Myths about America

by Maria on September 4, 2005

The Hurricane Katrina disaster and looming political crisis aren’t easy for an outsider to decipher. But we do have one advantage; not having believed in many American myths in the first place. For starters, the myth that the US is a generous and free country where anyone can achieve almost anything.

The abundance – of food, cars, roads, tv stations, just about everything a European could imagine, and then some – is probably unprecedented historically, and limited geographically to America. Growing up comfortably middle class in Ireland in the early 1980s, I found it almost unbelievable that T.V. Americans seemed to drink orange joice every day when we had it just for Christmas, went shopping just for fun and could afford to keep their enormous fridges constantly full. (T.V. Americans were forever hanging up the phone without saying goodbye, slamming car doors, and divorcing each other at the drop of a hat, but that’s another day’s incredulity.)

In my own fuzzy-logic way, I’d presumed that the cheapness of every day goods in the US was mostly because of the flexibility of the economy, i.e. the ability of employers to pay low wages, fire at will, offer few benefits, and generally pass on costs like environmental protection or maternity benefits. A few weeks in California cured me. Sure, labour ‘flexibility’ helps. But the cheap price of petrol is more important than I’d ever imagined. As newspapers and coffee breaks filled with doomsday scenarios of paying $6 dollars a gallon for gas, I sat down one day and did the sums.

That’s what we pay in Ireland. Today. Most of the extra cost goes in taxes, and the cost of that affects every imagineable part of life. Paying more for oil makes everything more expensive – getting food to the shops, from there home, cooking it, and cleaning up afterwards. It means more people rely on public transport, creating a policy feedback loop of greater government spending and making more citizens using shared resources every day of their lives. It means we don’t run central heating or (if we had ever needed it) air conditioning all or most the time, and probably just put on another jumper when it’s cold. It means we advertise cars based on their fuel consumption and we don’t have ‘all you can eat’ restaurant buffets. Teenagers don’t have their own jobs and cars, and rely on their parents, the bus or shanks mare to get around. They get it off in parks instead of cars. Not that many people drive to the gym. Until recently, not many people needed to go to the gym either.

Others on CT understand far better than I do the economic significance of America’s globally unique strategy of running a vast economy on cheap, cheap oil. And yet others can discuss how this dependence makes America less and less secure. (And how Amerca’s efforts to secure its own oil supply has made the world less and less secure for the rest of us.) It’s been a simple but revealing insight for me; the myth that America’s economic engine purrs along fuelled by of the virtues of its rather brutal labour market is only partly true. US work places may be dominated by the masochistic ideology of living to work, but the secret of success is simple. America lives or dies on cheap oil.

That’s one myth. Then there’s the myth that this is the land of opportunity. That anyone born a citizen can aspire to being president. Even if she didn’t go to Yale. And that anyone can use their own hard work and ingenuity to make it rich. This is one myth that many Europeans envy and also, sometimes, despise – mostly because we’d like to believe it too. It’s just that while in theory anyone can be a doctor or president, the reality is that you really only have a chance if your father was one too. Even the Economist grudgingly admits that social mobility is higher in Germany (Germany!) than it is in the US. So when Europeans point to the inescapable but seemingly uncontroversial race and class-based poverty and injustice that also exist in America, we find incredulous the prevailing ideology that poverty is personal, not structural. Or the belief that poor people have just made bad choices. But usually in these discussions we’re talking at cross purposes. Hell, we might as well be speaking French.

You don’t have to be Joseph Campbell to figure out that the lottery myth – the idea that every American has a chance of buying, no, earning that winning ticket in the lottery of life – is a sustaining myth that does more to placate than motivate. It’s also part of that myth to think a structural or political approach to poverty is cut off at the knees by pointing to the one in a million who’s managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And so the argument goes round, the old worlders as blinkered by our own myths as the new, in a dialogue of the deaf that has no shared understanding of the world as it is, let alone of how it should be.

And then you see what’s happening in New Orleans. Where a natural disaster has shone the light on what’s ugly and usually hidden in American life; the inherent and unconsidered racism, the casual brutality, the values that prize property above people. You see people being blamed for being poor. You see black people penned in like animals and made to live in their own filth. You see in America people dying of thirst. Of thirst. You see people pushed beyond civility, beyond reason, beyond any imaginable breaking point, to be met with gun fire and the self-serving response ‘there, do you see how these people really are? It’s the war of all against all down there.’ You wonder what the Christian right might have to say, and fear it’s not ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me’, but rather; ‘devil take the hindmost’. Which he clearly did.

There is a war of all against all in America. But it’s not limited to Mississippi and Louisianna. The myths that have held the poor in check are now exposed. The callous disregard of this administration for the poorest and weakest Americans is now on display for the world to see.

In some ways, we’re not surprised to see this selfishness and wickedness exposed. After all, what did you think has been going on in Iraq for the past couple of years? Or what do any of us think is going on in Niger, in Sudan, or in any of the nameless places of boundless human suffering that we just aren’t interested in hearing about? The main difference in NOLA is that it’s harder to control the reporters, and the people suffering speak English and they expect to be heard.

But in another way, as a non-American I feel more shocked, disappointed and let down than maybe even some Americans do. We, too, can barely believe this is really happening in America. We can hardly believe that we are (gladly) opening our wallets to the poorest people of the richest country in the world. For so many people who live outside the US, America truly is a beacon of hope, a real if flawed exemplar of how new ideas can set people free. We’ve had our own myths too.

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vitia » Blog Archive » American Myths
09.04.05 at 3:32 pm
Steve Krause’s Unofficial Blog » Blog Archive » Another round of thoughts/articles/etc. on Katrina
09.05.05 at 7:40 pm
Crooked Timber » » Education, education, education?
09.09.05 at 4:41 am
Tim Worstall
09.10.05 at 6:08 am
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09.10.05 at 2:56 pm
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09.10.05 at 9:24 pm
titusonenine » Blog Archive » Crooked Timber and Jane Galt on Katrina and America
09.13.05 at 6:22 am
Public Policy Blog » Blog Archive » the politics of the New Orleans disaster
09.13.05 at 12:10 pm

{ 161 comments }

1

P O'Neill 09.04.05 at 3:08 pm

I’m sympathetic to this post. But there’s a trap in defining well-off ness with access to consumer durables. They get cheaper over time. So this allows the poverty air-brushers to say that today’s poor are really quite well off because they have access to goods that the poor of previous generations did not. By the same mentality, the pajamas media idiots go to Iraq and proclaim that the country is fine because there are satellite dishes and cellphones everywhere. But that stuff is rolling off assembly lines in East Asia for half-nothing. As New Orleans shows, poverty is a lot more than a bundle of goods. It’s a whole set of constraints that tax cuts can’t address, but of course Bill Frist’s top priority next week is an estate tax cut vote on Tuesday.

2

John Isbell 09.04.05 at 3:13 pm

I’m sure thoughts like these are occurring all around the globe. If BushCo had a mission on taking office in 2001 to demolish almost irrevocably the prestige America had acquired over the past century or two, it’s hard to see how they could have done it more effectively than they have. Props to all who voted for GWB, in 2000 as in 2004, or plan to vote GOP in 2008: faith is defined by its triumph over reason and experience.

3

Jonathan 09.04.05 at 3:15 pm

It’s just that while in theory anyone can be a doctor or president, the reality is that you really only have a chance if your father was one too.

Allowing for the rhetorical hyperbole, this is still bullshit. Social mobility is nowhere near as high as many privileged Americans believe, but there are still many people who achieve professional degrees without their parents having even a college education.

4

Rasselas 09.04.05 at 3:16 pm

Quite true, but no one will care. Every drop of dirty water drunk and every drop of blood drawn by wind or wickedness of men will be repaid by … nothing: not a drop of blood drawn by the sword or anything else. The television viewers are already tiring of the parade of horribles and the talking heads will get bored soon and leave, and everyone will move on.

As for the behavior of the sort of religious leaders who make a habit of appearing on television, it’s a good thing that redemption is the Big J’s job, and not mine, because I don’t think humanity is worth saving at the best of times, and certainly not now.

5

abb1 09.04.05 at 3:16 pm

C’mon, it’s not really that bad. I was surprised, though, when I read this piece in the Economist: Still not loved. Now not envied.

The Pew poll even raises questions about how far others still see America as the land of opportunity, as Americans do. One question asked: “Suppose a young person who wanted to leave asked you to recommend where to go to lead a good life—what country would you recommend?” Nobody except the Indians picked the United States first (see table).

This is new, isn’t it? Sounds like quite a fundamental shift.

6

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 3:23 pm

Well, from Plano, Texas (a very Red area in a Red state), here is what our local volunteer group reported (I’m on the board at this clinic) from the weekend:

[quote]
George,

Just wanted to give you an update. 106 people were seen at Plano Children’s Medical Clinic today. We had doctors and nurses from the Plano hospitals as well as fire personnel triaging. The City of Plano did a great job getting the staging done so it went smoothly. There were lots of kids and it was fun to give them Barbies, Dolls, Trucks, Cars and Books. These kids have been through a lot but we did manage to get them to smile. The first bus that came through were mostly families, the second bus had a lot of small children on it with their families and the third bus had mostly older people on it. They had to transfer 3 people to the hospital.

Everything went as planned. One thing we did notice is that these people need socks and shoes. Many have had wet socks on for days. Their feet were in bad shape. We had a few kids who just had on diapers and some that had t-shirts that were 2 or 3 sizes too big. One thing for sure – they are all so grateful and thankful and they give great hugs!!!

Susan

[/quote]

A start. More than were seen in the great Blue city of Austin.

7

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 3:24 pm

Well, from Plano, Texas (a very Red area in a Red state), here is what our local volunteer group reported (I’m on the board at this clinic) from the weekend:

George,

Just wanted to give you an update. 106 people were seen at Plano Children’s Medical Clinic today. We had doctors and nurses from the Plano hospitals as well as fire personnel triaging. The City of Plano did a great job getting the staging done so it went smoothly. There were lots of kids and it was fun to give them Barbies, Dolls, Trucks, Cars and Books. These kids have been through a lot but we did manage to get them to smile. The first bus that came through were mostly families, the second bus had a lot of small children on it with their families and the third bus had mostly older people on it. They had to transfer 3 people to the hospital.

Everything went as planned. One thing we did notice is that these people need socks and shoes. Many have had wet socks on for days. Their feet were in bad shape. We had a few kids who just had on diapers and some that had t-shirts that were 2 or 3 sizes too big. One thing for sure – they are all so grateful and thankful and they give great hugs!!!

Susan

A start. More than were seen in the great Blue city of Austin.

8

Keith M Ellis 09.04.05 at 3:34 pm

I want to say “amen” to Maria’s post, and I largely agree with it.

However, she implicitly distributes the inequality and lack of opportunity more widely and evenly than she ought to. If you’re white (and most of America is still white), and if you’re not very poor (and most of white America is not very poor), then America is still closer to the myth than not.

But so?

The problem here is that racism and other factors mean that at the national consciousness and policy levels, the non-white, non-deeply-impoverished America doesn’t exist. And contrasting the two we find not merely the lie of the American Dream, but a staggering, almost unbelievable inequality and lack of opportunity.

This massacre in New Orleans and the astonishment that it’s evoked demonstrates how willfully ignorant Americans are of its shame.

9

Jake 09.04.05 at 3:35 pm

Well, Stephen, I guess you won’t have to worry about flooding, occupying the moral high ground as you are.

10

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 3:36 pm

Stephen:

Do you honestly think your comment has anything to do with Maria’s post? I mean, besides the rather pathetic partisan sniping, what was your point? That a few people in Plano could and would help a (very) few people in the middle of a nearly unmitigated disaster? Besides being entirely unsurprising, did you notice that this doesn’t speak to *any* point made by Maria?

11

Jon Minton 09.04.05 at 3:43 pm

Thank you for this intelligent, clear and concise essay.

Integral to the Myths (or possibly ‘dreams’) you’ve identified are Americans’ belief in what Michael Lind described as ‘civic deism’: The belief that there’s something ontologically and historically unique, special, and glorious about the formation of the United States. Somehow, it’s implicitly believed, there’s a kind of magical force at work in the land of the free, which ensures its citizens are cared for and rewarded (proportionally to their virtue) in a this-worldly, materialistic sense (inverting the tragic, other-worldly consolation at the heart of British Christianity, where the material world is seen as fallen and fundamentally ‘tragic’). As one might expect from the ideological (and literal) offspring of Calvinists, (who equated ‘work’ with ‘worship’) for many patriotic and hopeful Americans who still live and breathe the Dream, wealth-accumulation is itself a form of worship.

The entrenched belief in civic deism is also the reason why, in most Hollywood films and dramas, evil acts are invariably thwarted by a just fortuity (such as a gun jamming the moment it’s fired at the temple of a child’s head) which favours and rewards the brave and virtuous, as against the lazy and wicked.
The real world, even the real world on American soil, is very different – more callous, ambiguous, uncaring, and unmeaning – from the world viewed through American-tinted spectacles.
As a culture which is hugely averse to contemplating the tragedy of reality, when tragic, callous, unmeaning events befall American citizens, the genuine shock that such events could happen to ‘U.S.’ only deepens the suffering they cause those affected.

12

Walt Pohl 09.04.05 at 3:44 pm

Steve: As a fellow resident of Plano, please shut the fuck up. You’re embarrassing all of us.

13

Glenn Bridgman 09.04.05 at 3:54 pm

What’s the alternative? What country in a similar position has done better? The situation in NOLA might be bad, but the idea that it somehow tears away the mask covering the terrible lie that is America strikes me as a particualy heavy dose of Why the Bombings Mean That We Must Support My Politics

14

asg 09.04.05 at 4:04 pm

I am not entirely sure what Maria’s point was. As far as I can get, here’s what she said:

1. People think America’s a land of opportunity, but it’s not, because in order to become president or a doctor your dad has to have been one first.

2. People think America has this really great economy, but it’s just cuz we pay less for oil and screw the workers. If we paid a bunch more for oil and were nice to the workers, the American economy would be just like Ireland’s or some other European country’s.

3. People in America don’t care about poor people and they really don’t care about black people. They like property more than people.

4. Bush is bad. He is particularly guilty of everything in #3. Had someone else been elected, the hurricane disaster would not have been so bad because that administration would not have been so uncaring.

5. Americans are fat, greedy and selfish (especially the ones on TV, except for the fat part). Irish people “share resources” and are more virtuous.

