Cuts ‘threaten UK-US military partnership’
Former US defence secretary Robert Gates says cuts in defence spending mean UK will no longer have ‘full-spectrum capabilities’. Read more…
US hiring outlook healthier than any time since 2008
Cautious optimism over employment prospects in the US and some parts of Europe. Read more…
In an open letter, former Latin American leaders call for legal regulation to help undermine organised crime
After more than four decades of a failed war on drugs, calls for a change in strategy are growing louder by the day. In Latin America, the debate is positively deafening. Statesmen from Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Uruguay are taking the lead for transformations in their own drug regime, which has set a strong dynamic of change across the region and around the world. Their discussion has expanded to the US, where public opinion toward regulation is also changing.
For the first time, the majority of Americans support regulated cannabis for adult consumption. Nowhere has this support been more evident than in Colorado and Washington, states that recently approved new bills to this effect. This shift in public opinion presents a direct challenge to the US federal law, but also to the United Nations drug conventions and the international drug policy regime.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, building on the call for a paradigm shift formulated by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, has called loudly for precisely these kinds of changes since 2011. Twenty global leaders have highlighted the devastating consequences of repressive drug policies on people, governance and economies not just in Latin America, but around the world.
Our flagship report – War on Drugs – sets out two main recommendations: (i) replace the criminalisation of drug use with a public health approach, and (ii) experiment with models of legal regulation designed to undermine the power of organised crime. By brokering a genuinely global conversation on drug policy reform, we broke a century-old taboo.
A new unexpected voice was added to the debate on drug policy reform. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) José Miguel Insulza presented Colombian President Santos with the findings of a much anticipated report on alternative scenarios for drug control and regulation for the Americas. The study itself was originally the idea of Santos and endorsed by all heads of American states at the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena.
The OAS-backed study proposes four possible scenarios for future drug policy reflecting an emerging consensus across Latin America. Fortunately, none of the scenarios call for the status quo. Most experts endorse the first three scenarios – the shift from repressive approaches to ones that privilege citizen security, the experimentation with different approaches to regulating illegal drugs, and the strengthening of community resilience. Obviously, all serious leaders agree that the fourth scenario, the threat of creating narco-states, is to be avoided at all costs. Taken together, the report represents the first comprehensive treatment of drug policy reform from a multilateral organisation.
The OAS study sets out complementary, rather than mutually excluding paths. They are based on the realistic expectation that demand for psychoactive substances will continue to exist over the coming decade and that only a small proportion of users will become dependent. In fact, many states are already decriminalising drug use and experimenting with cannabis regulation, while also investing in harm reduction programmes including the medical supply of harder drugs. Rather than causing problems as predicted by their critics, they are generating positive and measurable results.
The OAS and countries across Latin America are positively contributing to the breaking of the taboo that blocked for so long the debate on more humane and efficient drug policy. It is time that governments around the world are allowed to responsibly experiment with regulation models that are tailored to their realities and local needs. The leadership demonstrated by President Santos and the OAS secretary general is welcomed. But the report is just the start – leaders across the Americas need to take this study seriously and consider how their own policies can be improved. In doing so, they will be breaking the vicious cycle of violence, corruption, and overcrowded prisons and will put people’s health and security first.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso
former president of Brazil, chair
former president of Colombia
former president of Chile
George P. Shultz
former Secretary of State, United States, honorary chair
former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board
former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, President of the International Crisis Group
former president of Mexico
Ruptured pipeline in Arkansas is second incident in a week and comes as US debates controversial Keystone XL project
Exxon Mobil was working to clean up thousands of barrels of oil in Mayflower, Arkansas, after a pipeline carrying heavy Canadian crude ruptured, a major spill likely to stoke debate over transporting Canada’s oil to the United States.
Exxon shut the Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Pakota, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas, after the leak was discovered on Friday afternoon, the company said in a statement.
Exxon, hit with a $1.7m fine by regulators last week over a 2011 spill in the Yellowstone River, said a few thousand barrels of oil had been observed.
A company spokesman confirmed the line was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude. That grade is a heavy bitumen crude diluted with lighter liquids to allow it to flow through pipelines, according to the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (Cepa), which referred to Wabasca as “oil sands” in a report.
The spill occurred as the US State Department is considering the fate of the 800,000 bpd Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude from Canada’s oil sands to the Gulf Coast.
Environmentalists, concerned about the impact of developing the oil sands, have sought to block its approval. Supporters say Keystone will help bring down the cost of fuel in the United States.
The Arkansas spill was the second incident this week where Canadian crude has spilled in the United States. On Wednesday, a train carrying Canadian crude derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 gallons of oil.
