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China – The World’s Biggest Tech Thief?

Chinese theft of intellectual property from other countries (mainly the US and those in the EU) represents the greatest transfer of wealth in history according to Keith B Alexander, former director of the US National Security Agency.

intellectual property includes such things as patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and software, and China has a long history of stealing such things ever since it opened up its economy to foreign trade in the late 1970s. China has long been known as the country of origin for counterfeit DVDs (among other products), but more recently one its largest tech firms, the phone manufacturer Huwai was accussed of encouraging employees with bonuses for gathering confidential information from competitors.

To give you an idea of the scale of this, The United States estimated in 2017 that Chinese theft of American intellectual property costs between $225bn and $600bn annually,

The type of information stolen covers a huge range of sectors: everything from the designs for wind turbines to cars, medical devices and computer chips. In one infamous case, Germany’s Siemens introduced the high-speed train to China only to find that subsequent extensions of the system were manufactured by its Chinese partner, China National Railway Corporation, which had developed similar technology suspiciously quickly.

How has China managed this?

Back in day China was more likely to engage in full on cyber-espionage, but more recently it has developed a set of policies which forces foreign multinationals working in China to divulge secrets while they are forbidden similar access to Chinese companies’ information.

Technically this is against WTO rules, but it seems that China, being a ‘big player’ on the international scene can get away with this.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is a great example of a ‘state crime’ – state sponsored theft of intellectual property, and it’s a great example of a crime that up until this point has gone unpunished!

It also reminds us that where globalisation is concerned, there is no such thing as genuine free-trade, it’s only as free as the large nation states allow it to be.

NB – as a final note, Chinese intellectual property theft might be a thing of a past, China has invested so much in skilling its population up in technology that it is likely to become a cutting edge tech innovator in its own right in the not too distant future!

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Sociological perspectives on the legalization of gay sex in India

Gay sex was finally legalized in India this month (September 2018), after India’s high court ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of individual rights.

This ruling overturned the previous ‘section 377’ colonial-era law which outlawed certain sexual acts as unnatural, including homosexual sex. Breaking that law meant a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Relevance to A-level sociology

Lots!

From a broadly functionalist point of view, you could interpret this as a move towards universal global values. There has been a general trending towards greater sexuality-equality around the globe in recent decades, and this ruling brings another billion people into step with this trend.

HOWEVER, it’s also important to realize that not everyone accepts this in India… many religious groups are opposed to this, and so this is also a potential source of conflict.

From an Interactionist point of view, this is yet another excellent illustration of the social construction of crime…. all of a sudden gay sex is legal and not illegal!

Final thoughts….

While this is huge positive progress towards LGBT rights, there’s still a long way to go as there are several countries in which homosexuality is illegal.

Bit of a short/ lazy post today, bit busy!

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Nevis: A Tax Haven Preventing Positive Globalization?

The Island of Nevis is the most secretive tax haven in the world. Nevis is a solitary volcano in the Caribbean, with a population of just 11, 000, notorious for its involvement in Britain’s biggest ever tax fraud, as well as having been implicated in many other sordid financial scams of modern times, such as when 620, 000 Americans were fleeced out of $220 million in a pay-day loan scam.

tax-haven-map.jpg

Despite its tiny population, Nevis is also home to six domestic banks, one international bank, 18 insurance managers, and dozens of registered law firms. In fact Nevis might well have the highest lawyer to person* ratio on earth.

Nevis is becoming increasingly popular with the world’s rich: since 2012 its financial services sector has grown by a quarter.

Nevis specializes in letting its clients create and register corporations with greater anonymity than almost any other place on planet earth:  even the island’s own corporate land registry doesn’t know who owns the corporations registered there.

Companies benefit from further protections: if you suspect a company of having acquired some of its assets illegally, you have to file $100 000 bond with the courts in Nevis before initiating legal proceedings, in order to make sure that no-one makes frivolous claims.

Not that you would have much luck filing a claim against a company registered on the island: Nevis’ regulator holds no information on who owns the companies registered there, or on who owns its companies’ assets.