6. If we asked them what they thought, folks on the Christian right would probably say something hypocritical and callous.

7. People think America is a free country, but it isn’t really.

15

harry b 09.04.05 at 4:14 pm

Glenn — I guess we’ll see whether it tears away the mask. When a government fails its most vulnerable people in the light of a predictable (and predicted) disaster people usually get very pissed off, and, if they have viable methods of expressing that, they do so. I’m afraid this is a collossal failure. As Henry said, in a parliamentary system there would be massive pressure for widespread resignations reaching, probably, to the top.

You can deny that its been a failure if you want; if so, I hope you’ll be calling for a major independent inquiry to be set up, so that we can be sure one way or another. Good luck, though.

16

bryan 09.04.05 at 4:15 pm

no one ever thought that a post critical of some aspects of American self-image would prompt a purposefully obtuse comment in response. It was totally out of the range of expected responses.

17

harry b 09.04.05 at 4:15 pm

asg, you can read it that way if you want. Most people won’t.

18

lemuel pitkin 09.04.05 at 4:20 pm

I don’t know, harry: snide tone aside, asg has summarized Maria’s post pretty well. Need I add that I think all seven points are basically correct?

19

Michael 09.04.05 at 4:24 pm

Glenn Bridgman: What’s the alternative? What country in a similar position has done better?
I dunno, Glenn, how about we start with Sri Lanka during last year’s tsunami?
Of course, how similar a position they were in might be debateable—they command rather fewer resources there than the U.S. government.

20

Glenn Bridgman 09.04.05 at 4:31 pm

Harry, that is the entire point. The issue here is massive incompetence, not some deeply systemic problem with America as a whole, for now and ever. Incompetence has been a pretty consistent note throughtout all of human history. Should we roast those responsible for this failure? Sure, but let’s keep some perspective. Disasters, natural and man-made, have happened before and they will happen again.

21

asg 09.04.05 at 4:31 pm

Harry, how do you think most people will read Maria’s post? I mean, I suppose it works pretty well as red meat for the DU crowd, who are not accustomed to Maria’s very nice writing style and rhetorical skills. Are you suggesting it should be read as more than that? What about it gives you that idea? Surely not its nuance, charity, or logical rigor.

22

rd 09.04.05 at 4:34 pm

Jesus, I’d like to see just how much difference all that public virtue and non-selfishness would make if a Category 4 hurricane hit Ireland. Behind the mask of sorrow, the overweening smugness in this post is stupefying. As for the “cruel myth” of social mobility in America, it was real enough for tens of thousands of Irish immigrants well into the 1990s, before economic reform finally created some actual opportunity there. As for the virtuous circle of “shared resources” in Europe, it doesn’t seem to do much for institutions of higher education, as seen by the thousands of European academics here, whose contempt we are resigned to bear even as we provide for their livelihood. And as for the “myth” of American being a beacon of hope to the world, we will continue to provide the only possible check on mass murderers everywhere, even as Europe continues to drift towards being a giant pacifist retirement home. But of course Ireland got an early start on that with neutrality throughout World War II. As we Americans began to bury our dead, I’m glad this natural disaster has, shockingly, reinforced your basic worldview. It must be such a comfort.

23

Patrick 09.04.05 at 4:34 pm

Quite frankly, I don’t see Europeans responding to ethnic diversity particularly well.

I don’t see white Europeans caring all that much about non-white Europeans.

This doesn’t refute anything that Maria is saying, but I think it takes considerable shine off the triumphalism.

I think Maria is basically saying that America is shit and Europe rocks or at least that seems implicit. I know that’s crude, but I think that captures the point.

The moral superiority of Europe over America I think has pretty much yet to be established.

Anyway, as an American I find it pretty damn offensive that I am engaged in a war of all against all and that I care more about property than people. Nor do I think it true in my case.

24

John Isbell 09.04.05 at 4:34 pm

“What country in a similar position has done better?”
Assuming this isn’t a rhetorical question, and you actually want countries hit by a Category 5 hurricane that have done better, the answer would be Cuba, which recently evacuated one with nil loss of life. NB Cuba is NOT the richest country in the world.
Of course, I’m not sure that’s the answer you wanted. You’re welcome to focus now on how Katrina would have been handled by Kerry.

25

Glenn Bridgman 09.04.05 at 4:35 pm

Sorry, Michael, I was unclear. I was offering a general defense to a general attack. I was not denying that this was a huge clusterfuck, but rather that this particular clusterfuck was indicative of anything more than that people fuck things up with astounding frequency.

26

dan hardie 09.04.05 at 4:44 pm

‘(And how Amerca’s efforts to secure its own oil supply has made the world less and less secure for the rest of us.)’

Would you like a short reading list on French efforts to secure oil – oh, and natural gas- supplies? (Helpful hint: the word ‘Algeria’ may have some significance here. Or try searching French newspapers for stories about the Elf oil scandal. ) Shall we discuss who sells arms to oil-rich dictatorships in the ME? As a Brit, I’m proud to say that my fellow-countrymen do a lot of it, but the Germans and the French are no slackers either. Next time Chris Patten is browning your nose for you, you might draw breath for long enough to ask him about arms sales – he was rather good at them when he was Minister of State at the FCO.

Before any more Irish citizens (or Brits, for that matter) get the urge to lecture the Americans on poverty, can I suggest someone has a look at UNICEF’s league table of child poverty in industrialised nations? The US is in at number two, and, at number 4- why, would that be the Republic of Ireland, with 16.8% of its kids under UNICEF’s poverty line? Sure it would. I swell with yet more patriotic pride to note that Britain is in at number 6.(Link: http://www.unicef.gr/reports/rc06/UNICEF%20CHILD%20POVERTY%20IN%20RICH%20COUNTRIES%202005.pdf )

Of course, the segregation of the rich and poor is unheard of either in the UK or Ireland. It’s well known that, say, the North side of Dublin is a place where the mildly poor and the mildly prosperous foregather in social harmony.Just like the Gorbals, or Tower Hamlets.

‘ It means more people rely on public transport, creating a policy feedback loop of greater government spending…’ God almighty: *public transport* was what created the higher European levels of public spending? No, dippy, no. Not in the Republic of Ireland, not in the UK, not in Sweden, Germany or France, not freaking anywhere in Europe. In some countries it was social insurance, health and education, in some cases it was war preparation, in a lot of cases the two went together. Would you like a bibliog…No, you wouldn’t. Why read history when it’s easier making it up?

Looking at the clusterf*** the British made of the last thing that came close to a natural disaster (the foot and mouth outbreak- handled with calm competence by the government of, er, Ecuador) I am moved to conclude that the UK government has all the incompetence, addiction to spin and disregard for unfavoured groups that the Bush clown show is displaying – in the face of a far bigger challenge- in the States. Our military is more competent than the US military, but that’s about it.Thank God we have less extreme weather, because I shudder to think what the aftermath of a flooding of Liverpool would look like.

27

Walt Pohl 09.04.05 at 4:58 pm

There are two startling changes in America over the past ten years. Perhaps the Bush presidency has caused them, perhaps it has only revealed them, but there are two key ways in which America is different than it once was:

1) The triumph of self-esteem politics. Once upon a time, America was the “can do” country. Christ, we once put a man on the moon. Now we’re we’re the “Don’t hurt my feelings, I tried really hard” country. I’m sure George Bush and Mike Brown tried really hard, and I’m sorry failing at being President and FEMA head hurts their feelings and the feelings of their supporters, but the fact remains that they failed. We didn’t try real hard to beat the Nazis — we beat the Nazis.

2) The rise of American crybabyism. Boo-hoo, some European said something mean about America. They were saying mean things about America in 1970 and 1870 and 1770 too; we didn’t whine about it. Everyone in every country says mean things about everyone in every other country — it’s just one of those facts of life. Once upon a time, we could give a crap what Europeans said. Now, it leads to voluminous whining.

While America seems to me to be at or close to the height of its power and glory, large numbers of its citizens are already living like they secretly know that it’s in the past and they’re hoping loudly proclaiming it will bring it back. And watching the aftermath of Katrina make me wonder if they’re right.

28

Shane 09.04.05 at 4:59 pm

This is exactly the sort of hyperbolic bullshit that is so so so tired. Is it genetically possible for people like you to make pointed critiques without trying to wrap your entire political agenda inside?

Is it possible that a tragic hurricane could have been just that – tragic – without you somehow taking this as just the latest in a series of confirmations that the United States is a super-sized and culturally inferior version of Weimar Germany?

It’s just that while in theory anyone can be a doctor or president, the reality is that you really only have a chance if your father was one too.

Gems like this are such a perfect example of the sort of preciousness rampant on CT that makes me want to hurl. The recent past of American presidents shows scions from such prestigious blue blood families as Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. One wonders if the entirety of Maria’s American “expertise” is confined to the two terms Bush has been in office?

Presidents aside, the “truth” is that there are lots of people here who do make it, who do crawl up from nothing. Both sides of my family did it and there are a lot of other families just like mine. To read Maria’s post you’d think it was a myth. It’s not.

The US has been justifiably taken to task recently about a lot of things, and assorted leftist critiques have often been well-made, thoughtful, substantive. But what is it about the group, of which Maria is apparently the Platonic Ideal, that cannot be constrained to substantive, factual critique, without becoming just another conflated straw man filled with everything they hate? You can’t just criticize the Iraq war; no, not only is it a bigger abomination than Auschwitz but Republicans molest children and bugger livestock. Even the hurricanes here are racist.

Tell me, Maria, is there anything tolerable about my poor, victimized country, or is the whole thing a sucking chest wound, disturbing the sleep of our more effete, and sensitive, European neighbors? Who have our best interests at heart? Who see it all so clearly, if only we would listen?

It’s just so TIRED. And it’s so … juvenile. This chaos isn’t a week dead and you think you’ve got some definitive read on it? You think that with your idle moments of blogreading and CNN you have the ability to peer, Zeus-like, into the heart of the matter, unravel inefficiencies, pinpoint where the org chart has gone awry?

It never occurs to you that this just might be one of 8,092,238,128 examples where in hindsight it’s really easy to point fingers and throw blame around? Which isn’t to say that there might not be blame to go around, just that it takes some kind of Texas-like balls-slash-stupidity to be offering up expert testimony when you not only are not experts but not even on the fucking continent.

But of course these are just more apt examples of a general CT analytical trend, some comibation of bandwagonism and plucking low hanging fruit, offering up gems like:

You see people being blamed for being poor. You see black people penned in like animals and made to live in their own filth. You see in America people dying of thirst. Of thirst. You see people pushed beyond civility, beyond reason, beyond any imaginable breaking point, to be met with gun fire and the self-serving response ‘there, do you see how these people really are?

This is such rot it defies description. This hurricane was a tragedy, and it seems likely that the tragedy was worse than it had to be. But I’m a bit confused where Maria’s delicate European tears are dropping. Oh, those poor victimized hordes, who refused to evacuate when they were told to, who shoot at helicopters doing search and rescues and loot the Best Buy. Look, they’re so downtrodden they’re raping little girls! And did you see a the white folk two blocks down? Eating oil-sandwiches and using the flood as an opportunity to build floating castles on the bones of dead negroes?

As long as we’re commiserating over departed myths let me add my lament: I miss the illusion of educated academics, the kind who know their asses from apple butter, who can occasionally contribute to nuanced discussion and in so doing enlighten it.

Wouldn’t it be a better world with a few of those people in it.

29

Rasselas 09.04.05 at 5:14 pm

“Asses from apple butter”? Is that you, Uncle Jesse?

30

Matt Daws 09.04.05 at 5:17 pm

Shane, your just an ignorant bigot aren’t you? You say in one sentence,

“who refused to evacuate when they were told to”

Yes, that’s because they didn’t own cars, and didn’t have anywhere to go. Of course, they could have caught one of the huge number of buses that the authorities laid on. Oh, wait, no they couldn’t, becuase the authories gave to order to evacuate, and then didn’t do anything for anybody who didn’t have their own means of transport!

“who can occasionally contribute to nuanced discussion and in so doing enlighten it.”

What, like you are? By basically lying about what happened in NO? I mean, in your rant, did you actually address a single point which Maria raised? Did you enlighten anyone reading one iota?

Anyway, good post Maria. This is somewhat what my American girlfriend told me this morning. I was trying to blame Bush, but she said that one needs to look beyond Bush at the sheer incompetance which has occured, and ask why US society allowed it to occur. Why wasn’t there an outcry when budget after budget cut occured, for example?

31

Matt Daws 09.04.05 at 5:21 pm

Also, Dan, that’s a bit a rant you’ve got going there as well. Your rough argument (aside from correcting some issues Maria had) seems to be: “American may be crap on metric X, but there exists a European country that’s less crap, but still a bit crap, on X.” Erm, and what am I to infer from this?

Yes, the UK bollocks the handling of F+M. But AFAIK, no-one died. There was a nice article on the radio tonight about all the plans the UK does actually have (like evacuating half of the East Coast) in the case of floods.

32

Jim 09.04.05 at 5:27 pm

Some fair points there dan hardie, but odd that you chose Liverpool as a location for a putative post-disaster fuck-up, because one thing I had in my mind with New Orleans was the breakdown in urban community solidarity contributing to the chaos, and Liverpool is one of the British cities where this hasn’t happened so badly (remember all the Scousers brewing tea for the evacuees from the Aintree bomb scare?). I’d expect the by and large good folk of Toxteth and environs to be slightly better placed than a lot of other urban poor communities in a time of real disaster.

33

Firebug 09.04.05 at 5:39 pm

This should (but probably won’t be) a wake-up call to America about just how much our lifestyles depend on cheap energy. Oil won’t provide that for much longer. Higher gas taxes are an utter nonstarter politically, so the best option is to raise CAFE standards and mandate the production of hybrid vehicles, until a better solution (e.g. fuel cells) becomes viable. Hybrids are already here; they work, people generally like them; there’s no excuse to keep producing obsolete 10mpg gas guzzlers.

We also need to take a serious look at bringing back nuclear power. In practice, it’s less dangerous than many of the alternatives (like coal); the waste issue can be reduced by an order of magnitude with reprocessing. The French and the Canadians and the Japanese have all used nuclear power quite successfully and without serious incident. Why can’t we? We should also look into the possibility of nuclear-fueled cargo ships, in order to insulate consumer prices from oil shocks. Of course, before we do any of this, we need to get rid of the crowd of incompetents currently running (or attempting to run) Washington. I wouldn’t trust these bozos to even light a match without supervision, much less play around with U-235 and plutonium.