Exxon expanded the Pegasus pipeline in 2009 to carry more Canadian crude from the mid-west to the Gulf Coast refining hub and installed what it called new “leak detection technology”.
Exxon said federal, state and local officials were on site and the company said it was staging a response for a spill of more than 10,000 barrels “to be conservative”. Clean-up crews had recovered approximately 4,500 barrels of oil and water.
“The air quality does not likely present a human health risk, with the exception of the high pooling areas, where clean-up crews are working with safety equipment,” Exxon said in a statement.
US media said the spill was in a subdivision. Mayflower city police said the oil had not reached Lake Conway nearby.
The US Environmental Protection Agency categorized the rupture as a “major spill”, Exxon said, and 22 homes were evacuated following the incident.
A spokesman for the Department of Transportation confirmed that an inspector from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had been sent to the scene to determine what caused the failure. The Environmental Protection Agency is the federal on-scene coordinator for the spill.
Some environmentalists argue that oil sands crudes are more corrosive than conventional oil, although a CEPA report, put together by oil and gas consultancy Penspen, argued diluted bitumen is no more corrosive than other heavy crude.
The US Department of Transportation earlier this week proposed a fine of $1.7m for Exxon over pipeline safety violations relating to a 2011 oil spill in the Yellowstone River. Exxon’s Silvertip pipeline, which carries 40,000 barrels per day of crude in Montana, leaked about 1,500 barrels of oil into the river in July 2011 after heavy flooding in the area.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez supertanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound off Alaska and spilled 250,000 barrels of crude oil.
Right-wing pundits are scaremongering over fears the US will be the next Cyprus, which is is totally out of the question
My late Tante Bessie had a bank account. In fact, she had more than one. Like a lot of people who lived through the Great Depression as adults, she didn’t really trust the banks. She liked to spread her Social Security and pension checks around.
Just in case all those institutions went at once – or Ronald Reagan decided to call a bank holiday – Tante Bessie also kept some cash around the house. But don’t think Tante Bessie kept her money under the mattress. She was way too savvy to pick such an obvious spot. Instead, she wrapped it in tinfoil, labeled it “chicken liver” and placed it in her freezer.
This is no apocryphal family saga. I know. My mother made me clean out Tante Bessie’s refrigerator and freezer after she moved into an assisted living residence. I unwrapped every last piece of frozen meat.
So let me take this moment to issue a personal plea. Don’t let the recent events in Cyprus scare you into becoming my Tante Bessie.
Yes, I shouldn’t need to tell you this. Hell, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke should not have had to remind a press conference yesterday that the US provides insurances on bank deposits – and, in 2008, the United States actually increased investor protections to stop bank runs.
However, you might be worried about the sanctity and safety of your funds right now if you are getting your info from a number of conspiracy-oriented blog sites, not to mention a certain television news network that claims to offer “fair and balanced” information.
In the view of these news sources, the situation in Cyprus was not a cock-up of the first order – despite the fact that European regulators were attempting to force the nation’s parliament to approve a plan to tax all bank account holders anywhere between 6-10% to pay for serious funding shortfalls in the country’s banks, and instead succeeded in setting off what promises to be a serious bank run whenever the institutions are finally allowed to reopen.
No, this was a trial balloon, some misleading pundits say. Today: Cyprus. Tomorrow: the world.
Just listen to anchor Stuart Varney: “Well, whose next? Which other governments, which have run up enormous debt, will also go toward seizing private bank accounts? Who else is next? Maybe Spain, maybe Italy, how about America? Is it out of the question totally?”
Actually, yes. It’s out of the question.
Let me explain where a lot of this scare mongering is coming from. There has been an on-again, off-again rumor since the 2008 campaign that Barack Obama has a secret and diabolical plan to confiscate our retirement savings to plug holes in the federal budget. That supposed fact has been repeated by Rush Limbaugh numerous times and is generally believed by the sort of people who remain convinced that the current United States president was really born in Kenya.
Okay, we expect this stuff from nether reaches of right wing radio and the Internet. Alex Jones, who also argues that the United States government was in on 9/11, hosted my favorite doomsayer Gerald Celente earlier this week, who proclaimed, “You’re hearing now from the American Banking Association, from DC, don’t worry about it, Americans. Your money is insured. Yeah, just like it is insured over there in Cyprus.”
Another, more obscure website led off a post on Monday with the subject head, “When Dear Leader pulls a Cyprus and seizes 24% of your 401(k) don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
10%, 20%, what’s the difference when the government plans to filch your savings?
