Republic.  We have lost that awareness, but today can begin to regain it. Today invite others to help reform America. Awaken their recognition of the Republic’s peril. Discuss the problem. Encourage them to assume a share of responsibility for America and its government — and then act. It’s the ideal after-dinner conversation.

So what do you say when someone asks how we will accomplish this, despite the great forces arrayed against us, despite our divided and weak state? I recommend this answer…

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Why You Can’t Get Your Day in Court (it’s a New America)

Summary: America’s courts have decayed to a feudal-like system of High, Middle, and Low justice for the rich, middle class, and poor. Federal Judge Jed Radoff discusses this how courts work in this New America. It an example of the Republic’s decreasingly ability to serve us. During the next four years the Republican Party will work to make US courts work even less for us and even more for the 1%.

 

Why You Won’t Get Your Day in Court

By Jed S. Rakoff, District Judge
for the Southern District of NY.

New York Review of Books,
24 November 2016.
Posted with the judge’s generous permission.

 

Over the past few decades, ordinary US citizens have increasingly been denied effective access to their courts. There are many reasons for this. One is the ever greater cost of hiring a lawyer. A second factor is the increased expense, apart from legal fees, that a litigant must pay to pursue a lawsuit to conclusion. A third factor is increased unwillingness of lawyers to take a case on a contingent-fee basis when the anticipated monetary award is modest. A fourth factor is the decline of unions and other institutions that provide their members with free legal representation. A fifth factor is the imposition of mandatory arbitration. A sixth factor is judicial hostility to class action suits. A seventh factor is the increasing diversion of legal disputes to regulatory agencies. An eighth factor, in criminal cases, is the vastly increased risk of a heavy penalty in going to trial.

For these and other reasons, many Americans with ordinary legal disputes never get the day in court that they imagined they were guaranteed by the law. A further result is that most legal disputes are rarely decided by judges, and almost never by juries. And still another result is that the function of the judiciary as a check on the power of the executive and legislative branches and as an independent forum for the resolution of legal disputes has substantially diminished — with the all-too-willing acquiescence of the judiciary itself.

Some of this may seem surprising to people accustomed to hearing about overburdened courts with overcrowded dockets. These very real burdens partly reflect the decades-old refusal of many legislatures to provide funds for new courts and new judges at a rate remotely comparable to the increase in population and the corresponding increase in cases. But aside from these facts, a closer look at changes in the courts’ dockets reveals some disturbing trends.

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We no longer trust each other, or America. It’s our core problem.

Summary: We’ve frittered away the 2016 election talking mostly about personalities and trivia. But this partisan sniping, each side seeing only its own version of America, reveals the breakdown of trust that social scientists have long warned about. Deteriorating for decades, it has become one of our core problems. It makes solutions to other problems almost impossible.

“Mankind are not held together by lies. Trust is the foundation of society. Where there is no …trust, there can be no society.”
— By Frederick Douglass in “Our Composite Nationality“, 7 December 1869.

Broken trust

The Decline of Trust in the United States

By Josh Morgan at Medium, 20 May 2014.
“A Look at the Trend and What Can Be Done About It.”

“Trust is the glue that binds people together. …Trust is correlated with —

“…Data from the DDB Life Style Survey indicates that trust began to increase throughout the country after World War II, and rose steadily through the 1960s. According to the data, trust peaked in 1967–1968, when roughly 56% of survey respondents agreed that “most people can be trusted.” From there, trust began to decline, and the trend has continued ever since.

A poll published by the Associated Press and GfK found that only 1 in 3 three Americans would agree that “most people can be trusted.” …Pew found that less than 1 in 5 adults trusted the government in Washington. In the workplace, the American Psychological Association found that roughly 1 in 4 adults did not trust their employers. …The Pew Research Center recently found that less than 1 in 5 adults between 18 and 29 years old believed that most people could be trusted, which is lower than the general population. Harvard’s Institute of Politics also found that political trust was low among Millenials {sic}.

“…Using the 2012 edition of the General Social Survey (GSS) data set, I was able to compare how groups in different categories responded to the variable “trust”, which asks, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” This was the variable used by Pew and the AP-GfK to determine trust among the general public and among Millenials. {sic}”

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Multiculturalism & human rights will be weapons of Team Clinton

Summary:  To help get ready for the Hillary administration, let’s look at its philosophical roots — multiculturalism and human rights. Individually, each is a noble principal. Combined, they are nonsensical propaganda. That we fall for such things shows our weakness. When we begin to laugh at them, we will have taken a step toward self-governance. To understand this, we turn to one of the great books about America of the past generation.

 

From Closing of the American Mind
by Allan Bloom

“Here again we live with two contradictory understandings of what counts for man. One tells us that what is important is what all men have in common; the other that what men have in common is low, while what they have from separate cultures gives them their depth and their interest.

“Both agree that life, liberty, and the pursuit of property, i.e., the interests of health and preservation, are what men share. The difference between them is the weight they give to being French or Chinese, Jewish or Catholic, or the rank order of these particular cultures in relation to the natural needs of the body. One is cosmopolitan, the other is particularistic. Human rights are connected with one school, respect for cultures with the other.

“Sometimes the United States is attacked for failing to promote human rights; sometimes for wanting to impose “the American way of life” on all people without respect for their cultures. To the extent that it does the latter, the United States does so in the name of self-evident truths that apply to the good of all men. But its critics argue that there are no such truths, that they are prejudices of American culture.

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America isn’t falling like the Roman Empire. It’s falling like Rome’s Republic.

Summary:  Sunday’s post asked if America is like the late Roman Empire. The good news is that it’s not. The bad news is that in an important sense we’re like the last generations of the Roman Republic. Rome’s people grew weary of carrying the burden of self-government, just as we have. But we can change.

Emperor Octavian.

Emperor Octavian.

 

The original Star Trek taught us that humanity was not meant for slavery; we always rise up and fight for freedom.  Unfortunately, history shows that rebellions against internal elites are rare. Successful revolutions are still more so (even partial successes, such as France in 1789, are rare). In fact subjects in well-managed societies (e.g., tyrannies, oligarchies) wear the yoke comfortably.

Although democracies (i.e., self-government) are rare, sadly common is evolution in the other direction, the bitter one from citizen to subject. The most famous example is the fall of the Roman Republic, a history familiar to our Founders — who built America on lessons learned from it.

If lose sight of that history America might suffer the same fate. The Roman people grew weary of self-government, of carrying its burden of responsibility and self-discipline. Civil wars determined who would place the bridle on Rome’s people and rule. Christian Meier’s Caesar: A Biography vividly tells the story of the Republic’s last days (I strongly recommend it).

We are following that path.

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