34

Sven 09.04.05 at 5:43 pm

Shane, please take your vomitous commentary back to the dark hole from which it came. That was disgusting.

35

eudoxis 09.04.05 at 5:54 pm

Would 24 hours have made a difference?

36

dan hardie 09.04.05 at 5:56 pm

Shorter Dan: America is a shamefully unequal society, but Britain and Ireland have nothing to be proud of in that regard; incompetence is rife in the Bush administration but not unheard of in the UK; anyone who thinks that selfish foreign policy w.r.t oil or gas is a US and not a European failing has rocks in their head; Britain and Ireland have less danger of major natural disasters at the moment, which is a bit of a relief given the competence of such magnificent institutions as the Metropolitan Police.

37

Dan Simon 09.04.05 at 6:03 pm

asg, you can read it that way if you want. Most people won’t.

Well, I certainly thought asg’s summary was spot-on. Basically, Maria is arguing that a few long-outdated leftist myths about America are wrong, and that the contemporary leftist myths about America are right.

One doesn’t need to be some kind of rah-rah America booster to see just how ludicrous Maria’s litany is. Some obvious points:
There are lots of reasons for America’s vitality: a strong work ethic, abundant natural resources, a relatively large proportional inflow of immigrants, a relatively unregulated commercial sector, and many more. All of these have their disadvantages as well, of course. But “cheap, cheap oil” isn’t an explanation–it’s an excuse.
America is probably no more socially or economically mobile than Europe these days, in the sense that a child from a working-class family can rise to the top in either country, by following several routes. The difference is in the number of routes available to each. America being a more fragmented, decentralized society, it offers a greater variety of ladders to climb, thus giving the illusion that one can make it “on one’s own”–by choosing one’s path of opportunity, rather than hoping to be selected for admission onto one of the few established ones.
Yes, America is a more violent society than most other industrialized ones. That’s largely a function of its rather lawless history, though–not its economic or political outlook. Racist? Sure–but if anything, less so than most countries. Again, that’s a product of its history of being forced to grapple with the issue, rather than of any particular economic or political virtue.

But in another way, as a non-American I feel more shocked, disappointed and let down than maybe even some Americans do. We, too, can barely believe this is really happening in America.

This has to be some kind of joke. The image of America as a place where white people treat black people like dogs, where crime runs utterly rampant (“Chicago”–as in Al Capone’s Chicago–is the standard cultural referent, I believe), and where the poor are left to starve, has been a European leftist trope for many decades, assiduously reinforced by every event that could possibly lend a shred of support to it. Nobody who fancies herself even the slightest bit familiar with the European left could possibly proclaim shock of the non-Captain-Renault variety at yet another supposed proof of this tired thesis.

38

derek 09.04.05 at 6:07 pm

Look, they’re so downtrodden they’re raping little girls!

What, all of them? One stands astonished there were enough little girls to go around; those big black men are clearly more resourceful than I’d given them credit for.

More likely your racism is showing in the most traditional of ways.

39

Shane 09.04.05 at 6:07 pm

Yes, that’s because they didn’t own cars, and didn’t have anywhere to go.

Everyone left in NO right now didn’t have a car? Wrong. There are a-plenty of people in NO who are there because they wouldn’t leave.

Nobody (reasonable) is saying that this operation was a well-oiled machine and everyone who suffered, or is suffering, is suffering because of their own actions. That would be assinine. But it’s equally assinine to absolve everyone from blame.

But these are the kind of non-absolutes that so many find impossible to entertain.

40

Tracy W 09.04.05 at 6:08 pm

“Where a natural disaster has shone the light on what’s ugly and usually hidden in American life; the inherent and unconsidered racism, the casual brutality, the values that prize property above people. You see people being blamed for being poor. …
There is a war of all against all in America. But it’s not limited to Mississippi and Louisianna. The myths that have held the poor in check are now exposed. The callous disregard of this administration for the poorest and weakest Americans is now on display for the world to see.”

Umm, remember that New Orleans was not the only area hit by Katrina. This website at NY Times gives an update state-by-state http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Katrina-Glance.html.

An even more summarised version might read:
LOUISIANA
– Deaths, estimated in the thousands.
– At least 713,000 customers estimated without power.
(Plus all the other horrors we’ve been seeing.)
MISSISSIPPI
– Deaths: At least 110
– More than 236,000 customers without power
ALABAMA
– Deaths: 2.
– About 325,000 homes and businesses without power.
FLORIDA
– Deaths: 11
– About 80,700 customers without power.

Judging by this, if Hurricane Katrina reveals a war of all against all, it’s mostly going on in Louisiana. While I haven’t controlled this for severity of the storm (though customers without power gives an idea), other states appear to have managed much better. How much of the fault belongs to the federal government for not funding levees properly and how much to the Louisiana state government for not funding them properly and not having a decent (or any) evacuation plan, I don’t know. But immense-scale government incompetence, hatred of black people, etc does not appear to be inherent in the American psyche.

41

Jeremy Osner 09.04.05 at 6:10 pm

Something that surprised me a bit when I was in Italy last week, was the price of food, which seemed quite low to me. I mean gasoline was (if my reckoning was right and i did not mis-carry or something) over $8/gal but food in the supermarket (Co-op and the other one I shopped in called Presto or something, prices pretty comparable though the selection was much better at Co-op) I thought was priced quite low til I remembered to convert euros to dollars, and then it was about the same as at a US supermarket (around where I live anyway, which is NJ). And food in small shops was only slightly more expensive, meaning it was less expensive than food in gourmet shops around here. What gives? Is there some kind of subsidy happening? Because gasoline is heavily involved in making food.

42

Dave Belcher 09.04.05 at 6:27 pm

Maria, you seem to have done well to stay out of the comments…there are a lot of insidious and stupid remarks.

To all of those who have jumped on the one line about having to be the son of a president in order to be president yourself: regardless of whether an actual blood-line succession is needed, what is needed (and this seems to be Maria’s point) is a whole fucking lot of money…like millions of dollars. There is still an enormous gap between the “myth” of opportunity and the reality of American life.

43

Mike 09.04.05 at 6:34 pm

Attempting to dispell a country’s national mythology with Leftist/socialist mythology constructed to disparage that country’s system.
Tragic
Pathetic

M

44

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 6:36 pm

shane:

re #39, or at least part of it. I’m sure that there are people in NO today who could have accessed transportation out of the city, but chose to stay. I’m also sure that there are people there who would have left, but didn’t have the ability.

Both of these things should have been addressed by a competent evacuation plan (which would have been well under way if not complete when Katrina hit). There are *always* people who refuse to leave. And there are *always* people who can’t leave under there own power.

This is why a proper evacuation is not a call on radio and television etc. saying `get out’. Rather, it is a sweep (door by door if it has to be) of the area, with transportation provided where needed, and force applied where needed.

Granted, this must be a daunting task in a place the size of NO. I’ve only seen it done in much smaller areas. But the authorities *knew* what the worst case looked like. Perhaps the last minute jag in the path of the hurricane made a proper evacuation deemed unnecessary. I could understand that as an unfortunate but difficult decision. It in no way excuses the lack of solid contigency plans (who decided to put people up in the dome without any workable logistical plan in evidence? etc. etc.). Likewise, these people knew what the flooding scenarios look like. Notwithstanding a collective sigh of relief when it looked like the worst case hadn’t happened… the moment those levees failed they should have been all over it (from federal all the way down to whatever useful city emerg. infrastructure was still there).

Observing that people stayed in the city after being told to leave really isn’t of much worth.

45

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 6:39 pm

Jeremy: Good question. At least some european agriculture is less oil intesive than north american, so that might be part of the reason. There may be taxes specifically on consumer gasoline that don’t show up for agricultural use. Some combination of direct subsidies plus above?

46

J. Goard 09.04.05 at 6:42 pm

For what it’s worth in this forum:

I don’t really know why some people in the US are very poor, and others aren’t. I’m sure it’s largely “institutional”, as long as that term is taken to include not just external social opportunities, but also early moral and intellectual education from parents and peers, and possibly even genetic influences on personality. Appeals to free will and meritocracy are lost on me, as they would seem to be for most of you reading this. But facile explanations of such a complex phenomenon as poverty within a generally rich liberal democracy are lost on me as well.

The fact that super-poor people suffer a lot more than non-super-poor people in the face of adversity doesn’t amount to much more than a definition of the word “poor”. It certainly does not count as the kind of damning evidence against Bush, Republicans, American government, or American society that Maria seems to want it to. Anybody of a libertarian (or, I guess, a small-government conservative) bent will just respond that LA is a notoriously corrupt state government, with a massive welfare bureaucracy whose managers have been thriving on the presence of a huge underclass to “serve”. And that voters who fought against many millions of extra allocations for flood protection did so because they realized how much of it would really end up in a general fund to be squandered. And, yes, even how implied government responsibility for a natural insurance function has led to such artificially low rates in hurricane-prone regions that way, way, way more people are living there with way less protection than is optimal.

So, what does it really accomplish, pointing out that response to a disaster hasn’t gone so well, and that poor people have borne the brunt of the suffering? It seems to me that it simply escalates and de-enlightens the existing conversation about what makes for a healthy society. But is this some kind of “evidence”, in the sense that it might change someone’s basic position? Yeah, right.

47

Doug 09.04.05 at 6:45 pm

Two points:

1. American prices for gas are far closer to market prices than European prices. As Maria acknowledges, an enormous percentage of the price in European countries is tax. If it is correct to say that American patterns of consumption are based on low gasoline prices, then it is surely equally correct to say that European patterns of social spending are based on very high levels of gasoline taxation.

2. In recent American history (since 1970), its presidents have included: the posthumous son of a auto parts salesman, the son of a shoe salesman, the proverbial peanut farmer, the adopted son of a paint salesman (whose mother divorced his biological father in 1913), and the son of a grocer (whose mother hoped he would become a Quaker missionary).

48

larry 09.04.05 at 6:57 pm

Maria … great post.

Also … although I don’t know him (or anyone else here), but I don’t think Shane is a bigot or that his post was disgusting. What is more likely is that those who are calling him names are unable or unwilling to face some of the good points that he made. I do concede, however, that his post was not the most diplomatic of the day.

This disaster in NO leaves us all confused. Sure, we know that the local, state and federal governments failed to act as they should have. Most of us are very angry at them and want some heads to roll. Our hearts grieve at the catastrophic loss of life and the devasted families. We will expect answers from our government and we will demand assurance that a horrific screw-up like this will not happen again.

But it also forces us to take a closer look at ourselves and our own socio-political philosophy as we consider a particular population in a major US city that, for the most part, were unable to save themselves. That in and of itself makes this a bigger problem than it is already. It is one thing that the government screwed up … it is quite another that literally thousands died and ten’s of thousands more had NO CHOICE but to face a storm they could not possibly defend themselves against. Although each and every life is precious and important, unless we knew that particular person, the truth is, we read about people dying every day and don’t miss a beat. But when we are faced with thousands of helpless individuals who didn’t have a chance … we have to face the fact that something is very wrong … and part of what is wrong might be, in fact, wrong with each of us who haven’t been paying attention for years.

In other words, we are feeling angry, dissappointed and ashamed that the governmental agencies responsible for helping in an event such as this were so slow and disorganized … but we also feel ashamed about the fact that we know, if our family had lived in that city in the same socio-economic way that we live in our own, we would have easily escaped the wrath of Katrina. When tens of thousands of others who are also mom’s and dad’s and husband’s and wive’s are unable to do the very thing that we can so easily do to protect our own lives and those of our children …. something much bigger than a hurricane is wrong … something much bigger than NO needs to be fixed.

49

William Sjostrom 09.04.05 at 7:17 pm

Others have already noted the breathtaking smugness of the post. I note the Dublin smugness of the post. I just paid €1.119 per liter for petrol in Cork. As of today’s exchange rates, that makes for $5.30/gallon. Assuming Maria Farrell has done her arithmetic correctly, she is describing Dublin prices, which, contrary to the views of the standard Dublin intellectual, are not the same as Irish prices. Just because Dublin is grossly overpriced does not mean every place else in the country is.

50

larry 09.04.05 at 7:27 pm

j.goard;

You wrote:”So, what does it really accomplish, pointing out that response to a disaster hasn’t gone so well, and that poor people have borne the brunt of the suffering? It seems to me that it simply escalates and de-enlightens the existing conversation about what makes for a healthy society.”

Agreed, it does both, and rightly so. It sometimes takes things like this disaster to “escalate” a conversation to the national consciousness, and actually, a little “de-enlightenment” is good for the soul every now and then. In fact, I would imagine that many of the “conversations” coming out of the shelters right now are not very enlightened or academic; but very worthy of consideration and causing us to consider, indeed, what makes for a healthy society.

You seem to have quite a bit of knowledge of the area politics and make some excellent points in your post. (I know, you don’t need me to tell you that, but I appreciated your post nonetheless.) Having said that, the ideal society, or as close to it as we can get, is something many of us are very interested in working toward. How would say we are doing?

51

Mrs Tilton 09.04.05 at 7:46 pm

Others have already noted the breathtaking smugness of the post. I note the Dublin smugness of the post.

Is there anything worse than a bogtrotting culchie mucksavage whose breath has been taken by jackeen smugness? Yes: a bogtrotting culchie rightwing Yank mucksavage whose breath (or typing fingers, anyway) has, alas, been insufficiently taken.

52

tom lynch 09.04.05 at 7:50 pm

As an Australian with access only to (what has felt like) distorted media coverage of the aftermath of Katrina, I have come away with a strong feeling that just as much as ever before, society must somehow be reconfigured to avoid the creation of poor, uneducated underclasses, let alone along racial lines.

My impression has been that a tragedy the core of which was difficult to escape, or plan for, has occurred. But its effects have been exacerbated by economic inequality, unusually bad advance planning, and prejudicial neglect by administrators.

I don’t think there is any moral judgement about the average American that can be made out of this event. If the same thing happened in my home town the results might be similar. In Australia we have been encouraged by the media to view the abuses and looting that have followed Katrina, and the woeful inadequacy of the emergency services, as yet more signs of an Empire in Decay. “Americans are too keen to own guns,” we say smugly. “They watch too many movies.” And then: “That’s what happens when you support a system that doesn’t care. Bush is an evil, racist man.” And finally: “Howard (PM of Australia) is such a little shit. What has he done to help the Australians caught in this mess? He’s nothing but Bush’s lackey.” That’s the level of “public debate” in this country.

