chief executive

Hong Kong needs more than democracy

People remove the metal barricades that protesters set up to block off main roads near the heart of the city's financial district, Hong Kong on Monday. An angry crowd tried to charge barricades used by pro-democracy protesters to occupy part of downtown Hong Kong as a standoff with authorities dragged into a third week. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
People remove the metal barricades that protesters set up to block off main roads near the heart of the city's financial district, Hong Kong on Monday. An angry crowd tried to charge barricades used by pro-democracy protesters to occupy part of downtown Hong Kong as a standoff with authorities dragged into a third week. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

How much are you willing to pay for democracy? More precisely, in order to vote for your leader in the government, what would you sacrifice? Would you rather vote than have smooth downtown traffic, a stable economy, a peaceful neighborhood to live in or maybe income from your family store? To judge from the recent events in Hong Kong, some people there believe that they don’t need any of those things but democracy. The protesters have made reasonable demands on the government, such as universal suffrage, the resignation of a chief executive who they believe is manipulated by Beijing and a truly fair democratic election with candidates not previously vetted by Beijing. They strongly believe that a “true democracy” will correct current issues in Hong Kong and prevent any future dysfunction or crises. But the reality is not that simple.

Hong Kong has bigger problems that democracy can’t solve. Before the attention shifted to the election reform that could potentially deprive Hong Kongers of the freedom to nominate a candidate for their chief executive, people in Hong Kong were already worried. For example, economic inequality had caused many people to lose the ability to support a family. Similar to the United States, the wealth in Hong Kong is also mainly controlled by the elites. A stock broker could earn 10 times more than a skilled worker. The cost of living in general had also increased dramatically ever since the 2008 financial crisis. The average real estate price reached $1373/square foot while the average income stayed at $3716 per month, according to globalpropertyguide.com and Census and Statistics Department HK SAR, respectively. That means that without further changes, the average worker will work about 12 years without spending a penny to make as much money as a 400-square-foot apartment costs. 

Clearly, democracy is not the sole answer. It might smooth some ongoing tensions between the government and the people. But given the other problems facing the city, a chief executive completely of the people's choosing certainly won't be a panacea.

The bottom line is that nothing is more important than a stable society with order. With a thousand problems yet to be solved, one thing that Hong Kong definitely does not need is chaos. Ever since the protest started, the stock market has gone down and large amounts of revenue from tourism have been lost. Thus, Hong Kong is jeopardized, ironically, by the very people who are supposed to help it. 

No matter which government or what political system, the priority should be to react and make people’s lives easier and better. But there is clear evidence that the protesters aren't doing that. Not to mention, how sure can we be that they are representing the majority of Hong Kongers, as they claim? There are reports showing that some merchants and citizens have reacted negatively toward the protest. Some of them even physically engaged with the protesters. So the decision now goes to the citizens of Hong Kong: If a majority of them firmly believe that what they are demanding is worth sacrificing what they have now and will provide positive changes, then the protest will be unstoppable. However, if more citizens decide that the protest should be ended, then by all means, it should.

Chen is a psychology junior originally from Guangzhou, China.

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson passes out some of the 72 pens he used to sign the civil rights bill in Washington D.C. on July 2, 1964. From left standing are, Rep. Roland Libobati (D-Ill.), Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rep. Emmanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) and Whitney Young, executive director of the National Urban League. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

This week’s Civil Rights Summit, sponsored by the LBJ Library, marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That act, together with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, transformed American law and society by outlawing discrimination in the workplace, in the voting booth and in housing.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had two main provisions — a ban on discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin in public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, theaters and retail stores (Title II), and a ban on discrimination in the hiring, promotion and firing of workers (Title VII). The act also included provisions for enforcing Title VII in the form of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Before this act, employers and the owners of private establishments enjoyed the implicit approval of the federal government when they denied certain groups the privileges enjoyed by white men. During World War II, in some parts of the South, restaurant owners served meals to German prisoners of war who were being transported in the custody of American military officials but refused service to the black GIs who guarded those prisoners. Until 1964, employers routinely ran ads for job openings that said “no Negroes” or “no women” need apply. Many people of color, regardless of their formal education, could not aspire to high-paying jobs in law, business or education. African-Americans and Mexican-Americans remained confined to the most dangerous and disagreeable jobs in certain industries and excluded from whole categories of employment. White women inhabited a “pink collar ghetto” composed of elementary school teachers, nurses and secretaries and other clerical workers.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s role in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 looms large. In the months following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Johnson committed his formidable legislative prowess to bringing to a vote a measure that Kennedy had proposed in the summer of 1963. Johnson enlisted civil rights activists, journalists and other allies, and he personally cajoled, intimidated, threatened and pleaded with members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike.  He believed that, as chief executive, he need not apologize for his commitment to legislation that would make the U.S. a more fair and just society: “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?” he demanded to know.

Yet Johnson’s moral convictions, combined with his strong-armed tactics, do not fully account for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The president and other white Americans were moved by the courage of civil rights activists throughout the South — men, women and children who suffered beatings at the hands of angry mobs, the full force of water cannons deployed by local police and even murder by KKK members and other vigilantes and domestic terrorists. Freedom Riders, participants in lunch counter sit-ins and peaceful demonstrators, prodded Kennedy, and then Johnson and Congress, to act.

The effects of the 1964 act were uneven. Well-educated people of color and white women were arguably the most immediate and obvious beneficiaries of the new law. Between 1960 and 1980, the percentage of black women in clerical work tripled, and women of all races had greater access to jobs such as truck driving and coal mining,  which were previously all-male positions. Still, employers continued to assign blacks and other minorities to menial jobs, and union seniority and apprenticeship rules continued to work against the interests of job-seekers who weren’t white males. In 1974, the chronically understaffed and underfunded Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was staggering under the weight of 57,000 complaints of discrimination in the workplace.