Okay, we all know the Internet is a sewer for this sort of stuff. No one is inviting Alex Jones to a White House or Federal Reserve press conference any time soon. And unless you go looking for it, you are unlikely to simply stumble onto this sort of talk online.
Our television networks, on the other hand … if you have cable television, you just need to turn it on and, voila! There you are, flipping channels and you can hear Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer proclaim on that station that claims to be fair and balanced, “America’s … headed the way of Cyprus.”
Nice. Let’s scare the viewers. Maybe a few of them will run to the bank or their brokerage account, withdraw all their money and think “chicken liver.”
To be fair, fear is a normal response to what occurred in Cyprus this week. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand why breaching sovereign guarantees on the absolute safety of money deposited in banks should be a no-go zone – even if some of that money belongs to Russian oligarchs who likely obtained it in less-than-honest ways.
That’s why it is so flamingly irresponsible for a major network to rile people up about this rather ghastly event. The fact is the United States is in a very different position from Cyprus and, for that matter, the other European countries thought to be most at risk of being next in the crisis parade: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. Why are we different? The United States government controls its own currency. This is what has allowed the Federal Reserve to engage in round after round of quantitative easing to bring the United States economy back from the brink in 2008.
So there is no way another country could come along and tell us we need to “tax” our account holders. Nor would our government do it either. Why would it? It can just print more of it. Cyprus, when it went over to the Euro and gave up control of its currency, lost that right.
So skip the chicken liver. If nothing else, you don’t want to do that to your loved ones. Trust me. It was no fun cleaning out that freezer.
The home secretary, Theresa May, withdraws an extradition order to the United States for computer hacker Gary McKinnon
It’s not just that women are adapting better to seismic shifts in economy and culture – as this provocative extract from The End of Men explains, they are surpassing their male counterparts at work and home
In 2009, in a beach town in Virginia where my family had been vacationing for several years, I noticed something curious. Every time I ventured away from the houses rented by the vacationers – to the supermarket, say, or the ice-cream store – I almost never saw any men. Hardly any showed up at the fairgrounds Saturday evenings, nor did many climb out of the cars in the church parking lots on Sunday mornings. This was a prosperous working-class town and one of its main businesses had always been construction. I recalled in earlier years seeing groups of men riding in pick-up trucks down the main streets, even on Saturdays. But this time, there weren’t all that many pick-up trucks; mostly Chevys and Toyotas filled with women and children going about their weekend business.
On a food run one afternoon, I accidentally slammed my cart into another woman’s and knocked out of it some granola bars. I apologised and she was forgiving and in fact she turned out to be the kind of stranger who is open to conversation. Her name was Bethenny, she told me. She was 29 and ran a daycare centre out of her house. She was also studying to get a nursing degree and raising her daughter, who was 10. Because she was so forthcoming I thought I’d edge closer to the heart of the matter. Was she married? I asked. No. Did she want to be? Kind of, she said, and spun me a semi-ironic fantasy of a Ryan Reynolds lookalike swooping in on a white horse. Was there any mortal male who might qualify for the role? I asked. “Well, there’s Calvin,” she said, meaning her daughter’s father. She looked over at her daughter and tossed her a granola bar and they both laughed. “But Calvin would just mean one less granola bar for the two of us.”
Bethenny seemed to be struggling in the obvious ways. Later I saw her at checkout, haggling over coupons. But she did not exactly read as the pitiable single mother type. There was genuine pleasure in that laugh, a hint of happy collusion in hoarding those granola bars for herself and her daughter. Without saying as much, she communicated to me what her daughter seemed already to understand and accept: by keeping Calvin at arm’s length, Bethenny could remain queen of her castle, and with one less mouth to feed, they might both be better off.
How is it that the father of her only child had so little hold on her? How is it that he could be dismissed as the domestic equivalent of a snack? I got up the courage to ask her if I could contact Calvin and she readily gave me his phone number. Over the next few months, Calvin and I talked every few weeks, me always trying to figure out how he had become so invisible.
The terms “mancession” and “he-cession” featured prominently in American headlines that year, their efforts at cuteness meant to soften the painful reality that the primary victims of our latest economic disaster had been men such as Calvin, the ordained breadwinners. If these men had already been laid low by the recession of the 1990s, I wondered, where were they now, nearly 20 years later, after this last series of blows? And how would they find their way back? My hope was to stay in touch with Calvin long enough that he would start earning enough money to pick up the grocery bill again, that he would find his way home. Part of me kept imagining some distant point in the future when Calvin and Bethenny would be saved, the happy trio would drift back together and, in the dramatic crescendo, the streets of the town would once again become peopled with men.