Bush, who after countless vicious speeches and mismanaged, misguided, damaging implementations of policy I abhor with the kind of hate one reserves for pantomime villains, has done nothing I’ve noticed to head off the kind of social conditions that have exaggerated the effects of Katrina. But Bush didn’t create them (nor did his dad), and my guess is that the next Democrat to be voted into government won’t do much to alleviate the situation either.

Countries like America and Australia would need to see a huge sea change in social policy to get to the point where every citizen is “armed” with the education, resources and self belief to save themselves and others from harm in the face of a natural disaster like this. The only way to do this is to convince voters that the common good is a greater good for individuals than they have been taught to believe.

53

Brandon Berg 09.04.05 at 7:54 pm

It’s just that while in theory anyone can be a doctor or president, the reality is that you really only have a chance if your father was one too.

Nonsense. My father was a carpenter and my mother was a bank teller. Neither ever finished college, and they didn’t pay for mine, but I did take out loans and go. I could have become a doctor, but I decided to become a software engineer.

Aside from the Bushes and Kennedy, most of our recent presidents have not been from particularly well-off or politically connected families. Clinton is probably the best example of this, but Reagan’s and Ford’s fathers were salesmen, and not particularly wealthy ones, as far as I know. Carter’s father was a moderately well-off farmer, and Nixon’s was a grocer. Johnson’s father served five terms in the Texas state legislature, but he wasn’t wealthy.

Of course, these were extraordinary people. We can’t all be presidents, or doctors, or even software engineers. But anyone can get out of poverty. All you have to do is follow a few simple rules:

1. Don’t have children until you can afford them.
2. Don’t get involved with drugs, gambling, or criminal activity.
3. Graduate from high school. This is easier if you follow rules 1 and 2.
4. (For extra credit) Go to community college or trade school. If your grades and aptitude permit, go to a four-year university. This is an investment, so major in something that will allow you to pay back the loans.
5. Get a job. Then show up on time and do what your manager tells you to do.

Following these rules will land you solidly in the middle class, at worst. The problem with the poor isn’t lack of opportunity. Public education is free and compulsory. Community college is cheap, and so are contraceptives. Abortion is legal, and if you’d rather not, there’s always adoption.

Never in the history of this country has opportunity been so abundant. The problem with the poor is that they so frequently fail to take advantage of the opportunities offered to them, usually by breaking one of the rules above.

One last rule:
6. If there’s a category 5 hurricane coming, get out of the way. If you don’t have a car, put some food in a backpack and WALK. I can understand the sick and the elderly having to stay behind, but the able-bodied adults had no excuse to be there when the hurricane hit.

54

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 8:30 pm

the inherent and unconsidered racism, the casual brutality, the values that prize property above people. You see people being blamed for being poor.

My post was pointing out that in some places, people are valuing people above property, and responding to need rather than blaming people for being poor.

Sorry that wasn’t clear to those who said my post wasn’t on point and didn’t mean anything.

But in many, many communities, that goes on, and demonstrates a great deal of truth about the myths that make up America, the true ones as well as the false.

55

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 8:32 pm

As one might expect from the ideological (and literal) offspring of Calvinists, (who equated ‘work’ with ‘worship’) for many patriotic and hopeful Americans who still live and breathe the Dream, wealth-accumulation is itself a form of worship.

Better said than I could say it myself.

I’m not sure there is a moral high ground, though I worry about random tornado activity more than flooding (though, in Wichita Falls, Texas, when I lived there, I experienced both).

56

Joe 09.04.05 at 8:40 pm

I can’t understand why Maria presumes that the ineptitude of the rescue operations is indication of racism. Surely the mayor and city of New Orleans bear at least as much responsibility for what happened as the Feds. Does that prove that Ray Nagin is racist? That had more of his population been wealthy, or white, he would have performed better?

I think before we go on long (oh so long) tirades about the wickedness of America, and how it comes to focus in light of Katrina, this little gap of logic needs to be filled.

57

Andy 09.04.05 at 8:44 pm

Maria,

The US buys its oil at the same price as everyone else. The differences in wholesale prices between here and Europe are on account of government taxes (as you yourself noted). So cheap oil is not the secret to anything. If you like, it is lower taxes. I would think the brilliant performance by all levels of government in the last week would make people more hesitant about entrusting larger sums of money in the hands of the same people.

58

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 8:50 pm

2. People think America has this really great economy, but it’s just cuz we pay less for oil

Actually, she wasn’t saying we pay less for oil, she was saying that taxing oil products less than they do in Europe created all sorts of societal shifts.

As an aside, I was in Paris this spring (France, not Texas) and I was impressed that one could buy a three course meal, with tip and tax, for eight euros in the Latin Quarter. Food prices were impressive, all in all, especially processed and served.

I was also impressed with how polite and nice the citizens of Paris seemed and very much enjoyed the Metro.

Anyway, interesting perceptions.

59

troll 09.04.05 at 8:52 pm

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60

David Sucher 09.04.05 at 8:56 pm

I wondered why Maria had bothered to write such a pompous & cant-filled screed; and I have to admit that I stopped reading about a third of the way through (scanned the rest) — no one in American actually believes the mysths that she claims we do. Yeah, America is a flawed nation. Big deal. Everyone else is too.

It seems to me that she has added virtually nothing to the discussion.

61

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 8:59 pm

It’s just that while in theory anyone can be a doctor or president, the reality is that you really only have a chance if your father was one too.

I’ve met a lot of doctors whose fathers were not doctors.

Interestingly enough, having talked with a recruiter, I understand a good surgeon makes about 110,000 Euros a year in England, the same surgeon working the same workload makes about 2 to 5 million dollars a year in the States.

The same surgeon makes $400.00 a month in the Philippines, which is why they lost 2,000 doctors last year and 6,000 this year to nursing programs (as the U.S. takes nurses from the Philippines).

Empty slots right now. If you are an American who wants to go to medical school, you can go if you are willing to go to the Philippines.

62

asg 09.04.05 at 9:00 pm

Lots of interesting comments, particularly shane’s, which went off the rails at the end but was basically spot on. Two thoughts on other comments:

Tell me, Maria, is there anything tolerable about my poor, victimized country, or is the whole thing a sucking chest wound, disturbing the sleep of our more effete, and sensitive, European neighbors? Who have our best interests at heart? Who see it all so clearly, if only we would listen?

From shane’s comment. Maria in her post talks about “a dialogue of the deaf”. A dialogue implies a two-way conversation with both participants listening as well as speaking. Tell me, Maria, in your view, what can Europe learn from the U.S., such that the word “dialogue” is appropriate? What do Americans who don’t already agree with you have to say that’s worth listening to? Or were you just kidding around with that “dialogue” business, and you really meant “a lecture to the deaf” (and we all know who’s doing the lecturing and who’s deaf!).

To all of those who have jumped on the one line about having to be the son of a president in order to be president yourself: regardless of whether an actual blood-line succession is needed, what is needed (and this seems to be Maria’s point) is a whole fucking lot of money…like millions of dollars.

Yes, well, this is why some of us have raised a wee finger in protest against scads of new campaign-finance regulations which, in the name of controlling money in politics, have made it impossible for anyone but a millionaire or a party insider with flawless connections in the DC establishment to run for office. It’s a lot easier to raise a whole fucking lot of money if you’re allowed to raise money from whoever you want. But we can’t have that can we?

63

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 9:03 pm

Nonsense. My father was a carpenter and my mother was a bank teller. Neither ever finished college, and they didn’t pay for mine, but I did take out loans and go. I could have become a doctor, but I decided to become a software engineer.

I grew up in trailer parks. My parents didn’t finish college either.

I’ve been grateful for how things have gone for me in America, though I’m aware that it is not neo-Calvinist virtue that has made the difference in my life.

64

Kimberly 09.04.05 at 9:03 pm

Thank you for this thoughtful post.

65

otto 09.04.05 at 9:04 pm

“the United States is a super-sized and culturally inferior version of Weimar Germany”

Sounds not bad to me (leave the culture to one side).
1. Radical nationalism.
2. Militarism (Zell Miller’s RNC speech if you need an example).
3. Partial welfare state.
4. Revisionist power in global politics.
5. Democracy with many opportunities for popular mobilisation.
6. Generals in politics.

Re. the class basis of US politics, the Presidents are indeed from a wide-ish mix of backgrounds, wider than the average Senator for example. Compared with any European country, the average Senator is fabulously wealthy. For the trends in European legislative recruitment and the replacement of the wealthy by eg. teaching union officials in national parliaments, see eg. Cotta 2000.

66

troll 09.04.05 at 9:11 pm

D-vwld n rcrd tm. t lst t’s fr th mssg, nt fr th lngg. Dshng t t s th r f xprts rnd hr. Thn-sknnd lttl mggt, rn’t y? Fdng ff th dd t mk yr pnts.

67

asg 09.04.05 at 9:22 pm

Yeah, except for the hyperinflation, the breadlines, and the pervasive anti-Semitism, we’re just like Weimar.

Incidentally, your post referenced Zell Miller’s 2004 RNC speech, which I hadn’t heard or read. So I went to look at it. In it Miller says the following:

1. The peacetime draft in 1940 was good, because it let the U.S. arm for eventual war with Germany.

2. It was good that Truman didn’t cave to the Berlin blockade, and that he helped anti-communist forces in Greece and Iran.

3. It was good that the U.S. sent troops to Korea to stop the North’s invasion.

4. A lot of people enjoy certain liberties today because of the armed forces mustered by democracies, particularly the U.S.

5. Reagan’s defense buildup hastened the USSR’s collapse and that was good because the USSR was a totalitarian dictatorship.

6. Kerry voted against a lot of weapons systems that were later used in campaigns against Iraq and Afghanistan and that was bad.

7. Kerry waffled a lot on defense issues in the Senate and he was a Vietnam War protester which makes him less credible on those issues.

Now, many of these points are debatable in terms of whether they are true. (I personally would not want to defend 5 as unequivocally as Miller advanced it, and I would not want to defend 6 or 7 at all.) But that’s not the question — the question is, which of these points is “militaristic” in the proto-Nazi sense? Which of them justifies a comparison? If the answer is “none”, as indeed any sane person would concede, how about you make a little promise to yourself not to casually toss around “militarism” or Weimar comparisons for, say, the next week or so?

68

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 9:26 pm

brandon: re #54. Your list betrays an attitude that is insidious in part because it sounds reasonable. Your list is superficially true, but your `simple rules’ aren’t. Any serious study of endemic poverty will tell you this.

69

otto 09.04.05 at 9:30 pm

Zell:

“For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.

It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.

No one should dare to even think about being the Commander in Chief of this country if he doesn’t believe with all his heart that our soldiers are liberators abroad and defenders of freedom at home”

Praise of the soldier as an instrument of social order = militarism. Try and find anything remotely similar in any other contemporary democracy. However, it was common enough in interwar Europe.

BTW, the point of a comparison is to say that some things are similar, usually indicating the similarity(ies) in question, not to indicate that everything is identical. In your response, eager as you are to find differences (and only addressing 1 of 6 similarities I mentioned), you left out the fact that in the contemporary US, people rarely speak German …

70

david 09.04.05 at 9:33 pm

“I can understand the sick and the elderly having to stay behind, but the able-bodied adults had no excuse to be there when the hurricane hit.”

Many of the able-bodied adults were staying behind to take care of the sick and the elderly and the young — but I guess you’d’ve been outta there quick.

Lost in the poor little apologists’ outrage at criticism from the Irish [but what would happen if a hurricane tore up a traveller’s camp?] is the fact that people died of thirst because nobody charged with caring for survivors managed to bring water to them, despite the fact that those survivors were easily accessible. Stop apologizing, and worrying about criticism, and weep a little bit. Then reflect. Then repent. Maybe that will help a few stop bullshitting about the bad behavior of a savage racial underclass, and start admitting to the transparent problems in the US. Seems unlikely to help Shane, but you can’t have everything.

71

Thomas 09.04.05 at 9:37 pm

I suppose dialogue is another myth that dies hard. Hard to engage in dialogue when you censor all opposing views. I suppose that says something about the relative strength of the positions–your position, subjected to only the slightest scrutiny, simply falls apart, so scrutiny mustn’t be allowed.

72

Keith M Ellis 09.04.05 at 9:41 pm

How many of you “I’m proof of social mobility in the US” are non-white and from the inner-city ghettos? Raise your hands.

Man, the comments on CT have really gone to shit.

73

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 9:47 pm

thomas: You might be amazed how much further you got with dialogue if you refrained from the grade-school playground language, stopped the petty ad-hominem attacks, etc. — and spent a little effort constructing a cogent position instead!

Hmmm. I guess this could be summarized as: if you honestly were looking for dialogue, you would do best to engage in it.

74

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 10:28 pm

Keith, I’m half Greek, for what that is worth, and my daughter’s best friend is Black, from New Orleans. They’ve relatives living with them now.

It was good that Truman didn’t cave to the Berlin blockade, and that he helped anti-communist forces in Greece and Iran

As I understand it, the Iranian “communists” weren’t, which is the seed of a series of messes in the Middle East. Greece, I’m still amazed it did not fall into the abyss that has swallowed the neighbors to the north.

How many posters do you get on CT who are Greek or Turkish, but living outside of Greece or Turkey and who can say that they are better treated in the EU than they are in the U.S.?

75

bad Jim 09.04.05 at 10:30 pm

By the way, you can’t actually walk out of the way of a hurricane, even one as slow-moving as Katrina. My gait changes to a run somewhere between 4 and 6 mph, and the storm moved in at 12. Not that one should expect common sense from someone who blames the poor for being poor.

76

CR 09.04.05 at 10:32 pm

“Man, the comments on CT have really gone to shit.”

No kidding…

All this bullshit bullshit bullshit swarming around these undeniable images.

For instance, one of my favs.

6. If there’s a category 5 hurricane coming, get out of the way. If you don’t have a car, put some food in a backpack and WALK. I can understand the sick and the elderly having to stay behind, but the able-bodied adults had no excuse to be there when the hurricane hit.

Right. That’s generally been my response to the hurricanes that I’ve experienced. Especially those enough to swallow an entire region of a continent-sized nation. I hit the road with my backpack – head toward the sunny and warm. Last time I walked to Arizona, another, Oregon. You idiot…

And I love the expert on the US political scene who had to look up Zell Miller’s RNC speech because he wasn’t familiar with it.

