The 100th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti

History has not been kind to Haiti. As the world’s first black republic, and the only nation founded by a successful slave revolt, it was regarded with contempt by world powers from the very beginning. From France’s onerous debts, to the U.S.’ repeated interference in domestic affairs, this poor yet proud nation has endured countless threats to sovereignty and prosperity — and little recognition of it.

It would likely surprise most Americans to know that their small Caribbean neighbor, rarely more than a footnote in public consciousness let alone government policy, has been repeatedly invaded, occupied, or otherwise meddled with by the U.S. since the early 20th century. In fact, as the Washington Post reminds us, it was 100 years ago today that President Woodrow Wilson — who had then-recently championed liberal, democratic values, such as self-determination, in Europe initiated an almost two-decade-long occupation of Haiti.

Perhaps to its credit, the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian is pretty candid about America’s longstanding interests in the country, and the true motivations of its intervention. Continue reading

The Richer You Are, The Richer You Think America Is

This recent Washington Post article comes well-timed following yesterday’s post about America’s large and growing child poverty rate. Citing a study published in Psychological Science by Rael Dawtry and Robbie Sutton at the University of Kent, and Chris Sibley at the University of Auckland, it explains how pervasive and entrenched socioeconomic segregation is at the heart of the U.S.’s high and widening inequities.

The wealthy, surrounded by other wealthy people, generally believed the U.S. population was wealthier than it actually is. It’s easy to imagine why they might make this mistake: If you look around you and see few poor people — on the street, in your child’s classroom, at the grocery store — you may think poverty is pretty rare.

The communities we see immediately around us, the authors argue, shape our sense of how rich America is. And those perceptions, in turn, can influence how we feel about government policies for the poor. In this study, wealthier people who overestimated the extent of wealth in the U.S. were also more likely to perceive the economy as fair and more likely to oppose redistribution policies.

This implies that attitudes about programs like welfare aren’t based solely on political ideology or self-interest (if I have a lot of money, I don’t want to be taxed more). They’re also influenced by cues we get from the environment around us. That means that the wealthy don’t just lack information about what it’s like to be poor; they also lack basic information about how pervasive poverty is.

The study’s conclusion sum up how and why the U.S. can continue to tolerate unjustifiably high levels of poverty, indebtedness, and hunger despite so much economic growth and potential; and also how mounting evidence of the worsening state of the country do not put a stop to opposition to better wages (whether privately or legally mandated), more investment in infrastructure and education, more affordable housing and healthcare, and so on.

These results suggest that the rich and poor do not simply have different views about how wealth should be distributed across society; rather, they subjectively experience living in societies that have subtle—but important—differences. Thus, in the relatively affluent America inhabited by wealthier Americans, there is less need to distribute wealth more equally.

In essence, it is not that wealthy people as a whole are wilfully cruel and callous — although there is certainly a sizeable subset that are arguably are — but rather that they simply do not know any better. Our society has become so divided along so many lines, in both geographic and psychological terms, that it is difficult for people to come around to experiences outside their own. There really are two Americas (and many more if you include race and ethnicity, which intersect with class and economic status) with two very different experiences and understandings informing their policy.

As the WaPo article points out, this is problem is all the more concerning given that economic segregation in the U.S. is worsening; that we increasingly less likely to live near, let alone interact with, people of different incomes levels; and that the economic gap between rich and poor communities — even those not far from each other — is growing.

Moreover, with wealthier Americans and their interests groups having disproportionate influence over our political system, including over policies that could alleviate poverty and inequality, it is hard to see a way out of this self-perpetuating problem — at least within current sociopolitical paradigms.

What are your thoughts?

The United States’ Fascinatingly Uneven Population Distribution

It is easy for us Americans to underestimate just how big our country is, both geographically and demographically. At a little over 320 million people, only China and India (each with over a billion inhabitants) have larger populations. And in terms of territorial size, only Russia, Canada, and (by some measurements) China are bigger.

