The type of government in the US is a representational federal republic, based on a strong constitution. The US is a federation consisting of 50 states, one federal district where you can find the capital, and other territories. In the American democratic system, rights and powers are divided between the individual states and the federal government.
The federal government has three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.
The Executive branch is made up of the chief of state (the president) and his cabinet. Unlike in many other countries, the chief of state in the US is also the head of the government. There is no prime minister. The President, who is at the head of the state, is elected in a presidential election for a four-year term in office. The President can be elected only for two terms in a row. The President must be a native-born citizen and at the least 35 years old. Presidential powers are rather big. He proposes bills, can veto or refuse a bill, is the Commander-in-Chief to the Armed Forces, makes treaties, and appoints federal judges and ambassadors. The head of each department is appointed by the president and is responsible to him. The heads of the executive departments form a council known as the President’s Cabinet. The official residence of the President is the White House in Washington, D.C. The White House got its name in 1814. Now the president is Bill Clinton of the democratic party. The first American President was George Washington, the second was John Adams, and the third Thomas Jefferson. Other important presidents were: Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (he was elected four times), John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, and George Bush.
The legislative branch is made up of elected representatives and the main body is called the Congress. Its seat is in the Capitol. In the Library of Congress we can find the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The U.S. Congress is the lawmaking body. The Congress is divided into two parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Both branches must approve bills and the president must sign them.
The House of Representatives consists of 435 lawmakers which serve for two years each. Each state has a number of Representatives corresponding with its population. The chairman of the House of Representatives is called the Speaker. The Senate consists of 100 Senators, two from each state, elected for a six-year period. The chairman of the Senate is the Vice-president and is elected from the same political party as the President.
The Judicial branch enforces and interprets the laws made by the Legislative branch and approved by the Executive branch. This branch consists of many levels of federal courts. The highest of these is the Supreme Court, with nine justices appointed for life. These three branches are designed to check and balance each other out, so no branch has too much power in the federal government.
Each state has its own government and makes its own laws concerning sales taxes, education, speed limits, environmental protection, unemployment benefits, gambling, drinking, and divorce. Federal laws apply to all states and citizens. The Federal government controls national taxes and the armed forces. Two parties dominate American politics: the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democratic Party is more liberal. They think that the government should provide broad social and economic programs for those who need them. Their symbol is the donkey. The Republican Party puts more emphasis on private enterprise and individual initiative. Their symbol is the elephant. The current administration is Republican. US citizens must be 18 years old to vote. The USA is the member of all major international organizations: the UN (United Nations), OAS (the Organization of American States), NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), and NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). The National flag consists of two parts: one smaller blue square with 50 white stars symbolizing the 50 American states and one larger area consisting of 6 white and 7 red stripes symbolizing the original 13 states which used to be the British colonies. The flag is often called “Old Glory” or “Stars and stripes.” The American Anthem is called “The Star – Spangled Banner.”
Americans celebrate many holidays during the year. For many people, holidays mean, that they do not have to go to work or to school. The family is together. The holidays in the US can be divided into three types: federal holidays, religious holidays, and holidays of each individual state. I want to speak about the federal and religious holidays, because they are common for all fifty states of the USA. There are eight federal or national holidays in the US. They are designated by the federal government, but each state can decide if they want to honor them or have different ones. The most federal holidays do not have specific dates, but are celebrated on a certain day. That way, states and companies which celebrate it will have a long weekend. On the third Monday in January, Martin Luther King Day is celebrated. It is named after a man who fought for equal rights among all races. He was assassinated in 1968. President´s Day is the official birthday of all of the American presidents. It is the day to honor all of the presidents of the US. The ceremonies take place every third Monday in February. It was originally held in honor of the birthday of the first American president, George Washington. Memorial Day is celebrated on the fourth Monday in May and commemorates the dead from all of the wars.
July brings Independence Day. It commemorates the victory over the British in the American Civil War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It is a day of picnics, parades, flying flags, parties, barbecues, concerts, and fireworks. It is celebrated on the 4th of July.
Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September. This holiday is to honor working people. It is used for rest or for visiting family. Sadly, it also often signals the end of summer and the start of a new school year for students.
The second Monday in October is celebrated as Columbus Day. It reminds Columbus´ landing in the New World on the 12th ofOctober in 1492. There are parades in the streets but the Native Americans often protest against celebrating this day.
Veteran´s Day is celebrated on the second Monday in November. It was originally established to honor people who served in the First World War. Now it honors all veterans of any war.
Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the last Thursday of November and it is the second most important holiday of the year after Christmas. When the Pilgrim Fathers settled in America in 1620, they suffered a lot during the first winter and many of them died. The next year, the Native Americans taught them how to plant corn and other crops, such as pumpkins, barley and beans. In the autumn of 1621, they celebrated their Thanksgiving Day for the first time. The Pilgrim Fathers also invited local Indians to the celebration. Nowadays, the Americans eat roast turkey and pumpkin pie and they wish one another “Happy Turkey Day”. This is a day of gifts, charity and food for poor people. Thanksgiving also brings the unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season which is followed by Christmas celebrations. >
Now I want to speak about religious holidays.