Then there’s the fact that anyone disclosing financial information without a court order is liable for a $10 000 fine and up to a year in prison. This would serve to put of investigative journalists.

All of this poses a problem for authorities wishing to tackle global crime: if Nevis continues to guarantee anonymity over ownership of assets then there is no way for global crime fighting agencies to trace whether or not those assets have been acquired illegally.

A further problem is that it makes it more difficult for nation states to track down whether large corporations or individuals are dodging their taxes.

Relevance of this case study to A-level sociology 

The existence of tax havens demonstrates the absence of global social norms pertaining to tax, and to the relative powerlessness of Nation States to control flows of global capital.

It also suggests support for the Marxist/ World Systems Theory view of globalization. The existence of Tax Havens allows the richest to keep their wealth, perpetuating global inequality. They certainly don’t benefit the global poor!

*some research suggests that ‘lawyer’ and ‘person’ are mutually exclusive categories. Although there’s no actual evidence to back this up.

Sources: The Week July 2018.

This post will also be published to the steem blockchain. 

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Contemporary Sociology: The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal by the Russian State

The recent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, allegedly by the Russian State, is relevant to many areas of the A-level sociology specification.

Details of the poisoning 

On 4th March 2018 Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 were poisoned by a nerve agent called Novichok. The pair were found collapsed on a bench in Salisbury in the late afternoon, following what seems to have been a pretty ordinary ‘afternoon of leisure’ involving a trip to a pub and lunch in Zizzi’s. Four weeks later, they remain in a critical condition. 

Sergie Skripal.png
Sergie and Yulia Skripal

Much of the news has focused on just how deadly the nerve agent ‘Novichok’ is – basically a tiny, practically invisible amount was sufficient to render two people seriously ill, and even the police officer who first attended Sergei and Yulia Skripal was taken seriously ill just from secondary contact with what must have been trace elements of the nerve agent.

Pretty much everywhere the pair had visited that afternoon was shut down, and any vehicles that they had been in contact with were quarantined while they were cleared of any trace of the nerve agent and total of 250 counter-terrorism officers are at work investigating the case.

Theresa May has accused the Russian State as being complicit in this attempted murder, which seems plausible as Colonel Sergie Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. He was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI. He was later flown to the UK. It seems that the poisoning is the Russian State passing its ‘final sentence’ on this poor guy.

HOWEVER, Russia strongly denies these allegations, so this might just be a hypothetical state-crime!

The international reaction to the poisoning has also been dramatic: to date 26 countries have expelled Russian diplomats, and Russia, which of course denies any involvement in the poisoning, has done the same as a counter-response.

Links to the A-level sociology specification

sociological perspectives russia.png

Probably the most obvious link to the A-level sociology specification is that this is a primary example of a state crime – it seems extremely likely that the poisoning was carried out by an agent of the Russian state – The UK condemned Russia at the United Nations Human Rights Council as being in breach of international law and the UK’s national sovereignty.

Secondly, this case study reminds of us that nation states are still among the most powerful actors in the world – nation states are the only institutions which can ‘legitimately’ manufacture chemical weapons such as Novichock.

Thirdly, you could use this as an example of how ‘consensus’ and ‘conflict’ exist side by side. he existence of global values allows various nations to show ‘solidarity’ against Russia and express ‘value consensus’ but it also reminds us that there are conflicting interests in the world.

Fourthly, media coverage aside, it’s hardly a post-modern event is it! Having said that, we don’t know for certain who did the poisoning, so all of this could be a good example of ‘hypperreality’.

There’s lots of other links you could make across various modules – for example, the way the media has dealt with the event (it’s very news worthy!) and the ‘panic’ surrounding it, it fits with our ‘risk conscious society’ very nicely!

Sources 

Spy poisoning: Highest amount of nerve agent was on door (BBC News)

UK slam Russia over spy poisoning (Washington Post)

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Explaining South Korea’s Economic and Social Development #2

South Korea is one of the real success stories of development post world war two, but what policies led to it rapid economic and social development?

NB – you might like to read part one of ‘Explaining South Korea’s Development‘ first!