Along with Japan, the U.S. is the only developed country with over 100 million people, and also among the few developed countries to be so big territorially; only fellow Anglophone nations Canada and Australia are both highly developed and fairly large by global standards. The norm is for most industrialized societies to be small or medium range in population and size.

The sheer sense of living space is all the greater when one realizes how unevenly distributed the U.S. population is. The following maps by dadaviz user Jishai, obtained view Headlines and Mental Floss really help to put these things in perspective. Though lacking the sort of international comparisons I started off with, they should how vast the disparities are even within the U.S. itself. Take note that for every map, the red and orange represents roughly equal population sizes.

Unsurprisingly, most of the biggest counties are concentrated among the top ten states in terms of population. Which leads to the next map. Continue reading

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More U.S. Children Live In Poverty Now Than During the Recession

Eupraxsophy:

The world’s wealthiest nation by a wide margin, which has experienced steady economic growth over the past several years, which counts more billionaires than any other country in the world (indeed, than the next dozen or so country combined), and child poverty is both stubbornly high and actually growing.

There is not much else to say.

Originally posted on TIME:

In mid-September 2010, almost exactly two years to the date since the monumental collapse of Lehman Brothers, the New York Times published a bleak statistic: the ongoing Great Recession had driven the U.S. poverty rates to their highest in a decade and a half.

Five years of fitful economic recovery have not yet bettered this situation. According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than one in five American children, about 22%, were living in poverty in 2013. Data for 2014 are not yet available, but the report anticipates that the child poverty rate remains at an “unacceptably high [level].”

The figure for 2008 was 18%.

[newsletter-the-brief]

General terms are insufficient when explaining the economy’s post-recession rebound. There are a number of conflicting statistics — the fall in unemployment versus the rise in poverty, for instance — but even efforts to compare and assess these inconsistencies…

View original 213 more words

Americans Have the Right to Insult Police Officers

Given the frequent reports of police brutality and misconduct in the U.S., particularly during the course of pullovers and arrests, Americans might be surprised to learn that they have a well-established right to be rude and even downright nasty to police officers. As The Atlantic’s CityLab column notes:

The courts have made it clear that individuals have a right to insult police officers. In 1987, the Supreme Court decided in City of Houston v. Hill that the First Amendment allows for a “significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers,” ruling against a Houston, Texas, ordinance making it “unlawful for any person to assault, strike or in any manner oppose, molest, abuse or interrupt any policeman in the execution of his duty, or any person summoned to aid in making an arrest.”

The case involved a gay rights activist who had been arrested numerous times for allegedly interfering with the police.

The First Amendment, the court noted, does not protect “fighting words,” statements “that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” But criticism, even when angrily voiced, is protected.

“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest,” Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote for the majority, “is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”

That case built upon the 1974 decision in Lewis v. City of New Orleans, when the court ruled against an ordinance in that city making it “unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.”

The Lewis case involved a couple following behind a squad car that was taking their young son away. Another officer pulled them over and, after the woman got out, allegedly said, “you get in the car woman. Get your black ass in the god damned car or I will show you something.” The police officer testified that the woman said, “you god damn m.f. police – I am going to [the Superintendent of Police] about this.” The woman denied using any profanity. Either way, the court ruled that the ordinance under which she was arrested was so broad as to apply to “speech, although vulgar or offensive, that is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., in a concurring opinion cited by Justice Brennan in the 1987 case, wrote that police should be able to deal with more offensive language than a private citizen—meaning that verbal abuse had to reach a higher threshold to count as fighting words when they are directed at a cop.

That abuse can run quite high and stay within constitutional bounds, something that a cottage industry of people who make a point of testing cops on their First Amendment knowledge by giving them the middle finger has proven.

Continue reading

The U.S. Postal Service Turns 240 Today

As the venerable yet beleaguered institution faces the latest in a long string of financial and political woes, The Atlantic reflects on the Post Office’s outsized role as one of America’s most important and symbolic organizations.