On the 1st of January, Americans celebrate New Year´s Day just like us.
Saint Patrick´s Day is celebrated on the 17th of March. It is a typical Irish holiday which is now celebrated nearly everywhere in the world, especially in the USA. People are dressed in green and there is music, dancing and drinking everywhere. The symbol of the day is the national Irish flower, the green shamrock.
St. Valentine´s Day is an international holiday. It is a lovers´ feast named after an early Christian martyr, who had to die because he had wedded many couples in the times of war when marriages were forbidden. On the 14th- of February, people give presents to the people they love and they send funny greeting cards to their friends as well. The cards are anonymous and often signed ”Your Valentine” or ”Your secret admirer”.
Easter is celebrated on the 1st of Sunday after the 1st full moon in spring. Children believe that while they are sleeping, the Easter Bunny hides eggs in the house. In the morning, they go and search them. This is called an Easter egg hunt.
Halloween starts on the 31st of October. It is also called All Hallows Eve. It is associated with an old Celtic custom of celebrating the end of the season of the sun, the disappearance of the sun god and the start of the Celtic year. In the evening, children light pumpkin lanterns called jack-o´-lanterns to chase away witches and evil spirits. Children dress up as saints, angels, devils, witches, goblins and ghosts. They knock on the door and say: “Trick or treat,” and if they are not given candy, popcorn or cookies, they will play a trick. On that day, people throw parties, decorate their houses with paper moons, witches, bats, ghosts, and black cats.
Christmas starts on the 24th of December – on Christmas Eve when families decorate their houses with colored paper, paper balls and chains, sprigs of ivy, and mistletoe. They have the Christmas tree, of course. On the mantelpiece, there are Christmas cards wishing Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Children hope that at night Santa Clause will come down the chimney and bring some presents for them, so there are Christmas stockings hanging from their beds and larger presents are under the tree. Children get up very early in the morning to open the presents and play with their new toys. They also watch TV and sing Christmas carols. The Christmas tree usually keeps standing until the Twelfth Night on the 5th of January.
Washington D.C. is the capital of the USA. It´s named after the first president, George Washington. It´s the first city especially planned and built as a capital. The letters D.C. mean District of Columbia. It is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. It is divided into four sections: the Northwest, the Northeast, the Southwest, and the Southeast. Each section is named for its direction from the Capitol. The streets starting from the Capitol in the north-south direction bear numbers, and streets running in the west-east direction are marked with letters. In the centre – on Capitol Hill – is the Capitol, the seat of the Congress, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. Nearby is the White House. It has been the residence of all presidents expect for George Washington. Important buildings include the Library of Congress – the US national library – and the Pentagon, the centre of military forces. There are no skyscrapers in the vicinity, which are typical for America, but they are built behind the Potomac River. Washington is world famous for its museums. There is the National Air and Space Museum, and the Museum of African Art, etc.
San Francisco is located in the state of California. San Francisco overlooks a bay. In the past, it used to be a Spanish fort. Unfortunately, there are many earthquakes in that part of the world. After the Great Earthquake in 1906, there was a three-day fire that destroyed the city centre. Today, San Francisco is a picturesque city with steep streets and trolley cars. The most important sight is the Golden Gate Bridge (1,280m long) which is said to be the most photographed bridge in the world. Another famous landmark is the prison Alcatraz, where Al Capone and other dangerous criminals were imprisoned. Just nine men managed to escape from the rock but they probably drowned in the sea.
Los Angeles is the capital of the film world. Many famous people live there in order to be near to the film studios in Hollywood. Famous people often live in suburbs, such as Beverly Hills or Hollywood. It is the second largest city in the USA. Its name comes from the Spanish term for ”the City of Angels”. Los Angeles is famous for its semi-tropical climate, palm trees, and beaches. 3.5 million people live in the city and the number of cars is even higher. Most people drive to work along the complicated network of freeways. Because of the high number of private cars, LA is known for its traffic jams and air pollution.
Chicago is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. Two important rivers run through the city – the Chicago and the Calumet. Here we can find the tallest skyscraper, Sears Tower (443 meters). Chicago is an industrial centre. O´Hare Airport is the busiest airport in the world. Interestingly, this metropolis has a large Czech population as many people immigrated here from Bohemia and Moravia in the mid-1800s. By the turn of the century, Chicago was the third largest Czech city in the world (after Prague and Vienna), and there were four daily newspapers being published in Czech. A Czech immigrant from Kladno, Antonin Cermak, was elected mayor of Chicago in 1931.
