Saturday, September 17, 2011

Palestinians Hold Firm In Their Quest To Seek National Statehood Status In The United Nations

Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said Friday his call for statehood was not meant to isolate Israel.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/world/middleeast/Abbas-Security-Council-United-Nations-Vote.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2

All,

The huge importance of this essential move by the Palestinians for formal recognition of national statehood status in the UN cannot be overstated. This will be the most consequential and significant vote in the United Nations in 50 years and will create an entirely new scenario for the Palestinian people to finally begin realizing their dream for true self determination and national sovereignty. So it's imperative that President Abbas and the general political leadership in Palestine not waver one iota in their commitment to this political strategy both in the short and long run. It will be especially important that the Palestinians not give in or acquiesce on any significant level to the manipulative demands of either the U.S. government in the UN Security Council or to the threats and bullying tactics of the rightwing Likud government in Israel. Real self determination and true national independence begins at the point where a People decide ON THEIR OWN ALONE what course they want and need to take and to courageously indicate to their detractors and enemies in both subtle and overt ways that they are absolutely determined to be free whatever the cost. So if the United States decide to veto them in the UN Security Council next week LET 'EM. This ain't a matter of what the United States so-called "interests" are or what they--or Israel-- "think is best for all concerned." This is a matter of a free and sovereign People deciding for themselves what they KNOW is best for themselves. History, as always, will take care of the rest...

Kofi



Palestinians Set Bid for U.N. Seat, Clashing With U.S.
By ETHAN BRONNER and ISABEL KERSHNER
September 16, 2011

New York Times


JERUSALEM — The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, announced Friday that he would seek membership for a state of Palestine from the United Nations Security Council next week, putting him on a collision course with Israel and the United States as both face an Arab world in turmoil.

Men at a coffee shop in Gaza City watched Friday as President Mahmoud Abbas announced plans to apply for Palestinian membership in the United Nations.

Mr. Abbas’s plan, made public in a television address, follows months of failed American and European efforts to restart Palestinian negotiations with Israel. Some fear that Mr. Abbas’s move will raise expectations among his people, with nothing changing for them on the ground. Combined with alarmed reactions from Israeli settlers, violent showdowns could erupt.

But the Palestinians say that after decades of occupation and about 20 years of failed talks with an increasingly hawkish Israel, it is time for a new approach in which the borders of a Palestinian state are first recognized globally and then two states, Israel and Palestine, negotiate final details.

The decision to apply for membership through the Council signals a double defeat for the United States. Washington not only failed to dissuade the Palestinians from a unilateral bid for statehood, but also fell short of its goal of confining the application to the United Nations General Assembly, where Obama administration officials believe a vote in favor of statehood would be more symbolic and less divisive.

The Obama administration has vowed to use its veto at the Council to prevent full recognition of Palestine. But it is eager to avoid doing so because that action would likely leave the United States isolated on the issue, weakening its standing with Arab nations at a politically delicate moment.

“We need to have full membership at the U.N.,” Mr. Abbas said in the speech from his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which was broadcast live on Al Jazeera and other outlets. “We need a state, a seat at the United Nations.”

He added, “We are going to the Security Council,” as Palestinian dignitaries gave him rousing applause and a standing ovation. Mr. Abbas called it “our decision, which we have conveyed to everyone.”


The borders Mr. Abbas seeks are those of 1967, meaning East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza would be included. More than 500,000 Israelis have settled beyond those lines.

Israel, while officially accepting the idea of a Palestinian state, wants to leave nearly all of the settlers where they are and keep control of Jerusalem. It also fears militant groups and missiles would penetrate such a state unless Israel controls its borders, an approach rejected by the Palestinians.

One goal of the move is to gain admission to a range of international legal and diplomatic forums where complaints against Israeli occupation and settlement could be pursued. Mr. Abbas said he was not seeking to delegitimize Israel, only to advance negotiations between two equals.

For the Obama administration, the move poses an acute dilemma. It has vowed to use its veto because it argues that the only viable way toward Palestinian statehood is through direct talks with Israel. But for the past eight months, Arab countries have risen in revolt against dictators and the Palestinian question has totemic significance for the entire region.

The United States has struggled to place itself on the side of those seeking justice and freedom in the current revolts. But the Obama administration has supported uprisings in Libya and, less strongly, in Syria, while looking the other way during a crackdown by an ally, Bahrain. A veto of Palestinian membership would intensify Arab perceptions of American double standards.

Moreover, Republican lawmakers have vowed to end American aid to the Palestinian Authority if it seeks United Nations membership, something the administration opposes. That could create further chaos on the ground.

The White House sent two senior diplomats, Dennis B. Ross and David M. Hale, on repeated trips to Jerusalem and Ramallah in recent weeks to try to work out an alternative to a United Nations campaign.

In recent days, senior administration officials said, the United States was trying to get agreement on a statement, backed by the international community, affirming President Obama’s proposal last May to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state. That plan would use as a baseline the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel, with land swaps. But Palestinian officials said it was too little too late.

“We ask President Obama to face the moment of truth,” Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official, said afterward. “This is a peaceful measure. There is no reason whatsoever for the United States not to support us on this step.”

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel issued a curt statement, saying, “Peace will not be achieved by a unilateral approach to the United Nations.”

Mr. Netanyahu says that the Palestinians must not be rewarded for avoiding direct talks and tough sacrifices. Some of his ministers have called for a range of punitive responses, including annexing portions of the West Bank or removing travel privileges from Palestinian officials. He has not expressed himself publicly on those suggestions.

At the Arab League, which had strongly urged the Palestinians to take the less confrontational path of seeking limited statehood recognition via the General Assembly, an official said the group would now nonetheless stand firmly behind Mr. Abbas. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order not to upstage leaders of the league, who were traveling to New York for the United Nations annual meetings.

Officials of Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, said Mr. Abbas’s declaration was a useless stunt aimed at continuing what it called fruitless negotiations with Israel, which Hamas does not recognize as a legitimate state.

“The speech is an attempt to justify the negotiations,” said Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, reached by telephone. He argued that turning to the United Nations would get Mr. Abbas nothing.

Hamas has banned public demonstrations in Gaza to support Mr. Abbas’s move. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, told reporters that Mr. Abbas had approached the United Nations unilaterally, without winning support from the group, despite what Mr. Barhoum called the Palestinian president’s rhetoric about reconciliation.