During the early phases of its economic development, there were few vested interests In South Korea to oppose Import Substitution Industrialization: there was no landlord class (like in South America) and no foreign ownership of industry (like in much of Africa), so there were no vested ‘extractive’ interests to block the consumption of imports which was required to boost manufacturing.

During the 1980s South Korea also benefited from global political and economic trends: it gained an ally in America who wanted a stronghold in Asia to prove that a free-market economy was a viable alternative to communism; it was also able to benefit from the increasing global demand for cars and other industrial products – cheaper labour in South Korea meant it was eventually able to build a very successful automobile industry, spruing on the decline of manufacturing in places like Detroit.

The Hyundai factory in Ulsan is now the biggest automobile factory in the World, an honor which used to belong to the River Rouge Ford Factory in Detroit.

By the 1990s South Korea was being categorized as a Newly Industrialized Economy…however, the idea that this success was because of neoliberal policies is a myth. Rather, the strong economic growth post WW2 was because the authoritarian government (not beholden to either of the vested interests above) was able to protect industries, much in the same way as Britain and America did during their strong phases of economic growth.

In short, South Korea’s economic success is because the state played a highly interventionist role in steering, stimulating and constraining the market.

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Trump’s Tax Bill: Another Neoliberal Policy.

In mid December 2017, The U.S. Senate voted through a tax-bill which will deliver a dramatic reduction in America’s corporate tax rate – from 35% to 20% – along with a reduction in inheritance tax which will allow the America’s wealthiest individuals to pass more tax-free money to their children (or other heirs). This Guardian article provides further details.

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For A-level sociology students studying global development, this represents yet another example of a neoliberal policy – cutting taxes is a key aspect of the economic doctrine of neoliberalism.

The supposed rational behind the bill is to stimulate economic growth, but it is also likely to widen inequality and the bill is also predicted to add $1 trillion to the national debt

It’s also interesting to note that Donald Trump ran for president as an outsider who would stand up for the working people, but now it seems that it’s the wealthy, share-holding corporate class that’s going to benefit most from this policy.

 

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The Delhi Smog – A Consequence of Neoliberal Development?

A test match between India and Sri Lanka had to be repeatedly halted on Sunday because of the smog enveloping Delhi.

India smog 2
The Sri-Lankan cricket team, taking a break from smog-induced vomit sessions 

The Sri-Lankan team took the field after the lunch break wearing face masks, and play was halted for consultation with doctors. It then resumed, but was stopped twice more when two Sri Lankan bowlers left the field with breathing difficult and nausea; one of them was said to have vomited in the changing room. (further details are in this article in the Hindustan Times)*

This little story got me to digging around for evidence of the extent of pollution in Delhi – and it seems that it’s pretty bad – according to this BBC News Article pollution levels in early November 2017 reached 30 times the World Health Organisation’s acceptable limits, and the Indian Medical Association declared a state of medical emergency…

Thick smog in new Delhi on Tuesday express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey 07 Nov 17
Smog in Delhi

To my mind this is a great example of the relationship between development and environmental damage, which can be especially bad when development happens rapidly (or should I say ‘development’?) and there is a lack of regulation. Possibly yet another problems with neoliberal strategies of development?

*NB – The India cricket boss, CK Khanna, accused to Sri Lankans of making a ‘big fuss’, I guess it all depends on what level of pollution you regard as ‘normal’! 

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The Partition of India

The August 1947 partition of India divided the newly independent country into two new states: A Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. The later was itself divided into western and eastern sections, more than 1000 miles apart: present day Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Partition-India

In the view of most historians, the partition of India was the central event in 20th century South Asian history. It precipitated one of the largest migrations in human history, as Muslims fled to Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs to India. Up to 15 million people were uprooted, and this was accompanied by a vast outbreak of sectarian violence, as communities that had coexisted peacefully for hundreds of years massacred and killed each other. More than a million people are thought to have been killed.

The partition also marked the departure of the British from the subcontinent after 300 years in India

What led Britain to leave India?