Las Vegas is the most populous city in Nevada, the seat of Clark County, and an internationally renowned major resort city for gambling, shopping and fine dining. Although “las vegas” means fertile plain in Spanish, the city of the same name offers casinos and other entertainment venues, which earned it the nickname of “Sin City”. In 1931, Nevada´s governor signed a bill making gambling legal in the state. That same year, the Pair-O-Dice Club was the first casino to open on the future Las Vegas Strip. The Strip is a six-kilometer-long street filled with neon lights, massive hotels, and of course casinos.
New Orleans looks like a European-style city, like San Francisco. It lies in the southeast part of Louisiana by the Mississippi River and it is an important port town. New Orleans is the home of jazz and the birthplace of Louis Armstrong. There is the French Quarter where we can hear the best jazz in the USA.
Atlanta is the seat of Coca-Cola. Nashville is considered as the capital of country music. Detroit is the centre of the car industry in the USA. Mount Rushmore is the place where the heads of the four American presidents are carved into the rock. They are G. Washington, T. Jefferson, A. Lincoln and T. Roosevelt. Route 66 is a famous road which connects the East and the West of the US. It starts in Chicago and finishes in Santa Monica in California. It goes through eight states. The Statue of Liberty is a copper statue given to the USA by France in 1887. It is a gift which commemorates the friendship between the French and the Americans. The statue stands on Liberty Island near the port. It is a symbol of New York and the first sight for many immigrants, so it has become a symbol of hope and freedom.
Louis Armstrong was born into a very poor home. He left home as a teenager and gradually started to earn a living playing his cornet. In the 1920s, after playing in other bands, he formed various small groups of his own, such as The Louis Armstrong Hot Five, and made some records. These recordings brought him world-wide fame among jazz fans. But Armstrong was more than just a cornet player. His big smile and his antics on stage made him into something special. In 1936, he appeared in his first film, Pennies from Heaven, with Bing Crosby. From then on he gradually became a popular singer; his gravelly, cheerful voice having an attraction all of its own. His biggest popular song hits were Hello Dolly, (1964) and What a Wonderful World (1968).
Neil Armstrong was very interested in flying when he was a young man. He was awarded his pilot's license at the age of 16, even before he had learned how to drive a car. Later in the 1950s, he became a test pilot for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) before joining the US space program in 1962. In July 1969, Armstrong joined fellow astronauts Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins on the Apollo 11 mission. They took four days to reach the Moon. On the 20th of July, Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon. As he stepped off the ‘Eagle’ (the lunar landing module), he said, ‘That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.’
Alphonse Capone claimed that he was born in New York but it is more likely that he was born in Italy and immigrated with his family to the USA when he was a child. Capone turned to crime very early, and was involved in New York street gangs when he was a teenager. He was a natural leader and soon had many gangsters and hoodlums following him. In 1919, the Congress of the United States voted to ban all sales of alcoholic drinks, and this became law the following year. This ban lasted for 13 years, and was called the Prohibition. During the Prohibition, many criminals made fortunes because a lot of people still wanted to drink beer and other alcoholic drinks, and only criminals could supply them. Capone operated in Chicago during this time, running various illegal schemes including the selling of alcoholic drinks. He became rich and influential through crime, and was not arrested because he bribed many policemen and other officials. He was very brutal and was involved in the murder of seven members of a rival gang in what became known as the St Valentine's Day massacre. Eventually, in 1932, Capone went to prison for not paying taxes. After only a few years, he came out a sick man and died while still in his forties.
Lewis Carroll is a famous British writer whose works include Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass, as well as poems such as The Hunting of the Snark, and Jabberwocky. In addition to being an author, he was a mathematician, logician, Anglican clergyman, and photographer.
Walter Disney grew up on a Missouri farm, and enjoyed sketching the animals around him. He later drew advertisements for an advertising agency, before starting on cartoon films for the Laugh-o-Gram company in Kansas. He created Mickey Mouse in 1928 and Donald Duck in 1934. These quickly became the world's favorite cartoon characters. He then started making full-length animated films, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940) and Bambi (1942). Sometimes he was criticized for changing famous stories to suit his cartoons. His film company became the biggest producer of cartoons, but it also made children's films with real actors such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and films such as Mary Poppins (1964), which combined cartoon characters and real actors. Disney is now one of the most successful film companies in the world, making films for adults as well as for children. In 1954, Walt Disney opened Disneyland, the huge amusement park in California. The even bigger Disneyworld in Florida opened five years after his death. Disneyworld near Paris, France, opened in 1992, originally under the name of EuroDisney.
Michael Jordan was a leading college basketball player at the University of North Carolina. He then began an outstanding career with the Chicago Bulls, becoming the National Basketball Association's most valuable player in 1988. Jordan is renowned in professional American basketball for his high scoring. By 1992, he had achieved a record average of 32.3 points in 589 games for the Bulls. He is known as ‘Air’ Jordan because of the height he can leap. He competed in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 with the ‘Dream Team’. This US team consisted of top millionaire professional players instead of the usual college amateurs. Not surprisingly, the team easily won the Olympic gold medal. Jordan announced his retirement from professional basketball in 1993, but less than two years later he decided to resume his career.