Mr. Abbas’s speech was played live on the official channel Palestine TV with the “UN 194” logo of the statehood recognition bid in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. Some Palestinians listened; others said it mattered little because the United States would veto it.

Admission to the United Nations as a full member state requires a recommendation from the 15-member Security Council, with a majority of nine votes, and no veto from the five permanent members, which include the United States. Then the submission goes to the General Assembly, which must pass it by a two-thirds vote among the 193 members.

The American vow to veto has already made it clear that the membership application will not make it out of the Council. But as in other matters involving the United Nations bureaucracy, procedural and legal tools can delay the application for weeks or months along the way. And the Palestinians could still subsequently seek less formal recognition of statehood through the General Assembly.

Mr. Abbas is aware of the obstacles ahead, some diplomats said, and may not object to the uncertainty. He ended his speech, saying, “As for other options, we have not yet taken a decision on them.”

The theory is that by going to the Council, Mr. Abbas makes his strongest political and symbolic act. And for Mr. Abbas, a man who is 76 and speaks frequently about retiring, that may be part of the point. In addition, the procedural delays at the Council could provide the time for an alternative negotiation framework to mature.

But that is a distinctly minority view of how events are likely to proceed. Most analysts and officials fear the combination of Israeli and Palestinian intransigence, along with a roiling region, will create the conditions for confrontation rather than negotiation.



Reporting was contributed by Rick Gladstone from New York; Anthony Shadid from Beirut, Lebanon; Mark Landler from Washington; David D. Kirkpatrick and Heba Afify from Cairo; Stephen Farrell from Ramallah, West Bank; Fares Akram from Gaza; and Neil MacFarquhar from the United Nations.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Palestinians Remain Steadfast in Fighting For International Recognition of Their Quest for National Statehood at the United Nations

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah distributed pamphlets and flags this week in a campaign to support the bid for statehood at the United Nations

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/world/middleeast/palestinians-say-un-gamble-is-worth-the-risk.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha22

All,

It's absolutely essential that the Palestinians continue to go their own way politically and vigorously pursue international recognition and support for their national independence and sovereignty in the United Nations. Neither the United States nor Israel are either willing or prepared to protect, support, or defend Palestine's right to self determination and eminently just quest for independent statehood. If the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and in particular President Abbas can hold on despite enormous pressures and disapproval from both the U.S. and the Israeli government as they pursue this course than real progress will be made in the long run, if not immediately. Of course it will be painted by the Obama administration, Israel, and the national media as an impediment to "peace talks" with Israel but the bottomline truth despite everyone's best wishes and desires to the contrary is that will be no real viable peace in the Middle East unless and until the fundamental question of Palestinian statehood is actually addressed and dealt with in real, concrete terms and not merely rhetorically. An internationally supported United Nations resolution on behalf of the Palestinian people will at least be a major step toward this accomplishing this crucial and desperately urgent goal...

Kofi


Palestinians Say a U.N. Gamble on Statehood Is Worth the Risks
By ISABEL KERSHNER
September 14, 2011
New York Times


KALANDIA, West Bank — It is far from clear what will happen when the Palestinians go to the United Nations next week to seek recognition of statehood. But the initiative is engaging a Palestinian public that had become deeply cynical after 20 years of intermittent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Can Israel Survive Without a Palestinian State?

Abbas and Netanyahu are at a stalemate on the statehood issue. Wouldn't Israel be better off with a viable Palestine?

Many Palestinians here in this refugee camp between Ramallah and Jerusalem said that they were excited by the prospect of their territory’s being declared a state, but that they recognized that it would not immediately improve their lives. Instead, they braced for possible punitive steps by the United States and Israel.

“Abu Mazen is doing a good thing, but the reactions could be bad,” said Khairiyya Abd al-Rahman, 66, a matronly resident of the refugee camp, using the popular name of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Going to the United Nations remains a high-stakes gambit for Mr. Abbas. Whether it succeeds or fails, the Palestinians’ frustration is likely to increase if their reality does not change. And while many Palestinians say they do not foresee the eruption of a third uprising, they warn that something is bound to give eventually if there is no measurable progress.

“Of course frustration can turn to chaos,” said Najeh Abd al-Majid, another resident of the camp, a frequent point of clashes between Palestinian youths and the Israeli military.

When the annual United Nations gathering begins on Monday, the Palestinian leadership could take its statehood bid to the Security Council, where the United States has vowed to use its veto, or it could opt for a vote in the General Assembly, a more modest route that would upgrade the Palestinian representation to that of a nonmember observer state, comparable to the Holy See.

Israel and the United States have tried to stop the showdown altogether, warning of dire consequences and insisting that the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through direct negotiations. Israel has not spelled out the possible fallout of a vote, but some on the right have called for the suspension of the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, the cancellation of agreements and the annexation of territory containing Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank. There has been talk in Washington of cutting financing as well.

Yet the Palestinian public’s mood is strongly in favor of the United Nations bid, whatever the risks.

“We have to do it,” said Selwa Yassin, 51, from the village of Ein Yabrud in the Ramallah district.

“The consequences,” Ms. Yassin said, “cannot be worse than losing all of Palestine.”

For now, the Palestinian leadership is trying to foster a festive atmosphere.

In Ramallah on Tuesday, volunteers gave store owners and motorists flags emblazoned with the campaign logo “U.N. Palestine State No. 194,” a reference to the goal of becoming the 194th member of the United Nations.

Those acquainted with the details say that the aspiration is to become a full-member state. “We do not want an honorary position,” said Qusai Khatib, 40, a barber and a teacher in Kalandia. “This would have no taste.”

For Palestinians seeking independence, even virtual statehood would represent a new phase in a long struggle. But in a reflection of the Palestinian leadership’s conflicted attitude toward its own initiative, Mr. Abbas appears to want to shake things up abroad while avoiding any major turmoil at home.

His instructions are for peaceful rallies to take place in the center of Palestinian cities, far from any friction points with the Israelis. Organizers have called on the Palestinian public to rally twice, on Sept. 21, the opening of the general debate in the United Nations General Assembly, and on Sept. 23, when Mr. Abbas is scheduled to address the forum.