But as I spent time with Calvin and dug into the research, I discovered that I had started with the wrong questions. Calvin and his friends were not really trying to get back the lives they’d once had, because those lives were no longer there to get back. I began to understand that something seismic had shifted in the economy and the culture, not only for men but for women, and that both sexes were going to have to adjust to an entirely new way of working and living and even falling in love. Calvin was not going to take his rightful place at the head of the table one day soon, because Bethenny was already occupying it, not to mention making the monthly payments on the mortgage, the kitchen renovation and her own used car. Bethenny was doing too much, but she was making it work and she had her freedom. Why would she want to give all that up?
The story was no longer about the depths men had sunk to; that dynamic had been playing out for several decades and was more or less played out. The new story was that women, for the first time in history, had in many ways surpassed them. The Calvins and Bethennys – all of us – had reached the end of 200,000 years of human history and the beginning of a new era, and there was no going back. Once I opened my eyes to that possibility, I realised that the evidence was everywhere and it was only centuries of habit and history that prevented everyone from seeing it.
With a lot more reporting and research, I was able to put a clear story together. In the recession, three-quarters of the 7.5 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of those jobs have come back, but the dislocation is neither random nor temporary. The recession merely revealed – and accelerated – a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years and in some respects even longer.
In 2009, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who continue to occupy around half of the nation’s jobs. (The UK and several other countries reached the tipping point a year later.) Women worldwide dominate colleges and professional schools on every continent except Africa. In the United States, for every two men who will receive a BA this year, for example, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the United States over the next decade, 12 are occupied primarily by women. Indeed, the US economy is in some ways becoming a kind of travelling sisterhood: professional women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill. Our vast and struggling middle class, where the disparities between men and women are the greatest, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the workforce and from home, as women make all the decisions.
In the past, men derived their advantage largely from size and strength, but the post-industrial economy is indifferent to brawn. A service and information economy rewards precisely the opposite qualities – the ones that can’t be easily replaced by a machine. These attributes – social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus – are, at a minimum, not predominantly the province of men. In fact, they seem to come easily to women.
Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men, to meet the demands of new global call centres. Women own more than 40% of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. In 2009, Icelanders made Johanna Sigurdardottir prime minister, electing the world’s first openly lesbian head of state. Sigurdardottir had campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation’s banking system, vowing to end the “age of testosterone”.
These changes have reached deep into the intimate lives of couples, shifting the way men and women worldwide think about marriage, love, and sex. In Asia, as women gain more economic power and retreat further from the culture’s long-standing ideal of a perfect wife, the average age of marriage for women is 32 and divorce in many Asian countries is skyrocketing. The mismatch between tradition-minded men and forward-marching women has given rise to an international market for spouses, as men around the world seek out brides with values (for now) more consonant with their own. In the west, meanwhile, women behave in sexually aggressive ways that would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago.
For the vast majority of less well-educated Americans, the rise of women is associated with the slow erosion of marriage and even a growing cynicism about love. As women slowly improve their lot, they raise the bar for what they want out of marriage. But the men of their class are failing to meet their standards. The men may cling to traditional ideals about themselves as providers, but they are further than ever from being able to embody those ideals.
Among the educated class, women’s new economic power has produced a renaissance of marriage. Couples in possession of college degrees are much more fluid about who plays what role, who earns more money and, to some extent, who sings the lullabies. I call these seesaw marriages, where the division of earnings might be 40:60 or 80:20 – and a year or two later may flip, giving each partner a shot at satisfaction. More wives at the top are becoming the main breadwinners for some period of time and, as a result of this new freedom, more couples are describing their marriages as “happy” or “very happy”. But even “happy” can hide complications. As I interviewed such couples, I realised that men, even if they check the “happy” box, are not nearly so quick or eager to inhabit these new flexible roles as women are.
Throughout my reporting, a certain imaginary comic book duo kept presenting themselves to me: Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man. Plastic Woman has throughout the century performed superhuman feats of flexibility. She has gone from barely working at all to working only until she got married to working while married and then working with children, even babies. If a space opens up for her to make more money than her husband, she grabs it. If she is no longer required by ladylike standards to restrain her temper, she starts a brawl at the bar. If she can get away with staying unmarried and living as she pleases deep into her 30s, she will do that too. And if the era calls for sexual adventurousness, she is game.