NB: when all else fails, when the fight against reality is truly lost, notice how they take refuge under the Bell Curve. Just endemic stupidity. Robbery and rape and our favorite – laziness. (Don’t understand why they don’t work harder afterall I’ve given them a hovel and corn husks and Jesus and beautiful half-white babies…) And what follows is survival of the fittest. Eugenics. Which is pretty much, entre les lignes, where we are today, no?

Believe me, if you’d spend some time in the US university system, at its highest end, at it’s middle, you’d start to understand a little something about class mobility. And if you’d spent a little time in a rust belt US city, like the one where I currently live, you’d understand something about apartheid racial barriers.

It was a good post, a really good post, Maria… What’s come after is braindamaging…

77

bob mcmanus 09.04.05 at 10:35 pm

I also want to thank Maria for this post. Quite honestly, she is what is best in this country.

78

jet 09.04.05 at 10:40 pm

otto,
If you don’t think militarism and democracy are closely linked, perhaps you should read some philosophy. Starting with the ancients, everyone who thought any form of democracy good, also thought a strong citizen-military a good thing. And as for #70, I think it was Thucydides who said that first in not so many words.

79

Crystal 09.04.05 at 10:42 pm

Many of the able-bodied adults were staying behind to take care of the sick and the elderly and the young—but I guess you’d’ve been outta there quick.

Yes, David, exactly. What should the able-bodied who had kids or elderly relatives have done – “Sorry, Grandma, sucks to be you, but I’m outta here. Hope you have a snorkel handy.” Leaving questions of whether many of the able-bodied could have afforded or obtained bus fare and hotel lodgings, those who stayed with dependent relatives rather than save their own skins were showing what Republicans always wish people would have more of. You know, “family values.”

Now I wonder how many of those who say “they could have left, but didn’t” would abandon family members who couldn’t flee?

I find Maria’s post thought-provoking, though her praise of frugality and austerity (orange juice as a very special treat, etc.) strikes me as more of a red herring than anything else. I don’t think frugality is really the issue here – what I see as the real issue is that there are uncomfortable race and class divisions in the US that have been revealed to us by Katrina and the ensuing coverage. While one may rightly claim that one doesn’t have to be the son/daughter of a doctor in order to become one, and many people put themselves through college and attain greater success than their parents, I would wager that the *very* poor people we saw waiting for rescue thought that completing high school was a pipe dream, let alone college. It’s these very poor people who are invisible to many of us until they appear on the news in the wake of a disaster like Katrina.

80

jet 09.04.05 at 11:06 pm

Something that seems incredible to me as an american is that once everyone realized that the cops couldn’t make the city safe for relief workers, why did it take so long to get soldiers in there? If on Thursday the cops were being outgunned, why wasn’t one of those 82nd airborne units put in place on Friday? And why was the Superdome abonded to secure the convention center? Both couldn’t be secured at the same time? On Thursday when FEMA finally heard about the convetion center and they learned about the raped and murdered children, the beatings, the killings, the horror, why weren’t marines inserted within one hour? WTF, we’re the fucking US of FUCKING A and we left citizens at the mercy of criminals for days IN A US CITY? I can’t stop thinking about the 7 year old child found raped to death in a convention center freezer. How could this happen?

81

CR 09.04.05 at 11:07 pm

Crystal,

The orange juice point is not a red herring, not at all… Maria’s targetting the automatic assumption that big public section = high taxes = sclerosis = lower standard of living. Walmartian “efficiency” brings the bread and circuses to Americans.. And yes the DVD players are very cheap… But in the end, there are higher costs across the board…

One place we find this is Katrina’s exposure of a more than moth-eaten public sector on the federal and especially the state level (southern US states barely have any government at all…) is one horrendous window onto all this…

More banally:

My gas, despite supply shortages, is still a buck or so cheaper per gallon than eurogas. But I just paid $6000 for 3 months of health insurance to cover me and my family while I change jobs… That’s a lot of walmart OJ…

So perhaps euros grow up envying big cars and OJ and 1000 tv stations. But increasingly, Americans like me are reaching adulthood envious of socialized medicine and public transport, lower social inequality (selfishly, yes = lower crime rates), cheaper or free higher education…

82

Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.04.05 at 11:08 pm

the very poor people we saw waiting for rescue thought that completing high school was a pipe dream

I’ve dealt with a lot of very poor people. Any other posters here grow up in trailer parks? Handle pro bono divorces for the indigent? Spend time at rape crisis centers or indigent care children’s medical centers?

If you have, then you know that it isn’t a pipe dream and that people, if they have role models (a huge *if*), have a great deal of range, assuming they don’t try to move more than two class bands at any one step.

Class in America is a strong issue and one not generally understood, even by people who explore it (visit http://mthollywood.blogspot.com/ for example, he is chronicling class issues as much as anything else).

But, there are many people who care, many who give a great deal of their time and money, and there is a great deal of change available. Had a marxist roommate when I was finishing my my bachelors. He is a doctor now. Only member of his family to graduate grade school as far as I know, definitely the only one to graduate high school. He returned to the barrio, true to his heart.

Non-white, non-rich, the poorest of the poor. Half the guys in the house were illegals, though he wasn’t. Most of them were making huge strides.

One doesn’t start much poorer than my roommates then.

But they had community, role models and were able to gain traction.

83

Thomas 09.04.05 at 11:17 pm

soubz–I’m sorry, I think you mistook my posts for Maria’s, or Keith’s, or…

No, it’s pretty clear that the lack of a cogent position isn’t enough. I mean, Maria’s post still sits here at the top, despite being pretty well eviscerated (see posts # 15 and 27).

And the use of “playground” language, well, it’s all over this place. Only some uses are apparently offensive.

Ad hominem attacks? Isn’t Maria’s post an attack on those who disagree with her politically, blaming them–me, included–for the deaths we’ve all seen? I mean, I say Maria doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about, and I’m a troll. Maria says, with a supreme lack of humility, that I’m a murderer, and that’s civil dialogue.

Whatever.

84

Crystal 09.04.05 at 11:24 pm

The orange juice point is not a red herring, not at all… Maria’s targetting the automatic assumption that big public section = high taxes = sclerosis = lower standard of living.

That I won’t argue with. The problem I had with this, and in an otherwise excellent post, was that Maria’s recounting of how orange juice and central heat were a luxury smacked of “Uphill! Through the snow! Both ways!” kids-these-days-are-decadent finger-wagging.

I doubt I’d be willing to consider orange juice a once-a-year treat (though the US does have a domestic citrus crop), and I hate the thought of shivering bundled up in sweaters. Austerity is no fun. But honestly, I’m sure I *would* be willing to pay more for commodities, fuel and even (gasp)! higher taxes if it meant strengthening the public sector. Maria refers to kids getting around via bus or foot – I’d like to see a kid here in the US, outside of New York, San Francisco or other major cities, try that. Many suburbs don’t have sidewalks, and don’t even get me started on busses. So in order for kids to get around, they have to have cars because Mom and Dad are too busy to drive them. And so there’s no investment in public transportation because “everyone drives anyway.” You can see the vicious circle here.

85

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 11:35 pm

thomas: You seem to have read Maria’s post very differently than I did.

I have to say I think her post was perhaps timed badly, but the point about the difference between the `collective view’ America takes of itself (in so much as that makes sense) and the reality is at least sensible to talk about. Of course these myths were never real, and I know that some people hold a very simplistic version of them to be literally true. Events like this weeks tend to show how short of these ideals we can sometimes fall. That isn’t a blanket condemnation of the ideals, of course.

She didn’t call you personally a murderer. She did level some fair condemnation of behaviour we have all seen this week. And collectively America does bear responsiblity for the conditions (I mean that in a very broad sense) that made this possible.

As for why your posts were scrambled, at the time I remember thinking your language was over the top, so it wasn’t about ideas. I’ll not take the time at the moment to reconstruct your post, though.

86

CR 09.04.05 at 11:35 pm

Stephen,

No one would deny that there are occassions when some in the US participate in “class mobility.”

But something that I do know, not having grown up in a trailer park – in fact having had multiple paths to success gilded and then repolished for me throughout my childhood – is how absolutely f’n easy it is to make it when your parents have the right amount of money.

Here’s the problem: you’re right, given the right roll of the dice and an enormous amount of personal initiative, a young man or (less likely) woman from the barrio or the trailer park might become a doctor or a lawyer in the US. It happens… sometimes… yes.

But for any fuckwit whose parents can fork over, say $20 K per annum for their high school education – well the world is his or (perhaps) her oyster. Absolutely. Seen this from the inside. Good high school + 4 years of inattention and alcoholism at a private university = a career in finance = crazy ass money and influence…

As a recent veteran of a year of teaching ivy league first year writing classes, let me just tell you that the best and the brightest in this country have an a stunning propensity for visiting their parents’ Aspen ranch or “mom’s place in Paris” during spring break… Thems just the facts… Were there others in my classroom? Sure… a few, a couple… But the ultra-rich sure do breed them smart (funny how their papers didn’t show it…)

My quick guess as to the demographics of my classrooms: Ultra-rich 15%, quite affluent 65%, upper middle class 10%, hard up 10%.

At issue isn’t the exception but the norm, right? The Big If vs. the Utterly Automatic…

87

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 11:38 pm

jet, re #81

Very true. It is astounding that with the sorts of resources available, nothing was done for days.

Not as astounding as the fact that people were left to die of thirst, but astounding.

What a mess.

88

Russell L. Carter 09.04.05 at 11:38 pm

“Maria refers to kids getting around via bus or foot – I’d like to see a kid here in the US, outside of New York, San Francisco or other major cities, try that.”

Mine does. No sidewalks, it’s true. The 12 yo uses a bike. The elevation delta is 750′ in 1.6 miles. Obesity is not a problem. Nor are academic grades. Try it, you might find it… edifying.

Here is the town: http://www.cityofprescott.net/

It’s quite civilized. We have the internet, for instance.

89

Sebastian Holsclaw 09.04.05 at 11:48 pm

brandon: re #54. Your list betrays an attitude that is insidious in part because it sounds reasonable. Your list is superficially true, but your `simple rules’ aren’t. Any serious study of endemic poverty will tell you this.

I’m not brandon, but neither do I understand your criticism. His simple rules for avoiding life-long poverty are correty–any serious study of endemic poverty is far more likely to tell you that it is tough for people to follow those rules than to say that they are functionally incorrect. Don’t you think?

90

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 11:48 pm

CR hits on a key point about mobility in #87.

If you start off in the wrong place, it isn’t enough if you are smart, dedicated, and work your guts out. You also have to get the breaks.

On the other side of the fence, if you are the child of the upper middle class or higher, it is really really hard for you to screw up badly enough to not make out ok.

The existence of impoverished children who become million-a-year radiologists, or former debutantes who die unwashed junkies has nothing to say about the likelihood of these paths.

91

soubzriquet 09.04.05 at 11:50 pm

sebastion, brandon: re #54 andd #90

mea culpa. There is even a preview, but my statement should have read “your `simple rules’ aren’t easy.”

92

ttop 09.04.05 at 11:54 pm

More than likely, we will find out that there were good reasons why the military and National Guard forces took so long to deploy to NOL. It’s not like we have ready reserves waiting at our beckon call.

They are kind of stretched to say the least with Iraq. How long would it take for a call up and mobilization? Probably about 3-4 days.

93

Bob B 09.04.05 at 11:59 pm

I was enlightened to read the account in the Army Times of how the commander of the National Guard in Louisiana regarded its role:

“Combat operations are underway on the streets ‘to take this city back’ in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“‘This place is going to look like Little Somalia,’ Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force told Army Times Friday as hundreds of armed troops under his charge prepared to launch a massive citywide security mission from a staging area outside the Louisiana Superdome. ‘We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.’ . . “
http://www.armytimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-1077495.php

What ever happened to Compassionate Conservatism?

94

soubzriquet 09.05.05 at 12:00 am

Sebastian, Brandon: re #54, #90

mea culpa.

my statement should have read “…your `simple rules’ aren’t easy”

And there is even a preview. Sigh.

Of course Sebastian has the right of it. Where Brandons rules are simple to state, if perhaps incomplete, they say nothing as to why this is difficult to do.

I’m not suggesting that Brandon is so simplistic as to believe that all a poor person need do is wake up one morning deciding to follow his list and all will be ok. I was merely pointing out that this list captures essentially nothing of what is difficult about endemic poverty.

95

Peter 09.05.05 at 12:09 am

Excellent post, Maria. Don’t be bothered by the nasty right-wing comments. I see nothing smug or self-righteous in what you wrote.

The point is not that Katrina shows that most Americans are personally bigots or insensitive to poor- quite the opposite, as anybody who’s witnessed the outpuring the relief efforts the past week can see. Rather, the point is how grimly Katrina exposes the contours of racial and economic inequality in the United States.

96

nick 09.05.05 at 1:19 am

One of the pundits seemingly most knocked askew by Katrina was David ‘Bobo’ Brooks. Perhaps that’s because he’s specialised in the kind of trivial faux-social commentary that bifurcates America into white folks who drive SUVs and pickups and live in the Oklahoma exurbs, and white folks who drive Priuses and live in the Massachusetts suburbs.

It’s a bit like taking Jane Austen on a tour of a cotton mill in Oldham.

97

cm 09.05.05 at 1:22 am

#58, and others: Differences in gas taxes are one thing, but don’t forget that the US prints the US dollar, which is the currency used to purchase oil, and which it exports by receiving goods & services from others and paying in it.

I.e. to some extent most everybody has to trade actual goods for their imports, whereas the US gets to trade paper, or rather symbols on banks’ computer disks.

98

nick 09.05.05 at 1:26 am

Jesus, I’d like to see just how much difference all that public virtue and non-selfishness would make if a Category 4 hurricane hit Ireland.

As John Mitchel wrote, ‘The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight but the English created the famine.’ You may well be aware of this occurrence. After all, it did create quite a few Americans.

99

Javier 09.05.05 at 1:32 am

Huh, I read over the whole post and you don’t put forward a shred of evidence to back any of the claims you advance, Maria. With the exception of:

Even the Economist grudgingly admits that social mobility is higher in Germany (Germany!) than it is in the US.