“From our side, no confrontations, no chaos,” Mr. Abbas told reporters in Ramallah last week. “Our instructions were very strict: Don’t go to the roadblocks, don’t make any friction with the Israelis, don’t run to the Israelis. If they come to the cities, don’t react.”

The Palestinian leadership has recruited Abdallah Abu Rahma, an advocate of nonviolence and a leader of the popular resistance movement from Bilin, a West Bank village, as the coordinator of the “Palestine 194” campaign.

“We are trying to be like the Arab Spring,” Mr. Abu Rahma said, “to bring large numbers of Palestinians into the squares.”

The eagerness to avoid confrontation stems from the leadership’s desire to preserve its interests, according to Palestinian experts. Among other things, the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, wants to maintain security cooperation with Israel and to prevent its rival, Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza, from exploiting any tumult. It also wants to continue with state-building efforts and to avoid further damage to the authority’s already troubled financial situation.

“This is the outcome of a bargaining process within the Palestinian leadership,” said Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian political analyst in Ramallah. “It is about how to balance between those who want to do something dramatic and those who want to maintain the status quo, however despicable the situation may be.”

Mr. Shikaki added that Mr. Abbas, who is cautious by nature, also might not want to jeopardize the chance of resuming negotiations with the Israelis.

Palestinians say they fear provocations by Israeli settlers. Extremists have already stepped up their activities, vandalizing two mosques in West Bank villages this month.

The Israeli military says that it will tolerate Palestinian demonstrations within the confines of the cities and will generally act with restraint.

Brig. Gen. Michael Edelstein, the chief officer commanding the paratroopers and infantry responsible for preserving order this month, told reporters that the army had equipped itself with a broader range of nonlethal weaponry. It has acquired more than 20 water-cannon trucks that can spray water or a foul-smelling liquid known locally as skunk; huge loudspeakers that can also emit intolerable noise to scatter protesters; and tear-gas launchers fitted with sights to allow soldiers to aim better when firing the gas canisters.

Palestinians insist that the new emphasis is on peaceful resistance after two intifadas that they say achieved little. But there are concerns that encouraging people to demonstrate in the streets could unleash unpredictable forces.

“People are not interested in clashes,” said Yusef Ehab, 18, who works in his family’s toy shop in downtown Ramallah. That would serve the Israelis’ interest, he said, because “Israel is interested in showing how the Palestinians are violent.”

“Peacefully, peacefully,” he said, raising his hands in a sign of surrender.

Progressive Activist and Scholar Elizabeth Warren Enters Senate Race In Massachusetts

Elizabeth Warren

Katherine Taylor for The New York Times
Elizabeth Warren greeted potential voters in Boston on Wednesday after announcing her candidacy for the United States Senate.



http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/us/politics/warren-kicks-off-senate-campaign-in-massachusetts.html?_r=1&nl=us&emc=politicsemailema3

All,

This is great news! I have long been a huge fan and passionate supporter of this woman and her truly progressive politics [see what I've said about her in the past in The Panopticon Review here]. Elizabeth Warren has consistently proven over the last three decades of her outstanding and stellar career as a major national consumer advocate, social and economic policy scholar and activist, and fierce effective critic of Wall Street and corporate corruption just how dedicated she is to real substantive change for the poor, working, and middle class, and has won the hearts and minds of many people throughout the country across all racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual preference lines. Her intellectual brilliance, steadfast honesty, INTEGRITY (the most important, reliable, and necessary value in all of politics in my opinion), and compassion are sorely needed in our national political discourse and I fervently hope she will win the Democratic Party primary in Massachusetts and go on to defeat the Republican prettyboy and lumbering political hack Scott Brown for the Senate in 2012. Elizabeth will restore the lustre of a bold legislative agenda and fighting progressive leadership that was lost when Senator Edward Kennedy died in 2009 and his seat was vacated after 47 legendary years. It was a national disgrace that the inept Democratic Party lost Senator Kennedy's seat in 2010 but Ms. Warren will more than uphold Kennedy's proud and effective legacy if she is elected next year. We desperately need her and what she has to offer, especially in this too often shameful period of political equivocation and capitulation to the right emanating from both the White House and Congress. Just think: If Warren can win the Senate seat in Massachusetts we'll actually have at least TWO Senators in this country who really give a damn and will FIGHT HARD for the People no matter what: Ms. Warren and the always tough and courageous independent Socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders...

Kofi



Warren Kicks Off Senate Campaign
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
September 15, 2011
New York Times

BOSTON — Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy for the United States Senate on Wednesday morning, then plunged right into street-level politics, arriving at a train stop here shortly after sunrise to greet potential voters at the outset of what promises to be a long and heated race.

Ms. Warren, a Harvard professor and consumer advocate whose attacks on Wall Street have won her a national fan base, must first compete in a crowded Democratic primary contest that will not take place until next September. Should she win that race, she will go on to oppose Senator Scott P. Brown, a popular Republican incumbent whose seat Democrats consider a crucial target if they are to keep control of the Senate after 2012.

In an announcement video released early Wednesday, Ms. Warren, 62, painted herself as an unyielding defender of the middle class, an image she has been honing for years and which will be central to her campaign.

“The middle class has been chipped at, hacked at, squeezed and hammered for a generation now, and I don’t think Washington gets it,” she said in the video. “Washington is rigged for big corporations that hire armies of lobbyists.”

The Democrats’ reasons for wanting to capture Mr. Brown’s seat are not only practical but emotional: Mr. Brown, then a little-known Republican, scandalized the Democratic establishment in Massachusetts and Washington by winning a 2010 special election for the seat that Edward M. Kennedy had held for 47 years until his death.

Mr. Brown’s opponent in that election, the state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley, was criticized for not having worked hard enough to connect with regular voters, something Mr. Brown proved adept at. Ms. Warren’s meeting and greeting on Wednesday — which also included stops in New Bedford, Framingham, Worcester and Springfield — may in part be a symbolic message that she will be a different kind of candidate.

“This is fun,” she said in between grasping hands and patting shoulders in South Boston, where she spent more than an hour greeting commuters who mostly appeared confused about who she was and why she wanted to talk to them. “I like people, and I like to get out and talk to them.”

Ms. Warren, who over the last year faced off against hostile Republicans on Capitol Hill as she set up a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, added jokingly, “It’s better than a Congressional hearing.”