She is Napoleonic in her appetites. As she gobbles up new territories she hangs on to the old, creating a whole new set of existential dilemmas (too much work and too much domestic responsibility, too much power and too much vulnerability, too much niceness and not enough happiness). Studies that track women after they get their MBAs have even uncovered a superbreed of Plastic Women: they earn more than single women and just as much as the men. They are the women who have children but choose to take no time off work. They are the mutant creature our society now rewards the most – the one who can simultaneously handle the old male and female responsibilities without missing a beat.
Cardboard Man, meanwhile, hardly changes at all. A century can go by and his lifestyle and ambitions remain largely the same. There are many professions that have gone from all-male to female and almost none that have gone the other way. For most of the century, men derived their sense of manliness from their work or their role as head of the family. A coalminer or rigger was manly not because he wore overalls and had fingernails black from dirt, but because he had a physically demanding job and he put food on the table. A frontiersman only became whole when his family came west to join him. He was a man because he had a very specific role to play.
Some decades into the 20th century, those obvious forms of social utility started to fade. Most men were no longer doing physically demanding labour. They were working in offices or not working at all. And as fewer people got married, men were no longer acting as domestic providers, either. They lost the old architecture of manliness, but they have not replaced it with any obvious new one. What’s left now are the accessories, maybe the “mancessories” – jeans and pick-up trucks and designer switchblades, superheroes and thugs who rant and rave on TV and, at the end of the season, fade back into obscurity. This is what critic Susan Faludi in the late 1990s defined as the new “ornamental masculinity” and it has not yet evolved into anything more concrete.
As a result, men are stuck or “fixed in cultural aspic”, as critic Jessica Grose puts it. They could move into new roles now open to them – nurse, teacher, full-time father – but for some reason, they hesitate. Personality tests over the decades show men tiptoeing into new territory, while women race into theirs. Men do a tiny bit more housework and childcare than they did 40 years ago, while women do vastly more paid work. The working mother is now the norm. The stay-at-home father is still a front-page anomaly.
The Bem test is the standard psychological tool used to rate people on how strongly they conform to a variety of measures considered stereotypically male or female: “self-reliant”, “yielding”, helpful”, “ambitious”, “tender”, “dominant”. Since the test started being administered in the mid-1970s, women have been encroaching into what the test rates as male territory, defining themselves as “assertive”, “independent”, “willing to take a stand”. A typical Bem woman these days is “compassionate” and “self-sufficient”, “individualistic” and “adaptable”. Men, however, have not met them halfway and are hardly more likely to define themselves as “tender” or “gentle” than they were in 1974. In fact, by some measures, men have been retreating into an ever-narrower space, backing away from what were traditionally feminine traits as women take over more masculine ones.
For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, a trait that shows up in contemporary life as a drive to either murder or win on Wall Street. Women are more nurturing and compliant, suiting them perfectly to raise children and create harmony among neighbours. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order.
But now it seems as if those fixed roles are more fungible than we ever imagined. A more female-dominated society does not necessarily translate into a soft feminine utopia. Women are becoming more aggressive and even violent in ways we once thought were exclusively reserved for men. This drive shows up in a new breed of female murderers and also in a rising class of young female “killers” on Wall Street. Whether the shift can be attributed to women now being socialised differently or whether it’s simply an artefact of our having misunderstood how women are “hardwired” in the first place is at this point unanswerable and makes no difference. Difficult as it is to conceive, the very rigid story we believed about ourselves is obviously no longer true. There is no “natural” order, only the way things are.
Lately, we are starting to see how quickly an order we once considered “natural” can be overturned. For nearly as long as civilisation has existed, patriarchy – enforced through the rights of the first-born son – has been the organising principle, with few exceptions. Men in ancient Greece tied off their left testicle in an effort to produce male heirs; women have killed themselves (or been killed) for failing to bear sons. In her iconic 1949 book The Second Sex, the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir suggested that women so detested their own “feminine condition” that they regarded their newborn daughters with irritation and disgust. Now, the centuries-old preference for sons is eroding – or even reversing. “Women of our generation want daughters precisely because we like who we are,” breezes one woman in Cookie magazine.
In the 1970s, the biologist Ronald Ericsson came up with a way to separate sperm carrying the male-producing Y chromosome from those carrying the X. He sent the two kinds of sperm swimming down a glass tube through ever-thicker albumin barriers. The sperm with the X chromosome had a larger head and a longer tail and so, he figured, they would get bogged down in the viscous liquid. The sperm with the Y chromosome were leaner and faster and could swim down to the bottom of the tube more efficiently. The process, Ericsson said, was like “cutting out cattle at the gate”. The cattle left flailing behind the gate were of course the Xs, which seemed to please him.