India’s 30 year-long nationalist struggle had made it increasingly difficult and expensive to run, and after World War Two Britain no longer had the resources to control it. Indeed, Britain’s Labour government, elected in 1945, was firmly in favour of the idea of Indian self-rule. In early 1947, prime minister Clement Attlee appointed Louis Mountbatten as viceroy, instructing him: “Keep India united if you can. If not, save something from the wreck. In any case, get Britain out.”

Louis Mounbatten

Mountbatten proceeded at a speed that is now generally deemed to have been disastrous, but from a narrow British perspective he was fairly successful, the British marched out of the country with only seven casualties.

Why was partitioning India deemed to be necessary?

As a result of Muslim conquests dating back to the 11th century, a fifth of India’s population was Muslim at the time of partition. And thought Muslims and Hindus had been living side by side peacefully for centuries, the two groups became heavily polarised in the early 20th century. Prominent Muslims, feeling that the Indian National Congress, the main nationalist movement, was largely Hindu, formed the Muslim league in 1906. From the 1920s there were outbreaks of communal violence; and in 1940, the League, fearing the prospect of a Hindu-dominated India, committed itself to a separate Muslim homeland.

 

Muslim League India
The Muslim League of India

 

Congress initially opposed this idea, and negotiations between Congress leader Jawahatlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League became ever more poisonous. In 1946, a British mission proposed a loose federal structure, with three autonomous groups of provinces, but this was rejected and Mountbatten wen on to convince the major players that partition was the only option.

How was India divided?

A British barrister, Cyril Radcliffe, was given little more than a month of remake the map of India. His two boundary commissions, for Punjab and Bengal, had to draw a line through the two most divided provinces. He sat with four judges on each – two Muslim, two non-Muslim – but they split equally on contentious issues, leaving him the casting vote. The final borders were not agreed until two days after Independence. Few were happy. And very large numbers of people were left on the wrong side of the new line.

Why was partition so violent?

This question has been the subject of decades of historical debate. Indian nationalists generally blame Jinnah’s intransigence: the only India he’d accept would be a ‘divided India, or a destroyed India’, and the Direct Action Day he declared in August 1946 led to rioting and killing in Calcutta. Local politicians also stirred up violent prejudice, while landlords and businessmen paid and trained gangs of militias. ‘Divide and rule’ had ramped up tensions between different communities and the swift withdrawal of the forces of law and order left a dangerous vacuum. From August 1946 on, there were regular massacres across the country, which in turn sparked others, building to a climax in the summer of 1947.

Where was the violence worst?

It was particularly intense in Bengal and worst in Punjab, where there were massacres, forced conversions, mass abductions and rapes.”Gangs of killers set villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged, while carrying off young women to be raped,” writes Nisid Hajari in Midnight’s Furies, his history of the partition of India. “Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed the partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found roasted on spits.”

The Punjab was effectively ethnically cleansed, of Hindus and Sikhs in the west, and of Muslims in the east. Refugee trains were ambushed and sent on to the border full of the murdered and the maimed. Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital, was nearly half Hindu before partition, by the end of the decade, almost all its Hindus had fled. Some 200 000 Muslims were forced out of Delhi.

Those who suffered the most: the women

During the partition, women were abducted, raped and mutilated in vast numbers. Victims were tattooed with phrases such as ‘Jai Hind’ (victory to India) and ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ (long live Pakistan). Stories abound of men killing their own wives and children in order to spare them the shame of possible capture and rape.

The Indian government has estimated that 83 000 women were abducted in 1947, mostly from the vast columns of refugees known as Kafilas. Some 50 000 were Muslims and the rest Hindus and Sikhs. The larger number of Muslim victims is attributed to the actions of organised Sikh jathas, or armed bands. Rather than being abandoned, writes Yasmin Khan in The Great Partition, “tens of thousands of women were kept in the ‘other’ country, as permanent hostages, captives, or forced wives; they became simply known as ‘the abducted women’.”

In the eight-year period after partition, 30 000 women were eventually repatriated to the other country. More than 20 000 Muslim women were sent to Pakistan, and more than 9 000 Hindus and Sikhs to India. The rest never returned to their families.