Ms. Warren, an Oklahoma native who has never run for office, said she was well prepared for a campaign regardless. She had hoped to run the consumer agency, but President Obama decided against tapping her after Senate Republicans threatened to block her nomination.

“I’ve stood up to some pretty tough folks over the past few years,” she told reporters at the rail station. “There have been a lot of very powerful interests who have tried to shut me down, squeeze me, push me sideways, and so far it just hasn’t worked. I know how to stand my ground.”

Other Democrats in the race include Alan Khazei, who co-founded a national service program and finished third in a field of four in the Democratic Senate primary in 2009, and Setti Warren, the mayor of suburban Newton. The other declared candidates are Thomas Conroy, a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives; Marisa DeFranco, a lawyer in Salem; Robert Massie, a former candidate for lieutenant governor; Jim King, a lawyer in Boston; and Herb Robinson, an engineer from Newton.

Mr. Brown has already raised nearly $10 million for his re-election race, according to the most recent filings, but many Democrats say Ms. Warren could match him in fund-raising by tapping into national networks. In response to a reporter’s question, she played down the importance of money, saying, “I can be outspent, but I can’t be outworked.”

“I’m going to be out talking to people,” she added. “I think that’s my principal job.”

Among the challenges facing Ms. Warren is that Massachusetts has a poor track record of electing women. Only four have ever been elected to the House of Representatives, and only six to a statewide office.

Kathryn Kinzel, a hospital researcher who happened upon Ms. Warren while waiting for a bus, said she was an independent voter who had supported Mr. Brown in 2010 but was open to other candidates. She said she had “vaguely” heard of Ms. Warren and liked what she heard in their brief exchange.

“She told me that she really wanted to fight for the middle class, that they’ve been hammered on for a very long time and if things didn’t start to change we’d be in big trouble,” said Ms. Kinzel, 25. “As a member of the middle class, I kind of agree with that. But I’m not quite sure if any one candidate is able to turn things around for an entire group of people, especially with the way things are in Washington right now.”

National Poverty Rate Increases Dramatically Over Past Decade; Now At Its Highest Number Since 1959

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/us/14census.html?_r=1&ref=global-home

All,

Exactly WHO is going to do something about this catastrophe? WHO? We all know damn well that the evil malignant forces most responsible for creating and perpetuating this shameful national debacle--i.e. the Republican Party and all of their venal minions and acolytes in the Tea Party right and elsewhere--are NOT going to do anything about it but make it even worse. So the question remains, stronger and more urgent than ever: WHO IS GOING TO CHANGE THIS SITUATION? I ask this very important and obvious question because I keep hearing folks from all over this country--and especially in far too many black communities-- in California, New York, Michigan, Illinois, all over the south and the rest of the midwest and eastcoast-- just a name a few geographic spots in this nation--say merely that it's ALL the fault of the vicious racist, sexist, imperialist, and super corporate rightwing of this country and their extremely wealthy ruling class mentors and ideological/political/economic benefactors, and that they have the President (and I presume the rest of the Democratic Party in Congress and elsewhere) in a Vulcan-like grip and debilitating "mind-meld " (yeah like in Star Trek!) that has (again presumably) completely incapacitated not only Obama and the cowardly Democratic Party, but I suppose also the tens of millions of people who voted out the deadly Republicans led by George W. Bushwhacker the Deuce in 2008!

Could any of this possibly be true on any level? Are we all now so really braindead and locked irrevocably in a cultlike fixation on the largely irrelevant and now utterly banal fact that "we" (which is to actually say 70 million American citizens!) elected the "first black President in American history?" When O When are we going to furiously shake ourselves out of this self-imposed COMA and come to serious grips with what WE ALL NEED TO DO NOW ABOUT OUR COLLECTIVE SITUATION/REALITY and not try to avoid our own responsibility by pretending that it's all because "our obstructionist enemies simply won't let us do what we wanna do." Are we REALLY so petulantly self-pitying that we actually view the ongoing defeats, failures, and miserable half-measures of the Obama administration as just a passive reflection of the power of the thoroughly demagogic and pathological U.S. righwingers's assumed "ability" to consistently thwart, ridicule, and dismiss our most important and essential needs and desires in this society? When are WE as citizens and human beings gonna organize ourselves nationwide to fight back? And by the way: WHERE O WHERE is the so-called "American Left" in this dreary scenario? Are we going to merely consign ourselves to either idle petulant threats of political retribution and "revenge" or merely alternately smug, half-hearted, and fatalistic displays of our reluctant "support" for the President in lieu of the relentless ideological firepower and sustained organized tenacity of the right?

What is clear amidst all the mass confusion, corruption, and despair is that only We, the People and the U.S. government can possibly address these massive problems and dilemmas in both the short and long run, and that our collective responsibility has to be tied to a genuine commitment to educating ourselves and others on an equally massive scale to assiduously ORGANIZE for and DEMAND what we need and desire. Short of that concerted collective effort no amount of cynicism, fatalism, solipsism, nihilism, despair, or indifference will fill this vacuum or serve as anything approaching a viable rational alternative, either now or in the future...In the end, if we don't properly meet this challenge only we will suffer for it...

Kofi


Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade’
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
September 13, 2011
New York Times

WASHINGTON

Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.


And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1997.

Economists pointed to a telling statistic: It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period, said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard.

“This is truly a lost decade,” Mr. Katz said. “We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”

The bureau’s findings were worse than many economists expected, and brought into sharp relief the toll the past decade — including the painful declines of the financial crisis and recession —had taken on Americans at the middle and lower parts of the income ladder. It is also fresh evidence that the disappointing economic recovery has done nothing for the country’s poorest citizens.

The report said the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line last year, 15.1 percent, was the highest level since 1993. (The poverty line in 2010 for a family of four was $22,314.)

The report comes as President Obama gears up to try to pass a jobs bill, and analysts said the bleak numbers could help him make his case for urgency. But they could also be used against him by Republican opponents seeking to highlight economic shortcomings on his watch.

“This is one more piece of bad news on the economy,” said Ron Haskins, a director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. “This will be another cross to bear by the administration.”

The past decade was also marked by a growing gap between the very top and very bottom of the income ladder. Median household income for the bottom tenth of the income spectrum fell by 12 percent from a peak in 1999, while the top 90th percentile dropped by just 1.5 percent. Overall, median household income adjusted for inflation declined by 2.3 percent in 2010 from the previous year, to $49,445. That was 7 percent less than the peak of $53,252 in 1999. Part of the income decline over time is because of the smaller size of the American family.