In the late 1970s, he leased the method to clinics around the United States, calling it the first scientifically proved method for choosing the sex of a child.
Feminists of the era did not take kindly to Ericsson and his sperminator. “You have to be concerned about the future of all women,” said Roberta Steinbacher, a nun turned social psychologist, in a 1984 People profile of Ericsson. Given the “universal preference for sons”, she foresaw a dystopia of mass-produced boys that would lock women into second-class status while men continued to dominate positions of control and influence. “I think women have to ask themselves, ‘Where does this stop?’?” she said. “A lot of us wouldn’t be here right now if these practices had been in effect years ago.”
Ericsson laughed when I read him these quotes from his old antagonist. Seldom has it been so easy to prove a dire prediction wrong. In the 1990s, when Ericsson looked into the numbers for the two dozen or so clinics that use his process, he discovered, to his surprise, that couples were requesting more girls than boys. The gap has persisted, even though Ericsson advertises the method as more effective for producing boys. In some clinics, he has said, the ratio of preference is now as high as two to one.
Polling data on Americans’ sex preference in offspring is sparse and does not show a clear preference for girls. But the picture from the doctor’s office unambiguously does. A newer method for sperm selection, called MicroSort, is currently awaiting clinical approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The girl requests for that method run at about 75%. The women who call Ericsson’s clinic these days come right out and say: “I want a girl”; they no longer beat around the bush. “These mothers look at their lives and think their daughters will have a bright future their mother and grandmother didn’t have, brighter than their sons, even,” says Ericsson, “so why wouldn’t you choose a girl?” He sighs and marks the passing of an era. “Did male dominance exist? Of course it existed. But it seems to be gone now. And the era of the first-born son is totally gone.”
Ericsson’s extended family is as good an illustration of the rapidly shifting landscape as any other. His 27-year-old granddaughter – “tall, slender, brighter than hell, with a take-no-prisoners personality” – is a biochemist and works on genetic sequencing. His niece studied civil engineering at the University of Southern California. His grandsons, he says, are bright and handsome, but in school “their eyes glaze over. I have to tell ‘em, ‘Just don’t screw up and crash your pick-up truck and get some girl pregnant and ruin your life.'” Recently, Ericsson joked with the old boys at his elementary school reunion that he was going to have a sex-change operation. “Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ‘em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way – these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”
The shift is apparent not only in the United States, but in many of the world’s most advanced economies. For several centuries, South Korea constructed one of the most rigid patriarchies on the planet. Many wives who failed to produce male heirs were abused and treated as domestic servants; some families prayed to spirits to kill off girl children. Now, that preference for first-born sons – or any sons – has vanished. Over the last few years, the government has conducted a national survey of future parents, asking: “If you found out you were pregnant, what sex would you want your child to be?” In 2010, 29.1% of women said they preferred a boy as their first-born child and 36.3% said a girl (the rest answered “no preference”). For men, the gap was even higher, with only 23% choosing a boy and 42.6% a girl. It took an imaginary third child, after two hypothetical daughters, for people to say they’d prefer a boy and then by only a tiny margin.
From a feminist standpoint, the recent social, political and economic gains of women are always cast as a slow, arduous form of catch-up in the continuing struggle for gender equality. But a much more radical shift seems to have come about. Women are not just catching up anymore; they are becoming the standard by which success is measured. “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” is a phrase that resonates with many parents of school-age sons and daughters, even if they don’t always say it out loud. As parents imagine the pride of watching a child grow and develop and succeed as an adult, it is more often a girl than a boy that they see in their mind’s eye.
Yes, the United States and many other countries still have a gender wage gap. Yes, women still do most of the childcare. And yes, the upper reaches of power are still dominated by men. But given the sheer velocity of the economic and other forces at work, these circumstances are much more likely the last artefacts of a vanishing age rather than a permanent configuration. Dozens of undergraduate women I interviewed assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home, either minding the children or simply looking for work. Guys, one college senior remarked to me, “are the new ball and chain”. It may be happening slowly and unevenly, but it’s unmistakably happening: the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.
In the year since I wrote the story in the Atlantic magazine that inspired my book, I have been called a radical feminist for trumpeting women over men and an antifeminist for suggesting that the struggles are over for women. I am neither of those things, but my findings do herald both straightforward progress for women on some fronts and tremendous headaches on others. Women like Bethenny have a kind of ambiguous independence right now. They are much less likely to be in abusive relationships, much more likely to make all the decisions about their lives, but they are also much more likely to be raising children alone. It’s a heavy load. One reporting experience that lingers with me is waking up a woman in the elevator at a community college in Kansas City. Between floors one and five she had fallen asleep, so hard had she been working to get her degree, hold down a night job and raise three kids.