What were the long-term effects of Partition of India?

India and Pakistan have existed in a state of permanent hostility as a result – they’ve fought three declared wars, two of them over Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority area to stay inside India. A decades-long insurgency there has left thousands dead. Today, a large Muslim minority of some 170 million people remains in India; a far smaller Hindu minority of around three million lives in Pakistan. Both groups face persecution.

India Pakistan violence

Pakistan, as the smaller and weaker country, has been dominated by its army and intelligence services in large part due to the perceived threat of India. The Pakistan military has used its jihadi proxies to attack India, while India has in recent years elected intolerant Hindu nationalist leaders.

The wounds of 1947 have never healed.

Relevance of this case-study to A-level Sociology

  • Can be used to illustrate how religion can be a source of conflict.
  • Can be used to illustrate how conflict ‘retards’ development.
  • Can be used to illustrate the relevant of feminist theory (probably difference feminism) – women seemed to have suffered more than men due to the partition.
  • Can be used to illustrate the ‘ethnocentric nature’ the British history curriculum – most students will know nothing about the partition of India.

Sources

The Week, 12 August 2017.

Nisid Hajari: Midnight’s Furies

Yasmin Khan: The Great Partition

 

 

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Explaining South Korea’s Development #1

Korea was a Japanese Colony from 1910 to 1945, providing food and fuel for the ‘motherland’.

Following the fall of the Japanese Empire at the end of World War II, Korea was divided along the 38th parallel into North and South Korea, North Korea controlled by communist Russia, and South Korea governed by the United States, pitching Communist and Capitalist modes of development against each other.

Following the brutal Korean War of 1950 to 1953 (which was the first war of the ‘cold war’ and was brutal enough to result in 4 million deaths) both North and South Korea lay decimated: plundered by 50 years of colonial rule and then a decade of fighting their infrastructures lay in ruins.

South Korea’s economy stagnated in the decade following the Korean war, but then grew rapidly, and today South Korea is one of the world’s leading economies, whereas North Korea stagnated under hard-line communist rule.

Given the fact that the two countries share common histories up until the end of WW2, and given that they share similar cultures and climates, these things cannot explain their divergent experiences in development since 1950 – and thus South Korea’s development (and North Korea’s lack of it) can only be explain by the social and economic development strategies (and their consequences) adopted by the South Korean government since the 1950s.

Following the war South Korea received some support for reconstruction from the US. As a percentage of gross national income South Korea received a very similar level of support to Kenya in the 1960s. But International Development Assistance was not the answer to Korean poverty. USAID reported that Korea was a ‘bottomless pit’ that could not be helped by development funding.

In 1961, when General Park Chung-Hee came to power in a military coup, South Korea’s yearly income was just $82 per person (for comparison Ghana’s was $179 at the time). In 1962 Park turned civilian and went on to win three elections before seizing the presidency for life. His rule was strict and South Korea was a highly disciplined society.

Park surrounded himself with able colleagues and made some astute political moves: During the Vietnam war, South Korea sent troops to support US efforts and was richly rewarded. In the mid 1960s, revenues from the Americans for Korean troops in Vietnam were the larges single source of foreign-exchange earnings.

Park was authoritarian and stifled liberties, but he put in place policies which effectively modernized South Korea.

Five year plans for economic development were at the heart of his strategy. Growth was steady during the 1960s as new factories producing basic goods were built, and in 1973 Park launched the ‘Heavy and Chemical industrialization programme’ which estalished the first steel mills and car manufacturing plants, which formed the backbone for industrial development and moved South Korea away from reliance on agricultural products.

As a result of Park’s economic policies, Per Capita income grew by more than 5 times between 1972 and 1979, reaching $1000 per capita by 1977, and all of this with very little reliance on aid.

Growth depended on Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), which mean reducing dependence on imports and replacing them with domestically produced products. In practice this meant protecting basic goods such as clothing, hand tools and processed food.

Citizens were also heavily disciplined: they were mobilized like soldiers into factories and consumption was also tightly controlled: for example, foreign cigarettes were band, and citizens were encouraged to report anyone smoking imported tobacco products.