This year is not likely to be any better, economists said. Stimulus money has largely ended, and state and local governments have made deep cuts to staff and to budgets for social programs, both likely to move economically fragile families closer to poverty.

Minorities were hit hardest. Blacks experienced the highest poverty rate, at 27 percent, up from 25 percent in 2009, and Hispanics rose to 26 percent from 25 percent. For whites, 9.9 percent lived in poverty, up from 9.4 percent in 2009. Asians were unchanged at 12.1 percent.

An analysis by the Brookings Institution estimated that at the current rate, the recession will have added nearly 10 million people to the ranks of the poor by the middle of the decade.

Joblessness was the main culprit pushing more Americans into poverty, economists said.

Last year, about 48 million people ages 18 to 64 did not work even one week out of the year, up from 45 million in 2009, said Trudi Renwick, a Census official.

“Once you’ve been out of work for a long time, it’s a very difficult road to get back,” Mr. Katz said.

Median income fell across all working-age categories, but was sharpest drop was among the young working Americans, ages 15 to 24, who experienced a decline of 9 percent.

According to the Census figures, the median annual income for a male full-time, year-round worker in 2010 — $47,715 — was virtually unchanged, in 2010 dollars, from its level in 1973, when it was $49,065, said Sheldon Danziger, professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

Those who do not have college degrees were particularly hard hit, he said. “The median, full-time male worker has made no progress on average,” Mr. Danziger said.

The recession has continued pushing 25-to-34-year-olds to move in with family and friends to save money. Of that group, nearly half were living below the poverty line, when their parents’ incomes were excluded. The poverty level for a single person under the age of 65 was $11,344.

“We’re risking a new underclass,” said Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research and Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“Young, less-educated adults, mainly men, can’t support their children and form stable families because they are jobless,” he added.

But even the period of economic growth that came before the recession did little for the middle and bottom wage earners.

Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the period from 2001 to 2007 was the first recovery on record where the level of poverty was deeper, and median income of working-age people was lower, at the end than at the beginning.

“Even before the recession hit, a lot of people were falling behind,” he said. “This may be adding to people’s sense of urgency about the economy.”

The suburban poverty rate, at 11.8 percent, appears to be the highest since 1967, Mr. Sherman added. Last year more Americans fell into deep poverty, defined as less than half the official poverty line, or about $11,000, with the ranks of that group increasing to 20.5 million, or about 6.7 percent of the population.

Poverty has also swallowed more children, with about 16.4 million in its ranks last year, the highest numbers since 1962, according to William Frey, senior demographer at Brookings. That means 22 percent of children are in poverty, the highest percentage since 1993.

The census figures do not count noncash assistance, like food stamps and the earned-income tax credit, and economists say that as a result they tend to overstate poverty numbers for certain groups, like children. But rises in the cost of housing, medical care and energy are not taken into account, either.

The report also said the number of uninsured Americans increased by 900,000 to 49.9 million.

Those covered by employer-based insurance continued to decline in 2010, to about 55 percent, while those with government-provided coverage continued to increase, up slightly to 31 percent. Employer-based coverage was down from 65 percent in 2000, the report said.

Maureen Dowd On President Obama's Jobs Bill Speech and the Dire Necessity To Revive His Administration (Before It's Too Late)



Maureen Dowd
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/opinion/sunday/dowd-sleeping-barry-awakes.html?src=un&feedurl=http://json8.nytimes.com/pages/opinion/index.jsonp

"As always, the same questions persist in our long, fruitless effort to pierce the Obama opacity. How long can the president sustain the sizzle before the fizzle? Does he get it together when the country’s in trouble or when he’s in trouble?"

"It’s still impossible to sum up what Obama’s presidency is about right now, except saving his own job."

All,

Though many of his supporters simply don't wanna hear it about this President, I think Maureen Dowd is unfortunately 100% correct in her general assessment of Obama's mixed and confused motives...Let's face facts: Obama's biggest and most disturbing character flaw (which far too often rules his political instincts and thus his general goals, strategy, and tactics) is and has always been HUBRIS. When the overweening demands and desires of personal ego begin to dictate and guide how one approaches the resolution of problems--and the resulting insecurities when things inevitably go against you or when unforseen adversity strikes--it serves as a big and very distracting impediment to having the courage, tenacity, integrity, and perserverance that it takes to get important things done--whether a large number of people oppose, hate, or dismiss you or not. One can't possibly be "loved" or even "liked" by "everyone" and it's a sign of real weakness in a person when they think they can simply 'charm' or impress people enough to either receive their fawning, uncritical support and/or effectively neutralize ones opposition enough to make it possible to ultimately prevail in any and all circumstances. When one stupidly "negotiates from behind" all the time as Obama invariably and inexplicably does when locked in any battle with his and our political and ideological enemies, it doesn't suggest-- as Obama keeps vainly insisting-- that he is simply trying to be 'fair, objective, and balanced' in his approach but rather that he is simply afraid of them and their fierce opposition because it would expose him to being publicly rebuffed and thus embarrassed. But of course this kind of opposition does lead to Obama's enemies rebuffing his advances and he winds up being both defeated and embarrassed anyway. So it's a double bind of his own making (or subconscious/unconscious choosing). This is the eternal dilemma that Obama finds himself in because he is not fundamentally informed or guided by a firm commitment to specific PRINCIPLES and VALUES which supersede and transcend one's personal ego involvement and which determine how and why one engages their opposition in the public and private combat over ideas, priorities, and desires...
Kofi


OP-ED COLUMNIST

Sleeping Barry Awakes
By MAUREEN DOWD

September 10, 2011

New York Times

WASHINGTON


The president was strong and House Republicans were conciliatory.

There was only one teensy-weensy problem: The president is weak and House Republicans are obstructionist.

Congressional Republicans, heeding polls indicating that their all-out assault on President Obama was risky, finally tempered their public comments after the jobs speech on Thursday and stopped acting like big jerks.

Obama, heeding plummeting polls and beseeching voices from his despairing base, finally deigned to get tough.

In the capital of political tactics, it was just another fine day of faking it.