Could you provide a reference? And please, just because the Economist says something don’t make it true. The statistics on income mobility (is that we we’re talking about here?) are often misleading. Gary Solon of the University of Michigan, one of the guys who’s work motivated the NYT articles on income stratification a few months ago, says this about the evidence on income mobility: “our estimates are still too imprecise to rule out modest trends in either direction” and Solon suspects the data were distorted. Levine and Mazumder, two other researchers of income mobility, describe their most recent results as merely “suggestive.”

And one problem with almost all studies on income mobility is that they exclude immigrants. That is, they fail to factor in the prior incomes of immigrants before coming to the United States. Thus, it could be the case that even if some studies show that the is less mobile than Germany, once we account for the fact that the United States takes in more low-income immigrants, the United States actually promotes global income mobility to a greater extent than Germany. I’m not saying that this is what a closer examination would reveal, but only that it’s a possibility.

So unless I see some hard evidence to the contrary, I’m not willing to condemn the United States just yet.

And frankly, I find it highly doubtful the the 30 percent difference in GDP per capita between the US and Germany, France, and other European countries is all reducible to cheap oil prices.

100

mythago 09.05.05 at 1:35 am

and most of white America is not very poor

Most of poor America is white, however.

Maria, I understand what you were trying to say, but some of your observations about what Americans supposedly do (different from you Irish) are, well, let’s say that you are fulfilling the stereotype that Europeans think all of America is just like Beverly Hills.

We, too, put on an extra sweater in the winter and don’t always have air conditioning, much less central air. All-you-can-eat buffets are generally in cheaper restaurants, not expensive ones; it’s a low-cost way to eat out. Teenagers here rely on their parents, the bus, or friends who do have cars (legit or otherwise) to get around, and they don’t all have jobs–do you have expensive car insurance in Ireland, too?

Sorry, just always baffled as to how Europeans think we all have swimming pools and Porsches, just like on TV.

101

Dan Simon 09.05.05 at 2:08 am

we’re the f[***]ing US of F[***]ING A and we left citizens at the mercy of criminals for days IN A US CITY?

In most large US cities, there is at least one large section of town where this is done pretty much continuously. From the mid-sixties until the mid-nineties or so, that large section covered most of each city.

Again, I’m delighted that expectations of urban crime control have improved so much over the last ten years–but still, a bit of historical perspective is in order.

102

Dan Simon 09.05.05 at 2:17 am

Praise of the soldier as an instrument of social order = militarism. Try and find anything remotely similar in any other contemporary democracy. However, it was common enough in interwar Europe.

In your response, eager as you are to find differences (and only addressing 1 of 6 similarities I mentioned), you left out the fact that in the contemporary US, people rarely speak German…

That’s true–they rarely do. Ever stop to consider why?

(Okay, okay–it was a cheap shot. But irresistible, under the circumstances.)

103

anon 09.05.05 at 3:13 am

I agree that there is racial and economic inequality in the U.S. I just don’t think Maria has done a very good job of analyzing it.

How is the relative abundance of orange juice, central heating, and cars reflective of racial and economic inequality? Oranges grow here. In new, well insulated construction it is cheap to build central heating and relatively efficient to run it, depending on the temperature it is set at, compared to space heating in old construction. Ireland occupies 68890 sq km (26598 sq miles), roughly half the size of New York state (47,831 sq miles). Ireland’s population is around 4 million people, compared to New York state’s 19,190,115. Ireland, whose southern border is at 51 degrees, about the same latitude as the southern edge of Hudson Bay, compares with the northern edge of the US at 48 degrees. Maria’s lifestyle comparisons to California aren’t very relevant.

Next, she asserts that the U.S. lifestyle is highly dependent on cheap oil. Well, that might or might not be true, but I don’t see how it explains anything about racial or economic inequality, especially with respect to New Orleans. One of the reasons for the tragedy there is that it has the highest rate of public transit use in the U.S., more than NYC, which has allowed its very poor population to be without cars yet still get to their jobs. Of course that is one important reason they suffered in the hurricane. The evacuation presumed the use of cars.

It is more explanatory to consider that the persons making the plans for the evacuation were themselves either not New Orleans residents or were privileged New Orleans residents who owned cars (thus not realizing the degree to which there were people without cars who would have difficulty evacuating. This may indicate a racial bias or classism that devalued the poor. I think it is more likely that the evacuation planners simply had a failure of empathy. Because they themselves had cars and were dependent on cars, they simply couldn’t imagine the plight of someone who didn’t own one. (We all fail at empathy from time to time — Maria can’t empathize with the life of Americans living in spread-out low population density communities where transportation to work, shopping and school is by car.)

Similarly, it was extra bad luck that the hurricane fell at the very end of the month, when the poor living from paycheck to paycheck couldn’t come up with an extra few dollars to buy a bus ticket out (assuming they tried to leave before the Grayhound bus station closed early Saturday.) Remember that the Superdome was supposed to be for persons with “special needs” and city buses ran during Saturday and Sunday to bring people to the Superdome. But the crowd was too large. By then it was too late to change plans and haul people out of the hurricane’s way.

None of this insensitivity in arranging the evacuation is explanatory regarding what happened once the hurricane struck. The situation that existed after Katrina had exactly nothing to do with cheap oil and everything to do with incompetent execution of the rescue effort, not to mention the incompetent mitigation of the flooding threat in the prior years. It is exactly “cheap oil” that has been endangered by the result of the flooding.

The rescue effort did expose large doses of racism in the coverage: how the “looting” and “violence” was framed, the treatment of persons trapped in NO by some officials, and the reception given to the refugees in various but by no means all localities asked to receive them when they were finally rescued. Disentangling how much was racism and how much was due to the media hyperventilation about violence isn’t straightforward. And there was real violence occuring.

In sum I believe the situation in NO came about largely through incompetence, stupidity, and evasion of responsibility shown by FEMA, DHS and ultimately Bush in preparing for and then dealing with the aftermath of Katrina, but was exacerbated (especially in the case of the evacuation) by a professional/managerial class that had a total failure of imagination in grasping how an evacuation would play out in the real lives of the poor. Racism just ratcheted up the ugliness and misery. But American myths of social mobility and reliance on cheap oil are totally irrelevent.

104

Doug 09.05.05 at 3:24 am

Re #54 by brandon berg, 6. If there’s a category 5 hurricane coming, get out of the way. If you don’t have a car, put some food in a backpack and WALK. I can understand the sick and the elderly having to stay behind, but the able-bodied adults had no excuse to be there when the hurricane hit.

This is just laughably stupid. How far can an untrained but able-bodied adult walk in a day in good conditions? Twenty miles? That’s being generous and assuming that very little is being carried.

Twenty miles north of New Orleans puts you smack in the middle of Lake Ponchartrain. Twenty miles east doesn’t get you to Slidell; it probably leaves you in the middle of a highway bridge. Twenty miles northwest definitely leaves you in the middle of a highway bridge over the lake. Twenty miles west puts you in the middle of a swamp.

Any direction out of New Orleans involves passing over highway bridges, none of which are open to foot traffic.

brandon berg’s advice is a recipe for death on an even greater scale than we have seen it in reality. It’s a wacko fantasy that deserves scorn and mockery.

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bad Jim 09.05.05 at 4:17 am

There is something particularly precious about the moment when a a rightist runs into the wall of cognitive dissonance and envisions America as the wealthiest third world country:

WTF, we’re the fucking US of FUCKING A and we left citizens at the mercy of criminals for days IN A US CITY?

The implicit racism is left on the table as lagniappe.

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Vishal Mehra 09.05.05 at 4:23 am

The price of oil is same in all countries. USA does not run on cheap oil any more than UK. The only difference is the tax that the govt charges on oil.
That changes the character of the economy and the various incentives but the overall Americans pay the same for oil as anybody else.

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bad Jim 09.05.05 at 5:20 am

Two jokes:

1. If we don’t rebuild New Orleans, God has won.

2. So, while New Orleans flooded, the president went to Arizona to raise money and share birthday cake with John McCain, and went the next day to San Diego for an anniversary speech promoting war and a photo-op where he could strum a guitar like any other fake cowboy hero. The vice president remained at his ranch in Wyoming, the secretary of state shopped for shoes in Manhattan, saw a Broadway show and worked on her tennis, and Homeland Security devoted its attention to thwarting recovery efforts. (Repeat ad libitum.)

What do you call this show?

“The Aristocrats!”

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abb1 09.05.05 at 5:47 am

Garrison Keillor addresses the ‘aristocracy’ angle here: The New Economy. He addressed it, in fact, before the deluge.

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Danila 09.05.05 at 6:16 am

The complicated set of myths is just amazing. You can’t help, but look in awe to the propagandists who designed it. In reality this “war of all against all in America” has been going on an on there (and in Europe as well, although to a lesser degree) for the last century. It’s called class struggle or class warfare (with a tint of race warfare in the US).

Not much has changed essentially in the social structures of the West, except that by exploiting third world countries the West can now give some handouts to its poor, to its working class. But the well-being of an American or an Irish worker is paid for by the toil of his Chinese or Chilean counterpart, who makes cheap DVD players or extracts cheap copper.

Sadly, the only sensible alternative is not discussed because of the success of the American propagandists. Socialism or communism solves all the problems discussed in this post by virtue of giving control over the society and the economy to the workers. It eliminates much of the inequality, provides for all basic needs, creates real opportunities for personal development (with free education, support of the culture, etc.) and doesn’t rely on exploitation (whether at home or abroad). But sadly, anyone who brings this up inevitable gets incoherent “But Stalin killed 1000 zillion people, ate small children and stomped on little kittens! How can you defend communism?” and so the debate ends…

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a 09.05.05 at 6:44 am

Anyone who is truly surprised by the after-effects of the hurricane and have had it change, in any significant way, their view of America, is an idiot. Just as the breaking of the levees could have been foreseen as a reasonable possibility, so too was the inability or unwillingness to do anything about it.

Since I don’t think Maria is an idiot, I presume that implies her post is mostly rhetocial posturing.

A also presume Maria does not read CT, because any reasonable person who had, would have noticed the discussion on the French heat-wave deaths a few days back, and at least felt compelled to try to explain what the heat wave in France and all those deaths from a natural disaster (in Europe! with all those high petrol taxes!) fit in.

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bad Jim 09.05.05 at 6:55 am

On present evidence, God has won.

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Bob B 09.05.05 at 7:32 am

“overall Americans pay the same for oil as anybody else”

True enough but the taxes on oil in Europe make a huge difference to the amount of oil consumed.

In this, the [US] DOE estimated US oil consumption in 2004 at 20.7 million barrels a day and World oil consumption at 82.5 mbd. http://www.eia.doe.gov/mer/pdf/pages/sec11_7.pdf

The US alone therefore accounts for almost a quarter of the World’s daily consumption of oil.

The dependence of the US on oil imports certainly concerns Martin Feldstein, a previous chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for a Republican administration:

“[US] dependence on imported oil was still 42 percent of . . consumption in 1980 and has risen to 52 percent in 2000. . . There is substantial room to achieve . . reductions since the consumption of oil per dollar of GDP is now more than 40 percent higher in the United States than it is in Germany and France.”
http://www.nber.org/feldstein/oil.html

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a 09.05.05 at 7:37 am

The group [of British citizens in the Superdome] had called the British embassy in Washington from a mobile phone, Mr Trout added.

But embassy staff had told them to contact the British consulate in New Orleans

When they had pointed out it was “15ft under water”, the embassy staff had simply repeated they should contact the consulate, Mr Trout told BBC News.

“That was obviously very difficult to take.”

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MFB 09.05.05 at 7:48 am

The thing about Maria’s post is that the myth of the United States as an essentially benevolent society dies quite hard. Many people in the Third World believe it, just as peasants in pre-Revolutionary France believed that the King would help them if he only knew of her plight. Realising that the United States government won’t even help its own people, let alone the rest of us, has a way of concentrating attention, and if Crooked Timberites are better-informed about U.S. conduct than Third Worldites, good for you, but don’t forget that the rest of us outnumber you by a sizeable margin.

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abb1 09.05.05 at 7:59 am

Well, no, not any more, Mfb; see my comment above. I think it’s a consequence of the 2004 election.

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jessup1897 09.05.05 at 8:39 am

Just on Maria’s comments on Irish public transport. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone put forward the social benefits of standing in the rain for prolonged periods of time only to end up squashed into the face of a foul smelling hominid where it is all you can do not to make eye contact with it. It’s not true that giving over your personal space to urine drenched individuals is a social lubricant, although it makes it more difficult to live in a mythic society where everyone is middleclass (by mythic I mean feckin’ well dystopic).
When’s the last time Maria stood in the pissin rain on O’Connell Street waiting for a bus for an hour with about three hundred other individuals willing you on to fall off the path and into the traffic lessening by one the competition for the imagined seat awaiting them?
The concern over old people through this thread also relates to Irish public transport; it is (or at least was when I was a kid) common for us to try to reduce the crowds waiting for buses or trains by hopping 10p coins of the heads of the elder folk waiting on the front of the line. Cruel but effective. Also there’s no sense of satisfaction like the one found in elbowing grannies off moving buses, watching their little crinkly faces startle with fear as they fall under the wheel of a passing Massey Ferguson tractor.
As for the orange juice issue, I’ve never met anyone who could only drink orange juice once a year. Perhaps it was for digestive reasons rather than financial ones Maria, that juice is awfully acidic you know, rough on the old belly, give you the scuts like the lord himself.

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nick 09.05.05 at 8:42 am

USA does not run on cheap oil any more than UK. The only difference is the tax that the govt charges on oil.

Obviously, the recent $268bn federal transportation bill plays no part at all. The oil itself may cost the same per barrel, but its place in the US economy is rather, um, lubricated by general taxation.

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Javier 09.05.05 at 8:47 am

The thing about Maria’s post is that the myth of the United States as an essentially benevolent society dies quite hard.

Who counts as a benevolent society? Sweden and Norway–and that’s it? And who ever believed that the US was some perfect dream-land that can do no wrong? I’m with some other posters here in that the local and federal government screwed up big time with NO, but how that translates into a sweeping indictment of American society is beyond me.

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Peter 09.05.05 at 9:34 am

Having spent a decade of my life working with and for American companies, I think the most important myth which Katrina explodes is that Americans know how to get things done. They don’t, although the belief in American exceptionalism is so strong, that most think they do know.

The example that always was quoted at me when I was working with US companies was “We put a man on the moon.” To which the answer is: “It took 11 Apollo missions, and some fatalities, for this to happen.”