Every spare cent of foreign exchange earned from exports was used to import new machine imports to further industrialization and over many years South Korea’s manufacturing processes evolved to become more and more technologically sophisticated and eventually the nation transitioned to producing manufactured goods for export to foreign markets.

The history of the Samsung Corporation illustrates the successful development of the South Korean economy.

Samsung began selling dried fish, fruit and vegetables to China in 1938, before moving into flour milling and confectionery manufacturing, then textile weaving. In the early 1970s it invested in heavy, chemical and petrochemical industries and produced the first black and white television for domestic sale in South Korea in 1972. In the second half the 1970s Samsung moved into producing home electronics for export, and today is one of the world’s leading technology companies.

The result of all of this is that South Korea has seen one of the fastest rates of economic growth since WW2 – it’s GDP was over $28 000 in 2016.

However, South Korea’s development did come at a cost: political freedoms were limited (although Korea is now a democracy) working hours were very long, and gender inequality high. Today, South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and widespread alcohol dependency.

Sources:

Summarized from Brooks (2017) The End of Development.

 

 

 

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Forging the American Empire

Is it possible to perceive the making of modern America as a sort of colonial project? One in which the new American capitalist class colonizes the so called American wilderness for the benefit of Capitalism? This is the argument Andrew Brooks makes in his recent book – The End of Development:

On 4 July 1776 the newly independent United States of America consisted of 13 colonies that were formally ceded by Great Britain in 1783. The United States then expanded Westwards, and by the time of the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853, the modern boarders of the contiguous United States were established.

American expansion.jpg

Formal territorial expansions were legally and politically essential. Annexation first provided new space for capitalism, then new Americans came, conquered and combined land, labour and capital to generate wealth. Fundamentally though it was the direct control and space and the westward advance of Europeans and their conflicts with other Americans that were the real means of making the nation.

The whole history of the United States is one of occupation and land seizure: rather than territorial colonialism abroad,  there was unprecedented territorialism at home. Ironically, the American war of Independence (1775 – 1783), far from being a pure anti-colonial struggle, was rather a moment that enabled expanded imperialism led by the European Americans. Once the revolution had freed the settlers, they conquered the res of the North American continent and reorganized the space for capitalism. This meant removing the Native population to make room for an expanding immigrant population, as was advocated by Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franlklin Colonialism Indians.jpg

The popularization of the notion of ‘wilderness’ was a key ideological tool which promoted this expansion Westwards – the great interior of the new United States was portrayed as wild country which was the antithesis of civilization, full of wild savages, both of which needed to be overcome in order for progress to be made.

(Of course in reality, neither were true, many Native American Tribes had rich cultures which managed the land they had occupied for centuries in a sustainable manner).

In the 19th century, the American capitalist was a colonist at home, enjoying what the European capitalist had to travel to Africa or Asia to achieve: profits were accumulated through imported slaves, and later indentured Chinese labour on the Pacific Coast.

Profit was also accumulated via exploitation of Native Americans through trade. Indigenous peoples exchanged pelts for fish hooks, guns and knives, which benefited whites and forged a relationship of dependency.

Rifles changed the balance of power between tribes, causing warfare between native peoples, as well as intensifying hunting practices. Established cultures and ways of life that had existed for centuries were wiped out in a few short decades. For instance, muskets used by Metis hunters nearly wiped out buffalo in the Red River valley of North Dakota.

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Metis indians shipping buffalo bones in North Dakota

Fur trading was one of the first major economic activities, but American capitalism soon diversified and grew as it learnt the lessons of the industrial revolution in Britain, and it was a rapid industrialization as the USA was both unencumbered by old social relations such as Feudalism, and all the necessary resources to fuel industry were on home soil.

Ultimately, Brooks argues that any time Washington, Hamilton, Adams or Jefferson referred to the ‘Federal Union’ in their presidential address, they were really referring to the process of forging an American Empire – except they didn’t need ships to go and do it in far away places, they had plenty of ’empty’ territory right next door.