The president’s supporters had a single reaction to the fiery address to Congress: It’s about time. But as before when Obama had tried to pivot to jobs, an emergency intervened: Democratic surrogates on TV had to talk about the 9/11 plot before being able to talk about the jobs plan.

In case reporters were too dense to get the point, Eric Cantor’s office underlined it in an unsubtle press release. The headline, “Cantor, House Republicans Strike New Tone, Focus On Areas Of Common Ground,” acknowledged that the snarky, obstreperous old tone wasn’t working for them.

Cantor, the House majority leader, who has had an antagonistic relationship with the president, also wrote an op-ed piece for The Richmond Times-Dispatch demurely titled, “Job Creation — A Priority Both Sides Can Agree On.”

Acting less like the bane of Obama’s existence, John Boehner encouraged Republicans to attend the speech and offered no formal response.

Slyly going into Cantor territory on Friday, the president promised a sustained campaign to sell Americans on his plan. A re-energized Obama urged students at the University of Richmond to lobby lawmakers: “I want you to call, I want you to e-mail, I want you to tweet, I want you to fax, I want you to visit, I want you to Facebook, send a carrier pigeon.” (No letters? No wonder the Postal Service is going bust.)

As always, the same questions persist in our long, fruitless effort to pierce the Obama opacity. How long can the president sustain the sizzle before the fizzle? Does he get it together when the country’s in trouble or when he’s in trouble?

Certainly, Obama cares that Americans are in pain. Yet he has been unable to move away from his academic disdain for hardball and his alpha addiction to buzzer-beating wins.

So while the country has grown ever more scared, miserable, broke and broken, the president has too often been absent, quiet, ambivalent, impenetrable and inscrutable.

The master of his own narrative in print let the Republicans define the narrative in politics. And Obama likes to come in late, after the other players have staked out positions. It’s a strangely risk-averse tact, given the fact that he took two of the boldest risks in history — jumping into the presidential race in the first place and giving the kill order on Bin Laden on sketchy intelligence.

But when his polls plummeted, the Sleeping Beauty President roused himself to transform back into a semblance of the 2008 electrifying phenomenon.

He always must be chided and cajoled before he gets re-engaged. Among other times, it happened during his campaign, when key donors went public with their displeasure at his laconic attitude.

He’s eternally the gifted and sometimes indolent student who has to be wooed and pressured into making the game-winning shot. As one aide joked, “We work 6 to 9 and he works 9 to 6.”

But the odd rhythms of his temperament are less interesting when so much is at stake. Bill Clinton drifted for a time during his presidency, also needing the guillotine to focus his mind. But at least he was drifting on an ocean of peace and prosperity. Disengaging when the United States and the world are going to hell is playing with fire.

We never knew which Clinton would show up: Saturday Night Bill, as Dick Morris called the man of uncurbed appetites, or Sunday Morning Bill, a talented and passionate pol. Now Obama offers his own version of the split-personality presidency: Do we get Energizer Barry or Enervating Barry?

It’s deeply confusing to a country that’s already confused, as well as to the Democratic Party. Will he ever get that through his magnificent brain? The nation deserves clarity and consistency.

Each time Obama goes through a period of lying doggo, his opponents — from Hillary in the primaries to the Tea Party in the summer of 2009 to the House Republicans during the debt-ceiling debacle — get an infusion of oxygen.

The reawakened Republicans are no longer the loyal opposition. They’re revolutionary Bolsheviks who want to eat Obama alive.

When the president stays insulated with his little circle that doesn’t know how to push his messages, and he lets the nihilist Republicans go unchallenged in their crazy claims to be saving the country they’re hurting, he sets the stage for Rick Perry.

It’s still impossible to sum up what Obama’s presidency is about right now, except saving his own job.



http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/09/us/politics/09payroll.html?ref=economy


Obama Challenges Congress on Job Plan

Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Obama presented a jobs plan to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night in the Capitol.


By MARK LANDLER
September 8, 2011
New York Times


WASHINGTON — Mixing politically moderate proposals with a punchy tone, President Obama challenged lawmakers on Thursday to “pass this jobs bill” — a blunt call on Congress to enact his $447 billion package of tax cuts and new government spending, designed to revive a stalling economy and his own political standing.

Speaking to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama ticked off a list of measures that he emphasized had been supported by both Republicans and Democrats in the past. To keep the proposals from adding to the swelling federal deficit, Mr. Obama also said he would encourage a more ambitious target for long-term reduction of the deficit.

“You should pass this jobs plan right away,” the president declared over and over in his 32-minute speech, in which he eschewed his trademark soaring oratory in favor of a plainspoken appeal for action, stiffened by a few sarcastic political jabs.

With Republicans listening politely but with stone-faced expressions, Mr. Obama said, “The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.”

Though Mr. Obama’s proposals — including an expansion of a cut in payroll taxes and new spending on public works — were widely expected, the package was substantially larger than predicted, and much of the money would flow into the economic bloodstream in 2012. The pace would be similar to that of the $787 billion stimulus package passed in 2009, which was spread over more than two years. Analysts said that, if passed, the package would likely lift growth somewhat.

While Republicans did not often applaud Mr. Obama,, party leaders greeted his proposals with uncharacteristic conciliation. Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and other Republicans signaled a willingness to consider at least some of the measures, reflecting what some have described as anger in their home districts over the political dysfunction in Washington.

“The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration,” Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement. “We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well.”

Still, analysts said it was unlikely that the White House would win Congressional approval for many elements of the package.

For Mr. Obama, burdened by the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, the address crystallized the multiple challenges he faces, among them reviving a torpid economy with a Republican House that, however receptive some of its leaders appeared Thursday, has staked out a relentlessly confrontational course with the White House. The president must also shake off a perception, after so many speeches on the economy, that he has not delivered on the promise of his oratory.

After weeks on the defensive, however, Mr. Obama seemed to get off his back foot. He framed the debate over the economy as a tug-of-war between mainstream American values and a radical, antigovernment orthodoxy that holds that “the only thing we can do restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own.”

With a difficult re-election bid looming, Mr. Obama declared that his vision would appeal to more voters. “These are real choices we have to make,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It’s not even close.”

At times, he edged into sarcasm. Promoting the extension in the payroll tax cut to Republicans, Mr. Obama said: “I know some of you have sworn oaths never to raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away.”