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Peter H 09.05.05 at 9:52 am

Who counts as a benevolent society? Sweden and Norway—and that’s it? And who ever believed that the US was some perfect dream-land that can do no wrong? I’m with some other posters here in that the local and federal government screwed up big time with NO, but how that translates into a sweeping indictment of American society is beyond me.

I think it’s the fact that the people most vulnerable and left behind were largely poor and black.

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Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.05.05 at 10:15 am

Socialism or communism solves all the problems discussed in this post by virtue of giving control over the society and the economy to the workers. It eliminates much of the inequality, provides for all basic needs, creates real opportunities for personal development and creates countries like Tanzania.

At least the schoolteacher dictator of that country recently had the intelligence to admit that socialism was a terrible mistake.

Though compare to Tito’s Yugoslavia where the methods actually worked. More too it than just Joe Stalin, obviously, and people are still thinking about those differences.

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Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.05.05 at 10:32 am

Arghh, a typo or two (or too or to) … sigh.

Anyway:

the myth that the US is a generous and free country where anyone can achieve almost anything

Three things.

Is the U.S. a generous country?

Is the U.S. a free country?

Can anyone achieve almost anything?

As to achievement, the issue is “can” vs. “without significant effort, merely by standing around as some people manage.” The most important factor seems to be role models, and things such as VISTA.

Which happens only out of the generous social efforts by individuals.

As for free, I’ve a number of published civil rights opinions (where I was the attorney) and I’d say that things are free, compared to other places, especially socialist ones.

Those three “myths” are still pretty much true. It is why you see cities and individuals involved in disaster relief, why even churches without significant membership in the afflicted areas have been moving supplies (including sat phones) into the areas (and leaving the phones behind as they bobtail out for more loads).

Is America perfect? Not hardly. As Dieter Uchtdorf recently said, “the United States, he added, could also learn how to be more supportive and how to reduce its egoism” — that is true.

But, I do not agree that the myths are verifiably false. Sure, some people have it “too” easy (whatever that means) because we don’t confiscate everything their parents have, that’s the price we pay for not becoming Tanzania, which is more literate than the U.S. and more mannerly, and a lot thinner.

And, the economic impact of tax choices is an interesting thread, and worth some thought.

Yet, people do work their way up. Even LBJ (I should note that the Texas legislature is part time and meets one summer, every other year — even now).

Anyway, wish you further thought. Much of what gets posted here is worth reading (which is why I linked to a post here from my blog as suggested reading for information), but other things are more off the cuff disclosures of attitude than reality.

My comments included.

And, hey, if you are moderating posts now, please clean up my typos for me. Thanks.

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SqueakyRat 09.05.05 at 10:58 am

It’s just that while in theory anyone can be a doctor or president, the reality is that you really only have a chance if your father was one too.

I’m afraid your critics have got you on this one, Maria — becoming a political tool of the rich really does remain a career open to talent in America.

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Javier 09.05.05 at 11:15 am

I think it’s the fact that the people most vulnerable and left behind were largely poor and black.

Yes, the government did mess up the evacuation and should have paid more attention to evacuating the poor. Granted. While this may be symbolic of a larger problem, one specific event doesn’t necessarily undermine the moral standing of an entire society. Perhaps the larger problem, which this specific government action is symbolic of (i.e. lack of concern for the poor), does undermine that standing. But Maria failed to provide much evidence that this is the case or suggest any way of fixing it.

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Sally 09.05.05 at 11:26 am

This may be really obvious or wrong, but I’d like to suggest that maybe Maria’s disillusionment is a specifically Irish, rather than European, experience, and that it tells us a lot more about Ireland than about America or Europe. I suspect that the myth of American opportunity thrived in Ireland because it suited the needs of the society and the people in charge. The most glaring effect of Ireland’s poverty in the ’80s (which, by the way, was not caused by high gas prices) wasn’t lack of orange juice or central heating. It was mass emigration. Since the 1850s, Irish people have known that they were raising their children for export; Irish children have grown up knowing that they would probably have to leave. It’s not surprising that people bought into the comforting idea that many young Irish people would be going to a place with unlimited opportunities, because the alternative would have been too depressing. Also, actual experience probably backed up that claim: while there isn’t unlimited opportunity in America, Irish-Americans fall on the right side of the racial divide, and they’ve generally done pretty well. They may not have looked rich by American standards, but they probably seemed pretty well off to their relatives back in Ireland. They were probably better off than Irish people who emigrated to Britain, too, which is not necessarily a reflection on the overall relative differences in opportunity between America and the UK.

Since the ’80s, Irish society has undergone a revolutionary change. It’s no longer necessary for most middle-class young people to leave to find a job. I suspect there’s a lot more orange juice in people’s homes. There are certainly a lot more cars, and a lot more traffic, and a lot more people moving to the far suburbs and driving upwards of an hour into work every day. There are a lot more fancy boutiques, and a lot more people in expensive clothes. There are massively more immigrants, and a lot more overt racism. I haven’t seen the data, but there seems to me to be a lot more inequality, because while everyone is better off, well-off people are benefiting disproportionately. There’s a general perception, which may or may not be right, that Irish people have become materialistic and individualistic and that they’re losing some of the strong social bonds that helped them cope when things were much more difficult.

When middle-class Irish people look at America now, they don’t see a place where they or their children might end up and that they hope will provide opportunity and welcome. They see a nightmare vision of what a prosperous Ireland might become. I don’t want to psychoanalyze Maria, which would be unfair, but I think that a lot of Irish people use America to make sense of some of their own anxieties about the social costs of unequal prosperity.

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Jimmy Mac 09.05.05 at 12:04 pm

As I watch the Prez deplaning (Dechopping?) Marine 1 and witness the photo op of our Commander and Chief marshalling his Army of Compassion, I feel secure in the knowledge that he is at the helm and grateful for his leadership.

Granted this is a radical departure from an administration whose strident laisser faire policies have spawned rape, pillage, and murder, the rule of the strongest, survival of the fittest and sociological genocide.

We’ll his buddy Pat Robertson has provided absolution for our Prez says its God’s retribution. God’s verdict is in. And for the jazzers livin in NOLA there are too many homos, welfare cheats and drug addicts.

The wages of sin is death. This is just compensation for the jazz life.

Its also a Republican solace and a democrats damnation.

God help us.

Bread and Roses

Amen

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asg 09.05.05 at 12:10 pm

Praise of the soldier as an instrument of social order = militarism.

“[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilised,
are there to guard and feed them.” — that noted militarist, George Orwell.

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BigMacAttack 09.05.05 at 12:23 pm

WOW! Disgusting. The absolue worst. Not even worth the time. Just a puddle of vomitted prejudices. Ignorant triuphalism over thousands of dead bodies cynical cast as concern.

Can you imagine CT’ reaction,if something like this had happened in France,and the idiots at Town Hall had churned out some garbage about that is what socialism produces?

Humilating for Marie and her defenders. Absolutley.

The bits about cheap oil and racism were particularily funny.

Just real quick a little about the oil bunk –

If the taxes European countries collect on oil go down some black hole and this in large part explains how even poor Americans can earn enough to purchase an astounding amount of luxury goods, that is damning indictment of European Socialism.

Of course like Marie’s post that is just garbage. The taxes don’t just go down some black hole.

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abb1 09.05.05 at 12:48 pm

Asg, maybe you need to read the whole thing.

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Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.05.05 at 12:56 pm

abb1

Thanks, I had not read that essay before.

But because he identifies himself with the official class, he does
possess one thing which ‘enlightened’ people seldom or never possess, and
that is a sense of responsibility. The middle-class Left hate him for
this quite as much as for his cruelty and vulgarity. All left-wing
parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham,
because they make it their business to fight against something which they
do not really wish to destroy.

Seems a bit harsh, though.

131

abb1 09.05.05 at 1:07 pm

Seems right on the money.

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asg 09.05.05 at 1:19 pm

abb1,

Thanks for the link. I had not read that bit of Orwell in context before. Reading it in context, however, does nothing to weaken the contention that the quote is militaristic in the ridiculously broad sense in which otto defined that term, since Orwell appears to be saying that it is something Kipling is right about, even if he is wrong or narrow-minded about other things.

Interestingly, it also appears to be the source of the oft-misquoted and oft-mangled bit: “It would be difficult to hit off the one-eyed pacifism of the English in fewer words than in the phrase, ‘making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep’.” (This is usually attributed to Orwell himself, with different wording.) Orwell clearly approves of this sentiment, calling it a “telling phrase.”

Anyway, while there is nothing I like better than to talk about Orwell, one of the finest prose writers in the English language, this is off topic and I’ll cease posting about it. I just couldn’t let otto’s silliness go by without any comment.

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Peter H 09.05.05 at 1:22 pm

Javier, I wasn’t even thinking about the evacuation and rescue efforts — there are some who have suggested racism in that aspect, but that wasn’t my point. Rather, it’s the fact that it was the poor, black neighborhoods were the most vulnerable to the hurricane to begin with; that whites were far more likely than African-Americans to have the means to evacuate(not to mention the trust in government officials to go along with their orders); and the social breakdown in the aftermath of Katrina.

I don’t think what I’m saying is particularly radical — it’s not exactly controversial that our urban centers are highly stratified along racial lines. Of course, liberals, conservatives, and radicals argue about the causes of this stratification, but it is a fact.

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abb1 09.05.05 at 1:40 pm

I don’t think he’s saying that Kiping is right about anything here. All he’s saying is that Kiping is good at expressing the point of view of the ruling class, that’s all.

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Tim 09.05.05 at 3:04 pm

Excuse me if I digress into lecture mode, but many of the critiques of Maria’s essay have to do with her claims about mobility. This happens to be an area of research with which I’m familiar.

First, you have to distinguish between structural mobility and social fluidity. Structural mobility includes the upward mobility that occurs because there are more jobs being created “at the top” than at the bottom between the time when a parent gets his or her job and when a child gets his or her job. Or, if you prefer, it’s mobility that doesn’t purge out the marginal effects. Social fluidity, on the other hand, refers to the advantage that a person born into a privileged position has in getting the top spots relative to a person born into a less advantaged position. Or, if you prefer, social fluidity is measured with log odds, which are purged of marginal effects.

With me still? The US has higher structural mobility than other advanced industrialized countries. This is mostly because, at least throughout much of the 20th century, the US gained professional and managerial positions at a faster pace than other advanced industrialized nations. There were more open slots created in the upper classes than children of the upper classes could fill. HOWEVER, the US has roughly equivalent rates of social fluidity as other industrialized nations (and, curiously, lower rates than Germany). Moreover, there is no clear pattern of trend in social fluidity — the US is not becoming a “more open” society, at least if you define openness as equal chances of ending up in the top slots no matter your social class background.

Note, too, that these comparisons are of rates of mobility and average odds. In each country there will be rags-to-riches stories, just like there will be riches-to-rags stories (though in the US we’re far less likely to read about the latter). No known society is perfectly open or perfectly closed. Does this mean the US is a land of opportunity? IMO, that’s a meaningless question without specifying the yardstick or comparison group. Even the answer to the “is the US an exceptional land of opportunity?” question depends on whether you’re talking about structural mobility or social fluidity. Clearly, though, the myth — common among my Ivy League undergraduates — that the US is a land of exceptional opportunity in terms of its ability to give everyone an equal chance at becoming middle class is just that: a myth.

On race differences in moblility: up until about the 1980s, blacks had higher rates of intergenerational mobility (i.e., lower log odds of inheritance) than whites. Before the celebration begins, note that these higher rates of mobility include downward mobility. Turns out that middle class black parents were less successful than white parents at protecting their kids from falling into lower-class positions. Since the late 1980s, mobility rates have largely equalized, at least across the black-white divide.

Finally, an aside about occupational vs. class mobility. Most of our knowledge about mobility patterns comes from looking at contingency tables using broad “class” categories, where these are operationalized as aggregations of many different occupations. (This is in sociology; the much more recent economic literature on mobility tends to favor income categories.) It turns out that when you control for occupational inheritance, much of “class” inheritance disappears. Children of carpenters are much more likely to become carpenters than any other occupation; however, if they are going to leave carpentry, they’re just as likely to go outside the “class” of craft workers as to take some other craft job that would put them in the same aggregate class as their parents. The only residual “class” inheritance is in the professional sector, but even here this residual inheritance isn’t particularly strong.

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Bob B 09.05.05 at 3:14 pm

Accounts by some of the Brits who survived the ordeal of the Katrina aftermath in New Orleans can found here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4214746.stm

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abb1 09.05.05 at 3:33 pm

Accounts by some of the Brits who survived the ordeal of the Katrina…

…for some reason reminded me of Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ – American and British POWs in the Nazi camp…

138

AvengingAngel 09.05.05 at 4:02 pm

Sadly, the massive relief effort will take place during a time of divisive and fundamental debate about the very meaning of national unity in the United States. As New Orleans struggles for survival, the President and his amen corner are waging a full scale assault on the Estate Tax, what they derisively (and effectively )term the “Death Tax.” They will continue to pursue this massive transfer of the U.S. treasury to America’s wealthiest, even as a mountain of evidence shows that successive Bush budget cuts devastated New Orleans’ disaster preparedness and levee maintenance…

For the full story, see:

“New Orleans Pays the Death Tax.”

139

Jimmy Mac 09.05.05 at 4:47 pm

Kipling’s Ghost

Wow, how about that for some revealing literary context.

I may be wrong, but didn’t Kipling popularize the term “white man’s burden.”

This is the genius of our countries power elites. They enrich themselves at the troughs of state capitalism through codified rent seeking corporate welfare programs, exploit cheap labor markets of under and immigrant labor classes, jealously guard their privileged access to capital market resources, and engage in financial chicanery or fraud.

They set national policy and priorities to firmly maintain and enrich the established ruling estates with orgies of pork barrel patronage. They then disenfranchise and block access to social stratification avenues and when crisis erupts they lament about the abhorrent behavior of the under classes.

But tisk tisk, they are after all just the “white man’s burden.”

Ask a person from India what they think about Kipling.

Most will say an apologist for colonialism and a schizophrenic architect of a cultural imperialist psychology. Perhaps he’s Karl Rove’s favorite author.

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Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.05.05 at 5:00 pm

Tim

I’d love some citations or links. I’ve been looking for a good article or two on that topic. Thanks.