Civil rights legislation also affected the nation’s political landscape. When he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, Johnson reportedly told his young Texas aide Bill Moyers something to the effect of, “There goes the South.” He was correct in predicting that the white South would desert the Democratic Party, although that transition did not become fully apparent until the 1980s, and it shows no sign of reversing itself in the near future.

Today, some observers hail what they call a “colorblind” society — one with a level playing field for all workers and voters. Yet the corrosive effects of centuries of slavery, discrimination and segregation remain very much in evidence, with high rates of concentrated poverty among minority populations. For many Americans, the place where they live is a signifier of the rights they enjoy, with poor people lacking access to quality public education, safe neighborhoods and decent health care.

What lessons does the Civil Rights Act of 1964 hold for us today? First, it is apparent that the 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution granting the former male slaves citizenship and voting rights were insufficient to guarantee them and their descendants those rights in practice.

Not until after World War II would the dramatic and peaceful protests of an aggrieved minority pierce the conscience of the nation and lead to decisive action among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government. Johnson’s bold determination demonstrated what a chief executive could accomplish, with the right combination of moral outrage and legislative arm-twisting. And finally, we are reminded that throughout American history the federal government, albeit haltingly and imperfectly, has initiated some of the most significant measures promoting fairness and justice — the destruction of slavery, the enfranchisement of former slaves and women, the elimination of universal poverty among the elderly and the outlawing of egregious forms of discrimination in the workplace, in voting and in housing. The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is without a doubt a cause for celebration among all Americans, and it is most fitting that four presidents are gathering at the LBJ Library to lead us in that celebration.

Jones is the Walter Prescott Webb chair in history and ideas and the Mastin Gentry White professor of Southern history.

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry pauses while announcing he is suspending his campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, in North Charleston, S.C.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the presidential race on Thursday, endorsed his old friend Newt Gingrich and returned home to Texas, where the failed White House candidate has three years left to serve as the chief executive.

“I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path to victory for my candidacy in 2012,” Perry said in North Charleston, S.C., just two days before the primary there. “I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country.”

Money also was a factor, with spokesman Ray Sullivan saying: “We have spent the bulk of our funds.” He added that Perry hasn’t ruled out running again for governor or the White House in 2016 if President Barack Obama is re-elected.

Perry ended his campaign where he launched it last August, when tea party and evangelical Christian leaders hailed him as a charismatic conservative and some early polls showed him as a front-runner for the Republican nomination. But soon after, Perry’s verbal gaffes and poor debate performances sent his campaign into a tailspin from which it never recovered.

It was too soon to tell whether Perry’s rocky turn on the national stage had damaged him politically at home. But already there were signs of his diminished clout.

Several Texas donors who fueled his bid indicated they were likely to back Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is considered to be the more moderate candidate in the race. And South Carolina House speaker David Wilkins, who had supported Perry, ignored the governor’s recommendation and shifted his support to Romney, too.

Short of a Gingrich victory leading to a job for Perry in Washington, Perry will most likely stay in Austin where, despite his dismal presidential campaign, he’s still considered the most powerful politician in the state. He has appointed more than 1,000 people to key government positions since becoming governor in 2000. State lawmakers also depend on his support.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t face serious headwinds.

Democrats insist the failed presidential run has diminished his power and embarrassed Texans. Conservatives also have complained about the $2.6 million the state has spent on his security detail while he campaigned outside the state. Top Republicans, meanwhile, have been positioning themselves to replace him whether he won the presidency or retired in 2014.

Roy Blount, a Perry supporter and deep-pocketed Republican donor in Texas, said he expects Perry to remain popular and powerful.

“Everything he stood for resonates with Texans,” Blount said. “He’s got this state as a leading state, and he wants to continue that and expand it.”

The Texas Democratic Party was ready Thursday to begin exploiting any perceived weakness created by Perry’s decision and called on him to focus on problems at home, including legal questions about the constitutionality of the school finance system, as well as water shortages and greenhouse gas emissions.

Perry’s biggest supporters, in turn, welcomed him home. Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said “Gov. Perry has always been good for Texas business.”

Mark Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University, said Perry risks becoming a lame-duck governor and must not rule out seeking a fourth term if he hopes to continue being effective.

“As long as he can maintain the illusion that he could be governor through 2019, that allows him to maintain authority not only among the legislators, but also among donors, lobbyists and his appointees,” Jones said.

Perry’s early missteps called into question whether the Texas politician, who had never lost a race in nearly 30 years, was ready for the national stage. His biggest flub came in a nationally televised debate in early November, when he could not remember the name of the third Cabinet department he pledged to eliminate.

Perry could only manage to say, “Oops.” Making fun of himself afterward, he told reporters: “I stepped in it.”

It was a cringe-inducing moment replayed more than a million times on YouTube. The memory lapse not only solidified Perry’s reputation for weak debate performances, but it gave the impression that he couldn’t articulate his own policies.

Perry, 61, was relatively unknown outside of Texas until he succeeded George W. Bush as governor after Bush was elected president in 2000. A former Democrat, Perry had already spent about 15 years in state government when he became governor. He went on to win election to the office three times, the most recent in 2010.

Part of Perry’s appeal came from his humble beginnings as a native of tiny Paint Creek, Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M University and was a pilot in the Air Force before winning election in 1984 to the Texas House of Representatives. He switched to the GOP in 1989 and served as the state’s agriculture commissioner before his election as lieutenant governor in 1998.