The centerpiece of the bill, known as the American Jobs Act, is an extension and expansion of the cut in payroll taxes, worth $240 billion, under which the tax paid by employees would be cut in half through 2012. Smaller businesses would also get a cut in their payroll taxes, as well as a tax holiday for hiring new employees. The plan also provides $140 billion for modernizing schools and repairing roads and bridges — spending that Mr. Obama portrayed as critical to maintaining America’s competitiveness.

The president insisted that everything in the package would be paid for by raising the target for long-term spending cuts to be negotiated by a special Congressional committee. He did not go through the arithmetic, but said he would send a detailed proposal to Congress in a week. Senior White House officials said the amount of increased spending cuts would hinge on how much of the plan gets through Congress.

Mr. Obama said most of his proposals had support from both parties, a contention that Republican leaders rejected. “There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” he said. “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by Democrats and Republicans.”

After a summer consumed by bitter debate over how to reduce the debt and deficit, Mr. Obama kept his focus squarely on the need to create jobs. He acknowledged that the government’s role in fixing the problem was limited, but rejected the Republican argument that Washington’s major contribution would be to eliminate regulations.

“Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers,” he said. “But we can help. We can make a difference. There are steps we can take right now to improve people’s lives.”

Still, even if every one of the proposals were passed by Congress — something that is extremely unlikely to happen — the measures would not solve the economy’s problems, forecasters say, though they would likely spur some growth.

And that encapsulates the quandary for Mr. Obama: so long as there is no evidence of improvement in the job market, his economic call to arms — backed by a familiar list of proposed remedies — may not resonate with an American public grown weary of stagnation and an unemployment rate stuck at 9.1 percent.

Even the scheduling of the speech set off a tempest when Mr. Boehner rejected Mr. Obama’s request to address Congress on Wednesday, the night of a Republican presidential debate. At Mr. Boehner’s request, the White House agreed to move the date to Thursday, which meant Mr. Obama had to wrap up his remarks before the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers kicked off the N.F.L. season. As Mr. Obama was entering the chamber, microphones caught him assuring a lawmaker that his speech would not interfere with the game.

In setting out his program, Mr. Obama was, in effect, daring Republicans not to pass measures that enjoy support among independent voters and business leaders. If the Republicans refuse to embrace at least some of the measures, administration officials said, Mr. Obama will take them directly to the American public, portraying Congress as do-nothing and obstructionist.

“Maybe some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box,” Mr. Obama told the lawmakers. “But know this: the next election is fourteen months away. And the people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don’t have the luxury of waiting fourteen months.”









Historian Cary Fraser On Unending Crises in the United States in the 21st Century

Tea Partiers in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo: Rob Chandanais / Flickr)

http://www.truth-out.org/unending-crisis-america-21st-century/1312898719

All,

An incisive, informative, and well argued essay by Cary Fraser on how and why the first decade of the 21st century has become one of the most contentious, divisive, and dangerous periods in the history of what we all know has always been a very violent and divided Republic. The paramount reason for this both now and in the past is the unyielding reactionary and deeply racist/sexist/classist nature of American politics wherein the majority of the white American electorate consistently prosletyzes and votes for solidly white conservative and/or far rightwing candidates in nearly all local, state, and national elections. For example: Since 1952--a period of nearly 60 years--white American voters have cast the majority of their votes in national presidential elections for Republican candidates an astonishing 93% of the time or 14 out of the last 15 elections! (the only exception was the national "sympathy vote" for the Texas Democrat and former Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 a year following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In every other election during this historical period no other Democratic Party has ever gotten more than 47% of the white vote (which only happened once following the Watergate scandal and the forced resignation of Richard Nixon) in the election of 1976 for the Georgia Democrat Jimmy Carter. Other than that every single Democratic candidate since 1952 has gotten less than 45% of the national white vote for President (Obama got 43%). What this means of course is painfully obvious and has been of deadly consequence for the country as the following article points out. What it also means--and this is crucial to understanding how and why Obama was elected despite losing the national white vote in a landslide to John McCain--who received 55% of the votes from this demographic in 2008!--is that the vote of national minorities (especially African Americans) have been absolutely essential the few elections where a Democratic Party "liberal" actually won (1960, 1964, 1976, 1992, 1996, and 2008). Notice too that of the five (5) politicians to be RE-ELECTED since 1952 only ONE (1) has been a Democrat (Bill Clinton in 1996, an election in which he only received 43% of the white vote; the other four (4) politicians were all deeply conservative/reactionary Republicans: Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952-1960), Richard M. Nixon (1968-1976 with his VP Gerald Ford completing his truncated second term from 1974-1976), Ronald W. Reagan (1980-1988) and George W. Bush (2000-2008).

Kofi


An Unending Crisis - America in the 21st Century
10 September 2011
by Cary Fraser
Truthout | News Analysis


For much of the 20th century, the United States of America was perceived as the pre-eminent symbol of the Western vision of modernity and, after 1945, with the exception of the Soviet Union and its ideological kin, that image was largely unchallenged across the globe. However, the election of the Bush-Cheney administration in 2000, on the cusp of the 21st century, laid bare the failure of the United States to maintain its capacity to withstand increasing concern about the quality of American political life and its claim to international leadership.

The erosion of American legitimacy had already become evident during the decade of the 1960s with the assassinations of four very prominent Americans - President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy - as America grappled with the domestic and international repercussions of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

However, the disputed 2000 presidential election drew increased global attention to the signs of dysfunction in American politics. The resolution of that election in favor of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, against the sitting Democratic Vice President, Al Gore, by a deeply divided US Supreme Court provided a bird's eye view of a deeply flawed American electoral system.