During the American Revolution, the post was a crucial point of contention between colonists and the Crown because it was the means for circulating not only correspondence but also newspapers, the lifeblood of intercolonial political cooperation. When British officials threatened the free circulation of news, newspaper publishers led the charge in 1774 to replace the British imperial system with a “Constitutional Post.” Without a government structure, the post would be privately funded, but newspaper publishers and allies like the Boston Committee of Correspondence made sure that reliable, safe, and secure circulation of political intelligence was a primary function.

Shortly after Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the Continental Congress took up a post office as one of the earliest institutions of national reach — making the U.S. Post Office older than the Navy, the Marines, and the Declaration of Independence. Congressional delegates therefore believed that ensuring safe communication throughout the colonies was vital to the colonies’ efforts for military, political, and commercial unity.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 saw the operation of information channels as a core function of government: the power “to establish post offices and post roads” is one of the explicitly named grants included among the enumerated powers of Congress. At the same time, new political cleavages within the United States caused tension about the Post Office’s role as an impartial circulation mechanism. During the debates over ratification in 1787 and 1788, some anti-federalist printers accused the Post Office of suppressing their publications and arguments against the Constitution. William Goddard, the mastermind of the 1774 “Constitutional Post”, ominously suggested he would once again start his own postal system. The complaints of Goddard and other printers forced Congress to re-assert that the Post Office would circulate all news and information equally. In 1792, the new Federal Congress confirmed that promise in the first Post Office Act, setting the stage for a massive explosion in the newspaper industry and providing for the circulation of information to the far reaches of the country.

Continue reading

The Town Where Guns Are Mandatory

Since 1982, the town of Kennesaw, Georgia, U.S. has required the head of every household to own a working firearm with ammunition. In this 12 minute short film, Canadian photographer and filmmaker Nicolas Lévesque profiled the small town of about 30,000 and captured their perspectives about the intersection of guns, culture, and American identity.

Click below to see the fullscreen version, or click here. (Sorry, videos sometimes do not embed properly.)

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/398495/

Courtesy of The Atlantic.

What Ails Puerto Rico

For better or worse, Puerto Rico rarely enters American public consciousness these days. But in recent weeks, the U.S. territory of around 3.5 million people has suddenly garnered considerable media attention from its massive fiscal and economic problems, namely in the form of $72 billion in debt — an unfathomable amount of money for any jurisdiction of its size to pay back.

While officials and analysts debate the island’s options, many are rightly looking at the structural and political problems — namely its status as a U.S. territory — as the underlying causes for this looming crisis (along with the local government’s corruption and mismanagement, to be sure). As a recent article from the New York Times observes. Continue reading

The Countries That Love and Hate America the Most

A country as big, powerful, and globally consequential as the United States is sure to attract a lot of attention and scrutiny. For better or worse, America has had considerable impact on world events for at least the past century — if not from its very foundation — and the mixed legacy of U.S. foreign policy, culture, and ideals continues to impact millions of people across the globe to this day.

So it is not surprising that the latest results from the Pew Research Center’s study on America’s global reputation are so mixed. The reputable polling group asked respondents in 39 different countries whether or not they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the U.S. The results, courtesy of this graph by Business Insider, might surprise you. Continue reading

Should Americans Be Celebrating the Second of July?

It may not roll of the tongue as well as Fourth of July, but technically, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain – e.g. independence – did not occur on this day in 1776, but two days earlier, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve formal independence. (Note that the American Revolutionary War had already begun over a year before we got around to formally declaring independence!)

A draft of the declaration had already been commissioned almost a month earlier: on June 11, the Committee of Five – comprised of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston – was appointed to get to work on such a document for a future vote. After discussing the general outline of the document, the Committee decided that Jefferson should write the first draft, which was subsequently amended in some parts by Adams and Franklin (the Committee, including Jefferson himself, had wanted Adams to write the draft, but the latter convinced them otherwise and promised to work closely with Jefferson). Continue reading