It turns out that when you control for occupational inheritance, much of “class” inheritance disappears. Children of carpenters are much more likely to become carpenters than any other occupation; however, if they are going to leave carpentry, they’re just as likely to go outside the “class” of craft workers as to take some other craft job that would put them in the same aggregate class as their parents.

The only residual “class” inheritance is in the professional sector, but even here this residual inheritance isn’t particularly strong

I’ve lots of ancedotal evidence, but when I taught advanced statistics, we used to warn them “ancidotal = false.”

Thanks again.

141

sd 09.05.05 at 5:23 pm

Maria,

You suggest that America lives and dies on cheap oil. Let’s say, as many lefty adherenets of “peak oil” theory do, that oil prices are about to go up dramatically. Further, let’s throw out some hypothetical numbers to frame some analysis.

Current state: Unregulated market price of a gallon of gasoline = $1.50. Fuel taxes in the US = $.50 for a total price of $2.00. Fuel taxes in Ireland = $4.50 for a total price of $6.00.

Future state: Unregulated market price of a gallon of gas = $5.00.

Now which society is more likely to “die” in the future state? In the US, gas is going to get a lot more expensive. This will disrupt the US economy greatly. That being said, private sector consumption of oil is somewhat elastic in the long run. Motorists can switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles (as they did in droves in the 1970s). Industrial producers who have optimized the degree of centralization in their manufacturing and logistics networks can re-deploy resources, building, for example, more small factories instead of fewer large ones. In short, the price spike hurts – a lot – but its not at all clear that it cripples the American way of life.

So what happens in Ireland? Gas either shoots up to $9.50 per gallon, at which point its not entirely clear that a functioning industrialized economy is possible. Or taxes fall to about $1.00 per gallon. Care to speculate on how viable your beloved robust welfare state is when the government starts losing $3.50 in revenue for every gallon of gas purchased?

US consumtpion of oil is far greater than in Ireland. So in that sense, vastly more expensive oil hurts the US more. But US consumption can be modified in the wake of a price spike. Thus the US has some flexibility to respond to higher prices. But the Irish welfare state has limited means to change its behavior in response to a price spike that either makes gas so expensive that the economy collapses or that forces a massive cut in fuel taxes that leaves the state bankrupt.

Both the US and Irish ways of life are built on cheap oil – the benefits are simply realized in different places. A price spike will hurt both greatly. But I’m comfortable taking my chances living in the US – where relatively minor changes in consumer behavior and industrial organization – changes that can very much be realized over, say, a five year horizon – can mitigate the disaster.

P.S. The few parts of the US that are as densely populated as the Dublin metro area – NYC, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, SF – have very robust public transit systems thankyouverymuch.

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Ralph 09.05.05 at 5:52 pm

Maria, I take it that you’re point is that you believed once that America was something special, and that NO has punctured that particular balloon. Sorry. It isn’t. It is good in some areas that other places are not; it is bad in some areas that other particular nations are not.

As to the oil issue, which has struck some nerves, I agree with you to some extent, but it’s important to point out why you’re right, because you don’t, I don’t think. As many have pointed out, the world market for oil is the same for the U.S. as it is for Ireland or France. However, because the at-the-pump cost of gas is so much lower here (due to the lack of taxes), that extra money not spent has been spent to a large extent on things that contribute to a gas-fueled economy: bigger cars, gas engines for everything under the sun, oil-driven fertilizers/chemistry/biology — whatever process, you name it, profits from cheaper GAS than those same industries somewhere else.

This is a huge economic boost to workers and consumers, but it has produced a blind-eye toward the returning of all that carbon to the atmosphere, as well as other side effects.

143

SqueakyRat 09.05.05 at 5:58 pm

Well, sd, there is the fact that Ireland is not maintaining a gigantic oil-fired military presence all over the planet. Maybe more people in Ireland live nearer to their work? And will “minor changes” reduce US oil consumption? Not with George Bush in command they won’t. Do you think everybody is going to rush out by a Prius? Not for a couple of decades. Yes, US consumption can be reduced. But it takes money, it reduces profits, and it takes, you know, “leadership.” Nothing is happening, and nothing is about to happen. So continue to “be comfortable,” bonehead.

144

jet 09.05.05 at 7:54 pm

I wonder if the US economy and redistribution of income was more eurocentric if anyone can point to how that would have changed things in New Orleans?

145

Redshift 09.05.05 at 8:18 pm

ttop:
More than likely, we will find out that there were good reasons why the military and National Guard forces took so long to deploy to NOL. It’s not like we have ready reserves waiting at our beckon call.

They are kind of stretched to say the least with Iraq. How long would it take for a call up and mobilization? Probably about 3-4 days.

By strange coincidence, that’s the amount of time between when a disaster was declared and when the hurricane hit. So by your estimation, then, the National Guard could have been ready to go in New Orleans immediately afterwards, if only the order had been given — what’s next on the list of “good reasons”?

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Redshift 09.05.05 at 8:21 pm

I wonder if the US economy and redistribution of income was more eurocentric if anyone can point to how that would have changed things in New Orleans?

If I recall correctly, the Dutch design their flood control to withstand the sort of flood that will occur every 10,000 years, which would cost less for New Orleans than rebuilding will. I imagine that might have made a bit of difference.

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Henry 09.05.05 at 8:21 pm

Jet, you’ve made some pretty idiotic and offensive comments in your time, but this mock query “tops them all”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/03/AR2005090301508.html.

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Stephen M (Ethesis) 09.05.05 at 9:41 pm

henry

“They were soon to be Texas-bound. “And I don’t even like Texas,” she said.”

Interesting article you linked to.

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Charlie B. 09.05.05 at 9:53 pm

I read to comment #96 without encountering a single example of a specific historical fact, with or without authority. Of course blogging has always been more about sounding off your opinions than providing evidence to support them — but this particular set of comments, one would have thought, would have called forth a modicum of informed argument. After all, CT is supposed to be by and for academics, isn’t it? If so, this perhaps constitutes a new nadir.

Of course, the twaddle that Maria penned set the tone. It is just the same kind of sub-factual impressionism that the journalists pour out all the time. I can see nothing in it which distinguishes it from a proverbial taxi driver, especially the “but when I went to California” bit. There is, of course, an honourable and necessary place for general analyses – but they do need to rest on detailed understanding.

Cheap energy does not represent the single explanatory factor within the US economy of its productivity. If you don’t know enough economics to begin to examine this idea, what is the point in voicing it? If you don’t know enough history to know that Amercian prosperity is not new, and was not new in 1776, then leave the whole subject alone.

If people want to examine the extent of social mobility in the US, they could do no better than read the US Supreme Court opinions in the University of Michigan cases (Grutter v Bollinger and Gratz v Bollinger) and the amicus briefs that were filed (these can be followed for eg from http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/legal/gra_amicus/) – this material casts invaluable factual light on the extent to which the education system is providing upward social-economic opportunities for minorities. Its factual complexity and the many levels at which people engage with the issues are a good answer to Maria’s – what to call it without being offensive?

I don’t understand how people who are supposed to foster disinterested research and teaching can come up with such disgraceful blather. A single well informed sentence would be so much more interesting. Even less do I understand why people fail to recognise projections of their own deep insecurities and take the opportunity to confront them, rather than acting out.

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Charlie B. 09.05.05 at 10:14 pm

I see a few comments informed by facts after #96 — #104, #136, which are interesting. I think that any discussion of mobility needs to be historically grounded (and historiographically literate), so that both controversies about Italian, Jewish and Polish-American reception and experiences in the late C19/early C20 can provide understanding of how economic and ideological patterns were formed. It also needs to examine the changes in black economic life in North and South since the 1960s, and in particular the importance of black family structure.

No, no, no. What am I thinking? I should talk about when I went to New Orleans and the way the police looked at me and how corn on the cob was real cheap. You know, the stuff I got my Ph.D. for.

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CR 09.05.05 at 10:25 pm

cantankerous b.,

I’m not sure these amicus briefs are what you want to use to support your claim. (Wait! Do you have a claim? Or just pissiness? I don’t see a claim but I guess I can guess…)

The amicus parties (perhaps with the exception of Fortune 500 and GM) are demostrating the success of affirmative action because they believe there’s too much social inequality / class sclerosis… Not because they believe the problem is fixed… They want to preserve a.a. because there is a problem, not because the problem is solved!

Your use of these documents as supporting evidence is equivalent to this:

NOLA internee sees a single bus ferrying 50 of the thousands out of the Superdome. “That worked! Bring us more of those, dammit!”

See! The problem’s solved. The black guy said “That worked!”

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bill 09.06.05 at 8:47 am

You’re way over-stressed. Write a check, stop watching TV and get some sleep!

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bill 09.06.05 at 9:06 am

If we had things as well organized as the Irish Jefferson Davis would be on half our dollar bills and Baptist raiding parties from Richmond would be fire-bombing Catholic neighborhoods Boston. Ah, ’tis a foin, foin life indeed!

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JCC 09.06.05 at 5:53 pm

For those who snipe against this article, I think that they need to step back and look at the big picture. Particularly those who have never left the States, ever. Marie, from the perspective of a non-US citizen, makes some valid points.

The fact is we are supposed to be a “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, and having lived through a flooding when HUD existed, and having volunteered in New Jersey in ’86 for some unremembered named Hurricane, and having also served in the US Army as well as worked for a private concern in Iraq, it is clear to me that our present Government failed the people of the hard-hit Gulf States. Previous responses that I either indirectly or directly witnessed, or took direct part in were quick and as effective as the situation would allow.

That is not to say that this time the people in the neighboring States failed, they did not, or military support outright failed, it did not. It was a clear and obvious Federal Administration failure, and worse, they failed the poorest among us. It is a shame that the American People as a whole will have to deal with, and as usual, we will deal with it in a very public way (to our credit, I believe).

It will be painful, and it will take some time.

Hopefully the structural problems of disparate wealth distribution, racism, energy policies, and emergency preparedness will improve somewhat.

Unfortunately all this pent-up anger between the haves and have-nots, and the newly defined liberals and newly defined conservatives that is prevalent throughout the US will make it difficult at best, but we’ll get through it, one way or another. We’re only human, as Katrina as clearly shown the world.

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Kenny 09.07.05 at 4:12 am

So, I go to to this small Mom and Pop place in the strip mall down the street from my apartment to grab some take-out after work. Its just Mr. Lee and his wife that work there; sometimes his kids are in there, but most of the time not. Mr. Lee is about 50, and came to the US from Korea with just the clothes on his back and no knowlege of English shortly after that country was literally decimated by war. A sign on the door says he’ll be closed next week for a family trip. I ask “where are you all going.” He replies, “We are going to Boston, my daughter starts at University” . “Oh so which school.” “She is at Harvard”

Now I know this has to be a lie, because no way is America is generous and free country and land of oportunity et al and only Kennedys go to Harvard and only Bushes go to Yale (or do middle class kids from Arkansas go there as well?)

I put an extra two bucks in the tip jar so he could get psychriatic help for his delusions.
Kenny

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Dave Bell 09.07.05 at 7:47 am

It’s sometimes hard to be sure just what the reality of the USA is, when you’re a quarter-way around the world from New Orleans and your image of the USA is fed by Hollywood. But it seemed clear to me that a significant part of the original piece is about how the myth of America is incomplete. Exploiting the workers (and that includes the provision of medical care), and you can make stuff for less money. But now we see how we missed another element; cheap fuel.

Likewise the social mobility. It’s not as easy as the old myth suggests, and it isn’t as hard as the new mythology surrounding the Bush family would suggest, but whether it’s college or White House, look at what you have to risk.

Somebody mentioned a Korean shopowner with a daughter at Harvard; just owning the shop is a huge step up from poverty. Somebody mentioned a peanut farmer who became President; it’s a huge peanut farm, and President Carter qualified as a Nuclear Engineer in the Navy.

These things are myths in part because the story does get filtered. But some things are natural myths, the sorts of simplification which everyone had been doing for millenia. Other things are more deliberate. Whatever the reason, discovering a more complete truth can hurt.

Two months ago, in London, there were four terrorist bombs. There was, for a little while, chaos and confusion. Yes, it was on a far different scale, but we can still believe that our government can cope. The myth of London has been reinforced, not destroyed.

65 years ago, London was being bombed by the Germans. It’s a city at the top of that short list of ballistic missile targets. You sort of expect London to be ready for things that go bang!

You have much the same sort of reason to expect the USA to be ready for hurricanes hitting the Gilf Coast.

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schiller 09.09.05 at 8:21 am

in the contemporary US, people rarely speak German…

That’s true—they rarely do. Ever stop to consider why? (Dan Simon)

Otto was leaving aside the obvious point about US cultural literacy, Dan.

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Functional 09.09.05 at 2:34 pm

It must be embarrassing for Maria to be so decisively taken down a notch by Jane Galt (aka Megan McArdle). See here and here.

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Functional 09.09.05 at 2:35 pm

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Thomas Eastmond 09.09.05 at 2:55 pm

“It’s just that while in theory anyone can be a doctor or president, the reality is that you really only have a chance if your father was one too.”

Like Bill Clinton (who didn’t even have a father around)? Or Ronald Reagan, whose father was a drunk?

While the rags-to-riches idea may have its share of myth to it, the liberal myth of class inflexibility is even more seriously overstated.

I do not blame “the poor” for their poverty (as if it were possible to lump such a diverse group into one class!), but I have absolutely no problem stating the obvious — that your chances of getting poor and staying poor go way up if you make a practice of ignoring what Kipling called “the gods of the copybook headings”, namely, basic common sense. Having children without first committing to set up a stable household is stupid, and will keep you poor, for example. (Ask my brother-in-law.)

That said, it does seem that the working and middle classes are starting to be squeezed — by housing, education, and medical costs, which generally aren’t counted fully in inflation estimates but sure as hell inflate the amount that gets taken from us.

Although I’m about as Republican as they come, the first Democrat who publicly states that the bubble in real estate is absolutely killing those of us who weren’t lucky (or smart) enough to buy something — anything — four years ago will have my vote. He or she can make abortion legal up to the twentieth trimester, declare everything that breathes an endangered species, turn the Marines into self-esteem therapists, and make gay marriage mandatory — but if he ends the mortgage interest deduction for second homes, ends the 1031 tax-deferred exchange, and taxes speculation in real estate up the yin-yang, I’ll vote for him in a heartbeat.

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Roy 09.09.05 at 3:06 pm

So is maria arguing that the EU should slash gasoline taxes?

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