Among the college-educated class, ambivalence comes in the form of excess choice. Educated women take their time finding the perfect partner, seeking out creative, rewarding jobs, and then come home and parent their children with home-schooling intensity. Their lives are rich with possibilities their mothers never dreamed of. And yet in most surveys, women these days are not more likely to rate themselves happier than women did in the 1970s. Choice creates its own set of anxieties – new spheres to compete in and judge yourself wanting, a constant fear that you might be missing out.
Men today, especially young men, are in a transition moment. They no longer want to live as their fathers did, marrying women they can’t talk to, working long hours day after day, coming home to pat their kids on the head at most. They understand that the paternal white boss, like the one on The Office, has now become a punchline. But they can’t turn away from all that because they fear how power and influence could be funnelled away from them: by wives who earn more money than they do, jobs with less prestige, tedious Tuesday afternoons at the playground. There are plenty of opportunities for men. Theoretically, they can be anything these days: nurses, teachers, homemakers. But moving into new roles, and a new phase, requires certain traits: flexibility, hustle and an expansive sense of identity.
I started my book thinking that we were heading into a woman’s world and that this world would reflect some set of “womanly values” as defined by the Bem test – “tender”, “yielding”, “compassionate”. But by the end of my research, I became less convinced that what has happened to women and men reveals or is the result of any such fixed values or traits. Assuming a world run by women is more “tender” seems to me, again, just a story we tell ourselves to make the current massive upheavals in gender roles seem tamer and more predictable, when they are anything but: more like revolutionary, potentially exhilarating and sometimes frightening, but definitely not predictable. For the moment, all I can say for sure is: there is no “natural” order, only the way things are.
Unanimously passed Thune bill aims to enable US airlines to avoid paying for their carbon emissions on European flights
The US Senate unanimously passed a bill on Saturday that would shield US airlines from paying for their carbon emissions on European flights, pressuring the European Union to back down from applying its emissions law to foreign carriers.
Since January, the European Commission has been enforcing its law to make all airlines take part in its Emissions Trading Scheme, which aims to combat global warming.
The Senate approved the bill shortly after midnight, as it scrambled to complete business to recess ahead of the 6 November congressional and presidential elections.
Republican senator John Thune, a sponsor of the measure, said it sent a “strong message” to the EU that it cannot impose taxes on the United States.
“The Senate’s action today will help ensure that US air carriers and passengers will not be paying down European debt through this illegal tax and can instead be investing in creating jobs and stimulating our own economy,” Thune said in a statement.
The House of Representatives has passed a similar measure, and could either work out differences with the Senate’s version or accept the Senate bill when Congress returns for a post-election session.
Nearly all airlines have complied reluctantly with the EU law, but Chinese and Indian carriers missed an interim deadline to submit information required under it. Earlier this year, China threatened retaliation – including impounding European aircraft – if the EU punished Chinese airlines for not complying with its emissions trading scheme.
The dispute between China and the EU froze Airbus purchase deals worth up to $14bn, though China signed an agreement with Germany for 50 Airbus planes worth over $4bn during Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Beijing last month.
The Senate bill gives the US transportation secretary authority to stop US airlines from complying with the EU law. But new amendments agreed to during negotiations among lawmakers said the secretary could only do so if the EU trading scheme is amended, an international alternative is agreed to or the United States implements its own program to address aviation emissions.
This increases pressure on the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to devise a global alternative to the EU law.
Connie Hedegaard, the European climate commissioner, said on Saturday that while the bill encourages the United States to work within the UN organization for a global deal on aviation emissions, she is skeptical that Washington will accept such a deal.
“It’s not enough to say you want it, you have to work hard to get it done,” she said. “That means that the US needs to change its approach in ICAO and show willingness to actually seal a meaningful global deal that will facilitate action.”
Annie Petsonk, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the bill would put pressure on the UN body, which has been working on a global framework for years.
“Passage of the Thune bill amps up the pressure on ICAO to move swiftly to reach a global agreement on addressing aviation’s global warming pollution,” she said.
‘Liquid gold’ industry threatened as Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers fear burglars will sell on black market
Thieves have made off with a “considerable amount” of maple syrup from a warehouse in Quebec, police have said.
The warehouse, in St-Louis-de-Blandford, stocked more than $30m worth of the product. Police said it was too early to say how much had been stolen.
Quebec provincial sergeant Claude Denis said on Friday that the warehouse stored more than 10m pounds (4.54m kilograms) of maple syrup.