With the benefit of hindsight, the 2000 presidential election was an early indicator of the dysfunctional democracy that has become institutionalized in American political life and culture since the 1960s. In 1968, the victory of Richard Nixon came in the aftermath of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, who had become vigorous critics of the failed war in Vietnam pursued by the Johnson administration. The election also revealed the depth of popular antipathy to that war and to Johnson, which Nixon skillfully exploited to win the election. It is arguable that, since 1968, every American president has left office under a cloud of popular doubt - Johnson over Vietnam, Nixon over Watergate, Ford over his controversial pardon of Nixon after the latter's resignation under the threat of impeachment, Carter over the Iran Hostage crisis, Reagan over the Iran-Contra scandal, George H.W. Bush over the Savings and Loan scandal, Clinton over the scandal triggered by his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and George W. Bush over the strategic blunder of pursuing two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Wall Street debacle that triggered the most serious economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

For more than four decades, the American political system has been defined by a growing gap between the electorate and the presidency as a symbol of good governance and political legitimacy. It would appear that the serial crises affecting presidents since 1968 have served to entrench a "credibility" gap within American politics. That gap is now a bellwether of the American political system and it is an indicator of the political polarization that has overtaken the American political system. The fissures in American politics have been provoked by and contributed to, the escalating conflicts among the three branches of government - the legislature, the judiciary and the executive - and internecine war within the two major political parties. The "credibility" gap has also spread from the presidency to the entire political system. The shifting majorities in the Congress over the last two decades - from Democratic to Republican and back again - serve as a barometer of political discontent within the electorate. The lack of stable governing coalitions has been exacerbated by ideological conflict that accompanied the realignment of American politics after 1968 when the Southern states shifted into the ranks of the Republican Party as the region spurned the progressive civil rights policies adopted by the Democratic Party in the 1960s. Thereafter, the Republican Party became the shelter for a wide range of constituencies and groups, which resented and continue to resent the erosion of white supremacist ideas that were the cornerstones of American life and legal systems until the mid-1960s. In 1968, Richard Nixon showed it was possible for the Republicans to build a majority coalition in which Southern conservatives like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms could be key players. Every Republican victory in presidential elections since 1968 has been built upon winning decisively in the South by advocating conservative and religious themes that invoke the white Christian nationalism that has defined much of the South after the American Civil War. It is noteworthy that before Barack Obama's victory in 2008, the only Democratic candidates who won the presidency between 1968 and 2008, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were both Southern sons of the soil, who were able to compete effectively against the Republicans in the region. However, since the 2008 presidential election campaign when Barack Obama became the first African-American president, following the failures and excesses of the Bush-Cheney administration, the fissures within American political life have become even worse. The backlash against the Obama administration has spawned the Tea Party movement with roots in the deep currents of xenophobia and racism that have periodically shaken American politics. The Tea Party's campaign against Obama, its pursuit of a hysterical campaign challenging tax increases on the wealthy and its opposition to the use of Keynesian responses to the current economic crisis have allowed it to redefine political debates in contemporary America. It has been able to mount a serious effort to prevent or circumvent debates about the most effective strategy for dealing with an economic crisis triggered by a mix of greed and recklessness on Wall Street and the simple-minded economic prescriptions that shaped the Bush-Cheney administration's economic and fiscal policies. American public debates thus reflect an unwillingness to engage in serious reflection about the return to economic policies that have created severe economic disparities across the society and have succeeded in restoring a social order in which populations of color are placed at a serious disadvantage.

The Tea Party's campaign to fan the flames of hysteria that emerged from the post-2008 backlash against the election of Barack Obama and its mobilization of the populist rhetoric of anti-government sentiment has brought it electoral success and institutional power in the Republican Party. That power was vigorously deployed in the recent debates over raising the debt ceiling to push the negotiations within a hair's breadth from a default on the American government's debt. It is striking that the Tea Party has become a symbol of the rising tide of American anti-intellectual tendencies as a frame of reference for shaping American policies. The stunning display of Tea Party influence in the 2011 debate over raising the debt ceiling should give pause to both the American leadership across the major parties and to the international community, which has operated on the assumption that American leadership is a sine qua non in the international system.

The former Secretaries of the Treasury in the Clinton administration, Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin, and Timothy Geithner as the secretary for the Obama administration, apparently helped to craft a seamless web of influence by advocates of Wall Street in the early years of the Obama administration. The policies that were adopted created a climate where salvaging the financial houses remained a priority and signaled continuity with the Bush-Cheney administration. It was a message that key players in the financial sector that had lost their sense of accountability to the wider society would be allowed to continue with the illusion that American financial leadership in the global context would not be tarnished. Despite the Obama administration's protestations about the Standard & Poor's decision to downgrade the American debt rating from AAA to AA-plus, in the wake of the debt ceiling debates, it is clear that the US government's approach to debt management and, ultimately, the central role of the US dollar in international economic affairs, are under increasing question. The long-term costs of the debt ceiling debates are yet to be determined, but the Obama administration's deference to Wall Street cannot be discounted as a factor in the shift in perceptions of American international leadership. In addition, it has become evident that the American commitment to military intervention around the world as a cornerstone of its foreign policy has also raised serious questions about the thrust of American foreign policy on the global stage. More important, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been an enormous drain on the American Treasury over the past decade. Inevitably, it is becoming clear that cuts in military budgets and deployments will have to be instituted to introduce corrective economic policies that will promote new investments to prepare the American economy to be competitive with its global partners and rivals into the future. The redefinition of America's military goals and its role in the international system will also have to be considered in light of the growing military capability of other states, including China.

America's financial weakness provides no sure guarantee that it can sustain the global role that it played after 1945, and American policymakers will have to address the structural problems that arise from its military ambitions and financial burdens. The killing of Osama bin Laden has not provided an easy solution to dealing with Afghanistan, and the "Arab Spring" provokes memories of the consequences of the fall of the shah of Iran for American policy in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf after 1979. The American dependence upon the stability of oil exports from the region will require a redesign of foreign and military policies to deal with the new realities in a region that is pivotal in the global political economy. In effect, the crisis of credibility in American politics over both domestic politics and military misadventures since the 1960s and the increasing evidence that fringe tendencies have gained enough traction to shift the terrain of American politics in the contemporary context pose fundamental challenges to American leadership aspirations into the future. Like the perestroika era in Soviet politics when Mikhail Gorbachev sought to promote change in an ossified Soviet system, the Obama administration has been unable to make a decisive break with the past amid signs of political decay, economic crisis and intellectual paralysis. Recent events suggest that America's 20th-century odyssey as a model of Western modernity has been placed at risk. Is America's relative decline now irreversible?


CARY FRASER

Cary Fraser is a historian of international relations, who teaches the history of American foreign policy, American and Caribbean history in the 20th century and the history of the African Diaspora in the Atlantic world at Penn State University. He is the author of "Ambivalent Anti-Colonialism" (Greenwood Press, 1994), and his essays and articles have been published in Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and the United States. He is currently writing a study of race in American politics and foreign policy in the mid-20th century.