The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers says they discovered the missing syrup when a routine inventory turned up empty barrels.
It said in a statement: “The federation always acts with caution to protect producers’ harvests. The St-Louis-de-Blandford warehouse had been secured by a fence and locks, and visited regularly.”
It is believed that the thieves decanted the syrup into other containers, with the intent of selling it on.
The federation said that if the thieves attempted to sell the syrup, the whole industry would be affected. “It is crucial to identify those responsible for this crime,” the federation said.
Quebec produces 70 to 80% of the world’s maple syrup. Most of the exported product is sold in the United States.
Sylvain Charlebois, a food policy researcher at the University of Guelph, told the Globe and Mail that it would be hard to track the contraband syrup. “It is going to be problematic, one way or the other, whether it’s to sell through proper channels or dealing with the black market,” he said.
Anne-Marie Granger Godbout, executive director of the maple syrup federation, attempted to reassure consumers. “We still have enough maple syrup. There will be no shortage,” she told the Globe and Mail.
Labour’s economic policies should focus on getting UK business to invest in the future, alongside households and government
What the UK economy needs is an approach to economic policy that focuses on co-ordinated and concerted investments for prosperity by governments, households, and businesses. As the Labour party develops its policy programme for 2015 and beyond, the role of investment for prosperity needs to be confronted head on.
Fundamental to the achievement of economic prosperity are investments in physical infrastructures and human capabilities. These investments are essential to generate well-paid, employment opportunities in the domestic economy and competitive advantage in the global economy. In a world of changing technologies and emerging markets, a nation that fails to invest for the future on a continuing basis can look forward to long-term economic decline.
Investments for prosperity are not solely the responsibility of the business sector. Governments and households have to invest as well. Governments invest in physical infrastructures – for example roads, schools, and defence – that have the character of public goods as well as in society’s “knowledge base” consisting of a generally educated labour force and specific expertise in science and technology. Households invest in the development and sustenance of a capable labour force, relying heavily on government investments in education and physical infrastructures.
With government and household investments as essential foundations, businesses invest in processes of production and distribution to transform physical and human inputs into goods and services that customers want to buy at prices that they are willing (or can afford) to pay.
Prosperous economies are ones in which investments by governments, households, and businesses – or what I call the “investment triad” – reinforce one another in building innovative capabilities.
Of course, investments for tomorrow require access to financial resources today. Governments need taxes, households need wages, and businesses need profits. Each actor in the triad can leverage this internal finance by taking on external debt. Ultimately, however, it is internal finance – taxes, wages, and profits – that must be sufficient to both service the debt and invest for the future if the prosperity of the economy is to be sustained.
So what is the weak link in the UK investment triad? Conservatives would have a tough time answering this question because they believe that we can rely on unregulated markets to allocate the economy’s resources. The problem is that it is organisations – governments, households and businesses – not markets that invest for the future. A failure of an economy to invest in the productive capabilities that are the bedrock of sustainable prosperity is an organisational failure, not a market failure.
Governments can fail, and there is no doubt that Labour’s programme for prosperity must reconsider the effectiveness of the national and local governments in investing in the UK’s physical infrastructures and the nation’s knowledge base. Households can fail, and there is a pressing need to probe deeply into whether Britain’s households have access to the resources and stability required to develop the next generation to be productive members of the labour force.
For rebuilding Britain, however, the real challenge for the Labour party is its approach to business failure. I am not talking primarily about businesses that fail to make profits and possibly go bankrupt. I am referring to some of the nation’s largest and most profitable businesses that pay out far too much to shareholders instead of investing for the future. For the period 2001-2010, 86 of Britain’s largest companies that are included in the S&P Europe 350 Index made €882bn in net profits of which 63% was paid out in dividends and another 26% to buy back their own shares.
This development, the financialisation of British business corporations, has them hot on the heels of their American counterparts. For the decade 2001-2010, 459 companies in the S&P 500 Index, almost all of which are US-based, expended $1.9 trillion, or 40% of net income, on dividends, and $2.7 tn, or 54% of net income, on share buybacks, leaving only 6% of profits to potentially be invested for the future.
In the United States, I have called for a ban on share buybacks in particular and a major reform of corporate governance in general. Neither US political party shows any real interest in heeding the call. The American people are paying the price for this inaction, and will continue to do so long into the future. In the UK, the Labour party has the opportunity to take investment for prosperity seriously. Rather than emulate the declining US economy, Labour can formulate a new “Anglo-Saxon” model to rebuild Britain that recognises how governments, households, and businesses can work together as an investment triad that forms the foundation for equitable and stable economic growth.